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Caroline VII, Chapter VI
Luke's Lamentation

“Something… something horrible’s happened…”
Luke Malveaux


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: There is much to do and little time in which to do it.

Kâmil is waiting for Caroline outside of the seneschal’s office. The Moor instructed Caroline to place herself at the sheriff’s disposal in assisting with the cover-up around Claire’s death.

His number stares up at her from the phone screen.

Expected to work together.

Caroline: She still hates him. She’d thought, perhaps, when the bond to him was cut that some of the stronger emotions towards him would die with it, but they haven’t.

Donovan. A terror to her since her first nights as one of the damned. A foe that did seemingly all in his power to undermine her at every turn, with everyone, long before he had the good cause he now possesses to see her fall. Back when her fall was such a short drop—just from the gallows.

Donovan, whose lust for the throne rightfully hers to claim she can almost smell. Who she trusts like a fox in the hen house or a snake in the grass. Who has spent decades, a century, building his claim, accumulating allies, growing his strength, expanding his influence.

Donovan, a threat from within to her, to everything she wants, every bit as dangerous as any external threat. As Savoy, the Baron, or the shadowy power the seneschal sees killing off his heirs. Or the terror at the bottom of the Dungeon.

Donovan. She hits call on the phone.

Work together. Right.

GM: There’s a click as the line is answered.

There’s no greeting.

There’s not even breathing.

Caroline: Well, that makes two of them.

“How may I be of best assistance with Claire?” she asks without preamble or inflection.

Assistance. Not service.

She was his servant once. His tenant. Never again. Never again.

GM: “Report to Lafayette Square in one hour,” comes the cool reply.

“You are subordinate to the party whom you meet.”

The line clicks.

Kâmil inquires as to what Caroline would have them do during that time, and indeed, over the course of the night.

Gisèlle also awaits silently nearby, though Caroline didn’t see her there when she exited the seneschal’s office.

Caroline: Caroline stares silently ahead for a moment after the phone call.

“I need to talk to my people. There are things that must be set in motion,” Caroline answers at last, her voice as sharp as a blade.

She sends a text to Roger. Perdido House. 15 minutes.

GM: The trio do not wait by themselves. Footsteps sound the hall as Gabriel Hurst approaches the seneschal’s office, followed by his ghoul John McCullem. He greets Caroline with a, “Eiren Malveaux. Fancy seeing you here.”

Caroline: She offers a polite greeting to Clan Ventrue’s primogen. “One never truly knows one another, do they, Primogen Hurst?” she asks with a smile. “It’s always a pleasant surprise to find shared interests.”

GM: “Or themselves, some might say,” the older Ventrue offers with a chuckle. He does not linger overlong, however, on “account of bein’ expected” before knocking on the door. Maldonato’s voice bids him enter. His ghoul stands outside with a patient expression.

Caroline: She bids him enjoy his meeting, the smile on her face lingering after his departure but lacking any warmth as she turns it on John McCullem. Spy.

And an effective one at that. This meeting, the sight of her with the elder ghouls, will set things in motion. Questions in motion.

She bides the ghouls to join her as she walks towards the elevator but waits until the door closes to speak. “How was delivery of Claire’s body executed with my brother?” she asks.

GM: Gisèlle stares into McCullem’s eyes. The two ghouls do not speak, though McCullem’s features seem to sag. The casquette girl eventually turns away without a word to follow Caroline.

Caroline: She picks at their knowledge of the investigation and cover-up thus far—the integration of the Krewe, the handling of her brother’s memories, the reactions of her father and uncles. All the things she has missed in the full day she has spent with her motionless sire.

When her ghouls arrive it’s not so different. She’s in no hurry to depart Perdido House—at least she knows what manner of ears are listening here. She seeks a private meeting room from Kâmil and takes ten minutes to briefly lay out facts for Ferris.

The Malveauxes are hers, so long as she can hold them and only so long as she can show the value of her dominion. Especially as it relates to Claire’s remaining loose ends. The immediate matter is Claire’s death, any contingencies she may have had in place, and any information that might be available from what remains of her people. Whatever is left must be repurposed or destroyed.

GM: Kâmil answers that the Krewe received Claire’s medical records and has found a physician to blame for the fatal combination of improperly prescribed medications, as well as what medications to use and what terminal illness to diagnose Claire with.

Dr. Grémillon and the Krewe’s other ghouls, however, identified the body as a facsimile. They wanted the real thing, citing that even a badly mutilated corpse of the true Claire would be preferable to Caroline’s black-blooded substitute. Failing that, they want more information from Caroline on the thing, as they’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The body’s delivery thus has yet to be executed, as have any alterations to Luke’s memories. Claire has now been missing for close to 48 hours. Kâmil and Gisèlle have interviewed several Malveauxes and doctored their immediate memories, but the cat can only be kept in the bag for so much longer.

Kâmil also wants Claire’s phone and other devices, as these have seemingly gone missing and could contain identifying information on further hunters associated with her. Does Caroline have these devices?

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress is not especially pleased by the report, particularly when she learns the decision was made not to stage the body. The longer they wait, the harder it is to sell anyone this is in truth an accident.

Caroline relates that she does not have the devices of interest. Many of them were lost with Claire’s body, and she did not linger in the Quarter following her stepmother’s death to search in detail for more. By the time her agents returned what was left had been cleaned it.

That body, relatedly, is not available. Nor will it be.

That the body was a fabrication was disclosed when she delivered it, and this interest in ‘where it came from’ has the appearance of a blatant grab for information rather than efforts towards preserving the Masquerade.

GM: “I do not believe their questions unreasonable, bayan, given the level of scrutiny the body is likely to receive,” Kâmil replies. “That they would also desire such information for its own sake, however, is not in doubt.”

With that much said, the Krewe and the sheriff’s people (who have principally been occupied investigating Bishop Malveaux’s murder) has done all of what they can on their ends. The principal step that remains is for Caroline and the Krewe to stage the body with Caroline’s brother, and let the cat finally out of the bag.

Ferris, meanwhile, responds to the news of the Malveauxes being Caroline’s by recommending she move immediately to secure her hold over the family. He recommends some manner of story to explain Caroline’s return to the Malveauxes’ good graces. Perhaps they should manufacture a crisis where she may swoop in and play the golden girl. A renunciation of the gay lifestyle goes without saying; someone to use as a public boyfriend would go a ways there. (“Good for your personal cover anyway, ma’am—affluent and physically attractive young women don’t stay single long.”) Depending on how long Caroline is to be away with her sire, this plan might best be executed upon her return, even if they can start laying groundwork now. It’s more believable she might return to the family after some soul-searching and time away.

Regardless of Caroline’s personal cover, however, Ferris wants him and his people reinstated to their former positions as soon as possible. “We’re obviously working with one hand tied behind our backs until then. It’d also further assuage their concerns about money to be back on the family payroll.”

GM: He also inquires, while he is here, whether she still wants Jocelyn taken care of.

The ex-CIA agent also reports that, per their earlier discussion, he had some people bribe the hotel staff at the Monteleone to point any people asking questions about Claire and her last visitors towards Caroline and the Giani Buillding. If other members of the Barrett Commission are looking for Claire (and her devices) yet, so much the better if those hunters can fall into Caroline’s hands.

The people he used weren’t his regular security team. Ferris is very leery about making any further trips into the French Quarter right now.

With Ericson out of the picture, Ferris says that he had Gerald Bishop set up Detective Hill with an interview at the law firm. “We can use him for that much before getting rid of him.”

Ferris doesn’t think the detective-turned-lawyer is worth ghouling, as the newest of the firm’s attorneys. Simply another mundane one to grow the business with.

“Though one of them is, ma’am. Reffett or Bowden. If we want to really control the firm, we’ll need a ghoul among the partners there.”

“You also might consider working there as part of your mundane identity. People expect Caroline Malveaux-Devillers to have a job. Gives us a stronger hold over the business too.”

Carla Rivera still has not returned to work. Ferris isn’t sure whether the woman’s disappearance is related to recent happenings or simply her brother Diego. Does Caroline want this looked into?

The Vatican representative is due to arrive in the city several weeks from now. As Ferris stated earlier, this is likely a power play by other clergy to wrest control of the archishopric from Orson’s hands (who has rarely left his home since the heart attack). Now that the family is hers again, does Caroline have a preference for how to play things?

“We could try to get your uncle off his ass. Or turn things over to your cousin Adam. He’s already been assuming more responsibilities.”

Finally, the two hunters in Caroline’s captivity attempted to escape. They took hostages. Fuller, Green, and the building security were able to stop them, although a maid was killed in the ensuing struggle. Autumn has taken care of the body disposal. Ferris recommends installing a dedicated holding area for future prisoners. If Caroline still wants to doctor the two’s memories into murdering their fellows, Ferris recommends doing so as soon as possible.

“They’ve all been missing for a good amount of time now.”

The police are probably already looking for them at this point. NOSTF has likely assumed they’re dead (or worse, captive) this long after the hunt on Bishop Malveaux.

Caroline: Caroline agrees fully on reinstating Ferris’ people as quickly as possible. The resources available to them and unfettered access to the family will be vital in not only securing, but also holding the family—to say nothing of how Caroline’s current currency reserves won’t hold out forever with the varied demands being placed on them.

She’s cagier about a return to the family’s graces: influence among them comes with responsibilities to them that her varied demands within the All-Night Society are likely to complicated. There’s value in keeping them are a greater personal distance.

She agrees about further trips to the French Quarter as a matter of course—that is far from friendly ground to them.

Moving more firmly into the firm is of greater interest, though a ghoul partner (for day to day operations) is also likely on the table. The imminent ‘departure’ of both Bishop and Ericson will leave the firm too open to outside influence.

She’s interested in Rivera, but less interested in hunting her down. She suggests a tip to ICE that pointed them at her—and her extended family—might do more to flush them out without direct influence from their assets.

She also largely agrees with pushing more responsibility into Adam’s hands. Orson (even if he recovers from the heart attack) isn’t getting younger, and making him a clearer succession will help resolve that problem for the long term, while also pulling power out of the hands of *her *firmest detractor among the family.

Keeping the archbishopric in the family is of the greatest interest to her among the Malveaux family at the moment.

GM: Ferris tells Caroline, when she asks, that he and his team were fired for allegedly selling family secrets to corporate rivals at Endron.

He asks how she intends to influence the family’s actions if she intends to keep a distance. “They don’t do what I tell them, ma’am. Usually, they expect that to be the other way around.”

Ferris says he’ll have someone tip off ICE about Rivera’s undocumented status. He doesn’t even bring up whether Caroline wants anything done for the woman’s U.S.-born young daughter.

As far as who holds the archishopric, Caroline is also aware that matter is not up to Orson, but the Vatican. Bishops are appointed by the pope and serve at his pleasure. As the pontiff cannot possibly visit every diocese in the church, however, it is His Holiness’ representative who effectively decides by making a recommendation the pope rubber-stamps. Thus, it is up to the visiting representative whether Orson retains his position or whether it goes to someone else (what the archdiocese’s other clergy are clearly maneuvering for, having scented weakness). The situation is further complicated by the fact Adam is 30 years of age and canon law requires bishops to be at least 35 years of age. What does she want to do?

Ferris still awaits her answers on what she wants to do with Jocelyn and the two captive hunters.

Caroline: Caroline observes that the departed bishop seemed to manage influence without being a direct part of their lives—albeit without the pariah status she currently enjoys. Still, she doesn’t completely shoot down the idea of some manner of reconciliation, simply pushes the problem forward—better to wait and see what the prince has in store.

If Rivera’s daughter even crosses Caroline’s mind, she gives no sign.

Her intentions with the archbishopric are to prop up her uncle sufficiently to allow him to conduct his duties, but to have her cousin take on more and more responsibilities—which she’s quite certain he’s doing anyway. It’s not in Adam’s nature to ignore a task that needs to be done.

She wants to showcase her cousin’s growing skill to the Vatican representative, and pave the road to the identification of him as a seamless choice for an eventual transfer of power.

Jocelyn, she answers, she will deal with more personally. She doesn’t anticipate the Toreador leaving the city as originally planned.

The hunters, similarly, she will see to this evening. Her plans for them remain unchanged, though her scorn at their involvement of a maid—and her death—is obvious. Hunting monsters indeed. It goes both ways.

It is not lost on her that turned into the police, the men may also attract attention from the very elements she’s so interested in. That they might even draw other hunters to him, to speak with them. After all—they’re the only kine that have any idea what happened.

Speaking of hunters, Claire’s safehouse is of particular interest to Caroline. Its value diminishes with each day that goes by, but it may yet be a treasure trove. The kind they dearly need.

Claire was intelligent and dedicated, but there’s simply no way that she could have maintained all of her contacts, all of her knowledge, all of her connections and plots related to the supernatural in her head alone. She’s also quite certain there’s no way she would have kept that information anywhere in the French Quarter. Caroline suspects the Outlands.

She turns her attention to Ferris on this—he was Claire’s aid in these matters and others longer than anyone. Surely he was as curious as Caroline, perhaps even more so. Even if Claire never disclosed it to him directly, he’s had enough time and inclination to have at least bracketed it. By meeting times. By turnaround. In a day or a month there’s no way he could have, not with how careful Claire was, but he had years, and now Caroline has significant resources to throw at the problem. She just needs a ballpark.

She’s also interested in any additional information he’s collected in his long association with the sheriff. Targets they killed, people he was pointed at, and the general manner of how the sheriff conducted his operations. Caroline was very in the dark about exactly how the sheriff’s and Claire’s relationship functioned—and she cannot remain so.

GM: “Bishop sent me visions and nightmares. Made me see things that weren’t real. Your stepmother and I suspect he did something similar with your uncle, though we aren’t completely certain.”

Ferris agrees with her assessment of Adam. Caroline’s cousin is reliable, pragmatic, and places the family’s interests before his own. Ferris’ only concern is that he lacks Orson’s ruthlessness and political experience. Love her uncle or hate him, the rest of the archdiocese was too afraid to challenge Orson while he appeared strong.

But experience can be gained, and there’s ruthlessness aplenty in the hands behind Adam.

“Soft hunters are more common than soft CIA people, though not by much,” Ferris remarks blandly.

He concurs that the captive hunters may indeed be more useful as bait. Even if their fellows think they’ve been compromised by Caroline, those other hunters will have to step forward to eliminate their former comrades-in-arms.

“That’s what I’d do. Assess whether they’ve been compromised, assume yes, and get rid of the loose ends if I’m not disproven.”

He concurs with Caroline that Claire probably kept all of that information in her safehouse, which was likely its foremost purpose. He also agrees with her that somewhere outside the usual Kindred power centers would have been the ideal location. Wherever vampires and their servants have little cause to go.

Ferris tried to keep himself ignorant of where Caroline’s stepmother kept her secrets. It was always possible he might be caught and made to divulge what he knew. But, he thinks he might be able to give Caroline some ballparks. He gets out a piece of paper and starts writing down dates and times of meetings. He asks Caroline to fill in dates and times too. Anything to build a log of Claire’s daily activities. They can ask Claire’s associates for more details. There’s also the hotel staff at the Monteleone, who would know even more. They’d also have security tapes and could track when Claire entered and left the building.

“They’ve been getting a lot of questions lately, though. Better to track them down outside of work. Outside of the Quarter. Erase any further questions about Claire Malveaux from their minds.”

Ferris seems reluctant to talk about Donovan here in Perdido House, but ultimately defers to Caroline if she wants to now.

Caroline: “Just get it all together for review later,” she answers about the matter of Donovan.

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

Caroline: She checks the time. “Our next meeting is soon, but I should also clarify. Until now there was significant interest in swaying me to one side or another—I don’t believe anyone had very much interest in actually destroying me. I do not anticipate that being true going forward.”

GM: “I’d concur, ma’am. That car bomb wasn’t left as a message.”

It’s later than any reasonable mortal is going to be up, but there are enough hours in the night yet.

The Krewe and the sheriff’s people (who have principally been occupied investigating Bishop Malveaux’s murder), Kâmil meanwhile reports, have done all of what they can on their ends. The principal step that remains is for Caroline and the Krewe to stage the body with Caroline’s brother, and let the cat finally out of the bag.

Caroline: Caroline isn’t looking forward to it. To watching her brother react to his mother’s death. To having to rampage through his mind.

But the demands of the night have rarely given way to her preferences.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline gets to Lafayette Square in the CBD. She finds no one there. Her people look around for a while. It looks as if she was stood up—or, more ominously, something happened to whoever she was supposed to meet along the way.

It’s only once they leave the square that they see a black SUV approaching from the rear view mirror. Camilla Doriocourt’s impassive face is visible in one of the seats.

Caroline: Subordinate. To his childe. Caroline contains her disgust. At least, outwardly.

She doesn’t even have any particular hatred for Doriocourt—not directly. In her few interactions with the sheriff’s childe, the Toreador has been professional, cold, and distant, but not as hostile as her sire.

She’s Caroline’s elder in experience with hunters, her elder in the faith, and the next in line as bishop. Her blood is every bit as potent as the Ventrue’s own (as Caroline well knows), and her age undoubtedly gives her significant breadth of talents unavailable to Caroline.

But she cannot help the impression that the reason for this meeting, for the power structure dictated by the sheriff (and who is he to do so?) has nothing to do with those advantages, and everything to do with dominance.

She has Fuller maneuver to allow Doriocourt’s car to either take the lead or pull over.

GM: Doriocourt’s car takes the lead. She doesn’t pull over at any point to speak with Caroline. Instead, the car proceeds along a semi-familiar route to Luke’s high-rise apartment building in the CBD. Caroline isn’t a regular guest at the place, but she’s been there before. She supposes Luke will be moving out soon, if his and Cécilia’s families are getting the soon-to-be newlyweds a house.

The cars stop a moderate distance away. A ghoul from Camilla’s knocks on Caroline’s window, says the hound will speak with her inside her own car, and opens the door for the Ventrue to get in.

“Regent Harlequin is en route with the body. What obstacles to the Masquerade await inside?” Doriocourt inquires without preamble.

It’s your usual higher-income apartment building, as far as Caroline knows. She’s seen security, though nothing on the level of Blackwatch.

Caroline: “Inherent to the Masquerade? None that I am aware of, Mother Doriocourt, though it is possible that given the delay in execution that Claire’s mortal hunter associates could predict this course of action and prepare some manner of pitfall beyond the ordinary.” Caroline answers directly.

“It’s also possible there is heightened security around him due to Claire’s own actions—attempting to protect her children—beyond the ordinary. In that regard I would be more concerned with surveillance than physical threats.”

“So far as inherent obstacles to our goals, there’s electronic security cameras, on site security guards, keycard locks on the building and elevator. The locks we can bypass,” She’d asked to clone Cécilia’s card. “And the guards are easily pliable, but for this to stand up to scrutiny the camera footage needs to convincingly show Claire arriving—and no one else.”

“The latter is more easily achieved, but I can double Claire if required for the former. My people have already scouted a route up that avoids the cameras by which we can deliver the body.”

“Regent Harlequin was to arrange the emergency services handling of the body post-facto.”

GM: “Perhaps you should have considered that possibility when you killed her, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” the hound coolly replies to Caroline’s first statement.

Caroline: Oh, you’re right, I should have assumed you’d all appear this incompetent in the cover-up, Caroline bites back.

GM: Donovan’s childe seems to take note of her subsequent words, but does not immediately reply. They wait in the car. Two more vehicles arrive with Harlequin and additional ghouls who Caroline doesn’t recognize. Claire’s car also pulls up. One of the ghouls hands Caroline some clothes, shoes, jewelry, and handbag that match her deceased stepmother’s, down to the wedding ring she always wore on a chain around her neck. Caroline is invited to change into the clothes without much ceremony. Another ghoul applies makeup to the Ventrue’s face, cuts her hair down to Claire’s shorter length, and dyes it grayer. Doriocourt declares the look “serviceable.” One ghoul raises questions about camera timestamps, but falls silent upon a look from the hound.

Caroline is given the car that looks like Claire’s to drive and told to meet the others at Luke’s apartment. They’ll take the alternate way up.

Caroline: She laid the groundwork for this nights ago. That it’s dragged on is incompetent to the point of appearing genuinely suspicious. Wouldn’t it be convenient if she got killed off by Claire’s hunters? She has no doubt it would take the sheriff very little effort to drop them a hint.

She has her people interject when the ghoul approaches with the scissors. Claire’s hair was thinner than hers by the end—noticeably so—and Caroline has no interest in mimicing her for the rest of the night. Especially when she has other meetings. She has a wig ready that’s a better fit, and even a few facial prosthetics.

Because she did put thought into this and isn’t half-assing perhaps the most complex Masquerade cover-up in recent memory in New Orleans.

She hands off the handbag to Ferris, who slips a handheld RF detector into it. He indicates that it will buzz lightly.

GM: The ghouls relent when she produces the wig. Harlequin’s purple eyes silently glitter.

Caroline drives for a bit. One River Place is an exclusive high-rise condominium building (technically, Luke is renting his condo) and one of the most desirable in the city. It overlooks the Mississippi River, giving residents sweeping waterfront views from the heart of the city. Floor plans are open and expansive, while walls of glass and spacious terraces that give the area a picturesque feel. A heated swimming pool beckons from outside. “Claire” is greeted by name by on-duty staff pulling graveyard shift. They ask how she and her son are doing and offer their congratulations over his engagement. Any number of hotel-style services that she can imagine are hers to request—including, the staff perhaps takes deliberate care to mention, an all-call doctor.

They don’t say she looks ill. But they have to be thinking it.

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Caroline: It’s not difficult to affect Claire’s mannerisms. The weakness she showed in her last weeks. Caroline watched her age years in months. Saw it as well as anyone really.

GM: Her brother’s apartment awaits. At this hour of night, he has to be asleep.

Caroline: It feels like one of the longest walks of her life—gives her plenty of time to think. About how Claire forced her hand. About how she doesn’t really want to invade his mind. To inflict this trauma on him. About how everything could have been different, if Claire had trusted her, had believed in her.

Or maybe it wouldn’t have.

It doesn’t really matter anymore. Claire’s dead, and this has to happen. She’s become an expert in the art of the necessary.

She forces herself into view on cameras as she goes by, forces the Beast down.

GM: Besides. If Claire wasn’t dead, she wouldn’t have her new family.

Maybe wouldn’t even be here now.

The RF detector buzzes as she approaches Luke’s door.

Caroline: Of course it does.

Caroline isn’t surprised. The real question isn’t ‘is Luke’s apartment bugged.’ It’s ‘who has it bugged and how thoroughly.’

She can think of plenty of reasons that Claire might have done so—to keep an eye on her children. That’s arguably the least threatening outcome. She doubts Claire let anyone but herself eavesdrop on Luke, so there’s no one listening to any recordings, no matter how thoroughly she might have had the opportunity to plant spy equipment.

On the other hand, she can also readily imagine members of the Barrett Commission rushing to put bugs on Claire’s children when she went missing. One of the likely places she might turn up—or at least that others might turn up. Such an effort though would likely be less through—easier to get around once inside—but is more likely to be actively listened in on.

There’s also an array of third parties it could belong to—corporate and political rivals—but she thinks it less likely. Bugging a senator’s son, if caught, could have pretty significant political repercussions, and Luke isn’t careless enough to bring anything home from work that would be of use.

If it’s a bug planted by her mother, it likely feeds to a local receiver that then sends off the information (likely via the internet, vice RF) to an offsite location. Maybe her safehouse. That has its own opportunities.

If it’s a bug planted by a group of hunters the same could be true… but that would require pretty invasive efforts. Caroline doesn’t think they had the time. Ferris had agreed. If it’s the Barrett Commission or NOSTF, their receiver is likely on site, and it’s likely either recording and regularly checked by someone, or (more likely) actively under observation by someone on site, in the building. Someone who could observe, take a report, and then (maybe) try to find out more themselves.

The Ventrue’s grin is almost wolfish.

She pauses to take out her phone and sends a text to Ferris. I could do with a late dinner. Will let you know whether I want to dine in or eat out shortly.

Could do with dinner: there’s something here.

Dine in: if the work is a rush job, and likely has someone on site. Someone her people will find.

Eat out: if there’s evidence of more extensive surveillance within the apartment, and it’s likely her mother’s. Something they need to go get elsewhere.

GM: I’ll get things ready, comes the answering text after only a moment.

Caroline: It’s a side show to the main event, though. They still need to stage Claire’s death. She’s tempted to call things off, to reschedule this for tomorrow, earlier in the evening, when it’ll cause fewer questions. When they’ve had a chance to separately investigate the bugs.

But she knows it won’t wait, and what tomorrow will hold is an open question. Her sire won’t accept excuses for delay.

She knocks on Luke’s door.

GM: A few moments pass before the door opens. Caroline’s brother is dressed in a sweater, sweats, and socks.

“Mom?” Luke frowns. “It’s pretty late.”

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t trust to chance, to the late hour and the dim light inside her brother’s apartment. No, not tonight. The monster is on full display, the Beast unleashed.

Its power rolls off her in waves like a miasma, a fog that blinds his senses, a cloying scent that intoxicates him, an opiate that ply’s at his will, dulling his wits like dirt dulls a blade.

It doesn’t take much to pitch her voice, just a small adjustment. No more effort than it takes to still the Beast’s assault on attempts to capture it, to immortalize it in moment.

“I know. I should have called ahead, but I was in the area, and I heard that Cécilia was staying in. Can I come in?”

GM: Luke blinks for a moment, then steps forward to hug the china-faced predator. Caroline can feel the shorter man’s heartbeat thumping against her chest. He’s not her type, but it’s hard not to wonder how her own kin might taste. How much more… familiar the blood would be.

“Yeah. Sure,” he finally says, withdrawing to hold the door open for her. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“I’ve actually got some non-alcoholic wine if you’ll be driving. Not-so subtle gift Cécilia got from a friend of hers.”

Caroline: “Clever friend,” Caroline answers, still pitching her voice. “Rum and coke?” she requests as much as asks.

She doesn’t quite limp into Luke’s living room and finds a seat with apparent pain while he fetches drinks.

GM: That seems like it’ll wait a moment when Luke takes her by the arm and helps her to a sofa.

He frowns in concern. “You okay, Mom?”

Caroline: She waves off his concern and only grudgingly accepts his help. “It’s been a difficult year.”

When he departs to get the drink she briefly again checks the RF device to see if the signal has abated or remained steady.

GM: It’s steady.

“Yeah. It has,” Luke sighs as he heads off to the kitchen. “I’m glad you’re here, though. I wanted to get your opinion on Dad’s idea.”

Caroline: Claire’s bugs, then? Seems likely. Well… more likely.

She quickly fires off another text to Roger before tucking the phone away.

GM: Roger replies he’ll be over soon with takeout.

“I’m sure we could win, but it feels like a talking point people could dig up later. Changing a law for my specific benefit.”

“And there’s being away from Cécilia and our eventual kids, even if it would only be some of the time.”

“It’s hard to say this to his face, but I don’t want to be absent as much as he was.”

Caroline: The entire thing feels perverse. Intrusive. Here she is, not content just to invade her brother’s house and mind. She had to intrude into is relationship with his mother.

But Roger and the others need time.

“You know your father wouldn’t have suggested it if he didn’t think it was necessary,” she replies. “Everything he does, everything he has done—including that time away from you and your brothers—was for a reason.”

GM: “I know,” he agrees. “But he isn’t as close to everything here.”

“Savannah might use it to push the idea I’m not actually interested in a corporate career. That might be enough for her to take over.”

Caroline: ‘Clairoline’ is quiet for a moment. "He’s asking a great deal of you. Expecting a great deal. He has to. This year… " She sighs. “A great deal of responsibility has fallen solely on your shoulders.”

GM: “I know. Caroline being out. I guess that was the path he expected for her.”

He returns to the living room with drinks in hand.

“Or at least was seeing if a woman could manage.”

Caroline: The Ventrue scowls as she accepts the drink.

“She made her own decisions.”

GM: Luke leaves it at that.

“I have one of the samples you asked for, by the way,” he remarks as he sips his.

Caroline: “Just one?” Her voice is expectant. Almost demanding.

GM: “I looked. Believe me. There was nothing there.”

Caroline: “You’re sure?”

What the hell?

GM: “I’m positive. The place was completely immaculate. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Caroline: “What do you mean, immaculate?” She grimaces as she takes a long pull from the drink.

GM: “I mean there was nothing there. I searched the bathroom and the bedroom. There wasn’t so much as a toenail clipping or stray hair.”

Caroline: “But you got a sample?”

GM: There’s a faint grimace he hides behind the drink.

“Yes. From Cécilia’s room.”

“That was easy.”

Caroline: Her family. Claire was using her brother to spy on her family. And he did it. He used his relationship with Cécilia to spy on her. The woman he ‘loves.’

At least there’s a place for the scorn in her answer.

“A poor showing, Luke. One is better than one, but this should have been easy.”

GM: Luke doesn’t glare, but his expression gets flatter.

“I take it back. Nothing about that was easy.”

Caroline: She’s seen that look before. She’s also been on the receiving end of Claire’s answer so many times that it’s easy to parrot it.

“Don’t get sentimental. This family cannot let feelings get in the way of what is necessary. Your father has never hesitated, and neither can you.”

GM: Luke looks like he could sigh. But he doesn’t. Or disagree.

Caroline never did.

He takes another sip of his drink.

“What about Linda?” he asks. Part-accusingly.

“Gabriel has to grow up at some point. This is just continuing to baby him.”

Caroline: “Maybe it is. Are you complaining that we aren’t babying you enough?”

“You’re a grown man, Luke. Your father’s oldest and the presumptive heir to the entire family. Your uncle isn’t wrong when he quotes, ‘To those whom much is given.’ And Gabriel is much further from bringing Linda into the family than you are.”

She pauses to take another large sip of her drink. “You know it’s for the best. We can’t let anything get in your way.”

GM: Luke just doesn’t say anything to that.

“I’m complaining you’re babying him too much. Clearly, Adam’s going to grow up to become Orson. I thought I was going to grow up to become Matt, until Dad seemed less sure. What plan is there for Gabriel? He’ll be in college soon.”

Caroline: “He’ll have to grow up,” Caroline answers. “Whichever path you do not follow will become his, and when that time comes he’ll have to set childish things aside. But not yet.”

“Your brother doesn’t have your strength, Luke. He doesn’t see the full picture. He still hadn’t given up on your half-sister. So yes, I threw him a bone. Something productive to keep him occupied.”

GM: “It still wouldn’t be impossible to bring her back into the fold. The benefits outweigh the drawbacks.”

“And Linda is anything but productive. There’s no future with her.”

Caroline: “And what benefits are those?” Caroline answers pointedly. “Linda at least will keep your brother out of trouble until he’s matured.”

GM: “You’re the one who said she’s the most like Dad, out of us all. That speaks for itself.”

Caroline: “We all thought so, didn’t we? But your father wouldn’t have thrown away everything he worked towards for nothing. Orson might have taken personal offense to her lifestyle, but it’s her judgement that is the real concern.”

“And her fall from grace paved the way for your ascension.”

GM: “I thought we were supposed to consider the family’s interests before our own.”

“I’m not happy over her lifestyle, but she could hide it like it like Savannah does.”

Caroline: “If only she had been so considerate of the family as you are of her?” Caroline observes pointedly, shaking her head.

“Your half-sister should be grateful that excommunication from God and family was all she received. If Orson hadn’t had his heart attack it would have been far worse.”

GM: “I don’t doubt that.” A pause. “It’s risky, what you’re doing with him.”

Caroline: “How’s that?” Caroline asks.

GM: Luke raises his eyebrows.

Caroline: “Your father and I haven’t gotten this far by taking risks.”

GM: “That’s exactly what my thought was. We could lose the archbishopric if this doesn’t pan out.”

Caroline: What the devil was she up to? It’s like putting together a puzzle in the dark.

“Your cousin won’t let that happen.”

GM: “We both know that’s not up to him.”

“Is this worth the goodwill of a pope thousands of miles away?”

Caroline: “Is that what you think it’s about?” Caroline asks.

GM: Luke frowns. “You tell me what it is, then.”

Caroline: Caroline pauses, seemingly to consider.

“There’s blood in the water, Luke. Your brother. Your half-sister. Orson. This election cycle. Other things… "

She pauses again. She didn’t even need to fake the tremor in her voice when she mentioned Westley.

GM: “I suppose so.” Luke’s face gets a little stiller at the mention of Westley. He takes a drink.

“So what are we going to do about Gabriel and the Freneau girl, if Linda isn’t leaving the picture?”

Caroline: “There’s time for it to work itself out,” Caroline answers. “And if necessary, we can find a reason for them to split.” She sighs.

GM: Luke looks puzzled. “You’d said she was the better match.”

Caroline: “For Linda and Gabriel to split,” she clarifies. “She’d hardly be the first girl to lose her senses off at college. And that might do a good job toughening up Gabriel.”

GM: He nods. “I’d agree with that.”

He sets down his mostly finished drink and gets up. “I’ll get the sample.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: There’s a text message from Ferris.

Still hungry? Dinner’s picked up.

Caroline: Caroline takes the opportunity to double check the detector when he gets up.

GM: It says the signal is still there.

Caroline: I am. Stop by, but give me five minutes.

GM: Affirmative.

Caroline: There are still a few matters to close with her brother. She’s not about to let a ‘sample’ from her sister fall into anyone else’s hands.

GM: Luke returns shortly later with a plastic baggie containing several pale blonde hairs. He hands it to ‘Claire’ without comment.

Caroline: She looks at the hairs for a moment before tucking them away. She looks at Luke.

“I know that wasn’t easy.”

GM: “Maybe one day she’ll ask our son to do the same.”

Caroline: I wouldn’t count on that, Caroline doesn’t quite smirk.

She puts that thought out of her mind. She’s about to do something very cruel to Luke. She can, perhaps, do something to lessen the sting.

“I don’t tell you very often, but I’m very proud of you. Of the man you’ve become.”

GM: He nods. “It feels like so much is riding on Cécilia and me.”

Caroline: “There is. I don’t need to tell you there is,” Caroline answers, looking down at her nearly empty drink.

“But I’m not talking about Cécilia and you. I’m talking about you.”

“No one of consequence gets as much time as they want, to accomplish as much as they want to accomplish. The best they can hope is that someone else will be there to carry on their work.”

She looks back up at him. “I know you’ll do so.”

GM: Luke’s expression softens.

“Thanks, Mom. I know… I know you’re doing what’s best for the family. I’ve never doubted that. I don’t think anyone in this family ever has.”

Caroline: She nods. “It’ll be your family, Luke.”

GM: His smile is wan. “Eventually. I’m not in any hurry to get there. We’ve gone through enough death, with Westley.”

“It’s funny, in a way.”

“It’d been so long since there were any deaths, or births, in the family. I think we grew complacent, in a way. We just assumed everything would last forever the way it was.”

“But that’s why I proposed to Cécilia. Nothing lasts forever. I didn’t see any reason to keep waiting.”

Caroline: Caroline finishes her drink and looks down at it. “Then maybe his death has some meaning.”

GM: Luke looks wistful. “I hope so. It’d be a fitting legacy for him.”

“I’d say it’s a little early, but maybe it’s not. Cécilia and I have talked about baby names. I’ve suggested Westley, for a boy.”

Caroline: “What did she say?”

GM: “She said the baby was going to be a girl.”

Caroline: “They do seem to run in that family.”

GM: “She did say the sentiment was heartwarming.”

“She’s so kind. She told me about that time Westley knocked off the top of her sister Adeline’s dress, back when you tried letting him go to school here in the city. It was at a school dance. Boys got to see her chest.”

“He never did anything to earn her forgiveness, but she suggested the name Weslyn, if I was really set on it.”

“It’s a unique name, but not too abnormal-sounding either. I don’t know any Weslyns.”

Caroline: “You could do worse.”

GM: “I could.” He looks at his ‘mother.’ “The baby is going to be mine.”

Caroline: “I never said it wasn’t.”

GM: “You said that was possible.”

Caroline: “I don’t take chances.”

GM: “Everything is a chance. You could slip in the shower and break your neck. Get hit by a car crossing the street.”

“If Westley’s taught me anything, it’s that there are no guarantees.”

Caroline: “Then thank you all the more for humoring an old woman.” She sets down her glass on the stand next to the couch.

GM: Luke rises with his ‘mother’ to see her to the door.

Caroline: She stumbles, but catches herself on the wall on the way to the door.

GM: “Mom!” Luke exclaims, quickly moving to lend her an arm.

“That’s the second time since you got here. You’re sure you’re all right?”

Caroline: “I’m fi… I’m fine.” She grimaces between words.

GM: “You’re not fine. The building has an on-call doctor. I’ll have him take a look at you.” Luke attempts to guide her back to the couch.

Caroline: She straightens her back. “I’m perfectly capable of seeing to myself,” she declares haughtily.

GM: “Are you?” he asks, dubiously. “I haven’t said anything, Mom, but you look… strained.”

Caroline: “Of course I am.” She continues towards the door. “It’s just… it’s been a tough year.”

GM: “It looks like it’s been tougher on you than the rest of us,” says Luke, following after her. “Do you have a chauffeur tonight?”

Caroline: “One drink is not quite enough to render me helpless, Luke.”

She doesn’t stumble, but one hand traces the wall as she comes to the door. Helping with her balance.

GM: “Mom, do you have a chauffeur?” he repeats.

Caroline: “No, I don’t have a chauffeur, Luke. And I’m telling you… I’m fine.”

She puts a hand on the door and turns the lock.

GM: A voice that is not hers blossoms within her thoughts before she does. It’s almost… tittering.

:: Collapse for him, you silly girl. His horror must be genuine. ::

Caroline: She’d hoped the emotional response associated with the shock of what was waiting on the other side might be enough, and the horror could come later, with the body. She hoped to remain as detached from this charade as possible.

But he’s right.

There is no time for half-measures.

GM: When is there?

Caroline’s phone buzzes from her pocket.

Caroline: She pauses, wavering as unsteadily as a pine in a storm, as she reaches for the phone.

GM: It’s from Ferris.

Been delayed with food. Met some friends of yours who want to join you. Said they’re going on ahead.

“Let me drive you, at least,” presses Luke.

Caroline: She sways.

“I don’t… "

The phone tumbles to the ground from numb fingers.

“Need..”

The Venture staggers to the door with all the grace of a falling log. She gets out one final word as she slides down the door and hits the ground.

"Help… "

GM: “Mom!” Luke yells, dropping to her side. He pulls out his phone and shouts into it, “It’s my mother, she’s collapsed! Get the doctor up immediately!”

Caroline: There’s nothing to fake. Caroline just stops breathing. Her heart stopped beating many nights ago.

GM: Luke feels for a pulse. His face blanches. He frantically starts giving Caroline chest compressions in between breaths into her mouth.

“Mom, come on, come on… !”

It’s ironic. Caroline’s kept up to date. In 2010, the American Heart Association released new guidelines that did not recommend mouth-to-mouth when performing CPR. For most responders, anyway.

He might not be saving Claire even if his mother was still alive.

Caroline: She lays there. She can all but feel the desperation coming off him. The growing panic. The fear. The same things that caused the AHA to issue those recommended changes on how responders perform CPR. People in a panic, who aren’t up to date, struggle to get it right even without the breaths.

Luke is no different. Focusing on his flawed attempts makes it easier to disassociate from what she’s putting him through.

GM: Luke keeps trying, desperately. His hands shove up and down against Caroline’s chest between breaths into her mouth. He yells at the phone for the doctor to get here faster. He yells for the person on the other end to call 911, that his mom’s on the ground, that she’s not breathing, that she has no pulse.

“Mom, come on, come on, you’re going to be a grandma!” His voice starts to break. “You’re going, going to meet your grandson, you’re going to see me get married, you’re going to see Dad make another run, you’re, you’re going to be there, you’re going to be there…!

Caroline: Caroline’s glad the act requires only that she lay still, that she can retreat from Luke’s grief into her own thoughts.

She hardens her heart against him, remembering a collection of blonde hairs in ’Claire’s’ bag, his talk of trying to gather others. Remembers Claire trying to stake her. Remembers the fire around her so many times, Claire looking on behind hard eyes. Claire’s casual acceptance of murders towards her own goals.

She retreats back into the bond—not with her sire, but with her sisters. The tie that binds her to them, that faint awareness of them that’s always there now. Something she an focus on, that she can use to distract herself.

Anywhere and anything to get away from Luke’s grief, coward that she is.

GM: It’s like tracing the length of a flowering vine. So many of its buds are closed, but at least one is in full bloom. Caroline inhales deeply of the scent. It envelops her like a tender embrace. She feels the emotions like they’re welling from her own heart. There’s sympathy. Sadness. Resignation, that this is necessary. The only way forward.

And, amidst it all, love.

It would be easier to focus on, though, if she didn’t have to keep her eyes open.

If she didn’t feel her brother’s hands pushing against her chest, over and over, trying to start her dead heart.

If she didn’t feel his mouth pressing against hers, expelling air into her dead lungs.

If she didn’t hear him begging, pleading, entreating, for his mother not to go, not yet, not now.

If she didn’t have to see the tears running down his cheeks.

It would be so much easier if her eyes were dead too.

The doctor comes up, eventually. So do a couple building staff. Caroline isn’t sure what they expect to do. The doctor kneels down to feel Caroline’s pulse, then gives Luke the bad news with a resigned look. He closes Caroline’s eyes.

It’s easy to tune out what happens next, if she chooses to. Luke cries some more. The doctor asks Luke what happened. He marshals himself and says how his mother walked unsteadily, how she fell down. How she’d been unsteady on her feet throughout the evening, how what if… if he’d called someone sooner…

The doctor tells him there’s nothing he could have done. Maybe he’s just saying that to be nice. He hasn’t even said what Claire has. Luke mentions Claire had a rum and coke. Was there something in it? The doctor says they’ll test it and find out.

The building staff say they and the doctor will take care of this. All of this. Emergency services are on their way, but Luke won’t have to talk to anyone until… later. After he’s had some time to process things. Maybe he nods. Caroline doesn’t see what he does next. But she makes out the sound of a tapping phone, and then her brother’s voice as he shakily says,

“Cécilia… something… something horrible’s happened…”

“Oh, no… what is it, Luke… ?”

“My mom’s… my mom’s dead…!

There’s a fresh wave of crying.

Cécilia’s muffled voice gasps through the phone. "_Mon dieu…_ oh, Luke… Luke… I’m so sorry… "

She sounds as if she might be crying too, or close to it, but her voice remains steady. “I’ll be over, as fast as I can… are you at your apartment, or her hotel?”

“My… my apartment… "

“Okay… okay, I’ll be there. I’m getting Adeline to drive… I’ll stay on the phone with you the whole time, okay?”

“O… okay… "

“Luke… I’m so sorry… I’m so, so sorry… "

Caroline: It’s not like watching a car wreck, not the casual cruel curiosity of a lookie loo examining the mangled bodies on the side of the road. It’s like being in the car as it collides with the semitruck—an emotional crash that destroys things as fragile as creatures of flesh and bone without mercy or hesitation. Even Caroline’s dead flesh is not exempt.

Claire was her stepmother (and shut up, that stupid voice in the back of her head that whispers something else, like the scratching of a rat in the walls at night), and whatever else she was—a complex figure who could murder and condemn without hesitation or remorse—Caroline’s memories of her are not entirely without fondness. Days and nights in which the hardest, most prickly parts of the dead woman’s personality softened. Not the least of which was the day Claire signed her own death warrant. The day she spared Caroline. In a very real way that night, and many nights thereafter, Claire knew she was marching inexorably towards her death, but she did so seemingly without reservation.

It’s not something Caroline’s taken the time to—had the time to—process. Claire might have betrayed her in the end, but it was towards ends she believed right. Ends she believed in the furtherance of Caroline’s wellbeing. She was controlling, distrustful, manipulative, and oh so cold, but there was still a bond between them. One Caroline brutally severed just as it began to grow. She personally killed Claire, and no claims of self-defense are enough to completely relieve her of that guilt. Everything that’s happened to the family since her Embrace is her own doing. This is only the latest, most personal, most wrenching evidence of it.

Watching Luke, who she was once so close to, before the demands of adulthood got in the way. Before competition for her father’s limited time and affection got in the way. Luke, who is through it all still her brother. Luke who was so much closer to Claire. Who has not had nights to accept Claire’s death. Who does not have Abélia filling that place in his heart. Watching him suffer hits far harder than her own feelings over Claire’s death.

Watching him suffer, watching him wrestle with the grief if something no child should have to experience—the death of a parent in their arms—is a dagger to her heart.

And she’s at the center of his grief. Ultimately, this plan, framing Claire’s death around him, using him to protect the Masquerade, was her idea. It wasn’t enough to murder her brother’s mother, no, she had to make him live through that death. She had to lie to him and deceive him for her own ends. She had to put him through so much pain. To protect the Masquerade. To protect herself. To make it look good. To who? Who was she trying to impress, that Luke had to have his mother die in front of him?

She knows the answer. It’s there. It’s always been there, but never stronger than tonight. She’s seen his face every night since the first she laid eyes on him, but it’s been burned into her mind since she last bowed before him, lowered her lips to his pale flesh, and let the fire burn through her.

Pic.jpg
Luke has to suffer so she can impress him. So she can be a good heir to him. So he might look on her with eyes filled with something other than hate. So she can become his heir and watch over his kingdom while he rests, when he finally is allowed to rest.

Even here, at the center of her own grief, at the heart of her guilt, he’s the one that comes to her mind.

It’ll be worth it though, won’t it? All of this will be worth it, if it improves her standing in his eyes.

Destroying her brother like this, ripping out his heart?

Murdering Claire for him.

Burying her own heart.

For him?

She knows the answer.

But it won’t stop her from trying.

That’s what she is, isn’t she? The dutiful daughter? The dutiful childe?

She listens to her brother’s sobbing. Listens to the grief that fills his voice, the raw red anguish.

It’s right that she should be here, that she should have to experience it first hand. That she should see what she’s wrought.

But she’d do it again.

It’s what a dutiful daughter should do.

GM: And whatever else she might be, she has always been the dutiful daughter.

Daughter.

Not sister.

Luke and Cécilia talk for a while. His voice gets fainter, as though he’s walking away, but Caroline still hears it. Still hears the anguish, raw and red and fresh as he sobs. Cécilia cries too as she offers what comfort she can. It can’t be enough. She repeats how many minutes she’s away. How soon she’ll get there.

Caroline said so herself, to Maldonato. She wanted to find some way to fix things, to reach an accommodation. Claire wasn’t so naive. She knew how this would end.

Yet it seems unlikely that Caroline’s (step)mother could have anticipated this. Her daughter lying on the floor, impersonating her own corpse.

Maybe she’d have approved, in a twisted way, by her own twisted standards. For Caroline doing what was necessary.

It’s as she herself said to Luke:

Don’t get sentimental. This family cannot let feelings get in the way of what is necessary. Your father has never hesitated, and neither can you.

Claire and Luke both said she was the most like him, out of any of them.

Caroline feels someone draping a sheet over her body. Who wants to look at a corpse when they don’t have to. Caroline hears footsteps all around her, people talking, and finally a door opening. There’s more footsteps. Some sniffs. A croaked, "Cécilia… " and then silence, except for the pair’s heavy breathing, wet with tears. She can picture Luke shaking in her sister’s arms.

Some time passes.

“Come home with me,” says Cécilia. "Spend the night. You shouldn’t have to wake up here, by yourself… where she… "

She doesn’t finish that thought.

“Let me… let me hold you… "

Maybe Luke nods. Caroline doesn’t see.

“I need… to call… rest of the family… " he gets out.

“Luke, let me… "

“No… no, it should… Dad’d want me… "

“Okay… we’ll call him first… will he be awake?”

“I… guess we’ll… "

The phone dials.

“What is it, Luke?” comes their father’s crisp voice. Slightly duller, like an axe that’s not been run over a whetstone in some time, but could all-too easily regain that lethal edge.

Luke takes a steadying breath. “Dad… Mom’s dead.”

And just like that, it does.

“What?”

“She… she came to my apartment. She fell. She stopped breathing. I gave CPR. The doctor… said she’s dead. There’s no… there’s no pulse… " Luke keeps his voice mostly steady.

“She fell? She stopped breathing? Why?” The word stabs from the phone like a knife.

“I don’t… we don’t know… there’ll be an aut-”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You tell me my wife is dead, and you dare say you don’t even know why?!” Nathan spits.

Caroline can feel the heat rising in his voice.

Luke’s voice starts to rise too. “Dad, there hasn-”

Caroline: It’s like listening to an echo of her sire. The ruthlessness. The will to power. The demand for recognition and consideration. The natural authority.

But only an echo.

GM: “There hasn’t? There hasn’t what, Luke? There never is, is there, you sniveling incompetent! I have to do everything myself!” The mortal man’s voice is livid with fury.

THERE HASN’T BEEN A FUCKING AUTOPSY!” Luke yells, his own voice no less furious. “God-”

“That is YOUR failure to inform me past your sniveling, you crying little boy!” his father’s voice snarls over his. It’s not as loud, but it cuts through Luke’s words like a lumber axe—and sounds no less furious.

“I see now that you are too emotional to deliver a rational account of what happened to your mother. I will oversee the autopsy. I will oversee everything, like I always do, when someone in this family gets killed through their own or someone else’s stupidity. Perhaps it’s your fault, this time, if your mother died in your_ apartment? I will find out. I will solve everything. Like I always do. Expect me back in the city before sunrise, Luke. I am very disappointed in you.”

The line hangs up.

Luke gives a choked scream of half-fury, half-grief. There’s the sound of something small and hard crashing against a wall.

“That… FUCKING… !”

“Oh, Luke… " Cécilia doesn’t say anything for a bit. Maybe she’s hugging him.

“You’re doing everything right… he’s just angry, angry and taking it out on you… "

“There hasn’t even been time for an autopsy!” Luke snarls. “That… fucking… !”

“He’s not thinking straight, either… he’s just angry… you did nothing wrong… " his fiancée comforts him.

“I don’t know why. I don’t know why I even bother,” Luke says flatly. “He always wished Caroline had been born with a penis, then I could just be another Westley.”

“That’s literally the only reason I’m the, whatever the fuck you want to call it, and she’s not.”

“And I guess being gay.”

Caroline: She knows that isn’t quite true. She might have been his ‘favorite’ in life, but her father always wanted each of his children to be successful. Wanted them all to be something. And recognized, as Luke so pointedly observes, the limitations Caroline would always face.

It’s funny hearing him speak, though. Hearing her father rage. What seems like a lifetime ago, that would have set her on edge, set her scrambling to meet whatever demand he set, filled her with shame when she failed. Now…

It’s like listening through a pane of glass, like nothing he says is real, like it doesn’t matter. Not compared to… well…

Still, she knows what her brother needs to hear.

You should tell him Dad always knew that he’d be the heir, and that time has proved him right. That his steadiness, his steadfastness, was always what would see him through, and that it’s what dad always saw in him: a bedrock. That he has to be that bedrock now.

GM: There’s a pause, but not for overlong.

“Luke, your father always knew. He always knew you would be the one to follow in his footsteps and rule the family. Time has proved him right—and you right. It’s your steadiness, your reliability, your loyalty, that was always what would see you through. That’s what your father always saw you as. A bedrock.”

“The time is now, for you to be that bedrock. Your father said he was disappointed in you. Prove him wrong. Prove you are everything he could want from a son.”

There is another pause.

But also not for overlong.

“I’m going to call the others. Starting with Matt. Orson, probably not, since the heart attack.”

Wouldn’t that have been unthinkable a few short months ago.

“Adam, though. Carson. He’s always had a level head. I’ll ride with the ambulance and oversee the autopsy personally.”

Luke’s voice is hoarse, and still a little numb, but there’s a steadiness to it there wasn’t before.

“Luke, are you sure that’s allowed… ?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m a Malveaux. There’s nothing they won’t allow me.”

“Damn not having Ferris. I’ll bring Alphonse, and some of the new people. It’s not impossible this was an assassination. Mom had enemies. We’ll put the family security on high alert.”

“All of that sounds like a smart plan,” Cécilia nods. “I think it may be a while, though, before there’s an autopsy… ?”

“I’ll stay with the body until there is,” says Luke. “And push the coroners to perform one, as soon as possible. I want results by yesterday.”

“Just don’t be too mad if they can’t, Luke. Neither of us are doctors. I’m not sure how it all works.”

“But I’m very proud of you,” Cécilia smiles. “You are the family’s bedrock.”

Caroline? Is there anything else you’d like me to suggest?

Caroline: Him being with the body is going to result in him getting… they’re going to invade his mind over and over again. It’d be better if that didn’t happen.

She pauses. Ask him what he thinks she would actually want, the ‘why’ and ‘what’ or the ‘what now’ direction of things. How she died and why is much less important than what the family does about it. Being there pulls him out of position, and he knows many of the plots she had better than most.

GM: “Luke, what do you think your mom would want?” Cécilia asks. “The why and the what, or the what now?”

Luke seems to frown. “You don’t think she’d want me with her body.”

“As cold as it feels to say… what’s done is done. What do you think she’d care about most right now?”

“What happens next,” Luke answers. “How this impacts the family.”

He’s silent for a moment.

“We need to stop this from leaking to the press until the autopsy is complete. How she died ultimately doesn’t matter. It needs to be either a tragic accident or something enemies of the family can be publicly blamed for. She would want to leverage this to advance the family’s position.”

“That’s a bit grim, but it does sound like what she’d have wanted,” says Cécilia. “Do you still want to be there with the body?”

“No. But we’ll put people on it.”

“I have… other things I need to do.”

“Can I help?” asks Cécilia.

“Yes. Help spread the news. Be there for the others. Help keep an eye on things. Whatever comes up. I’m sure there’ll be a million things to do, soon, and there’s only so many people the family can really trust.”

“Okay. I can do all of that,” says Cécilia. “You’ll be okay?”

“I’ll have to be. But… she told me to expect this day.”

Caroline: That catches Caroline’s attention. She did seem to know the end was inevitable… interesting that she told him, though.

GM: I wonder why. Is there anything you’d like me to say?

Caroline: What he means by expecting the day. Claire knew her days were numbered, but I didn’t think she would be so overt about it.

GM: "You mean she expected to die, soon? That might be very relevant, going forward… "

“I didn’t take her completely seriously,” answers Luke. “I guess I should have. She was very serious about how that day might come, and what I’d need to do.”

Caroline: If she laid plans with him, those might be especially meaningful in what’s to come.

Which doesn’t make her feel better about listening in.

A moment later, I’m sorry to eavesdrop like this, Cécilia… and that you have to be a part of this.

GM: It’s okay. Those plans could hurt you. I’d do anything to prevent that.

I’m sorry you have to go through this at all.

And that I haven’t even be able to hug you yet. I could feel how much all of this has hurt you.

Caroline: She doesn’t deserve Cécilia, and it makes her all the more grateful for her.

She thinks to the collection of pale blonde hairs in the handbag next to her corpse. Neither does Luke, come to think of it, but she’ll do nothing tonight to damage that. To hurt Cécilia. There’s still hope for him.

I made my bed here.

She truly has no one else to blame.

But that you care means more than you know, Cécilia. Helps more than you can imagine.

GM: Then that’s what counts.

Caroline: Cécilia is what counts, so far as Caroline is concerned. At least so far as Luke. It’s as simple as that. Her brother’s proximity to Cécilia is what will save him from the worst of her wrath. From her excesses.

He may be her brother, and she’ll always have affection for him, but there’s no question as to what she fits into her heart around the dominating presence that is her sire.

As it turns out, there’s room for seven.

What was it her mother had said? Seven is the perfect number.

GM: “Are those things I can help you with, Luke?” Cécilia asks aloud.

Caroline gets the impression of her brother shaking his head. “Like I said. Be there for the others. Help them with things as they come up. There’s going to be more than enough to stay busy with, in a bit.”

Caroline: With her brother she can agree on that at least. There’s never enough hours for all there is to do. There will be more than ever after tonight.

It’s funny, though, how differences in perspective affect how a given moment is seen.

So far as her brother is concerned, this is an end.

But for Caroline, it’s only a beginning.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Luke and Cécilia talk for a little while longer. Caroline doesn’t hear anything from the doctor or building staff. They seem like they’ve been gone for a little while. She hears another man’s voice, who addresses Cécilia as “ma’am,” and Adeline’s too.

Eventually, there’s heavier footsteps, and a low rolling sound. Caroline feels someone continuing compressions before she’s lifted into the air, then there’s canvas against her back. She feels her clothes getting cut away, then a gelled surface against her chest and plastic against her face. There’s rough movement underneath her, more voices, then the ding of elevator doors. There’s more movement downwards, another ding of the doors, and rolling underneath her. There’s more voices.

She eventually feels night air against her skin, movement upward, and slamming doors. Sirens wail as the ground speeds beneath her.

“You can open your eyes now, ma’am,” comes Fuller’s voice.

Caroline: The Venture’s eyes snap open, and she rises to a sitting position.

GM: She’s in the back of an ambulance. Fuller wears an EMT’s uniform. There’s another ghoul she doesn’t recognize, along with the facsimile of Claire’s corpse. Fuller hands her the clothes she had on prior to Claire’s.

“The others are still on site helping with things there.”

Caroline: Helping. She feels a surge of jealousy. Around her family. Especially her sisters. She understands well why Becky Lynne was so irritated by her proximity to Sarah.

She has questions, but not in front of a stranger. “No issues with dinner?”

GM: “Didn’t get the food we’d ordered. Still got food.”

Caroline: “Better than nothing.”

She has no intention of sharing.

GM: The other ghoul, a dark-haired and nondescript man dressed in an EMT’s uniform, doesn’t speak. The ambulance speeds closer to the hospital.

When they get there, he motions with a hand. Cloak-like shadows coalesce around Caroline. People don’t look at her as the doors open and he and Fuller heft the body out on its stretcher. There’s all the usual sounds of bedlam and suffering inherent to a late-night hospital ER. The body gets whisked away, hospital personnel still continuing resuscitative efforts. Fuller eventually reappears in his own clothes.

“Seems they’re taking it from here, ma’am. Didn’t feel like they especially wanted us.”

He says there’s a car brought over by one of Caroline’s (non-initiated) people, waiting outside to convey them to wherever the Ventrue wants to go next. If Caroline has no orders to the contrary, Ferris and her other ghouls are going to rendezvous back at the Giani Building when they’re done at Luke’s apartment.

Caroline: The Ventrue carefully removes Cécilia’s hairs from ’Claire’s’ bag before they arrive, tucking the tiny plastic bag in her bra.

She waits until they get to the car to ask about who they captured and where they are, as well as what they have on the bugs in Luke’s house if they didn’t belong to their prey.

GM: The ghoul watches Caroline as she does so, but does not attempt to stop her.

“Harlequin detected the bugs, ma’am. He and Doriocourt took them,” Fuller answers as he drives.

Caroline: Of course they did. Caroline might have hoped that the two older vampires might have overlooked them entirely, but she hadn’t bet on it. Instead she had her own plan in motion.

The first step was clearly identifying whether the bugs extend into the apartment—something she checked and reported once inside easily. Not only did it tip them off as to whether they were higher-quality more embedded spyware across the apartment (likely Claire’s work) or slapdash quick work by someone in a hurry (perhaps another hunter) hoping that Claire might show up, it also helped them determine where to concentrate their efforts.

That mattered really only insofar as how her ghouls and employees proceeded on the next step, whether they proceed in pairs or can split up more fully. Slapdash work was more likely to have a body on site monitoring, and she’ll have not split her people up if that’s the case. Requiring they work in groups would have slowed the process, but slower would have been preferable to potentially letting someone get away or (worse) overcome one of her people. As it turned out, it wasn’t required. Bugs across the apartment pointed at Claire, and she’d tipped off her people appropriately. All of it fed into just how long she needed to keep Luke occupied.

Ramsey had explained at Ferris’ prompting that no matter the bug, the signal from any source can only go so far—that’s explicitly what the RF detector measured—and the further it went, the larger, the more obtrusive, and the shorter-lasting any device. That made it likely that for any given device, the signal would only go as far as is absolutely necessary to reach the receiver. Several of her people worked the floor to figure out the exact range of that signal with their own more sensitive monitors, working up and down the hall to measure where it cut off. Her people were then to quickly identify all other rooms (janitorial closets, halls, staff only areas, and other apartments) which fell into the edge of that range and work their way through them, working from the outside in.

Luke’s expensive apartment choice was likely to aid them in that significantly—in a cheaper placer the floors and ceilings might be thin enough that the signal might cover multiple floors, but neither her brother nor the other residents would likely tolerate hearing their neighbors beaten wives scream or big screen TVs with surround sound blare through the floor and walls. No, every apartment has soundproofing, and that same soundproofing works well on any radio signal as well. They didn’t expect to be clearing multiple floors or even an entire one.

Not that it was supposed come to that. Residents, if necessary, were to be roused and dominated by ghouls, but common spaces are where they had been instructed to start first: it seemed much more likely they sneak whatever receiver they’re using somewhere they could easily access, and somewhere that required less setup than renting an entire apartment well in advance.

After common and staff spaces they were to move to empty apartments—identified by distant observers looking in on rooms with high quality binoculars—the keycard locks were unlikely to stand up to the tools available to Ramsey and Ferris. Only after examining them though, and as a last resort, were they to move onto occupied apartments. For that purpose they had fake badges available to go with the dominate.

Amateurs, or those that don’t really understand what they’re dealing with, Ferris had explained might get hung up on the bugs themselves. They might provide some insight, he admits, if they have prints on them, or serial numbers that can be tracked back to purchasers at great cost and effort. What he (and Caroline) were focused on is the much juicier prize: either the receiver that’s forwarding the signal on from the building to an offsite location (likely a computer wired into a network access point) or a similar receiver with someone monitoring it live.

Caroline had worried that a receiver could be stashed somewhere less conspicuous—on the ceiling, on a ceiling tile—but Ferris and Ramsey had an answer for that concern as well. Any kind of work that had to split off power and network connectivity would have raised attention and alarm. It might be stashed, but if so it’s not too carefully hidden: it still needs a power outlet. Any power plugs leading off somewhere were briefed as immediate points of interest.

Which begs the question: what did they catch?

GM: The short version, Fuller answers, is they have a lead on an offsite location. Caroline’s people did not pick up an on-site monitor, so Fuller assumes Luke’s apartment was under surveillance by Caroline’s stepmother rather than other hunters.

Ferris withheld the full details from Caroline’s older ghoul, at least for now. The ex-CIA agent was (in Fuller’s view, rightfully) concerned over being able to keep their findings secret in a building so inundated with simultaneous activity by the Krewe of Janus and the sheriff’s agents. He will brief his domitor upon their return to the Giani Building.

Caroline: She gestures for Fuller to lead the way to the car. There’s little to be gained from hanging around where she isn’t wanted.

She has Fuller drive. She has the kine servant call a Ryde for themselves. She has a stop to make, and it’s better without the questions it might raise in an employee.

After all, her choice of code phrases with Ferris hadn’t been entirely chosen by accident: she could really go for some takeout.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline had wanted someone as fast as possible, no bullshit.

Like all things, there’s an app for that.

Caroline may or may not remember the specifics of her tryst with Nathaniel Hite, or even the young man’s name until she saw his Tinder profile, but his face was a familiar one. He was happy to swing by again for a late-night hookup upon being reminded of their last one.

“They ended up not expelling me over that whole ‘renting out my dorm thing,’” he mentions. “There was a ton of bullshit over it, though. Just an absolute ton of bullshit. Dealing with it was punishment enough.”

“I think they cut me some slack because my parents were partly ‘complicit.’ They both had to spend hours on the phone with a bunch of bureaucrats saying that yes, they knew I was doing this, they’d set a bad example.”

Caroline: The Ventrue genuinely couldn’t care less about the kine’s problems.

She puts on a fake smile and meets him in the lobby, listening to his complaints with the sort of vacant agreement she’d long practiced with would be suiters long before her Embrace. Lots of ‘oh wow’ and ‘really’ that invites him to continue while requiring marginal actual mental engagement as she suffers through his complaints on the too long elevator ride to her seventh floor apartment.

She drops the facade as soon as the door to her apartment closes.

GM: He looks around at it as they step inside. "This is a really nice place, by the w… "

Caroline: “Sit down, shut up, and stay put until I come back for you,” she orders.

This is a chore that needs doing, but damned if she feels like doing it right now.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline does not hesitate in beginning her investigation into and securing of her new domain following the confirmation of the bishop’s destruction. She knows from experience, and the advice of Ferris, that too many secrets will follow the bishop in the grave never to be seen again if not exhumed swiftly. If the halflife of a mission person is 24 hours, that of a secret is no order of magnitude greater.

Many Malveaux secrets are not new to her – and even more peel away with Ferris by her side. If she’s shocked by the tales he brings of the lengths the family has gone to over his decade of employment to advance in the state’s cutthroat politics she shows no sign off it. Similarly, she had no reaction to tales of outright depravity among family members he’d worked to conceal. Violence, substance abuse, illegitimate children, sexual assault. The list goes on without so much of a flinch from her. She wonders ideally if it’s because it’s her family, or because of all the awful things she’s done. Would she have always justified it, or is it simply so much easier to do now? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, especially as they’re not what she’s after.

No, there’s one secret however that’s puzzled her for years – even before her Requiem – that she wants. Her cousin Susan’s abrupt choice to take to the cloth in her teen years had been shocking, even terrifying for Caroline at the time. An almost threat about what happened to disappointing or disobedient daughters. Almost a decade later through the lens of the bishop’s dominion over the family, the topic is of far greater interest to her. She cannot help but believe there’s some secret buried here, and secrets she has need of.

It’s thusly that she finds herself mere nights after his destruction plotting the invasion of another’s domain to tear into that secret. Like a footpad searching over the still steaming corpse of a victim, the lesser crime of meddling is of little concern to her next to when it comes to capturing all the spoils of the bishop’s murder. She fully intends to dig through each of his ‘pockets’ for something of value.

As simple as her reasons are, the process of getting there was not so simple. Trespassing—so much as one can against a usurper—in the domain of another Kindred is dangerous under the best circumstances. For the unacknowledged heir apparent to the prince trespassing into the heavily fortified domain of a rival it’s another matter entirely.

She well knows she’s under surveillance from many interested parties. Most of her Requiem it was easier to work within that surveillance than try to avoid it, accepting it as a constriction on her freedom of action because she must—she’s not practiced at eluding it. Not she, already accustomed to the spotlight. Better to be the magician on the stage fooling her audience through slight of hand. That option is not available tonight, and perhaps any other. Though the two elder ghouls that shadow her are no doubt in part for her protection these nights, she has no doubt too they will dutifully report on her activities to the seneschal. More subtly is required.

Fortunately for her Roger Ferris’ very particular set of skills encompass all manner of subterfuge, and she leans heavily on the operative. The Walter Robinson House is perhaps the only place she is safe from outside observation, but the Giani Building will do. She calls the ghoul to lay their plans, asking him to bring whatever information he has on her cousin, already plotting in her mind an incursion into the French Quarter to raid the Ursuline Convent.

GM: Ferris arrives at the Giani Building with the requested items. He reports that Orson expressly ordered him not to involve himself in what became of Susan.

Claire expressly ordered him to do exactly that, but discretely. Both of them believed the bishop had a hand in what became of Caroline’s cousin.

Ferris hired a PI to do the legwork. The man reported Susan was quiet and subdued in her new life. He suspected she was not there by her own will. Ferris and Claire concurred. They could find no apparent reason the bishop sent Susan to the convent.

“He was cracked in the head, ma’am. There are times he would do sadistic things to Malveauxes without rhyme or reason. He preferred to kill family members or ruin their lives when milder measures would have sufficed. Your stepmother believed he hated the family, for all that he might have used them towards his ends.”

The ex-CIA agent also reports that Susan is not at the Old Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter. The Ursulines have multiple convents in the city. Susan is at the one located in Riverbend.

“Why stash her at the nunnery in enemy territory.”

The address is 2734 Nashville Ave. Caroline has the options of taking a detour through Mid-City and a longer drive through Riverbend, or a shorter drive through Uptown and a still-shorter drive through Riverbend.

Getting caught by Donovan or McGinn might be better in some ways, Ferris assesses, and worse in others. He has an alternative strategy to propose while they’re getting ready.

“As you note, ma’am, you’re under considerable surveillance. If all you want is the girl, I’d subcontract getting her out to someone with fewer eyes on them. Someone who doesn’t directly work for you, and isn’t Kindred or a ghoul either. Fewer consequences if they get caught. May or Hayes could both do the job.”

It makes perfect sense that Susan would be in Donovan’s domain given his association with the bishop, but it doesn’t make it easier to stomach than her being in the French Quarter.

The Ventrue spares a none-too-patient glance at one of the windows as Ferris suggests using a third party. She knows the elder ghouls are out there. Waiting. Watching. But for them she’d go herself, but sneaking away from her minders will invite all manner of uncomfortable speculation. She wants to visit Susan herself, slip into her cage and find what lies within. But it is unwise.

Its one thing to vanish from under the nose of her enemies’ spies, another to arouse questions from among her notional allies, mentors…. master. That word, even unspoken, sends a shiver through her. She knows how sparing his trust.

Caroline: It’s a shame, because she knows that the sheriff’s attention is quite split at the moment—there might never be a better time in many ways. Unless she rips his domain from him.

“And what if it’s not that simple? The bishop’s secrecy makes me extremely suspicious Roger. No pawn did he secret away so carefully.” And what happens in the family when she pulls Susan out?

“What if she’s not just a kine?” Caroline asks. She remembers getting burned by Summer.

On the other hand, that would be all the more reason to rip her free before someone else interferes.

GM: Ferris seems to give a verbal shrug. “What else would she be? The bishop kept no ghouls besides a little albino girl that your stepmother and I were aware of.”

“I’m not certain what’s become of her either, for that matter.”

Caroline: “There are plenty of other things that go bump in the night.” She well remembers her Ryde driver puking up human flesh. “Speak with Autumn and Ms. Green about Summer Greer when you have time.”

GM: “I’ll do so, ma’am. I’m also aware. Your stepmother didn’t induct me into this world.”

Caroline: She doesn’t waste his time or insult his intelligence by pausing to explain how valuable those types of beings can be for Kindred. “At least two agents. It would be better if they could pull her out in a way that would allow is to return her without notice, but with Orson in the hospital and the bishop dead, I expect few will actually bother to follow up with her if we cannot.”

“And obviously, it is best if she comes willingly.” Best, but not required.

GM: “I’d be surprised if your cousin was something other than human, in any case. The PI who investigated her didn’t think she seemed happy, as I said. Thought she was being held against her will. If she’s not human, that would either suggest she was weak enough for the Albino to keep imprisoned in the nunnery, or that she was there of her own accord. Both of which would beg the question as to why.”

“Why stay holed away for years in a nunnery.”

Caroline: “We’ll find out.”

GM: “Goodman would be better than Hayes or May at convincing her to leave. On the other hand, his face is more likely to be known by the sheriff’s people.”

Caroline: “Put him in a dress.” Caroline suggests with a casualness that belies how sharp her eyes are at the suggestion.

GM: “Prudent. I doubt anyone will think to look for him in that disguise,” comes Ferris’ humorless reply.

Caroline: “A woman, or women, would also attract less attention at a convent.” Caroline agrees prudently. “Either way, sooner is better, for everyone’s sake. I know you’d prefer more detailed planning, but everyone is swinging without a net right now. Most of them have more cases to cover than we do.”

GM: “Planning time is a luxury. We can get by without if the other side doesn’t have it either,” Ferris concurs.

Caroline: “If Autumn would help, she is available as well. More likely to pick up things out of the ordinary and avoid notice than the others.”

GM: The ex-CIA agent considers. “Everyone knows she works for you, but she knows enough veiling to avoid patrols. Female. Knows what she’s getting into if Susan isn’t human.”

“I’ll have her accompany Brett.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, “Do you need anything further?”

GM: “Widney saw to it that my people got some paychecks to tide them over. That’s helped. Brett won’t mind the dress as much.”

“I’d like to tell them that they’ll be working for the Malveauxes again soon.”

Caroline: “In point of fact, they are working for a Malveaux.” Caroline observes dryly.

“The rest of the family may take longer to get in line, but they will in time.” She rolls her tongue across her teeth, “Savannah for the company, Luke in our father’s footsteps, and Adam shepherding Orson.”

“Sooner rather than later.”

GM: “Savannah has the ruthlessness and experience to succeed,” Ferris considers. “Adam has the experience. His ruthlessness is untested. Orson handled the more unsavory aspects of running the church. Adam’s never had to get his hands dirty.”

“Luke may have the ruthlessness, but not the experience. This will be his first foray into politics.”

“I’d guide him most, Adam next, and Savannah least.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

The Ventrue nods. “I expect to have the most hands on with the Church no matter how it plays out. Adam is years away from ready, and Orson is in no condition to continue to manage all he must.”

“Savannah, in contrast requires less oversight, and more containment, but has levers that can be pulled upon quite easily. Luke…” She shows fangs, “It’s fortunate our father will be around for a while yet.”

“Regardless, without the bishop’s cruelty and erratic moods this generation should be rather more successful.”

GM: “I’m not sure if success was ever his goal for the family,” muses Ferris. “Or at least his sole goal.”

“Your stepmother informed me of the incident with Orson.”

“Whatever.”

“He’s ash now.”

Caroline: A predatory grin at that.

“In any case, I’ll plant the idea in Luke’s head for your team next time we speak.”

Sooner than be plans, if she has her way. While he’s unbalanced by Claire’s death. Emotionally reeling and drawn all the more tightly to what he has left. To Cécilia.

“Draw up some evidence he can wave under their nose of how your dismissal was a frame job. It’s an easy enough sell.”

GM: “I’ll do as much, though Luke’s opinion counts less than Matt’s. He controls the purse strings.”

Caroline: “The collar on Matt will take longer, but give Luke something to take to our father. If you tie it to a threat to the family, perhaps even to Claire’s death, he’ll do our work for us with his brother.”

She meets his eyes, “Anyone other than Gabriel, Savannah, and Luke are on the table to make that point more felt if required.”

“Given the damage of the last six months that sell should not be difficult.”

She runs her hand through her hair.

GM: “I’d suggest Adam is more valuable than Gabriel, while we’re picking targets,” the ex-CIA agent offers mildly. “Could be useful to do regardless, to have my people deter an apparent threat from the family to establish why they need us.”

Caroline: “Adam needs the toughening up more though, his eyes opened.” Caroline agrees.

“If…”

The trail-off is momentary. If she had just waited a little longer, if she had trusted me a little more.

“…necessary, depicting you as in my employee since your firing is required to explain your interest, do so. Someone will follow the money eventually anyway.”

If Claire was still alive it would be easier. Caroline’s involvement will draw her back in more openly.

GM: If Claire was still alive she’d still be Caroline’s mother.

“Prudent,” agrees Ferris. “Some of them may be suspicious if you’d seemed to be idle anyways.”

Caroline: She shoves that thought away. Claire brought it on herself. She plotted against Caroline behind her back. Used her even.

Would it have mattered if Caroline had told her the whole story? About being the childe of the prince? No. she decides.

And it doesn’t matter. She didn’t believe in sacrificing, only at best trading. She accepted Caroline’s death only so far as it opened the doors to new opportunities. How many times did Claire lie to her? Work around her? Manipulate her?

Claire. Not her mother. Claire. A return to her rightful place.

As usual, her mother took nothing from her, she simply helped illustrate the truth more clearly: who they were, always were, to each other.

“Doing the devil’s work.”

GM: “You and the rest of the world,” Ferris remarks.

“Speaking of your stepmother, ma’am. We recovered the receiver for the bugs she left in Luke’s apartment. It was in the gym.”

“Fairly big and long-range one hidden inside some exercise equipment.”

Caroline: Leave it to Claire not to do things in half-measures.

“That gives us a lot of distance to cover.” The exercise equipment also provided a convenient excuse to do regular maintenance, replace batteries, maybe even jack into the 60hz in a wall socket.

“What’s the next step there?”

GM: “That’s your call, ma’am. There’s a variety of ways we could follow up on this. And associated opportunity costs.”

“The sheriff’s people have the bugs themselves. I’m sure they’ll want to run down Claire’s safehouse too, though as you’ve observed, they also have full plates right now.”

Caroline: “The bugs are far less useful than the transceiver,” Caroline observes, “and you have the lead of being able to isolate it down to a smaller geography area with your knowledge of her movements.”

“Depending on what’s mirrored in her safehouse, the information there could be lethal to us. I expect tasking to fall off in the next day or two. Put this at the top of the list.”

“Cross reference Claire’s known disappearances and furthest on circles.”

An idea occurs to her. “Check her car too. I’m sure she disabled GPS, but many of the luxury cars track fuel economy, which cross-reference might help point is in the right direction.”

GM: The ex-CIA agent nods.

“We’ll get on it, ma’am. You’re right we have the lead in two significant respects.”

“I wouldn’t count on the car, though. That would’ve been parked at the Monteleone when she died.”

In the Quarter.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Beyond that, you can start grooming Ramsey for the blood.”

GM: “Prudent choice.”

Caroline: “Advantages where we can get them.”


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Caroline: She returns to the captive kine in her apartment. “Drink until I tell you to stop,” she orders, producing an unopened bottle from a cabinet.

Punishment enough? Not hardly. Not yet.

GM: The glassy-eyed young man starts chugging.

Caroline: It doesn’t take long for the man (what’s his name? Hate? Hit? Something with an ‘H’) to accelerate right past drunk into the stage affectionately referred to as ‘hammered.’ Caroline should know: she directed him to go there. Quickly. The more than half-empty bottle in front of him, Grey Goose, was one of her favorites in life.

Mind, she typically mixed it with something, vice chugging it straight from the bottle. Tonight she can’t be bothered, not for him. It isn’t like she can taste a mixer in his blood, and she could care less what 80 proof spirit going straight down tastes like for him. He isn’t even really a person to her. Half-sprawled across the kitchen counter and barely coherent, he’s a means to an end.

Waiting for the alcohol to hit his blood is an exercise in patience, but gives her time to touch base with her ghouls. Ferris begs off an immediate meeting, claiming he wants to run down some loose ends before he briefs her. Just as well. She has another meeting she needs to fit in tonight.

Jocelyn still looks awful. The effects of her half-completed self-immolation are only the start. Her clothing is soiled with blood, ash, and unmentionable filth. Much of her hair is burned away. Then there’s the sharpened wooden shaft hideously jutting out from her chest. Caroline is glad to take a sip from the man while they bring up the Toreador’s mangled body. Something to take the edge off of the and razor-sharp memory.

She reflects without mirth that it’s Jocelyn who first suggested this to her: getting a vessel drunk, or high, or whatever her poison was in life. They’ve never had time to try it.

Technically, she’s only responsible for the stake, but it’s hard not to blame herself for everything marring the Toreador’s once-beautiful form. She might not have set Jocelyn on fire herself, but she definitely pushed her lover to do it.

She contemplates another drink from her ‘guest,’ but decides it’s just cowardice speaking. An excuse to delay this even longer. She instead firmly plants her elbow on the still-handcuffed Toreador’s chest and grasps the stake with her other hand, then draws it out of the brunette with a sickening slurp.

GM: The light sip of the inebriated man’s blood gives Caroline a pleasantly buzzed feeling, like she’s had a stiff drink or two. It helps take the edge off.

Jocelyn’s face is still frozen in mid-crying, mid-scream. Dried red tears are crusted around her eyes. She looks better than she did the first time Caroline saw her, after her attempted immolation, but that isn’t saying a lot.

When the stake comes out, she just stares at her (former?) lover for a moment, mouth still hanging open.

Then she screams and starts flailing at Caroline, shoving and slapping and hitting the larger Ventrue in an uncoordinated mess of shrieking pain.

Caroline supposes it’s something she’s not frenzying.

All those hours spent staked to cool off.

Caroline: Jocelyn isn’t half a match for Caroline on her best night. Half-dead and handcuffed, she isn’t even that. It’s a lot like a child throwing a tantrum. She straddles the seated Toreador and holds her as she flails.

She tolerates it for a moment. The moment passes.

She pins Jocelyn’s hands. “Do you want to fight me or do you want to fuck me?”

GM: Her lover’s eyes flash with simultaneous hurt, want, and fury.

“That’s all I am to you,” she croaks.

“Just shove a stake in me when you’re not horny.”

She tries to kick instead.

Caroline: The Ventrue is off her just as suddenly, sitting across from her.

“Your choice. I thought it’d be a more fun way for both of us to help put you back together.”

GM: Jocelyn gives her a burning stare.

“What the fuck do you even want with me.”

Caroline: Caroline lets the hurt of that show.

“You think just because I was angry with you that I didn’t care about you?”

GM: Simultaneous satisfaction and regret play across the Toreador’s face.

“Yeah. It might’ve crossed my mind. What do you even want with me?!”

Caroline: “I murdered my stepmother. Did I tell you?” Caroline asks, mindful.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t say anything for a moment.

“No.”

Caroline: “She was a hunter. A big deal hunter. One others reported to. She and her people killed a bunch of licks in the city. I’m pretty certain she killed Emily Thurmon.”

The Ventrue licks her lips.

“I sold her out, to the seneschal. Back when… you know. She discovered what I was and spared me, and I sold her out. Setting her up, tracking down her hunters, and killing her was one of the conditions he had.”

GM: “Yay you didn’t kill your actual mom, I guess.” Jocelyn crosses her arms.

Or at least, tries to. She’s still handcuffed.

Caroline: That’s right, Caroline. You didn’t kill your actual mom, right? Asks a voice rhetorically in her head. Only a real monster would do that, right?

She tries to block it out.

You can lie to everyone else, but we both know I didn’t teach you to lie to yourself.

“Oh yeah, I’m a real saint like that. I hear they’ve got canonization planned any night now,” she answers with bitter amusement.

“I didn’t bring it up though because I wanted pity. I brought it up because that’s what I’ve been doing. For months, with the threat of final death on either side hanging over me and anyone close to me. Because that’s who I am, the lick who sold out the woman that helped raise her and spared her life to protect myself and get ahead.”

“When we had our,” there’s a beat, as if the word is so unfamiliar or uncomfortable to her that it takes her a moment to arrive at it, “breakup, though, that’s what was going through my mind.”

“That I was that person who sold out those close to them to get ahead, and doomed the people that cared about them, and was probably going to get destroyed by one faction or another long before I pulled off bringing down the hunters anyway.”

“And that kind lick didn’t deserve other people in their Requiem.”

“And that you didn’t deserve that kind of person in your Requiem either.”

“So I shoved you away, as hard as I could.”

She knows the words that should come next. The ones that most people would say. But they’re not words she can give up easily. They remain unsaid.

GM: But it’s there. Everything leading up to them.

The explanation. The reason why it all happened. The bared hurt. The show of vulnerability. The open window to offer forgiveness and comfort.

Jocelyn stares up at her past red-crusted eyes. Her voice comes out thick when she speaks.

“So. So what’s… changed your mind. After you had to stake me and… run off.”

Caroline: Caroline starts to raise a hand, to reach out to Jocelyn, but her eyes cut to the gore-covered stake on the table and she pulls back.

“I thought I was still doing what was best for you. Trying to get you to run away. It’s still dangerous to be around me. Going to be dangerous to be around me.”

She pauses.

“But things went better than I’d hoped.”

“And maybe it’s not a death sentence.”

“And maybe it doesn’t matter what I deserve in my Requiem.”

“And maybe you get to decide what you want in yours.”

GM: Jocelyn looks like she could swallow, even with the physiological need long past.

She doesn’t. But fresh red starts to well from her eyes again as her lip quavers.

“But I. But I don’t. Do I? The part of me that wants to just. To just… fall in your arms and forget everything and go back to the way things were. I don’t even know if that’s me or the blood you made me drink.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, then sighs defeatedly.

“I didn’t.”

GM: “Yes, you did!” Jocelyn cries. More red wells from her eyes.

Caroline: “I wanted you to hate me.” Caroline explains quietly. “I thought it would help cut at the bond. If you blamed me for it I mean.”

“I just wanted to help you get away.”

GM: “Well,” she croaks. “Here I am. Either way. And I don’t know what the fuck is me and what’s the collar.”

Caroline: The Ventrue looks more than a little hurt, but doesn’t say anything for a moment, seemingly letting the thought settle.

Finally she asks, “Does it matter?”

GM: Jocelyn raises her cuffed wrists to her mouth, bites one, and holds it forward. Blood wells from the pale skin.

“Why don’t you show me.”

Caroline: Caroline looks at the proffered wrist. “Would that make you happy?”

GM: Jocelyn stares back at her.

“Dunno. But it’d feel fair.”

Except it won’t be fair.

That’s the joke.

Her sire already saw to that.

Caroline: “Tell me, Jocelyn, what do you want? To get back at me, or to get back with me?” Caroline asks.

GM: More red wells from her eyes.

“If you want me, take the damn collar!

Caroline: “Is that what you really want?” Caroline asks one more time, her eyes locked on Jocelyn’s.

There’s no reluctance in her voice.

GM: Jocelyn only thrusts the wrist against her former lover’s face.

Caroline’s Beast can’t take it. The sip she took from that college kine was so shallow. She needs the blood.

Caroline: The vitae smears against her lip and Caroline needs no further invitation. She doesn’t simply set her lips against the wound, she sinks her teeth in.

GM: Maybe she still feels something for Jocelyn, even without the bond, even after all they’ve been through.

Maybe she’s just furious.

Maybe she wants to recapture what they used to have.

Maybe the Toreador is just a substitute for the sire she can’t have.

Maybe she’s just hungry.

By the time the too-familiar red haze clears, her former lover is a motionless corpse, empty and dry at her knees.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t move. She doesn’t immediately react. She stares down at Jocelyn’s motionless form, searches.

She doesn’t come up empty. Instead she finds plenty. Anger. Shame. Self-loathing. The same feelings she always has after a frenzy. But any feelings she has left for the photographer are buried far deeper than the imminently shallow artist can find.

For Jocelyn, she feels nothing.

She stiffly disengages herself from the motionless Toreador and stalks towards her bedroom.

It’s not long after she returns, holding up a pair of skirts to Jocelyn, then setting one down beside her, along with a top and a pair of heels.

She finally gets to what’s required.

Caroline bites her own wrist and holds it to the drained Toreador’s desiccated lips.

GM: Jocelyn’s eyes snap open. The Beast stares out.

A second doesn’t pass before her fangs stab into Caroline as she falls on her former lover’s wrist.

She drinks ravenously.

She doesn’t let go.

Caroline: Caroline lets her take. More than she needs, even, but her patience is not without limit.

Handcuffed, still maimed, and half the fighter she is, even Jocelyn’s Beast is able to do little when Caroline draws back the proffered wrist and holds the furious Toreador down until she stops slavering.

What burns in her eyes when Jocelyn’s red-rimmed ones meet them again isn’t hate. It isn’t even loathing. It’s bitterness.

“Well. You got what you wanted.”

GM: It takes a while before the screaming and furiously thrashing vampire calms down, and even that is relative. There’s no hurt or bitterness in Jocelyn’s still-bulging, red-crusted eyes.

There’s just hunger.

“I’M… THIRSTY…!

Caroline: The Ventrue holds her at arm’s reach, hand clamped around Jocelyn’s throat and elbow extended to keep at bay her slavering jaws. She turns the Toreador’s attention to the insensate kine with all the disgust of an owner turning their dog’s nose away from the dinner table and towards their food bowl.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t even register her disgust. She just pounces on the mesmerized coed and drinks ravenously. He doesn’t moan under her touch. He screams. He tries to throw her off as the frenzying vampire rips and tears his throat, but it’s futile.

He tries to gasp out something about having a family. Maybe to get her to stop. His words are only a little slurred, even if they are only partly coherent. The Toreador’s attack seems to do wonders for his sobriety.

It’s just as futile.

It takes about a minute before the pale corpse hits the floor with a thump. Its eyes stare blankly up at the ceiling.

Jocelyn looks up at Caroline with pristine skin and hair. There’s a glazed look to her eyes as she closes her mouth, concealing her fangs.

She giggles.

Drunkenly.

“Oh. Oops,” she slurs. “Looks like… ’m a horrible person. Murderer. Reeealll bad.”

There’s another giggle.

She sways up to Caroline, grabs her lover’s breasts, and grins.

“Mm, les’ fuck.”

Caroline: The Ventrue pulls away. “I’m suddenly not in the mood.”

Is it hate? Anger? Disappointment? Shame? There’s something unpleasant written across her face as she disentangles herself from her lover’s arms.

“There’s a change of clothes.” She gestures to the items she’s laid out. “Meg’s waiting in the lobby.”

GM: Jocelyn giggles. "Like you really mean that, you big, you big blonde… "

She giggles.

“‘Kay, if you aren’t fuckin’ me, I’m fuckin’ you. Two girls in loooove!”

She starts pulling off Caroline’s clothes.

Caroline: “Is that what this is? What we are?” Caroline answers stiffly, her arms crossed firmly across her chest.

“You were miserable and going to walk out until you forced me suck you off five minutes ago, now everything is fine?”

There’s anger there, in her voice, not entirely feigned.

GM: “Yeeeep! Now you know what ish like!” Jocelyn nods emphatically. She reaches under Caroline’s skirt and starts tugging off her panties instead.

“Party time! No pantiesh time!” she giggles. "You big, busty blonde… "

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t move. She doesn’t laugh or crack a smile. She doesn’t look happy at all, in fact.

“You’re right, I do,” she answers. “Now we’re even.”

GM: Jocelyn just kneels and sinks her fangs into Caroline’s inner thigh. A too-familiar bliss starts to shudder up through the Ventrue.

Caroline: She lets out an involuntary moan, suddenly weak in the knees. It doesn’t mater how angry she is, how much she doesn’t want this: the kiss is every bit as strong as the first time.

Her hands go to Jocelyn’s head, perhaps to push her away, but she just doesn’t have it in her. They dig into Jocelyn’s hair instead. She finds herself pulling instead of pushing.

“Stop,” she groans.

“Jocelyn… st… op…”

GM: Jocelyn pushes Caroline onto the bed. She does stop, but only long enough to pierce her wrists and smear the blood over the Ventrue’s face. Then her fangs sink into Caroline’s neck.

Caroline: There’s a flash of anger, hate even, as Jocelyn forces herself on Caroline. As the Toreador tries to rape her.

This isn’t what she wanted. Hell, she didn’t even fucking want Jocelyn in the city. She just wanted her to go away. She wanted Jocelyn to be someone else’s problem, to continue her Requiem blissfully safe from Caroline. Here she is instead, thinking she’s forced a collar on Caroline, thinking it would somehow make everything all right instead of much fucking worse.

She knows the truth: if she were actually bound to Jocelyn, her sire wouldn’t hesitate to execute the nothing Toreador to stake his own claim on her. But that doesn’t mater next to just how wrong it is that Jocelyn tried to force the bond on her. Worse, that she only forced her way back into Caroline’s Requiem by endangering her sisters.

And yet here she is, the Toreador’s blood all over her, the brunette sucking on her throat in her bubbly drunkenness. She’d hoped to put Jocelyn back together, to find some way to manipulate her into something of purpose while Caroline was occupied with her sire’s demands. She’d hoped to offer her former lover a nice night, something to lead her on with the thought that something still existed between them. That it isn’t someone else whose face occupies her every waking moment.

Jocelyn’s ruined everything, instead. Sought to enslave her. Murdered a man in her kitchen. Wanted to fuck her against her will.

She can claim it’s the Beast that takes over. An animal reaction to the Toreador’s assault. She could claim she doesn’t want this. But some part of her, some very human part, both wants and drives what follows.

Caroline sinks her fangs back into Jocelyn in turn, riding the bliss of the simultaneous kisses and the feeling of the Toreador’s vitae running into her. She waits for her moment, for Jocelyn to break from the kiss to shift positions. When she does, the Ventrue strikes.

Jocelyn might be more eager, but Caroline is bigger. She’s stronger. She’s faster. Oh, and Jocelyn remains handcuffed too. She grabbed the Toreador by her hair and throws her off the sofa onto the floor.

The heiress is on her in a flash, pinning her face-down with her arms trapped under her. She uses a full hand of Jocelyn’s hair to he jerk her head back, exposing the side of her throat. Caroline rips two gaping holes and latches on, never letting go of her hold on the artist’s hair, pulling her head back and denying her a bite of her own. She uses her other hand to rake Jocelyn’s back, marking her as Caroline’s.

She wants to fuck? She should be careful what she wishes for.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t try to resist. She moans throatily beneath the puncture of her lover’s fangs, beneath the cruel caress of her nails. The coppery scent of vitae hangs heady in the air. Jocelyn’s blood is like water next to the liquid gold that was her sire’s, but her sire would never let her do this to him. Even if they were to consummate her feelings, she’d never be on top. It’d probably feel a lot like her first time did. And she knows how that worked out.

And hasn’t she always wanted to be in charge?

Jocelyn starts struggling, after a bit, trying to throw Caroline off. The Ventrue yanks her hair and shoves her face-down into the sofa. The handcuffs clink as Jocelyn tries to move her arms. She bucks and kicks. Caroline digs her nails deeper, climbs on top of the Toreador, pins her under the weight of her body. Jocelyn struggles more, but giggles too, in between moans. She’s enjoying this. Being manhandled, feeling her lover on top of her, breasts pressed against her back, drinking straight from the source. None of that ‘licking it up’ bullshit. No protection.

Caroline’s Beast is already so full. She doesn’t have to drink much. She draws it out, takes from her lover slowly, until they lie spent and sated. Not in one another’s arms. But with Jocelyn still pinned under Caroline’s weight, handcuffed arms pressed against her chest, barely able to move. Her voice wafts up from under the Ventrue.

“I love you, Caroline… "

Caroline: It would be easier, perhaps, if Caroline felt the same way.

She doesn’t.

The Ventrue climbs off her, the heat coming off her temper. If she were alive, she might be breathing heavily. She’s almost heady as it is, slightly buzzed by the alcohol in Jocelyn’s blood.

She runs a hand across her face and through her hair, pulling it out of the way as she looks down at Jocelyn.

Those words are foreign to her, not ones she was comfortable with even when she was alive. She doesn’t repeat them. Instead. she speaks the same language of affection she’s always known.

“I need you to help look after this place.”

GM: Jocelyn snuggles up against her. The handcuffs around her wrist faintly clink.

“What do you mean?”

Caroline: Caroline wraps a lazy arm around the Toreador. Her response quiet but serious.

“I have to leave the city for a while. A few weeks. A few months. Seneschal’s business.”

GM: “Oh,” says Jocelyn.

“But you’ll be back?”

Caroline: Caroline nods, letting the motion travel through them both.

“And things will be different. Better.”

A heartbeat.

“Will you be here when I come back?”

GM: There’s another beat.

Or there would be, if their hearts still pumped.

“I want to hear you say it.”

Caroline remembers the last time Jocelyn asked that.

In her family’s house, after the Toreador nearly immolated herself.

Caroline: Those words have long been a stranger her: she’s heard them more from her mother in the last few nights than she can remember ever hearing them from Claire. Of her father, the less said the better.

Neil was the first non-family member she said it to. He said it first. Didn’t pressure her about it. Told her he wanted it on her own time, when she was comfortable. When she meant it. She wonders if it was true when she finally did. It seemed to make him happy.

Strange thoughts come to her now, as her mind wanders somewhere away from this moment.

But just for a moment. This isn’t about love.

She squeezes Jocelyn lightly and bites her lip.

“I’m happy you’re back. I missed you.”

A pause, then another squeeze. What’s a lie beside her other sins?

“I love you.”

What’s love anyway?

GM: If Neil is anything to go by, heartbreak despite all the best intentions in the world.

If her first mother or stepmother is, not enough to save her.

If her father is, less important than his work.

If Jocelyn is, perhaps the less said the better, too.

Love rarely seems like it’s ever enough.

But her paramour’s face lights up.

She doesn’t answer immediately. Jut lays her head against Caroline’s neck. Curls her body up against the Ventrue’s.

Caroline’s eyes can’t help but settle on the cuffs.

“So like… look after this place how?”

“Or do you mean you want me to move in?”

She smiles at the second question.

Caroline: The hint of a smile, the lie, comes more easily for Caroline this time.

“If that’s easier. There’s a place for you here,” Caroline answers. The Giani Building’s purpose is already shifting in her mind. Less headquarters or home, more border keep. It’s not quite inviting Jocelyn into her home. Not really.

“There are things here that would do better with someone looking after them, and if I’m gone there are others that may try to exert influence. The ghouls can deal with a lot of it, but if things stretch long with the seneschal… they might need juice. An actual Kindred that can get involved. Someone that other licks would respect, and that understands things.”

“I want someone I trust.”

That’s a short list.

That it might also allow Jocelyn to develop additional skills, give her a purpose, and keep her under Caroline’s thumb goes unsaid.

There’s enough ugly lies. No need for ugly truths too.

GM: “Okay. I guess I can feed them if they get thirsty. There’s… your Krewe cleaner, the really serious one, two GI joes… ?”

“GI Joe and GI Jane.”

“Sorry, I don’t really remember them all.”

“But okay. I guess Meg’ll enjoy the time off from cleaning and running errands.”

“Actually not sure what I’m gonna do with her. She’s been such a mess recently. She said you made her eat vomit.”

She grins. “But I don’t care. ‘Cause you’re my carmilla.”

Caroline’s heard Jocelyn use the slang term a few times. Because licks don’t like to say ‘girlfriend.’

Caroline: It’s an unfortunately apt title.

“I told her not to do that disgusting sticking her fingers down her throat. She should have known there would be consequences. I bet she’ll think twice next time.”

Caroline doesn’t add that she didn’t actually force Meg to do it. She doesn’t know that she could stomach the sight. Plus part of her likes the idea that Meg might have tried to puke it up later and been frantically unable.

GM: Jocelyn giggles and nuzzles her neck.

“You’re so hot when you get all ruthless and in charge.”

Caroline: “You’ll get to see a lot more of it.”

She settles her hand on Jocelyn’s upper hip.

“I’m going places, Jocelyn, and I’m not simply saying that. This is different. This being a nobody is at an end—it’s never who I was and everyone will know it.”

How to so lightly plant this idea.

“But going there always has costs. I have to be strong. And the people around me have to be strong too. I wanted to send you away to protect you, but I’d rather have you by my side when I get back.”

GM: “Okay, I want that too,” Jocelyn nods. “I want to be strong.”

Caroline: “They can help teach you,” Caroline continues. “If you’ll let them.”

GM: “Okay, I can do that.”

“Like, the GI joe ones?”

Caroline: “And the others. The cleaner, the financial specialist. There are a lot of ways to be strong.”

“I know you’re an artist, and your art is your passion, but a lot of licks are dying. Half the city is preparing for war. No one is going to be able to sit this one out if it comes to that, and the losers are going to die whether they fight or not.”

She faces Jocelyn and brushes the hair back out of her face.

“I don’t want to see you die.”

GM: Worry flickers over the Toreador’s face.

“We could run, if that seems like it’s gonna happen. Go away with my sire.”

“You’d really like her.”

Caroline: “It’s not in my nature,” Caroline answers. “Not when I can instead.”

She’ll do almost anything to win. Someday Jocelyn will realize that too.

She wonders if she’ll still love her then.

View
Caroline VII, Chapter V
The Sheriff's Whispers

“Kill their servants. Kill their families. Kill them all.”
Augusto Vidal


Tuesday night, 8 March 2016, PM

GM: The Hussar continues to trim, shave, and sculpt his master’s facial hair from bedraggled to presentable. The process seems like it could take an hour or longer. Caroline can only imagine how much time he’s lost over the course of his Requiem. All of those hours, all of those years, removing the same physical defect night after night after night after night.

Her sire does not appear to use the time idly, however. He’s still being shaved when Robert Congo enters the room and announces that his own master shall “see and hear all that transpires through mine senses.”

Vidal does not acknowledge or respond to him.

Donovan enters through the door shortly later. His achromatic gaze takes in the seated prince, the two ghouls, and Caroline.

He says nothing at her presence.

“Miss Malveaux is my childe,” the prince crisply states without preamble.

“Seneschal Maldonato shall brief you on the details.”

The sheriff says nothing.

Caroline: Caroline stands as still as she ever did in her life. As still as death, offering nothing. She has nothing to offer without the prince’s invitation.

She’d thought she might gloat in the moment, in the past, but that seems so petty now.

Somehow she’d thought it would all be so much simpler if she could ‘succeed’, but everything just seems far more complex now.

GM: “You have news of import,” Vidal states.

“Bishop Malveaux has been murdered, Your Majesty,” Donovan answers.

“He has been missing for nights. I have contacted his sire.”

“The perpetrator remains unidentified.”

The sheriff’s expression remains unchanged.

So does that of Caroline’s sire.

But she feels it.

She feels the words before he even says them.

“Twenty,” he breathes.

His voice is a whisper.

“Their ghouls.”

“Their families.”

“Their ghouls’ families.”

There’s an abrupt noise as the chair’s armrests crunch into splinters beneath her sire’s clenched hands.

Caroline sees it in his eyes. A hatred so vicious and black it makes her almost physically sick. A hatred and wrath that does not twist his marble-still, statue-like face, but warps and blackens the reality around it. She could swear the paint is peeling beneath his gaze.

It’s the same look he had upon Smith’s last words.

The same look upon her brother-in-blood’s execution.

“I have ruled this city with temperance and restraint.”

“I have imposed no laws upon my subjects I do not impose upon myself.”

“This.”

“This is how I am repaid.”

Caroline: The wave of fury is like the swelling of a wave before the tsunami hits the shore, sucking in everything in the room.

The younger Ventrue says nothing. Dares say nothing, in the face of his wrath.

It’s an actively painful thing, like staring into the sun on a summer’s day.

GM: It’s her fault.

Caroline: She had to.

GM: It’s all her fault.

Caroline: She’d have never gotten to him without it.

She’d have been much less useful to him but for it.

She did it as much for him as for herself.

Maybe it’s true, or maybe it simply makes her feel better to lie to herself.

GM: The prince’s voice dies.

He does not speak.

He does not move.

He does not blink.

Darkness abruptly explodes through the room like a tsunami, the shadows screaming to terrible life as they rip themselves free of their owners. Oily blackness crashes into the younger Ventrue, sending her hurtling across the room. It sticks to her like oil, slick rending talons, ink-slathered tentacles, and bogeyman’s grasping hands—a child’s night terrors given horrifying semblance and animation. Caroline smashes into a wall and then crashes chin-first against floor. The darkness hungrily alights, strangling, blinding, and swallowing her like a swarm of ravenous snakes. Maldonato is not here this time, yet there are so many more victims to suffer her sire’s wrath. The Hussar gives a strangled half-grunt, half-shout as the darkness pours over him. He kicks and punches to break free of the suffocating black morass. Congo is swallowed up. Caroline doesn’t see what happens to Donovan.

The Beast’s howls recede in her ears by the time the darkness loses its animation and the shadows slither back to where they belong. Caroline watches hers silently step into place behind her back, feet joining back to feet.

Caroline: She drags herself to her feet. Everything hurts. Her too-pale flesh black and blue with bruises, nowhere so greatly as around her jaw, where she’s fairly certain her abrupt meeting with the floor face first broke her jaw. Vita runs in rivets from rents in her arms and legs where she tried to protect herself.

Too slow, the kind of nitpicking observation Claire would have made.

She’s suffered worse. Far worse. And truthfully, it’s better than she deserves.

She can tell herself that she had to do it. She can tell herself that it was the only way. She can tell herself that it had to happen for her to be with her sire. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t deserve to suffer.

GM: He suffered for her, after all.

There’s little furniture remaining in the room to destroy. The throne-like chair is a black and rotted husk.

The Hussar’s face is blanched and leeched of color. Its lines and shadows look so much more haggard, but the old slave silently rises to his feet. To serve.

Congo’s shadow looks out of alignment. Its arms and legs are pointed in separate directions from his body. He does not get back up, nor open his eyes.

Caroline: The Ventrue, despite her wounds, almost blinks between spaces to the maimed old ghoul’s side.

She deserves to suffer. Other’s don’t.

GM: A heartbeat is audible to her sensitive ears.

But it is weak and fast, fading fading.

Caroline: She needs not bring her wrist to her lips—there are plenty of rents enough on her arm to run her vitae down it, across her fingers, and into the old man’s lips.

GM: Caroline finds herself the sole responder by his side. The ghoul’s lips remain still at first, with the first few trickles. Then he drinks thirstily. The wrinkles on his already lined face are so deep and haggard now, like black-rimmed canyons that give him an almost mummified appearance. But his shadow’s joints slowly re-affix into alignment with his body’s.

He meets her eyes. He does not speak—not aloud.

:: I shall not forget. ::

Caroline: The thoughts bring a whisper of a smile—and its associated stab of pain—to her face, though not for their content.

She’s glad the ‘kindly’ old ghoul wasn’t killed. Not for this. “Can you rise?” she almost whispers through split lips.

GM: Caroline feels the beginnings of thoughts forming mind—that abruptly halt.

The ghoul’s eyes stare straight behind her.

Caroline: She turns.

GM: It’s the sheriff.

He looks much as he always has. He looks exactly as he always has. His garments and slicked-smooth hair are pitch black. His bone-smooth skin is china-white. His storm-like eyes remain absent of all color. They roil faintly like troubled, overcast skies, silent harbingers of a coming storm.

His blank face is the same as he regards his master’s newly-revealed childe and the seneschal’s maimed ghoul. Exactly the same.

There is no concern. There is no contempt. There is no jealousy. There is no confusion. There is not even indifference.

There is just nothing.

Here, in the heart of darkness that is her sire’s lair, in the face of such news, Caroline may perhaps have expected… something. But there isn’t. The figure before her looks like an automaton, a facsimile, a shell for something else. All just putting on a performance and reading from a script. All until now—when there is no script to reference.

Perhaps her sire’s devouring shadows hurt him most all.

Or perhaps there was nothing there to hurt.

Nothing at all.

Caroline: Another night he might frighten her. Other nights he did frighten her. But not tonight. Not here. And perhaps not anymore.

She meets his dead man’s gaze with her own icy blue eyes. Blue eyes she inherited from her mother.

She sees him with new clarity—clarity ripped from her rival’s very soul.

She stands before him with new confidence, confidence of someone who knows who she is—and whom everyone else will soon know too.

She stands between him and an old man blameless in what passed but suffering for it all the same.

She is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, savior more than once to those stuck down unjustly—and far from powerless in the face of violence.

She is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, heir to a king among kine and a queen among monsters.

She is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, childe of Augusto Vidal, Prince of this city.

Even bleeding. Even battered. Even maimed by her sire’s rage she remains all of these things.

And she is not afraid.

GM: Yet even as that spiritual battle is fought and won by his childe, the prince wrestles with his own internal war. But he does not win the struggle against his Beast so easily. Caroline sees the so-sharp fangs still jut from his mouth as he whispers,

“You will find this perpetrator, Sheriff.”

His black gaze burns with hate.

“There shall be executions. Nightly. All shall see. All shall witness. Blood shall not cease to flow from Perdido House until the criminal responsible for this act is found.”

“A wise recourse, my prince,” the sheriff replies, his voice low.

“Traitors infest your city. They speak against you nightly. We shall not lack for Kindred to make examples of.”

“A blood hunt would further impress the crime’s gravity upon your subjects once the perpetrator is identified.”

Caroline: “I pray you pardon my presumption, Sheriff, but why presume it was a Kindred?” Caroline voices softly, through her slowly knitting jaw.

“Or at least one so easily struck down?”

GM: “The perpetrator must be Kindred, my prince,” Donovan states. He does not look at Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline does not gainsay him immediately.

GM: “It shall project weakness if the bishop is believed to have been brought low by an inferior order of being.”

The black fire behind Vidal’s eyes smolders slowly at the talk of traitors and weakness.

Caroline: “If there is no immediate suspect, playing the blame on blasphemous kine has merits. It only projects weakness without resolution and catharsis. Until then it reinforces the sacred necessity of the Masquerade, turns the wraith of the faithful against the favorite tools of the prince’s foes, and gives opportunity to remove a known threat vice chase a shadow one.”

“It unites the faithful with common and righteous fury, vice setting them at each other’s throats or under the skirts of the city’s pretenders, and will bring others to the faith.”

“It also silences other rumors certain to arise, if there is no immediate suspect offered.”

“At least, that is how I, a lay person, might view it, Your Majesty. I confess freely I lack the sheriff’s wealth of experience, but I have lived in terror of the prince’s justice before. My whole Requiem, in fact. Were I from lesser stock that terror might well have driven me to less noble ends.”

GM: Caroline’s sire says nothing.

The sheriff says nothing.

But the former’s fangs do not retract. The hatred in the room is an almost burning, nigh-palpable sensation, slow-searing the souls of all who behold its principle.

“Traitors, my prince,” the sheriff breathes.

Vidal’s gaze slowly settles upon Donovan’s.

“They are guilty in their hearts.”

“Guilty by intent.”

“Half the city would have slain the bishop had they believed themselves exempt from your laws.”

“It matters not who slew him. The crime is shared by all.”

Caroline: She lets her words speak for themselves. She has made her appeal. True, every word of it.

She genuinely believes the course disastrous, even wrong. That her sire is making an error that will undermine him. That it’s morally wrong.

GM: “Already do they conspire against Your Majesty. Primogen Opal has spurned your mercy for her childe’s sins.”

Caroline: But she also knows how hollow her defense is, in truth. How she might put an end to this inquisition here and now, with but a handful of words.

Hypocrite… whispers a dark part of herself. To rush to save Congo despite the blood covering her hands. To argue against the prince’s justice for a crime she committed. To deny responsibility for what she has wrought, no matter the cost.

GM: “The executions for the bishop’s murder shall allow us pretext to thin the ranks of the Hidden Clan. Primogen Opal herself may be blamed as the bishop’s murderer. To postpone her execution is to press another blade into the Baron’s hands.”

Caroline: "To strike at her without evidence will do the same with the rest of her clan—and the Anarchs besides. She is already in the Baron’s hands… " Caroline suggests. “Better to bait her to petty action that can be exposed for what it is.”

GM: Thoughts well within Caroline’s mind.

:: Cainite blood shall flow for what has transpired, Miss Malveaux. That battle is lost. Careful words, however, may yet amortize or attenuate that blood’s flow. ::

Caroline: The exhaustion, weariness, and fury on her sire’s face tears at Caroline. So much of it she has been responsible for—intentionally and otherwise. It’s almost physically painful to look upon him as he is—and certainly more painful than any of her remaining wounds.

“Your Majesty, I mean not to suggest that vengeance is neither deserved nor required, only that we have two opportunities before us, and to strike at the Baron and his newest pawn, Primogen Opal, is to forgo one and destroy the other.”

“Perhaps, had I involved the sheriff in my plans, we might have more fully wrapped up the hunters in NOSTF and the Barrett Commission. I did not, and that failing is mine alone. Nonetheless, they’ve been left reeling and unmasked. We have leads as to other members and their families, and a direct tie to Mr. Savoy through his catspaw Gettis—long an invisible thorn within your domain. If we are able to tie them together we might not only cut off that blade in his hand, but also lay the blame for this directly on him or his closest supporters, destroying his carefully cultivated image within the Sanctified as a moderate and revealing him for what he is.”

“That Mr. Savoy, perhaps alone in the city, seemed to suspect the truth of my lineage, and that serious attempts upon my Requiem began these last nights suggests to me his hand in this matter. He had long attempted to lure me into his service. The timing seems too coincidental.”

“In contrast, the Baron’s latest plot is still in its infancy. We know of it, of the planned treachery at its heart. We can interrupt it at a time and place of our choosing, when it best benefits us—for instance when Primogen Opal makes her move against Primogen Duquette, after showing her true colors for all to see. Interrupting such a thing would too show our strength and invite infighting in our foes as they searched for the source.”

“Doing so would drive the Anarchs—and perhaps even much of the hidden clan—from her defense and expose the Baron for the non-benign figure he is in truth.”

“Certainly the sheriff is more immersed in the affairs of the archdiocese than I. Perhaps he advises more wisely for his many years of service or for knowledge I am not party to. I would offer only an alternative. Long have the pretenders to the throne nibbled like rats at its pillars, and long has the archdiocese sought to stomp them out. Perhaps a subtler blade might serve us well against the spreading cancer.”

GM: The prince’s black gaze slowly burns.

“Destroy the entire clan.”

“Lay the groundwork. Gather intelligence. Manufacture pretexts. When their primogen betrays us, we shall root out the entire line, stem and root.”

“The Nosferatu clan shall be exterminated from New Orleans.”

“I have tolerated the lepers for long enough.”

Caroline: Caroline says nothing further. It is not her place to gainsay her sire’s order.

It’s a horrifying order. Caroline reflects on those among the hidden clan she has known—some monsters yes, Cartwright—but others among the most gentle souls among the All-Night Society. Gus Elgin, Sundown, Yi Huang. All condemned to death for the actions of another.

Better than it might have been—it’s a less immediate and random slaughter—but a massacre nonetheless.

Part of her wonders if he isn’t burning down his kingdom before his torpor out of spite, but that voice is very quiet next to the one that wants to weep for what he has been reduced to.

GM: “The bishop’s disappearance shall likely be noticed before the primogen’s treachery, my prince,” the sheriff states.

No reaction crosses his face at the previous order.

“Find culprits to blame for the crime,” Vidal answers. “I leave them to your judgment. Kill their servants. Kill their families.”

“Kill them all.”

“As you command, my prince,” Donovan answers.

“Continue your search for the bishop’s true murderer. You shall bring them here, staked, to receive my personal judgment and sentence.”

The sheer force of the prince’s hatred ripples from him in nigh-palpable waves.

“His sire has volunteered her services in the investigation,” the sheriff states. “If I may presume to speak as to an internal clan matter, there is an opening upon the Gerousia.”

Caroline remembers well the Christos award the bishop presented him with during that Tuesday clan gathering.

Caroline: Bitterly well.

GM: “You may inform her of my permission to make her domain within the city,” the prince answers tersely. “That domain is contingent upon the success of her investigations.”

“She shall be informed, my prince.” He continues, “The archbishopric sits vacant. Fathers Elgin and Morrow are ineligible to fill it. I am new to the cloth. I believe Mother Doriocourt would be suitable.”

Vidal seems to silently deliberate the sheriff’s recommendation.

“The archdiocese shall require new priests. Miss Malveaux shall also take up the cloth.”

Donovan offers no response.

Caroline: There’s no small irony in that for her. She silently accepts her sire’s will as before.

Anything to make him happy. To stop the terrible wrath that has overtaken him.

GM: “Convey my recommendation concerning Mother Doriocourt to the cardinal.”

“He shall be informed, my prince.” He continues, “The rabble must be taught rebellion is futile. I advise that Mother Doriocourt’s consecration take place concurrently with the criminal’s execution and the Embrace of a new Sanctified childe. It would also be a suitable time for Deacon Benson to take holy vows.”

“You may inform Mother Doriocourt of her permission to Embrace and Deacon Benson of the archdiocese’s need for further clergy,” Vidal answers.

Caroline: “Binding others more closely that are otherwise drifting might too have value. Especially those of influence who might prove eager to participate in the culling of the hidden clan. Regent McGinn, for instance. A childe, perhaps one initiated into the faith, might remind him of the prince’s beneficence and encourage his closer ties to the throne.”

GM: The dark fire in Vidal’s eyes burns anew at the word ‘drifting.’

“Name this treachery.”

Caroline: “Only that following my Embrace, prior to my release, the elder ghoul of René Baristheaut revealed under questioning that Regent McGinn had received overtures from Mr. Baristheaut through Mr. Savoy’s court.”

GM: “Miss Malveaux speaks in ignorance, my prince,” Donovan states dispassionately. “This matter was dealt with months ago.”

Caroline: “As the sheriff says, my knowledge of those nights is truly that of an outsider. There were many matters from those nights—the Setites attackers, the motives of Mr. Baristheaut, the fallout of other plots surrounding them—that were and have remained opaque to me.”

“I would not presume to malign my elder in blood clanmate unjustly, only to propose his appreciation for the opportunity to take a childe of his own.”

GM: The prince’s baleful gaze does not diminish, but seems to glare out beyond the two.

“Your ignorance is useless to me. Hold your tongue if you know naught of what you speak.”

Caroline: The words are worse than a slap, even one delivered by the powerful elder.

She bites her lip. “As you wish, Your Majesty.”

“The absence of Bishop Malveaux will leave his domain open to raiding, especially within the church. I might recommend then only that the sanctity of your domain explicitly extend to encompass it until an appropriate custodian may be suitability identified.”

GM: “Mother Doriocourt and I are the sole priests remaining not of the Hidden Clan, my prince,” Donovan states. “The kine’s archbishopric shall be well-served in the hands of the Sanctified archbishop and demonstrate further continuance of tradition.”

The prince’s black gaze abruptly re-focuses.

“Father Polk.”

“He has not been seen since the time of Bishop Malveaux’s disappearance, my prince. Miss Gerlette has been unavailable to confirm the fact of his final death. Their killer are likely one and the same.”

The hatred etched onto the prince’s motionless face at this latest news looks barely even human. He looks like a gargoyle, a demon, frozen in lifeless and eternal fury.

Donovan does not speak.

The prince does not speak.

Minutes pass.

“Double the number of executions,” he finally hisses.

“As my prince commands,” the sheriff answers dispassionately.

“Mother Doriocourt is granted leave to oversee my domain over the Roman Catholic Church. You shall find this criminal, Sheriff. This blasphemer who would slay the humblest of my flock. Such men upon whose backs the foundations of our church is built. You shall find this criminal and bring them to me. Staked and spared the mercy of final death.”

Caroline: “Mother Doriocourt is beset by duties likely to only grow with her assumption of duties as bishop if confirmed, to say nothing of her vital role in maintaining dominion over the police.”

“I am to take the cloth, and have greater knowledge of the vacant domain than any other. I might also immediately move to use the associated resources to further delve into the influence of the hunter networks in the city that were doubtless funded in part by them. I would ask for reconsideration in this matter, Your Majesty.”

And it would keep the domain in Ventrue hands. Caroline doesn’t add.

GM: The weight of her sire’s stare settles upon her.

“Mother Doriocourt is the archdiocese’s foremost expert on witch-hunters associated with the police. I have informed you I shall render unto you and expect from you the utmost best in all things. You shall have temporary rights over the domain. Produce superior results to Mother Doriocourt’s past investigations and the domain shall be yours permanently. Fail and its rights shall pass to her.”

Nothing passes on Donovan’s face.

Caroline: “I understand, Your Majesty.”

“If Father Polk has also been destroyed, that also leaves open the question of duties as archivist for both Clan Ventrue and the holy church.”

“The former might be ably filed by Ms. Adler. The latter, perhaps, by his childe, Ms. Gerlette, if she remains. At least until a better candidate might be identified to step into the role or she grows into it. It would provide continuity of that line.”

And might even give her some purpose to her wrecked Requiem.

Caroline has not forgotten that Roxanne and her Krewe, for her haughtiness, was a major reason she survived those early nights.

The clan’s archives remain deeply interesting to her, but she expects to have ample enough matters to consume her time to follow. Simply having them ‘more’ available than they previously were (barely at all) would be a win enough.

GM: Caroline can see that same haughtiness on the Hussar’s face, too, when she declares “if” Roxanne remains.

“Miss Gerlette is unsuitable,” Donovan states coolly. “As caretaker of the church itself, Mother Doriocourt is qualified to care for its history.”

Caroline: Donovan was the one that claimed she wasn’t reachable.

“The sheriff is certainly more knowledgeable than I as to his childe’s capabilities, I would suggest only that even Bishop Malveaux took an assistant in that task, and that it would not be remiss in continuing to cultivate future talent. Serving as Mother Doriocourt’s assistant might be a positive influence upon Ms. Gerlette and allow the more elder Kindred more freedom.”

As the discussion continues Caroline burns through vitae, knitting her cracked jaw, her smashed face.

GM: “Is Miss Gerlette able to serve in such a capacity?” the prince inquires.

“That is unknown, Your Majesty,” the Hussar answers. “Mr. Jenkins claimed she had attacked Scourge Meadows in vengeance for her slain coterie-mate. She believed that if another neonate had fought the scourge and survived to tell, it was within her means.”

Caroline: Not hardly, Caroline offers in bitter memory. The fight with Roxanne had been all-too one-sided, especially compared to that with Meadows. The memory of the scourge’s claws is more than skin deep.

GM: “Mr. Jenkin’s subsequent destruction at the scourge’s claws would suggest the Storyvilles aroused her ire.”

The words drip with disdain.

Caroline: “Ms. Gerlette was very far from a match for Scourge Meadows. The entire krewe is far from a match from her. If she attacked the scourge, especially with only half their strength, Ms. Gerlette would exist still only by her mercy or another’s intervention.” Caroline’s tone makes it very clear how unlikely she finds that idea.

GM: “There are worthier matters to investigate than another missing Storyville, my prince,” Donovan states dispassionately.

Caroline: “Certainly,” Caroline agrees.

Even her own feelings for the one among their number are a muted memory, especially here, now, in front of her sire.

GM: “The archives shall be overseen by Ms. Adler and Mother Doriocourt,” Vidal states. “If Miss Gerlette is found, she may serve in an assistive capacity.”

GM: “I would next speak of Miss Malveaux’s punishment, Your Majesty,” Donovan states.

“On what basis is this warranted?”

“Claire Malveaux was an asset under mine and Bishop Malveaux’s joint supervision. Her witch-hunters slew Your Majesty’s foes. We were neither informed nor consulted as to Miss Malveaux’s plans. Claire Malveaux has been prematurely lost to us as an asset. In our communications, she informed me of contingency plans to damage the Masquerade irreparably in the event of her death. These had stayed my hand until her plans could be verified and dismantled.”

Caroline: “Your Majesty, you know better than any that by necessity, all arrangements with hunters must be short term—they inevitably become a blade without a hilt that bites deep their wielder. Claire Malveaux’s death was ordered by the seneschal himself, the manner given to me to arrange as proof of my loyalty. If there was additional guidance to stay my hand, it did not reach me.”

“Even had it not been so ordered, she played everyone for fools Your Majesty. Among her last words were declarations of her intent to stake and deliver me to Mr. Savoy for release after his ascension. She repeatedly conspired with Mr. Savoy to push me into his camp and only ever exposed a tiny portion of her knowledge, capabilities, or resources. Resources she actively devoted to undermining your rule. Those killed were among the most fanatical of the witch-hunters—mostly those infesting the police force. Others that remain are better suited for use or elimination now than ever before—many have already been identified.”

“Of course, if it is Your Majesty’s will that I should be punished, I am your humble servant. My actions were indeed without coordination with the sheriff. I know not what other measures she had in place, but the dismantling of the network she assembled remains among my highest priorities.”

GM: “Claire Malveaux’s death was ordered by Seneschal Maldonato. The implementation of that order was delegated to Sheriff Donovan and Bishop Malveaux, under whose supervision you were placed,” the prince states crisply. “Sheriff, select two retainers among Miss Malveaux’s retinue to slay.”

“Miss DeMatthews’ former servant and the Olympian,” Donovan replies coolly.

“Master, if I may speak, the sheriff’s time is occupied by many duties,” states the Hussar. “If it pleases you, I may dispatch the two in his stead.”

Caroline can see the glint in the scarred, burned man’s hooded eyes.

He wants to fight ‘the Olympian.’

“Do so,” Vidal states perfunctorily.

His gaze re-affixes upon his childe.

“I do not tolerate infighting. I do not tolerate insubordination. You will respect the archdiocese’s chain of command and your own place within it. If you cannot follow orders, you will not be trusted to issue them to others. Am I understood?”

Caroline: “Yes, Your Majesty,” Caroline replies stiffly. Execution of her servants. Murder, really. Cold hate smolders towards the sheriff, like a limb immersed in ice water. Petty.

It’s not the first time those in her service have died for her. It will not be the last, but the callousness of the sheriff in bringing the matter up is not something she shall forget.

Never mind that the sheriff excluded her from all matters to do with Claire. Never mind that he repeatedly antagonized her, even staked her.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Shouldn’t have to be this way.

GM: “I would raise one final matter, my liege, if you have no further orders for me,” Donovan states.

Caroline: For not the first time the memory of the sheriff staked, to be turned over to Savoy floats through her mind.

The seneschal was confident the blood bound ensured his loyalty, but Caroline has her doubts. She can think of no more ready agent to undermine the prince, and few ways his rule could have been more ill-served than by the sheriff’s increasingly monstrous reign of terror.

GM: “In this time of uncertainty, your servants’ obedience is paramount. I would renew my blood oath to you and ensure my loyalties can waver in neither thought nor deed.”

The prince stares upon his servant for a moment, then raises his wrist to his fangs.

Donovan kneels to drink, then rises.

The prince’s dark gaze smolders silently ahead.

He does not speak.

The sheriff does not speak.

The ghouls do not speak.

There is only silence interrupted by the scream of rain and wind against the massive window.

A bolt of lightning strikes overheard. The sudden flash starkly illuminates the hoary Ventrue’s utterly motionless face. It looks like a statue wrought by one of the old masters—the whitest marble contrasted by pitch shadows. All blacks. All whites.

And from those eternally burning eyes, nothing but black.

“Leave me.”

Donovan bows and silently departs with neither haste nor sloth nor backwards glance. His automaton face is as blank as his master’s is dark.

The ghouls follow in his wake.

Caroline: Caroline stares a moment longer, in longing perhaps, before turning to follow.

Whether or not the undead statue’s gaze follows her in turn she can’t say. But the image of those burning black eyes, alive with only hate, follows her for a long time.


Tuesday night, 8 March 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline follows the others out the room, but calls out to Robert Congo when they are clear of it. “Mr. Congo.” When he pauses she stops a fair distance away. “I would speak with the seneschal, if he is available.”

The Ventrue has healed the worst of her wounds, but her jawline is still a mass of ugly purple bruises.

GM: “He is, madam.”

The ghoul escorts her to his master’s office. Maldonato indicates that she assume one of the seats across from his desk.

Caroline: She follows at a ‘healthy’ distance. For Congo.

“Seneschal Maldonato,” she greets the elder. Their relationship has always been complex. Perhaps never more so than now. There are so few secrets between them.

She takes the offered seat, pushing back a short distance from the table. Her fists are tightly clinched on her thighs, but her attention is clearly on the seneschal. She doesn’t try to hide the worry on her face.

“That was terrible, for him. These nights have been terrible for him.”

And for you, she doesn’t add, though her tone does.

“He stared after your departure. Just stared, for hours at where you had stood. Then tonight… he seems… done. Tired. Exhausted with everything. And when he spoke, no other would raise a voice to gainsay anything he wished.”

“Is this the future?” she asks.

GM: The Moorish elder assiduously regards Caroline from behind the oaken desk. He’s dressed tonight in a familiarly double-breasted gray suit with a pale blue necktie and gold cufflinks.

“Eternity’s rigors are great, Miss Malveaux, and the human mind is ill-suited to withstand them. Humans are cyclic beings. Days pass to nights. Spring passes to winter. A parent’s generation passes to their child’s. ‘To every thing, there is a season, and a time and purpose under Heaven.’

“Kindred are not human. The Requiem has no cycle: nights pass to days, and days pass to nights, but our minds do not register this passage of time. Sleep passes to wakefulness in an eyeblink. Yet we were once human, and we cannot so easily transcend the need for a cyclic existence. Torpor is how we satisfy this need. Rare is the Cainite who does not eventually succumb to its call.”

“Some Kindred fear the sleep of ages. To surrender to its call and remove ourselves from the world is to return to a cyclic existence where we are not eternal. It is to experience our own death in microcosm.”

“It is sleep but not sleep, where thoughts are sluggish as thick honey and take years to flow. It is a state where dreams and might-have-beens intercourse with true memories. It is a state where sounds and smells from the deepest recesses of one’s consciousness find their way to the surface again, but disturb the mind no more than a rose petal falling on a still pool of water. Time has no meaning; hunger has no meaning. There is no future. There is no past. There is but an endless and eternal now.”

“It is restful.”

“It is restorative.”

“It allows the dead to experience some measure of true death and awaken refreshed, as a living man might awaken from a long and restful sleep.”

“That is his future. His rest is long overdue.”

Caroline: “But not yet,” Caroline almost whispers. “He has work still to do… I fear for him, though. That as he is, he may become his own worst enemy.”

GM: “It is the way of things, Miss Malveaux, that there is always more work to do.”

Caroline: God, if that isn’t the truth.

“When does he get to rest?”

GM: “When he chooses to lay down his crown.”

Caroline: “He wanted to execute twenty Kindred. All their ghouls. All their mortal family. All their ghouls’ mortal family.”

GM: “All that was discernible to Mr. Congo was discernible to mine ears.”

“His rest is long overdue.”

Caroline: “What must we do then, to assure it?” she asks seriously, a hint of desperation in her voice.

GM: “He must first name you the heir to his throne. He has accepted you as his Blood and childe, but no more. One whose intended rule spans eternity has no need for an heir.”

Caroline: “He must be convinced, then, that I am worthy. Capable,” she fills in.

GM: “This fact must become reality and its truth self-evident to him,” Maldonato states in simultaneous agreement and correction.

“No ruler governs without the consent of those whom they govern. You are in need of friends and allies from within traditional halls of power, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Indeed,” Caroline answers bluntly.

She bites her lip, the added sensitivity from the bruising making the sensation all the more acute.

“I cannot be at war with his sheriff and also be his heir,” she says. “And buy-in from others is all but required—too many of whom I have unpleasant history with.”

“Might you offer any wisdom on either point, Seneschal?”

GM: “The sheriff desires your sire’s throne, Miss Malveaux. This fact has escaped the attentions of few in Elysium.”

“Of all the would-be claimants among your sire’s allies, his eventual praxis remains the most probable, even weighed against the loss of his most potent ally.”

Caroline: “He would appear to be a rare pillar remaining in the prince’s rule, to be treated as a rival,” Caroline answers with concern.

GM: “The greatest impediment to the sheriff’s ascension is your sire’s recalcitrance. Even were he inclined to surrender his throne, to do so to the childe of our foe would leave him ill at ease. Time has served to erode his inhibitions, and present circumstance might erode them further still, but the fact of your existence has strengthened them anew.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

“Perhaps I lack the proper context, but it seemed to me his actions this night were not the actions of one eager to see a continuity of rule. I can think of no surer path towards the archdiocese fall than a tyrannical rampage—unfettered execution’s in mass.”

“By your strength and the prince’s, it may limp on, but deprived either, and with allies turned enemies by such wanton violence, it seems unlikely the Baron and Mr. Savoy both could be held off.”

GM: “If the attempted genocide of the Hidden Clan should come to pass, our combined strength may yet be insufficient to retain praxis over the city,” Maldonato answers gravely.

“That strength has waned over the past months even as our foes’ has waxed. There is a limit to how many losses we may endure. Mightier princes than your sire have lost their thrones.”

“However, you have done well in postponing that genocide. His mind may yet be swayed to milder courses of action in the interim.”

“Mercy shall not sway his mind, but proven actions to neutralize the clan’s threat may yet do so—such as the assistance of Primogen Opal’s clanmates in her removal, or the blaming of parties besides our prince for her demise.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Tyranny without understanding breeds neither love nor respect. It is right that they should fear his judgment, but necessary too that they should perceive it as the prince’s justice, rather than his fury.”

“If I had my way, Primogen Opal’s actions would be exposed in the moment, naked in their treacherous duplicity. Her conspirators in the action facing immediate and effective judgment. But no further. A show of the prince’s strength, justice, and control. They should remember why he is worthy of both fear and respect.”

“Such an action would require all three to succeed.”

“Which brings me back to the question. From where might strength be best sought, if the sheriff is to set himself against me?”

“Or perhaps better stated, who that might be open to supporting the prince has cause to stand against Sheriff Donovan?”

“My thoughts trended first towards clan, where Regent McGinn presents powerful, if distasteful, potential, but judging from the sheriff’s response tonight, I expect him to be off the table. He also possesses significant ambitions of his own. Prince Guilbeau offers some similar potential, but there were the concerns raised as to him when I was presented to my sire.”

“Among the Sanctified, the sheriff stands in high regard likely to only grow as his childe assumes the title of bishop. She may lack the spiritual authority of Bishop Malveaux, the appearance of power remains power, and there are few other contenders.”

“Only Father Elgin remains that might command significant respect, and my sire is likely to look ill upon further cultivation of that relationship. On the other hand, cultivation of him—and other loyalists among the Hidden Clan—might suffice to encourage a staying of my sire’s hand when the time comes.”

“That leaves mostly outliers not firmly committed elsewhere. Primogen Poincaré and Duquette spring most readily to mind, though the former has his own ambitions and the latter her own reservations, I’ve enjoyed… pleasant relations with each.”

“And Mr. Matheson, who is much the mystery to me.”

“And of course, any I’ve missed or misjudged.”

GM: “All Kindred of standing possess flaws and ambitions, Miss Malveaux, and all the more so in this climate of uncertainty. To desire allies with neither is to be lonely for allies indeed.”

“Regent McGinn’s distasteful qualities are well-known, nor are we we ignorant of Mr. Guilbeau’s complicity in past crimes. Yet a Gerousia that afforded seats to neither of them would be lonely for members indeed.”

“Your counsel was rejected on the demerits of its means rather than its ends. To demand that any sire initiate a childe into a covenant of the prince’s choosing is to abrade the sire’s pride and advertise the prince’s weakness. It is implicit in the promise of a childe’s creation that one may mold the fledgling to one’s will.”

“Your sire’s hand may be stayed against the Hidden Clan if and only if its members demonstrate their loyalty to him through support against Primogen Opal. Such aid is easier requested than enlisted, for she is more than merely their primogen. She is their mother. I believe Mr. Cartwright the least loyal to his clanmates and easily bought off with Regent McGinn’s aid. Primogen Opal’s other blood descendants shall never consent to aid Prince Vidal against their ancestor and would likely follow her to the Baron’s camp even without our prince’s decree, so their slaughter harms us not. Father Elgin may be possible to sway. Few Kindred save Scourge Meadows have ever considered him as more than the unpresuming host, nor sought to understand his desires and ambitions. These remain abstruse to me. Regent Sundown might best be neutralized through token offers of covert aid that satisfy the prince without threatening the former’s apolitical status, yet so fine a line may be difficult to tread. Father Marrow might also be approached on the basis of shared faith. His association with the Baron has obscured his name in the eyes of many Sanctified.”

“Among the Sanctified, there are many actors beyond those whom you have named. Their support is essential if you are to be a credible heir to our prince and alternative to the sheriff. Primogen of other clans and covenants have little cause to support a Kindred who cannot command her own covenant’s loyalty.”

“Scourge Meadows is the first Sanctified whom I would make amends with, for reasons practical as well as political. She is no dumb beast and may make a second attempt on your unlife under more favorable circumstances. For all her faults, the scourge has drunk from our prince as deeply as you, and her actions remain a net benefit to the Church Eternal.”

“Yet she has still left our prince’s service and answers to no master but her own interpretation of the archdiocese’s laws. Were she returned to the fold by the efforts of our prince’s childe, such a deed would at once uplift your name and grant hope for the covenant’s future. Miss Malveaux might be shown to unite as well as divide—and there is no little symbolism in a scion of the Kingship Clan bringing a Gangrel to heel. Every ruler requires a dog at their side. Few dogs are so feared as Caitlin Meadows. Only the sheriff’s name inspires equal dread among our enemies.”

“Seek out why she has left our prince’s service. Perhaps therein may lie the answer to her return. Hound Agnello or her other childer might aid in such an endeavor.”

“Yet a prince’s scion must have allies beyond dogs. Primogen Hurst, Mr. Harrison, Hound Wright, Deacon LaCroix, Mr. Pacuad, those further neonates of lesser name and achievement—without the support of the covenant’s rank and file, your rule shall end before it might ever begin. It is on the backs of such Kindred as Father Polk that lasting praxis is built. Kindred who faithfully carry out orders and aspire to little higher. The sheriff has allies beyond Mother Doriocourt and Deacon Benson, but these are not so immutable in their loyalties.”

“Any Kindred must first win allies among their own age and standing if they are to aspire to ones of higher station. Cainites of mine years have always viewed neonates who seek our exclusive company with contempt. They are as your mortal family regard the ‘noveau riche’ who pretend above their station.”

“This is why I have planned for a 70-year regency to permit you time to establish yourself among the Camarilla, to come more fully into your Blood’s power, and to facilitate a smoother political transition from one regime to the next. The Requiem of Chicago’s Prince Jackson has spanned 30 years and he insists he is master of his destiny. For so long as elders of comparable vintage to mine own reside in his city, I do not believe this claim.”

Seventy years, Caroline recalls from her lessons with Becky Lynne, is the age at which the Lancea et Sanctum (and by extension, much of the city at large) considers a neonate to have (at least nominally) become an ancilla: a mirror number of the biblically allotted years of a mortal man’s life, spent instead in darkness.

“All of these connections shall be facilitated by the growth of your domain and associated mortal holdings. I advise you to personally see to as many details as is feasible tonight. I shall aid in that domain’s expansion where I may, as shall your sire. He too desires the material success and prosperity of his childe.”

Caroline: Caroline takes in the cynical commentary as to the rest of the Gerousia without great comment, though she does stop to inquire as to whether the seneschal believes either of the older Ventrue present attractive allies in his mind, and whether he has any thoughts as to the merits of them. Of the two, she judges McGinn to be significantly more powerful, but also more dangerous, while Guilbeau alienates fewer others by his nature and has a ‘relief’ system as it were, with his desire to retake his city.

She largely agrees with Maldonato in so far as the Hidden Clan—she’s seen no sign they might break ranks. She fears without such an overt breaking, or significant value added, that her sire is unlikely to chance his course.

Meadows is an interesting idea she hadn’t concerned, but it certainly seems to catch her interest. She inquires as to whether he might point her in the direction of a starting place for such an endeavor, or if there is a best way to approach the scourge.

She takes the rebuke as to cultivating relationships only with older Kindred for what it is: intended well despite its pointedness. She inquires specifically whether she thinks Hound Wright might be swayed from the sheriff’s influence.

She comments about the theological significants of the seneschal’s decision of seventy years before observing that whatever her regency—and with seventy years the prince might well have risen from torpor by its conclusion—they do not have seventy years to convince the prince of her worthiness, nor seventy years to gain allies and influence sufficient to hold off pretenders immediately (even if she takes that time to grow into her full influence).

Even with the seneschal as regent and prince in all but name, she does not expect her sire to lay down if she is unable to establish herself, nor others to refrain from potentially lethal infighting even within the prince’s loyalists.

GM: Maldonato believes all of the Gerousia to be allies worth cultivating. “It was by your sire’s will they ascended to that body’s ranks.”

Caroline: She inquires more specifically if there are any allies that he would specifically suggest she avoid for reasons she might not otherwise immediately realize.

GM: He corrects Caroline’s misinterpretation and repeats that there are Nosferatu whose loyalties he believes might be swayed. It is Miss Opal’s direct descendants, with the exception of Randolph Cartwright, whom he considers a futile cause.

She might start with any of three Meadows’ childer, or perhaps the scourge’s other clanmates. The Gangrel clan also holds periodic gatherings known as ‘things’ where fights are frequent but rarely to the death.

Caroline: She observes that there are few enough not from her line—but more lightheartedly than in an attempt to correct the elder.

Caroline inquires as to whether such Gangrel gatherings are ‘welcoming’ to outsiders, or more closed as are Ventrue.

GM: “Primogen Opal has six known surviving descendants within the archdiocese, including Mr. Cartwright. At least five further Nosferatu who do not share her bloodline also reside within the archdiocese.” Maldonato’s face is utterly without levity at Caroline’s remark. “You are fortunate to have erred in mine presence, Miss Malveaux. Such nescience would cost have cost you face before other Kindred of standing.”

Caroline: Any hint of levity goes out like a candle snuffed out on a moonless night. “Thank you for the correction, Seneschal. I had meant only to convey that her line was one of the most prolific in the city—perhaps the most prolific outside of Primogen Chastain.”

“I can understand how poorly that might be received if spoken so carelessly.”

GM: “Mother Iyazebel’s line eclipses Primogen Opal’s in size by some half-dozen Kindred. Bishop Constantine’s line also exceeds the primogen’s by one descendant. The devil may lie in the details, but so too does truth.”

“The line is middling in size relative to the other clans’. It is its members’ devotion to their matriarch that distinguishes it.”

“Yet that devotion is sufficiently powerful as to influence perceptions, as evidenced by your own assumption. One must strive to see facts as they are and not as others would mispresent them.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “Ah, you’re including those beyond the city or destroyed, Seneschal.”

“I suppose they must be more ingrained in your mind more uniquely than mine, having a Requiem that spanned their own. Still, the point is well taken as to specificity of language in such conversations, especially among those who have seen so many years.”

GM: As to Hound Wright, while Maldonato does believe him loyal to the sheriff, he also believes those loyalties more mutable than his childe’s or Deacon Benson’s. The Brujah might be swayed by her.

As to the matter of her sire’s torpor, Pearl Chastain’s lasted some 80 years and was not her first (nor even second). Maldonato’s first torpor lasted approximately 120 years, when he was centuries younger and his blood thinner than Vidal’s is now. There are Cainites of greater age and thicker blood whose slumbers span centuries, even millennia. Ultimately, it is impossible for any Kindred to know how long Vidal’s torpor will last—“save perhaps the Agonistes. Fortuna is an unreliable ally, Miss Malveaux. I make no plans around what I cannot predict.” Maldonato’s operating assumption is that her sire’s sleep will last indefinitely.

Maldonato replies that he would not have suggested the Gangrel’s things as a potential inroad with Meadows if he believed them nonviable. The Beast Clan is more open to the presence of outsiders than the Ventrue, yet they ascribe to their own customs, traditions, and form of honor (“they are more than feral beasts”). They are also far less shy than the Kingship Clan in expressing offense in a directly physical manner. Caroline would be well-served to arrive in the company of an established clanmate as a guest—and to expect a fight even if she causes no offense. Fighting is one of a thing’s typical activities.

Caroline: Yes, because the last time I was sent to meet someone without guidance ended so well. Caroline bites back the acerbic thought of her meeting with Matheson in response to the seneschal’s critique of her questioning.

GM: Doubtless her present audience would be utterly without sympathy.

Caroline: “As to domain, and this night, should I confine my activities to Perdido House tonight, and in the foreseeable future?”

GM: “I would make preparations to do so, Miss Malveaux. You may venture beyond Perdido House, but beware your safety if you choose to.”

“Nevertheless, your doing so may prove propitious. You may assist the sheriff’s efforts to preserve the Masquerade in the wake of your mortal mother’s death.”

Maldonato provides Caroline with Donovan’s ‘work’ phone number, along with the usual cautionary on telecommunications security. The expectation seems clear that whether they like each other or not, they are working together now.

If requested, he provides contact information for other Sanctified Kindred.

He also raises the matter of granting Caroline an expanded domain. It is better if she receives such an award before her lineage is publicly revealed, for it will not do to foster the impression that she owes all she has to her sire’s names alone.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite twitch at the naming of Claire as her mother, but ancient Moor is far too practiced a watcher of people to believe her unaffected by it. Still, she bites her tongue and addresses the matter he’s brought before her.

“I’ve made no secret of my interest in the courts, and recently began cultivating some influence locally with Primogen Duquette’s permission. Opportunities to make positive use of that influence and cultivate more would tie into what I’ve already cultivated as well. The firm will need restructuring, but also stands alone. The Giani Building has its appeal to me, but ultimately nothing I built there need be more than temporary.”

“The Malveaux family, obviously, as expressed before my sire. The influence there is significant and widespread even in the city. I should think maintaining those quite a challenge if I am to be sequestered here for a time.”

“There’s also a small section of the Garden District that I also have my eye on,” she alludes to.

GM: “Your safety may be guaranteed nowhere, Miss Malveaux, only ameliorated,” Malonato answers gravely.

“Political circumstance, however, may prove a more efficacious shield than force of arms. Not a one of Prince Vidal’s prior heirs were ever publicly acknowledged as his intended successor. Your station may both attract and repel attempts upon your unlife.”

“Expanding your protective detail may thus prove a sagacious use of your resources, now that your ghouls number two fewer. The childer of Washington D.C.’s Prince Vitel are protected at all times by agents of the Secret Service. I believe they have found the investment in vitae to have amply repaid itself.”

Maldonato clarifies, however, that he was referring to a territorial grant of domain rather than a specific sector of kine society to grant Caroline domain over (though he is pleased to hear she has established a working relationship with one of the city’s primogen). He inquires as to what physical areas of the Central Business District she feels herself “most capable of assuming stewardship over.”

“If you are inquiring as to your adoptive mother’s home, Miss Malveaux, such a grant of domain would be wholly titular,” the seneschal answers the matter of the Garden District. “Few are the Kindred who would not find their designs frustrated should they seek to claim the Walter Robinson House or its occupants for their own. Though a prince’s word may grant domain rights, power and cunning alone doth make such a claim reality.”

Caroline: There’s a flash of anger at the idea that another Kindred might presume to claim her family. Their designs frustrated? How about their havens burned. Their kine gutted in the streets and every Kindred in their line extinguished. Some wars are worth fighting.

She buries that thought as deeply as she can, turning over the suggestion of a geographic domain within the Central Business District.

“I’m most familiar—and established immediate area around the Giani Building. I’d notionally pitch a block in either direction, but you’d be committing almost half of what was former Hound Agnello’s domain in so doing, and that’s unlikely to earn me any long term good will from the hound, and would also place me squared up against the domain of Mr. Savoy.”

“Sitting on the corner of Canal Street had its benefits when I was fence sitting, but I have no illusions as to my ability to withstand any hostilities he could bring to bare.”

She shakes her head. “The Giani Building was convenient when I was under Hound Agnello’s influence, but my commitments to it are not so deep as to blind me to its strategic weakness.”

GM: “Hound Agnello’s domain is not being held in abeyance pending its former owner’s improvement in standing. The domain is a prosperous one and shall be awarded to any other Kindred whom I deem a worthy steward. Interested individuals have already sought to curry my favor.”

Maldonato agrees with Caroline that the Giani Building’s location is less secure than a domain further away from the French Quarter. However, he does not consider that to be so bad a thing. Savoy has made repeated attempts to expand into Vidal’s territory, and the prince into Savoy’s. Kindred vassals fight these battles on their behalf. The seneschal does not consider such a role unbecoming of the prince’s childe. She will be expected to carry her weight in the faction and to help fight its battles. The operative question is whether that is best done through her physical domain or other avenues.

Caroline: “I would never gainsay your right to dispense with your domain as you see fit, Seneschal. I would only observe that if my own influence might have bearing on Hound Agnello’s renaissance, such a thing might have value for all parties. Vice the alternative, that the new stewardship of his former domain be a barb between us other parties could exploit.”

GM: “Such a barb will exist between Hound Agnello and other Kindred to receive his former domain, Miss Malveaux. Failing the hound’s immediate return to favor in mine eyes, he must reconcile himself to the fact that his territorial holdings shall pass to another.”

Maldonato also raises the related question of whether she wishes to relocate her law firm to a floor on Perdido House. The prince and his lieutenants obviously spend much of their time in the building. Moving the firm there will better integrate it, and Caroline, into the flow of the prince’s operations. (She should also expect much of her future legal work to relate to Vidal’s and his lieutenants’ assorted enterprises.) The firm itself will also benefit from the building’s considerable security. However, Caroline is the firm’s owner and better aware of its needs than anyone else, so the final decision is hers.

Caroline: She chews on that idea. “I’d originally intended to keep it largely independent, in the belief that it would be more approachable to Kindred perhaps… intimidated by Perdido House. But then my understanding of my role here was more opaque.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs.

“Much, I believe, depends on what the threats to my Requiem are, Seneschal, and how they might best be combated. The lengths gone through to remove prior heirs are clear, but how such pitfalls might be avoided moving forward is less so to me. Shall I set my ghouls to adding to my retinue, or leave Perdido House only in secret, or at the greatest urgency? I don’t imagine any of the three to be the plan—none project strength for either the archdiocese or myself. And yet, I imagine the threats to my Requiem will only grow once publicly acknowledged.”

GM: “Threats must be met, Miss Malveaux, by either strength or guile, and no prince may rule by the latter alone. An eternally cloistered childe shall earn the respect of none.”

“I would find it prudent to expand your ghouls’ retinue. I would find it prudent to relocate your law firm to a more secure location, given the dangers posed to your Requiem, in absence of any compelling reason to do otherwise.”

“I do not consider independence from your sire to be a desirable state of affairs. Nor do I consider dependence upon your sire to be a preferable alternative. Interdependence is the state you must achieve if your futures are to end in aught but tragedy.”

“Sheriff Donovan’s and mine own domains are closely linked to Prince Vidal’s, and his to ours. The value of this relationship exceeds that of any relationships you might form with Kindred lowly enough in station to be discomforted by Perdido House. Though it behooves any sovereign to be loved by their subjects, their foremost duty is to rule.”

Caroline: “Verily,” Caroline agrees.

“Strength is precisely the question. I’m as strong as any childe of this millennium in the city,” she states as fact. “But I don’t expect my foes to be neonates off the street. With guile I have stood against even far older Kindred at places of my choosing. But I labor under no illusions as to the limits of my strength.”

“A balance to be struck, as in all things. Between prudence and the appearance of weakness.”

The heiress doesn’t argue with the seneschal. Indeed, she agrees that relocating the firm to Perdido House as too many advantages to ignore. Doubly so if she’ll retain the ability to interact with it while under her sire’s tutelage.

As the topic shifts back to possible domains, she identifies several likely areas, each several blocks, as promising candidates based on their demographics, useful services she might coopt there, or prospects for their development.

None of them border the French Quarter. “I am not afraid of defending a domain against Mr. Savoy, but if this is to be a domain prior to my recognition, and I am to hold it during my sire’s promised education, I think it wiser that it have more inherent stability.”

GM: Maldonato listens patiently to each one.

The block around O’Keefe and Poydras, though somewhat large for a neonate of her years, is acceptable to him. Caroline may deal with poachers due to the relatively good feeding for the CBD and its close location to Storyville (the local name for the Rack rather than the former neighborhood).

The seneschal seems more interested, though, by the prospective domain she identifies near City Hall—specifically, its legal institutions. Vidal will, unsurprisingly, not surrender the former, but will pass the DA’s office into her hands, along with the adjacent Civil District Court and First City Court.

Some of the land to the east could also be hers, which includes some bars, restaurants, and similar establishments. It is less hunting than along O’Keefe and Poydras, however.

At present, Maldonato does not wish to issue a large enough grant of domain to be the subject of speculation at Elysium. He is amenable to issuing a larger grant once the truth of her identity is made known. Caroline’s immediate grant should thus be one that she may best serve her sire by having additional time to cultivate.

Caroline: She wants the DA’s office and District Court, but observes to have anything meaningful beyond it would require a massive geographic grant—to the east are mandated parking lots for the civil institutions, to the north is Tulane Medical, to the south is Perdido House, and to the west is largely industrial wasteland, so far as Kindred are concerned.

She observes that with already wide ranging grants from her sire, a geographic base might make more sense—and raise fewer eyebrows than a grant of a major institution, which could come with official acknowledgment.

GM: Maldonato does not believe it will raise overly much suspicion when Caroline is uniquely qualified to manage that institution on the prince’s behalf. There are no other Sanctified attorneys, after all, and such a sign of Vidal’s trust could raise her standing in the eyes of other Kindred.

Nevertheless, he concurs that such a grant of domain may still occur later, if Caroline wishes to develop the area around O’Keefe first.

Caroline: Caroline does not swim against the current: she can see readily enough the seneschal’s interest. So long as she is permitted to maintain her hexis over the Giani Building, she sees well enough the symbolic and practical value in dominion over the court and DA’s office.

GM: “Arrangements shall be made,” Maldonato states. Caroline would be well-served to use any remaining time tonight, after she has rendered aid in whatever efforts to maintain the Masquerade the sheriff enlists her for, to begin laying groundwork for her hold over the legal system.

Caroline: More to do. Thankfully, she already has plans drawn up for that eventuality.

She bites her lip. “There’s another, more personal matter, Seneschal.”

GM: “Proceed, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Ms. Baker has not taken our… split… well. I had hoped…”

She pauses, wrestling with the memory of Jocelyn’s charred body, of her tears at Caroline’s words. Of the sick thump the stake had made when Caroline drove it through her lover’s chest.

I guess there was more there than the bond after all, she admits.

She continues, “Time away from the city might do her well. I had hoped the means to contact her sire might be available.”

GM: The seneschal frowns gravely.

Caroline: The frown is like a slap.

It’s a selfish request. A petty one. A poor use of the archdioceses resources.

And to make it of him in the shadow of his own lover’s banishment must sting.

But she cares. And she doesn’t know what else to do. Keep Jocelyn staked in her basement indefinitely? Just let her immolate herself?

GM: “We are less than one hour departed from your sire’s audience, Miss Malveaux, and already you bring me news of further strife among our covenant’s house?”

Caroline: “The opposite, in fact, Seneschal,” Caroline answers quietly.

GM: “Elucidate, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face hardens. She spits out the answer clinically. “She wished that I wipe her memory of our fight over the thin-blood’s Embrace. After we split she fell into depression and later tried to immolate herself if we could not be together.”

GM: Maldonato raises a forestalling hand.

“Enough. I care not who authored your quarrels with Miss Baker, only for the fact they are unresolved. No longer will I suffer to hear the name Caroline Malveaux associated with strife and disunity among the Sanctified. That era is finished. Though I have vested much trust in you, do not believe me so temarious as to gamble the archdiocese’s future upon the actions of a single neonate. Other avenues yet remain should my trust prove unworthy.”

“If you desire my aid or counsel in resolving your quarrels with Miss Baker, I shall render it. But I shall not facilitate her removal from the city and pull yet another stone, however small, from your sire’s crumbling house. More is expected of you now, Miss Malveaux. You may may end or continue your personal relationship with Miss Baker as you see fit, but you shall ensure she remains our prince’s obedient subject by our next meeting.”

Caroline: The words leave Caroline feeling hollow, as though she’s experiencing an out of body experience, all the world distant.

Foolish, to think the seneschal would care about a neonate, beyond her use to the archdiocese.

Foolish to, to believe there might be a miracle fix to the problem, someone that could simply carry Jocelyn away to a better Requiem.

Foolish, to put her own feelings, what’s left of her tattered conscience, ahead of her fa—her sire’s needs.

The words that leave her lips feel as though they cannot possible travel the enormous distance between herself and the ancient Moor.

“By your will, Seneschal,” she acquiesces.

View
Caroline VII, Chapter IV
The Prince's Promise

“You shall find me a harsh but fair sire.”
Augusto Vidal


Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s once Caroline is in the car with Ferris that he gets down to the ‘real’ business. The ex-CIA agent clearly doesn’t trust the Walter Robinson House’s security personnel without having personally vetted them.

Caroline: He’ll have plenty of opportunity to do that, Caroline adds. Today was a brutally demonstrative example of how inadequate mortal security is for her needs. The charred corpse in the back of the SUV is evidence of that.

She’s made Meg ride in the second car.

The current security doesn’t need to be replaced, but she intends on shifting a significant portion of her efforts—especially if she actually leaves the city—to providing security around her family while she’s gone.

GM: Ferris questions Caroline extensively about all of them. He says he’s already started running background checks on everyone. He’s inclined to throw out all of the people who were associated with René, for a panoply of reasons.

“I’d also assume May is compromised until disproven. Could be someone’s been in his head for him to be saying the things about Gettis that he has.”

“Could be he’s even part of Gettis’ organization. He was a cop. Great shooter, too. I’d have wanted to recruit him if I were Gettis.”

“If I wanted to fake my murder, I’d have an agent I controlled be the one to kill me.”

“Casquette girl said he was clean. Could be mistaken. Could be lying.”

Caroline: “More reason to keep him close for now,” Caroline answers. But she thinks May is genuine. “His reaction to Jocelyn was real enough, and I poked around a little as well.”

The others she’ll give him the lead with. After all, he did plenty well with the family so far.

Well, minus herself, her mother, and her brother.

GM: It’s almost as bad a track record as hers.

Caroline: Mistakes were made.

GM: “Typical reason to keep a double agent close is if you know they’re a double agent and want to feed them misinformation, ma’am. We don’t know that for sure about May.”

“I’m going to dig into him more deeply. If he checks out, he’s worth keeping. Impressive shooter.”

Caroline: Caroline agrees.

GM: Widney delivers her report on how things are progressing with Audrey. NOPD, seemingly rather than contest the legal process, released the prostitute on bail. However, Caroline’s people have been unable to locate her.

Ferris also has a more ominous report to deliver. A bomb was found in one of Caroline’s cars. Her primary one, actually—this is a different vehicle they’re driving.

His people are still combing the car over for trace evidence. They have yet to link the assassination attempt to a specific perpetrator.

Caroline: “I guess we’re done being friends,” she answers that, with a quiet anger.

“Sounds like hunters,” she further elaborates after a moment.

GM: “Gettis stands a lot to gain from your death right now,” Ferris concurs. “So does Savoy. Could be they’re working together in this.”

Ferris also wants Caroline to invest in a backup haven. The Giani Building is a semi-public building with lots of tenants. It’s easy for people to get in and out, and to do things like smuggle in bombs. Caroline’s security can lock down the flow of human traffic during emergencies, but they can only do so for so long at a time. A property that’s exclusively owned and used by Caroline would be ideal. A ‘wartime haven’ she could use during periods like this.

Caroline: She nods. It’s good advice, though traditionally public attention has also been valuable in deterring less desperate attacks. At least in theory.

It’s a question of income, and assets in the moment, but one that she expects to be less pressing over time.

“Perdido House has been made available in the interim.” To say nothing of her mother’s home, or even the LaLaurie House, though she doesn’t mention them.

Better to keep it away from her sisters for now.

“There are also plans in place for a leave of absence from the city, I suspect.”

GM: “Public attention works both ways, ma’am,” Ferris says to her first statement. “Someone who does their homework can find out you don’t own the building. Enough attacks and the Pavaghis might try to force you out. Bad tactic for the Masquerade, but could leave you pretty vulnerable for a little while if they’re able to.”

Caroline: She doesn’t disagree. Securing the building is a project she’s been tending since Adler demanded she break off relations with Sarah.

GM: On Perdido House, Ferris says, “Security there seems top flight. Your stepmother had me look into it. Pretty much every vampire hunter worth the name knows what that place is. Suicide to attack head on, though.”

Caroline: “Quite,” she agrees. “For obvious reasons my preferences are more independent.”

GM: “We suspect a lot of the prince’s people have havens there, or at least backup ones. Doubt they want to be completely under his thumb, but useful to have in a pinch.”

“My preferences run the same. Secure doesn’t matter if it’s not secure we control.”

Caroline: Caroline agrees again.

“There are limits, though, to how far we can go with our current resources.”

GM: “Yes. Doesn’t need to be a nice place. If anything, better that it’s not. Not as many enemies will think to look for you somewhere ‘beneath’ you.”

Caroline: “I don’t simply mean in terms of financial,” she clarifies.

GM: “The lower cost would be easier to fit into the budget, too,” Widney adds. “I’m hopeful, ma’am, that those resources will expand as you’ve indicated.”

The cars arrive back at the Giani Building. The last matter to come up is that of Simmone and her ghouls’ various children.

Ferris, when asked, replies that his daughter Miranda no longer lives in New Orleans.

Ferris promptly moved her out of the city following Caroline’s visit and the threat she made against his family. His decision proved a prescient one. Bishop Malveaux sent agents to Ferris’ house within minutes (or so Ferris estimates) of Caroline’s meeting with Malveaux and Guilbeau aboard the Alystra, during which Caroline relayed that Ferris was less than loyal to the Malveaux family’s then-Kindred master. It’s almost certain that the bishop’s servants would have kidnapped Miranda to use against Ferris, if she were there when he wasn’t.

“It’s what I’d have done,” he remarks neutrally.

If anything, Caroline’s earlier threat might have saved the girl’s life. While Claire also told Ferris about her stepdaughter’s meeting with the bishop, that warning could have come too late.

“Though you’ll understand if I don’t thank you, ma’am. It was purely by accident on your part.”

Caroline: “Our relationship was complicated,” she agrees.

Small mercies. Miranda remains a potential liability to Ferris, but Caroline indicates that among other things, she desires ‘some’ degree of normalcy returned to his life.

GM: “I don’t have any plans to move her back, ma’am. Too many people know who I am to you. Too many aren’t trustworthy. It was already a risk keeping her in the city when I was undercover.”

Caroline: “Perhaps,” she agrees. “But distance is not the only form of protection, or always the best.”

GM: “You don’t know where she is, ma’am. I don’t know where she is either. No one can make me reveal what I don’t know.”

“It’s not perfect. I’d have preferred to raise my own flesh and blood myself.”

Caroline: Caroline scowls more at the thought of what they’ve done to him than at what he’s said.

“We can do better. We will do better.”

GM: “Ma’am, there’s nothing you could realistically do in a thousand years that’d make me want to bring her back.”

“If she were here, she would always be a liability. Enemies would use her to get to me.”

“Point me at any enemy you want to bring down. First thing I’ll do is look for their weak spots. People and things that can’t defend themselves.”

Caroline: “A thousand years is a very long time, Roger,” she answers, but doesn’t press the point for now.

GM: “One last thing I’ve picked up. Mixing personal with professional never works out.”

Autumn, when Caroline approaches her, is another story.

She says her brother Jeffrey is 13. Her sister Stephanie is 10. Same age as Simmone. They’re technically her half-siblings, as Autumn is her father’s child from a previous marriage.

Caroline: It isn’t lost on Caroline that associating with the Devillers would open many doors for the otherwise middle class family.

GM: It doesn’t seem to be lost on Autumn either. She’s game for either or both of them spending time with Caroline’s sister. She does have something to ask in return, though.

“So, look. I said the Krewe helped me with college. My dad’s a public schoolteacher and doesn’t make a lot. The charter schools all slashed teacher pay after Katrina, and they actually slashed his even more for being a humanities teacher.”

“Fun fact. Teachers get paid the same at most public schools regardless of subject.”

“And our moms… aren’t in the picture. My family’s struggled a lot to make ends meet.”

“It’s been better since I was ghouled, and even better since I started working for you. There’s a lot I’ve been able to do to help them out.”

Caroline: Caroline can see where it’s going, but she’s happy to let Autumn get there on her own.

GM: “They’re not at risk of getting utilities shut off or anything like that. That’s way in the past now.”

“Stef and Jeffrey both go to private schools. Okay ones, that we can afford, because my dad knows way better than to send them somewhere like where he works. He actually got hospitalized by a student once.”

“I’d like them to go to better schools, though. Really good ones. And I did some research, and your mom’s on the McGehee Board of Trustees… "

Caroline: “It could be arranged,” Caroline muses. “And would be rather convenient too if Stephanie attended the same school.”

GM: “Exactly! Simmone could help her make friends. It’d be rough getting pulled from her old school.”

“McGehee’s only for girls, but there’s another good boys’ school I found for Jeffrey. My family and I can help pay some of the tuition, but it’s 20k a year at McGhee. Just insane how much that runs, but I guess you get what you pay for.”

“We’d apply for financial aid, too. But if your mom could help us get awarded more, or just find some way to waive or cover the rest… "

Caroline: “Let’s set up a ‘date’ for them. See if they hit it off,” Caroline answers. “If they do… well, I expect the rest will work itself out.”

“Has your sister ever taken dance lessons?”

GM: Autumn shakes her head. “We didn’t really have money for lessons in much of anything. But she’s pretty good in P.E.”

Caroline: “Do you think she’d enjoy them?”

GM: “She’s never said she wants to be a ballerina or anything, but I think she would. Kids are kids. They tend to like new stuff.”

“Plus she hasn’t gotten private lessons in anything before. Think that’d make her feel special.”

Caroline: “I’ll have my sister reach out then, to set something up,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Great!” smiles Autumn. “I’ll get you the details of the stuff for my brother.”

“Was harder finding a school for him. Pretty much all the good ones in the state are Catholic or Christian and we’re Jewish.”

Caroline: “Convert now. Repent later,” Caroline muses.

GM: “Hey, convert to our religion and you’re not going to Hell. Our God doesn’t have a Hell.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a small smile. “I rather suspect He’d make an exception.”

GM: “Even Hitler gets to enjoy eternal rewards, eventually,” Autumn answers seriously. “You’ve done a lot of bad crap, sure, but I don’t think you’ve beat Hitler there.”

Caroline: “That’s a pleasant thought,” Caroline answers. “I didn’t realize you were practicing.”

GM: “Well, I’m Reform Jewish. You ask Orthodox Jews, it’s not ‘real’ Judaism. Since we let men and women sit next to each other in pews. And my family doesn’t really keep kosher except on holidays.”

Caroline: “Well, we all have our flaws, depending on whom you ask,” Caroline reassures her.

GM: “It is a little lonely sometimes, though. My rabbi obviously doesn’t talk about licks or renfields or any of the other things that go bump in the night. You Catholics have this giant vampire religion with a social support structure and complex theology to explain your place in the world, but if you’re Jewish in this city you’re basically on your own to reconcile it with your religion.”

Caroline: “No Jewish vampires?” she asks.

GM: “Vidal doesn’t really go out of his way to welcome non-Christian licks to the city. They’ve all got to swear an oath of allegiance to him, God, and Jesus Christ.”

“There might be some, but none that are really serious about the faith. Or at least open about it.”

Caroline: “It’s because we’re all a little Jewish after our Embrace.” She grins. “Have you seen what a hard bargain we all drive for even the smallest favors?”

GM: “Ha ha ha. You know that we specifically prohibit consumption of blood?”

Caroline: “I didn’t,” she answers. “I imagine that must create a real crisis of faith for any Orthodox Jews that get turned.”

GM: “Yep. The laws of kosher prohibit using blood in cooking. If you’re really following the Torah, it has to be completely drained from the animal and buried in earth.”

“I think Orthodox Jews pretty much have to make their peace with it.”

Caroline: “We all do, one way or another.”

GM: “But in some ways it’s easier for us. They’ll just spend longer in Sheol, that’s basically Purgatory to purify their souls, before they get to enjoy their eternal reward.”

“Sanctified theology honestly seems so bleak to me. You already have the Christian notion of Hell, saying some people suffer forever for their sins, and then the giant vampire church confirms that yes, you really will suffer forever.”

“So I think even Orthodox Jews have a real hope that Sanctified don’t.”

Caroline: “It depends on how you view Hell,” Caroline answers. “Later Christian thought painted Hell in fire and brimstone, but early theology depicts it more… well, passively I guess.”

GM: “More like our theology.”

Caroline: “To disobey God and turn aside from his love in favor of sin is to turn yourself from your true calling in favor of things that will ultimately bring you misery.”

“I heard a good sermon once that compared Hell to what an alcoholic endures when he’s deeply in the throes of his addiction.”

GM: “That’s pretty in line with something my rabbi could say. To us, your sins stick with you, and Sheol is basically a spiritual washing machine. The more bad things you’ve done, the longer you have to get washed before you can move on.”

“Maximum one year for most people. Only ones who’ve committed unimaginable evil, like Hitler, have to get washed until the Messiah comes.”

Caroline: “Similar, but we don’t hold you can wash after death,” Caroline answers. “Or, within the Sanctified, at all. Our only hope is in existing in the purpose God has left for us until the return of Jesus Christ.”

GM: “Well, that’s too bad. I don’t think you deserve to suffer forever.”

Caroline: Caroline only offers a sad smile.


Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM

GM: The next remaining matter to see to is Ramsey.

After all, if Caroline can come before the seneschal with her stepmother’s medical records, she can say that she pulled her weight. That Donovan or the Krewe didn’t have to pick up the slack.

She wonders how much the sheriff would like to say that.

And, perhaps most infuriatingly of all to any Ventrue, it’s entirely within another’s hands.

Ramsey’s.

Caroline: The Ventrue does not react well to her inability to decide the outcome.

She’s come to hate being so helpless, so useless. Even attempting to make phone calls or harass the staff to distract them is off the table, as it would only leave a further trail of evidence of some kind that she’s poorly positioned to clean up.

It’s not a surprise they’ve pawned the task off on her—something that only makes her irritation grow under the surface.

It eats at her.

She paces around Ramsey, eavesdropping on her thoughts as she works, Occasionally lashing out, poking, prodding at some unspoken doubt or concern as the hacker works, giving voice to her doubts, to her questions of self-worth, pushing, on her to prove herself to her. Harder. Harder still.

She doesn’t have time for breaks. Doesn’t have time to be tired. She has to prove herself.

GM: Ramsey does not react well to the pressure. She doesn’t say anything, but that doesn’t matter when Caroline can literally read her mind. She’s already being required to do this outside of her normal workspace. There is little she dislikes more than “doing her thing” with someone huffing and puffing above her shoulders.

Well. Maybe being reminded of her rape, which Caroline does.

The hacker and sexual assault survivor looks on the verge of tears when she finally snaps at Caroline, “For fuck’s sake, I have the fucking records!”

There’s a glimmer of hope.

Except she doesn’t. Sort of.

Technically, she does have them. They just aren’t fully usable yet.

Ramsey explains that higher-end service typically begets higher-end security. However, Claire’s healthcare provider made the all-too common mistake of having fax machines in their building. Ramsey says those are “some of the most dangerous things you can have in your office,” as they are notoriously vulnerable to hacking. Caroline doesn’t fail to pick up that Ramsey hasn’t voiced aloud her normal recommendation to get rid of any fax machines she has.

She’s not being deliberately unhelpful. She’s just assuming Caroline will draw that conclusion from “most dangerous things” rather than giving the advice outright.

Medical records, in any case, go through fax machines. It wasn’t hard to break into the one in question after an initial phishing attack on a secretary’s computer to look for a fax receipt or signal.

Caroline: Caroline can read between the lines, and she’s more interested in why they aren’t available ‘yet’ than she is in critiques.

GM: The records, which Caroline can see on Ramsey’s screen, go on for pages and pages and pages. They look like medical forms stamped with gibberish. Ramsey starts to explain (though Caroline actually partly knows) how modern healthcare clearinghouses (who deal with her former stepmother’s insurance claims) have a very specific system of coding health care services. Modern versions need people to exclusively pump it through very specific programs and send it over the internet. All you really need is a copy of the code-to-service mapping and you’ll have a solid image of a person’s health history. Past issues are taken into account in the coding.

The icd-10 has over 70,000 codes. It’s medical jargon and tech coding all thrown into one incomprehensible-looking pot: Caroline is actually fortunate these records are fully digital, because sometimes terrible handwriting can get thrown in as a side dish if scanned paper records was the method of input.

Caroline: “So we need to push them through their actual software to get something legible?” she doesn’t quite demand. She’s pushed Ramsey hard enough.

GM: “We can’t really do that,” the hacker tiredly replies. She explains that to ‘decode’ the records, someone ‘just’ has to look up what they mean from the big book of codes. This obviously takes less time for a single claim than someone’s entire medical history, and the used codes themselves aren’t always ‘trustworthy’ either. Codes commonly get screwed up by insurance companies, who like to slip in extra things they can bill for and hope no one catches it. This obviously pisses off a fuckton of doctors. There’s also good old-fashioned coding screwups. So one can get a lot of similar-looking copies on record, with slight adjustments as the doctors and the insurance people essentially yell at each other through code.

In short, Ramsey has the data. She just needs to translate it into plain English. This is actually something Caroline realizes she could assist with, because in order to get potentially unstated past health issues, a lot of information can be found in the coding itself. The coding refers to conditions which almost always are comorbid with others and is actually very specific, for the most part, if one understands the medical jargon. Ramsey can handle the tech code, but admits she doesn’t have the medical background to decipher the jargon.

So that’s what’s left to do. Sifting through pages and pages and pages of Excel spreadsheets to distill them into them a concise and actually accurate medical history.

Caroline: It’s a paperwork nightmare, but one Caroline is particularly well-suited to slog through. She has them print the records and starts tearing through them as quickly as she can in the next room, as quickly as they come off the Xerox business-class printer (with built-in fax capability).

Caroline doesn’t really understand the code side of things, but the medical specific terms and tests do stand out to her, and she can move through them quickly. She highlights anything of interest that stands out, pulling the wheat from the chaff and tossing away the garbage. Her hands move like the scything blades of a harvester as she tears through page after page.

While she does so, she brings in Fuller and his years of experience dealing with medical records (he’s told her the Navy is notoriously obnoxious about medical readiness) and medical background to help Ramsey with the next step in the refining process. He provides answers to questions on demand as the hacker works through what Caroline identifies as meaningful.

It’s slow going, especially relying on Fuller and Ramsey on the other end. Even with the lion’s share of the data being messy or meaningless, she tears through it far faster than they do.

She even has time to go back over sheets twice to make sure she didn’t miss something in her haste.

GM: Caroline has more than physical speed helping her, too. She recalls Thomas’ description of the Albino. “He was said to have a sharp mind, though—the sharpest in his family’s generation. He devoured books, read everything in the family library five times over.”

The old man was more accurate than he knew. Caroline recalls his words exactly. She recalls the tidbit about ‘the Albino’ keeping up with Paul Morphy, the greatest chess master of his generation in the world. She recalls Paul Morphy’s birth date as June 22nd, 1837, and the date of his death as July 10, 1884, which would have made him 47 years old—he died of a stroke. She read all of those things once, somewhere, but she remembers them now.

The Ventrue’s pale hands are a blur as they tear through page after page, but her mind doesn’t feel that much slower. It shoulders the mindlessly repetitive work with ease, pulling up terms she hasn’t used in years like a diver retrieving precious pearls from the distant sea floor.

It would be one thing to do this work with all the time in the world, but Caroline doesn’t have all the time in the world. The clock’s hands are slower than hers, but they tick no less inexorably past. The room’s very lights seem to glare down at her like miniature suns, the same sun she saw such a terrible preview of early today, promising a death no less swift or agonizing if she disappoints her sire, makes any misstep around his closest servants.

Her head pounds. Even her hands feel cramped. But the fruits of her labors finally sit before her.

An unobtrusive stack of paper documents written in plain English.

She glances back up at the clock. A little while remains before she is due at Perdido House, though it is a little enough little while.

Caroline: She pointedly unplugs the printer-fax machine on her way out with a wry grin towards Ramsey and takes her leave from the ghouls, retiring back to her rooms upstairs where they’ve stashed Jocelyn.

Business accomplished for the moment. As always, she carves out pleasure where she can around it…


Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM

Caroline: The room is dark and cold, as always. The familiar articles are all there, the low king-sized bed, the soft black silk sheets, the low blue lighting with its rich shadows, the faint sound of running water from the tiny fountain at the head of the bed.

There are new additions as well, not for the better. The pile of laundry piled around one of the dividers in the room (and atop it) the unmade bed, the shattered remains of the other divider exposing a bathroom (all she truly uses it for) and its counters piled with cosmetics used to hide the worst of her death from the world.

It’s a familiar scene for Jocelyn to awaken to, if in an utterly unfamiliar (and painful) way, chained to the bed, Caroline’s still bleeding wrist drawn away from her ravenous, monstrous maw.

Her face is tight, drawn. The Beast didn’t like that, didn’t enjoy letting someone else take what was rightfully its own, even if it was this submissive lesser at its mercy.

GM: That’s not technically true.

It is her second time being chained to a bed by Caroline.

Caroline: Not that she remembers the first.

GM: Jocelyn ravenously sucks and gulps until the wrist is withdrawn. She licks her lips, pink and hale once again, getting every last drop.

She eyes Caroline’s wrist for a moment.

It’s never enough.

Caroline: Despite everything else, it warms her dead heart to watch the worst of the wounds fade. She tenderly brushes Jocelyn’s hair out of her face, behind her ear.

GM: Jocelyn smiles up at her. There’s not a trace of anger or alarm like there was last time.

“You and a mouthful of juice. What two better things to wake up to?”

Caroline: “How do you feel?” Caroline asks, seated on the edge of the bed near Jocelyn’s head.

GM: The Toreador pulls her handcuffed wrists.

“Kinky,” she smirks.

Caroline: “You were hurt. God, you were horribly hurt.”

Her flesh still smells of it.

“You’re lucky you didn’t ash yourself.”

GM: “You saved me,” Jocelyn beams.

“You always do.”

“You’re always there.”

Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth. “Barely.”

“Jocelyn, you can’t keep doing this. Can’t put yourself in danger like this, can’t hurt yourself.” Her expression breaks. “You’re hurting me.”

GM: Jocelyn looks mournful at Caroline’s expression. Truly mournful. It’s like staring into a mirror of her own hurt.

“Caroline, I had to do it. After you said… "

Her face falls a moment as if in recollection of the words, then she continues,

“…that was the only way to see. To show you, to show us, that you still cared.”

She beams again.

“And you did. You do. I won’t ever have to do anything like that ever again. Because we love each other.”

She stares up at Caroline, wide-eyed and smiling, seemingly heedless of her literal chains.

“Come on, let’s have makeup sex. That’s always the best.”

She adds, “You can keep me like this. It’s kinky.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a gentle smile. “We don’t have time. I have to go soon. Well, too soon for that.”

GM: "Awwww… "

Caroline: “You know I’ve always had responsibilities, but things are changing, finally. For the better I think.”

GM: “Suck me off, at least. Just a quickie.”

Caroline: It’s tempting, but something practical holds her back.

“We need to talk before I go.”

She retrieves the handcuffs’ keys from where she left them.

GM: Jocelyn looks disappointed.

“Okay, what about?”

Caroline: “I may be leaving for a while. The city, I mean.”

GM: Jocelyn looks like someone’s told her that a beloved family pet needs to be put to sleep.

“How long?”

Caroline: “I don’t know,” she admits. “Maybe weeks, maybe more. It isn’t really my decision.”

“And when I get back… well… some things will be different.”

GM: “Well… like what?”

Caroline: “Someone’s interested. Very interested. Finally interested. Someone… that can change my entire Requiem for the better.”

“But it’ll be different, too. More structured, I think.”

GM: "Okay… "

Caroline: “Less forgiving, in some ways.”

GM: “So, who?”

Caroline: Caroline, having unlocked one of Jocelyn’s hands, leaves the key to the remaining cuffs in it and stretches languidly like a cat.

“You know how they are,” she answers defensively.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t unlock herself.

“So someone I don’t know is gonna take you away for you dunno how long.”

Caroline: Part of Caroline wants to shy away from how awful that sounds. Wants to whine pitifully at Jocelyn. She knows it’s the part bound to her.

She’s better than that.

“Yes,” she answers instead, matter-of-factly. “Though you do know them.”

GM: “This is the worst makeup sex.”

Caroline: “I know,” Caroline answers. “And I’m sorry for that, but this… this is… I can’t wait to tell you everything, when it’s time. It’s been so long in coming.”

“You have no idea what it cost… "

GM: “Yeah, no makeup sex.” She pauses. “Look, I’m happy for you and all, you deserve it, but… you seriously have no idea how long you’re gonna be gone?” Jocelyn doesn’t try to hide the pain in her voice. “Right when we got each other back?”

“Can’t I come with you?” she adds. “The Storyvilles pretty much imploded after I told Roxanne about Evan. Stick a fork in ‘em. I don’t really have anything here anymore.”

Caroline: “I can ask, but… you know how elders are. I’d expect… maybe a few weeks. Maybe a couple months. When I know I’ll send a message.”

She bites her lip. “On the other hand, without the Storyvilles, maybe it’s time to take your sire up on the idea of getting out of town for a bit, seeing a bit more of the world, and how she does that.”

GM: “I don’t wanna be with Sally. I wanna be with you.”

Caroline has to wonder if she’d have said that before the third drink.

“And I can’t just call her up to say ‘hey come pick me up’ anyway. She’s only in town for Mardi Gras, usually. I have no idea where she even is. I used up my one call with her, if you remember.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “I know, and I don’t want to leave you.” It’s not a lie. “But I no longer have a choice.”

Jocelyn getting out of town for a while would be better for her as well.

“I’m just trying to make the best of the situation.”

GM: “I’m stuck here. Without anyone or anything.”

Caroline: “What if I could get a message to Sally?” Caroline asks. “I know I’d feel better if you were out of the city for a little while. I don’t just want you sitting here miserable without me.”

GM: Jocelyn looks at her dully.

“I guess.”

Caroline: “It means the world that I mean the world to you,” Caroline continues, gently cupping Jocelyn’s chin, “but I can’t be the world to you.”

GM: “You didn’t mind earlier.”

Caroline: “No. You had the Storyvilles. You had your art. You had other things you cared about.” Caroline answers. “And I had other things too, things that demanded my time.”

GM: “Why don’t you say no?” asks Jocelyn. “If I can’t come.”

Caroline: “I’d die,” Caroline answers bluntly.

GM: “Let’s make a run for it. Be nomads. We can have hot makeup sex in your car.”

“You’re smart. You’re tough. We could pull it off.”

Caroline: “Jocelyn.” Caroline’s tone is not amused.

“I might be happy with you, but do you think I’d ever be truly happy as some nomad drifter? That I’d be happy leaving my family behind? Having nothing to call my own? Eking out an existence?”

“I considered it. When things were at their worst. And I decided then that a small chance was better than that. Because it wouldn’t be a life.”

“Now, after everything I’ve done, everything I’ve given up to get this chance to be who I really am, who I was meant to be, you want me to abandon it?”

She pauses before continuing. “Are you telling me you wouldn’t wait?”

GM: Jocelyn is quiet at first, but then protests, “But you haven’t even said what that’s gonna be! Or how long you want me to wait when there’s fuck-all for me here!”

Caroline: “Then make something!” Caroline answers angrily. “You don’t know what you asked of me.”

GM: “I DO make things!” Jocelyn retorts. “I make my art, which all the torries here hate!”

Caroline: “Is it all Savoy has? Or Primogin Poincaré? Or Donovan? Or the harpies?” Caroline asks pointedly.

GM: “Well I’m not Savoy, or Primogen Poincaré, or Donovan, or any of the harpies! And half of them are poseurs who don’t even do any art!”

Caroline: “You don’t have to be them. I can’t even tell you what you have to be. But you can’t just be my lover,” Caroline answers back, pain evident in her voice.

“Because I can’t just be yours. I have to be something else.”

GM: “I’m not just your lover! I’m an artist too, that everyone shits on, and a krewemate in a krewe that fucking imploded the moment it met you!”

Caroline: That hits like a slap in the face, and Caroline’s face shows it.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t find Evan,” she answers quietly. “And that other licks are so cruel to you about your art.”

GM: “I’m plenty of things. Everyone just shits on them,” Jocelyn declares morosely. “And now you’re leaving too.”

Caroline: Caroline’s first inclination is to apologize. But she doesn’t, because she’s not actually sorry.

GM: “Call my sire, I guess,” Jocelyn says glumly.

Caroline: Caroline scowls. “I have a lot of problems, Jocelyn. Other licks trying to kill me. Century-old ghouls hurting my family. A thin-blood I’m still babysitting. Traitorous ghouls. Dozens of bodies to dispose of.”

GM: “I said you could call my sire,” Jocelyn scowls back. “What, do you want me smile about it and say that’s not like going to the O’Tolley’s PlayPlace when I thought we had tickets to Disneyland?”

Caroline: “You nearly blew the Masquerade with my family this morning,” Caroline continues. “And you don’t know how much blood it took to bring you back.”

GM: “And you made me want to walk out into the sun if you didn’t want to make up. You were the one who said you never wanted to see me again!” The Toreador’s eyes are full of hurt.

Caroline: “For your own good!” Caroline snaps back, equally pained.

GM: “Oh, that’s so like you, deciding ‘for my own good’! Guess Jocelyn doesn’t get a vote, cuz you’re so much better than her!”

Caroline: “Other licks are going to try to hurt me now, Jocelyn. Like they never have before. They already are. And I don’t want them to go through you to get to me!”

GM: “I don’t CARE!” Jocelyn shouts, her eyes wide. “I’d rather walk out into the FUCKING SUN!”

“So if you wanna break up with me again, great! I’ll take a suntan so you don’t have to deal with the headache!”

Caroline: “I don’t want to break up with you,” Caroline snarls, rising in fury. “I want to take care of you! I want you to be safe, and happy, and yes with me, but I can’t do all those things at once.”

GM: “Great. Dump me off at the PlayPlace then while you go to Disneyland,” Jocelyn says flatly.

“I even said you could call my sire. Then you had to go and lecture me too. Because that’s just so you, you can’t just win, I have to say I love losing too.”

Caroline: “Goddamn it!” Caroline shoves over the remaining divider with a crash. “I’m just trying to do right by you, and you’re making me the asshole for it.” There’s obvious hurt in her eyes.

“I’m sorry I want more than to watch television and shop in my Requiem, but that was never an option, not from the moment I was Embraced. It’s not my fault.”

GM: “Fine!” Jocelyn shouts back, finally removing the cuffs and rising to her feet as the divider hits the floor. “You’re leaving, nothing I can do! Call Sally! You win! What the hell else do you want from me!?”

Caroline: “I want to make you not miserable!” Caroline snaps, the twisting of the bond competing with her anger over Jocelyn’s earlier actions and her inability to make it better.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. How she’s accustomed to it being. She’s never been in such a tumultuous relationship, never had to deal with someone else being the needy and demanding one.

“I don’t want to worry about you stepping into the sun or starving yourself or getting snatched off the street by someone out to hurt you to hurt me. I don’t want to feel like I ruined your whole Requiem just because I care about you but also have other goals in my own.”

“I want a future for us where you can be strong and independent.”

“I care about you.” She taps Jocelyn on the chest. “I want you in my Requiem. I’m willing to put in effort to make you part of my Requiem.”

“But this? This isn’t you wanting to make things work. It doesn’t feel like you thinking about how we can best make that happen.” She doesn’t seem like she can stop herself, now that she’s gotten started. “This is you seeming to just want me, and damn everything else. And that’s not how love works, Jocelyn!”

“You throwing yourself into the sunlight in front of my family to get my attention didn’t make me want to take you back. All it did was hurt me. All it did was make me so angry I wanted to rip Meg’s face off then throw you out on my lawn to finish what you started.”

“But I didn’t. Instead I brought you in, and I mind screwed everyone—people I cared about—during the day and hid you and brought you here and got enough juice to wake you up so we could have a goodbye before I left. And I tried to bury how much you hurt me today, and tried to come up with ways to make the time I was away better, tried to make this bitter sweet moment at least a little better, better than a note left or nothing at all. Better than waking up in pain and starving. And all I got was guilt for pursuing my dreams.”

“That’s not love,” she snarls. “Right now this doesn’t seem like love.”

“I didn’t take you back Jocelyn because you braved the sun. I took you back in spite of it, because even though you made me so damn angry it still cut me deeper than a knife to see you in so much pain. That’s love. It’s the same reason I tried to push you away—because I loved you more than I wanted you. Because you could blame me to your krewe for Gwen so you wouldn’t be alone.”

“Love is sacrificing and caring more about someone else than yourself. This is… abuse. It’s psycho ex territory, some crazy guy slitting his wrists in front of your house because he needs you, threatening to hurt himself whenever you’re mad at him… the stuff you’ve done is the kind of stuff I’d report a guy to the police for when I was a breather.”

“You want to show me how much you love me? Build a life. I don’t need you to be my mirror but I need you to be something. I could blame it on my s—my patron, could say that you have to grow up so impress them, but that’s a lie. You need to step up for me, because I need you to be someone who can challenge me, and support me, and grow with me. I need you to be someone that cares about my welfare, and how you can help me, as much as I care about yours. And that isn’t as simple as just being together every night.”

The Ventrue seems to be running out of steam as she continues tiredly. “I want a partner. I want things that last. Someone that can know about my plots and plans and secrets without being endangered by them. And if you can’t be that, you’ll still always be important to me, but… things aren’t simple. They’ll never be simple with me. I’m never going to be like the Storyvilles, where the times are easy and the nights ours to fill as we like.”

She stares down Jocelyn. “I think spending time with your sire would help you. I didn’t just suggest it on a whim to get you out of my way. I think she could teach you a lot. Things you’ll need if we’re going to stay together. Or, alternatively, she’ll open your eyes to other things you may care about more. There are easier cities to settle in than New Orleans, cities where your very real artistic talents will be respected by the harpies. Places where your Requiem won’t be complicated by mine.” There’s a sad resignation to the end of her statement.

GM: Caroline pours out her heart into her words, to make her lover see. To understand.

But Jocelyn just gives a sullen look when she’s done.

“Well if you didn’t want a psycho ex I guess you shouldn’t have fucking collared me after you killed my friend.”

Caroline: Caroline takes the slap for what it is.

GM: “Couldn’t even be from a glass. Had to be straight from the wrist.”

Her eyes flash.

“And then you actually fucking lecture me about moving on?”

Caroline: “Go ahead,” Caroline tells her in bitter pain. “Say it. Say everything you want to say. Hurt me.”

GM: Jocelyn looks like she’s thinking of something to say. She really does. Her face wars and boils with so many of the hurtful things she could say, about all the ways she’s been hurt.

Then she just screams, shoves Caroline onto the bed, raises her wrist to her mouth, and thrusts the bleeding font at the Ventrue’s mouth.

WHY DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE! TO WANNA THROW YOURSELF IN THE SUN WHEN SOMEONE DUMPS YOU!”

Caroline: Caroline catches the wrist and shoves it away, even as she grabs Jocelyn as a whole, pins her down.

“Because my collars are part of my price,” she doesn’t quite spit.

GM: “Oh, just ANOTHER fucking way you’re better than me!” the Toreador wails. She kicks and thrashes, red running from her eyes as she stares venom up at Caroline.

“I don’t GET to move on! I don’t GET to find someone new! I don’t GET to not always, fucking, want you!

WHY THE FUCK DID YOU DO THAT TO ME!?!?” she screams.

Caroline: Caroline accepts the venom in silence. She wants to spit the truth into Jocelyn’s face. Wants to hurl the hurt back at her. You did.

But it’s better for Jocelyn to hate her, to blame her, than to blame herself.

She leans down and kisses Jocelyn on the cheek. So she tells a half-truth.

“Because I didn’t want you to hate me, couldn’t bear for you to hate me, because of what Gwen did.”

It’s a shameful admission.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: “So that’s why you DUMPED me,” the Toreador stares.

“Why the fuck would you do that!? Why the FUCK would you collar someone, then dump them!?!

There’s a knock against the door.

“Ma’am, it’s time for us to go,” sounds Widney’s voice.

Caroline: “It wasn’t to hurt you,” Caroline tells her, climbing off Jocelyn.

GM: “Well it fucking DID! How could y-”

“Ma’am, we’ll be late,” the ghoul interrupts.

“Oh shut the FUCK up!” Jocelyn screeches.

Caroline: “I have to go.” Caroline rises and goes to the door.

“I’ll see if we can reach out to your sire.”

“I’m sorry for hurting you, Jocelyn.”

GM: Jocelyn stares like she’s been punched.

“No you don’t. NO YOU DON’T! YOU’RE NOT DUMPING ME AGAIN!!!” she shrieks, slamming her fists fist into the wall, over and over and over. The blows leave deep, all-too visible gouges. Jocelyn isn’t that strong. She’s clearly burning through all of the blood Caroline fed her, and rapidly.

Caroline: “Goddamn it, stop!” Caroline shrieks. “I didn’t say that!”

GM: Jocelyn just gives a strangled half-scream, half-cry, and keeps slamming her fists into the wall’s still-deepening gouge. Red freely leaks from her furiously scrunched eyes.

“Ma’am? Should Ferris and Fuller handle this?” comes Widney’s voice.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline snarls in obvious grief. There’s a stake available in her equipment box in the hall. She snatches it up and blurs at Jocelyn.

GM: It almost feels redundant to say it pierces her lover’s heart.

Caroline already did that.

Jocelyn’s frozen face still looks like it’s crying.

And screaming.

There’s still red around the wide-open eyes.

“Ma’am, we can take her with us and discuss what to do in the car. We will be late for your appointment if we don’t leave immediately,” Widney states.

Caroline: She’s not the only one. Lonely tears run down her pale cheeks as she looks down at what she’s wrought. Her hands shake.

She doesn’t have time to grieve. “I’ll send someone for you. To take care of you,” she tells her paralyzed lover.

She’s sorry. She really is. She leans in and plants another kiss on Jocelyn’s cheek before closing her eyes with one hand.

She looks back at Widney. It’s time to go.

GM: Widney volunteers (as they make their way to the garage) that she, Ferris, or both could accompany Caroline on the drive to Perdido House. It’s six minutes one way. Twelve minutes total isn’t a great deal of time to be away from their duties if their domitor wants to discuss options for Jocelyn.

Caroline: She’ll discuss it with Ferris, but there’s painfully little to discuss. She knows what she wants to do.

What she has to do.

GM: There’s a feeling. One foreign to Caroline’s mind, but not unwelcome. It feels like a sister’s hand brushing against her face, loving and concerned. Aware of her pain.

Caroline: She’d hoped it would be easy. Hoped she could make things better.

GM: Ferris joins her in the car as it takes off.

“We can let her sit a few nights. Run out of blood. She’ll be in torpor until you get back.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “It won’t be safe for her here, her ghoul will lose her mind, and the seneschal will begrudge the treatment of his tenant.”

GM: “The others briefed me on Jocelyn. So did your stepmother.”

“Seems no one cared too much when her friend went missing.”

Caroline: “I intend on speaking on the matter tonight with the seneschal. If that goes well, one of his agents will call upon you to collect her. If not, bundle her carefully—inconspicuously—and deliver her to my mother. Do not disclose what it is you are delivering. She’ll take care of the matter from there.”

The gentle touch of Cécilia’s mind on hers is the soothing balm she needs to keep her composure.

GM: There’s that feeling again, like a ghostly hand against Caroline’s cheek. If she’s all right. If her family can help.

“She’s unstable, ma’am. She’s a weak spot for you that’s caused nothing but trouble,” says Ferris.

Caroline: She works to find her calm, to send her resignation in the face of Jocelyn to her concerned sister.

It hurt. It wounded her more deeply than a blade. But it only hurt.

“It’s done,” Caroline agrees. Her voice is hard, distant, detached.

GM: “I’ve never seen it end well when leaders think with their pants.”

Caroline: “One way or another, we are done. I simply would not see her undone by it.”

She was a fool, to think she could have her cake and eat it too. Selfish. As always, someone else has suffered for it.

“She deserves better than that… and her sire is not one I would senselessly court as a foe. We have enough of those.”

GM: “I’m not informed of the sire’s identity.”

Caroline: “An archon, Roger. Her sire is a vampire that kills other vampires for the Camarilla.”

“Even if I cared nothing for Jocelyn, I would not explain to her sire why her childe suffered at my hands, should she come to call. A more… nuanced solution is required.”

GM: “Handing her off to the sire would be one way to remove her without killing her. Don’t see the sire being happy, but more happy than you killing her. And she’s not going to leave you alone.”

Caroline: “It’s an option… and the bond will fade with time.”

For both of them. She doesn’t know the pain of the third stage of the bond, the raw power of it, but the raw wound of her own bond aches still.

GM: “Could keep her in torpor, revive her when you’re back, and rewrite her memories. If the sire won’t notice she’s missing before then.”

Caroline: “I would pass that task to more skilled hands than mine,” Caroline answers. "Or at least less personal ones.

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

“Jocelyn doesn’t seem like she ever had a great deal to offer you.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes are hard. “Be careful there, Roger. It’s done, there is no need to dig at that wound.”

GM: “As you say, ma’am,” he tonelessly repeats.


Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM

GM: Pleasure proves all-too fleeting, but a prince’s childe has higher duties. Ferris does not accompany Caroline to Perdido House: he has enough work to see to already. The last order of business he brings up with his domitor is Ericson, since spared in a crisis (or perhaps remembrance) of conscience.

If Caroline is to be absent for long enough, they may benefit from deciding now. Do they wish to ‘break her in’ at a specialist’s hands, try to do things themselves, or cut her loose?

Caroline: If she is unable to contact them directly (something she does not expect) she would have them expose her to the world, and, failing that, find a gentler method of breaking her loose than Caroline had planned. With her not currently fully bound, she doesn’t trust Ericson in the hands of another.

GM: “A ghoul trainer would be unable to bond her to themselves, ma’am,” Ferris points out, but otherwise seems to hold no preference as to how to proceed.

Caroline: “Give her the choice I’d meant to.”

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

Caroline already knows how he’d have proceeded. It’s comforting to be the lesser monster.

Then again, as far as she knows, he hasn’t killed his own mother.

Maldonato’s two ghouls accompany Caroline on the drive back to Perdido House. Fuller drives. Gisèlle maintains her same tranquil silence while Kâmil makes inquiries as to her stepmother’s medical records.

Caroline: Caroline indicates the several folders beside her, big, thick things. “I have electronic copies as well.”

GM: The elder ghoul pages through them and says his master will be pleased Caroline has these. If the amount of time he reads through them is any indication, he seems to understand at least the medical jargon.

When he hears how they were obtained, he remarks, “Cybersecurity is an area our prince’s agents are less proficient in than we should desire, alas.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip for a moment, then offers, “One of several, I fear. It has the look to me that those agents have grown few indeed over time.”

“That fresh blood might be of value.”

GM: “My usta has long desired that I obtain a computer science degree from Tulane, but the hours in the night are few.”

“And perhaps such pursuits are better-suited to fresher blood.”

Caroline: “His nights might have more value spent elsewhere,” Caroline chimes in as well. “Though I would not presume to offer him such counsel directly.”

GM: “I spoke in reference to myself, bayan, though my usta has obtained degrees in numerous fields from Tulane. I am certain he shall advise you to do the same in time. He believes one of the Requiem’s too-few yet greatest blessings is an infinitude of time to further one’s learning.”

Caroline: “I pray I find it so. It has seemed among the most precious of commodities in my Requiem to date. The night’s hours are never long enough, and its demands many.”

GM: The elder ghoul inclines his head in concurrence. The casquette girl remains silent and still. It’s not a long drive to Perdido House. They take some elevators up. Kâmil takes the folders and says he will deliver them to Regent Harlequin. Gisèlle escorts Caroline to her master’s office and knocks once against the door. It’s a soft sound, more a brush than a proper knock, but it’s greeted with a familiar “Enter.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t mind the silence on the walk. Most people talk too much.

Perdido House lacks the same terror it always has.

GM: Maldonato waits on the other side behind his desk. The office and its occupant are changed little from the previous night, though the seneschl is now garbed in a navy suit instead of a gray one.

“Miss Malveaux. How does the evening find you?” he inquires.

Caroline: “Well, Seneschal,” she answers precisely. “The assistance your ghouls provided has been greatly appreciated. I’ve found these nights… eventful.”

GM: “I am pleased their service has been of use.”

The casquette girl is already gone, though Caroline neither saw her leave nor heard the door close.

Caroline: “It was prudent,” Caroline answers.

“The assassination attempts have started,” she continues nonchalantly. “Car bomb, ghouls found it.”

She pauses. “Quicker than I’d expected.”

GM: The seneschal appears little surprised. Somber, perhaps, but little surprised.

“Has a perpetrator been identified?”

Caroline: “No, Seneschal. My ghouls are investigating, I expect it was hunters though. It’s a safer move for them than anyone else off-hand, and the method feels more hunter to me.”

“If it were me, I’d use a pawn to set the bomb—and given that it was discovered without exploding… well, it feels less professional.”

GM: Maldonato summarily questions Caroline as to her activities since their last meeting, the success of efforts to conceal the cause of Claire’s death, and any further information she has discovered concerning the attempt upon her unlife.

“Come,” he states at the conclusion of her brief narrative. “It is time we saw your sire again.”

Caroline: She rises with unnatural speed at the prospect. There’s an unnatural thrill that goes through her at those words once again. That quickening in her blood that all but sings at the prospect of seeing him, of perhaps even pleasing him.

She can’t tell how much is the blood, that second sip, and how much is genuine, but it doesn’t really matter.

“Yes, Seneschal.”

She prays they find him in better temper tonight.


Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM

GM: The journey to Perdido House’s penthouse takes no longer than it did last night.

It still feels as if it takes a thousand years.

Maldonato gives utterance to no further words as the elevator doors sweep open to the same cavernous chamber of ruin and neglect. Caroline can make out their footsteps from yesterday in the dust.

Caroline: The filth still tears at her. Why hasn’t someone taken care of this? Why have they allowed him to suffer in this. It’s not fit for him.

She says nothing.

GM: The pair’s echoing footsteps still feel like the only sound for miles around. They proceed down the same barren hallway to the same set of double doors. Maldonato does not knock. They swing ponderously open with the same low squeak.

The executive boardroom looks the same as it did last night. The destroyed table hasn’t been replaced. The ruined sword lies where it last did.

Caroline’s sire looks equally unchanged.

He wears the same midnight suit, seemingly cut and spun from the night itself. The same blood-red tie. The white dress shirt, bringing vaguely to mind the ermine mantles of kings long past. The same ring set with the same hungrily gleaming red gem. The same shadows haunt his motionless, marble-white face.

He broods from the same throne-like chair. Rain silently screams against the tall window overlooking the city. His city. He doesn’t look like he’s once moved.

Caroline: The excitement of the moment is muted by the vision of decay, of stagnation. She resists it as best she can, even if it makes her want to wrap, to beat his chest, to demand he rise up as he deserves.

GM: Maldonato waits silently with Caroline. The throne-like chair slowly turns. Her sire’s black gaze burns into hers. The eyes dominate the shadow-cragged face: cold, fanatical, implacable. Those who stare into them overlong feel dizzy, their mouths warm with the taste of blood.

After a moment, that black fire slowly recedes.

“I have considered the crimes before me and shall now render judgment,” he pronounces in his thick, crisp Spaniard’s staccato.

Caroline: The excitement at a sign of life is muted again by his grim pronunciation.

“I am prepared to accept the prince’s justice,” she answers, coming to a knee before him.

She doesn’t shake under that hard baleful glare, meeting his gaze as he demands with all the softness that she can muster.

She says nothing further. If he has made a decision, there’s nothing further to say.

GM: “Thou shall only sire another with the permission of thine elder.
If thou createst another without thine elder’s leave, both thou and thy progeny shall be slain.”


“Those thou create are thine own children.
Until thy progeny shall be released, thou shall command them in all things.
Their sins are thine to endure.”


“I find you both guilty of violations of the Third and Fourth Tradition. Yet you have confessed your crimes, which are themselves especial in their transgression, for the progeny was sired by one other than the sire.”

“Furthermore, I find myself guilty of violations of the Fourth Tradition. The childe was Embraced by another without the prince’s leave, but the childe’s blood remains the sire’s blood, and their sins the sire’s sins.”

Caroline: His initial condemnation of them almost buckles her resolve, to be vilified by her sire for crimes she had no say in, but she tightens her jaw and listens through it.

GM: “My punishment is required, Seneschal. No other in this city is fit to raise hand against me.”

Vidal rises from his seat and strips off his jacket, necktie, and dress shirt. The exquisitely muscled flesh beneath resembles a marble statue by one of the old masters come to life: almost completely stark-white, darkened only by ancient glare of a cruel Andalusian sun, and utterly unmistakable for a human being’s.

He turns his back.

Maldonato raises a scimitar that Caroline did not see in his hands.

Caroline: It makes Caroline want to object, that he did nothing wrong, that he should not suffer for the betrayal of his trust, for her errors.

But that, she judges, is not his way. Nor her kind’s, as she explained to Natalia, not so long ago.

Their laws are harsh. By necessity. And so is her sire.

GM: Caroline does not see the blade come down. But she hears its results. Hears the ear-rending scrape that’s like steel against steel. She soon comprehends why her sire’s lover does not use a whip as the sword comes down, again and again and again and again, a nonstop blur of gray lightning in his hands.

The air whines with an unrelenting metalline scrape as lines crisscross her sire’s back. Thin and pale at first, then thicker and deeper. Blood eventually wells forth.

Maldonato does not slow. More lines open. Red eventually flows from them all in a seemingly all-too literal fulfillment of the phrase ‘squeezing blood from a stone’.

The cuts grow more surgical, or perhaps always were. The prince’s back is eventually flayed open as the sword continues to chew through raw, red muscle and sinew like a grain thresher. Skin and flesh disintegrates into ash as it flies off. The metalline hum slowly decreases in volume, punctuated by the occasional resurgent scrape against rib and spine. Blood pools and spreads at their feet.

Vidal clasps his hands and hisses something in an archaic tongue that sounds partly like Spanish. Caroline makes out some of the words.

“Lloramos a ti, oh Señor, ¿tú: Ten misericordia de nosotros y conceder el perdón. Oh Rey del cielo, y el Señor eterno, recibir las oraciones que nos infunda: y conceder el perdón. Visita a los enfermos-traer cautivos, ayudar a la viuda y el huérfano: y conceder el perdón. Hemos pecado y han salido de ti, ¿tú quien eres el Redentor de todos, a salvarnos: y conceder el perdón. Tenga misericordia sobre el penitente, y lavar las manchas del pecado: y conceder el perdón.”

(“We cry to Thee, O Lord, do Thou have mercy upon us:
And grant forgiveness.
O King of heaven, and everlasting Lord, receive the prayers which we pour forth:
And grant forgiveness.
Visit the sick—bring forth captives, help the widow and the orphan:
And grant forgiveness.
We have sinned and have departed from Thee, do Thou, who art the Redeemer of all, save us:
And grant forgiveness.
Have mercy on the penitent, and wash away the stains of sin:
And grant forgiveness.”
)

“Girar lejos, oh Jehová, el ardor de tu ira, y lástima de repuesto: tu pueblo y tenga misericordia. Conceder una favorable y pronta respuesta a las oraciones de todos, estamos implorarte: y tenga misericordia. ¿Tú, oh Cristo, mira a nuestros gemidos, suelta las bandas de la muerte, y nos conceda la vida: y tenga misericordia. He aquí nuestras lágrimas a examinar nuestros suspiros, y ahora extensamente en lástima perdonar nuestros pecados: y tenga misericordia. Aunque ninguno de nosotros ser digno de ser escuchado, ¿tú, oh Cristo, por tu propio auto ayudarnos: y tenga misericordia. Amén.”

(“Turn away, O Lord, the fierceness of Thy wrath, and in pity spare Thy people:
And have mercy.
Grant a favorable and speedy answer to the prayers of all, we beseech Thee:
And have mercy.
Do Thou, O Christ, look upon our groanings, loose the bands of death, and grant us life:
And have mercy.
Behold our tears—consider our sighs, and now at length in pity forgive our sins:
And have mercy.
Though none of us be worthy to be heard, do Thou, O Christ, for Thine own self help us:
And have mercy. Amen.”
)

“Escucha nuestra oración, oh Jehová, y escuchar a nuestros gemidos, porque reconocemos nuestras iniquidades y sentar abrir nuestros pecados delante de ti. Contra ti, oh Dios, hemos pecado; Te hacemos nuestra confesión, e implorar perdón. Girar tu rostro, oh Señor, a tus siervos, a quien tú has redimido con tu sangre. Repuesto de nosotros, te ruego, y vouchsafe perdón de nuestros pecados, y estará encantado de brindarnos tu amorosa bondad y Tu misericordia. Amén.”

(“Hear our prayer, O Lord, and listen to our groanings, for we acknowledge our iniquities, and lay open our sins before Thee. Against Thee, O God, have we sinned; to Thee we make our confession, and implore forgiveness. Turn Thy face again, O Lord, upon Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thine own blood. Spare us, we pray Thee, and vouchsafe pardon to our sins, and be pleased to extend to us Thy loving kindness and Thy mercy. Amen.”)

Caroline: It’s like watching a god. She knows better than most how deadly that blade is in the seneschal’s hands, and to see it so blunted begs the question: is the seneschal the only one ‘worthy’ to punish the prince, or the only one able?

She too knows the pain of the lash, knows the agony of it. How her Beast roared and raged in the face of it, but how death did nothing to blunt the pain. And her own lashing went none so deep as this. Watching him suffer for her sins is like watching Christ on the cross.

GM: Yet where Christ died upon that cross, so close to his father’s heavenly embrace, the Cainite who suffers for Caroline’s sins meets his end upon a lowlier place. Vidal collapses to his knees, then falls flat upon his face, unable to weather the continued assault. The sound he makes is less like a human scream than a dragon’s roar. The room’s shadows abruptly rear to horrid life like baying hounds, tearing free from their ‘owners.’ They hold the prince down and smother him beneath their blackness as his Beast screams and thrashes, even calling upon shadows of its own.

But this battle is already forfeited. The sword only continues its grisly descent. Flesh, muscle, and organs seem to vanish into the air like smoke. Soon, Vidal’s body is picked surgically clean of flesh. Little remains but a ravaged skeleton set with two furious eyes, a tongue, and an incongruently intact heart. Red has soaked everywhere across the floor.

Caroline: Caroline can only watch in mute horror.

GM: The scimitar finally ceases its blur.

Caroline: Why doesn’t he stop… why didn’t he stop…

She stares at the gruesome and ravaged thing that was, not so long ago, her sire.

GM: Silence reigns. The skeleton ceases its struggles.

Its next words sound like broken glass being chewed.

“You are unfinished, Seneschal!”

“I can safely visit no further harm upon you, my liege,” Maldonato answers.

“I must suffer!”

Caroline: Caroline blurs, her body laid across her sire’s.

“No more!” she cries out at last. “Please, no more,” she begs the seneschal.

GM: Pity moves in the Moor’s thoughtful brown eyes.

“Your filiality does you credit, Miss Malveaux, but I am your sire’s to command in this and all things. He has heard my counsel and enjoined that I proceed.”

Caroline: Her dead heart doesn’t pound, but she can hear her blood pounding in her ears.

“I am the prince’s blood, can it not be shed in place of his own, Seneschal?” she implores.

GM: “Thine sins are his to endure. As is mine own for your creation and abandonment.”

Caroline: She looks between the two elders, her dress smeared with her sire’s vitae. Between two pitiless pair of eyes, hoping for a moment one might relent.

Finally, she moves. “It is not my place to gainsay the prince. I would only all alternatives be considered.”

GM: She thinks back to her mother’s words:

The ill-informed see him as the velvet glove to soften Augusto’s iron fist, don’t they? Ah, they are but different faces to the same coin, my dear. Men of duty, resolved to do what needs to be done… men unwavering in their convictions, who would sooner break than bend…

“If there is further counsel you would offer, Miss Malveaux, I do not believe that its rendition would contravene our prince’s will.”

There is no reply from her sire.

Caroline: She gathers herself, as if reluctant to speak, but does so, her voice ragged, trying and failing to hide the pain she feels.

“Only that the prince has duties too, beyond those to justice, that cannot wait as it might. To the city, so carefully balanced. To his loyal subjects, who serve him even now, and to his childe, who has had no sire in her Requiem.”

To me, she rages internally, darkly. Only a night after learning of her and he’s leaping into the arms of death or torpor. Bitter black pitch weeps inside. It’s too familiar. All too familiar. Not good enough. Not worth his time. Not as important as other so-pressing demands of office.

She continues, that decades old pain all to obvious. “The prince’s love of justice is well spoken of, but to face torpor or final death is to lay down a duty and a burden, not to face one this night. To do this justice now is to permit another crime. That is not the prince of whom I have only heard spoken.”

Only the father whom she’s known her entire life. Why shouldn’t her father into the Embrace be the same. Why would he view her any differently.

“We will all face justice. Not all might first face their duties.”

GM: Silence reigns.

It feels like someone has walked over a grave when the double doors creak open. It’s the Hussar. Caroline hasn’t ever seen anything but haughty contempt on his burned, hideous face, but there’s a look of all-too genuine distress as he sees his master.

He holds his tongue, however, and passes the glass in right hand to Maldonato, who bleeds into it and holds it to the skeleton’s desiccated mouth. Flesh, muscle, and then skin regrow as the vitae steadily flows.

The Hussar opens the suitcase in his other hand, then proceeds to dress his master in the collared shirt and two-piece suit contained within as the Ventrue drinks. He kneels to his feet to fit the prince’s socks and lace up his leather shoes.

“Your judgments yet remain to be rendered,” Vidal pronounces from his chair as the hoary ghoul finishes his necktie.

“Miss Malveaux, I find the punishment previously levied by Seneschal Maldonato to be proportionate to your crimes.”

Caroline: Death.

More than just the Beast blanches at that thought. She has so much to lose now that she did not when the sentence was first leveled.

GM: His baleful gaze turns upon his lover. He raises his hand for the flow of blood to cease. His marble-like face truly does appear a statue’s. Every chiseled line is etched with barely-constrained fury.

“You have broken my trust. You have violated my laws. You have betrayed my oath.”

“You have forced me to betray my own oath. By your actions, I have violated my own laws and blasphemed against God Himself.”

“You. You alone, Philip, whom I have trusted. You alone.”

The prince doesn’t shake like a man might. He is simply still. Utterly still. His flesh does not act upon his fury. The world does. All seems drawn to that baleful gaze, sucked in, incinerated by the black inferno silently raging behind those dead eyes.

“You have confessed your sins to me,” he whispers. “Per my laws, that fact alone mitigates their severity,.”

“I banish you from my person. I shall no longer look upon your face. Sheriff Donovan and our heralds will conduct all communications between us.”

“I now walk my Requiem alone.”

Caroline: Don’t we all.

The grim similarly with her last encounters with her own lover are not lost on Caroline.

She knows, in her bones, it is as much a punishment of himself as the seneschal.

GM: “As my prince commands,” Maldonato replies, bowing low.

“في هذا الأمر وفي كل شيء ، ما زلت خادمًا مطيعًا لجلالتك”

(“In this and all things, I remain Your Majesty’s obedient servant.”)

The seneschal turns and departs.

No further words pass between them.

The prince stares after him until the double doors softly close.

Caroline: She feels suddenly naked before the prince.

GM: Caroline’s sire doesn’t even look at her. He stares silently upon those doors.

He stares. And stares.

Minutes pass.

He doesn’t move. Doesn’t blink.

The Hussar only stands at silent attention.

Caroline: She is silent. Patient, even as the seconds tick by like hours. She wants to cry out for him to say something. But she knows that he wishes her quiet obedience. Her reserved calm.

GM: Minutes tick by.

Then more minutes.

Then more.

Then more.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Caroline: The pressure speak is overwhelming. She fights it as fiercely as she ever fought the Beast.

GM: The prince does not once look away from those doors. He feels like a statue.

Caroline’s senses feel so muted. There’s not even the wetness of his blood against her shoes. It’s dried.

Caroline: She can well imagine what might pass through his mind in the moment. The self-loathing and pain. The anger. The frustration.

GM: Completely dried.

There is only the oppressive silence.

And that uninterrupted, endless, motionless, million-yard stare.

Time passes and passes and passes.

And passes.

And passes.

And passes.

On.

And on.

And on.

And.

On.

Caroline: She reflects on the loss of a relationship of months, and how it must feel to sever one of centuries.

She waits. She wishes she might offer some comfort, to this elder she barely knows, but there is nothing to say.

GM: If the seconds pass like hours, it feels as if she is watching centuries crawl by.

The only indication she has of the time is when the Hussar silently clicks the shades to cover the window.

Caroline: It provides plenty of time to think on her own decisions. They are not happy thoughts.

GM: Maybe too much time.

It feels like hours before the weariness hits her, and for a second, the younger Ventrue knows oblivion.


Tuesday night, 8 March 2016, PM

GM: The dead don’t sleep for long. Caroline opens her eyes. She’s on the floor. It’s eight (or more) hours later than it was a second ago.

Caroline: She stirs. Rises to take in her surroundings.

GM: The Hussar still stands at attention by the window. The shades are gone. It’s raining out again.

Her sire is still seated upon his throne-like chair. He doesn’t stare after the door. His head is drooped forward in apparent slumber.

Caroline: She takes in the Hussar, her sire. Debates breaking the silence with him to ask when the prince might stir and decides against it.

GM: The Hussar doesn’t look at her. Just stares forward at silent attention.

Caroline: It’s not a long debate.

GM: Time passes. Her sire’s drooped head remains motionless.

Caroline: She remains silent. Stoicism is a Ventrue virtue.

GM: His lower face is covered in hair too, she notices. Days’ worth of stubble only halfway grown into a beard. Like Savoy’s, but messy, scraggly, and unkempt.

Caroline: Not everyone meets the Embrace as they might wish.

GM: Time passes.

And passes.

And passes.

It’s just as slow with her sire motionless. But perhaps less oppressive.

Finally, it happens. He doesn’t yawn or stretch. Or look around. The downturned head simply slowly tilts up. It almost reminds Caroline of one of those robotic dog pets that were popular when she was a kid. After the battery ran out and it stopped making sounds. It’d dip back to its natural resting position, cold hard plastic without any joy or life.

The Hussar, however, drapes a barber’s cape over his master’s shoulders and carefully begins to trim away the unkempt hair with a pair of scissors. Caroline didn’t see him with either object last night. The hair dissolves into ash as it falls away. There’s little clean-up.

Her sire gives no response for several moments.

Then he looks at Caroline.

At least a full minute passes, punctuated only by the scissors’ steady clipping.

Then:

“Summon the sheriff.”

The Hussar pauses and removes an old-fashioned dumbphone.

He dials a number.

“Your presence is desired.”

There’s an indistinct, curt response. The Hussar closes the phone.

He resumes cutting his master’s hair.

Caroline’s sire still stares at her.

Then he says:

“You shall find me a harsh but fair sire.”

Caroline: Caroline startles as he finally speaks to her.

“I can ask for nothing more, Your Majesty.”

GM: The prince extends a marble-like wrist. Raises it to fanged lips.

Lowers it down. Red wells forth.

“Drink.”

Caroline: There’s a moment of spiraling terror at that demand. She knows what the third drink looks like. She’s seen it in Jocelyn’s eyes.

A moment of doubts.

She swallows them down, then advances to swallow down something more potent. What else is there to do?

She is her father’s daughter. Her sire’s childe.

The idea of centuries in thrall to a torpid sire burns in her mind. Centuries like Jocelyn.

That terrified part lashes out. Asks what more she has to do to prove herself to him. Her devotion. Her desire. Her loyalty.

But he’s answered that question already.

He did not make a request.

GM: Her sire’s blood fills her. For the third time. It washes over all in its path like an unstoppable tide. A tsunami of bliss. All else shatters before its path.

Coco.

Donovan.

McGinn.

Veronica.

All nothing.

Even Jocelyn.

Nothing.

No more doubts. No more fears. No more uncertainties. No more questions.

He is her all. Her prince. Her sire. Her father. Her everything.

She couldn’t be happier.

Caroline: She drinks until he commands her to cease, drinking in this opportunity to be close to him. To touch the face of God.

She doesn’t know where the bond begins and the truth ends, but she knows she was foolish for even considering any path but this one.

What could Savoy have offered compared to her sire? How could he be anything but a pale shadow.

She’s right where she belongs.

GM: That sanguine bliss feels like it lasts forever.

And it feels like it lasted far too short.

“Capitán Gaultierrez will make the arrangements to relocate you and your personal effects to my haven,” her sire states crisply as the ghoul applies shaving cream over his face and produces a straight razor.

“You shall be educated in faith, statecraft, history, warfare, and all disciplines and bodies of knowledge appropriate to your new station. You shall be privately introduced to those Kindred whom Seneschal Maldonato and I distrust least, then announced before the Camarilla at large. Honor our faith and bring dignitas to our bloodline, and you may be of great service to God, church, and clan. Prove yourself unworthy of my Blood and I shall reclaim it.”

Caroline: Caroline listens, drinking in every word.

GM: “I shall expect the highest performance to meet the highest expectations in fulfillment of the highest responsibilities. This I swear to you, Caroline Malveaux, childe of Augusto Vidal, childe of Urcalida, childe of Tiamat, childe of Ventrue. This I swear by my Requiem and dignitas as a childe of our founder: by Longinus the Dark Prophet: by the Virgin Mary, by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and by Almighty God:”

“I shall accept from you, and offer to you, only the utmost best in all things.”

Caroline: The declaration is everything Caroline could have asked for, everything she’s been waiting what seems like centuries for.

Acknowledgement, recognition, opportunity—all these things, and from her sire. Not some pretender to the throne out to use her towards his own end. Not from some elder desiring a pawn. From her sire. So long ignorant of her existence. So long kept from her. So long imagined, even fantasized about.

In life, she might have killed for such a declaration from her father. In death, she’s done far for more the same. It still feels like a dream. Like at any moment she might wake up to find the spell broken.

The desire to bask in the moment wars with the urge from deep inside her to declare her fidelity. That urge wins out, after so long in silence, so long apart.

She still kneels before the prince, where she was when she took that third blissful drink from his wrist.

Her voice is soft, like a caress, but firm as she replies in the language of his birth with a comfort and ease brought on only by long practice.

“Su Majestad, seré digno de todo lo que usted ofrezca, y seré todo lo que usted desea de mí. Seré digno de los nombres de mi linaje, para ser llamado el childe de Augusto Vidal, childe de Urcalida, childe de Tiamat, childe de Ventrue. Esto te lo jurote lo juro, Su Majestad.”

(“Your Majesty, I shall be worthy of all that you offer, and shall be all that you desire of me. I shall be worthy of the names of my lineage, to be called the childe of Augusto Vidal, childe of Urcalida, childe of Tiamat, childe of Ventrue. This I swear to you, Your Majesty.”)

My sire.

View
Caroline VII, Chapter III
Family Day

“We’ll always be there for you, Caroline.”
Cécilia Devillers


Monday morning, 7 March 2016

GM: Sleep isn’t like it was last day. It’s like it usually is. No gradual loss of awareness or sense of time passing. Caroline closes her eyes and then opens them. It’s light out, but not from any fluorescent bulbs. The drapes are drawn. Her head is still laid out against her new mother’s lap, whose dark eyes are now open as she smiles down.

“Good morning, my treasure. We have such a day ahead of us.”

Caroline: It’s… disorienting. Not only waking up to light, but waking up at all. Still, Abélia provides something for orient on, a northern star. Her eyes cut to the shaded window from which the sun peeks, then back to Abélia as the many possibilities play through her mind. The ability to stay awake during the day, the possibilities it opens for… well, everything.

“It sounds like you’ve got it all planned,” she answers lightly.

GM: Her new mother’s smile is radiant as she strokes Caroline’s hair.

“You and your sisters deserve no less.”

“I cannot lift Raphael’s curse from you wholly, my dear. Sol’s eye shall still burn your flesh, much as I might desire to cast it into darkness. But I may yet palliate its effects. Though dawn’s fatigue shall remain a millstone about your neck, you may, at least, find it less taxing to resist daysleep’s call within our home.”

Caroline: “It’s more than enough,” Caroline answers, turning her gaze to Simmone.

GM: The still-sleeping ten-year-old remains snuggled against her new sister.

Abélia’s fingers run through Caroline’s hair. “Ah, what a propitious moment this is for you to practice, my dear. Go on—tell Simmone it is time to rise and greet the day. You needn’t rely upon words.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls over Cécilia’s explanations from the previous evening as she studies her youngest sister’s sleeping face.

She forms in her mind the image of the sun creeping over the horizon, streaking the dawn’s sky in a vibrant array of colors. She adds in the soft chirps of birds awakening, the (barely remembered) feeling of sunlight softly creeping across her skin in the morning through the window.

And the slightest whisper of a name. Simmone…

The overlays the images with her mental image of the youngest Devillers, with the quiet bound she’d hardly even noticed when she came in the night before.

GM: "Oh, yes… you’re doing marvelously, Caroline… " their mother purrs.

Simmone’s eyes slowly crack open as she shifts in place, arms still wrapped around Caroline.

Caroline: Simmone. Her call is more languid, almost bemused, the second time.

It matches the expression on Caroline’s face as she watches the blonde stir, awaiting for her to awaken.

A flickering shadow appears in the sunlight creeping through, beyond it two azure flashes as two bluebirds dance with each other outside the window.

GM: Simmone opens her mouth and removes a hand to rub her eyes.

Marvelous, Caroline,” their mother proudly repeats. "You’ve taken to things so quickly. I can hardly wait to see what you’ll be capable of by the end of the day… much less the year. "

Caroline: Thank you, Mother. A pause. It feels… natural.

“Good morning,” Caroline murmurs to her youngest sister, her bemused gaze set upon her.

GM: “M… orning,” Simmone yawns as their mother sits her up. Abélia pulls the child onto her lap. Simmone doesn’t look at all surprised to see either of them there.

“Bonjour à vous en effet, ma douce. As-tu bien dormi?” Abélia questions, kissing her youngest’s head.

(“A good morning to you indeed, my sweet. How did you sleep?”)

“Bien, Maman.”

(“Good, Maman.”)

“Oh, je suis très content d’entendre. Caroline et Cécilia m’ont dit à quel point c’était effrayant la nuit dernière et quelle fille courageuse tu étais.”

(“Oh, I’m so very pleased to hear. Caroline and Cécilia told me how frightening last night was, and what a brave girl you were.”)

Simmone simply turns and nuzzles her head against their mother’s breast.

As Abélia holds Simmone back, Caroline feels a wordlessly palpable sense of pride and satisfaction at her last statement before their mother says aloud, “I’ll get your sister’s teeth brushed, my dear. Would you like to pick out some clothes for her? We’ll be inside all day, so we can dress however we like… up or down, it’ll all be just for us. Everything we do today will be just for us. Doesn’t that sound simply delightful?”

Simmone looks at Caroline, then declares mischievously, “I want to dress… sideways.”

“Sideways!” Abélia repeats with an amused smile as she strokes her youngest’s hair. “Well, we shall just have to see what your sister thinks up. Do you think you can pull together something with a dressed-sideways look, Caroline?”

If the Ventrue assents, Abélia stays for a bit to show Caroline where things are in the walk-in closet while Simmone uses the bathroom. After the toilet flushes, their mother departs to “help brush her teeth.” Caroline finds a large selection of girls’ clothes in styles ranging from formal to casual, trending towards lighter colors (especially pinks) and skirts and dresses over unisex clothes. There’s also several neglected-looking McGehee school uniforms and an almost equally large selection of theater and holiday costumes that include seemingly every Disney princess Caroline can think of.

There’s even two vampire costumes.



It would be comforting to think the high-collared, lacy-sleeved, black and crimson gowns (replete with a bat wing-shaped cloak) make Caroline the less obvious predator.

Caroline: The costumes draw an amused chuckle as Caroline goes through the wardrobe. In fairness, some do dress so obviously.

GM: The task is easy enough going, for which she may be thankful. It feels like she’s been woken up at 4 AM after going to bed at 3. Every part of her wants to rest.

Caroline: She ignores it in a way she could never ignore the call of daysleep. Or perhaps ignores is too strong a word: instead she forces past it. It doesn’t matter how tired she is, not really. Tired is a state of mind, a feeling that can be surpassed.

She digs out a pair of dark leggings with the word ‘DANCE’ in big bold letters of the same for printed sideways down their length, and mirrors it with a matching shirt that proudly declares ‘I LOVE PARIS’. After a moment she adds a too large hoodie by far that Simmone can, if inclined pull her head through a sleeve.

Not Caroline’s most creative effort, but comfortable for a day loafing in the house.

GM: There’s a flush from the toilet. Abélia and Simmone emerge from the bathroom shortly thereafter.

“Oh, what a splendid outfit your sister has picked out for you,” Abélia remarks contently as she raises her youngest’s arms and removes her nightgown. “That should be very comfy to spend the day in. Can you say thank you to her?”

“Thank you,” Simmone says.

Abélia dresses the naked ten-year-old. “Oh, don’t you look perfectly scrumptious in this,” she purrs once the oversized hoodie is alll the way on, hugging her daughter close. “I don’t think I should like you to ever grow up. I want you to be mine forever.”

“I want to be yours forever too, Maman!” Simmone beams, hugging her mother back.

Abélia rests a hand upon Caroline’s shoulder and smiles at her, as if to include her in the moment.

“There’s a glass in the bathroom, my dear. Can you fill it with some of your blood? That should buy us some time until we can decide on a more permanent recourse.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles in the moment, but that request—even coming from her mother—slams into her like a runaway train.

A thousand arguments against ghouling relatives come back to her. The memory of Adler’s wrenching (if, Caroline suspects, exaggerated) testimony about her mother’s death. The idea of Simmone struggling against the cravings that her servants fight—a fight she’s woefully unprepared for.

She opens her mouth to object, the argument already forming in her mind. The tasteful response in the moment that will invite a longer dialogue later. She looks into Abélia’s eyes.

Abélia knows better than Caroline the potency of vitae. The dangers of it. The costs associated with it. She’s the source of most of Caroline’s knowledge. The idea of arguing the point starts to crumble. It’s so much like arguing with one’s professor.

And it’s just to buy some time, right? Not a permanent fix unto itself…

GM: Abélia’s expression turns sympathetic as she touches Caroline’s cheek.

“You love your sister very much, my dear. This is plain to me. You wish only to do what is best for her. Your knowledge of what tragedies the Blood can cause has been bitterly won. You do not wish those same tragedies visited upon our family.”

The edges of her dark eyes crinkle as she smiles again.

“And yet, for all this, my words are unnecessary—such is your faith in me. A mother could not ask for a better daughter.”

She places a tender kiss upon Caroline’s forehead, somehow despite being the shorter of the two, then looks into the Ventrue’s eyes.

“I shall honor that faith, my treasure. You and your sister shall be so very happy.”

Simmone doesn’t even look curious over what Caroline and their mother are talking about. She simply hugs Abélia’s torso.

Caroline: Caroline releases the bite she had unconsciously on her lower lip and forces a smile into place. It’s a small request. It just requires trust. Trust that her mother knows what’s best for her sister.

Her gaze settles on Simmone and her mind dances back to the lives all of her sisters lead, interrupted in their beauty only by the stark, bitter, intrusion of a soon to be deceased elder ghoul.

“Thank you, Mother,” she answers. Breaking from the embrace. “I’ll see to it.” And who knows, perhaps the added confidence the blood might bring will bring her sister out of her shell.

GM: “Thank you, Caroline,” Abélia purrs when Caroline returns with the partly red-filled glass.

“Drink this, ma puce,” she says as she passes it to Simmone. The ten-year-old does so.

Abélia bares her breast before Simmone can even say “more.” The girl all but falls over it and sucks ravenously.

Well over a minute passes. Abélia’s cheeks seem to hollow, her presence becoming somehow smaller, but she makes no move to break Simmone away.

Caroline: Despite her trust, the scene makes Caroline uneasy. She gathers the discarded glass and breaks to thoroughly wash it out in the sink.

GM: By the time she’s back, Abélia is dabbing off Simmone’s mouth. Caroline’s new mother smiles at her serenely as if to say all is well.

“Can you say thank you to your sister, ma duce? She’s just done something very, very kind for you.”

Simmone doesn’t ask what it is. She just hugs the Ventrue around her torso.

“Thank you, Caroline.”

Caroline: “You’re welcome Simmone,” Caroline answers, bending to wrap her in the hug. The smell of her vitae in the girl’s veins is like an overpowering air freshener—sweet but sickly all the same.

“I’m going to go knock on Cécilia’s door to borrow something to change into, I’ll meet you downstairs?”

GM: “You might ask her without knocking, my dear… practice makes perfect,” Abélia smiles.

Caroline: “Of course,” Caroline smiles back as she slips out of the room.

And she’s not wrong. Caroline can feel the connection there, but it’s unfamiliar. Much like the power taken from the bishop.

She reaches out along that thread, that connection, to Cécilia. It’s like traveling a vine full of flowers: she instantly recognizes Cécilia as the only other one fully in bloom—the rest are still closed, in waiting.

Cécilia? Are you awake? she reaches out, mentally probing and grateful for the past experience with Poincaré using mental communication.

GM: The Ventrue leans into that bloom and breathes deep. It’s easy to do here, she feels. The entire house is utterly saturated with their mother’s essence. Simply to breathe within its walls is to take that essence in.

Yes. Maman said to expect you soon.

You’re a fair bit taller than me, but we have pretty similar figures apart from that, so most of my clothes should fit. What’s mine is yours.

Caroline: Caroline’s laugh comes through the connection behind images of cool spring nights with dew on the plants and a wind carrying the coying humidity against her skin.

She arrives at Cécilia’s door, pushing the idea of a knock through the connection ahead of her. A sharp rapping rhythm.

GM: Cécilia is walking, hale, and healthy when she opens the un-knocked door. She greets Caroline with a hug and exclaims how happy she is to be doing “such a sisterly thing” as lending clothes to one another.

“There’s plenty of serious things for us to talk about later, of course… " she adds more somberly, “but Maman says we can save that for later, and I for one agree with her. Last night was serious enough.”

Caroline: “It was,” Caroline agrees, returning the hug and following Cécilia into the room. “She says she has big plans for today.”

GM: “Always,” Cécilia smiles knowingly. “But I think a lot for today are mundane. With all eight of us staying inside all day long, she wants to be sure we’ll enjoy ourselves.”

She leads Caroline to the walk-in closet and lets her take her pick from the large selection of tasteful clothing. Cécilia is wearing a casual white and baby blue top and skirt set. Not dressy, but not sweats and pajamas.

Caroline: “Good thing too, I didn’t pack my sunscreen,” Caroline quips as she pages through her sister’s wardrobe. “How’s your hand?” she asks.

GM: “Oh, it’s better than good. No scars at all. Thank you so much for that.”

“Yvonne had to get surgery to remove hers. That wasn’t much fun for anyone.”

Caroline: “We can hope that won’t be necessary in the future,” Caroline answers. “For many reasons.” She stops her search on an emerald top for a moment, then frowns and continues on until she finds a lighter blue one.

GM: “It goes with your eyes,” Cécilia agrees.

“And I certainly hope not. But let’s talk about lighter things. Do you still use the shower every night?” she asks curiously. “Given how Kindred don’t produce any natural fluids or odors.”

Caroline: “Usually,” Caroline answers, setting the top aside. “I enjoy the warmth. And I guess it’s habit.”

GM: “Very true. I wouldn’t want to give them up either.”

Caroline: “It’s the little things, I think, that help keep me connected.”

She picks out a long light and flowing white skirt and holds it up against a darker red one for her sister’s opinion.

GM: “Hmm, I like the white. Darker tops with lighter pants or skirts make you seem taller,” Cécilia notes. “You could pull off that look better than me, with how tall you already are.”

Caroline: “Point,” Caroline answers. “It drives my father nuts when I look taller than him,” she admits. “Something about not wanting to look weak.”

GM: “Like father like son. Luke’s made a couple remarks about how I can be taller than him in heels.”

“But you don’t need to worry about that here,” Cécilia smiles. “I think Maman would like to see you standing strong and tall.”

Caroline: “He would,” Caroline laughs. “But I suspect he broaches the topic more tastefully.”

GM: “Yes, he doesn’t tell me off about it, or even ask me to dress down. I can just tell it twerks his nose a little.”

“I don’t want to do that, but I don’t want to wear just flats either. And I’ve told him so, which he understands. I’d just be a little shorter in his perfect world. Or maybe he’d be a little taller.”

Caroline: “The latter,” Caroline answers immediately. “I don’t think he’d change anything about you.”

She continues through her sister’s closet before deciding shoes are unnecessary. Besides, Cécilia has smaller feet.

“Honestly, back to your earlier question, one of the things I miss the most is working out and—since I’ve sort of rediscovered it—sparring without fear of losing control. There are so many things I’d like to practice, to try, without fatigue, with how fast I am, that I can’t exactly try on anyone.”

GM: “What about ghouls?” Cécilia asks.

Caroline: “I’ve thought about it. The older ones, maybe, but even then the danger is always there—for them.”

GM: “What about other Kindred? Even if one of you loses control, the worst that’s likely to happen is torpor, isn’t it?”

Caroline: Caroline gives a wry smile. “Most Kindred tend to regard torpor as a pretty big minus—but yes. I’ve made some inroads there.”

GM: “You’re right, it must be for most of them. Maman always speaks of it as if it’s a passing inconvenience—I suppose her blood is strong enough to revive most any Kindred.”

Caroline: “It’s far more passing than death,” Caroline offers. “But not having been on the receiving end, I can’t speak to it specifically.”

She has no intentions of ever being, either.


Monday morning, 7 March 2016

GM: Caroline uses the shower and joins Cécilia downstairs momentarily. The rest of the family is already assembling in the dining room, with Yvette and Yvonne playing on their phones while Cécilia talks with Adeline.

Caroline well remembers her last ‘talk’ with the twins. Yvette had angrily exclaimed she was being “’orrible, just ’orrible!” to Sarah. She’d mentioned how Becky Lynne’s niece had finally broken down crying in the bathroom at school during lunch, and (unheard of for her) had cut the rest of her classes. Yvonne had been more conciliatory, but the three had stopped showing up for fencing lessons after that.

Yvette wordlessly gets up from her seat, hugs Caroline and declares, “Fuck Sarah.”

Caroline: There’s a flash of guilt there. Sarah, who did nothing wrong. Who was trying to help her. She wonders what will become of all of that, what might still become of it, with the truth about Adler having come out. With what the future holds for Caroline specifically.

She shoves it aside behind a sad smile and hugs Yvette back. “It’s in the past.”

Her gaze sweeps over the other sisters.

GM: Her other sisters.

“Fuck ’er,” Yvette repeats. “Ah’ll spread it through the school, ‘ow she’s a retard now. ‘Ow getting shot messed up ’er ’ead. She’s really broken up, it’ll be easy. Ah’ll get ‘er to drop out. _’Caroline, Caroline, Ah don’t understand wah she’s being this way!’”_ she mimics in a high-pitched, sniveling tone.

Caroline: Caroline lays a hand on Yvette’s shoulder. “I know you’d do anything for me, but you don’t have to do that.”

GM: “Well Ah don’t ‘ave to, but Ah’m going to!” Yvette retorts. “Fuck ’er for saying no to you!”

Caroline: “It was for the best,” Caroline answers with a faint smile. “In many ways.”

She looks her sister in the eye. “Trust me when I say it’s better for her to go her own away, and that I don’t wish her any ill.”

GM: Yvette seems less than convinced, but eventually (or at least temporarily) relents under pressure from her other three siblings, who all cite that everyone but her wants to move on. Yvette does say she isn’t going to be friends with Sarah anymore, though.

“Just fuck ’er.”

“Language,” Cécilia mildly chides.

Caroline: Caroline laughs at that. “There are children present,” she piles on.

GM: Or at least soon present. Abélia arrives downstairs with Simmone and Noëllle in short order. Yvette rolls her eyes at the shirt and says, “Ah thought we all knew Paris isn’t all of France.”

“We do. So it’s no harm for her to wear around us,” Cécilia smiles.

Breakfast is a light affair of avocado toast. The younger four girls are initially upset when they have to get and make it themselves. The family housekeeper is “taking the day off.”

Caroline: Caroline is happy to make it for the younger girls, taking lighthearted direction from them.

It’s been a long time since she cooked.

GM: Cécilia initially suggests they all prepare breakfast together in the kitchen. Abélia says that’s a splendid idea; they can make conversation while she and Caroline prepare the younger girls’ breakfasts, though Cécilia and Adeline soon volunteer to help too. Caroline may be glad for the chance to foist off the task to them. The experience of scooping out and preparing the mushy fruit for kine consumption and digestion proves as enjoyable to the vampire as cleaning up dog poop.

In short order, the family are munching around the kitchen counter on plates of whole grain toast with lemon juice, salt, and black and pepper. Abélia declares contently that “I have an announcement to make, girls. Two, actually, in fact.”

Caroline: The Ventrue takes a spot at the end of the counter watching the rest of the girls eat, the whole room in her peripheral. There’s the mild disgust at the sight, but overwhelmed by the general fatigue of being awake during the day combined with the deep-flowing affection towards them.

She cleaned up her dog’s droppings. Making her sisters food—which she recalls too faintly enjoying herself—is a small concession.

GM: “The first is that Caroline is moving on from her clerkship at the Supreme Court to bigger and better things. She’s prohibited from saying very much about the particulars at this point, and she may be away for some time—but she is very, very happy to have landed this opportunity. It’s absolutely everything she’s ever dreamed of. All of us could hardly be more happy for her.”

“Oh, Caroline, that’s wonderful!” Yvonne exclaims.

“Oui, congratulations!” adds Yvette.

Similar sentiments come up from the others, more knowing from Cécilia, less understanding from Simmone.

Caroline: Caroline graciously accepts the congratulations.

GM: “But you’ll come back?” Simmone adds.

Caroline: Caroline cups her youngest sister’s face. “Of course. I’ll always come back.”

GM: “Maman said she was going to,” says Noëllle. “You’re such a baby.”

“‘Ey! Ah’m not-”

“Girls,” Abélia smiles, laying a hand on both their shoulders. “Both of you love your sister very much. Doesn’t it make you feel better, Noëllle, to hear from her that she’s coming back?”

“Oui,” the thirteen-year-old grants.

“As to being a baby,” her smile widens as she lifts Simmone onto her lap and wraps an arm around Noëllle, “what more splendid a thing could there be? You shall always be my mes bébés, no matter how old you turn.”

“Why, this brings us to our next piece of good news. Cécilia and Adeline are to be moving back in with us. Won’t that simply be marvelous, to always have them around now?”

The four younger girls immediately and enthusiastically agree, Simmone most of all.

“Ah wish you’d never moved out-”

“Yes, the ‘ouse feels so empty when you aren’t ’ere-”

“And you’re over all the time anyway-”

“What made you change your minds?” Yvonne.

“Convenience was the big reason,” Cécilia answers. “Like Yvette says, we’re always coming over. Especially with you two getting older, we don’t want the house to feel empty for everyone else. You’ll be off to college next year, after all.”

Caroline: Lies. Caroline knows. Maybe not entirely, but she knows the truth. They’re not safe. A killer who’s already put them in his sights once is still alive. The thought makes her tremble with fury.

She’ll find him.

It doesn’t mean it’s all lies—but that it’s colored everything even here, among them…

GM: Not lies, Caroline. Just not all of the truth.

We both know there’s plenty Maman hasn’t told them, for their own safety, even before this.

Caroline: Cécilia’s answer blunts Caroline’s irritation, but only just.

I know. I just hate the idea of him hurting you any more—even indirectly like this.

GM: I do too. But maybe that hurt, and growing past it, will be the catalyst for something better. That’s how we met you, after all, and everyone seems so happy at this news.

Caroline: I guess there are benefits too, Caroline agrees. More of an opportunity to develop a relationship with Adeline.

GM: You have one already, Cécilia replies contently. With her and Noëllle. They just need to be reminded what it’s like.

Simmone asks if Caroline is going to be moving back in with them too. Noëllle points out that’s not happening if Caroline is going to be ‘away for some time.’ Their mother simply says, “Your sister won’t be moving in with us right now. But once she’s back, we can expect to be seeing a good more of her. Isn’t that wonderful, girls?” Everyone agrees emphatically. Yvette makes a joke about millennials moving back in with their parents. That draws some laughter, though Adeline points out more reflectively,

“We might make jokes about that now, but for most of human history, living in extended families was completely normal. People wouldn’t just wait to move out from their parents’ homes until they had their own children. They’d live with their parents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives for all of their lives.”

“They did?” asks Simmone.

“Yes. I read a fascinating article about that in The Atlantic recently,” Adeline continues. “It wasn’t until after World War II that the concept of the nuclear family became accepted as normal, but even then, many families weren’t really nuclear. People were closer to their communities and moved away less often. Neighbors often doubled as extended families. It hasn’t been until relatively recently that we’ve seen those communal bonds fray, around the same time the nuclear family collapsed. Fewer than 20% of households conform to that social model now. People are more alone and more isolated than ever.”

“That is true about the nuclear family,” says Yvette. “Ah mean, we don’t technically fit it, with not ’aving a dad. And Ah know so many people at school with divorced parents.”

“Are people really more alone, though?” asks Yvonne. “So many millennials ’ave been moving back in with their parents, like you and Cécilia.”

“The trend actually has been reversing, for that reason,” says Adeline. “People were at their most alone in the 2000s before the recession. But since millennials are also putting off having children, it might balance out.”

“That’s so sad,” says Noëllle. “What can we really do about it?”

“Putting off kids, or being close to their families?” asks Yvette.

“Both, Ah guess,” says Noëllle.

“I think that to some extent, the era of the nuclear family might be over due to changing economic conditions,” says Cécilia. “I had a professor at Wellesley who described modern humans as ‘economic hunter-gatherers.’ We’re highly mobile and have adapted to packing up our lives and moving across the country in search of new professional opportunities. In the 1950s, though, we were ‘economic farmers.’ People were more likely to stay in the city they were born because jobs were more centered around production of physical goods. In Confederacy of Dunces, there’s a clothing factory here in our city that the owner has inherited from his father. What’s it it called-”

“Levi Pants,” Adeline fills in.

“Yes, Levi Pants. But during the intervening decades, it’s likely that Levi Pants outsourced its production to China. Economic output is now increasingly based around data or other specialized knowledge sets that aren’t as tied to a single physical location. If someone wants to be a doctor or programmer, they can be a doctor or programmer anywhere. But Levi Pants needed a large number of factory workers here in New Orleans—until, of course, it no longer did. Until peoples’ jobs become more tied to the cities of their birth again, which doesn’t seem likely, I think it’s inevitable that the nuclear family will continue to fragment.”

Caroline: Caroline taps a finger against her lips in contemplation before offering her own thoughts.

“20%? I hadn’t realized it was that low. That’s an interesting take on it. I read somewhere that there a big part of the nuclear family was as much a social response to World War II as anything else. You had a great many young men who were significantly more worldly and independent following the war—and a great many women as well who had been heavily involved in industry. The nuclear family model provided both greater ‘freedom’ from previous social norms and let them establish their own social norms, while also encouraging women to leave the workforce to allow men to reintegrate back into society in those now vacated roles.”

She shrugs. “Rather than try to swim against the currents of social change, they redirected them into a notionally conservative model that put women back ‘in their place’ at home and encouraged household independence. You can see a great deal of that in the media of the time—old magazine articles and commercials—that are all about reinforcing that a woman should be subservient to men, that they needed to quit their jobs and marry now before they were considered too old. ‘No one wants an old spinster.’ It’s pretty disturbing stuff, reading those articles today—‘how to best please your new husband’ and the like, but the media is just as polarized on the other side in how it infantilized women to their husbands—the same women that had held jobs during the war and managed households while their husbands were away for literally years.”

She lets off on the biting tone before continuing, “I think though that the economic answer is an awfully compelling one for both the rise and fall of the nuclear family. Some cynical economists have observed that when you’re a nuclear household you need far more of every type of goods than in a large communal household—so it drove consumerism, especially in the form of industrially produced goods that the manufacturing sector was particularly aligned to produce after the war. At some point in the ’70s and ’80s those same consumerists realized that a household with two incomes would have vastly higher purchasing power, and instead of selling things like ovens and refrigerators they could sell luxury goods too—which drove the two-income family and really was the beginning of the end for nuclear one as it drove families apart, spiked divorce rates, and embittered the entire millennial generation to the idea of marriage.”

Caroline looks to Adeline. “You raise an excellent point, though—which I think neatly dovetails with it—that the nuclear family had retained its roots in many ways with their communities. Even as you saw the family group shrink, you still had church functions, bowling leagues, book clubs, and the like springing up to fill the gap. With the rise of the two-income house, however, and then the subsequent single-parent one, you’ve seen a significant rise in social isolation as people simply don’t have time to maintain those same communal structures anymore.”

She wonders what some of the more socially involved Kindred might have to say about the varied theories on that—Coco in particular—but the thought is swept away as she continues with a faint laugh,

“My father would insist that I throw in that government intervention also had a part to play, especially in the lower-income and borderline-income households, when it created aid programs designed to help those in need that created financial incentives for not getting married or leaving your spouse. It meant families that might have been ‘forced’ or at least ‘encouraged’ to stay together instead split up.”

She smiles across the table at Cécilia.

Of course, if one wanted to be very cynical, they might observe that the same individuals that enjoyed the economic drivers behind the nuclear and two-income family have found a more effective model in permanent debt ‘slavery’ under student loans, car loans, interest payments, and the like that present an eternal well. But I think that topic might be a little dark for Noëllle and Simmone.

“Never being chained to any of those economic influences is a real gift,” she closes more positively.

GM: “Yes, it is,” Adeline agrees. “And it’s worth noting that the nuclear family is still very much alive and well at higher income brackets. It’s not as universal as it used to be, but it’s still accepted as the social norm. It’s only when you go to places like the Ninth Ward that the wholesale disintegration of the nuclear family becomes evident. The 20% statistic I cited is an average and can be misleading when considered out of context—which is also that people from lower income brackets used to have comparable marriage rates to wealthier people. That only really started to change by the ’60s, when-”

“Ah think your dad’s right,” Yvette interrupts. “It’s disgusting ‘ow those people ’ave so many kids without getting married. If they don’t ‘ave anything else in their lives, they could at least ’ave each other. They’re basically, well, animals.”

“I’m not sure that’s a completely fair assessment,” Cécilia observes mildly. “As Adeline points out, marriage rates among the poor used to be much higher. Those went down in the ‘60s due to the ’moral deregulation’ of the period. Poorer Americans were more likely to depend on cultural supports for marriage than their more affluent peers, who had greater economic stakes in marriage through home ownership. Marriage, in many ways, is now its own form of privilege.”

“Ugh, Ah’m so tired of ’earing ’ow privileged we are,” says Yvette. "It’s not like our lives are perfect… "

As the other talk, fluttering laughter meets Caroline’s declaration.

The desperate, the despairing, and the isolated make superior vessels to slake your thirst, upon my dear. It is a better time for your species.

An interesting viewpoint, Maman. Has consumer debt made feeding easier for the Kindred?

Every society requires an underclass, my dear. To feed upon its elites is rarely practical. The shared economic prosperity of the postwar years made feeding less convenient for Cainites than in earlier times. Although the loosening of sexual morals during the 1960s was heralded as a boon to the children of Caine, the rise of second-wave feminism and the demise of Jim Crow threatened to make kine society more egalitarian than ever. Wiser minds foresaw the threat posed by this. Economic chains would serve to keep the underclasses in their place, rather than social ones. The economic conditions of the postwar United States were always a historic aberration.

Abélia strokes Simmone’s hair.

Let the kines’ families splinter. Let debt payments replace the crack of an overseer’s lash. Isolated and wantful, they are easier prey for you.

“…Ah’ve seen some of those old magazine articles, too, about ways to please your ‘usband, they’re just awful,” Yvette remarks.

“Caroline, aren’t you ‘ungry? You ’aven’t ’ad any toast,” says Simmone.

Caroline: “I’m never very hungry in the morning,” Caroline admits to Simmone, eyeing the mashed fruit and charred bread with veiled distaste. She can scarcely believe she once ate like that. Shoveled food into her mouth like any common herd animal, chewed it up into a disgusting mush. Swallowed it, pieces of it clinging to her teeth, to her mouth, to the back of her throat.

It’s not a lie—not even a white one. Caroline doesn’t hunger anymore—not for food. She only thirsts.

“Besides,” she laughs. “I talk too much—and it’s rude to talk with your mouth full.”

The heiress turns to Yvette.

“It’s an attempt to leverage concessions,” Caroline answers in agreement to her sister’s complaint about privilege. “It’s always the nature of those with less to envy those with more. Given the moral decline of the U.S. and the general lack of spine in most, they’ve simply decided it’s better to extract by moral extortion and exaltation than by force. One could draw a very unflattering parallel between the rise of the welfare state and the decline of crime and the continued social creep across generations.”

“It’s not enough to enshrine equality in law—they want their own privilege enshrined not only in law, but also in our social conscience. They would have you castigate yourself for their misfortunes and hate your parents for their successes.” She pauses. “And many do. You only need look at how many affluent teenagers and young adults are sucked into those messages. It’s like a cult offering them redemption from imagined sins, and those lacking conviction eat it up.”

“That’s nothing to say you can’t feel sympathy for those less well off—or even that you can’t want to help them—but you don’t owe them anything simply because Maman has made wise choices for our own family and their own parents poor ones. The same kind that complain about the rich not paying their fair share are the kind that are refunded more every year in taxes than they’ve ever paid—that donate less to charity in their entire life than the same people they vilify do in a month. The whole thing is madness.”

I wonder, Maman, how does he feel about that? Caroline asks probingly. There is no ambiguity about whom she speaks of.

And that beside, isn’t there is a line that must be walked—you can only push people so far before they have nothing left to lose, before the fear of your lash is overshadowed by the certainty of their dread. I think the bishop might have learned that lesson a little too late.

GM: “Yes, exactly,” Yvette agrees. “And Maman and Cécilia do so much to ‘elp them, with all their charity work. Ah don’t see them doing anything to ‘elp themselves. Ah’m tired of being blamed for it, and seeing so many girls at McGehee ‘oo just won’t shut up about privilege. We ’ave problems too.”

“Well, it’s not like they can do much to ’elp themselves,” says Yvonne. “Beyond shifting the debate, and saying ’ere’s why everyone owes them even more.”

“Ugh,” says Yvette.

Fluttering laughter greets Caroline’s statement.

One must occupy the people with thoughts besides revolution, my dear. Foreign or domestic adversaries are the objects upon which their rancor must fall. All empires require external threats to provide cohesion, lest enemies rise up from within. Every state that succumbed to revolution did so once the hatred of its common people toward the ruling elite eclipsed their fear and hatred of all else—just as your hatred of the bishop finally eclipsed your fear of the consequences for his destruction.

Your sire has spent much of his reign persecuting followers of an enemy faith, yet he has devoted but scant effort towards convincing the common Cainite that this faith is to blame for their travails. Another would-be prince has thus positioned himself as a demagogue able to claim he represents the interests of the common Cainite. We shall see what comes as those interests grow increasingly opposed to your sire’s.

“Oh, girls, I can hardly bear to see those frowns upon your pretty faces,” Abélia smiles. “Come now, let us speak of happier things. You all look done with breakfast—so how should we spend our day? We could play hide and go seek, watch movies, host a play or tea party, do a treasure hunt, play some music, make some art… how shall we occupy ourselves?”

“Could we go swimming?” asks Noëllle, who’s started petting one of the cats that’s wandered in.

“Or go ’orseback riding,” suggests Yvette.

“Or go yatching?” asks Yvonne, who’s picked up another one of the cats.

“Or go to the zoo?” asks Simmone.

“Perhaps another time, my dears,” their mother answers them all. “I’m feeling a bit fatigued today, truth be told. Let’s stick to indoor activities… surely there’s something our bright imaginations can think of to do in this old house?”

Caroline: “Perhaps we could reconnect with the past?” Caroline offers innocently. “We could look through some photo albums.”

Caroline: “It’s why we take those pictures anyway, right?”

GM: “That does sound fun,” agrees Cécilia. “We do have so many, after all.”

“We could take new ones, too.”

“’Oo’ll we ’ave do that, with the ’ousekeeper not ’ere?” asks Yvette.

“We could take them.” Yvonne.

“Sure, but ones of us all.” Yvette.

“We could have Jeremy or Daniel or one of the other security.” Adeline.

“Ah don’t want them… " Simmone.

“It’d just be pictures.” Noëllle.

“No! Ah don’t want them!” repeats Simmone.

Caroline: “You’d prefer Mr. Shah?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Oui. ’E’d be nicer.”

“’E might ’ave a ’ard time with a camera,” Yvette observes.

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “We can hold off on an everyone photo for now, or do one with a timer.”

GM: “But you ‘ave to run for those, and they’re not as good,” says Yvonne.

Caroline: “There will be another chance,” Caroline offers. “Unless you have a better idea?”

The Ventrue briefly considers offering up her varied ghouls to the task, but her mother clearly doesn’t want strangers present today, and she knows well their fatigue after the last couple nights. The work she has at their feet for today. They need some time off. Time to rest. Tired people make mistakes. Mistakes now could get her killed.

GM: “If it’s meant to be, my dears, it will be,” Abélia remarks serenely. “Perhaps a solution shall fall into our laps. Caroline, Cécilia, why don’t you two dig up the photo albums while the rest of us clean up here?”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “Of course, Maman.”

She slides around the island she stand behind and slips away with Cécilia, grateful for the opportunity to get away from the meal.

Her new sisters are easy to get used to. Food is another story.


Monday morning, 7 March 2016

GM: The clink of dishes follows the two as they leave.

“Maman told me about Simmone,” Cécilia mentions once they’re out of earshot.

“I trust that she and you think it’s for the best. But I’m worried, still.”

Caroline: “Me too,” Caroline admits. “There are effects beyond just stopping aging… and even if there weren’t, it will eventually draw attention. But she asked me to trust her.”

GM: “I think Maman can take care of those things the most easily. I’m primarily worried about the psychological effects.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. "There are ghouls that have been eternal children before. Still are, in the city. I could ask, at least for the long term… "

“In the short term… it might be good. Might give her more confidence.”

“Especially if she’s pushed a little.” Caroline gives her sister a meaningful look.

GM: “Maybe that would be the right thing to do,” Cécilia admits. “It feels like it’s one step forward, two steps back with her, so much of the time. She was getting better for a while—you remember how we took her to your birthday party all without Maman. But ever since Maman died, Simmone’s refused to even leave the same room as her.”

“In many ways, she’s developmentally stunted. You’ve seen the tantrums she’s thrown. Those are behaviors I might expect from a four-year-old. But she’s ten.”

Caroline: “Maman seems to want it,” Caroline admits.

“She’s said she wants a child on her knee indefinitely.”

GM: “She said that to me, too. Her logic was that if Simmone is having such a hard time growing up, then maybe she shouldn’t have to.”

Cécilia looks uncomfortable.

“Maman has always made us happy. Always kept us safe. I don’t doubt her, or even want to doubt her. But growing up is a part of life.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Is it? Is growing old part of life too? Is suffering? Pain? Discomfort? And what does that make me? Or her?”

GM: Cécilia pauses at that, then closes the door to the library they’ve since entered and sits down.

“Maman has asked me several times if I’ve wanted the Embrace. She’s said there are ways she could arrange it.”

“I’ve told her no.”

Caroline: Caroline takes a seat beside her. “That’s not the wrong choice.”

She bites her lip again, then continues, “She didn’t tell me how everyone else came to be her daughters, vice how I did. I gathered it was different.”

“I gather too, you understand what she is, beyond Maman?”

GM: “I suppose that depends,” Cécilia answers thoughtfully.

“I know much of what she can do, much of what makes her what she is. But there’s much of her I don’t understand. Perhaps even couldn’t.”

Caroline: “She’s not of this world,” Caroline fills in. “Not human, at least not now, in any sense we might understand it.”

She mulls over the irony of that statement for a moment. “To revive her is to conjure her forth, as a magician might.”

GM: “I’m not certain if she was ever human,” Cécilia admits. “She might have been, once. But if she was, it was so long ago I’m not sure it makes a difference either way.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I don’t at all doubt her desire for our prosperity—it would be a cold and brief Requiem without all she’s done for me—but it’s entirely possible that her conception of what a human life should be, should consist of, is… very skewed by that perspective.”

“She wants Simmone to be happy, but that might be so far as it goes. She might not see beyond her welfare in that way. Similarly, she wants the same for you. Wants your success. Your prosperity. Wants to offer you anything you might wish—including immortality… at least of a sort.”

“To be human is to be subject to a great many hardships, a great many ailments, that will never touch me.”

GM: “Yes. Unquestionably,” Cécilia agrees. “But there are reasons the Kindred envy the living, too, which Maman might not consider as consequential.”

“Perhaps your Embrace was the right thing for you. I think it can be for some people. But I don’t think it is for most people. I think the Embrace demands a special character and significant degree of mental resilience.”

Caroline: “I’m not saying you should have said yes,” Caroline reassures her. “Only that I think in offering she sought to offer you something.”

She pauses to bite her lip again. “Were there others… before us?”

GM: Cécilia thinks.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I do know that Maman has a sister. Our aunt. She wants you to meet her, in time.”

Caroline: “Have you met her?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yes. We all have. We go back to Avignon for summers, usually, every year. That’s where we see her.”

“She doesn’t seem to like children very much, though. She always seems very tired.”

Caroline: Caroline can sympathize. “I wonder if she’s afraid of losing us.”

GM: “Her, or Maman?”

Caroline: “Maman,” Caroline answers. “Whether we’re the first or last.”

She shrugs. “How did we all come to be?”

GM: “To be honest, it hasn’t ever occurred to me to ask,” Cècilia admits. “Maman might be willing to answer your questions there, if it would make you happy. Truly. I know above all things, that’s her foremost concern.”

“But, as you say, her perspective may be skewed by her distance from humanity. In trying to shield Simmone from pain, she might inadvertently be shielding her from joy too.”

“I cherish my childhood and look back on it happily. But I wouldn’t want to still be a child. The pains of growing up were worth it.”

Caroline: “Do you remember when the others were born?”

GM: “Yes, I was already a teenager by the time Simmone was born. But, Caroline, I think what’s happening to her now may be more important than what happened to us then.”

Caroline: “Do you want to talk to Maman about it?” Caroline asks. “Or are you asking me to hold out?”

GM: “I think it would be helpful for her to hear those concerns from us both, if they’re ones you also share.”

Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue over her teeth. “They are.”

GM: Cècilia looks relieved. “Good. I’ll bring them up.”

“I suppose there’s some silver lining in that one month of delayed aging isn’t really that long, in the grand scheme.”

Caroline: “No more than other things that have happened. But Cécilia, it’s going to be painful to drag her into adulthood at this point.”

GM: “It is. But I don’t think growing up is ever painless.”

Caroline: “No, it isn’t,” Caroline agrees. “We all get our scars.”

GM: “You sounded like you’d had some thoughts earlier, so far as how?”

Caroline: “The blood will make her bolder. Make her feel stronger. If I’m gone, take advantage of it while you can. You might even consider it again, if that goes well. A month or two of delayed aging is nothing beside the psychological side.”

GM: Cècilia thinks. “You’re right. Maybe that could help. I admit I don’t know as much about ghouls as I do about Kindred.”

Caroline: “I know… a fair bit. And I’ve seen the reactions among my ghouls. I think she’ll be spared a fair few of them, because she’s younger, but I’m not certain how that works out.”

GM: “I suppose what’s done is done, and we can simply try to make the best of what has.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “She needs to go back to school. Or at least back out to deal with other people more frequently. Theater productions, dance studios, whatever works best.”

GM: “School could be… a challenge, though I’d like to get her up to that point by spending longer amounts of time away from Maman. Though maybe more time with non-family members would be a good idea too, even if Maman has to be around.”

Caroline: “She needs a friend. Other than the family. Maybe one of the bodyguards. Someone softer than a lot of the others that makes her feel safe.”

GM: “She had friends at school. She was actually very popular. But it’s been long enough that a lot of those friendships have faded away.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And they’re not likely to react well to her current… well, trend of behavior.”

GM: Cècilia nods in concurrence. “Hmm. We still have her dance teacher come by for lessons. They get along pretty well. Maybe doing those more than once a week.”

Caroline:“Maybe bringing along another student too—a partner.”

GM: “Oh, that’s a good thought. Maybe someone who doesn’t go to McGehee.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “She likes attention, perhaps dance competition would suit her well too. There are all kinds of local events that start as young as she is.”

GM: “I’ll ask about those at her next lesson. It’s actually scheduled for later today.” Cècilia thinks for another moment. “What about your people? Do you have any, or any with children, who might get along with her?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment. “No especially good candidates. One of them has a younger brother. Sister too, but I think she’s closer to Autumn’s age than Simmone’s. I could ask her about them. Another has a daughter… but I think she’s actually well-known to Simmone.”

“Well, Roger perhaps. His daughter is a little older, I think, but might be willing to hang around in Simmone’s shadow.”

GM: “Oh, she sounds perfect, then. Simmone could use someone she can maybe ‘upstage’ a little.”

“Autumn’s siblings too, if they’re the right age. Asking definitely couldn’t hurt.”

Caroline: Caroline nods slowly. “I’ll find out. Involving them carries a mild amount of risk, though.”

She elaborates, “Entwining the lives of ghouls with the family. They haven’t had the best… well, life expectancy to date.”

GM: “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. If you think we’d be putting them in danger meeting Simmone, then maybe we shouldn’t.”

Caroline: “No, just… it’s a slightly awkward relationship, with their parents as well… servants that are often desperate to please.”

She bites her lower lip, then gives a small laugh. “I actually think Maman might rather like the dynamic. She seems more old-fashioned like that. Servants’ children running with their masters’.”

GM: Cécilia smiles back. “You might be right there. I think she would.”

“It’s not really a dynamic we’ve had thus far. The family help has been either a little young to have children, or… well, incapable of having any.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow at that.

GM: “You’ve seen our driver.”

Caroline: “He doesn’t seem especially happy,” Caroline answers.

GM: “He hurt Maman in the past. She believes his suffering is right and just.”

“I don’t agree with her there, admittedly, which she knows. But her mind is made up.”

Caroline: “You have a kinder heart than most of us,” Caroline muses. “You forgive.”

GM: “That’s kind of you to say. Admittedly, I’m not completely sure what he did, so that forgiveness is easier for me.”

Caroline: “I don’t forgive. Not easily. Not frequently.”

GM: “Would you like to?”

Caroline: The Ventrue considers for a moment, staring into space. “Maybe. It’s something I admire in you. But it’s not in my nature.”

“I’d sort of like to believe that the world can only have gentle hearts if it also has harder ones around them.”

GM: “Maybe so. It’s true I’ve been more sheltered than you and haven’t had to make the same sorts of hard decisions.”

Caroline: “It’s not about hard decisions. Just hard people. Too much Malveaux in me.”

GM: “I’d also raise that you’re more sheltered now, too, than you used to be. If that’s something you want to change about yourself, I think you could afford it now. But only if you wanted to.”

“Our family has its share of hardness. Maman and Yvette don’t forgive easily.”

Caroline: “Ying and yang, maybe. Yvette and Yvonne are like the sides of a coin in that way.”

GM: “Yes. I think they draw out each other’s best qualities. And blunt each other’s worse ones.”

Caroline: “We’ll see what the future holds. I fear the future among the city’s Cainites will leave little room for kindness, mercy, or forgiveness.”

GM: “Those qualities can be luxuries,” Cécilia nods.

Caroline: “What else is bothering you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Hmm. I’m in the position, actually, of executing something close to a will. Or maybe better to say, honoring someone’s last request.”

Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but Emmett Delacroix—you might remember us talking about him with Luke at the Orpheum—was a boyfriend of mine in high school.”

Caroline: The name makes Caroline wince. “How did you end up talking to him again?”

GM: “After we broke up, I learned he’d been lying to me about who he was. He’d claimed to be an ambassador’s son and related to a movie star. He’d also arranged for Adeline to get embarrassed in public so he could swoop in to the rescue. Which sounds awful, and it was. But he later came clean when he didn’t have to. I think he was really just scared I wouldn’t accept him for who he was. He had a genius for making films. This simply amazing creative vision.”

“He was executed by the state of Louisiana not that long ago, in any case. I visited him while he was still on death row.”

“He was guilty of some fairly serious crimes. I don’t know the full circumstances of those, but it seemed to me like he’d more than paid for them. He’d lost his legs. He was a shell of the person I remembered.”

Caroline: “He was in the Dungeon,” Caroline offers quietly. “When I was.”

GM: Cécilia blinks. “I’m sorry?”

Caroline: “Someone brought him down there, when I was down there. In that pit.”

GM: “Oh. Maman told me some of the story there.”

“That’s… that’s simply terrible. For him and for you. Beyond terrible.”

Caroline: "Yeah… " Caroline nods. “We met, he and I, before that. Not for very long. I didn’t like the feeling I got off of him, so I asked Roger to pull his record.”

GM: “Oh?” Cécilia remarks. “That’s comforting to know he was telling the truth.”

“Yvette believed he’d sexually assaulted you. He denied it when I asked about that.”

“I did believe him, as he didn’t have much reason to lie at that point, and you couldn’t have told Yvette the truth about that night.”

Caroline: Caroline shuffles uncomfortably. “That night is… complicated. What happened to both of us there was complicated. Victim and victimizer is a blurry line. But no, she got… well… the easy lie.”

GM: “I understand. I don’t blame you. You couldn’t have told her the truth.”

“She was true to herself, though. She had Jeremy bribe the guards to abuse Em further in revenge for what she believed he’d done to you. She wanted them to… hurt him in the same way she believed he’d hurt you, let’s simply say, before killing him. Jeremy fortunately didn’t seem like he was going to let that happen.”

Caroline: More cruelty at him, her fellow victim of the Dungeon, because of her. She can tell herself he was a bad person, that he deserved it. But she’s not sure it’s really true.

GM: Cécilia looks at her. “I forgave Em for what he did to me and Adeline. But I can understand if you can’t for his other crimes. Yvette mentioned a scheme of his to get you pregnant and blackmail you.”

Caroline: “He’s dead now,” Caroline answers noncommittally.

GM: A look flickers in Cécilia’s eyes. “Yes.”

“I do think I was able to make his last days more comfortable. I left him some pens and paper, so he could write scripts for his movies.”

“The conditions on death row are just unspeakable. They’re kept in bare cells in total isolation, for potentially decades. I don’t know how someone doesn’t go crazy.”

Caroline: “For most of the people on death row, I don’t think that’s something anyone is worried about,” Caroline answers pointedly.

GM: “I think you’ll disagree with me, but I don’t think there’s any point in punishing them further, at that point. They’re soon going to face a higher justice than any human court.”

“Or not so soon, potentially. I was frankly amazed Em was executed after only six months.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I just don’t know that they’re worth anyone’s concern. Plenty of more deserving people suffering.”

“That’s a quick turnaround, though. My father was trying to make it happen for years.”

GM: “Yes, from what I understand state law makes execution by any means besides lethal injection illegal, but the state couldn’t reach an agreement with any supplier for the drugs. Maxen Flores spent years negotiating with the pharma companies even after he took over from your father.”

“I suppose the state was in a hurry to make an example of someone after all those years they couldn’t.”

“I might also disagree with you so far as those people’s worth, but that’s a discussion for perhaps another time.”

Caroline: “Indeed,” Caroline answers. “He asked you to do something, though? Beyond trying to make his end less… well, miserable.”

GM: “Yes. He’s sent me the scripts he wrote for his movies.”

“They’re very good scripts, too. It’s… it’s such a shame how his life turned out. I’d really encouraged him to apply to film school while we were in high school.”

“I’ve been having someone send the scripts to various film companies, in any case. I haven’t been trying to make money off of them. I’ve mainly just wanted to get them out.”

“His last one, though, is written to be more of a moneymaker than the others. And he’s requested that the proceeds go towards a nonprofit set up to combat companies like Endron and Malveaux Oil.”

“Obviously, I’m not about to help establish an organization to hurt my fiancé’s company. So I’m just thinking about what to do with any money the script makes.”

“I thought about maybe using it against Endron, what with their being major pollutants and rivals of your family’s, but that seems a little… politically minded, and not fully in line with the spirit of his request.”

“My other thought was simply donating the proceeds towards a less divisive charity that everyone supports, like the Red Cross. But that seems a little milquetoast. I think he’d wanted to do something for his father, who’s an environmental activist.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks when Cécilia raises her concern over just targeting Endron. That’s what she’d have done.

“Maybe something more specifically focused on his life circumstances?” she offers.

GM: “Oh, that’s a happy thought. Maybe scholarships for film students?”

Caroline: “Or opportunities for post-release felons,” Caroline suggests.

GM: “That’s another good one. Or improving conditions for death row inmates. Maybe all three, depending on how much the rights sell for.”

“Those are some really good ideas, Caroline.” She smiles. “You should have gone into charity work.”

Caroline: "I attended enough functions for the family that I must have picked up a thing or two along the way. It’s unseemly, really… "

GM: “You might pick up some more things there, actually. Maman mentioned she was planning on firing the legal counsel retained by our charities, and hiring your firm.”

Caroline: “That would be… quite a windfall. She should retain at least one other, though, to bounce conflicts of interest against.”

GM: “Hm, you should mention that to her. But it might be a hard sell.” Cécilia smiles faintly. “It’s simply no question to her, about supporting blood over non-blood.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “There was also something else to do with Emmett. Do you remember Mark Stines?”

Caroline: Caroline reaches back. “He was the head of legal for Malveaux Oil that got murdered.”

GM: “Yes. Luke told me he was a former JAG officer who’d really whipped the department into shape.”

“And it was such a brutal murder. I remember reading about it in the news. How he’d been… mutilated, before he died.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. She remembers her uncle’s rage about it.

GM: “Luke said it was the whole reason your family hired Roger.”

She remembers both her uncles’ rage.

Caroline: “Yeah. Before there had been security, but it wasn’t quite as refined. Roger had just come out of the Middle East. He gutted everything.”

GM: “Emmett asked that some of the money from his script go to supporting Stines’ wife and children.”

“It… stood out to me. It seems surprising he’d have had any personal relationship with the family. And the murder was a pretty long time ago.”

Caroline: “He’s assuming a lot, that there will be enough money to go around,” Caroline points out, even as she thinks back to Stines.

GM: “Yes,” Cécilia nods. “But the thing which stood out to me is that it was Emmett’s last request, from death row. You spend those on things that are very important to you. And I have a hard time seeing him being especially close to the family.”

“Yvette, when she first visited Em, got him talking for a while. And she told me that he’d told her he was the one to murder Stines. The story was so… well, I’ll simply say there were lurid enough details I wasn’t sure whether it was real or Yvette had maybe blown up the details she’d gotten from Em, because she was so upset.”

“But it feels a lot more plausible now, with Em wanting to make some kind of restitution to Stines’ family.”

Caroline: That confession takes some of the tension out of her shoulders.

She knew he was a bad person. But there’s a difference between knowing and ‘knowing.’

GM: “I’m not sure how much it means now, with Em dead, and Stines’ family having had eight years to deal with their grief. But he was an important man at the company Maman says you’ll be running behind the scenes, so I thought I’d let you know.”

Caroline: “I appreciate it,” Caroline answers quietly, contemplative.

GM: “It also means the man who was sent to prison for the murder was actually innocent.”

“He was, I think, still complicit. But he wasn’t the one to actually commit the murder.”

Caroline: “Emmett was a conman. A career criminal. That’s what Roger gave me.”

GM: “That sounds consistent with what Yvette had to say and my own experiences.”

Caroline: “I think the truth of everything he did in life probably went to the grave with him.”

GM: “Maybe. But if that man could be innocent, I think it’s worth looking into. And legal matters like these are your area.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls the idea over. “I can have someone start digging, but that case is awfully cold. And no one is going to want to touch it, to reopen that wound.”

GM: “I understand. Thanks for still looking into it.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “Well, I think we’ve kept the others waiting for long enough.” Cécilia gets up and removes some albums from a shelf. “Maman must have distracted them. I’m surprised no one came calling.”

Caroline: “She has a way,” Caroline answers. She rises lethargically to follow Cécilia. Her typical effortless grace is absent this morning as she forces herself out of the comfortable couch that practically begs her to close her eyes for a little while.

GM: Cécilia looks at her with some concern. “If you’re tired, you could sleep until evening. Maman will come up with an excuse. You’ll still be able to spend time with the others.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head. “This time is a gift. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’d cherish it while we have the chance. It’s just… sort of like the worst hangover you’ve ever had.”

GM: “Is there anything that could make it easier for you? Would blood help?”

Caroline: "If you could make that big blazing ball of hatred in the sky go away… " Caroline jokes. “But no, it’s just a price paid.”

GM: “Well, thank you for paying it. I know it means a lot to Maman and the others.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles.

“It means a lot to me too.”


Monday morning, 7 March 2016

GM: It’s a short walk back to the house’s living room. The drapes around the floor to ceiling windows are pulled fast. Some part of Caroline cannot help but silently whine whether they are thick enough, but no sun gets through. The lit chandeliers and tableside lamps make the place almost feels like it’s night out. Everyone has piled onto two adjacent couches, with Simmone sitting on Abélia’s lap. They’re looking through social media pictures on their phones and passing them around.

“Oh, just in time,” Abélia declares contently. “We’ve looked through all these recent photos… now we can delve into the past.”

Cècilia sits down as the others scoot aside and hands her mother the first album. “These ones start in 2005. Just when we moved over.”

“It’s funny to think it’s been close to eleven years. Sometimes it feels like it’s been so much longer, and sometimes like it’s been no time at all.”

“Chronos plays many tricks on us, my dear,” Abélia smiles as she opens the photo book. “He’s really quite a liar.”

Caroline: Aren’t we all.

GM: “Ah, here’s the first one of us in the States,” Abélia says. “Look at how young you all were! Simmone is just a little baby.”

“Where’s that we were?” asks Noëllle.

“That’s the Windsor Court,” Adeline says as their mother passes the photo book around.

“So many hotels were closed, but I remember that one doing everything it could to keep its doors open.”

“More than open.” Cècilia. “President Marshall stayed there when he came to the city, as I remember.”

“Ugh, Marshall was an idiot.” Yvette.

Caroline: More than you know, she reflects, knowing what she does of its owner, even as she takes a place looking over Abélia’s shoulder.

GM: “Freedom fries,” echoes Yvonne.

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “Yes, you have such strong memories of his presidency.”

GM: The photo shows all of the family sitting together at a table in the hotel’s Polo Club Lounge. It’s reminiscent of a private English club, decorated with dark woods and overstuffed leather furnishings. Abélia looks much as she does in the present. Cécilia is a teenager with younger features, but just about the same height. Adeline looks in middle school. Yvette and Yvonne are just little kids. Noëllle is a toddler sitting on Cécilia’s lap, and Simmone is still just a baby in the crook of Abélia’s arm.

“I remember talking to a couple of the Secret Service agents who were there,” Cécilia remarks. “They were very friendly.”

“You were a little shy to,” she smiles at Adeline.

“Yes. I did visit their website, though. It had a ‘for kids’ section. I remember it saying to study hard and get good grades if you wanted to join the Secret Service someday.”

“Yvette didn’t even want to talk to them. She convinced me not to,” Yvonne remarks amusedly.

Freedom fries,” Yvette repeats sarcastically.

“But we don’t even call them that,” says Noëllle. “They’re just frites.

“Yes, but Americans do.” Yvette.

“They changed the name to freedom toast, too.” Yvonne.

“Oh mon dieu, did they really?” Yvette scoffs.

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Would you like me to put your hair up in a freedom braid?”

GM: “Jesus Christ, did they seriously rename that too?”

Caroline: Caroline laughs harder. “No, but I enjoyed watching you get worked up about it.”

GM: That draws some laughter from the others. Yvette rolls her eyes. “Ah bet you were all over freedom fries, with your dad,” she retorts.

Caroline: “It’s important to defend American values,” she retorts. "Things like liberty, egalitie, fraternity… "

GM: “Yes, we did those better. And we basically conquered the world after our revolution.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles, letting the joke go.

GM: “America arguably did that too. They just took longer,” Adeline observes.

“I had a college professor who liked to tout ‘the Sixth Fleet’ as evidence of American imperialism. He had this funny way of saying in a very exaggerated voice, ‘the Sixth Fleet. Have you heard of the Sixth Fleet? The Sixth Fleet makes sure Mare Nostrum stays alive under today’s empire.”

Caroline: “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.”

GM: “As an interesting bit of trivia, he also pointed out that the U.S. actually has a comparable number of foreign military bases to Rome and the British Empire at their peaks. That’s all the more notable given how much warfare has changed over 2,000 years, or factors like the size of the territory held, or smaller contemporary forces being able to hold much more territory. All three empires still had a little over 30 bases.”

“Hmph,” says Yvette. “‘Ow many did Napoleon’s empire ’ave?”

“I’m not sure,” answers Adeline. “But under 30.”

“What’s Mare Nostrum?” asks Simmone.

“It’s Latin, my dear. For ’our sea,” explains Abélia. “The Romans ruled all of the land around the Mediterranean. It was ‘their sea.’”

“And as my professor liked to explain, the U.S. keeps a fleet stationed there.” Adeline. “So it’s ‘their sea’ too.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “‘Eastern American Bathtub’ doesn’t have quite the same ring.”

GM: “Latin makes everything classier.” Yvonne.

Caroline: “The root of so many languages, too.”

GM: Abélia turns the book’s page. “Oh, my. The Krewe du Vieux.”

“Oh mah god, are those people dressed as sperms?” Yvette laughs.

“Look at ‘ow many there are. There’s families dressing up as sperms together.” Yvonne.

“Why are they doing that?” asks Noëllle.

“It was to protest the mayor’s handling of Hurricane Katrina,” explains Cécilia. “The Krewe du Vieux had a lot of material to work with that year.”

“But why sperms?” Noëllle.

“Because ’e’s jacking off, duh,” snickers Yvette.

“Ah know that,” the 13-year-old defensively insists. “Ah mean why’d they make fun of ’im doing that.”

“Be kind to your sister, my sweet. Save your mockery for those deserving of it,” Abélia smiles, patting Yvette’s hand.

“As to the Krewe, I believe they were mocking the mayor for his statement that the city was a ‘chocolate city,’ as well as lambasting his general performance in office.”

Caroline: “Added benefit of being shocking,” Caroline adds. “Everyone loves to make a statement.”

GM: “Ah’d ’ave wanted to be one of those sperms,” Yvette laughs.

Caroline: “To shock people?” Caroline smirks.

GM: “And make fun of the mayor. ‘E was an idiot. I think ’is wife’s on food stamps now!” she snorts.

“Yes, ’e actually want to jail.” Yvonne.

Caroline: “No less than he deserved,” Caroline answers.

GM: “He was very corrupt,” Cécilia nods. “That’s nothing new in Louisiana, but I suppose they were looking to make an example.”

“Yes, Ah’m amazed that actually ’appened,” says Yvonne.

Caroline: "They had to, when the entire country was watching. Internal problems are one thing, but when you let them out all over the national news… "

GM: “Yes, he’d appeared in all those photos with President Marshall, too.” Adeline. “People had rallied around him during a time of crisis and felt betrayed. By his corruption as well as his mismanagement of the disaster response.”

“That’s funny to think though. ’E’d been so on top of the world one day, showing up in pictures with the president.” Yvonne.

“Fortuna is a fickle companion, my dears,” Abélia smiles. “Never place yourself entirely within her care.”

Caroline: “The higher you climb, the further you can fall,” Caroline chimes in.

GM: “Ah guess you should be careful.” Noëllle.

“Or lay a mat.” Yvonne.

“A mat doesn’t make a difference from ’igh enough.” Yvette.

Abélia turns the book’s page. “Ah, and here’s Caroline with the rest of us. This was the first time we’d seen her in quite a while, wasn’t it?”

Caroline sees a photo of them all watching a parade from a VIP balcony. They’re tossing beads and other plastic trinkets to the crowds below. Caroline’s lifting up Yvette so she can get a good toss while Cécilia holds Yvonne and Abélia holds Noëllle. Adeline throws from the side. Simmone is still in a stroller.

Caroline: Caroline’s blue eyes glitter as they settle on the image of her. This past recalled by all but her.

Still, she can imagine it, almost hear her sisters’ happy laughs. The feel of the plastic beads in her hand.

GM: It’s a smaller parade than normal, she can also tell. Mardi Gras was a much humbler affair in 2006.

“What’d you do for Katrina?” Noëllle asks. “Didn’t everyone ’ave to leave the city?”

“A lot of displaced people went to Houston and Baton Rouge. But Caroline actually lived in Baton Rouge already, back then,” Cécilia explains.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It wasn’t until after Katrina that most of the Malveauxes moved back towards New Orleans. It made sense then—property values were low, lots of room for growth.”

GM: “Yes, I remember there being a lot of plans to completely rebuild the city. It was an opportunity like developers hadn’t ever had before,” Adeline remarks. “Though not much seemed to come of it.”

Caroline: “Too much red tape in the way,” Caroline observes. “Too many historical preservation societies and regulations.”

GM: “That’s just so stupid,” Yvette says.

“Amelie got in trouble for damaging an ’istoric site, though,” Yvonne points out.

“Oooh, that’s right,” Yvette smiles. “Ah guess Ah forgot next to all those other things ’e did.”

Caroline: “It has its value. There’s a lot of history here. A lot of what makes New Orleans unique.”

GM: “Ah guess. Though Ah wonder ‘ow it’d look if developers ’ad been able to do more.” Yvette.

“It might look closer to how the Pavaghis want it to, actually.” Adeline.

“Sarah ’as such awful taste in guys,” Yvette laughs.

“It’s creepy with ’ow much older ’e is, too.” Yvonne.

“I think he was simply there for her at a vulnerable point in her life, from the sound of things,” Cécilia says. “It’s very easy to fall for someone who swoops in to the rescue like that.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “We all want someone there for us.”

GM: “You don’t think it’s wrong, though?” Yvonne.

“Sarah’s old enough to consent. In the law’s eyes, at least, neither of them has done any wrong.” Cécilia.

“Ah’ve never wanted to date someone that much older than me.” Yvette.

“Your boyfriend’s in college.” Noëllle.

“’E’s 19. Way younger.” Yvette.

Caroline: “Statistically worldwide women marry men around seven years older,” Caroline observes.

GM: “Worldwide a lot of women get murdered for ’aving sex before marriage too,” Yvette retorts.

Caroline: “That’s a depressing topic,” Caroline replies sourly.

GM: “Ah’m just saying statistically worldwide a lot of women ’ave it pretty awful.”

Caroline: “True, but the propensity towards dating an older partner in women continues even here. I think George Clooney was in his fifties when he was rated the ‘sexist man alive.’”

GM: “Oh, we studied that in one of mah statistics classes.” Yvonne. “’Ow Oscars winners tend to ’ave lots of older men, but the women are always young. It was for an example with box plots.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “And sexism. A shame it takes men so long to fully develop.”

GM: “The silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it takes a very clever man to manage a foolish woman,” Cécilia quotes with a smile.

Abélia only gives a fluttering laugh as she pages through the album.

“Come come, my dears. Let us speak of happier things and look back on happier times… "

There’s a lot of them. 2005 starts with photos of the family, sans Caroline, together at the Windsor Court. They lounge around at the rooftop pool, treat themselves at the spa, and even play with a litter of white-furred young kittens (the Court accommodated pets). Those pictures prompt Simmone to say she wants the cats; Abélia calls for them, and it’s not overlong before several hop onto the couch. Simmone pulls hers, Guimauve (“Marshmallow”) onto her lap and rubs the flopped-over persian’s belly as they look through pictures. The cats are completely pliable and willing; Simmone and Noëllle even stack another one, Glinda, on top of Guimauve, and roll her over to amuse themselves as they pet the felines.

“It’s really a shame what happened to the Court,” comments Adeline. “I’ll always prefer living in a real house. But the staff was beyond stellar and went to so much effort to keep the hotel running smoothly.”

Caroline: There’s a faint chill as Caroline reflects on how closely the family lived to Smith, but it’s undercut by the present.

“Some people just want to watch the world burn,” she laments with Adeline.

GM: “I think they were mostly just selfish. I read about that wave of scandals, and how the owner had to sell. It’s just a shame the new owners weren’t simply willing to turn over the hotel to new management.”

Caroline: “At least we got to enjoy it when it lasted.”

GM: You know we weren’t in any danger from him, Caroline. Maman made things very clear and reached an accommodation.

She’d never have brought us there if she wasn’t completely certain we’d be safe. From what she said, Smith was actually a very gracious host.

Caroline: And I know how it worked out, Caroline admits. I only met him once, and perhaps my feelings are colored by those of another.

GM: Desperate times drive men to desperate measures, my dears, Abélia observes. Mr. Smith, like Icarus, flew too close to the sun. Many were the hands willing to use such ambition towards their own purposes. In serving oneself above all else, one may easily be swayed into the service of others.

Caroline: An empty pursuit must be filled by something.

GM: Mr. Smith’s most worthy endeavor was his hotel. He was worthiest when pursuing that endeavor. He was a devilishly charming host and accommodating to our needs in ways no mortal hotelier could have been. I do not think the city will soon find another Cainite of his caliber. I look back upon our time within his domain fondly, and salute his memory.

The family reminisces over the Court a bit longer. There was that friendly old doorman, and the hostess—Adeline recalls her actually being French, and feeling more comfortable around her than the other staff. Yvette focuses more on the negative and the men implicated in the recent sex scandals. Yvonne brings up the hotel’s art collection, which she says looks very impressive from the photos they have. Abélia confirms that yes, it had a museum-quality collection worth an estimated $10 million. It featured paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and furnishings by more than 60 artists dating from the 17th to late 20th centuries. Many of the artworks were of British origin with an emphasis on works that depicted the Windsor Castle and life of British royalty. The collection included original works by William Powell Frith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Jacob Huysman.

When Yvonne asks how her mother knows this, Simmone chimes up that “Maman knows everything,” much to the laughter of those present.

Abélia then says that many of the art pieces were put up for sale. Some of them were purchased by museums she and Cécilia are involved with. Other pieces have disappeared into the hands of private collectors.

“Didn’t you buy one of them, Maman?” Cécilia asks.

“Why yes, my dear, I believe I did—a little keepsake of our time there. It’s at the Ogden. I need to bring it over to our house, still.”

Caroline: “There’s always an opportunity amid every sorrow,” Caroline chimes in. “If you can find it.”

GM: Speaking of, my dear, would you care to involve yourself further with the museum? There’s the Chairman’s Circle for individuals, or perhaps corporate membership for your law firm… patronage of the arts is a time-honored tradition among rulers, be they living or dead.

Caroline instinctively knows what such entails.

She recalls that Vera sits on the museum’s board of trustees, although her aunt never made much of an effort to involve the rest of the family.

Caroline: That could be very useful, Caroline muses. Particularly the opportunity to host after-hours events there. I think the firm might be more directly applicable, especially if my name is wedded to it, in time.

GM: Oh? Is your name not? Cécilia asks curiously.

Caroline: My ‘death’ seemed a likely outcome in the immediate future. Given that, I thought it better to keep my hold of it more indistinct. There are documents that tie me to it, but none publicly available. Nothing to make a mess if ‘Caroline Malveaux’ tragically passed away.

GM: Oh, that makes sense, then. I’d wondered why you were still clerking for the court.

Caroline: Appearances. It was also problematic to explain to the family where the money came from for the startup.

GM: Such appearances shall likely cease to persist, my dear, as your allegiances become known to interested powers… Antoine Savoy has little reason to help maintain the Masquerade of his rival’s childe, nor to grant her access within his domain.

Caroline: A shame, he is very charming. Much like the serpent from the Jungle Book, I think. Mind not the coils as they encircle you in their warm embrace…

GM: Your future may hold many things, precious child. Hypnos eagerly waits to embrace your sire, while his gaze passes over the lord of the French Quarter. Far more allegiances are written in earth than stone. But in the immediate term, your one-time benefactor is unwise to depend upon.

If you need any help setting up your Masquerade, of course, we’ll do whatever we can, Cécilia adds. You could link the firm’s start-up capital to us, if you want to publicly tie yourself to it. Which doesn’t seem like a bad idea. What is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers doing now that she’s passed the bar, after all.

Caroline: What is she doing indeed, Caroline asks. Let’s see what my sire has planned, that we don’t tread upon that newly-planted earth. A beginning is a very delicate time.

GM: Yes, that’s true. There’s definitely no harm in waiting a little to see how things unfold there, Cécilia agrees.


Monday afternoon, 7 March 2016

Abélia continues to flip through the photo album and comment aloud as the three silently converse. Yvonne asks where the pictures are of Maman and Cécilia helping with the relief efforts. Abélia says those are ‘political’ photos, for the most part. These ones are just of the family.

The Windsor Court photos eventually give way to ones of everyone moving in to the Walter Robinson House, newly restored following Katrina (and fortunately undamaged by the storm, like much of the Garden District). There’s lots of the girls swimming in the pool or playing in the yard with Ulysses and Penelope, the family’s now-deceased cats who produced the current litter of Persians. Caroline is in a number of photos, though not all of them: according to Cécilia, she’d usually come over “every other weekend” and for holidays like Mardi Gras.

Caroline: It makes sense, with the bulk of the Malveaux family still living in Baton Rouge at the time. Caroline very much included. The pictures make her almost jealous of the life she might have had. Almost.

GM: They’ve just moved to pictures of the family’s first trip to Grand Isle when Abélia tilts her head. “Ah, someone is at the door.”

“Caroline, Cécilia, why don’t you see who it is? I shouldn’t like to displace Simmone and the cats.”

I sense great pain, my dears, and equally great longing. Tread carefully.

Maman? Is there danger to the others? Cécilia asks.

Caroline: Not here. Not now, Caroline answers with a hint of viciousness.

She flashes a smile to the others. “Of course.”

GM: There is no bloodlust. Perhaps words shall avail you over force of arms.

You shall come to no harm while I yet draw breath, my dears. Death will be a mercy to any who might threaten you in this place.

Caroline: It begs a question as to who could come here, who would think to come here, with that intent. Still, Caroline’s not afraid.

She does take the lead in front of her sister, however. Her fragile human sister.

GM: We will take care of it, Maman. Peacefully, ideally. But Caroline and the guards can manage by force, if need be.

Cécilia rises to follow Caroline. They make their way to the house’s atrium when she says grimly, “I’ll need to open the door. You should take cover.”

Caroline: Caroline reluctantly continues past the door, to the next bend, where she can watch Cécilia without being exposed to the light as the door opens.

GM: Cécilia turns the knob. Caroline’s eyes painfully burn, like she’s watching a nuclear explosion up close. Light floods over her sister. Light, pure and clear and bright and wholesome, like Caroline hasn’t seen in what feels like a lifetime.

Then it’s gone just as abruptly as Cécilia quickly closes the door. And Caroline knows shadows and darkness once more.

Caroline: She recoils. Pulls further into shadow, into the house, but keeps her eyes on her sister.

GM: It’s Daniel Hayes. He looks mildly surprised at Cécilia preemptively opening the door, but states, “There’s someone out front, ma’am. She looks sketchy. Claims she knows Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”

“What name did she give?” Cécilia asks.

“Megan Wilkins.”

Cécilia frowns. “Do you know someone by that name, Caroline? I don’t.”

Caroline: “I do,” Caroline answers, stepping forward, further out of the darkness. “She works for Jocelyn.”

Her ghoul. Her only one.

“Did she say what this was about?” Caroline asks Hayes.

GM: “That it was ‘a matter of life and death,’” the Blackwatch merc answers. “She asked if she could bring her car in.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Why don’t you show her in, and we can deal with the car in a moment. Can you have someone keep an eye on it while we talk?”

She’s not especially threatening.

GM: “She didn’t want to leave the car, ma’am. But we can force her out.”

Caroline: The Ventrue’s frown deepens. "She’s done something rather rash… "

“So what’s her request? To pull the car inside the fence, then she’ll come inside?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yes, ma’am.”

Caroline: She ponders for a moment.

I don’t think she’d have the means to make a bomb or anything like that.

“Bring the car in,” she tells Hayes. “Then bring her in.”

GM: “Yes, ma’am,” Hayes repeats.

GM: Cécilia nods for Caroline to retreat. The door opens and closes.

“What do you think this is about?” her sister asks. “Maman said great pain and great longing-”

Cécilia is cut off by a blood-curdling scream from outside.

There’s more shouts, perhaps from the guards.

Thudding footfalls, approaching the door.

Cécilia yells for Caroline to get back.

It slams open and shut.

Jocelyn, half-carried by Hayes and Jeremy, collapses into the house. Smoke wafts from her blackened, still-crackling flesh as she writhes and screams. She’s completely naked. The sun has shown her exposed skin little mercy.

Meg wails and falls over her domitor.

Caroline: The sight and sound of Jocelyn, seared and blackened, screaming in agony, is like a kick in the gut. It tears at Caroline, rips at her like Meadows once did. Pulls her to action almost instinctively.

She flips over the edge of the rug and uses it to smother the last of the smoke and flame.

GM: Hayes simultaneously throws off Meg and throws Jocelyn to the floor to make her stop, drop, and roll. Jeremy runs deeper into the house, then runs back with the pitcher of ice water that every Southern family keeps in their fridge and douses the Toreador with it over the head.

CAR… OL… L… INE… !” Jocelyn screams.

Hayes pulls out a phone, all but certainly to dial 911.

“No, don’t,” Cécilia preempts sharply.

“Ma’am, she needs a hospital,” Hayes states incredulously.

“Y’all got a burn unit in this house or what?!” Jeremy barks.

More exclamations go up from the two men as Jocelyn tries to crawl towards Caroline.

Caroline: The streams tear at her. Pull at something in her. Something that meant the worst. It rips and tears inside her. She stares at Jocelyn’s charred form, remembering too well her brief experience with the sun’s kiss.

“Oh, Jocelyn… what have you done.”

GM: “Car… ol… l… ine…” she repeats as the two hold her fast. "H… elp… "

Caroline: “Let her go!” she demands, kneeling before the Toreador.

GM: The men let go. Jocelyn shakily wraps her blackened arms around Caroline’s waist and buries her face against the Ventrue’s belly. The smell of cooked flesh and burnt hair wafts up Caroline’s nostrils.

“It… h… urts… "

Meg cries and runs her hands over her domitor.

“Don’t call 911!” Cécilia repeats as Jeremy pulls out a phone.

“Ma’am, you crazy?!” the ex-cop repeats.

Caroline: The yelling between the two rips Caroline’s attention away from what really matters to her. She lets out the Beast, cowering and whining though it is in the day, to begin to smooth the edges of Jeremy’s and Hayes’ concern.

“Don’t,” Caroline responds to him. “It won’t help her right now, and it’ll hurt all of us. Call Fuller. Tell him I need my medication. He’ll know what it means.”

She looks down at Jocelyn’s frail form. “I can take care of her.”

GM: “Trust us, please,” entreats Cécilia.

Hayes looks torn for a moment, then requests, “What’s his phone number, ma’am?”

Jeremy looks less torn as he dials a number that takes him only three taps. “Hey, we got—I don’t know, a burn victim?!”

Caroline: She looks up at Jeremy with a flash of anger. “Hand her the phone.”

GM: Yet the Ventrue’s will is not what it is with the sun’s wrath invisibly bearing down. The stubborn man throws off the mental command with an, “Yeah, address is 14-”

Jeremy dives out of the way as the chandelier abruptly snaps from its holder, hitting the floor with a resounding crash. Broken glass and crystal flies everywhere. Miraculously, none touch either of the Devillers, but Meg shrieks and Hayes yells as stray fragments open red lines across their skin. Cécilia snatches up the dropped phone.

Maman! Are you all right!?

I am… well, sweet child… knowing you are safe…

“I’m sorry… that was a prank by my brother. No, no… it’s just a loud sound system. I am so sorry… we promise it won’t happen again.”

But Maman, you’ll burn through your body. You already nursed me and Caroline, and Simmone for so long this morning…

What is done is done, my dears. Tend to this crisis. I shall keep the others preoccupied.

Jeremy stares at the sisters, then points at Jocelyn and yells as he advances towards Cécilia, “You blind?! She needs a hospital!”

“Jeremy, she’s going to be just fine! Please tr-”

“Like hell she is! The fuck’s she doin’ naked!?”

Jocelyn gives a broken smile as she stares up at Caroline. Even her gums and tongue are shriveled and black.

“Caroline… I knew… you cared… I knew… you still… cared… "

Meg weeps over her domitor. “J-Jocelyn! Drink from me! Please!”

Caroline: The yelling security, operator on the line, Jeremy advancing on Cécilia, Meg’s pathetic sobbing, Jocelyn’s charred body and withered, blackened bands holding to her, the savagery of her self-immolating manipulation. And of course her throbbing head, the weight of the sun on her shoulders as never before. And the bond tearing at her, telling her so urgently she must help Jocelyn. Must forgive Jocelyn.

It threatens to swallow Caroline in the moment.

It doesn’t. She stands, Jocelyn’s hands wrapped pathetically around her calves, the charred face laying on her feet.

“Mr. May, you will recall whose home you are in and in whose employ.” Her voice snaps like a whip across the room. She tosses her phone to Hayes to keep him occupied. “Under Fuller. Tell him to bring along Ms. Widney as well.”

She turns back to May. “You are here to protect this family. You are failing in that.”

GM: Jeremy finally balks as the force of the Ventrue’s words, backed by both Man and Beast, washes over him.

“All right, ma’am, if callin’ 911 ain’t the thing to do here, then… what in heck’s name can I do for her?”

Hayes looks like he’s wondering the same thing as he dials the number and repeats how “Miss Malveaux-Devillers needs her medication.” He doesn’t say anything else, but he doesn’t take his eyes off the trio as he hangs up. Blood steadily trickles from his cuts.

“…yes, things just got a little heated… we’ve turned it off. We’re so sorry to have bothered you, again. I know every minute could save a life… yes, of course. Goodbye.” Cécilia also hangs up.

Caroline: “Help carry her further inside,” Caroline answers. She reviews her knowledge of the home for the best place to shelter Jocelyn. Her irritation with the Toreador threatens to bubble over, but fades and is replaced by something else.

It’s her own fault. She should have had someone read into the supernatural outside. Even if she couldn’t have ever expected Jocelyn to do something this rash, she should have been more prepared for something.

“Find something we can put her on, a rug, a towel, something so you aren’t actually touching her when we move her.”

Caroline knows well how easy it is to tear seared flesh from the muscle underneath.

GM: Cécilia delicately makes her way past the glass and retrieves a broom to start sweeping it aside. Hayes and May retrieve a bedsheet they get Jocelyn onto, who continues to moan for Caroline. One room seems as good as any to move the injured Kindred. Cécilia volunteers her bedroom. Meg, still cut and bleeding, begs Caroline to “give her my blood!” Jeremy and Hayes look at her like she’s a lunatic.

Caroline: The Ventrue snatches Meg as the two security guards turn a corner and snaps at her, mouth full of teeth,

“You have shattered the peace of my family with your stunt. Do not continue to tear at the fabric of the Masquerade in my home.”

GM: Meg flinches under Caroline’s gaze, defensively raising her stick-thin arms as she whispers,

“P-Please. Ma’am. I just… I just want to help her! She wanted to die! She was, she was going to, to kill herself… she… she… "

Caroline: “So you brought her here to immolate herself in front of my family?”

GM: “You’d save her!” Meg begs. "If, if it wasn’t here… no one, no one would’ve… "

Caroline: “No one would have cared,” Caroline fills in.

GM: The ghoul just gives a crushed look.

“I c-couldn’t stop her… I, I tried, I w-wanted to… " she softly cries.

Caroline: Caroline feels again that surge of anger towards Jocelyn. Her childish, outlandish reaction.

And also an unnatural thrill at the lengths she’s gone to.

GM: "She’s, she’s… you haven’t seen her… " Meg begs. "She’s, she’s just… she spends all night, all night just crying… she doesn’t do her art… she hasn’t taken any pictures in, in forever… she doesn’t do anything… just lies in bed… "

“Roxanne and Wyatt, they’re the only… only Storyvilles left… and she just told them to fuck off… "

Caroline: “I didn’t want to see her,” Caroline replies acerbically.

GM: Meg actually falls to her knees and clutches the hem of Caroline’s skirt as she half-exclaims, half-begs,

“You’re killing her!”

Caroline: “She’s killing herself,” Caroline snarls back.

But she knows that’s not entirely true. Remembers her part in this. Remembers how she’d hoped it would make things easier.

GM: Tears leak from the ghoul’s eyes. "P… please… help her, please… she just wants to love you… she loves you… "

Caroline: “What a pleasant way of showing it,” she half-snarls, whirling to follow the men carrying the charred vampire.

“Come along,” she snaps back at Meg.

GM: Meg gets up and meekly follows behind.

Caroline: Caroline has the men set Jocelyn down upstairs, away from the rest of the family. “Don’t tell anyone about this except Fuller when he arrives,” she instructs them firmly. “Get the car moved.”

She pauses before they depart. “She’ll be okay. But even if she weren’t, bringing the police and paramedics charging in here would never be a better alternative. Not for a stranger.”

When Jeremy objects, she looks deep into his eyes. “Jeremy, trust me when I assure you, I know what I am doing.”

She needs to wipe this memory, but after earlier just doesn’t trust herself. Not while the sun is up, in any case.

GM: Caroline? How would you like to handle this? Cécilia asks.

Caroline: But people have bought silence other ways as well, for lesser wrongs.

GM: The guards outside might have seen things, too.

Caroline: I need them quiet for a while, just until nightfall… until I can wipe it. Fuller will help mop it up with Widney when they arrive.

GM: If it’s too much trouble, Maman has… ways, of obscuring things. But I’m concerned what exerting herself right now could do.

If she’d been at her full strength I think she’d have seen this coming, too.

Caroline: She saw enough, Caroline replies. We just need time. I need time. She suspects the others will keep quiet for now… talking about the secrets of the rich and powerful is fantastic way to end up in a bad way.

Do you think they’ll keep quiet? she asks, not trusting her judgment.

GM: Jeremy is… stubborn. We wouldn’t be the first employers of his who’ve let him go for doing things his own way. And Daniel wasn’t very happy with the work Blackwatch made him do or the people he worked with.

But I think they’d be a lot more cooperative if they believed Jocelyn was going to make it. If I were in their shoes, I know I’d be rushing her to the hospital. Burn victims need professional care.

Caroline: I don’t think they’ll react well to miraculous healing, Caroline answers.

GM: You’re right that’d also be hard to explain. Hmm. Maman could intervene, if there’s no other way. I hadn’t realized the day weakened Kindred so much.

Caroline: I could try again… Caroline admits.

GM: Maybe that’s for the best. Jocelyn must seem like a girl who’s about to die or be scarred for life, to anyone who doesn’t know what she is. I don’t think Jeremy and Daniel are going to be okay with that.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods wearily.

“Jeremy,” she calls after the departing bodyguard. “There actually is something you could do.”

GM: “Ma’am?” he asks gladly.

Caroline: She reaches out again with her will, trying to pacify his mind. She almost feels bad, for his eagerness to help.

GM: The man’s face goes slack at her command.

Caroline: She smooths over his memory of Jocelyn’s arrival, sanding down the rough edges of the badly burned vampire and leaving only the arrival of one of Caroline’s friends with a twisted ankle.

She hadn’t wanted to walk up to the house and needed a hand on the stairs.

GM: Jeremy seems to buy it and apologizes to Caroline for his previous behavior.

“Your family hired me to do a job, ma’am, and I threw a real hissy fit. I’ll make up to y’all for it. Swear I will.”

Caroline: Caroline eyes the supposed killer of her family’s tormentor, then smiles.

“I just might give you the chance.”

Jeremy is taken care of. Can you stop Hayes at the door so I can work him before the two get to talk again.

GM: Yes. We’re in my bedroom with Jocelyn.

“Carol… ine… !” calls out her one-time lover’s voice.

Caroline: The Ventrue steps back into the bedroom with Hayes and Cécilia.

GM: Jeremy still wants to “lend the little lady a hand” and follows after Caroline until told to go back outside. Meg trails after her. Jocelyn, lying on the bed, moans for her lover. Hayes does not look happy and is saying something to Cécilia about “being through with that kind of work.”

Caroline: Caroline sends Jeremy back downstairs and rounds on Hayes. She bids he follow her back into the hall and like Jeremy before him leans hard onto his mind, straining against the tyranny of the sun to wash away his anger, his concerns, his fears. A sprained ankle and some scrapes were nothing to get worked up over, were they?

GM: Nothing indeed, when there’s no need for a hospital trip then. Hayes takes Meg away to clean and dress her wounds over the rail-thin ghoul’s protests. Caroline and Cécilia are left alone with Jocelyn.

Caroline: The Ventrue bites back her growing hunger, tries to bite back her anger toward Jocelyn. Isn’t sure which feeds the other more strongly right now.

There’s a scowl plastered across her face, drawn in a lean and hungry way. She doesn’t even know what to say to Joceyln as she stands over her again.

GM: The Toreador shakily gets up and embraces her. The smell of burnt hair lingers in Caroline’s nose.

“Oh, Caroline… "

“You… saved… me… "

Caroline: I’m fairly certain that was the building, Caroline thinks, but narrowly bites back.

“Why are you here, Jocelyn?” she asks instead.

The smell of burnt flesh is nauseating, beaten back only by Caroline’s lack of respiration. Its presence in Cécilia’s room is an insult to the sanctity of the house.

One night. Not even one night and my problems are already following me here.

And Jocelyn is a problem.

GM: Jocelyn just stares at her for several moments. Red wells from the corners of her eyes.

“I love you… "

“I never… said it… "

Caroline: “So you set yourself on fire in front of me?” Caroline doesn’t quite shriek, fingernails biting into her palms.

GM: "I… I had to… after what you said, how you never… never wanted to see me, ag… "

Jocelyn doesn’t finish the sentence. She buries her head against the taller Kindred’s shoulder.

“But I knew… you still cared… I knew… "

“And if you didn’t… then fuck it… rather brighten a sunrise… "

Cécilia doesn’t say anything as she stands to the side, but her expression looks pained for them both.

Caroline: That thought both stills and sets her dead heart racing. The bond pushes and pulls on Caroline with her lover’s (however she might once label her ‘former,’ the Blood knows better) declarations of devotion alongside the morbid thought of Jocelyn’s sudden destruction.

She wants to wrap her in her embrace and simultaneously shake her with fury. Wants to sink her fangs into her throat (and God does she want to do that for so many reasons right now) and throw her out the window to burn away.

At this point, she doesn’t even know how much is real and how much is the bond.

GM: "Caroline, you asked… asked how you could make me happy… I was a bitch… I just wanna go back… to how things were… that’s what’d make me happy… "

Caroline: “You can’t keep doing this,” she almost growls.

But she places her arm around her former lover all the same.

GM: "I don’t want to… I don’t… I love you… " Jocelyn cries, sinking into those arms.

Caroline: “You hurt me today,” she grinds out. “You hurt my family. You endangered other things I care about. What if I hadn’t been awake when you came in on fire?”

GM: Jocelyn blinks dully.

“I… I’m sorry… I just hurt, I hurt so bad… "

Caroline: “How did you even know I was here and not the Giani Building?”

GM: “We are okay, Caroline,” Cécilia quietly offers. She looks at Jocelyn for a moment. “Maman is… still okay. The girls aren’t hurt. I’m unhurt. It’s mainly Jeremy and Daniel who were upset.”

“I… I tried there, first… " Jocelyn mumbles, then pulls back to look Caroline in the eye. Red still leaks from the corners of hers. "Does… does it matter… "

“Do you l… love me, Caroline… ?”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t know the answer to that question. But she knows what’ll happen, depending on which answer she provides. Knows how Jocelyn will react.

Knows that she’s ultimately to blame.

To cast her away is to destroy her. Destroy her for no crime greater than her affection for Caroline.

To take her back is to burden herself with her. To twist the knife in her, to embrace responsibility for her.

She knows the wiser choice. Knows what she should do. Ultimately, Jocelyn is ‘just’ another relationship. She has other suitors. She expects she’ll have more still after the truth comes out. More politically viable ones, too—Jocelyn’s Blood is too thin, her influence too weak, her temperament too volatile to be a good long-term match.

That’s what her father would tell her.

GM: Do you need some time to think about the answer to that question? Cécilia asks. We can give you that—some time, and space.

Advice, too, if you want to talk things over with Maman. Relationship advice is what moms are for, after all.

Caroline: I know what I should do, Caroline answers.

GM: Then we will support you in your decision, whatever it is.

Caroline: Her sire too, she expects, will be none too impressed by Jocelyn.

And yet… she’s done this. She’s destroyed the young (how much younger she seems, though they’re close in age) artist’s unlife. Not entirely, but how much has her Requiem spiraled apart since Caroline entered it.

She knows she should be strong. Should make the harder, right choice.

“Of course,” she answers.

GM: Jocelyn’s blackened, sun-scarred face lights up.

“You… you do… ?”

She doesn’t choke on her next words. She’s dead. More red just leaks from her eyes.

“Say it. I want to hear you say it.”

Caroline: “I wouldn’t have pushed you away if I didn’t,” Caroline answers.

GM: Jocelyn squeezes her.

“I want to hear you say it,” she repeats.

Caroline: “I love you.”

The words slide out more easily than Caroline might have thought. Much easier than the ones she should say, lubricated with the bond. They’re not even a lie.

Just not the whole truth.

GM: Jocelyn sobs, but there’s a happiness in the sound too.

A desperate, lonely, ravenous happiness.

She holds Caroline tight. She doesn’t say anything else.

Caroline: Caroline holds her back for a moment.

“You need to rest… you need to eat… Christ, you’re a mess.”

GM: Jocelyn gives a choked-sounding laugh.

“I’ll be… I’ll be better in the evening… "

She rubs her head against the crook of Caroline’s neck and smiles that same charred, broken smile.

“It’s all… better… now… "


Monday afternoon, 7 March 2016

Caroline: Caroline boards up Jocelyn and puts her to sleep for the rest of the day up in Cécilia’s room—a problem to be dealt with later. If her nerves weren’t already bloody nubs before, they are now. She helps herself to a change of clothing from Cécilia’s wardrobe when she’s done—the others smell like burnt flesh—before withdrawing.

GM: Cécilia is glad to provide and closes the door behind them.

“You could tell her that you erased my memory, once she’s back up. She’s probably going to be worried about the Masquerade once she’s feeling better.”

Caroline: “Or I could erase hers,” Caroline answers. “Assuming she even wakes tonight. She’s going to burn through a lot of blood trying to undo what she’s done to herself.”

“I didn’t get the feeling she had a lot to begin with. It’s possible she could throw herself into torpor.”

Wouldn’t that be convenient. For a time.

GM: Cécilia’s face flickers. “I’m not sure that’s setting up your relationship for success, Caroline, to… well, violate the sanctity of her mind. It’s one thing already to tell lies.”

She looks at her sister concernedly.

“How are you feeling? About her, and all of this?”

Caroline: “Angry. Frustrated.” She runs a hand through her hair. “Guilty.”

GM: “Do you love her?” Cécilia asks.

Caroline: “I care about her,” she deflects. Walking with Cécilia away from the bedroom. “But whether I love her or not may not really matter.”

GM: “I think it may matter a lot. But I understand if that’s a hard question to answer right now. You do care about her, and she put you in an extremely difficult place, emotionally.”

Caroline: “We’re awful for each other,” Caroline answers. “She can be such a child. And if—when—he acknowledges me, the politics of all that will eat her alive.”

GM: “Maman thinks it’s a matter of when, not if. For good or ill, he isn’t a prince to do things by half-measures. Or who likes dealing in non-absolutes. She thought he’d either destroy you or wholly accept you.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, clearly reassured by the thought.

GM: “I know how important that is to you. I don’t want you to have to worry about it.”

Caroline: “I’m not,” she lies transparently but reassuringly. “Just a mindset shift.”

GM: “You could go to sleep, so it’ll come sooner and you can finally get it over with,” Cécilia offers. “Maman and I can take care of Jocelyn.”

Caroline: “I need to fix her,” Caroline doesn’t quite whisper. “I did this to her. I need to make it right, before… well.”

GM: “Before you see your sire?” Cécilia asks.

Caroline: “Before it’s too late,” she answers.

GM: “I think this is a conversation we should have with Maman. In person.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I didn’t want to strain her for it earlier.”

GM: It’s then that Caroline notices Meg. Still hunched in place not far from the bedroom door.

“H… how is… ?” the ghoul squeaks.

There’s bandages over her.

The coppery aroma wafting from beneath is impossibly tempting.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite recoil from Meg, but she jerks away.

“When did that happen?!” she snarls.

She can feel her dead heart all but racing.

GM: “Wh-wha… ?” Meg stammers helplessly.

Caroline: Her vision narrows, tunneling in on her. “Did she make you do it?”

GM: Imagine, perhaps.

But it’s been a too-long time since she felt that.

Caroline: Perhaps. But she can practically hear Meg’s heart beating. Pushing that delicious blood through her…

GM: “Wh-what, I don’t, don’t know what you mean, m-ma’am,” the ghoul stammers, shrinking back further.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

Cécilia briskly walks towards Meg, pulls her up, and half-leads, half-pulls the ghoul back into the bedroom.

“You can take care of Jocelyn. It’s not safe for you to be close to Caroline with those cuts… "

Meg looks at Caroline furtively, then disappears after Cécilia. Caroline’s sister re-emerges without the ghoul shortly later.

“I’m so sorry, it completely slipped my mind she was still out there and had fresh wounds.”

She frowns with concern. “I can feel how hungry you are. Don’t worry, Maman can nurse you.”

Maman. Can you get the others somewhere else? Just for a little while?

Caroline: “It’s fine.” Caroline’s retreated into the corner, to a chair in the dark.

But it’s not. The smell of the blood still lingering in the room is infuriating. The Beast knows it’s somewhere. Knows a vessel was just here.

“More manipulation,” she growls. “I don’t think Meg started attending courses on a whim.”

GM: Cécilia frowns in confusion. “I’m sorry, courses?”

She shakes her head, then takes Caroline’s hand. “Come on, let’s get to Maman. Or would it be easier if I brought her up here to you?”

Caroline: “She was never my type before,” Caroline answers.

“College students,” she fills in after a moment.

GM: “Ah. Your feeding restriction.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I asked Fuller to bring someone by.”

GM: “Would it be easier on you if Maman came up here, if you’re not feeling well?” Cécilia repeats.

Caroline: “No, I can come down,” Caroline answers, rising.

GM: “All right, if you’re sure.”

They return to the living room. All of the others are gone except for Simmone. Abélia rises from the couch, her face welling with sympathy and shared pain. She wordlessly pulls Caroline into her embrace.

“Oh, my sweet, precious Caroline… " she murmurs, stroking the Ventrue’s hair, "I am so very, very sorry. This was to be a special day for you, and trouble has followed you to our door… "

She sinks to the floor, pulling Caroline with her so gently the heiress doesn’t even feel her legs fold. The top of her mother’s dress falls away. Midnight black wells from her nipple.

“We’ll make it better, my sweet… we’ll make it all better… "

“Now, first… let me feed you.”

Caroline: It’s almost profanely intimate, this tender thing Abélia offers. Drinking in darkness, suckling from her mother, all tinged with the eroticism always associated with feeding.

She wants to be bashful. Wants to hide it, at least from Simmone. But she’s so thirsty.

GM: That thirst is sated and more. It’s all that it was the last time: a whirlpool that irresistibly drags everything in. It tastes like midnight. It tastes like the ocean’s deepest, blackest depths: bone-crushingly heavy, and yet oddly welcoming, as if Caroline were one of the boneless fish so at home in those strange seas. It’s sweet like honey, thick like molasses, and fast-flowing like water. It rolls down Caroline’s gullet in a thick, comforting stream. It warms her. Fills her. Sustains her.

She feels her mother’s hands stroking her hair as she steadily sucks from the breast’s soft nipple.

“Drink, my treasure… drink all that you need… "

Simmone crawls up and starts suckling from their mother’s other breast.

Caroline: Caroline sucks greedily, soothing the Beast’s ravenous hunger, taking the edge off it. It’s better than blood. Maybe better than sex. She wants to keep going, keep drinking. It’s a balm against the Beast. A reprieve from the fatigue of the day’s fury. Nothing else matters, it all falls away.

But there are other things. Other worries. She recalls Cécilia’s earlier concern—about the strain on their mother already. About how much of this new form she’s already given.

She breaks away with a gasp of air, filling her dead lungs and suddenly parched throat with air rather than the ecstasy Abélia offers. It’s like the gasp of a drowning woman coming up for air, an aggressive, almost violent thing.

GM: Yet though Caroline pulls away, her sister does not. She continues to suck. And suck. And suck. Their mother looks so small and thin. She makes no move to separate herself from Simmone.

Caroline: “Darling.” Caroline’s cold hand sweeps the hair back behind Simmone’s ear. “That’s enough.”

GM: Simmone doesn’t pause. Her head continues to bob back and forth.

Caroline: “Simmone.” Her fingers cup the younger girl’s chin.

GM: There’s no pause. There’s not even acknowledgement. Caroline found it hard enough to break away, even with her strength of will. What chance does the underdeveloped ten-year-old have?

Abélia topples backwards like an expired wind-up toy.

Simmone doesn’t try to catch herself as she falls forward. She just keeps suckling.

“Maman!” Cécilia exclaims, dropping to their mother’s side. “Simmone, you’re hurting her!”

Caroline: Caroline’s firm fingers on Simmone’s chin become a vice as she turns her sister from their mother. Her eyes are hard.

GM: Simmone flails and gives a shrill, wordless scream as she tries to pull away.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t relent, turning Simmone to face her. “You’re hurting Maman,” she tells her disapprovingly.

GM: “J’ai soif!!!!” she shrieks.

(“I’m thirsty!!!!”)

She starts loudly crying.

Caroline: “Tu es gourmand,” Caroline corrects less harshly.

(“You’re greedy.”)

“Look at Maman!” she instructs. “How weak she is. Do you want to hurt her? To hurt all of us?”

GM: “J’AI SOIF!!!” Simmone screeches, still crying and flailing.

“Simmone, please don’t!” Cécilia exclaims, holding their sister’s arms in place.

She’s a ghoul, Caroline, I think the addiction is all that’s talking now… and we’ve always given her everything she wants…

Caroline: That cannot continue, Caroline answers. It will not.

Not while she’s there. She pulls the thrashing girl away from their mother and wraps her arms around her as she flails.

GM: Simmone screams and shrieks and blubbers and cries.

“J’AI SOIF!!!”

“J’AI SOIF!!!”

“J’AI SOIF!!!”

Cécilia casts a pitying, pained glance at their sister, then lays her hands on Abélia’s shoulders and closes her eyes.

She’s still in there… her body hasn’t discorporated yet. But she’s put it into stasis, to conserve what strength it has left. That’s not very much…

“J’AI SOIF!!!” Simmone sobs.

“J’AI SOIF!!!”

“J’AI SOIF!!!”

Caroline: Caroline simply holds her sister, holding her tightly to her breast as the thrashes while passing calming reassurance through their shared blood.

You’ll be all right. It will pass. You aren’t hurt. Relax… rest…

To Cécilia, She’ll need a new one. A stronger one. I had no idea she would drain so quickly.

GM: I was surprised too. But she’s given a lot. She nursed you yesterday. Me too, when I was asleep, and more deeply than you—I could barely even walk before she did. She nursed Simmone again this morning, and Simmone took a lot more than you. She dropped the chandelier back then with Jocelyn, and shielded us from it. She nursed you again, then Simmone again, and Simmone kept taking…

She’s aware, still. You can talk to her… it’s just easier if you’re touching her.

Simmone wails, then sobs, then whimpers, then goes limp and closes her eyes.

Cécilia approaches Caroline and holds out her arms to take Simmone.

“Let’s take them up to Maman’s bedroom. Why don’t you carry her so you can talk? She isn’t very heavy.”

Caroline: Caroline passes the now more docile Simmone to Cécilia and carefully takes up Abélia’s limp form.

Maman? she probes tentatively.

GM: Cécilia sags a bit to shoulder the motionless girl, but remarks, “At least I’m not wearing heels like you did at Commander’s Palace. I don’t know how you managed.”

Caroline: “I cheated,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Oh, I know. But she still weighs a good 60 or more pounds, even with perfect balance,” Cécilia remarks as they start for the stairs.

“I guess I’m lucky we’re also on the lighter side.”

Caroline: Dead muscles don’t tire, Caroline answers. “It makes some things easier.”

GM: I am here, child.

I’m so proud of you both, looking after your sister so well.

Caroline: I needed to look after you better, Caroline answers. You’re going to need a new body much sooner than we’d planned.

GM: There’s the sound of a fluttering laugh at Caroline’s first words.

I know this form’s limitations, my dear. Your and your sister’s hungers must needs be sated.

Caroline: Hungers, perhaps, but not desires, Caroline counters.

GM: Your happiness is my highest purpose, sweet child. Desire the moon and stars themselves, if your heart yearns for them. Maman shall provide.

Your other sisters are swimming in the pool. I have kept the noise from all this tumult from disturbing them—fret not on their accounts.

Caroline: Happiness must sometimes give way to good, to purpose, Caroline offers, probingly. It requires growth, of some kind.

GM: Your happiness is its own purpose.

Your happiness is my purpose.

Your happiness is good.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue. It’s a conversation for later, with more parties to it.

I’ll find someone, to restore you to your full strength. Soon. She already has someone in mind.

GM: There is a ghoul within the house already. Does her life mean aught to you?

Ah… but perhaps that, too, is a conversation to have following another.

Caroline: I have another in mind, Caroline answers. One deserving of a traitor’s death.

GM: The four arrive at the master bedroom. It’s decorated in the classical style with whites, golds, and soft yellows, and large enough to have its own fireplace, couch, and multiple chairs with plenty of space left over. The curtains are tightly drawn even as the lights glow to life.

Cécilia lays down Simmone on the bed, pulls back the comforter, and tucks her in. She lays her hand on Abélia’s shoulder as Caroline sets down their mother’s nigh-weightless body.

Waste not, want not. Very practical, my dear.

Caroline: Is there anything we can give you other than that? she asks.

GM: Time. To discorporate this body so soon after the destruction of my prior one shall risk further unhappiness to your and your sisters’ minds.

Bring your traitor here. Leave them bound, bled, and alive within the circle. When the time is right, I shall draw them into myself.

Caroline: How long? she asks.

GM: Until your minds’ troubled waters are smooth and calm.

Caroline: Caroline gives a grim smile at that.

GM: Your will is stronger than you believe, my dear. Though a mother always worries, I worry least for you… in this matter.

Caroline: Caroline nods. It will be done, then.

GM: But I do worry for you in another. Let us discuss Jocelyn.

You poor, poor thing.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, then slides over, bids Cécilia join in.

I made that mess. In more ways than one.

GM: We are all of us responsible for our own actions, my dear. Though others may influence our circumstances, we alone govern our responses. We are the captains of our souls.

Jocelyn has hurt you. Deeply. You care for her, still. You cherish your happiness together. You desire her continued safety, prosperity, and happiness.

Caroline: Truth Caroline doesn’t deny. The wounds from the last time she saw her were scarcely scabbed over before Jocelyn tore them open, deeper than before. But those wounds only exist because there was something to be harmed.

GM: Yet she has hurt you. She has hurt that which you care deeply for.

Caroline: I cannot have someone in my Requiem so reckless, so disdainful of the consequences of their actions on everything I care for, she states.

GM: Yes. In her rages, she lashes out against that which you would would preserve.

Is that your biggest problem with her, Caroline, or are there others? Cécilia asks.

Caroline: She bites her lip.

She will never been an equal, she answers after a moment. And that gap between us will only ever grow. In status, in power, in influence, in Blood. That imbalance too will endanger her, make her a target. A weakness to be exploited.

GM: How many steps removed from the Dark Father is that Blood? inquires Abélia.

Caroline: Ten? Eleven? Perhaps Twelve?

Caroline doesn’t recall ever asking her specifically. But she knows she’s further than Caroline. Significantly further.

GM: Ah, twelve! The Blood of Caine runs as water in these nights!

Such worms were left to shrivel and die in times of old.

Caroline: She was not the least of her krewe, she reflects on Gwen’s thin-blooded childe. But none were strong in the Blood. At least one was thirteen steps…

There’s a flash of anger at Gwen, who set this entire matter off.

GM: Pfah. Better such wretches were never sired to blight their founder’s lines. Your kind may well exhaust the ‘eternal’ curse of Caine in their hubris and selfishness.

Caroline: The line continues… if abnormally. I have one of the thin-bloods in my care.

GM: Oh, my dear! For what purpose? Abélia exclaims.

Caroline: Caroline rolls the question over.

She was with child when Embraced. Her Embrace was what split Jocelyn and I in the first place. One of her krewemates did it in the moment. She rolls the thought over again before continuing, The child still lived within her.

Perhaps it was simply pity. Perhaps because there should be some lines not crossed by my kind. The alternative was their execution.

GM: Oh, my poor, poor, sweet child… you know not what you do!

If you have any care for your standing, the regard of your sire, the warnings of your grandsires, or the prophecies of old—cleanse your house of this filth, lest the taint fester and spread!

Caroline: The force of Abélia’s reaction shocks Caroline.

The seneschal knew. He suggested that I should foster her, until the birth…

And there was something else… something that happened between her and one of the hounds. She saw something, said something, that deeply shook him.

GM: You invite doom, my child! Harbor not Gehenna’s harbingers within your house!

Philip knows the words of your forebearers better than I—he is given overly much to sentiment. His lover does not share that weakness.

The last generations cannot be permitted to spread. Such abominations must be exterminated where they are found, for the good of all your race.

Caroline: It is a stopgap, Caroline answers defensively. Until the child is born. That is not so far away…

She is hardly the only one to prowl the city. And she does little enough prowling.

GM: Oh, my poor, sweet Caroline… better that such a child is never born at all! To bring such an obscenity into the world, whose first breath reeks of the grave, is to blight the whole of the world.

Your sire understands this. His scourge undertakes a more vital mission than the young ones realize.

Caroline: Caroline all but flinches under her mother’s admonishment, weathering each word as though it were a blow.

You bid me murder a pregnant woman.

GM: Every one of the last generations slain is a victory. Every one of their screams that greets the pyres is a respite to all your race. Every child strangled in a warmthless womb is a kindness done. I implore you, my treasure—suffer not this doom upon your house. If conscience stays your hand, allow your Maman to see to this matter.

Caroline: Why? she demands. Why is it so?

GM: Silence.

Maman? asks Cécilia. Caroline raises, I think, a valid question. We haven’t spoken about any of this. Surely if she is to be complicit in the death of a pregnant woman, she should at least know why.

Oh, my poor, innocent, precious daughters, it is not well to speak of such things.

Is there harm in simply speaking of it, Maman?

Words always carry the power to harm, my Cécilia.

Caroline: You would not speak them in this matter, Caroline fills in.

GM: There is an almost soft, hapless sigh.

Gehenna.

Caroline: The end of the world, Caroline fills in. At least of my kind.

GM: Their existence invites doom upon all, my child.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue. She simply doesn’t agree either.

Jocelyn’s Blood. She changes the subject. Is only the beginning.

GM: There is another sad sigh from her mother, but Abélia replies,

If her extended bloodline is no cause for embarrassment in of itself, your sire may tolerate her as a private amusement of yours.

Caroline: But nothing of meaning.

GM: She will never share your throne, but she may share your bed.

Caroline: Caroline’s seen plenty of those arrangements among the kine.

GM: Yes, my dear. The dead are not so different from the living, in truth.

Caroline: I might spare her that, Caroline muses. I should have spared her all of this, but I was greedy.

GM: Is there anything to spare her from, at least there? asks Cécilia. Would she want to share your throne, and not simply your bed?

Caroline: How many people have you loved, deeply, that you might share? Caroline asks back.

GM: Share in what sense, I suppose? The situations and expectations are similar with Kindred, but there are some important differences.

Yes, my dear, concurs Abélia. There is no impetus among your kind towards marriage… and lovers of co-equal stature to yours may be more tolerant of amusements that pose no threat to them. Monogamy is a construct of your living culture.

Caroline: Caroline muses. She hadn’t considered that. Not in truth. She thinks of how viciously possessive she was at the idea that others were with Jocelyn.

But then, she can acknowledge her own worst tendencies.

Other Kindred will use her, she continues on.

GM: Other Cainites will seek to use our family, the Malveauxes, and all that you care for.

Other Kindred may already want to use her, Cécilia points out. If they find out you were in a relationship. They might figure you still have feelings for her. Keeping her close has drawbacks, but advantages too. It’s easier to protect her.

Caroline: You would dismiss all factors but the personal then, Maman?

GM: External factors may be altered, my dear. External factors are malleable. Feelings of the heart are not so easily altered.

What does your heart feel for Jocelyn?

Caroline: Anger. Frustration. Affection. Desire. Responsibility. Most of the former of late—these last meetings have been bitter things.

GM: Your heart is conflicted. If the world were as you would have it, sweet Caroline, what place would Jocelyn have?

Caroline: I would see what the future might hold for us, Caroline admits.

GM: Then let’s try to build that future, Cécilia says. You’ve mentioned being angry at Jocelyn a lot of times, and I can see why. What could she do to make up for those times, or simply stop doing in the future?

Caroline: Hurting herself to get my attention. Playing the victim.

GM: Do you think she’ll continue to if you get back together?

Caroline: It’s worked for her, Caroline answers.

GM: That’s tricky, then. How do you think we could get her to stop?

Caroline: Threat? Boundaries? Something might be better than nothing for her.

Or rewards… a better incentive. I have what she wants.

GM: So you do, my dear. To discourage such behavior in the future, it must cease to be rewarded in the present.

Caroline: You’ve given me much to think about, Caroline tells her mother.

GM: It warms my heart to hear such, my dear. Whatever you decide, forget not: you deserve happiness.

Caroline: Is there anything else? Any other matters requiring immediate attention?

GM: Would you like us to hold onto Jocelyn for a while? Cécilia asks. If you just need space to think about things, or simply want her kept safe?

Caroline: Caroline considers it.

Better for her to awaken. I need to know what else she may have done, and we may not have many more opportunities to talk after the next few nights.

GM: All right. She might slide into torpor, but I suppose you can revive her anytime.

Caroline: She’d enjoy that, Caroline answers. I’ll remove her tonight either way, and put some of my security in place. Until we can get you back on your feet.

GM: So sweetly devoted a child. Your father was blind to the treasure in his lap.

Caroline: Rest, Mother, Caroline tells her. Let me take care of you for once.

GM: Your father was blind to the treasure in his lap, Abélia repeats.

Cécilia rolls up the covers to tuck their mother in. Simmone turns, eyes still closed, and wraps her arms around Abélia.

Caroline: Caroline closes the door behind them as she and Cécilia withdraw.

“I’m sorry. I know you tried so hard to build a body that would last.”

GM: Cécilia nods. “Thanks. I’m glad it was able to last her this long, at least. We knew it wasn’t going to be as resilient as one of her usual bodies. And I do feel good knowing we can both contribute if we’re ever in a situation like this again.”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods, but it’s a lie. She’ll be contributing in the future.

She bites her lip for a moment. “What’s the dark secret, Cécilia? The one about us that Maman told you.”

GM: “I’m sorry?” Cécilia asks with some confusion.

Caroline: It seems a good time, as private as they’re ever likely to get.

“The twins think there’s something awful about them, or about us,” she fills in. “They wouldn’t tell me what, but they were horrified by it.”

GM: “Oh? When was this?”

Caroline: “My birthday,” Caroline answers.

GM: Cécilia’s face flickers. "Oh, no. Those poor two… "

“Maman has a lot of secrets. There’s plenty of things she hasn’t told them, and me, for our own good.”

Caroline: “Something she told you,” Caroline answers.

GM: “What else did the twins say? There’s… more than one which could have upset them so badly, to be honest.”

Caroline: “That they were monsters. That if I knew what they were I’d hate them,” Caroline continues.

GM: “I’m sorry. This sounds terrible, but… I don’t know which truth about us that might be.”

Cécilia’s face flickers again. “Those poor two. Whatever they heard, Maman hasn’t told them for a reason. There’s a lot about us they need more time, more perspective, before they can understand.”

Caroline: “Is it better for them to know a dark truth with no context or one with some?” Caroline asks. “Either way, they know something.”

GM: “You do have a point. Though context can be harmful too.” Cécilia seems to think. “Maman should decide what to do from here. Right now I suppose it’s moot until we get her a new body.”

“We’ll tell the others she’s not feeling well. That’s technically true. And once she talks with them, perhaps we can better know what to talk about with you.”

“There are a lot of things she hasn’t gone into with you yet, that she intends to. Maman wanted today to be a day for family, rather than… heavier topics.”

Caroline: “They were ashamed, Cécilia. Ashamed they knew. Ashamed they had found out.”

“I don’t know that confronting then with it is a good idea. Just… something I wanted to start moving. They shouldn’t sit in only darkness for too long.”

GM: Cécilia nods firmly. "You’re right to. That’s terrible for them. And for it to have lasted all these months… "

Her face flickers again before she declares no less firmly,

“Maman will make it right.”


Monday afternoon, 7 March 2016

GM: Adeline, the twins, and Noëllle get back from swimming in the pool outside, wrapped in towels and hair still damp. They’re all distraught by Cécilia’s news that their mother isn’t feeling well. They want to stop by her bedroom, but Cécilia says she’s resting with Simmone and could use space.

Abélia’s ‘illness’ seems to put a damper on everything. None of the younger girls seem to have many ideas, or enthusiasm, for how to spend the rest of the day. Yvette gives a tired, “Don’t feel like it,” when Adeline suggests working on homework.

Caroline: Caroline suggests a mellow actively, picking out a movie to put on, seemingly content to spend a quiet afternoon with them.

GM: Yvette acerbically calls the movie a stupid idea. “It’s the afternoon. What are we even supposed to do all day?” Noëllle starts to say it’s “not that bad,” but her twin continues to rant what a moronic idea spending all day indoors is. “Why are we even doing this?” Adeline tiredly tells the two not to fight. Yvette sourly remarks “You’re not Maman,” and Yvonne takes her side. Everything feels worse without Abélia.

Cécilia interjects that the twins can “burn off some energy” practicing their sparring with Caroline. “It’s been a little while since you three have done that, hasn’t it?” she suggests. “We can watch a movie after you’re tired out from that.”

The teenagers seem to relent at that idea, but are in a glum mood throughout the session. Noëllle goes to her room to talk on the phone with friends. Cécilia and Adeline, the latter of whom is seemingly still sore at the twins, spend the time getting some “work from home” done.

Caroline: Caroline is slow, lethargic as they practice. She apologizes to the twins towards the end of the lackluster session.

“It was my idea,” she admits as they put away equipment. “To have people stay in today.”

GM: The twins don’t seem to notice. She normally has to hold a good deal back from the human teenagers, after all. Today she just didn’t have to be as conscientious of it.

They both give her curious looks. “Wait, wah’d you want that?” Yvette asks.

Caroline: “I just wanted to spend some time with everyone. It could be a while before I have a chance to come back, and you two are going off to college soon. It just seemed like one of the last chances we had to have everyone together for a while.”

GM: Both her sisters instantly look guilty.

“Oh, we’re so sorry-” Yvette apologizes.

“-Ah guess we ruined it being bitchy… " Yvette.

Caroline: “You didn’t ruin anything,” Caroline reassures Yvette. “It would have helped if I planned some things, it’s just all moved very quickly, and Maman agreed sooner was better.”

GM: "And maybe if we’d gone outside to do stuff… " Yvette suggests.

“Well, and Maman didn’t get sick.” Yvonne.

“Oui. Bad timing, Ah guess.” Yvette.

Caroline: “Maybe,” Caroline admits. “But we both also liked the idea of it just being the family.”

GM: Cécilia asks Caroline to “come help get things ready” for the movie in the kitchen. The twins initially want to help, but she suggests they go pick out what to watch. Cécilia has fixed a somewhat late but large lunch for everyone that looks like a combination of leftover and freshly prepared foods: spinach salad with strawberries, clementines, pistachios, dried cranberries, dairy-free cheese, and a honey lemon olive oil dressing. The main course is warmed-up grilled salmon with tomatoes, onions, ginger, and pepper. Two bottles of red and white wine clear the palette, along with some bread and more dairy-free cheese for anyone still feeling hungry.

“We can say you were hungry after skipping breakfast and already helped yourself here,” Cécilia offers. “I don’t imagine throwing the food up is much fun, even if you can hold it down.”

She then lays her hands on Caroline’s arm and closes her eyes. The Ventrue feels her pangs of hunger recede, although color starts to bleach from Cécilia’s cheeks.

Caroline: Caroline blinks at her sister. "You didn’t have to do that… " she says tenderly.

GM: "It’s fine… " Cécilia says slowly as she sits down. “I don’t need to be too physically active today, and you might need it more.”

“You can also learn to do that… to give of yourself for us, and to ask us to give for you. They’ll help. Even the ones who don’t understand. Some part of them knows.”

Caroline: “Thank you.” She lays a hand on Cécilia’s arm.

GM: “You’re welcome. We all want you to be strong.”

“Oh,” she thinks after a moment, “we should get some of that food up to Megan… I’m sure she’s getting hungry, not to mention bored.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll bring it up to her. I need to step away to call my people anyway.”

GM: She finds Meg curled up in bed with Jocelyn. She instantly bolts up when Caroline comes in, like she’s been caught doing something she shouldn’t.

The anorexic ghoul stares at the dish of hearty food the Ventrue offers. She looks like she wants to cry. She mumbles thanks. She shifts back and forth on her feet several times. Caroline isn’t sure why she’s doing that.

The heiress calls Fuller and tells him to cancel picking up a vessel. The ghoul assents without complaint. That was always Audrey’s bailiwick.

Caroline: Business taken care of, Caroline turns her attention back to Meg, studying the pale anorexic girl as she eats.

GM: The ghoul hasn’t touched the food.

“I’m, I’m sorry, I don’t like being watched when I… " she mumbles.

Caroline: “When you throw most of it away?” Caroline asks piercingly.

GM: Meg cringes at the suggestion, but doesn’t deny it.

Caroline: “You want to look good for her,” Caroline observes. “Have you thought on how much better you look to one of us when you’re more than skin and bones? Or how much more helpful you would have been to her throughout all this if you weren’t starving yourself?”

GM: "But I’m fat… " she protests.

Caroline: “You’re anything but. And even if you were, if you throw away or throw up the food my sister made for you, I’ll make you re-eat it.”

GM: The ghoul looks horrified. She meekly eats as Caroline watches. She looks sick but full by the time the plate is cleared.

Caroline joins her sisters back in the living room. Cécilia has removed the painting that’s kept over the TV (“Maman doesn’t like to have screens in our life all the time”). Yvonne apologizes to Adeline for her earlier behavior. Yvette follows suit after her twin does. Lunch seems to put everyone in better spirits. Cécilia doesn’t seem concerned about Simmone’s appetite; when Caroline telepathically asks, she answers that Maman’s blood “is very filling.” Simmone won’t even be hungry.

Everyone watches a 1976 movie called The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane that Yvonne suggests. The plot focuses on 13-year-old Rynn Jacobs (a young Jodie Foster), a child whose absent poet father and secretive behaviors prod the suspicions of her conservative small-town Maine neighbors. It’s attained cult status, with writers and academics having interpreted it as a statement on children’s rights and variously placed it in the thriller, horror, mystery or other genres.

Caroline excuses herself midway through to “use the bathroom.” She finds Meg on her knees by the toilet, sticking fingers down her throat.

Caroline: The Ventrue stares down at her piteously. She peaks over the ghoul’s shoulder at the toilet bowl.

GM: There’s mushed, toilet water-sogged, only partly digested tomato salmon and fruit salad.

Caroline: It’s even more repulsive the second time.

Caroline scowls down at Meg.

“What did I tell you?”

GM: "I’m… I’m sorry… " the ghoul whimpers.

Caroline: “What did I tell you?” she demands again, forcefully.

GM: Meg bows her head before Caroline.

“I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… "

Caroline: “You’re sorry you got caught,” Caroline snaps. “You’re not sorry for what you did, or you wouldn’t have done it, would you?”

GM: The ghoul clutches Caroline’s leg as she begs, her voice quavering, "Please… I’m so fat… she hates how I look… "

Caroline: “I don’t care. I told you what would happen. Didn’t I warn you, Meg?”

She cups the ghoul’s face with her pale hand. “Didn’t I warn you?”

GM: Meg starts crying.

“I’m sorry… I’m sorry I threw up your sister’s food… I was wrong… "

Caroline: “You’re going to be a lot more sorry.”

GM: Meg cries harder.

“Please… "

Caroline: “Are you ever going to disobey me again?” Caroline asks the pitiful ghoul.

GM: "No… I swear, no, I won’t, I won’t ever… " Meg implores.

Caroline: “Liar. But I bet you’ll think twice after this.” She stares into the ghoul’s eyes. “Don’t resist.”

Caroline flushes the food away even as she invades Meg’s mind, as she rewrites her memory of this event. Of being forced to eat her own vomit out of the toilet.

GM: Meg looks sick. She curls up in fetal position and rocks back and forth, her mouth silently gasping open and shut like a fish’s.

Caroline: “You’re leaving,” Caroline tells her when she’s done. “I’ll call you when you deserve to see her.”

GM: She gets up, enough, to trail after Caroline on her knees.

“Please… please, I’ll stay here, I won’t both, bother anyone… "

Caroline: Caroline looks down at her. “It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”

“You already bothered me.”

GM: Meg looks confused at Caroline’s question.

She looks ready to cry again at what she hears next.

“I’m sorry… I won’t bother anyone else, I swear… "

Caroline: “Meg, did begging work for you last time?” Caroline asks scornfully.

GM: "No… but… please… "

Caroline: “Do you know what would have worked?”

GM: “Wh… what?”

Caroline: “Obeying.”

GM: Meg starts crying again. "I won’t, I won’t ever, ever disobey again, I swear… "

Caroline: Caroline’s gaze bores into Meg’s.

“Go home, Meg. Pick out clothing for Jocelyn—something she’ll like, that’s soft, and loose, and covering. Bring it back here. One of my people will let you in through the side door. Do not bother my family again.”

“And Meg, if I ever catch you puking again, I’ll make you eat and eat until you’re three hundred pounds.”

GM: Meg’s initial look of gratitude at getting to do something for Jocelyn swiftly gives way to an expression of pure horror.

She babbles a reply before leaving to do as instructed.

The movie lasts a while. All of Caroline’s sisters declare how much they liked Jodie Foster when it’s done.

Caroline: “She was in Taxi Driver around the same time,” Caroline points out. “Which I think was her big breakout.”

GM: “Yes, I liked her a lot there,” Adeline nods. “I think she had a stronger presence here, though, even beyond being the main character. She’s someone you can’t help but root for.”

Cécilia concurs and suggests putting on a second movie to fill more of the day. She leaves the others to pick a title while she and Caroline go to check on Abélia and Simmone. Their mother’s state is unchanged, though Simmone is awake and wordlessly clinging to her side. She’s not even playing on her phone. Caroline can’t say how long she’s been doing that.

Cécilia checks if there’s anything they need. Simmone needs to pee, but is unwilling to leave their mother. Cécilia looks a bit hapless for a moment, then retrieves a pot from downstairs and tells their sister she can pee into it.

I wish she’d be a little more like a young Jodie Foster, sometimes.

Caroline: Caroline is less tolerant, suggesting a better compromise might be for them to leave the master bathroom door open. Simmone can watch their mother from the bathroom.

GM: Simmone doesn’t even respond. She just clings to their mother.

Cécilia joins in with Caroline, entreating Simmone that “Maman will be right there, the whole time.” Simmone just keeps clinging. She’s eventually coaxed away when Caroline leaves the door open and Cécilia holds her hand the entire time she’s on the toilet.

I’m glad we didn’t have to clean the pot, Cécilia thinks once she’s settled back.

Caroline: Or the bed, Caroline observes.

She’s getting worse. I don’t know what to do, she admits.

GM: It’s what’s been happening to Maman. Every time something’s happened to her, Simmone has gotten worse.

I think she’s right not to assume a new body so soon.

Caroline: It just worries me, having her so weak.

GM: It worries me too. She’s not going to become an independent adult at this rate.

Do you think we should have that conversation with Maman now, or later?

Caroline: It’s worse than that… this is how a toddler reacts, not a preteen.

She muses, I wonder if she isn’t soaking up a lot of the pain everyone Maman reincorporates.

GM: Maman is… she can be stifling, in some ways. It’s easy to get dragged into her orbit. To always be going to her for this or that, basing your life around her. She has a way of insinuating herself into everything.

That can be a good thing. It is a good thing. She keeps us grounded and our family together.

But she has a very strong… I suppose force of presence. It can be easy, too easy, for people to get enamored by her, to involve her in every aspect of their lives.

Someone as young and sheltered as Simmone, who doesn’t have a very developed sense of self, and who spends so much time around her… I suppose can get swallowed up.

She’s always been very babied by the family. And the shooting last year, on top of recent events, have caused her legitimate trauma that makes everything else worse.

Caroline: The Ventrue gives a not-quite sigh.

I don’t want to have that conversation now, it feels almost like taking advantage of Maman as weak as she is, but I think we need Simmone to have some time away from her, even if it’s just today.

GM: I don’t think Maman would mind. Remember that she is so much more than her body. It being incapacitated like this is more like you or I communicating through a phone with a shorter wifi signal range than anything else.

Taking Simmone away from Maman seems like a big step, though. I liked your suggestion of exposing her to more people outside the family, initially with Maman.

Caroline: I just mean downstairs, vice letting her sit here curled up with her all night.

GM: All day, you mean.

Caroline: Caroline catches herself.

Yes. Habits…

GM: I guess that’s funny. I’m sure you were corrected at first, by other Kindred, to use ‘night.’

We could try to separate them, in any case. That did take a lot of time and progress after the shooting, though. Maybe start her off with something more modest, like… not hugging her for hours, and playing on her phone like a normal girl.

Caroline: I’d like to try downstairs, with the rest of us. I feel like that shouldn’t be too much… should it?

GM: I don’t know. Simmone was terrified not to be in the same room with Maman for a long time, because something bad happened to her when they were apart. And twice in one day now, she’s had Maman either go missing or get really hurt. On top of all the blood she’s had to drink.

I think anything is better than her just lying in bed with Maman for hours. But if you want to make up for lost ground, we can try that. I’d certainly like to have her around the others again.

Caroline: You have more experience with this than I do, if you think it’s better to start slow, we can do that.

GM: I do have more experience, but I’m not sure how much we have to show for it. Maybe we need to try something new.

But on the other hand, there have been extenuating circumstances… I suppose things never are clear with family, are they?

I’m just glad you stopped me from letting her pee into a pot.

Caroline: Few things are.

Caroline looks at her youngest sister seated beside their mother once again.

“Simmone?” she asks.

GM: ‘Seated’ is a generous way to put it. She’s lying sideways in bed, arms and legs wrapped completely around their mother, face planted against her breast.

“Quelle?” comes a dull response from the bed.

(“What?”)

Caroline: “We’d like you to come downstairs and watch a movie with everyone else. Will you do that with us?”

GM: “Non.”

(“No.”)

“Simmone?” Cécilia preempts.

“Non merci.”

(“No thanks.”)

“Nous aimerions vraiment, vraiment. Tu peux choisir le film.”

(“We’d really, really like you to. You can pick the movie.”)

Caroline: “Tout le monde sera là,” Caroline piles on.

(“Everyone will be there.”)

GM: The pair work her for a while. Simmone doesn’t want to leave Maman. She asks why the others can’t just come up here. Caroline and Cécilia finally settles on the idea of setting up a camera in the room and connecting it to Simmone’s phone, so that “you can see Maman and have her in your hand the entire time.” Simmone is extremely slow to let go of Abélia and clutches the phone like a lifeline, as well as Cécilia’s hand, whose lap she sits on throughout the movie. She picks Frozen for everyone to watch. She stares at her phone periodically, but seems to enjoy her sisters’ company, who all seem glad she isn’t spending the day in bed (Cécilia tells them most of the truth). By the time the credits roll, Cécilia considers the effort “a good start to recover that earlier ground.”

Caroline: Caroline largely agrees.

GM: Yvonne shares a college-themed parody of the signature song that gets everyone laughing, though Adeline admonishes her nearly-college-age siblings to never have that attitude about grades. Yvette rolls her eyes. More wine gets everyone in a good mood, though Simmone still goes back to bed with their mother. Cécilia encourages her to look at more funny videos on her phone.

Caroline: Baby steps, Caroline admits.

GM: Yes. Though I suppose I can understand why Maman wants to let her stay ten forever.

Caroline: Oh? Caroline asks.

GM: Just after the amount of effort today’s been. I don’t agree with her. But I can understand.

There’s still a good chunk of time until night falls. In the absence of any alternative ideas, everyone spends it on schoolwork or career work, leaving Caroline to her own devices.

Caroline: Caroline lets them scatter throughout the house as they please. She checks in on Jocelyn and makes arrangements to let Meg back in.

GM: Jocelyn remains sleeping like only the dead can. Meg delivers the requested clothing. She wants to see her domitor.

Caroline: Caroline lets her do so and brings her up to Cécilia’s bedroom, where she’s largely withdrawn to after everyone split for the afternoon.

GM: She remains until and if Caroline kicks her out. Time passes. Caroline is struck by just how many hours in the day there are. The others eventually invite her back down to help make dinner together.

Cécilia keeps it a relatively simple affair of (dairy-free) cheese fondue. Easy to make for a lot of people. Some roasted vegetables, as well as bread and various other things lying in the fridge, make for good dipping material.

Caroline can’t get out of eating this time. Cécilia has already helped her excuse two meals in the day.

Caroline: She doesn’t object or complain, though she eats lightly. The food is ash, worse than, but the company is better, and she can feel the power of the sun beginning to wane at long last.

GM: Indeed, even as night falls and the sun’s invisible but blistering glare recedes, Caroline finds Jocelyn has failed to awaken. Her charred and blackened skin looks better after the day of rest.

Caroline: It’s far from a surprise. Judging from Meg’s description of her activities before trying to immolate herself in front of Caroline, the Ventrue doesn’t think Jocelyn had a ton of blood available in the first place. She considers awakening her, but decides to hold off for a better opportunity, where the starving vampire won’t be in the same house as her sisters.

In return for the ‘invite’ back into the home and opportunity to see her domitor, Caroline pries any additional details as to Jocelyn’s activities since their breakup from the ghoul.

GM: Jocelyn seems more defined by her lack of activities than anything else. She mostly lay in bed watching TV and doing nothing. She fed on Meg.

She also told the other Storyvilles about Gwen. And Evan. They took it badly.

Jocelyn told them about both at once when she was in a “really bad mood.” She did it over the phone. That’s the only thing that saved her from the resultant frenzy that ended the call. Jocelyn laughed that Roxanne was going to “completely self-destruct over this.”

Meg doesn’t know what’s happened to her or Wyatt since that fateful call. But the Storyville Krewe seems like it’s largely disintegrated.

Caroline: “Misery loves company,” Caroline observes.

GM: "I guess… " Meg agrees.

Caroline: True nightfall brings with it a descent of Caroline’s servants on the house. The Ventrue is very eager to hear about their activities throughout the day.

GM: They have a number to report. The signs of destruction in the house’s atrium are conspicuously absent.

Kâmil has spoken with Dr. Grémillon at Tulane Medical Center, who has pledged the Krewe’s cooperation with covering up the death. He’s said he will pick out first responders and a physician to blame for Claire’s fatal medication prescription. He’ll look into different drugs that could be responsible and stand up to a sustained investigation. He’s requested Claire’s existing medical records to assist in this and related details of the cover-up. It’s remarkable, Caroline may briefly think, how the same news from more important people gets them treated as fellow responders and crisis managers rather than troublemakers to bring before the sheriff.

However, given the high-profile nature of Claire’s death, as well as her ties to hunters, the Krewe wants to coordinate details with Donovan and Bishop Malveaux. Dr. Grémillon wanted to set up an in-person meeting between Harlequin, the sheriff, and the bishop, which Kâmil concurred as to the necessity of. Details have already been shared with the three Kindreds’ heralds to brief their domitors on (though Donovan has likely already been informed by Congo).

But they still can’t find the bishop.

Even his herald doesn’t know where he is.

Kâmil has informed several of Donovan’s and Camilla Doriocourt’s ghouls as to this fact, who have begun to search for the erstwhile Ventrue in earnest. They haven’t found him. They, and Kâmil, are considering the possibility of foul play. The timing is suspect.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip in thought for a few moment before observing that it sounds as though there are really two different problems in play—the bishop’s absence and the Masquerade cover-up with Claire.

One of these things she has experience with (meager though it might be) and the other of which she has no place in.

Caroline: If there’s truly a concern that some ill might have befallen the bishop, she suggests that perhaps seconds may stand in with the Krewe in this matter, while the sheriff seeks out the bishop—she doesn’t expect the coverup of Claire can wait much longer.

That she has a less acrimonious relationship with, for instance, Hound Wright would be a small benefit too while coordinating this matter.

GM: Kâmil states that Wright will likely not be invited to the meeting, given his minimal involvement in the extended operation to subvert and bring down Claire’s hunters. Donovan and Bishop Malveaux were the ones jointly responsible for that—at least, as Caroline knows, until she took matters into her own hands by murdering Claire and the bishop and going over the sheriff’s head.

However, Bishop Malveaux’s absence makes obtaining Claire’s medical records more difficult. The seneschal would likely be pleased if Caroline were able to do that, vice a member of Vidal’s court having to indebt themselves to one of the medically connected Kindred in D.C.

Caroline: The Ventrue considers. The family certainly maintains copies of those records. It’s also likely they could be obtained illicitly—she’s heard that cybersecurity in hospitals is notoriously bad.

GM: The ghoul states he had been unaware as to that fact, but repeats that his domitor would be pleased were Caroline able to retrieve the records. If she doesn’t, someone else will need to.

Caroline: Caroline agrees that she’ll have her people look into it tonight.

GM: Gisèlle, meanwhile, went to Luke’s apartment, per Caroline’s request to scope out the site and assess what actions would be needed in the cover-up. There wasn’t a great deal for her to do until the body is ready to move into place.

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes alight at that. Perhaps not for the casquette girl, but Caroline and her own people lack Gisèlle’s extensive powers. She looks over whatever the rest of the ghouls came up with in terms of approaches, cameras, paths, security, and so forth.

How they get ‘Claire’ into the building convincingly is as important as what they do with Luke, and how they frame things thereafter. It’s not enough to get in ‘unseen’ anymore. They have to be seen in the appropriate places.

GM: Gisèlle has seen to all of that. She has less technological expertise than Caroline’s younger ghouls, but planning around security cameras was within her means. Her activities simply essentially consisted of low-risk intelligence gathering. Moving the body into place and doctoring memories will be where the ‘action’ is. Caroline’s brother lives in a posh high-rise protected by mortal security, but the casquette girl does not seem to think they will pose much inconvenience.

The hard part, after all, will be after the body goes public.

She still does not speak to Caroline. Flashing images within the Ventrue’s head wordlessly show her the ghoul’s observations and conclusions.

Ferris reports that the liquidation of assets associated with Audrey Morrow has given him something to tide his people over with and quell their discontent until payday. He’s tentatively given them word that they can come out of hiding, move back into old homes or purchase new ones, and start repatriating family members (where applicable) they’ve moved out of the city. The past few months of living on the lamb have been trying on them all.

Widney says she’s “salvaged” several of Elysian’s now-former escorts and has arranged for them to continue seeing Caroline as an exclusive client. She’ll be essentially paying them for their blood.

Caroline: Caroline is happy to hear both reports.

GM: Ferris delivers the requested dossier on Michael Hill. He’s originally from Columbus, Ohio, where he was born to a working-class family and enlisted in the Air Force out of high school. He met his spouse while serving overseas in Germany. He moved to New Orleans with her (she had family there) when they were ready to settle down and start a family. He joined the NOPD and has worked as a detective there for a little over ten years. He’s done so while attending Loyola University as an undergrad, where he majored in criminal justice, and later its associated law school. He recently passed the bar exam. He has no prior experience working in a law office, though Caroline knows that ex-cops are valued at many firms. And, of course, he was willing to tender the Devillers evidence of Yvette’s crimes against Amelie in return for a bribe. In his personal life, he has two daughters around high school age and a long-time relationship with Detective Ralph Moore, who is still on NOPD.

Caroline: Plenty of work remains to be done, along with new problems this evening. She wants Jocelyn brought down and transported back to the Giani Building with them.

They need to pick up a source of blood as well along the way as well, for when they wake her up. Fortunately her tastes are less particular than Caroline’s.

She inquires as to when the meeting is with Harlequin and the sheriff, and as to what part she has to play in it.

She passes on to Ferris the bit about her mother’s medical records and inquires as to whether or not Ramsey can provide, or if he had access to begin with (or knows where they might have been kept).

She reads the dossier on Hill on the way back to the Giani Building.

GM: Before she takes off, Cécilia gives her back her dress (she adds, “I’ve put it through the laundry”) and shoes from last night. She’s decided to cancel Simmone’s dance lesson for today (“I’m sorry you won’t be able to see that”), but is hopeful for how Caroline’s idea to introduce her to more children her own age may pan out. The family also all wants to say goodbye, especially if she’s going to be gone for a while. Everyone except Simmone and their mother is there, along with most of the cats, to see her off with many hugs and well wishes for her future.

Caroline: It’s a bittersweet moment. One she hopes isn’t actually a true departure. There are other matters she would speak with her mother about. Other things that need be seen to. But better to say a farewell than to be denied it.

GM: Cécilia does silently ask her, as she exchanges hugs with the others, whether there’s any things she’d like to ask of or otherwise pass along to Maman.

Caroline: For now, the matter with Simmone.

She bites her lip. I’ll do my best to come by again, for her. It’ll probably be late though. Do you want me to wake you?

GM: Yes, please. If we don’t know how much time we’ll have, I couldn’t imagine turning any more down.

Caroline: Another hug, and predictably French kisses on the cheek.

It’s cruel, to have this so briefly, then to potentially be spirited away. But it gives her something to look forward to on her return. A reason to strive to return.

And they’re never really gone, never that far away. Especially Cécilia.

GM: That’s right. It won’t be as clear, unless you really push yourself. But we’ll always be there for you, Caroline.

Her sister’s next word seems to spring not from a single voice, but six.

Always.

View
Caroline VII, Chapter II
The Rebellious Ghoul

“Much tidier just to kill her, ma’am.”
Roger Ferris


Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM

Caroline: There’s much to be done, like there always is. Caroline heads out into the night to meet with the seneschal’s servants.

GM: Kâmil informs her that he called Congo while she was occupied. He has been unable to locate the bishop.

“His Excellency is known for his dislike of electronic communications.”

Caroline: “One can hardly blame him, but we have lost much of the night already,” Caroline observes.

GM: “Yes. Herald Congo says we are to begin without His Excellency.”

Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue across her fangs in contemplation. “Then we will do so in the least obtrusive way to his domain for as long as is possible. I’ve given thought to your words, regarding the Krewe of Janus. I would not ignore the resources they present in this matter.”

“It is my intention to frame Claire’s death as the byproduct of an interaction between two or more medications. Doing so will require the coroner’s office to sign off on that conclusion following an autopsy that cannot happen, a paper trail of prescriptions and medical records, and ideally someone deserving to take the ‘fall’ as it were for their malpractice.”

“I can arrange most of these matters, but it would be… easier, and less cumbersome if they were willing or able to exercise their influence at Tulane Medical to support that narrative.”

GM: “A prudent course, bayan, to provide your family an outlet for their grief.”

Caroline: “It’s a believable narrative, one less convenient for our purpose than the typical accident. Perhaps enough to muddy her death for her allies.”

GM: “Less convenient, but perhaps more efficacious, bayan. Gisèlle or I may both secure an audience with Regent Harlequin or Mr. Gremillion.”

“As our master does not wish your true lineage revealed, either of us may attend in your place, if you wish, and present you as a servant of His Majesty in this matter. Your involvement is plausible given your known relation to and continued involvement with the family.”

Caroline: “As well as my status as a tenant under the seneschal?” Caroline fills in as much as asks. “It seems wiser if I am involved to meet with Regent Harlequin, which opens other doors to complication.”

GM: The ghoul nods. “Regent Harlequin and his broodmate are equally known for their powers of induction.”

Caroline: She nods. “Better to keep distance for now, until the prince and seneschal have made their arrangements and desires known.”

GM: The ghoul assents to this, and says he will (if Caroline desires) seek to schedule an audience with the regent tomorrow night, so that Caroline may see him without delay—should the prince and seneschal also approve of such.

Caroline: Caroline recommends instead he seek a meeting with the regent’s ghoul tomorrow during the day, asserting that they’ve lost a significant amount of time already, and that a day meeting will attract less attention while also allowing them to move forward before Claire is reported missing. Caroline does not expect the latter will hold another full day into night.

GM: Kâmil states he shall do so.

Caroline: She inquires as to what Gisèlle discovered with the family’s security.

GM: The casquette girl merely points at the singled-out guards.

Images flood Caroline’s mind. She sees one of the two, a shaved-headed and midnight-skinned man, bending to drink from the wrist of a pallid figure with a crooked smirk.

She knows that man. René Baristheaut.

Caroline: It’s remarkable, she reflects briefly, how infrequently she ever knew the man that hunted her as his childe.

She contains the impulsive over reaction. She knows that René was recruiting shooters prior to his capture and final death. It’s not shocking that shooters from that same limited pool would find their way into other work.

GM: The other figure Gisèlle points at is a short-haired woman with a blank expression. Caroline sees her lying in a bed, her belly simultaneously swollen and deflated, screaming a soul-deep wail.

Bullets gorily mow down young women who look like Caroline’s new sisters. The older woman does not rush to their sides, but sticks her gun in her mouth and pulls the trigger.

Caroline: The Ventrue flinches at that image, jerking her head away sharply. It replays again and again, and a scowl works its way across her face. Scum. Filth. Pretending to protect her sisters.

She’ll clean house soon enough. Tonight they’re not important, not if the girls are staying home.

“The Giani Building,” she instructs Green as she climbs back into the SUV.


Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline runs several ideas past the elder ghouls as they ride past.

She expects that the sooner Claire’s body is discovered, the better, but she’s fair from certain as to the best method of arranging that discovery. Ideally she would leave the body in her hotel room, staged to look as though she’d passed in her sleep, or in the bathroom, or elsewhere in keeping with the narrative that some medication interaction had ended her life. Given that the hotel is in the French Quarter however, Caroline suspects doing so would be…. unwise. She’s open to possible suggestion on how else to frame such a thing, suggesting perhaps the idea that it could be during a visit with her half-brother Luke, though doing so would infringe on the bishop’s domain more explicitly and require more… aggressive efforts to ensure he interpreted events the ‘right’ way

GM: Kâmil agrees the French Quarter is undesirable. He is unfamiliar with what homes the various members of the Malveaux family own, but perhaps there is a suitable one within the prince’s territory?

Gisèlle remains as silent as before.

Caroline: Caroline nods, observing that Luke is both a logical individual for her to visit in the city, more easily accessible to Caroline than other members of the family, and that his apartment is in the CBD.

GM: “A potentially efficacious solution, then, bayan,” the ghoul concurs.

Caroline: Caroline is pleased the elder ghoul agrees with her plans, but after musing for a moment directs ‘Ms. Green’ to take them to Ericson’s home, rather than back to the Giani Building.

Her mandate from the seneschal was to put her affairs in order and to clean up the mess with Claire. The former requires more personal attention than the latter—at least until the Krewe is involved.

GM: It’s a 13-minute drive from the Walter Robinson House to New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood, where Autumn previously informed Caroline that her ghoul’s family had purchased a home. That makes the third time she’s been to the area recently.

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Lakeview is an affluent suburban neighborhood situated on the southern edge of Lake Lake Pontchartrain, far north of the city’s downtown hub. A steady rain plunks against the dark lake’s rippling surface. Staring into that black expanse is like staring off the edge of the world.

A decade ago, those edges overflowed. Dozens of homes clustered right against Pontchartrain’s waterfront made Lakeview one of the worst-flooded areas in the city during Katrina. Rebuilding efforts were a much higher priority in the upper-income, majority-white neighborhood than the Ninth Ward, however. Caroline could hardly guess that Pontchartrain’s hungry black waters once devoured everything her car drives past. Now, the neighborhood is merely still and peaceful after having bedded down for the night. Golf courses sit empty, and no ice cream trucks, dogs being walked, or tricycle-riding children are visible on the vacant streets. Rows and rows of seemingly cloned McMansion houses endlessly stretch sideways and behind Caroline, stopping only at the edge of the lake. It doesn’t even feel like she is in New Orleans. There are identical development lots to this one in countless other suburbs throughout the country.

Nerea Ericson’s house at 7461 Jade Street isn’t as palatial or close to the waterfront as Uncle Matt’s and Aunt Vera’s (these days, really just Vera’s) 12,000-square-foot mansion. But it belongs to a family whose spouses clearly both make six-figure incomes. It’s a two-story brick affair with a rear courtyard, family-friendly backyard, and two trees growing directly in front of the house in a distinctive little touch.

Lakeview-13.jpg
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Caroline: The Ventrue first tries calling the fencer turned lawyer. Most attorneys keep their phones on for client emergencies—and such calls are not so unusual, even if they aren’t terrible common.

GM: It’s as she’s pulling out her phone that Gisèlle points to another car not so far away from theirs. Roger Ferris and Brett Goodman are inside.

Caroline: The Ventrue gets out of their SUV and walks over to Ferris’.

GM: She does so a few moments before Ferris also does. The ex-CIA agent is to the point. “Brett and I are here to kidnap her children, ma’am.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “No doubt with good reason.”

GM: “I’ve been looking into your people. Too many of them aren’t loyal or trustworthy. Ericson’s near at the top of that list.”

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t argue the point, and instead gestures to the interior of his vehicle to discuss the matter, vice the street.

GM: The ex-CIA agent has been whispering, but assents after reminding her that Goodman is ignorant of the existence of vampires. The former con artist greets Caroline cheekily but gets down to business at his boss’ direction. Ferris explains his plan to cement Ericson’s loyalty by “recovering” her children after an apparent kidnapping. She will likely be profusely grateful to Caroline.

Secondary objectives include getting her “accustomed” to working alongside Caroline’s people as part of the recovery efforts. “Rabinowitz says she doesn’t play well with the others.”

The kidnapping can be blamed on anyone they’d find convenient to inflame Ericson’s ire against. Ferris wants to foster a siege mentality of “us against the world” within the former Olympian. He wants Ericson to feel like the only people she can trust and rely on are Caroline’s.

“We’ll let her stew for a while after the children go missing. She can go to the police and get frustrated when they don’t do anything. She’ll come to us on her own time.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her teeth. “You think that superior to the alternative?”

GM: “People like Ericson get investigated when they turn up missing or dead, ma’am. It’s already going to be all hands on deck covering up your stepmother. I’d also sooner retain her as an asset than not.”

Caroline: “That’s dark, Roger,” she observes. “I’d simply meant fired, with anything especially sensitive deleted ahead of that.”

GM: “What’s deleted can be recovered, ma’am. I’d sooner tie up loose ends. How many of your associates know she’s yours?”

Caroline: “Too many,” she admits. “Though we could make her relocation a precondition. Few of them, I think, have reach beyond the South. I don’t need—and can’t afford—disloyal people.”

GM: Ferris nods. “She’ll probably get stubborn over uprooting her life again, but it’s nothing we can’t overcome.”

Caroline: “The hardest part would be a replacement with similar skills, but I intend on cleaning house now as is. Bishop’s loyalty was always tenuous, and Ms. Morrow’s likewise.”

GM: “You could bring in one of the other attorneys. We’ll do it right this time. But none of them are also Olympic fencers. Doubt we’ll ever find a replacement with the same skillset.”

Caroline: “True, but similarly, few have the same vulnerabilities that she does. Her family—and their ignorance—will always be a weakness someone else could exploit just as we can.”

GM: “We could get rid of them. Most of your people have someone in their lives though. Rabinowitz has her family. Widney has her grandmother. Fuller his girlfriend. Green her daughter. Tracking them down isn’t hard. Rabinowitz wishes she’d thought to use a pseudonym after she was first brought in. Learned that lesson too late.”

Caroline: “One perhaps we can pay forward to the next batch. Still, Ericson is uniquely…. troublesome for the combination of young children and willful husband. She’s fighting two wars.”

GM: “Only people of yours who don’t have anyone are Bishop and Morrow. And I suppose Goodman.”

“Hey, I have lots of people,” the con artist smirks. “But none tying me down, no ma’am.”

Caroline: Caroline knows very well just what kind of people Goodman has, and what kind he’d like to have. Or specifically who he’d like to have.

GM: “Ericson does have more dependents than they do, though,” Ferris continues without replying to Goodman. “The children consume a lot of her time and attention. She’d be more useful if it was just the husband. Killing them could unhinge her though. A spouse is easier to lose. Cleaner to just send them away. The kidnapping could convince her that’s in their best interests.”

Caroline: “He could be valuable on his own,” Caroline muses.

GM: “I’ve looked at his record. Fencing and a professional career. His wife’s isn’t substantially better. I don’t think it’s in our best interests to remove him. An adult spouse is less impediment to Ericson’s usefulness than two young children.”

Caroline: “I rather meant bringing him into the fold might be easier, generate less potential resentment… or perhaps not. I don’t know how that would affect their dynamic at home.” The two elder ghouls might have thoughts on the matter, though…

GM: “It could more fully cement their loyalty to you, ma’am, if they were both working for you directly. And keep their own relationship more stable. Not many married people like being unable to share their full life with their spouse.”

“If we’re getting them to send away their children, though, largest challenge is convincing them not to simply move away too.”

Caroline: “Is that why you have three ex-wives?” Caroline asks, half seriously.

GM: “Partly,” Ferris answers, fully seriously. “They weren’t part of my work. Didn’t know that world. They didn’t have sympathy after I bitched for long enough.”

“All in how you do it,” Goodman smirks.

“Brett, if there’s one thing you know absolutely nothing about, it’s married life.”

The smirk doesn’t slip. “Won’t argue there.”

Caroline: The moment of levity is a welcome relief from the dark subject at hand.

She waits a moment for the smirk to slip. “I don’t object to your conclusions or plans in principle. In this case, however, given… well, many factors, including the timing and other matters likely to attract attention and require significant resources, I’m going to take an alternative option.”

She continues, “I intend on dismissing Bishop and Morrow. I’d like consideration on replacements in the firm—my initial leaning is Ms. Bowden. I assume you spoke with Autumn regarding other difficulties with the rest of my staff. If not, do so. I’d like plans on ways forward with each of the problems she’s raised.”

GM: “I have, ma’am. I had several conclusions.”

“First, people need to be brought in with more care than previous ones. They need to be made loyal through normal means in addition to your special incentives. They need to be instilled with a sense of hierarchy and acclimated to how this sort of life works. If they’re employed or otherwise financially dependent on you, that’s preferable.”

“Many of your people have military or law enforcement backgrounds that already instill respect for hierarchy, which is reinforced by your status as their employer. When they don’t have that, like Morrow or Ercison, they need to be broken in. Like Rabinowitz already was.”

“She says there are associates of yours, and some associates of hers, who specialize in that. For a nominal fee, they can take any person and make them properly receptive to your expectations. I was and remain concerned about potential tampering and issues of trustworthiness. Rabinowitz says it’s not a significant issue or the market wouldn’t exist. I’d nevertheless be more comfortable with associates of Rabinowitz’s than associates of yours, should you choose to enlist an outsider’s services.”

Caroline: “Interesting, from within her own demographic?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yes. She said a number of them are independent, and want the sort of payment you can imagine.”

Caroline: “Short-term or long-term?”

GM: “She said that depends how long you enlist their services for. Obviously, the more broken-in you want someone, the longer it takes. And I’m sure they’re like lawyers who’ll find any excuse to bill extra.”

“She said the trade-off is they’re less reputed than associates from your own demographic. They take longer and can’t break someone as completely.”

Caroline: “I expect she recommended Ms. Widney for that sort of conditioning?”

GM: “She thinks Widney is untrustworthy and should be liquidated as an asset. In lieu of that, she recommended Widney for conditioning too.”

Caroline: “Who else?”

GM: “Ercison. Morrow, if we keep her. Bishop’s a special case.”

Caroline: “Bishop is unlikely worth the effort,” Caroline observes.

GM: “So far as him. You only need one attorney who’s fully brought in. Anything more is redundant and presents an opportunity cost. I don’t need to remind you the number of people you can fully bring in is limited.”

“Ercison or Bishop need to go. Ercison’s asset is her fencing experience. You won’t find many other lawyers with that. Bishop’s assets are his experience, which is more extensive than Rabinowitz’s. He has no family ties, though with some work we could get rid of Ercison’s. He lastly has knowledge of his prior employer. I’m not sure how useful an asset that still is.”

“Bowden lacks Bishop’s experience and Ericson’s fencing skill. I don’t see her offering anything beyond a clean slate.”

Caroline: “He is, unfortunately, not trustworthy,” Caroline points out.

GM: “Neither’s Ericson. We have to work on either of them. We’d need to condition Bowden too, if you wanted her. That’s happening no matter which lawyer.”

“Wait, Bowden? Denise Bowden?” asks Goodman.

“I didn’t think you knew many lawyers,” says Ferris. But his tone doesn’t sound surprised.

“I think I might have banged her once,” says Goodman. “Yeah, I’m positive I did. The lawyer chick who gets around with everybody.”

Caroline: “Truly your conquests are legendary,” Caroline replies dryly.

GM: “Nah, those are my other ones. That Bowden chick really gets around. She wasn’t hard.”

Caroline: “She’d hardly be the first of my employees you’d slept with,” Caroline observes more pointedly.

GM: “Oh really? Who was the other one? Or ones.” Goodman grins. “Pretty easy for me to lose track.”

Caroline: “Back to the point, Ericson brings the most to the table, but that’s also true in baggage. Bishop brings less, and Bowden the least of all three. What was your feeling on Widney?”

GM: “Interlinked with my feelings on Rabinowitz. I’ve begun instituting a hierarchy among your people. ‘Palace intrigue’ has been rampant. Widney and Rabinowitz both think they’re your right hand. Or should be your right hand. They’re jealous, insecure, and hate each other.”

“Rabinowtz has been sabotaging Widney and setting her up for failure. Widney has been refusing to listen to Rabinowitz’s experience and implement her suggestions. The latter is partly Rabinowitz’s fault. Widney might be more receptive to input if she felt she could trust it. She considers everything from Rabinowitz suspect, and not without basis.”

“Widney’s also been telling her grandmother too much. Rabinowitz said so and Widney confirmed it. I haven’t had time to find out the full details of what she’s been spilling. I don’t think it’s as bad as Rabinowitz claims. She has a reputation as a good butler. Client confidentiality seems important to her. But I can see things slipping past.”

Caroline: “One needs to go,” Caroline summarizes. “It sounds as though the relationship is too poisoned to fix.”

GM: Ferris considers. “I thought about that. Both are considerable assets. Be a pain to lose either.”

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement.

GM: “Their bad blood is a chink in our armor, though. It needs to get fixed before somebody exploits it. Or one of them gets rid of the other.”

Caroline: “Widney’s problems don’t all go away with Autumn. Autumn, I fear, would express the same hostility to anyone she perceived as replacing her,” Caroline observes.

GM: “Widney has an ingrained sense of professionalism and respect for her employer. I think it’s simply that expectations on what she is and isn’t allowed to talk about haven’t been made sufficiently clear. Might take orchestrating the grandmother’s death and leading her to believe it’s her fault. Might also just take a lecture.”

“As far as their respective assets. Widney has financial expertise and can ably coordinate the daily and nightly administration of a lot of things. In a pinch, we could get by without her, but that’s not desirable in the long term.”

“Rabinowitz does cover-ups, which you’re always going to need someone for. The media relations thing is you throwing her a bone.”

Caroline: “She has to grow,” Caroline justifies.

GM: “She does. I think you’re right to have tossed it. But it’s not a developed asset that factors into your immediate decision whether to keep or liquidate her.”

“Before my people and I joined yours, I’d have said Rabinowitz was indispensable to you. That’s no longer the case. We can do cover-ups. She also has experience that we don’t. In time, we’ll acquire that, and she may eventually become fully redundant. But until we do, she’s more useful than any of my existing people.”

“Always nice to know you care, boss,” Goodman smirks, though he doesn’t sound the least bit surprised.

“She also has connections to other people from her demographic that none of your other people do,” Ferris continues. “I’m not sure those are replaceable. But I’m also not sure how directly useful they are to you, either. I think she’s been ‘slow’ about introducing your other people around. I’d do that too if I was her. And less professional, of course.”

He might be joking.

Caroline: “Honestly, I’d rather keep both. I guess the operative question is whether you feel your structural changes can get a handle on the two.”

GM: Ferris thinks.

“Structural changes should help. Your liquidating the less useful people should send a message too. Rabinowitz told me about Rivera, but that was different.”

Caroline: “He crossed a line,” Caroline agrees. “Several, really.”

“And I mishandled it from the start,” she admits.

GM: “Morrow, Ericson, and Bishop present similar problems to his. But we’re dealing with them preemptively this time.”

“I’ll see what I can do so far as getting Widney and Rabinowiz to play nice. I’ll bug their phones in case they get ideas. Or have any. Anything you can think to do yourself, do it. Bad blood like that doesn’t go away easy. I can be a lot of things to them, but I won’t ever be you.”

Caroline: “We’ll see. I’m told I may not be immediately available for an indeterminate amount of time following the resolution of this matter.”

GM: “Oh, who’s telling you that?” asks Goodman.

Caroline: “Something comparable to a very high profile internship,” Caroline clarifies, both for Ferris and Goodman, but for very different reasons.

GM: “Oh, congrats. You’d been pretty on the outs,” he remarks.

Caroline: The understatement of the year.

GM: “Speaking of bugged phones. You should consider fully bringing in Ramsey,” Ferris pivots. “You know as well as me what she’s had access to. She’s personally loyal and financially dependent, but I wouldn’t feel bad about another leash on her. There’s a lot that a cybersecurity expert might do for you.”

Caroline: “The thought had occurred to me,” Caroline agrees. “More a question of how and where resources are spent though. Physical security has eaten a lot to date, and I expect it to eat more going forward.”

GM: “Moving up in the world means you should have to solve fewer problems with physical violence. I’ll take Ramsey on my team over another heavy hitter any day.”

Ferris glances out the window towards the sleeping house.

“For another day. Brett and I were going to leave with Ericson’s children unless you want to belay that.”

Caroline: “Hold on that one,” Caroline decides after a moment. “The timing, after her refusal to respond may seem too coincidental. Let me speak with her. If it goes well, that’s a new opportunity without the poisoned fruit at the start. If not… well… that problem resolves itself.”

GM: “I don’t think you’ll be able to turn her loyal just by talking, ma’am. But as you say.”

Caroline: “I don’t either,” Caroline agrees, darkness in her blue eyes.

GM: The phone rings. Not many people would answer a phone call this late, but as Caroline well knows, attorneys are among those few.

“Mf… Caroline…?” grogs Ericson’s voice.

Caroline: “We need to talk, Nerea.” The Ventrue’s tone isn’t imperious, isn’t angry. It’s just… tired. Maybe disappointed.

“Meet me outside.”

GM: Caroline can picture Ericson tiredly running a hand over her face. “What is it… that can’t wait ’til morning?”

“Evening,” she amends.

Caroline: “I’ll be waiting on the porch,” Caroline answers. “I met you more than halfway on this one.”

GM: There’s a tired sigh.

“Caroline, it’s 4 AM. On this what?”

Caroline: “Don’t make me let myself in.” Caroline hangs up.

GM: Time passes. Ericson doesn’t come out.

Caroline: Caroline takes the time to quickly check the porch for a spare key in the usual spots: under the mat, above the door frame, in the potted plants.

Sometimes it is that easy. She remembers Jessica once telling her a huge percentage of the burglaries she saw involved a key.

GM: Apparently, it is that easy. The key is under the welcome mat.

“You shoulda let me talk to her,” Brett had smirked.

The house isn’t entirely bereft of security, though. A Cadabra Ring video doorbell watches the vampire, or at least tries to, with an unblinking black eye.

The lights inside the home are off. Caroline can make out a tastefully decorated interior with various smarthome amenities like an Alexa light switch and digital thermostat. A few stray children’s toys litter the floor around the living room couch.

Caroline: Caroline leaves her retainers behind as she enters the home. The darkness is no impediment to her.

She reflects on how rarely she’s had cause to visit any of her ghouls’ homes.

GM: Never, in fact, until now.

Caroline: She stalks forward in search of her wayward servant.

GM: Caroline’s search of the house eventually finds Ericson fast asleep in a bedroom by herself.

Caroline: That’s interesting.

But not that surprising, she admits to herself. Being someone’s ghoul can’t be healthy for relationships.

It bites the edge off her anger over Ericson ignoring her.

GM: The sleep mask-wearing woman breathes softly in her sleep.

Caroline: Caroline watches her for a moment before approaching, taking in the room, its details. Whether the other half of the bed looks rumpled, whether there’s anything on the other nightstand.

GM: The king-sized bed has room for two, but is occupied by only one. Ericson still sleeps mostly on the right. The left is unrumpled. Each side of the bed has an adjacent table, but the one on the left is bare.

Caroline: She moves over to the ghoul and lays a hand on her shoulder.

GM: “Wha, whazzit, hon…” she groggily starts.

Caroline: “This isn’t a good look,” she tells Ericson quietly, standing over the ghoul.

GM: It takes a moment, but then her former fencing partner pulls off the mask, switches on the bedside lamp, and stares in bewilderment.

“What the fuck are you doing in my house!”

Caroline: “Well, you wouldn’t met me at mine, or outside,” she answers calmly. “That left relatively few options.”

GM: Ericson stares at her. “You’re crossing a huge line. Get out.”

Caroline: “You don’t even know what the lines are,” Caroline answers. “But then, that’s why I’m here.”

She steps back and gestures to the empty bed. “That’s new.”

GM: Ericson’s stare hardens. “Get out of my house. I’m not asking again.”

Caroline: “Stop it,” Caroline snaps, a hint of anger peaking out. “You have all the power of a child arguing with their parent—which is to say only the power to throw a tantrum, and I’m in no further mood to humor you.”

GM: Ericson gets out bed, pulls out a sword from one of the dressers, and levels it at Caroline.

Caroline: “Do you want out?” Caroline asks bluntly staring into the ghoul’s eyes and regarding the sword-wielding woman with all the concern that she might a child with a toy.

GM: Ericson makes a grab for the Ventrue.

Caroline:Freeze.” Caroline snaps out the word like a striking serpent, her will bearing down on the ghoul like a mountain.

She disarms the ghoul, commands her to remain still, and goes to explore the rest of the house.

GM: The outlines of two small children are asleep in separate bedrooms. The outline of a larger male figure is asleep in what looks like a converted guest bedroom.

Caroline: The Ventrue returns to her wayward ghoul and restrains her more conventionally, borrowing cuffs from Ferris as needed, before sitting down to discuss their future together—and apparent lack thereof.

She casually skims the ghoul’s mind as she asks about her home life, why she ignored the call this evening, and her general feelings about ‘their’ relationship, liberally applying presence as needed if the ghoul proves especially taciturn.

GM: Ericson tries to scream after Ferris arrives to cuff her down spread-eagled to the bed. She tries to shout threats, tries to burst free, and ignores all of her domitor’s questions.

Caroline’s mental scan reveals feelings of outrage, anger, and increasing fear that are rapidly overpowering the blood bond’s instilled fixation.

Nascent feelings of lust and attraction burn shamefully underneath, too, like smothered coals.

Ferris tsks. “I still think she offers more than Bowden or Bishop, ma’am. But she needs to forget all of tonight if we’re going to make her loyal.”

Caroline: “That’s a lot of effort for someone whose life is falling to pieces and may become more unreliable. I suppose of the family was out of the way that might help. Car accident is the easy go to. Bang, bang. No more husband, no more children, in the way. Drunk driver,” Caroline observes, standing over the bound ghoul.

GM: Ericson’s shouted words come out as a muted, “No! No! What do you want!?”

Caroline: “Now you want to talk?” Caroline asks. “We had a similar conversation once, not that long ago. I’d hoped the bond would make you a little less strident.”

Caroline’s anger cools as Ericson becomes more willing to talk. She asks about many things. About Ericson’s home life. About what’s happened with her husband. About her desires, as they relate to Caroline, and her ghouldom.

It becomes clear in the questioning that Caroline’s inclination—and intention—is to cut Ericson loose, but also that she doesn’t want to do so haphazardly. She seems genuinely interested in the ghoul’s answers, and if she proves willing to talk, proves willing to remove restraints from the ghoul to make her more comfortable.

GM: Ericson plays along, giving Caroline whatever answers the woman who threatened her family and tied her up seems like she wants to hear. As soon as she’s untied, she physically attacks her domitor with a stifled cry.

Mortal, unarmed, and wounded from combat against other champions, the one-time Olympian was easy enough to subdue. Hale, within reach of a sword, and augmented by the Blood’s powers, she might well give the Ventrue a run for her money… if the conflict came down to one of arms. If she could even remember that her domitor can make her freeze with a word. Like the Ventrue does again. Ferris re-affixes her restraints.

Ferris thinks the ghoul has been turned completely against Caroline. If she wants “any degree of cooperation,” Ericson can’t remember any of tonight.

Further probing of Ericson’s thoughts reveals feelings of fear, hate, and outrage. The tugged and stretched blood bond appears to have finally snapped. Ercison is not accustomed to this sort of abuse. She has not been “broken in” like Autumn and other longtime ghouls.

The handcuffed, spread-eagled woman tries to shout, struggle, and whisper-scream what Caroline even wants.

“Why are you doing this!?” she cries.

Ferris repeats his assessment that Ericson could make superior ghoul to Bowden, after she’s suitably broken in (“one lawyer’s as good as another. We can get rid of the children easy enough, but we can’t turn Bowden into an Olympian”). It’s up to Caroline, though, and he adds that “Bowden isn’t damaged goods like this one.”

“I recommend mentally programming her to die in a car accident, ma’am, if we go that route. Wrong turn at a bad time.” Ericson is a partner in the firm, after all. The other lawyers need to buy her out if she’s going to leave the city. “I’ve been talking with Widney about finances. There are some significant new expenses that have come up. A partner’s severance package won’t help in paying those.” He thinks Ericson and her family will “be stubborn” at the idea of uprooting their lives all over again to move back to Atlanta. Her memories of Caroline go back months, too. And she’ll still have an inconvenient vitae addiction.

“Much tidier just to kill her, ma’am.”

Ericson’s eyes are huge with terror. She thrashes against her bonds and tries to scream.

Caroline: Caroline agrees with Ferris on all points. “Damaged goods. Too damaged. Honestly what I get for being too gentle at the start. Maybe I should have split up her family or conditioned her in the first place. A lesson learned.”

GM: “Too gentle at the start, too rough at the end,” Ferris concurs.

Caroline: She looms over the struggling woman as she states, “I want you to know this, want you to understand. Your children are going grow up without a mother because of your stupid fucking pride.”

“I came here to talk to you about giving you a way out of this life, because you seemed to hate it. Even after you pulled a sword on me, I was still planning on letting you go. I was even going to try to fix your fucked up marriage and relocate you and your family as painlessly as possible while trying to keep you from simply being snatched up by another lick.”

She glares down at the Olympian. “But you’ve made it too much damn trouble. You did this. So you can reap what you sow.”

She bores down with her will against the ghoul. “But don’t worry, you won’t remember this conversation. Any last words?”

“No, never mind. I don’t care. You’ve already shown nothing you say can be trusted.”

GM: “No! Noooooo!!! Don’t do this to them! Please! I’ll do anything! Anything!” Ericson screams, her voice shrill with panic. “Take the money! Take the severance, take it all! We’ll leave, we’ll never come back! Please!”

Caroline: “No, you won’t.”

She turns to Ferris. “Start scrubbing any evidence of this visit. Make sure you don’t miss the doorbell camera.” She doesn’t want him to watch what comes next.

The Ventrue brutally invades Ericson’s mind, smashing apart her memory of this evening’s conflict. She replaces it with an uneventful evening and plants a seed of pending commands for the ghoul’s death the following morning.

A simple thing, to take a life. So trivially simple a thing, to shatter three more. The blood on her hands runs thick and red, and when will it end? With every death, it gets easier. With every death, it seems that much more sensible practical, that much more practical, that much less of a headache.

GM: Ericson can’t stop her former fencing partner. Not with words and not with swords. The most she can get in is a final verbal riposte, spat words of final defiance, before the invisible guillotine comes thunking down:

“You were always second best to me!”

Caroline: Not anymore, Caroline silently spits back.


Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM

Caroline: It’s the little things that get her, always. That get most people, she reflects later. What was the saying: ‘a single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic?’

Even a single death, even one of someone she knows, even one that’s purely for personal gain, can seem like a statistic in a fury. When they’re snarling in your face and just won’t fucking listen to you like they damn well should. When you’re angry, and hurt, and frustrated to begin with, with your own life on the line and their obstinacy in the way. It can be a rounding error, another life crushed beneath the ineffable weight of her Requiem.

Right up until their crying child is in front of her, demanding their mother’s attention. The cries like nails on a chalkboard, like little needles into her cold dead heart. A mother she just sentenced to death for being an inconvenience.

It’s one thing to make any sacrifice for your family, or to survive, or even to make any sacrifice on the way to power.

It’s another thing to do so callously. Not because it’s unavoidable, or even difficult. But because it’s easy. Easier to be a monster to someone whom she brought here, whom she initiated so poorly into this life, and whom she’s known for years. Someone with people that depend on her.

Caroline already can barely stand to look at herself in the mirror. She’s not willing to go further. Not tonight. Not for this reason. Not because it’s the easiest option.

She tears down her buried orders from Ericson’s mind. Blurs the memory of this visit. Begins reinitiating her into the Blood. And she puts the crying child back to bed.

Later, she tells Ferris they’ll find an answer. Perhaps conditioning Ericson via one of the numerous Kindred and ghouls that might provide such a service. Perhaps slowly initiating her more deeply into the horrors of this world. Perhaps even eventually cutting her loose—there are means to wipe away more of her memory than a few nights. Those may be more available to her soon. But she does have some standards. Will have some standards. They’ve severed enough loose ends these last nights that Ericson is one they can afford to grow out. For now.

It doesn’t make her a good person, she reflects. Or even not a bad one. It just makes her a little less awful.

As awful as she needs to be.


Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM

GM: Ferris briefly remarks as to the “efficiency” of Caroline’s mental powers on the drive back to the Giani Building. “I’d have done more than kill to have access to those when I was working for your stepmother. Or in Jordan.”

He still thinks the best answer, if they want to secure Ericson’s loyalty, is to arrange her children’s kidnapping and rescue. Gratitude can be a powerful thing. Getting accustomed to relying on Caroline even better.

He brings up several further matters during the 17 minutes in the car.

“I spoke with your sister Cécilia earlier. She mentioned the police detective who prevented Yvette’s online habits from getting her into trouble recently passed the bar exam. He’s about ten years NOPD experience. Air Force enlisted before that. She thought to offer him a job at your firm in thanks, if you were looking for more lawyers.”

“Seems to be a vacancy even if you weren’t.”

Caroline: “We’ll see.” Caroline is clearly not eager to bring in another ghoul right away, but after a moment she amends, “Build out a dossier on him, and we can schedule an interview.”

GM: “Ramsey would be my first recommendation so far as ghouls, versus employees. But as you say, ma’am.”

Caroline: “Someone read into tech has value,” Caroline agrees. “Though there’s some Kindred-specific tech stuff that has made me… well, fairly wary of trusting it, in truth.”

GM: “That’s the reason I’d recommend Ramsey, ma’am. I don’t trust it. Keeping sensitive things offline is good. But you can’t fight, or avoid, what you don’t understand.”

Caroline: Caroline offers no disagreement.

GM: “Other thing I’ve talked over with Widney is finances. You have a very big new expense.”

“My team are used to salaries. Fat salaries. They didn’t stay working for the Malveauxes because of my scintillating personality.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. “I can think of several means of offsetting it that were not previously available. Your people will get paid.”

GM: “Your bishop had your uncles fire them all after he decided to come for me. Part of his little purge. Your stepmother and I knew that was coming. He’d have killed or flipped them all if we hadn’t.”

“But everyone took a hit financially. Had to abandon lots of homes and other assets. And your stepmother by herself couldn’t pay us what the family used to.”

“I’ve been stringing them along with promises. Back pay as well as bonuses in compensation for the lean times, once we’re clear of those.”

“Your stepmother was confident she could arrange it once the bishop was out of the picture. Think she planned on using assets seized from you to help pay everyone.”

Caroline: “How typical that my inheritance from her is more problems.”

The sourness in her voice is from more than simply Ferris’ newest concern.

“Is there anything else waiting in the wings with her?”

GM: “Not that I’m aware of, ma’am. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there was.”

“I had a stepkid with one of my wives. She hated me too, by the end.”

Caroline: “She didn’t murder you, so small victories,” Caroline answers cynically. “Talk to Widney. We’ll liquidate as necessary. I lean towards all investments currently vested in Ms. Morrow as a start on satisfying those debts.”

GM: “She knew I’d have killed her if she tried,” Ferris answers humorlessly. “Her mother too. No one stays reasonable after losing a child.”

“Liquidating was one idea Widney and I talked over. We had a few others.”

Caroline: “Such as?”

GM: “First is getting people back on payroll for the Malveauxes. Simplest, though not without complications.”

Caroline: “It’s a good long-term answer, but meddling immediately sends all the wrong messages,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Yes. Have to be subtle if we did. Risk versus reward.”

“Second option is going to your mother’s family for help. She’s already putting together a security force.”

Caroline: “We’re shifting either Fuller or Green to oversight on that, as an aside,” Caroline answers. “They’re about to have some openings.”

GM: “I’d recommend Fuller. He has a level head. Green’s mouthy and doesn’t have much leadership experience.”

“Widney also thought that was a more attractive option than I did. The Devillers have some financial issues of their own.”

Caroline: “Do we?” Caroline’s blue eyes glitter.

GM: “Your stepmother had me look into them. Your other family’s been shifting a lot of money to paying off the mortgage on the LaLaurie House as fast as possible.”

“They still have a little while before they’ll own it in full. That house was a big purchase even for them.”

Caroline: “Priorities,” Caroline agrees again.

GM: “I don’t know how much they’ll be able to help so far as my people. But vacancies in their security is promising.”

“Third option is putting people on payroll for the Giani Building’s staff. Phimlee and Cleveland seem tractable. But have to be subtle there too.”

“All of my team are a big staff bump, and not typical rent-a-cops. Stand out. There’s been a lot of strangeness at the building in recent months already. Pavaghis could notice. Might have already.”

“They have a master too. Don’t know who. But your stepmother and I have looked into them. Attempts by Kindred to seize control of the family have turned ugly.”

Caroline: “There are plenty of beings that go bump in the night that aren’t part of the conventional power structure,” Caroline offers. “Reclusive elders and so forth.”

GM: “Your mother, too. Your stepmother was awfully curious what she is. Wasn’t able to have me investigate that in much depth. Always other things.”

Caroline: “That isn’t a matter that requires further investigation,” Caroline answers bluntly.

GM: Ferris seems to consider her for a moment before replying, “As you say, ma’am.”

The rest of the drive passes uneventfully. Ferris pulls the SUV into the garage alongside the one driven by Goodman and the elder ghouls.

Widney and Autumn both have things they want to talk about, but the remaining hours in the evening grow short. Kâmil and Gisèlle silently await their next directives.

Caroline: Caroline has a great deal of business with the ghouls as a whole.

The effort towards covering up her stepmother’s death continues apace. The plan remains unchanged—they’re going to stage her ‘death’ at her brother Luke’s apartment in the Central Business District following complications from a combination of medications. The location needs to be examined and prepared for the event. That includes a fair amount of groundwork being laid—walking routes for security cameras (and creating doctored footage that will stand up to scrutiny of her stepmother’s arrival), identifying points of entry and routes between the Giani Building and the apartment—much of it to be done by either ghouls or Ferris’ security team.

She’s also acutely aware of the high probability that mortal hunters are still in play with this event. She inquires of Ferris whether he was involved in the original ‘breach’ of her panic room in the earliest days of her Requiem, and if so who else was involved. If not—and even if so—she expects that Claire has at least one more unit of hunters answerable only to her that she’s kept separate from both Gettis and Ferris. Her stepmother was both cagey and canny—too much so, she estimates, to entrust either her security or her plans to an agent she repeatedly planted deep among her foes—to say nothing of decades to build such relationships.

She suggests it was probable that many of her Claire’s devices are in ‘their’ hands—and that they’ll use Claire’s death—or at least the attempt to cover it up as a means of either gaining more information, or directly counter-punching her killers. The Ventrue is acutely aware of the mortal threat presented. She dearly would like to either tease out and destroy—or tease out and compromise such a tertiary group.

For the two elder ghouls the looming meeting with the Krewe of Janus to secure their involvement in the matter is the largest immediate concern. They need the medical coordination to create a convincing paper trail. One that will stand up to examination, especially as—she admits—there’s likely to be extensive scrutiny over this matter. In particular, she expects a wrongful death suit will be filed, and that it will both settle more quickly and with less headache if the responsible parties are well-insured. The entire matter will require initial ‘first responders’ to her collapse, documentation for her arrival at the hospital, a post-mortem toxicology report, support from the coroner’s office for their ‘fake’ corpse, and so forth. The elder ghouls are quite correct that managing it all without an error slipping past her and her people—no matter how meticulously they approach it—would be a mammoth task—and that it’s only marginally less monstrous even with the Krewe’s aid.

She also proposes that when it comes time to actually plant the memory in her brother’s mind if his mother’s death, that the casquette girl might be better suited to it than Caroline. Not only will it avoid the appearance of directly meddling in her elder’s domain, she’s also happy to admit the centuries-old ghoul almost certainly has greater finesse. She has no desire to brute force such a painful memory.

There’s also the secondary matter of liquidating Ms. Morrow’s assets, and beginning to funnel initial payment to both Roger (no doubt already begun) and his loyal team. The liquidation can wait, but she needs assets frozen immediately.

GM: Ferris answers that he was not present for the initial breach of Caroline’s haven, although he and Claire both concluded Caroline was Kindred when he picked up Aimee the previous night. Ferris had pretended to be dominated when the Ventrue ordered him to deliver the ghoul to another address.

Caroline recalls the ex-CIA agent stating that he knew there were further unaccounted-for hunters under Claire’s direction. The Barrett Commission, of whom Claire was the regional leader (Ferris believes their national headquarters are in D.C.), tend come from the ranks of corporate, political, and military elites. They prefer not to get their hands personally dirty and often bankroll other hunter organizations, such as NOSTF, to do that sort of work.

In keeping with Caroline’s assessment, Ferris and Claire both agreed Ferris should not know the local Commission’s membership. He was too close to the front lines. This sort of clandestine cell structure is common among hunter organizations.

Ferris does not believe that Claire included any of the Barrett Commission’s members in the breach of Caroline’s haven. Rather, he believes she involved a tertiary group whom Claire was personally allied to. There are numerous hunter organizations active in New Orleans, some whom are allies, some of whom are enemies, and some of whom simply stay out of each other’s way. Some hunters are willing to work with Kindred (a few are almost friendly), more hunters will do so on a provisional basis, and other hunters will not (knowingly) work with vampires under any circumstances. Hunter organizations have vastly different goals, methodologies, ideologies, backgrounds, and internal and external relationships. Paranoia and distrust run rampant.

“All of that is good news for your people, ma’am. I can’t even imagine what they might accomplish if they were able to effectively work together.”

“But that isn’t happening. You might think of them as separate intelligence agencies, and not even of nominally allied countries.”

Ferris can identify suspected and confirmed members of many of these organizations. He cites numerous names: Ashwood Abbey. The Cainite Heresy. Les Mystères. The Lucifuge. The Maiden’s Blood Sisterhood. The Night Watch. The Orpheus Group. The Arcanum. Task Force: VALKYRIE. The Society of Leopold (recently rechristened the Society of St. Leopold), also known as the Malleus Maleficarum. The Long Night. Network Zero. There are more than even these, some of which Ferris knows, many whom he’s certain he doesn’t know, and numerous independent hunters and hunter cells not affiliated with a larger organization.

“As I’ve said, ma’am, all of these organizations have vastly different goals and methods.”

He cites a few examples to help impress this fact upon Caroline and further her understanding of hunter culture.

“Terrel & Squib, for instance, doesn’t care about vampires or have any interest in fighting them. They’re a pharmaceutical company that wants to find out what happens to people’s souls after they die, because they think they can make money off it. Clients can also pay them to take care of ghost hauntings.”

“Yuri’s Group, which doesn’t have a presence in New Orleans, is an extended support group for Iraq War veterans who saw too much. They only take offensive operations in defense of their members.”

“The Talbot Group tracks down children who’ve been abducted and transformed by night-folk and tries to turn them back into humans. Their focus on vampires is also minimal, or at least has the highest failure rate.”

“The Faithful of Shulpae hunt vampires and other night-folk in order to cook and eat them. They think that’ll turn them into gods. They don’t have much, if any, presence in New Orleans.”

“Hototogisu is a multinational corporation headquartered in Tokyo. I hear they’re so large, knowledgeable, and well-funded they’ve managed to exterminate the most powerful of Tokyo’s night-folk and actually forced the survivors to work for them as employees, using their powers to increase the company’s bottom line. Ones who don’t follow regulations or who fail to meet profit quotas get liquidated. Hunters who threaten their profits by attacking ‘employees’ also get liquidated. I’d love to know how they were able to pull that off.”

“Ashwood Abbey are bored aristocrats who hunt night-folk to get their thrills. They don’t object to what the Kindred do or even see them as competitors, like the Barretts do. They kill and torture your kind because it’s fun for them. Savoy has made significant inroads with the group and been successful in turning them against Vidal’s and the Baron’s people.”

“Just one of the ways he’s flexible where Vidal isn’t. The prince wastes resources fighting the Abbey and adds another millstone around his neck. Savoy turned them into assets and probably planted spies in their ranks by essentially throwing a few orgies. Cost him nothing.”

“These people and more are the sorts of individuals your stepmother had allies among. If I were her, I’d have invaded your haven with help from an organization that had nothing to do with Kindred. I’d want as few other hunters as possible knowing my stepdaughter was a vampire. Especially NOSTF or fellow Barretts.”

Ferris has some guesses as to specific organizations Claire has relationships with. He’s even had personal dealings with a few. In many ways, he knows more about groups outside the Barretts than he does about the Barretts themselves. Claire considered it a lesser security risk.

He’s not sure how many members the local Barretts have. Losing Claire, though, is a significant and potentially decapitating blow to the organization. It could lead to infighting or the Barretts being attacked or absorbed by a rival hunter group during this period of weakness.

Ferris always got a sense that Caroline’s stepmother didn’t face any significant rivals for power. That was probably good for the organization as long as she was around, but it’s bad now that she isn’t.

Claire’s devices, as Ferris reported, were all gone when he revisited her stepmother’s hotel suite. He thinks Caroline raises a valuable point that the other Barretts will be frantic to discover what became of those devices after they realize their leader is gone.

Caroline: Caroline is interested in the guesses mostly as to how they color his approach to countersurveillance. She instructs Autumn to get him up to speed on their prior investigation into her haven’s attack, likely suspects, and the raw data as well.

GM: Ferris says the Barretts will likely begin where anyone would: investigating Claire’s last known whereabouts and associates. It’s a simple trail from there to bribe hotel staff into talking about her last visitors.

“Could be they’ll even come to you, ma’am, if she’s been able to hide what you are.”

“Could also be the new owner of her devices will come for them first.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a toothy grin. “That would make things easier.”

GM: “I’d set a lure, ma’am. We’re already faking her last known whereabouts. Be more convenient if they came to the CBD than the Quarter.”

Caroline: Caroline agrees. “You know more about them than I do. What would be most effective? My presence at her apparent death?” She muses over the idea for a moment.

GM: “If you were present and they know you’re Kindred, then they’ll know they need to get those devices back as soon as possible. Might launch a preemptive strike at your haven. I don’t know what sorts of allies or resources they could bring to bear. Maintaining the narrative with your brother Luke seems more likely to catch them off-guard.”

“Better for the Masquerade too if you aren’t at the center of the investigation into Claire. Too many people will want to talk with you, and during the day.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: Maldonato’s ghouls, meanwhile, assent to Caroline’s instructions. They will discuss with Gremillion the most convenient doctor to frame for Claire’s death.

They (or at least Kâmil) agree that it would be most proprietous to have Gisèlle alter Luke’s memories. Neither ghoul voices any reservations over doing so in the first place. The bishop has not been reachable and this is clearly happening with or without him.

Widney has already taken steps to freeze Morrow’s assets and inquires if they should attempt to remove the ghoul from police custody procedurally. They do, after all, have a law firm.

Ferris expresses doubt that lawyers will be able to quickly get Morrow out if NOSTF is involved, but also doesn’t think it could hurt. It has the potential to tie up some of Gettis’ resources through use of ones Caroline has no other immediate use for.

Dawn, meanwhile, fast approaches. Fuller waits to convey Caroline back to the Walter Robinson House.

Caroline: Caroline muses on the matter. “Start the process legally. Perhaps it’ll expose individuals of interest, or bring her back to us.”

She has few other direct items for them tonight, save the admonishment that they get some sleep as well today: tomorrow night is likely to be more demanding than this one. Still, she sees a bright spot on the horizon.

GM: Widney says she will start the proceedings. She and Autumn immediately seem about to jealously one-up the other with declarations about Caroline’s work being more important. Ferris preemptively interrupts with a castigation that competing against one another in this area will make them more prone to needless errors they can’t afford. Autumn says something about a trick of the blood that allows ghouls to subsist without sleep. Ferris says it’s moot.

Like always, they work with what they have.


Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a brief drive back to the Walter Robinson House. The same hired guards remain at their posts outside the historic property. Caroline realizes Abélia never gave her a house key as she walks up the front steps, but the door silently swings open at her approach.

Caroline: By the time they arrive she can feel the building weariness that always accompanies the dawn. It sets in as early as ever. She wonders how much has to do with the events of the last few nights and how much is general weariness.

The restored home just feels right. It’s safe and welcoming, like she imagines returning to a childhood home is, even with the eerily opening doors.

GM: The interior looks much improved from Caroline’s last visit. Fallen pieces of furniture are righted. Off-kilter paintings hang straight. Wrinkled drapes and rugs are now smooth, though stairwell’s broken-off banister piece remains missing.

Three white-furred Persian cats sit motionless at equidistant points from the front door. None stir or blink until the door clicks firmly shut behind Caroline.

As one, the three animals pad silently towards her and rub their necks against her knees.

As one, three fanged mouths part.

“Welcome home, dear child.”

“Welcome home, dear child.”

“Welcome home, dear child.”

Caroline: She bites her lip at the sight of the waiting felines, but breaks into a genuine smile at their approach and welcome. She kneels to pick one up, running her hands through its soft, warm fur.

Her father hadn’t ever wanted a cat (‘looks weak, voters are more sympathetic to dogs’), but it’s been so long since any animal didn’t react to her with terror that she’s far from picky.

The friendly greeting is a reminder of Caesar, last handed off to Autumn, and in mortal terror of her when she last saw him. That memory is like a foul odor in the wind—and gone just as quickly as it arrives when she runs her fingers though the Persian’s long fur with almost childlike glee.

She’s taken aback when they speak, but recovers quickly and scratches the held cat behind its ears. “Thank you, Mother.”

She kicks off her heels by the door as she advances into the home.

GM: The cat purrs beneath Caroline’s touch and arches its head as she scratches it. The heart-shaped name tag under its collar reads ‘Mr. Shah.’

The other cats lead Caroline to Simmone’s room, rubbing against her legs as they go. Her new mother lies in bed with her youngest sibling, who’s snuggled up against her breast. Though Simmone’s chest steadily rises and falls with her breaths, Abélia’s remains completely still.

The walking cats leap up onto the bed.

“You can join Simmone and I, my dear,” says the one in Caroline’s arms. “With all that’s been going on, I’m afraid there’s been no time to set up your room yet… but we shouldn’t wish you to spend your first night here alone in any case.”

“Don’t fret about the drapes. Sol’s eye shall not harm you here.”

Caroline: Caroline looks down on the sleeping girl in their mother’s arms and continues to run her fingers through the cat’s fur. “They won’t be disturbed when I don’t stir?”

She doesn’t even raise the point about the sun—Abélia wouldn’t so needlessly endanger her—but a beginning is a very delicate time.

GM: “Blood is not disturbed by its own,” the cat purrs in Caroline’s arms. The other two rub their necks against her flanks.

“You can wash your face in the bathroom, my dear. We’ve left out some sleepwear for you, too… with all there’s been to trouble you, I’m certain you’ve had other things on your mind.”

Caroline: She’s right. Caroline hadn’t thought of clothing at all. She’s still in the white gown she met her sire in, the one she so sharply remembers so sharply getting bathed in her mother’s blood. That blood has long since faded, but the memory has not.

“Thoughtful, it’s been an eventful evening.” Caroline lets the cat slip from her hands onto the bed as she walks towards the bathroom. “I’ll be back shortly,” she tells her mother’s still form.

GM: The cat settles itself upon the bed with the other two. Caroline finds a folded white nightgown laid over the rim of the tub in Simmone’s Little Mermaid-decorated bathroom.

Caroline: The Ventrue actively tries to avoid watching the mirror as she washes her face and slips out of the gown in favor of the nightgown.

The water is warm, delightfully so, and she soaks it up in her cold dead hands as she splashes it across her face. As she avoids the mirror she takes in the decorations, reflects on her mother’s comments about her youngest sister, on her desire to give her what she wishes: eternal childhood. On her desire to give all of them what they wish.

It leaves only the question of that. She cuts off the water and heads back to the bedroom.

GM: It’s as Caroline sits down upon the bed that her mother’s body abruptly rises. Its eyes don’t open. Its face doesn’t change. Its chest doesn’t rise and fall. Simmone, still seemingly asleep, clutches her arms around its neck.

The body doesn’t speak. Its hands simply start to slowly pull back the blankets and tuck Caroline in.

It disentangles Simmone as it does so, latching her arms around Caroline’s shoulders, and her face against the Ventrue’s bosom. The body pulls the comforter up to Caroline’s neck and lays her head upon its lap.

“Oh, my sweet, precious Caroline,” purrs the cat as the body strokes her hair. “You are such a treasure. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have you here with us tonight. To have you in our lives.”

Caroline: Having Simmone cradled against her breast stirs unfamiliar but not completely unwelcoming feelings of things Caroline thought were long gone. It’s been years since she shared a bed with anyone but a lover—and the less said of children, the better.

Similarly unfamiliar is her mother’s so calm, so gentle touch. Her gentle but firm words of affirmation. So different than anything she remembers from Claire, or even her father. Always pushing. Always critiquing, always instructing. She didn’t feel like an afterthought, but rather…. an investment, perhaps? A means to an end, rather than an end unto herself.

She isn’t certain if Abélia’s commentary is ‘more’ normal or less. From anyone else the words might feel patronizing, the affirmation something she turned up her nose at (she doesn’t need to be coddled)… but with Abélia it’s different.

She believes it.

GM: A faint chuckle sounds from below Caroline’s head, where one of the cats feels like it’s lying. The body’s hands continue to stroke her hair.

“Intimacy nourishes the soul, sweet child. It has been too long since you shared a bed.”

“It has been too long since you were loved.”

She feels the body’s slack lips place a tender kiss upon her forehead.

“Sleep now, my treasure. Know those times of want are far behind you, so long as Maman and your sisters are here…”

View
Caroline VII, Chapter I
Dark Resurrection

“I love you, my sweet, precious Caroline.”
Abélia Devillers


Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM

GM: “Claire Malveaux’s death must be seen to,” Maldonato begins as the elevator doors open to his office. Caroline sees three ghouls awaiting them with expectant looks: Congo and two large, bald, exquisitely muscled black men in black suits. Their postures and demeanors seem vaguely foreign.

“Mr. Congo, you may contact Bishop Malveaux,” the seneschal continues as he proceeds towards the door. One of the ghouls opens it. All three follow him out. The building’s austere hallways seem all but vacant at this late hour. “Inform him that he is to coordinate efforts with Miss Malveaux to preserve the Masquerade in light of Claire Malveaux’s death.”

“Very good, sir,” Congo states. He removes a phone from his breast pocket. Talks into it. “The bishop is not in Perdido House.”

“Locate him.”

“At once, sir.”

One of the guards opens an elevator.

“Set your affairs in order, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato states to Caroline as it begins its descent. “You may soon be absent from the city at large for some time.”

“Tell no one of whom you are. Your sire shall determine the circumstances under which to publicly disclose that information.”

The doors open to the Centurion Investment lobby. They get into another elevator. They’re joined by a ghoul who looks in her mid to late teens. Her milk-pale facial features are beautiful and unblemished, while her gaze is placid and tranquil. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown that strikingly contrasts her waist-length raven hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance. Even with her newly-sensitive hearing, Caroline can’t hear the ghoul’s footsteps.

“Your Requiem may now be in danger, Miss Malveaux. Kâmil, Gisèlle, you will see to her physical protection and attend to whatever needs she may require. Remain unobtrusive, but her security takes precedent over her secrecy.”

“Yes, effendi,” replies one of the male ghouls.

The female ghoul mutely bows her head.

“Do not engage with NOSTF,” Maldonato states as the elevator continues its descent. “Hound Doriocourt remains the most knowledgeable of our prince’s agents regarding their activities. She will coordinate efforts with you when available.”

“If you should desire, Mr. Congo may arrange secure temporary accommodations in Perdido House for you until a more permanent haven space is available. Report to my offices at 11:30 tomorrow night.”

The doors open to Perdido House’s parking garage. A large black SUV has already been readied. A driver gets out with a thick, double-breasted coat that he fits onto Maldonato’s tall frame. At Caroline’s inquiry as to why he names her mother ‘fallen one’, the seneschal replies, “We have spoken enough of the past for one night, Miss Malveaux. It is now time to prepare for the future.”

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t argue with that. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter.

“And the two of them,” she gestures to the ghouls he’s assigned to her, “should others ask questions as to their presence?”

GM: “You may answer those queries however you deem most conductive to your and our prince’s interests, Miss Malveaux. You have my trust in this manner.”

The driver opens the SUV door.

“There are matters to which I must attend. Mr. Congo shall arrange any further resources you may require.”

Caroline: “Safe journey, seneschal,” Caroline replies.

GM: “God go with you, Miss Malveaux.” Maldonato enters the SUV along with the driver and the other dark-skinned ghoul. Caroline briefly thinks she sees another outline inside, but it’s only for a moment before the SUV drives away.

Congo offers Caroline a cellular phone number before inquiring if there is anything further she may require.

Kâmil stands silently to attention. Gisèlle awaits with her head demurely bowed.

Caroline: The Ventrue watches the vehicle leave in silence, starring after it as it leaves, then turns her attention back to the ghouls.

“No, thank you,” she replies to the ancient ghoul. “You’ll reach out when you have more information on where to begin with Claire’s death?”

She wants to choke up over it, over callously commenting on her murder of her mother, but that’s not something she can do any longer. Not if she’s going to be the prince’s childe.

Good Ventrue don’t show their emotions like that.

GM: “His Grace would seem to wish you and the bishop to begin yourselves, madam,” Congo answers. “I shall notify you when I have reached His Excellency and arrange a meeting at your soonest conveniences.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Then I shall await your call.”

She looks at the other two ghouls. “There are still some matters I need to see to back at the Giani Building while we wait. Unless that will be a problem?”

GM: “Our time is yours to allocate, bayan,” answers the deep-voiced man.

The girl silently dips her head in seeming concurrence.

Caroline: “Excellent.”

The heiress left Fuller instructions to remain nearby when he dropped her off. She sends him a text that she’s ready for pickup now and turns to study the two ominous ghouls while she waits.

Her eyes settle on the pale woman in white, so pale as to almost appear to be a ghost. “You’re one of the ones they call filles à la casquette, aren’t you?” she asks.

GM: The girl dips her head in another nod.

Caroline: “Other Kindred tell stories about you. The younger ones, at least. I’m sure you know.”

GM: There is another mute dip of the head.

Caroline: She turns to the larger black man. “And you are also known to me by reputation. One of my ghouls spoke very respectfully of you.”

GM: “I am honored, bayan,” the large man answers.

Caroline: “That’s Turkish, isn’t it?” Caroline asks.

The Ventrue doesn’t speak it, but it’s relatively few languages she doesn’t speak some cousin too. Identifying them is more of a process of elimination.

GM: “It is, bayan. I had privilege to serve among the Black Eunuchs of the Exalted Ottoman State in my mortal life.”

Caroline: “Perhaps some night you might speak of it?” Caroline asks. “I know less of Ottoman history than I might wish.”

GM: The large ghoul inclines his head. “Your desire is my will, bayan.”

Caroline: It hadn’t been a focus for her, an item deemed valuable enough to spend time on. Much like Turkish. Arabic and Spanish both saw almost half a billion speakers—including influential OPEC members and a growing demographic of voters, even in Louisiana.

French was a given—one could not be a member of the Louisiana white elite without speaking it, and Italian she’d picked up during a summer in Europe, rather than through study.

But how often did you run into a Turkish speaker? Not frequently in the West, despite Turkey’s growing relevance in the region.

She knew Ferris thought it was interesting, for that reason. He’d said it was also a ‘secret’ language spoke by many Kurds. Something about immigrants to Turkey—of which there were many Kurdish refugees—having to learn the language, and many of them taking it back with them to Iraq and Iran, where the locals didn’t speak it.

GM: And he’s probably the only person in the Giani Building who might also speak it himself.

It’s not overlong before Fuller arrives in the SUV. Congo asks for a mobile number he may reach Caroline at, then takes his leave as the three enter the vehicle. Fuller silently takes stock of the two other ghouls but asks no questions besides, “The Giani Building, ma’am?”

Caroline: “Yes, Brian,” Caroline replies, sliding into the backseat. “Has there been any word from Ms. Morrow?”

GM: “No, ma’am. Ferris is on it, but has a lot else on his plate.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Have Widney take it over when we get back. Tell her to pull the security cameras and badge in and out logs.”

GM: “He’s already ordered her to, ma’am. He’s been giving a lot of orders.”

The ghoul’s tone doesn’t sound disgruntled. If anything, it’s approving.

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her teeth, behind the ghost of a smile. “These are Kâmil and Giselle,” she fills in to the question the ghoul is too polite to ask. “I’m uncertain as to how long they will be with us, but for the moment extend them every courtesy.”

GM: “My pleasure. Sir. Ma’am.”

Kâmil responds with a brief pleasantry. Gisèlle offers a mute inclination of her head, though shorter than the one to Caroline.

Caroline: The Ventrue wonders, passingly, if the Fille à la Cassette is mute, but it seems impolite to ask.

The rest of the journey doesn’t take long. Caroline asks questions. Fuller answers them. She gives guidance on things she wants done. About half them she learns Ferris has already started on.

It’s refreshing initiative.

GM: “I said your people needed a chain of command,” Fuller answers in response to some of Caroline’s questions. “He’s well on his way to setting one up with himself at the top. Suits me fine. I don’t want to cat-herd a bunch of whining civilians. No offense, ma’am. Knew some of his boys from my gym, too. They said good things.”

Caroline: At the Giani Building, Caroline doesn’t bring the ghouls up to her apartment. She doesn’t even bring them to her notional ‘public’ office on the roof.

Instead they head to what Green mockingly ‘christened’ ‘the war room’. Well, rooms.

Once an interior apartment with too few windows (including an awful and dreary bedroom without any), Caroline’s had the space turned into an operations center for herself and her people. The front door has quietly been replaced with a steel one behind a wood veineer. Even more, an actual steel door bar sits beside the door, ready to be slide into mounted brackets on the inside to provided added protection to those inside. The living room windows—facing a brick wall—have been similarly fitted with steel shutters inside hidden behind thick curtains.

A large table sits in the center of the room, with whiteboards installed on both opposing walls. A desk sits in front of each of the two windows, with a bank of computer screens facing into the room, away from them. About half the screens show surveillance footage from the Giani Building. Some are of the lobby, others of each of the hallways. Others still show the inside of otherwise normal seeming apartments, including one in which a heavily pregnant young Latina sits on the sofa watching TV.

Neatly printed on a corner of one of the whiteboards are a series of words in two columns. One of the columns contains many very familiar words to the ghouls. ‘Kindred. Torpor. Toreador. Ventrue. Vidal. Savoy. Kill. Masquerade.’ The list goes on. Their paring words are far more mundane.

There’s a picture of Audrey in the top-center of the opposite board, along with a timeline of events of interest in the last 48 hours.

The kitchen island is dominated by phones and other tech. The only food in clear evidence is half-full coffee pot in the corner, the Keurig beside it, and the brown-black splotches of dried coffee beside both.

The door to the bedroom is closed.

GM: “A most impressive effort for a Kindred of your years, bayan, if I may presume to speak freely,” Kâmil states as he looks the room over.

Gisèlle’s pale, slow-blinking eyes sift through the ‘war room’s’ features. The casquette girl remains silent.

Caroline: Caroline looks over to where Widney sits in front of the computers. “Show them,” she says simply. The ghoul is too smart to argue. She strikes several keys in sequence and the harsh white overhead lights go out, replaced by blues and light dark violets.

Both whiteboards are almost covered in writing, as is the desk’s surface. The contents of the columns on the board have shifted to entirely new ‘mundane’ words.

There are significant outlines for a variety of plots. “Thank you,” Caroline replies to the seneschal’s servant. “It’s a work in progress.”

The Ventrue walks over to each of the boards in series, quickly reading anything new, especially about Morrow.

Other ‘topics’ of interest on the boards include a branching series of plots related to concealing Claire’s death, lists of hunters identified by Ferris, and lists of Kindred, both in the city still and those he identified as having been destroyed, along with the dates of each destruction.

“I had hoped that I could kill most of her hunters and flip Claire into selling out the others,” she admits coldly to the seneschal’s new ghouls. “Her death was never part of the plan, and it got me off script. Even then, I’d hoped that I could conceal it for a little while longer, but with one of my people suddenly turning up missing this evening… well… I expect the cat’s out of the bag on that one to the non-kine players by now.”

“Ms. Morrow was not deeply involved in my operations, by intention. The details of what happened last night were never briefed to her beyond her own small part, but she knew enough to know that I had something major planned, that required everyone on deck and a lot of weapons, and that it was mostly successful. It’s also possible she was able to,”

She looks away from the board and towards the two, “it’s possible that she’s off being a junkie, thinking simply to sell that information to someone that offered her something good if she reported on me. It’s also possible she’s been in someone else’s pocket for some time.”

“This is not a room she notionally had access to.”

GM: After last day and the better part of this night, the projected reports are quite full.
Widney and Ferris’ people observed no unusual recent behaviors or association on Audrey’s part. Voluntary ones, at least.

Drew Harrington recently passed on a tip that Audrey has been arrested by NOPD for a variety of charges relating to her criminal activities. Somewhere down the line she doesn’t seem to have used (or received) a phone call to get in touch with Caroline’s people.

Ferris’ people couldn’t have picked a better time to start working for Caroline. Ben Chandler and Margaret Ramsey, working alongside Green, found bugs planted on a number of their peoples’ cars.
Physical bugs have not been planted in the ‘war room’ or Caroline’s or Natalia’s haven. Fuller’s armory, however, was bugged, and wiretaps have been placed on phones.

Roger Ferris personally saw to Caroline’s family. He has mixed news.

Orson spends most of his time at home these days. As the ex-CIA agent stated, “The heart attack took a lot out of him.” He’s taken up gardening.

Father Connelly has also passed away, leaving Adam (now the sole Father Malveaux) to largely administer the archdiocese. Priests such as Father Patterson, whose reassignment Caroline well recalls confronting her uncle with, have scented weakness and are making a power play. The most eventful event in Orson’s day was talking with Adam about the Vatican representative who will be paying a visit to New Orleans. Depending on what the representative reports back to Pope Gregory, Orson may be “asked” to resign the archbishopric. As Caroline well knows from her religious upbringing, bishops serve at the pope’s pleasure.

Caroline’s father appears to still be in Washington D.C., although Ferris has obviously not been able to observe him as closely as either of his brothers.

Matthew Malveaux’s day was comparatively mundane. He went to work at the family company’s offices in the CBD, spent an afternoon golfing with some associates, had dinner at Commander’s Palace, and retired for the evening to the Roosevelt Hotel. Half a city away from the Lakeview mansion he nominally cohabits with his wife, which Caroline knows to be fairly normal for them.

Luke also went to work at Malveaux Oil’s offices. He spent the afternoon working on wedding plans with Cécilia, which has occupied much of his time. He later went out drinking with friends and canceled a planned dinner with Talal al-Saud, whose company he has been known to entertain, when Cécilia was sick. He went to bed at his apartment in the CBD.

Ferris reports with some interest that Cécilia, Adeline, Yvette, Yvonne, Noëllle, and Simmone all spent the day at their mother’s house in the Garden District. It occurs to Caroline that while she didn’t ask him to snoop on the Devillers, when she ordered him to follow the movements of “my siblings,” he took that to include Abélia’s other children.

Cécilia and Adeline dropped professional and personal commitments. The three girls enrolled at McGehee all called in sick. Simmone, of course, has not been enrolled at McGehee for most of the school year. All of the driving-age womens’ cars were parked in the driveway, and the house’s grounds were bristling with bodyguards. Somewhat suspicious, but as Caroline recalls Abélia saying, Simmone “can’t handle” being around unfamiliar men carrying guns.

If Ferris has drawn any conclusions as to why the Devillers are evidently so spooked, he does not include them.

Caroline’s youngest brother, meanwhile, is still in Baton Rouge. Due to both distance and his own severed ties with the Malveauxes, Ferris is unable to provide as complete a record of Gabriel’s daily activities.

Her final brother, as far as she knows, remains in the grave.

Autumn is still looking into suitable degenerative conditions (and physicians). None of the ones she’s gone through so far are good enough for her, “if this is supposed to explain a pretty sudden death.” Caroline did not brief any of her people on Claire’s death, and Ferris, in fairly typical fashion for the ex-CIA agent, does not seem to have told Autumn more than he thought she needed to know.

Ericson has not done any of the work Caroline assigned her, and has left a disgruntled phone message citing her extensive professional and familial commitments (even if she is grateful for the Ventrue’s help in landing her job). It is plain that Caroline’s former fencing partner does not view herself as the Ventrue’s servant.

Indeed, now that Caroline considers it, Ericson seems like she has been avoiding her ever since the engagement with Caitlin Meadows. The ghoul seemed terrified of how willing she had been to throw her life headlong into danger on Caroline’s behalf.

A mother shouldn’t have done that. Not one with young children who needed her.

Roger Ferris shows up towards the tail end of Caroline’s report-reading with further news. It does not escape the Ventrue that, much like Audrey, she had yet to tell her newest ghoul where the war room was. Ferris has to be explicitly ordered to deliver his news within the presence of Maldonato’s ghouls, who Caroline is positive the ex-CIA agent does not trust.

First, Carla Rivera has seemingly disappeared. Ferris interviewed various building staff, who testified the woman has been intensely distressed and showing up late to work (or missing it altogether) since the disappearance of her brother Diego. This recent absent stretch is long even for her.

This has alarmed Jack Kinney and Shelby Wright, who Ferris overheard talking about the disappearances of Mark Kavanaugh and Jason Dabney. Two PIs hired for a job in Abita Springs who never came back.

Ferris gave them some cash to buy their silence and quiet objections for a while longer. It’s something to deal with later, but in his eyes, not now.

He awaits Caroline’s instructions expectantly as to what that should be.

It’s midway through that report when she receives a text message from Cécilia.

Simmone having anxiety attack. Maman not feeling good. Can you come help?

Caroline: The Ventrue reads through each board and takes Ferris’ report without comment before turning her attention to the two ‘guest’ ghouls.

“If possible, I’d know if Ms. Morrow’s betrayal was engineered by agents of the prince, or if her loyalties now lie with Mr. Savoy or his agents. This is the second time she’s fled to report on my activities.”

She turns to Widney, “Either way, start liquidating assets related to her. Quietly. Cut off all access to any significant accounts.” She turns to Fuller, “if she returns I want her detained indefinitely—though I don’t think she’ll be that foolish.”

Ericson’s petulant refusal to work grates against her nerves, but she’ll deal with her later.

She plugs back a text to Cécilia.

GM: “She was arrested, ma’am,” Ferris repeats. “Not impossible she still betrayed you. But if she has, it’s not worked out for her.”

Caroline: “I suppose the bugs coincidentally appeared only in areas she had access to, and her decision to leave the building, not making a call, and her previous flight after meaningful events are unrelated?” Caroline observes.

She doesn’t seem interested in arguing the point.

GM: Ferris shrugs. “We’d need to interrogate her to get the full story. Detaining her and liquidating associated assets until then is the right call.”

“I’ll get on it, ma’am,” Widney states, drawing her fingers across a tablet.

Fuller nods at his order.

Caroline: “She was always a weak link and likely spy,” Caroline clarifies. “That was intentional—better the spy I could see coming—but she’s worn out her welcome here, which means she’s worn out her use to them.”

“If she’d resisted their temptations, that would have shown her value in the long term. In succumbing she had value too—but that always had an expiration date.”

“Loyalty and discretion valuable beyond talent.” She lets that observation hang in the air with her other ghouls.

She turns to Ferris directly. “We’re on a hold for the moment, until we hear back from the prince’s agents, regarding coordination on the family and Claire. I expect that soon. I want you here to manage the ‘body’, security here, and any other integration with their cover-up—to say nothing of further investigations into Ms. Morrow.”

“I’d like a way forward we can present on the cover-up as a whole that’s plausible and involves the minimum of interference with the family directly, and still think long term medical issue and sudden deterioration or fatal complication is… ideal. Tulane Medical is likely off-limits, but University Medical Center may be more available.”

She glances at the seneschal’s two ghouls before continuing, “Have Autumn broaden her search to include complications that might arise from treatments, especially drug combinations. There’s a lot there, so if you need to bring in a medical consultant, do so. Widney will make whatever resources are necessary available.” The last seems more for Widney’s benefit than Ferris’, though she doubts the younger ghoul would argue with the ex-CIA agent.

“If that presents a possibility of malpractice, and a patsy medically that can take a more public ‘fall’, that might even work best. I don’t expect we’ll be able to completely fool her compatriots, but if we can make the original illness convincing enough, the plausibility that a Kindred introduced a new medication could be used to point… well, every direction except ours.”

Caroline knows well enough from her own limited experience just how complicated interactions between various medications can be. Fatal complications are rarer, but hardly unknown, and sometimes people just get unlucky. Particularly severe reactions to one medication or another, and those interactions snowballing. Especially in older patients that have multiple prescriptions.

It’s somewhat terrifying—and pathetic—how fragile human beings can be.

“In the meantime… there are some affairs I need to put in order,” Caroline continues, reflecting on fragility.

“I’m bringing Green, leaving Fuller, Widney, and Autumn to coordinate. Call me if something significant changes.”

GM: “We may be of assistance, bayan, where Tulane Medical Center is concerned,” answers Kamil. “Our faces and master are known to the Krewe.”

Caroline: Caroline turns to the ancient ghoul. “It is not my preference to sully either name with this matter, if possible.” She runs her tongue across her fangs. “But keep the door open, if required,” she directs Ferris.

GM: “I would counsel you, bayan, that the Krewe’s cooperation may better facilitate your plans,” Kamil states. “They monitor Tulane Medical Center the most closely, but they have agents placed within every major hospital, given the relevance of such sites to the Masquerade.”

“That is not to say carrying out such an operation without their knowledge is impossible. But it would seem to make an obstacle of what might be an asset. The preservation of the First Tradition is their foremost concern.”

Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue across her fangs again in thought. “I would not look that in the face then. I shall await Mr. Congo’s call however, before I invite others into our conspiracy.”

GM: “As you say, bayan,” the deep-voiced ghoul states.

Ferris has a shrewd look in his eye, but says nothing within Kamil’s and Giselle’s presences.

He and the others repeat their acknowledgement of Caroline’s orders.

The Ventrue departs with the two elder ghouls and Green to see her sisters in a black SUV. Caroline sits in back. Green drives.

Caroline may be content to wait for many things, but her family is not among them.


Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s an 11-miute drive from the Giani Building to the Walter Grinnan Robinson House where the Devillers live. The 1859-65-built historic home incorporates a sophisticated blend of Greek Revival and Italianate styles with a Neoclassical cast iron fence, and is one of the largest properties in the district. Large enough to house each member the prodigious family in comfort and privacy.

True to Ferris’ earlier report, there are numerous parked cars outside. Jeremy May and Daniel Hayes, among other security personnel, are on guard. They wave Caroline’s car in without pause.

Caroline: Caroline waits for Green to park, then turns her attention to the two elder ghouls before getting out. “Several of my sisters are uncomfortable around armed men ever since one of them was shot,” she tells Kamil. “I mention it only to ask that you be mindful of your actions and inactions around them on that account.”

She turns to the casquette girl. “And I ask that you not, barring emergency, seek to use the gifts of the blood on an of them directly.”

GM: Kamil inclines his head. “I do not require weapons to fight, bayan, should the need arise.”

While all manner of firearms or blades might hide within the large folds of his dark suit, the casquette girl’s thin white dress looks as if it has little room for weapons.

She dips her head in mute acknowledgement of the order.

Caroline: “The mortal security is fair game—and in fact I would be more comfortable if you were willing to discretely verify there was no ill intent or tampering with them while we’re here.”

Her blue eyes glitter darkly in the car’s interior. “I suspect your touch with such things to be far more nuanced and elegant than my own.”

GM: The casquette girl dips her head again, then tilts it towards the car’s window as if to question ‘now?’

“Can you fucking talk or what?” Green snaps.

The casquette girl only placidly stares at Caroline.

Caroline: “When you’re three hundred years old you get certain allowances,” Caroline interrupts her own ghoul knowingly.

GM: “My parents said being old gets allowances too. They said a lot of bullshit.”

Neither of the elder ghouls reply.

Caroline: Caroline laughs darkly. “You might take notes, Ms. Green. It takes a special kind to survive centuries.”

She turns her gaze back to the elder ghoul. “As the opportunity presents itself, Gisèlle. I expect to be here until we receive the call.”

GM: The casquette girl dips her head again.

Caroline: The Ventrue slides out of the SUV and heads towards the house.

GM: Hayes and May exchange some perfunctory words with Caroline as she gets out, the latter drawlingly remarking on how he’s still waiting to show her a good time at the shooting range. The front door opens without resistance at her approach.

Caroline: She laughs passingly at May’s flirtation, trying to keep the doubts Gettis’ ‘resurrection’ has planted within her at bay, but isn’t slowed in her entry.

GM: Caroline was last inside the house several moths ago to celebrate Christmas with the Devillers. Some of the home’s exquisite features include moldings enhanced with 22 carat gold leaf, marble mantles, custom designed rugs, 19th century-painted ceiling murals, a staircase formerly in the Library of Congress, 16 ft. ceilings, and spacious, spectacular grounds with a beautiful pool and elaborate ironwork. She’s passingly acquainted with the home’s history as the original residence of an Antebellum tobacco magnate.

Caroline: She remembers even then being shocked by the wealth on display. The Malveaux family is wealthy by any objective or subjective measure. Unimaginably wealthy by the standards of most people. But there’d been something so impossibly elegant about the Devillers’ house. Something that almost laughed at other attempts to match it.

GM: Jocelyn had gushed about the historic property when she visited with Caroline, and the family had all happily entertained her request if she could take pictures. But the Ventrue wonders if her former lover would say that tonight. Like their one-time relationship that’s now so tinged with bitterness and regret, the house is not what it once was. Family pictures, which now include Caroline, hang askew. Furniture has been moved. Rearranged. All wrong. Tables at improper angles. Chairs facing away, or set out in the middle of nowhere. The times in none of the clocks match. Electric cords are unplugged, or crushed beneath table legs. Some of the drapes are only half-done, stretching over the windows like lolling tongues. Rugs seem too long or too short. Some of the ceilings feel taller or shorter than others. The length of the stairs up to the family bedrooms seem uneven. Everything about the house feels off.

Wrong.

Two white-furred persian cats stare at Caroline from the second floor. They feel like they’ve been sitting there for hours. She reads the names on their collars. ‘Mr. Shah.’ ‘Marie.’

They don’t hiss. They just open their mouths and soundlessly fling themselves from the railings.

Caroline: For a moment, but only just, Caroline wonders if someone has attacked the home, if it’s been invaded. The thought of someone rampaging their way through the home, terrorizing her sisters, stops her mid-step.

But she remembers Cécilia’s comments from earlier. About the home. About how much of their mother had sunk into the home. How much it was a reflection and expression of her.

It tells her all she needs to know about how much her actions have cost her. How much Caroline’s actions have cost her.

She sees the cats jump, remembers Simmone’s affection for them, and snatches them out of the air before they crash down almost on instinct.

GM: The taller Kamil reaches out for one of them as he sees Caroline do so. The Ventrue and ghoul both catch the cats. The felines rest in their grasps for a moment, then begin madly hissing, scratching, and biting. Caroline mostly doesn’t feel it past her dead skin. The ghoul evinces no pain either as he sets the one marked ‘Marie’ down.

There’s a loud crash. A toppled grandfather clock rests by Giselle’s feet, who isn’t where she was standing a moment ago.

She looks from the clock and to Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t try to hold the angry feline, releasing it as the crash sounds. She grits her teeth at the sight. “Cécilia!?” she shouts into the house. “Adeline?” She stalks forward.

GM: The ghouls follow her. Kamil frowns, rests his arm against the banister, and just as quickly pulls away.

Caroline: She turns her gaze back to him at the sudden motion.

GM: There’s a painful snap and crash as a broken-off section of banister hits the first floor. Kamil might have broken his neck if he’d been leaning on it for any longer.

Caroline: She pauses, bites her lip.

“You do not appear welcome here,” she says at last. “This may be rude to ask, but please wait outside. There is no harm awaiting me within.”

GM: “The same conclusion had occurred to me, bayan,” the ghoul nods.

There’s only a slight pause at Caroline’s order.

“As you wish, bayan. We shall see to the trustworthiness of the guards and await your return.”

Giselle silently dips her head and follows him out.

It’s as the ghouls leave that Caroline hears Cécilia’s voice call, “Caroline? I’m in Simmone’s room!”

Caroline: The Ventrue darts up the stairs towards it with the grace of a ballerina.

GM: Grace to far eclipse any ballerina, if she’s to be precise. Simmone’s bedroom on the second floor closely if not identically resembles the one Caroline saw in the LaLaurie House, down to the same Into the Woods and other theater posters, pink-sheeted bed with its fluffy comforter, and collection of stuffed animals. All that’s different is the bedroom view out over the home’s garden and swimming pool. Cécilia sits on the on the bed, dressed in a nightgown, sleeping robe, and slippers. She’s cradling a nightgown-clad Simmone on her lap, who is crying and wailing piteously in French,

“Je veux maman! Je veux maman! Je veux maman!”

(“I want Maman! I want Maman! I want Maman!”)

“Oh, Caroline, I’m so glad you’re here,” Cécilia says as she looks up from in between words of comfort. “She’s had a horrible nightmare. About Maman.”

“Ecoute, Simmone, Caroline est là. Tu reverras maman très bientôt, je te le promets,” Cécilia assures Simmone in a gently cooing voice, as if the ten-year-old were actually a much younger child.

(“Look, Simmone, Caroline’s here. You will see Maman again very soon, I promise.”)

Caroline: Caroline swallows her own fear about their mother and hides the bitter aftertaste behind a gentle smile. “Oh, on,” she slides into the room towards her youngest sister and finds a spot in the bed on the bed next to Cécilia. She extends a warming hand to take one of Simmone’s own.

“C’est terrible. Voulez-vous m’en parler?” she asks softly.

(“That’s terrible. Do you want to tell me about it?”)

GM: “E-elle est morte! Elle MORTE! Maman est morte!” Simmone wails, tears running down her face.

(“S-she died! She DIED! Maman DIED!”)

Cécilia dabs at her face with a tissue. The wastebin is very full.

Caroline: Caroline squeezes her sister’s hand. “Ça a dû être terrifiant! Puis tu t’es réveillé et elle n’était pas là. Je suis tellement désolé, Simmone,” she answers, her tone understanding.

(“That must have been terrifying! Then you woke up and she wasn’t here. I’m so sorry, Simmone.”)

GM: “Je veux Maman! Je veux Maman! Je veux Maman!” Caroline’s newly-youngest sibling sobs.

(“I want Maman! I want Maman! I want Maman!”)

Caroline: The Ventrue brushes hair from the girl’s tear-streaked with her free hand. “Elle ne peut pas venir tout de suite, chérie. Elle fait quelque chose pour moi.”

(“She can’t come right now, darling. She’s doing something for me.”)

She bites her lower lip in concern as Simmone sobs.

GM: Simmone tilts her head back and gives a wordless, high-pitched shriek:

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-EEEEEEEEEEE-EEEEEEEEEE!!!!”

“Caroline, there’s some-”

EEEEEEEEE-EEEEEEEEE!!!!!”

SLEEPING PILLS on the

EEEEEEE-EEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!”

“-DRESSER, can you please get those?” Cécilia asks, trying to talk over the noise.

“Cécilia? Que se passe-t-il!?” comes Adeline’s voice at the scream.

(“Cécilia? What’s happening!?”)

Caroline: “Cauchemar,” Caroline’s voice cuts through the shrieks for Adeline.

(“Nightmare.”)

She turns her attention back to Simmone, laying one cool hand on the girl’s cheek and turning her gaze towards Caroline’s own.

“Simmone, je ne veux pas partir comme ça. S’il vous plaît,” the Ventrue doesn’t quite plead.

(“Simmone, I don’t want to leave like this. Please.”)

GM: The ten-year-old’s ear-splitting shriek subsides into low sobs.

“Je… v-veux… Maman …

(“I… w-want… Maman…)

“The dresser, please, Caroline. She needs to sleep,” Cécilia says in English.

Caroline: The Ventrue instead wipes the freshest of Simmone’s tears away. “Je sais. Mais pour ce soir, juste une fois, vas-tu te contenter de moi?” she asks. (“I know. But for just tonight, just once, will you settle for me?”)

“Je vous tiendrai jusqu’à ce que vous vous endormiez, et je vous promets de ne plus laisser de mauvais rêves s’approcher,” she offers with a faint smile. (“I’ll hold you until you fall asleep, and I promise not to let any more bad dreams come near.”)

“Cécilia peut s’allonger de l’autre côté si vous le souhaitez, et nous pouvons vous entourer d’amour.” (“Cécilia can lay on the other side if you like, and we can surround you in love.”)

“Je chanterai même si tu veux. Vous souvenez-vous quand nous avons chanté ensemble pour maman?” (“I’ll even sing if you like. Do you remember when we sang together for Maman?”)

GM: “O-Oui…” Simmone sniffs.

“Cela semble être une merveilleuse idée, Caroline—entourons-la d’amour. Que devrions-nous chanter?” Cécilia says, scooting back across the bed as she pulls Simmone along with her. She smiles as she runs a hand through their sister’s hair.

(“That sounds like a wonderful idea, Caroline—let’s surround her in love. What should we sing?”)

Caroline: The Ventrue props herself up on the other side of Simmone, her long legs stretched out before her but still sitting up next to her.

“Des demandes?” she asks Simmone. (“Any requests?”)

When the younger girl expresses none Caroline begins softly, but more deeply than her typical soprano, slowly meandering through the lyrics like she’s taking a stroll through the park.

“Tiens-moi près et
tiens-moi vite
Le sort magique que
vous lancez
C’est la vie en rose”

“Quand tu m’embrasses,
le ciel soupire
Et bien que je ferme
les yeux
Je vois la vie en rose”

“Quand tu me presse
contre ton cœur
Je suis dans un
monde à part
Un monde où les
roses fleurissent”

“Et quand tu parles, les
anges chantent d’en haut
Les mots de tous
les jours semblent se
transformer en
chansons d’amour

“Donnez-moi votre
cœur et votre âme
Et la vie sera toujours
La vie en rose”

(“Hold me close and hold me fast
The magic spell you cast
This is la vie en rose "
)

(“When you kiss me, heaven sighs
And though I close my eyes
I see la vie en rose "
)

(“When you press me to your heart
I’m in a world apart
A world where roses bloom”
)

(“And when you speak, angels sing from above
Everyday words seem to turn into love songs”
)

(“Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La vie en rose”
)




GM: Caroline first heard the Louis Armstrong rendition of the song from her dad’s records. But it’s one thing to hear it from the famous jazz singer’s warm, scratchy, deeper tones in English, and another to hear her higher rendition in melodious-sounding French.

Cécilia adds her voice to her new sister’s. It’s a warm voice with a bright, full timbre, but softer and less piercing than Caroline’s, which she recalls her choir instructor saying could potentially assert itself over a whole orchestra. The contrast between their voices isn’t as marked as Caroline’s song with Abélia’s was, but neither are the pair’s vocal types identical like Yvette’s and Yvonne’s. Instead, the Ventrue’s duet with Cécilia reminds her of a beach’s low-lapping waves at high tide. Each one looks similar enough, but follows steadily after the other, and slowly laps at Simmone’s distress like gentle waves washing over a sand castle.

“Donnez-moi votre
cœur et votre âme
Et la vie sera toujours
La vie en rose.”

(“Give your heart and soul to me
And life will always be
La vie en rose.”
)

“That was beautiful, Caroline,” Cécilia remarks quietly after their youngest sister’s whimpers for Maman have ceased. She looks at Simmone’s sleeping face for a moment longer, then back to Caroline’s.

“Maman told me about how you sang for Simmone after Luke proposed. But it’s one thing to hear about it, and another to hear it.”

Caroline: “I’m glad you enjoyed it,” Caroline whispers back. “And gladder she did.” The Ventrue looks down at the sleeping Simmone. “I did too.”

GM: Cécilia looks back at their sister. “This isn’t Simmone’s first meltdown, as I’m sure you know. But that’s actually another plus to having you in the family now. I was just going to give her some pills, this has happened so many times. In fact, I even did, not that long ago. She still woke back up.”

Caroline: Caroline looks at the older of her sisters. “It must be difficult being so many things to so many people, Cécilia.”

GM: “It is, sometimes. But I think I have an easier time than some people.” She lays a hand on Caroline’s. “How did things go at Perdido House?”

There’s worry behind her eyes, but hope too. Even expectation. After all, Caroline is here.

Caroline: “We should talk outside,” Caroline replies quietly, gesturing towards Simmone.

GM: Cécilia glances back down at the sleeping ten-year-old. “You’re right, now that Maman isn’t here. It’s so easy to take all of the little things for granted.”

She rises, follows Caroline outside of Simmone’s bedroom, and quietly closes the door behind her.

“Well?” she asks excitedly as they walk towards the stairs.

Caroline: “He didn’t say no,” Caroline answers with barely contained excitement, like a teenager asked out by the presumptive prom king.

“The seneschal sent me off to help deal with the Claire stuff, and sent a pair of his servants to help.” Her footsteps are as silent as death. “I think things are about to change. For the better.”

Finally.

“What happened here though?” she asks, gesturing to the wrecked home.

GM: “Caroline, that’s wonderful!” Cécilia exclaims, hugging her. “I’m so happy for you. I knew this day, or I suppose night, would come.”

Caroline: The Ventrue can’t keep, and doesn’t fight, the smile on her face. “It’s all coming together. Right at the edge of falling apart. I guess no change comes without pain. But it’s worth it.”

GM: “Absolutely,” Cécilia nods. “So what’s going to hap… actually, no. I’ll let you tell the full story to Maman and me.”

Her good humor seems to fade as she looks down the staircase over the disordered home.

“Simmone wasn’t wrong. Maman died. We all had nightmares when it happened. Though she told me it almost certainly would. Philip wouldn’t abide her presence in Perdido House.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression tightens like string suddenly pulled taunt. “He hurt her?” Then, a moment later, “She came knowing he’d hurt her?”

GM: “She knew you would need her,” Cécilia nods. “You’d know better than me exactly how it happened, but all of us felt it when she died. It’s why the house is the way it is. It’s why Simmone is the way she was. Maman is part of the house, part of us, and we are part of her.”

“You are part of her, too. It’s almost finished.”

Caroline: Caroline grits her teeth. “I did need her.” Without the distraction, to say nothing of the memory games…

Still, she didn’t want this. Hadn’t expected this cost.

“What does that mean for her? For us?”

GM: “It means a lot,” Cécilia says slowly. “I’ll explain everything in a bit. Everything that I understand, at least. But first… we need to bring her back.”

Caroline: “How?” Caroline’s answer is immediate, unhesitant.

GM: “Let me show you.” Cécilia starts down the stairs.

Caroline: The Ventrue follows tensely.

GM: “I could have started hours ago. But it’s important that you be here for this. So you can learn how to do it, too.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “This has happened before?”

GM: Cécilia nods. “Yes. Maman doesn’t put all of herself into her bodies. They aren’t exceptionally hard to destroy, if she isn’t trying to keep them intact—which I don’t imagine she was in Perdido House. That wasn’t a battle worth fighting, or perhaps even possible to win.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs darkly. “I’d argue in this, as with many things, she won that battle before she walked through the door.”

GM: Cécilia only smiles. “Yes.”

“None of her bodies are great losses, in of themselves. She’s only sad for the pain their destruction can cause us. Maman is so much more than the vessels you’ve seen. Those are more like, I suppose you could say hand puppets, than what she truly is.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry it hurt you all,” Caroline replies. “I had no idea he’d react thusly. Or that they had history.”

GM: Cécilia shakes her head. “Oh, you don’t need to be, and I hope you don’t blame yourself. Maman knew you needed her help. And you couldn’t have known about their history.”

Caroline: She doesn’t argue the point. Not with Cécilia. That battle, much like Abélia’s, was won and lost long ago.

GM: “In any case,” Caroline’s new sister continues, “her bodies hold only a small portion of her. More of it is in the house,” Cécilia gestures at their surroundings, “and in… us.”

Caroline: Caroline listens attentively.

“She wasn’t gone. I think… I don’t think the seneschal realized she was always there with me, even after he… well, made his point.”

There’s some grim satisfaction in getting the better of him.

GM: “She is in all of us,” Cécilia nods. “Our lives are her lives. And her life is ours.”

“It’s harder for her to act through us than it is through her body, though. All seven of us would need to be present for her to be capable of the same things, if her body wasn’t available.”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods in understanding as she continues to follow her oldest sister.

GM: “Her body can channel more of her, but not all of her. The house can contain more still, and is especially useful because we can all spend time here without it being suspicious. It’s our home, after all.”

Caroline: Caroline pointedly doesn’t ask the obvious question. The one that should be burning.

What is she.

She’s Caroline’s mother, and that’s enough.

GM: “There’s nothing wrong with being curious.”

Cécilia smiles at her.

“I’ve said our lives are one. With a little time and effort, you can learn to, I suppose open yourself, to me and the others, too.”

Caroline: “I just…” Caroline shivers, “don’t want to appear ungrateful.”

GM: Cécilia stops in mid-stride to take Caroline’s hands in hers. “Oh, no! There’s nothing wrong with questions. Whatever makes you happy, Caroline. Maman wants us to be happy. I want you to be happy.”

Caroline: There are words Caroline wants to say, but bites back. About how happy the family has already made her. About how this was what she always wanted. A family that genuinely wanted her to be happy, that she genuinely wanted to be happy, and that she didn’t have to hide from.

She bites them back almost out of reflex. Silence reigns for a moment after Cécilia’s declaration.

Finally, she battles through the walls between the truth and the open air and finds her voice. “I know, Cécilia.” She squeezes those holding hands. “I know. Old habits die hard though, even harder than Mother, and this is all… it’s so new that it seems like a dream. I don’t want the dream to end.”

GM: Cécilia smiles beatifically at her new sister as they continue to hold hands.

“You don’t need to be scared anymore, Caroline. Not while you’re here. You are home, and you are loved.”

Caroline: “I know,” she answers.

GM: “Say,” Cécilia continues with a more playful look, “if all of this feels too heavy, what do you think sounds better after I get married to your brother: Cécilia Devillers-Malveaux, or Cécilia Malveaux-Devillers? I want to take his name, but I couldn’t bear to give up our family’s either, so that seems like a good compromise.”

Caroline: Caroline’s serious expression cracks, then collapses into a smile, and finally explodes into genuine laughter.

“I think it sounds like you’re going to curse your children terribly when they’re learning to spell their names. Or, I suppose, they’ll curse you.”

GM: Cécilia softly laughs back. “They’ll have you to help them learn to spell. You’re so smart, it’ll be as easy for them as tying shoes.”

Caroline: “Oh, of course, it’ll be my problem.” Caroline rolls her eyes in mock irritation, then gives another little laugh.

“I really can’t wait to meet them, Cécilia, and to see what the future holds.” Her gaze sweeps back towards the direction they were headed. “But that future requires some works yet now to buy it.”

GM: “I can’t wait for us to meet them either,” Cécilia smiles back. Her gaze follows Caroline’s deeper into the house, then returns.

“But tell me first, I really would like your opinion: which name do you think sounds better?”

Caroline: “Malveaux-Devillers,” Caroline answers. “It lets him have primacy will always reminding everyone of who you are. And it rolls off the tongue more easily.”

GM: “Mal-Dev. Dev-Mal,” Cécilia says experimentally. “Yes, I think you’re right. It starts more softly. Yvette liked Devillers-Malveaux more, I suppose that’s no surprise.”

Caroline: “She’s possessive,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Yes, she is,” Cécilia nods. “There’s a bit of Maman in each of us.”

Caroline: “In more ways than one?” Caroline observes. There’s a twinkle in her eye.

GM: “In many ways,” her new sister smiles. “You included. You have her dutifulness, I think, most of all.”

Caroline: “The seneschal named her fallen,” Caroline abruptly slips out.

GM: Cécilia looks confused. “That’s strange. I suppose the logical question to ask is by what metric?”

Caroline: “He wouldn’t speak of it, he simply labeled her ‘the fallen one.’”

GM: “I’m not sure why he’d call her that. But then, as you’ve deduced, they have history together. Maman has said she knew him in the Old World.”

Caroline: “More games, maybe,” Caroline speculates. “His plots run deeply. I didn’t want to keep it secret, the ideas he set spinning.”

Caroline: Cécilia nods. “We can ask Maman if you’re curious. Now, so far as-”

She trails off as she and Caroline see Giselle through the front door’s paned glass. The casquette girl is standing on the front porch. She wordlessly points at several of the guards.

Caroline: Caroline nods, and mouths as very clear ‘later’ to the elder ghoul.

“Several of your people and I are going to be having very pointed conversations,” Caroline explains for Cécilia’s benefit.

GM: “Is someone there?” Cécilia asks, looking through the door’s glass.

Caroline: “One of the seneschal’s people. I asked her to examine the security people.”

GM: Cécilia looks directly at Giselle.

“I don’t see anyone. She must be hiding herself.”

“I’m so glad you thought to investigate the guards, in any case. Security isn’t really my or Maman’s area. If you don’t think they’re trustworthy, then by all means, do whatever you think is best to keep everyone safe.”

Caroline: “I have no intention of letting anyone harm any of you,” Caroline answers firmly. “We’ll see what she found. We should see to matters here, though… I don’t know how much longer I’ll have tonight.”

GM: Cécilia nods as they start off again into the house. “Yes, of course. Do you have any idea when it’ll be safe enough for the girls to go back to school?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “One of my people, whose opinion I greatly respect, once said all protection, all physical security, was ultimately not a question of whether you could make someone perfectly safe, but whether you could make it so costly to harm them as to make it prohibitive.”

“I don’t think I could ever be comfortable with the idea that someone, anyone, could hurt any of them… or you,” she admits.

GM: “We’re safe as long as we’re here, Caroline,” Cécilia states emphatically. “I don’t want to see any of the girls hurt either. If you think the world is still too dangerous outside the house, we’ll withdraw them from school. We can get everything we need delivered here, and there’s obviously plenty of room. It’d be only a little inconvenient. There’s things they’d be sad to miss out on, of course. But they’ll accept it if Maman says it’s to keep us safe.”

Caroline: “I can’t hide all of you here forever,” Caroline answers firmly. “And even if I could, I will not fight this far and further to rob my sisters of their lives and lock them in a cage like glass dolls.”

She looks at Cécilia. “I can’t promise that no harm will come to them—or you—beyond these walls—but I know that harm will come if they never leave. Even more, it’ll attract attention, which will only tighten the noose.”

“For now, I’m going through the existing people. Anyone that I don’t like the look of we’ll get rid of, and I’m going to move some of my people over to fill the gaps. People I trust, and that have a little more idea of what to look out for.”

“After that… I want them to return to their lives. And if anyone tries to touch them… well, they’re already hard targets, ones of mostly vindictive value, and ones that whether someone hits or misses will have bring down an ungodly firestorm on whoever does it.”

“That’s more than they had yesterday. Or any day in the past.”

Cécilia nods. “I think Maman would be very pleased to hear those words from you.”

“Let’s see that she does.”


Monday night, 7 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s not a far walk to the house’s library. Cécilia pulls out one of the books. The shelf ponderously swings open, revealing a stairwell that descends underground—a notably unusual feature given that most houses in New Orleans lack conventional basements.

The steps appear to be made from a dark, solid material Caroline cannot identify—stone, rock, or tightly-packed soil. There’s no design or ornamentation to them. They seem raised from the living earth itself.

The bookshelf swings shut behind Caroline as she follows her sister in. There are no lights, but Cécilia doesn’t stumble or lose her way. Caroline’s eyes cannot pierce more than several feet into the gloom. The tunnel-like stairwell is utterly silent save for the soft pad of Cécilia’s slippered feet and the sharper click of Caroline’s heeled ones down the steps.

Caroline: It’s unnerving not being able to pierce the gloom for the vampire with perfect nightvision, but Caroline continues down behind Cécilia.

GM: The pair emerge into a yawning, hollowed-out chamber bereft of ornamentation or decor. It’s at least as large as the house’s atrium, but Caroline cannot say how far it goes on. She can’t see walls or ceilings. Just more gloom.

A pentagram is drawn across the floor, not with any marker or extraneous material, but dug into the ground itself. The scent of long-dried blood from within the grooves is impossible for the vampire to miss.

It stands out less, though, than the recently-dried black blood smeared over the outside floor. Abélia’s severed head lies on the ground, along with her headless body. The former grins macabrely up at the ceiling with unseeing eyes.

Caroline: Caroline looks away from the corpse. Not because she hasn’t seen plenty, but because seeing Abélia—or at least what she perceives as Abélia—in that state is a sharp stab equally humbling and shameful.

That she had to suffer to help Caroline… and that she would.

She knows the body shouldn’t be here. But then, where should it be? She knows it vanished, and all such things go somewhere.

GM: This has happened before? Caroline had asked.

Cécilia said it had happened before.

And ‘it’ did go somewhere.

All of those ‘its.’

Caroline has read accounts of how Joseph Stalin would cram scores, even hundreds of people into cells meant for only a handful, packing humans in like sardines until so much as moving their hands was impossible. He didn’t need to torture them. Not actively. He just left them alone, to thirst and starve and shit. Inevitably, one person in the immobile mass couldn’t take it anymore and would start screaming. Then the people next to him would scream. Then the people next to them. Then everyone in the entire cell, all those dozens, all screaming. People could supposedly hear them from miles beyond the prison. They described it as the most ghastly, soul-chilling sound they’d ever heard.

The other ‘its’ don’t scream.

They’re well past that state.

Some have had their guts and heads split open. Others have that their limbs or faces gnawed off. Some have their throats slit. Some look like they were exploded from within. Some look like they’ve simply rotted apart. Some are thin. Others have grotesquely swollen, pregnant bellies burst open like gory pustules.

There are tens.

Dozens.

Scores.

More than Caroline can even see.

Black, tar-like residue coats the corpses everywhere like a morning dew. Omnipresent. They’re haphazardly stacked and piled high like so many logs of kindling. They don’t make Caroline think of sardines, though. More like shed exoskeletons—or half-devoured insects wrapped in the sticky folds of a spider’s web. The closest thing she’s seen to it are pictures of the Holocaust or German massacres on the Eastern Front.

Bodies.jpg
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The oddest thing is the smell.

The Ventrue would expect it to be overpowering. To send Cécilia retching on her knees, and Caroline to perhaps even long for the physical catharsis. The corpses don’t smell awful, though. They smell like her new mother’s perfume. Violet, creamy, and faintly cool.

Caroline: Caroline reaches out, but doesn’t quite touch them. Instead she covers her mouth with her other hand. “My God…” she whispers.

GM: Cécilia lays a hand on Caroline’s shoulder.

“Maman’s bodies aren’t very durable. They burn out, or simply give out. This is where they all go.”

She looks between Caroline and the piles of corpses.

“Obviously, none of the others know about this place. They’d be scarred for life, if they saw.”

She considers her new sister concernedly.

Caroline: “She’s suffered…” The Ventrue touches one of the husks. “So much.”

She looks back to Cécilia. “I won’t tell them.”

GM: The husk’s skin feels thin and brittle, like old clay. It crumbles apart beneath Caroline’s touch, even light as that is.

“She tells me it doesn’t hurt that badly, most of the time. I hope she isn’t only saying so to comfort me.”

Caroline: The Ventrue has had her own experiences with agony. With wounds that should have killed her. With bullets and blades and whips and fists. With unspeakable agony both alive and dead.

“It’s different,” Caroline reflects. “When it can’t really do more than hurt you. Pain is… manageable. The terror associated with it isn’t there. I’m sure what she goes through has its own flavor, but it isn’t quite the same as when I was human.”

Which doesn’t mean it hurts any less.

GM: Cécilia squeezes her shoulder.

“I’m sorry you’ve hurt.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a reassuring smile. “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t. I just mean… it probably does hurt her… but not in the same way it might hurt you. Still… so many times.”

She looks away from the husks.

“How do we bring her back?”

GM: “Blood,” Cécilia answers somberly.

She reaches among the husks and withdraws a dark-hued, ancient-looking ceremonial dagger.

“I’ve said our lives are one, Caroline. That connection works both ways—for good and ill.”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods.

GM: Cécilia draws the blade’s edge over her palm. She squares her jaw as red wells from the cut, then turns her hand over and lets blood dribble into the pentagram’s grooves.

“There are advantages to this, but there are drawbacks too.”

Caroline: “You should have let me,” Caroline protests as the scent of her sister’s coppery blood fills the room.

GM: Cécilia shakes her head as red continues to well from her palm. “I know being cut doesn’t mean as much to you, Caroline. But the transformation isn’t finished yet. I’m not sure your blood would satisfy.”

Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lip, but doesn’t argue.

GM: “Did you notice, how Adeline didn’t come running when you said Simmone had a nightmare?”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “They don’t all know yet.”

GM: “Yes. They’re still growing to accept you as part of our lives. Simmone was so out of it already, I don’t think she questioned what you were doing here. Not to mention you’ve gotten to know her better than Adeline. She wouldn’t have wanted to cuddle up with someone who wasn’t family.”

Cécilia winces as she digs the knife’s edge in deeper and walks to the pentagram’s next point. She lets more blood dribble into the grooves.

Caroline: Caroline grits her teeth as she watches Cécilia bleed.

GM: “The…” she starts, “largest advantage to our connection with Maman is that she’s all but indestructible, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t matter how the seneschal, or anyone else, kills her bodies. She will always return.”

Caroline: “What did she do before you?” Caroline asks.

GM: Cécilia kneels to paint her blood in the space between the two points.

“I think she simply had to make do without. That’s why we’re doing this, tonight. So she can come back. If we didn’t, she would take longer. Much longer. I’m not sure how long. Years. Maybe centuries.”

“She might have been able to circumvent that restriction by putting less of herself into her bodies. That would probably give them a longer lifespan, too. But she wouldn’t be able to do as much through them. Prices to all things.”

Caroline: Nothing is ever really free. Sometimes it simply isn’t you paying the price.

GM: Cécilia walks to the pentagram’s next point. She grimaces again as she slices the blade across her uncut hand, then lets the blood pool.

“Maman…” she starts fal