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Blood & Bourbon

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Story Twelve, Celia XXV, Emmett XVI

“Appearances usually are deceiving.”
Antoine Savoy

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Savoy, Preston, and Camille spend a little while filling in Em on the basics of his condition and the city’s politics. Prince Vidal bears little love indeed for the Snake Clan, and will likely order Em’s execution if he or his agents discover the fledgling’s true lineage.

“Most of us claim to be Toreador or Caitiff when we leave the Quarter, or do so in stealth,” explains Camille.

Em is technically an illegal Embrace too, but against the fact of his lineage, it’s largely moot. The prince will seek his destruction for that fact alone, should he ever learn.

He also learns what night it is (they don’t say day), as well as the fact that it has been multiple nights since he first arrived at the Evergreen. Rosa Bale was able to tell them around when to expect Em back—“in some form of other,” Savoy remarks amusedly.

Emmett: So time… passed differently where he was?

Whatever. He’s a vampire now.

His mind is still swimming with the new names and minutiae from the other three. “But won’t I be expected to have a legitimate sire to claim as my own if I ever want to appear in… Elysium, you called it?”

GM: “Lie,” says Camille. “Sami says you’re rather good at that. Claim to have been Embraced somewhere else.”

“Mr. Delacroix could also claim an established Kindred as his sire, which carries its own drawbacks and advantages,” states Preston.

Emmett: “Ah. Well enough, then. Being an immigrant seems simpler, as far as that goes.”

Em continues to be an attentive listener, particularly interested in the finer points of etiquette related to ghouls and human pawns.

He has a couple of ideas there. He asks Camille point-blank about her relation to Mouton, who he has designs on himself. He does not wish to ruin the cop’s usefulness to his sire, but would be interested in holding his leash, or purchasing him from whoever currently does.

GM: “Mouton is a considerable asset to myself and Lord Savoy,” says Camille. “Establish yourself somewhere and I’ll consider selling him.”

Emmett: “I have thoughts on that. Does Ron Landrenau belong to anybody?”

GM: “He’s a man in demand,” chuckles Savoy. “He’s one of mine, though I haven’t blooded him. Camille says something about you having an interest in movies, Mr. Delacroix?”

Emmett: “Indeed. I also have an interest in him specifically. To be frank, I am deeply interested in maintaining a relationship with my uncle beyond but including using him to realize creative projects. Lord Savoy, rather than attempting to purchase him from you, I would rather like to oversee his work on your behalf, and perhaps act as a sort of…creative consultant, overseeing projects that further your interests politically while bringing an understanding of the specifics of film to his oversight. Please, don’t spare my feelings; do you see value in such an arrangement? I would never want to involve myself with your pawn without benefiting you in the bargain. The same, of course, goes for Mouton.”

GM: “See? This one’s already wheeling and dealing,” Savoy grins towards Camille. “You could’ve found someone much worse for your second Embrace!”

Emmett: Em acknowledges the point with a smile.

GM: He turns back to Em. “Movies are mostly incidental to my interests, Mr. Delacroix. I think there’s value in your proposition. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t blooded your uncle.”

Emmett: “Well, that’s encouraging. I would try to make the most of his cultural influence, which I know to be considerable. It sounds like youth is a bit of a millstone on this side of the grave, but I think this is an area where my relative proximity to breathing days and my growing understanding of the Kindred world creates opportunities others might not be able to parse. Vampire media exists, despite the Masquerade you’ve described. I’m sure there’s risks playing with such material, but perhaps rewards as well—do Kindred not wish to see something of themselves on the screen, and attach meaning to stories that capture their hearts? And if course there are subtler games to play with entertainment, towards whatever other goals you might have that benefit from popular consumption of this or that idea. Stories do make us who we are, after all.”

GM: “Indeed they do, Mr. Delacroix. There’s a lot of power in stories, among the dead and living alike. We think they affect us less, because there’s no mass market for Kindred-exclusive books and films, but we’re wrong. We still tell stories.”

“And those Kindred-exclusive films that do exist… well, I’ll just say you need to see them to believe them,” the French Quarter lord winks.

“I remember when Dracula was published. You wouldn’t have believed the panic. Many kine had stopped thinking about vampires by then. We swore that book would shatter the Masquerade. And it did—but it reforged it, too, into something better and stronger. Successful vampire films can repeat that book’s feat, by telling the stories we want to tell. Films can make the kine view us more sympathetically and spread disinformation about our strengths and weaknesses.”

“All before the artistic value inherent to them.” Savoy chuckles. “That timeless advice to write what you know. Or film what you know.”

Emmett: “I was going to ask about Dracula,” Em admits. “But I believe you about all of it, especially the Kindred-exclusive movies. I’d be interested in seeing that kind of thing. You can learn a lot about people if you know the stories they know.”

GM: “One surely can. I’ll see what can be arranged as far as those movies. And I’ll offer you some further advice when it comes to kine besides your uncle, Mr. Delacroix.”

“The best pawns are the ones who owe what they are to you. I’ve seen my share of young Kindred who approached established and successful kine, turned them into ghouls, and relied on the Blood alone to secure their loyalty. Love and addiction tug at one half of them, but resentment and ingratitude pull at their other half. They ultimately don’t need their domitors, but their domitors need them. That isn’t a position you want to be in.”

“But, when you approach someone who doesn’t have what they want, as the smiling devil in a sharp suit, offering the opportunity of a lifetime… that’s another matter. That cultivates lasting loyalty and dependence, if you set up a gangster as head of his gang, help a first-time politician get elected, or take a chance producing a young director’s experimental film. Make someone who they are, and they’ll owe you what they are. They won’t soon forget.”

“It takes a little more time and trouble to arrange. But the dividends pay that back and then some.”

Emmett: “Sage advice, my lord,” Em says unironically. “I couldn’t have picked a better place to be reborn.”

GM: When the question of thanking Savoy for his hospitality and continuing to operate in the French Quarter arises, the Toreador chuckles.

“The more operators we have in the Quarter, the better, Mr. Delacroix. What questions do you have for me?”

Emmett: “The Quarter is prime real estate,” Em says directly, “even if I’m a quiet tenant. I’d like to know whose toes to avoid stepping on and how to walk around them. And, by the same token, where I can find friends to run with. I imagine this life is lonely without them, just like the one before.”

Well, before he got executed, anyways.

GM: Savoy chuckles again. “The other students will always give you better advice where to make friends than the principal, Mr. Delacroix. You might start by asking your sister-in-blood that.”

“Your sire will also steer you straight, as far as toes to avoid. You’ll have her and the rest of your clan backing you up. There are a lot more of them than just her.” Savoy offers a knowing wink, then drums his fingers. “But as some immediate advice, many of the border and poorer areas of the Quarter—Rampart and Canal Street, mainly—are pretty crowded. Full of… how might you describe them, Nat?”

“Weak-blooded vagabonds, riffraff, outcasts, clanless, and scum other cities didn’t want,” notes Preston.

“That’s one way,” grins Savoy. “They’ve been pushed around a lot. They aren’t too dangerous by themselves, but in large numbers they can be. They’re popularly known as Quarter rats.”

Emmett: “I’ve seen some of that crowd,” Em agrees amiably. “I know what you mean.”

He steers the conversation towards Abélia next. “I confess there’s still a lot of things I’m unsure of about her nature. If I’m right about her reasons for sending me here, she probably wants a contact in your camp. I might be better positioned towards how to navigate her if I knew more about her; and of course, that would go a long way if you wish to use me as an intermediary with her.”

GM: Em hears a voice echo in his head as he starts to broach the topic, but before he can say her name.

:: If you’ll oblige me, Mr. Delacroix, let’s speak of her more privately. ::

The French Quarter lord’s lips, though, continue to mouth other words.

“1020 Esplanade and the surrounding area is where the Giovannini make their domain. Watch your step around them, too, but they can be valuable allies to enterprising Kindred.”

:: I’m to understand she facilitated your Embrace as payment for services rendered, though using you as a contact may well have occurred to her—and also has to me! You’ve certainly dealt with her more intimately than any other intermediary I might send. There aren’t many Kindred who’ve entered her lair and emerged to tell of it. ::

Emmett: The thrill of the sudden telepathic subterfuge would set the stolen body’s pulse racing if it still had one, but as is Em feels every muscle (does this guy have more muscle than him? that’s a nice change) in his new cadaver twinge with rigor mortis at the shock. His response is stumbling, but electric

:: You’re in my head this is new sorry let me orient. Ahem. Yes, in the interest of utter honesty I’ve seen an awful lot of her and what she can do but still don’t know what she is, and knowledge that lets me respect her better is very precious to me right now, as, to be blunt, I’m sure direct experience with her is valuable to you. Lord Savoy. Sorry, it’s harder to be polite in your own head. ::

A mental pause. He can’t help himself with the honesty. It’s like talking to somebody when you’re naked. Pretense goes out the window.

:: You’re very dashing, by the way. Since you’re listening in. And I don’t use the word dashing often. I don’t even think the word dashing often. ::

“I’ll keep that in mind, too,” he replies a moment later to the spoken comment.

“Thank you, Lord Savoy.”

GM: There’s a mental chuckle as Savoy continues to talk about various spots in the Quarter.

The voice in Em’s head is more controlled. He ‘sounds’ like he’s done this before.

:: Practice makes perfect, Mr. Delacroix. It can help to visualize the words when you’re new. Like you’re writing a letter. ::

:: As to Madam Devillers, she is a predator, much like us. Perhaps you know something of her diet already? I think she only prefers the taste of incorporeal flesh, though. Anything with a soul can sate her hunger. ::

Emmett: :: And… her daughters? ::

Unbidden, Cécilia’s face swims to the front of his mind. Perhaps Savoy can see it, or feel the sudden longing to stand before her that consumes the fledgling.

:: What is their nature? ::

GM: Another mental chuckle.

:: They seem human in all the ways that count, though appearances usually are deceiving. I doubt they’re wholly so with parentage like theirs. I confess to having had more dealings with their mother. ::

:: You want her, don’t you, Mr. Delacroix? That can be achieved. ::

:: What is success without a beautiful woman to share it with? ::

Emmett: :: I don’t know what I want. Except… to know. If she’s a monster, too. ::

He manages to articulate a mental cough. :: Sorry. Bit maudlin, that. ::

GM: :: Perhaps you know the answer already. What makes a monster? A frightening appearance? Preternatural powers? A diet like ours? How one treats others? ::

Emmett: :: I suppose in her case, I’d say it’s what she’s willing to tolerate from those she loves. But I don’t know if that’s some kind of inhuman indifference—or real forgiveness. Real grace. ::

GM: :: That second quality is precious, isn’t it? I’m afraid I can’t answer you there, but perhaps you might ask her yourself. We can find reasons to send you to her mother’s on my behalf, I’m sure. ::

:: If I may also advise—a whiter face may make her easier to pursue, should you choose to. Even if she sees past skin, many of her friends and acquaintances likely don’t. ::

Emmett: :: Then I guess I should talk to your Dr. Dicentra about that, at least. ::

GM: :: It’ll be well within her talents, I’m certain. The color of one’s skin is a small thing to us. ::

:: White or black, you’ll find it all tastes the same. ::

Emmett: :: I’m new to vampirism, but not to predation. I was a bad man. A wicked ghost, too. I understand the value of secrets. So I understand if this one isn’t yours to give, or if it costs me more. Is there a word for the kind of predator Abélia is? ::

GM: :: The answer to that is both, Mr. Delacroix. It’s a costly secret, and not mine to share. ::

Emmett: He inclines his head, seemingly at some recommendation flowing from the vampiric lord’s lips. Neat bit of multitasking, that.

GM: :: Understand that most of our kind aren’t aware she exists, so I’d be cautious whom you share that secret with. We’re exploitative beings by nature and she doesn’t desire much company outside of her daughters. Kindred who disturb or seek to investigate her rarely survive to regret their mistake. ::

:: I’m impressed you’ve made it as far as you have with her. ::

Emmett: :: I’m lucky. It’s my best feature. Especially now. ::

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Em and his sire depart the Evergreen’s rooftop garden after Preston says Dr. Dicentra has been contacted. Camille spends further time explaining the basics of Kindred existence to him in a Louis XIV-style sitting room.

They’ve been in conversation for perhaps an hour when the night doctor arrives.

Celia: They look as if they’ve taken care to hide their identity. Red has long been the Kindred color of choice, but the night doctor has taken the night for their own in their garb: black on black on black. Black combat boots with a chunky heel laced to mid-shin, black leather pants that cling to every curve, a black shirt that shows off an ample chest and well-muscled arms, and black gloves with black nails that longer than any lick’s should be. They look sharp, those nails. Even her hair is black, and the eyes that peer out from truly ebon skin obscured by some sort of glamour are black as well.

The form is feminine enough to call it “her,” though perhaps that is yet another way to mask their true identity.

The night doctor halts in the room’s doorway.

“My services have been requested,” she says without preamble.

Emmett: “Which services were those again,” Em mutters, looking her over. “You’ve made me forget everything except how to ask for you name.”

Celia: The black-clad doctor might smile, but it’s hard to tell beneath the mask. She steps into the room.

“Your appearance. You wish it altered, I have been told.”

Emmett: “I think so,” Em says, “But I’m on the fence about what I need it altered to. You might be able to help me decide.”

“This face isn’t really mine to begin with, if you want to know the truth. I’m not sure if I should ask for a new one altogether, or try to make do with my old self.”

GM: “What advantages do your old face and a new face have?” Camille poses.

Emmett: “My old face is dead, at least to those who know me. If I show it to them, they’ll recognize me, which breaks the Masquerade. But I am easily disguised, and it might be useful to reveal my identity to certain people. For, ah, dramatic flourishes, if nothing else.”

“But a new face is a chance to start over, and this is a new beginning. Not many people ever get that chance, and besides, there’s a lot of baggage in that old face. A lot of hate, too. Maybe it’s better to wear a new one.”

Em considers the night doctor. “Whoever you are, you’ve done this before. What do you think?”

Celia: “Many Kindred seek my services for different reasons,” she answers. “They want to be stronger, bigger, more imposing. They want to erase old scars from their bodies. They tire of the nightly shave and a haircut routine.”

The doctor studies Emmett.

“If your former face is known to be dead, let it stay dead. Do not break the Masquerade. There are other ways to prove your identity than a face should you desire to seek out old acquaintances. But appearances are everything. A charming smile will get you far when you pair it with quick wit and a silver tongue.”

The doctor nods toward Camille, though she continues to speak to Emmett.

“Kindred and kine alike remember the eyes. Should you seek a face easily disguised, something plainer will do. Then you can become your own canvas. Alternatively, I can create an ideal version of the old you with enough changes that no one who was not intimately familiar with your face will recognize.”

“If you are still undecided… I am a sculptor. Sometimes the flesh speaks to me and tells me what it wants to be.”

Emmett: “Sculpt,” Em says. “I will talk with you as you do. Maybe I’ll look more like myself than I did before.

But… you said the eyes have something of the soul. If you saw a picture of me, could you give me my old eyes back?”

Celia: “Yes. I could. I will warn, however, that eye modifications are among the most painful bodily altercations I can perform.”

Emmett: Em smiles faintly.

“Well. Maybe you can give me a treat if I don’t cry, afterwards.”

He looks at Camille. “Do you happen to have an image of my old face in your phone, or something?”

GM: His sire only gives that question a thin smile.

Emmett: “Fine,” Em says. “I’ll get it.”

He holds out his hand. He does it without thinking about it, flexing that part of him that still hasn’t processed that he’s no longer a being of spirit rather than flesh.

A pair of eyes float inches above his palm, staring into the night doctor’s. They’re dark as a dark night and full of cruel mirth — but for all their cruelty, most people would kill to get the joke.

They’re Emmett Delacroix’s eyes, he realizes. The dream of his eyes, gathered and held for the good doctor to see. By the time the conjured gaze dissolves, he expects it’s left an impression.

GM: “Well done,” Camille purrs. “Veiling can also be used to resume your old face, should the need arise.”

“Or should I say, the rest of your old face.”

Celia: It’s difficult to tell whether the display leaves an impression on the doctor or not. The black mask gives nothing away.

“I can see,” she says mildly, “why you’d like them back.”

“Consider it done.”

Emmett: “Then let’s get started. Where do you want me?”

“Um. Also. Do I need to be naked for this?”

Celia: “Not yet.” A flash of fangs accompanies her amused tone.

Dicentra looks to Camille.

“I do not allow others to observe my process. I will take him to the Red Room and send for you when we are done.”

Emmett: Red Room. Sounds, dare he think it, erotic?

What else would red signify?

GM: “Of course, doctor,” answers Camille as she rises from her seat. A smile plays across her caramel features as she brushes past the masked Kindred. One of her hands strokes the night doctor’s breasts as lightly and idly as a serpent’s flicking tongue.

“What luscious thoughts swim underneath the mask, I wonder…” she murmurs into Dicentra’s ear, “that one with the power to alter flesh would wear so luscious a form, even disguised… I bet you’d be a lot of fun, with it off.”

She winks knowingly, then turns slightly to address Em as well.

“Sami will swing by in an hour or so. Think of a new name to go with your new face. It can be real-sounding, or something poetic like Harlequin or Sundown.”

Celia: The doctor looks as if she might follow in Camille’s wake at that touch; she reaches out, snagging the snake’s wrist in her hand before she can go too far.

“Perhaps,” the voice from beneath the mask purrs, “one night I shall seek you out and grant your wish to see beneath the leather.”

Dicentra only turns to Em once his sire has taken her leave and beckons for him to follow her. She leads him through the halls of the Evergreen with casual certainty, obviously familiar with the layout of the club. She makes no idle chatter as she walks, though the vibe that he gets from her is less “foreboding” than it is “contemplative.”

Eventually they reach the Red Room. She takes him inside and closes the door behind her, ensuring their privacy with the click of a lock. Looking around, Emmett can see the reason it is called the Red Room: though they have been drained of blood, bodies sit on metal shelves around the room. Some of the corpses have had their throats torn out. Others have been split from sternum to groin. Still others carry a multitude of marks upon their skin, holes from which they bled their last. Male, female, black, white, and in between, but all of them have been stripped of their clothing and their life.

It might be cold to the kine, but the freshly dead fledgling does not feel the chill upon his skin. A table has already been set up in the middle of the room.

“You can remove your clothing now.”

She gestures toward the table. Metal, like the shelves, reminiscent of the sort of gurney found in a coroner’s office. Holes have been drilled into it to allow for easy cleanup; beneath Emmett’s feet the tile floor slopes gently toward a drain set in the middle.

Emmett: He does so in efficient, experienced bursts, only somewhat belied by his relative inexperience in this passenger. He pulls stolen cloth from stolen flesh and then approaches the table. The whole thing is very Six Million Dollar Man.

“This seems uneven,” he says wryly, as he sits the stolen body on the table.

Celia: The doctor watches from behind her impassive mask. It’s hard to tell how she thinks or feels when her features are thus hidden.

“You must be new,” she says, though the words aren’t unkind. “You will get used to being naked in front of other Kindred.”

Emmett: “Oh, I’ve been a whore. That’s not the hard part. It was more of an invitation by way of observation.”

Celia: “Clever,” she purrs, “I can see why your sire chose you. Shall I call her in and let you share me?”

Emmett: “Is it wrong that I don’t want to share my first time?”

Celia: Low, throaty laughter sounds from beneath the mask.

“Perhaps if you don’t scream that will be the aforementioned treat.”

Dicentra tells him to lie back and removes the gloves from her hands, reaching for his face. She stops just shy of touching him.

“May I?”

Emmett: “Please.”

Celia: Her fingers stroke his skin, their touch cool.

“Young,” she murmurs.

The pad of her thumb traces his lips. He can feel it shift beneath the gentle pressure; pain flares, but it is fleeting, banished by the light touch that follows. A moment later it dissipates.

“Made for smiles.”

Two fingers slide down the bridge of his nose, squeezing as they go. For a moment he’s blinded by the pain. Then it, too, flees before the words that come.


The doctor pauses.


Cool fingertips brush against his skin from his hairline to his jaw. They trail down his cheek, a whisper-soft touch that reminds him of butterfly kisses and the wind on his face. They remind him of every girl he’s ever embraced, every longing thought, every moment of ecstasy.

“Close your eyes,” she whispers. “Go inside.”

Emmett: He does so. It’s easy to listen to her. She’s been right enough, so far.

And those fingers, besides. There was nothing like them in the Shadowlands.

Celia: The last thing he sees before closing his eyes is motion behind the mask the doctor wears, the slight suggestion of a smile.

Then she’s gone, and him with her. He’s transported; no longer lying on a metal table within the Red Room, he finds himself in a long hallway. Rich carpet gives beneath the soles of his shoes, burgundy tussore woven through with saffron and ivory. Cream walls hem him in to the left and right, their continuous lines broken only by the frames of doors that open onto empty tableau. Colorful lights shine from beneath the frames of the doors: crimson, coral, amber, viridian, azure, indigo. He recognizes the settings as he passes:

A sitting room in Madam Devillers’ house, devoid of life.

Cafe Soulé, where a smiling Madeline delivers a pair of hurricanes to a younger Emmett and a beautiful girl in a sling.

A hotel suite. He doesn’t linger long in this doorway. Hotels have never been kind to Emmett Delacroix.

The Giacona manse, where a woman with poison eyes asks him how much he’ll give to get what he wants.

Louisiana State Penitentiary, his final resting place.

The rooftop garden he just vacated, the place of his rebirth.

All of them speak of his past. It is the door in front of him, however, that speaks to his future. White wood inlaid with swirls and whorls of gold and silver that dance before his eyes, slithering across the frame. A golden handle waits for his touch.

Emmett: He touches it, hopes his fingers can do the same thing to it the night doctor’s touch does to him as he turns it—

Celia: It opens into a well-appointed suite. A king-sized bed sits in the center of the room, its ornate bedspread covered in rose petals that have spilled from the bed to the floor in a puddle of red. To one side another set of doors open onto what he imagines is a closet, beside it a mahogany armoire and floor length mirror. The windows look out over the city he has called home for most of his life, an idealized, colorful version of it that makes the Shadowlands’ grayscale a far distant memory. The yellow, green, and purple of the Quarter dominate the scene.

A champagne bottle rests on ice in the center of the bed, but when he pops the cork the heady scent of blood reaches him. Blood. The bread and butter of their kind now. The only thing he will ever taste again. A glass waits beside it should he choose to quench his thirst.

Emmett: He drinks. When has he not?

But there’s such a large bed, and plenty to drink, yet nobody to share it with.

Celia: Despite the ice the blood within the bottle is hot. It slides down his throat, viscous and warm; it tastes like a comforting embrace, like the mythological siren of Poseidon or Hades beckoning him down into the depths of the water to deprive him of his last breath; it tastes like unrequited love, like ruby red lips and kohl liner, like leather and lace. It sets a fire in his belly, unfurling outward to sing through his veins.

“Delicious, isn’t it?”

A black-clad woman reclines on the bed beside him. Black gauze obscures her face; there’s no movement beneath the fabric, no way to tell if she has a mouth or eyes or features beyond the flat mask. Different than Dicentra, but somehow Emmett knows: it’s her.

“You’re like me,” she tells him, “a man without a face. But that’s okay. We’ll find you one.”

He looks into the mirror and sees that she’s right. He has no face.

Her voice echoes through his mind and body.

“Who are you?”

Emmett: His voice answers hers in a murmur, one that tugs his lips in the waking world as surely as they responded to the taste of blood.

“A bad, bad man. I’m worried I might be too good at being a vampire. People have always been disposable to me.”

Celia: The mask over her face moves, suggesting a smile.

“You are in good company, then. Those whom you call friend and ally will tell you that to be good at one thing you must be bad at another. They will ask you to shed your human shackles.”

Emmett: “Do you believe something different?”

Celia: “Not in so many words, though as in all things I believe there is balance to be found within your Requiem.”

“Strong enough connections can keep you tethered to your humanity. You need not be a purveyor of wanton destruction to succeed, though many will say that is the swiftest path.”

“But this is your rebirth. Who do you want to be?”

Emmett: “I want to be free,” he says truly. “To love who I love and fuck over who I don’t. Free to watch movies and maybe make one when I get bored. Free so… mmh.”

Free so the souls I destroyed went for something other than Abélia’s larders, he’d been about to but just barely does not say, mindful of the French Quarter lord’s warning. He’s not normally this open, is he?

Damn her hands.

“I want to be on top,” he finishes without so much as stuttering.

And winks.

Top-shelf flirting for a dead man, really.

Celia: “Big dreams for the freshly dead,” the masked woman tells him, “but we all start where you are now. I’ll give you the advice that was given to me when I was still a greenfang: make yourself useful to someone. You’re at the bottom of the mountain now, but it is not insurmountable.”

There’s definitely a smile beneath the wrapping. The hands touching his body have moved from his face lower; beyond the scene in his mind he feels the tips of her fingers against his traps, unwinding muscle fiber.

“The great thing about hierarchies is that they change. As do people, Kindred included. Take your time to try on new masks as you will, but you need a face beneath that.”

Emmett: “Could I be of use to you?” He pushes on, lost in her touch.

Celia: “Aside from the favor you will owe me for this work?”

There’s a momentary pause, though the hands on his body do not cease their work.

“Perhaps I will see what you make of your Requiem and seek you out. Pick a pretty enough face and I know a former whore with whom you might compare notes.”

Emmett: “And what if I wish to find you?”

Celia: “I have a phone. Unlike the Anarchs, you won’t need to rely on tagging a random surface and hoping that I find you.”

Emmett: “Anarchs are which ones again? Vampire communists?”

Celia: “Rebels who think they have a cause.”

Emmett: “I didn’t even have to die to meet those.”

He lifts a hand to her obscured face. “Could I see yours? Since you’re the first ever to see mine.”

Celia: The doctor does not resist his touch. His fingertips brush against the gauze and it fades away like smoke, dissipating into the air.

His own face stares back at him.

Emmett: He blinks.

Not the smartest cookie, but he can figure this one out.

“You know me.”

Celia: “We’re inside your head. You know yourself.”

Emmett: “How are you doing this? This dreaming thing.”

Celia: “Shadow dancing,” she tells him. “Not dreaming. You can get out of it at any time. The lick I mentioned earlier taught it to me in exchange for some work. If this is truly your face, she has a pet that might be interested in knowing. She can tell you more.”

“But we’re here to pick a new face for you. The man you were is dead. Who are you now?”

Emmett: “Tired. Older. Wiser, maybe.”

But maybe not, of course.

Celia: Dicentra considers him for a moment. A wave of her hand opens the set of double doors to the side of the room, where a thousand faces hang from a thousand gilded hangers. A crook of her fingers summons one to them.

“Tired and old,” she tells him, “and perhaps some wisdom in there somewhere. Is this the face you seek?”

Emmett: He laughs. “Some men age gracefully, don’t they? I want a face people trust, for all that. Thirties, more than forties.”

Celia: She laughs with him., dismissing the first face into smoke and shadow.

“Your own face, but better? Older?”

Another takes its place. Him. The two sides of him: young and old, light and dark, dead and alive. Wicked and innocent.

Emmett: “Older,” he agrees. I always wanted to be grow up, some day. Now I suppose I have forever.”

He requests some cosmetic changes, too. A few roguish scars about the face. A bit of aging here, smoothing there. His hair can afford to be messier now than it once was, he expects.

His face lies. Makes him a new man.

But his eyes will tell the truth.

Celia: The face of the man floating in front of the two of them shifts as Emmett speaks. Dicentra controls the movements with a twitch of her fingers, and every word that comes out of Em’s mouth makes another alteration to the flesh in front of them. They build the ideal face together. Dicentra remains predominantly silent; she just sculpts. She is the paintbrush and he the hand that directs it, and only when he asks for input does she speak to offer a word of advice—“that scar will suit you better on this side,” or “the symmetry is off.” She offers guidance without judgement.

She asks if anyone has explained how their bodies work, and tells him that any changes she makes will be permanent, though any that he himself makes will only ever be temporary. He could shave his head one night and will find that the next it has regrown to its original length and color. Some Kindred find ritual in their daily grooming, while others despise the wasted time and curse the styles that were en vogue when they died.

Younger, he says, and she teases him with a boy.

Messy hair, he says, and laughingly she gives him a mop of curls that will never be tamed.

He wants a smile that can shatter hearts, and she smiles at him with his old face and gives him the smirk of someone who might have cut those same hearts out of their chests.

Less like a serial killer, he asks, and it changes again.

Distantly, Emmett feels the doctor’s hands across his body. His flesh shifts beneath her touch; there’s pain, dull and sharp by turns, and inside the suite of his mind the doctor tells him to keep going. She distracts him with this game of faces, preventing the pain from overwhelming him, teasing and coaxing him to make absurd changes to make him laugh. He feels it, but it’s muted, and all the while the new face comes together.

When they’ve decided on a face she asks about the body, and the pain that flares at her touch shifts to something less red hot while she reworks muscle and skin at his direction. Buff or willowy, hard or soft, big or little—yes, even there—she gives him what he wants.

He doesn’t know how much time has passed when the work finally ends. But the Dicentra in his head smiles at him and tells him it is done.

She withdraws from his mind, her black-clad form dispersing into smoke and shadow.

When he opens his eyes, she holds out a mirror.

Emmett: It’s not such a young face, really. Younger than his father, as far as that goes. Younger than his uncle, too.

But this face looks like maybe its been to prison. Like maybe its seen the ugliest parts of being human, from the inside looking out.

But for all the ugly inside him, Em thinks he comes out looking pretty good.

Maybe a little soviet, at that.

Celia: As if Lord Savoy or his sire would give him some second-rate night doctor.

Behind the mask, Dicentra smiles down at him.

“There are showers to rinse yourself of blood,” she tells him. Her hands, he sees, are bloody up to the elbow, and his body is covered in it.

Emmett: “Oh,” he says. His new voice sounds strange, but also comforting to new ears.

“How do you feel about saving water?”

Celia: “I’d hate to waste such a renewable resource.”

Emmett: “So we should share a shower? That’s terribly unfortunate.” He rises, tests the feeling of his new, undead flesh.

Celia: “I hope you’re not looking to bump uglies,” the doctor drawls, eying his new form with blatant interest. “The breather way doesn’t do it for us anymore.”

Too bad, that thing between his legs looks rather nice.

“But it’s this way.”

The Red Room isn’t too far from the semi-public showers that Savoy has had installed for his guests. Dicentra tells him on the way that there’s a “lost and found” closet if he needs clothing for his new form, as well. She leaves the discarded parts behind.

The Boggs will eat well.

Emmett: “What uglies?” he says easily, following her like a satisfied puppy. “Your work is flawless.”

“I suppose I’ll have to find somebody to teach me how vampires fuck, then. Otherwise I’m going to be all awkward at parties.”

Celia: “Fangs, mostly.” But she smiles at the compliment. “Blood. Like everything. If you’re looking to lose your V-card, Lord Savoy hosts parties on Saturday evenings after court. There are plenty of horny licks around.”

Emmett: “V-card? Really? That’s a long lost cause, even if this is a new body. Anyways, what day is it?” He reaches for the knob that activates the shower, and a pink mist levitates off of his skin and spatters the both of them.

“Saturday seems like a long time to wait.”

Celia: “It’s Monday,” the doctor tells him, “but I’d be stunned if your sire doesn’t fuck you before then. She has quite a reputation.”

Blood from her hands rinses down the drain. She has yet to remove her leathers.

Emmett: “You’re letting me start off my Requiem with a rejection?” He pouts. “I was just trying to thank you.”

Celia: “You already owe me a boon, pretty boy. Didn’t anyone tell you how our economics work?”

It’s not a no, though.

Emmett: “I’ve worked very hard to become a man,” he protests, “with a few wrinkles and facial hair and everything. And besides. Economics is one thing. I’m talking about gratitude. Completely different phenomenon.”

He turns his back on her. Blood runs between his shoulder blades down the channel of his spine. “But if you prefer your privacy, I won’t look.”

Celia: “Don’t blame me if your sire is upset she didn’t have you first,” Dicentra says to that.

But she turns around and gestures at the zipper in the back of her suit, letting him have the fun of unveiling her.

Emmett: It takes him a minute to realize she has also turned around.

But he obliges her, running his new fangs against the nape of her neck as he sheds the layers between them.

He hasn’t had an actual fuck in a while.

Like, a long while.

He’s almost nervous.

Celia: He shouldn’t be. Dicentra seems more than happy to explain the rules to him and let him get his feet wet; she’s been patient enough so far. Em knows he doesn’t need to breathe anymore, but there’s a little gasp of pleasure and a shiver that runs down her spine at the touch of fang to neck. Her blood pools in the wound, waiting for him to lick it clean.

The leather slips free from her like a second skin, revealing the body beneath. Just as luscious as the leather implied.

It’s the face that might throw him off. Pale. Pierced. Thin brows, full lips. Pretty but… familiar.

Almost like the girl he’d met on the roof. The one who hadn’t smiled at all.

Way prettier, though. He can’t imagine Preston ever wearing makeup, taking her glasses off, or letting her hair down.

Emmett: Indeed, the very comparison is one he feels immediately guilty for even making.

Nobody deserves to be compared to Nat.

“You’re sure I don’t know you? You’ve got one of those faces,” he deadpans, albeit with a note of sensuality since he’s talking quietly into her ear. She has a feeling the question is ceremonial more than earnest.

For one thing, he is not looking at her face when he says it.

Celia: The question makes her laugh.

“I think you’d remember me,” she purrs in his ear. But she seems to like the attention all the same; she stretches luxuriously, arms above her head to lift that beautiful rack even higher, as if now that her outfit has come out she can finally breathe again.

Then her fangs come out and his back is against the wall when she puts a hand on his chest to shove him back, the tile cool against his skin, her body cool against his, but the water is warm. So very, very warm. His blood flows where she nips at his neck and chest and shoulder, letting it sit for long, precious seconds before she comes back to drink.

Emmett: It’s been a long time. But he knows better than to keep talking.

It’s bizarre, this vampire fucking. Rougher than he was into, for sure. More about the nuances of pleasure that is ripped from your other’s pain, and learning that pain enjoyed the right way can breed enormous pleasure.

They hurt each other, and it is glorious, and the sordid details of the coupling are lost in blood and drainwater.

When they’re done, which is some time later, he lays with her below the raining showerhead, and does not know if he is soiled or clean.

Only that he is happy.

“Wait a while before dropping the other shoe, will you?” he mutters to her.

Celia: Despite the tile, neither one of them are uncomfortable. Dicentra seems content to rest next to him with her head on his shoulder while the water rinses away the evidence of their coupling. Her fingers trace idle circles across his chest and lower stomach.

“No other shoe to this, just fun. The Saturday parties I mentioned earlier almost always end up something like this.” He can hear the delight in her voice at the thought.

Emmett: “Maybe not to this. But you?” He squeezes her shoulder. “I’m in danger of actually liking you, Dr. Dicentra.”

“I suppose I’ll have to come back on Saturday, then. You mentioned a phone, earlier? It seems a shame to wait so long before we… talk.”

Celia: “You’re a shameless flirt,” the doctor laughs. “I don’t even know your name and already you’re asking for round two?”

“But yes. I’ll give you my number before we go. You have seventy-two hours to decide you want minor modifications before it costs you more. For your… gratitude.”

Emmett: “Finally. A woman who appreciates my nobler qualities.”

“The least of which is my name, really.”

Celia: “Shame the best part of you doesn’t work anymore. I heard it’s rather enjoyable to have it sucked if you give a little nip.”

Emmett: “That’s a strange way to talk about my eyes.”

Celia: Her eyes find his face.

“Mm,” she muses, “I stand corrected. Those are gorgeous. I’d say I good do work—and I do—but that was some great starting material.”

The doctor finally rolls off of him, rising to her feet to rinse off the results of their tryst beneath the spray of the shower.

“I’ll get you that number. And the one for my friend. I think she’ll like you if you make it a habit of showing gratitude with sex.”

Then she’s gone, plucking her outfit from where it had been left on the ground on her way out the door, and just a card with a hastily scrawled name and a pair of numbers is all the memento he has from his time with the night doc.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXIV
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Story Twelve, Celia XXIV

“You want this. You have this. I can tell.”
Antoine Savoy

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: The nightjar soars trough the Big Easy’s skies. Jade looked up how fast they travel once. 19.26 mph, on average. But never dealing with traffic or parking counts for something. The Evergreen Plantation soon approaches. Its rooftop garden sits empty to Jade’s sight.

Below, she sees what’s hopefully only the first wave of guests leaving.

Celia: She’s often thought about dropping onto the roof. How her grandsire would react to find her up there waiting for him. Maybe naked in the hot tub, maybe perched in a tree, maybe just curled up on his usual chair. It’s tempting. Always tempting. Especially tonight, when she’s riding a high from arguably the best sex she’s ever had (Pietro picking her up at the bar being a close second, though she’d been mortal then so she’s not sure if it counts).

In the end, though, she decides against it like she always does, and she drifts lower as she approaches, scanning the faces of those leaving.

Just to make sure it’s no one she needed to see. Otherwise she’ll find a place to land.

GM: Veronica is one of them, trailed after by Clementine. Justine Chaudrier and Arthur Duchamps make up two more faces.

Micheal opens the car door for Veronica and Shep. He’s dressed in normal clothes, but his walk is slow and stiff.

Celia: Jade knows better than to chase after Veronica once she’s done with a party. She lets the harpy go.

GM: Micheal opens the trunk, gets in, and closes it after himself. The harpy sneers from the front seat as Shep starts the engine. Their ghouls ride in the back.

Celia: She still can’t think of anyone who deserves to be treated like that.

The whole thing is impossibly cruel.

GM: She was volunteering to give him a vagina not too long ago.

Celia: To prevent the pain of having his dick ripped off every night.

Maybe literally emasculating him will make Ronnie give it a rest.

And maybe now she feels bad.

Dating his brother and all.

Trying to be a better person.

Something like that.

She ceases her musing and finds a place to change back into herself again, strolling toward the door.

GM: Fabian greets her cordially. Inside, the theme this week seems like it was undersea. Huge fish tanks filled with coral, seaweed, and colorful fish take up the walls. Blue lights pulsate over the dimly-lit floor in shifting patterns. The party feels like it’s progressed to an afterparty. Ghouls are shutting off the industrial bubble machines, and licks are changing out of maritime-themed costumes as they oggle one another’s nudity. Reynaldo Gui cuts a dashing figure in a blue-coated 18th century naval officer’s uniform as he supervises the clean-up.

A few naked or fish-costumed vessels writhe and moan underneath nets as still-hungry Kindred drink their fill.

Celia: Had someone told her there was a theme? She can’t recall. Pity, too, as she’d have given herself gills or a tail and swam through the tank all night. Or a seashell bra and red hair. Maybe some tentacles. She wonders if she can make tentacles; she’s never given it much thought before, but apparently there’s a big following for that…

She spares a nod and a smile for Fabian, already eying the available vessels, and asks if any of the side rooms are still free.

GM: “I believe so, madam. Their occupancy has gone down,” the smiling ghoul answers.

Pete is not present in the common area. Laura Melton, dressed as a mermaid, is toying with some ‘fish’ next to Emerson Newhouse Hearst. He’s shirtless and wearing a wide feathered hat that would’ve looked at home on Jean Lafitte.

Celia: “You’re a gem, Fabian.”

And there she is, the lick of the hour. Laura Melton. She’ll track down Pete later. And even Gui, delicious though he looks tonight, can be a phone call tomorrow night. Or a pitstop between Melton and Savoy. Finish what they started last night. She makes sure to wink at him when she catches his eyes drifting toward her.

Even without an appropriate costume Jade walks as if she owns the place, winding her way across the floor to join Melton and the biker.

Celia: “How’s your catch?”

GM: “Salty,” smiles the blonde, blood dribbling down her chin as she looks up from the now-weakly breathing vessel. She’s lost her bra and is clothed only in a scale-patterned skirt that clings tightly to her hips and flares out at the bottom.

Emerson, meanwhile, is lanky at a glance, but more toned close up. He doesn’t look like he worked on his body as religiously as Roderick did, during his last nights alive, but there’s gristle and muscle on top of his lean frame. His short brown hair looks eternally and artfully messy underneath his pirate hat.

“I think they fed them fish or something. You could taste it.”

“Mm, yeah,” says Melton. “Wanna fuck?”

Celia: Jade doesn’t know which of them she’s speaking to, but she’s not one to turn down an offer like that, and Emerson can always join them. She might as well go all the way if she’s going in at all.

She leans in without a further word, licking the blood from the blonde’s chest and chin.

GM: Laura pierces the skin along her neck, waits, and laps up the flowing blood. Emerson joins in from behind, peeling off Jade’s dress and sinking his fangs into the back on her neck. The pair might not be pleasuring her on both levels, like Josua did, but there are twice as many of them. The biker’s tongue, too, soon laps up the flowing blood.

But just like that, it all comes crashing down.

Celia: It’s the taste of the blood that does it. Hot on her tongue. Salty, like Melton said. Her Beast roars its approval. But it doesn’t want the blonde in front of her; it doesn’t want to fight for its meal. Night like this? No. It wants the easy thing, that already pliable, primed and ready vessel on the ground, and Jade lets it go. The only warning is a low growl in the back of her throat that builds into a snarl when she rips herself away from the two licks who want to share her, dropping heavily onto the fish-dressed girl to sink in and feast.

GM: Jade throws herself from the two licks and over the motionless vessel as the red haze descends. When it clears, a mangled corpse stares up at her. African-American girl, maybe mid-20s, her once-sleepy eyes livid with terror. Her throat is almost completely torn out, and hot blood freely runs across her and Jade’s chests.

“Impolite,” says Melton, licking her lips.

Celia: Covered in blood, none of it her own, Jade looks up from the carnage she’s wrought. A pang of guilt shoots through her at the needless death, though whether it’s for the girl or her grandsire’s cleanup crew is debatable. The practical part of her mind tucks it away, more spa materials, more ways to show off to the Ventrue Mafia man, more building blocks for Josua.

She rises, dripping blood, hands and face and chest covered in red. Her eyes find Melton, then sweep down her own body in a come and get it motion.

GM: Emerson, she notes, is no longer present. The Gangrel pounces on her and starts rapturously running her tongue and mouth along Jade’s breasts.

Celia: Whoops. She’d scared off the little Caitiff. That’s okay; this is the one she wants anyway. Jade sinks back down once Laura launches herself forward, back arching into the feel of tongue on her skin. She sinks her fangs into the Gangrel’s neck, lapping at the blood once it has had time to cool. Bloody hands hungrily roam her body.

GM: Laura’s hands roam hers equally hungrily as she tackles Jade to the floor, hungrily lapping at the red between her tits. She rolls to the side with Jade, putting the Toreador under her, then over her, then under her again, letting the blood spill over her body and then back over Jade’s.

“Little Caitiff didn’t like killing…” she growls between licks, half-smirking.

Celia: She’s had enough being on bottom tonight. She gives as good as she gets, biting and sucking and smearing the blood across the floor and their bodies and her mouth. Especially her mouth. She rolls with Laura until they’re in a secluded corner, each of them taking a turn on top, each of them pinned at some point.

“His loss,” she purrs back, “I’m not into virgins anyway.”

GM: “He wishes he was a virgin.”

The Gangrel bites deep along her upper breast, releasing another flow of blood. She doesn’t wait for it to cool, though, just laps up more of the girl’s blood from the base of Celia’s neck.

Celia: “Born agains,” she hisses between her teeth, caught by the ecstasy of the kiss. “Even worse.” Her fingers curl through Laura’s hair, holding her close while she laps at the blood on her neck. Jade slices her fangs against the girl’s cheek, drawing forth a thin trail of red.

“You’re who I wanted anyway; he’d have just been a bonus.”

GM: The Gangrel gives a wordless snarl of arousal. Claws extend from her fingertips as she slices open Jade’s belly. A few torturous seconds for her later, seconds that Jade spends at her cheeks, her tongue burrows laps over the bleeding wounds.

Celia: Another snarl rips from her throat when Melton’s claws sink into the soft skin of her belly. She yowls, head thrown back, and only quiets again when her tongue soothes the burning ache.

But she has claws too. They slide from the tips of her fingers when she flips the Gangrel onto her stomach, straddling her hips. Jade rakes them down her exposed back, following the lines her nails have left with her mouth.

GM: Melton growls in turn as the blood flows and Jade’s tongue waits those several torturous seconds to lap it up. She lies there for a moment, content to allow the Toreador to clean her wounds, then turns around and shoves Jade off and onto her back. She buries her face against the other lick’s inner thigh, ripping and tugging at the skin like a fat drumstick. Pain burns in the half-puncture, half-tear wounds, but soothes as the Gangrel’s tongue licks them clean and partly seals the injuries.

Celia: It’s a mess of blood after that. Growling, snapping, snarling while the two licks play on the floor, ripping and rending and puncturing with their teeth and claws. Each of them takes a turn on top before being dethroned by the waiting usurper. They cover each other in blood and scratches and half-healed bites, leaving shredded skin and tattered clothing behind. Somewhere in the distance she’s vaguely aware of a certain Ventrue cowboy claiming her discarded bra. Melton’s skirt comes off when Jade buries her face between the Gangrel’s thighs, inhaling the scent of her while she waits those long seconds for blood to cool. It’s a delicious and intoxicating heady onslaught of painful pleasure, so different from the gentle waves that Josua had put her through that crested again and again until she was spent. Different from the feather-light touch of Pietro, the red-hot burn of Veronica, the rapturous embrace of Roderick. Different, but thrilling; Jade and Laura, tonight at least, are evenly matched.

When she’s spent, when her Beast has been sated by the blood of the mortal and the Gangrel, when it purrs and curls at last in her chest, the pair of them end up sprawled across fallen netting on a stretch of warm sand. Heated floor? Lamps? Magic? She doesn’t know how Savoy does it, but he pulls out all the stops. It’s like lying on a beach. Fish swim nearby in one of the tanks. Jade curls against her equally spent lover, tongue still lapping lazily at the hole she’d torn near one nipple.

“You,” she purrs to the Gangrel, lifting her arms above her head in a languid stretch once she finally pulls her mouth away with a final lick, “are exquisite.”

Celia: “And filthy,” she adds as an afterthought, though the word is softened by the clearly satisfied way it drips from her tongue. Both Kindred are covered in sanguine sand, the granules adhered to the sticky substance that coats their body. Jade remembers now why she never liked the beach. What had that animated azure djinn said? Sand: it’s everywhere.

“Come on, I’ll sneak us into a room with a shower and give you the real underwater experience.”

She’s already imagining pinning the Gangrel against the tile wall beneath the spray of the shower. Warm water, warm blood, two beautiful ladies… Emerson really missed out.

GM: He’s less a cowboy tonight than a naval officer, but Jade doesn’t doubt the bloody bra winds up in someone’s appreciative hands.

“Mmm,” says Melton contently as she rises from the sand, casually licking off some of the red-smeared stuff from her arm. “Let’s go. I need to grab some clothes, too.”

There are semi-public showers upstairs, for Kindred to clean up after their revels. Savoy is even thoughtful enough to leave free clothes.

Many of them get taken off the Evergreen’s corpses, so he’s not even paying for them.

Celia: Jade found the cutest boots in one of those free closets once. She’d been happy to appropriate them for her own use.

She follows the Gangrel to her feet and plucks her dress (not shredded, Emerson was good for one thing at least) off the floor on her way to the stairs with Melton.

“I was going to ask if I missed anything exciting, but I can’t imagine much that would top this.”

GM: Melton picks up her mermaid skirt.

“There were some good runner-ups,” the Gangrel smirks, lazily hitting the elevator instead. “There isn’t much I’d miss a Saturday at the Evergreen for.”

Celia: Jade flicks her eyes down her companion’s body. “I got what I wanted,” she says with an appreciative grin.

GM: Her companion eyes her.

“I bet you did.”

Celia: “My cousin taught me to find the most valuable thing in the room.”

“He’d steal it, but, well… the sentiment stands. I suppose I could throw you over my shoulder if you want the full experience.”

GM: “Try me. I’m pretty light.”

Celia: Someone had told her once to lift with her knees, not her back. She supposes if she got Diana and that punk down the stairs—dead weight, the both of them—Laura might be an easier time. She steps forward, arms going around the Gangrel’s thighs, and rises, slinging her over her shoulder.

GM: True to Laura’s words, she is pretty light. She’s only dead weight in the literal sense, too. She wiggles her hips and gives Jade’s rear a good squeeze.

Celia: Jade giggles at the touch, pleased that she didn’t embarrass herself by sending them both sprawling to the ground.

“Cut everything out with those claws of yours?”

GM: The Gangrel continues to knead her rear.

“Only sexy things. Like your juice.”

A buzz goes up from one of the phones in Jade’s purse.

Celia: “I’ve heard there’s a trick where you can stuff things inside of you. Like a prison pocket. Imagine all sorts of fun things come out then.”

Awkward timing for the phone. Her hands are busy with the Gangrel. The door opens, though, and she lets Laura down so they can move through the hall to find the showers. She peeks into her purse at the caller ID.

GM: “I know someone with that trick. It’s pretty handy.”

It’s a text from Emily.

Celia: “Oooh. I’d love to learn.”

She’ll check the text in a minute.

GM: “I could get you started when we’re done here,” says Laura as she opens the door to the semi-public showers. There’s multiple rows of them. There’s usually quite a few Kindred who need to wash off after Savoy’s revels. Laura hangs her mermaid skirt on a clothing rack and turns on a faucet.

Celia: “I’d like that.”

Jade follows her in, eyes scanning the stalls to see if anyone else is present. She takes a moment to check the text from Emily while she hangs her dress and sets her purse down.

GM: They look empty. The text reads,

Ugh fell asleep studying and woke up… my schedule’s gonna be fucked

Celia: Is it late enough to safely ignore the text? Maybe. Emily knows she’s a night owl, though.

Nah girl you got this. Crack a soda and stay up all night & then tmr if you want to fix tho.

She puts her phone away to join her new friend in the shower.

GM: The Gangrel squirts some soap over her hands, then lathers it over Jade’s breasts.

Celia: Oh, it’s gonna be like that? Jade can play this game. She leans back against the tile wall, a lazy smile curling the corners of her lips upward at the attention to her breasts. It’s the third time Laura has gone right for them.

They must be nice.

Real nice.

GM: She did make them that way.

Celia: She’s very proud of them.

They’re perfect.

Like the rest of her.

GM: Laura’s hands squeeze the soft but perky flesh as she gets soap all over them, then topples over with a wet thud against the tile floor. A wooden stake protrudes from her back.

Celia: Playing her role, Jade shrieks and stumbles backwards.

The wet tile steals her footing from her. She goes down hard, scrambling away from… whatever it is that’s staking naked vampires in the shower. It’s like a slasher flick with sorority girls, only she and Laura are the sorority girls.

GM: Another stake pierces Jade’s chest. She goes down, stiff as a board.

Celia: There’s nothing to do but lay there, staring helplessly at the ceiling while the water pours down over her naked body.

GM: Water pools over her face and eyes. She can’t blink or even move her eyes. Laura’s staked body turns over in her peripheral vision. Blood slowly washes down the drain.

After a little while, a blindfold wraps around her eyes, and then she can’t see anything.

Celia: Rude.

There’s nothing for it, though. She can’t move, can’t speak, can’t blink, can’t use any of her powers. Her claws lie useless beneath her nail beds.

She listens. That’s all she has left.

GM: She hears water running, then stopping. She hears the door open and close.

Moments pass. Then the blindfold comes off and the stake comes out of her chest.

Celia: Jade sits up, moving across the floor until her back is at a wall. She rises slowly.

GM: She has the otherwise empty shower stalls to herself.

Celia: Does she, though? Or is the shadow dancer watching from across the way, staring at the naked lick?

GM: That’s always the question, isn’t it?

Melton’s mermaid skirt is still there on the clothes rack.

Celia: “Send for me when they’re ready,” Jade says to the empty air.

And then, just in case the ghoul is still watching, Jade gives him (her? it?) a show.

As a “thanks for playing” sort of thing.

And because she’s a completely vain creature who deserves to be admired.

But who’s counting?

It’s not that she’s aroused by danger, but… well, for a moment there she thought maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t her friend in the shadows, and with how easily he’d (she?) had dispatched two licks, one of whom she thinks is a great deal older than her…

Maybe she is aroused by danger.

She’s never even seen the shadow friend before, has never learned which of the ghouls it is, but she’s always appreciated their work, and they’re all alone here in the shower.

It’s easy to play vixen in a place like this. The water pours down on her from above. It beads on her skin, the little droplets trailing downward, drawing the eye toward the stiffened peaks of her breasts. Laura had been touching them, but her invisible friend can take over if they like. The soap is right there, ready to be lathered and spread. Jade spreads the suds across her fingers. Slick and slippery, they slide down her body, across her chest, thumbs flicking across the tips. Her hands slide lower, across her flat stomach, halting only at the tops of her thighs. A wistful sigh leaves her lips, barely audible above the sound of the water, and a single finger traces her lower lips. She’s alone, after all, or maybe her friend is there, and if they are… it’s an open invitation, should they choose to accept.

GM: Celia abruptly feels something phallic ram up her ass, furiously pumping back and forth. A hand-like sensation clamps over her throat, choking her, nails digging into flesh. More pressure pinches over her left nipple, squeezing and tugging like they’re trying to rip it off.

Celia: She’d giggle, but her air is decidedly cut off. Not that she needs it, beautiful corpse that she is. She doesn’t resist when her partner claims her. The shadow uses her body how it wants, and her only contribution once it has her in its grip is to slide a hand between her legs to find that sweet spot so she can get herself off while it hammers her from behind.

GM: The shadow slams her face-first into the tile and chokes her tighter, jackhammering her ass like a drill. Its other hand makes a clenched fist inside her cunt. It doesn’t enter slowly. It just punches right into her, shoving itself as far up as it can, as fast as it can. Her inner walls strain under the sudden pressure.

Celia: At least her nose doesn’t break, right? She’s got that going for her, that her nose doesn’t splatter and ruin her pretty face. Her cheek presses into the tile beneath the spray of water from overhead, head turned to the side to protect the delicate orbital and nasal bones. Each subsequent thrust pushes her further against the wall, an endless battering ram that lays her out and pins her helplessly before the shadow’s lust. She snarls despite the hand crushing her windpipe, though the sound that comes out isn’t nearly as forceful as normal. Like a kitten compared to a tiger. The fist in her cunt makes her whole body jerk, her free hand slamming into the wall at the unpleasant stretching. Claws sprout from her nails, sliding harmlessly off the slick tile. She hisses. That, too, is choked. But the fingers between her legs keep moving and her head drops back, lips parting silently while the onslaught continues.

GM: The fist in her cunt retracts. Something sharp stabs into her throat and rips across, cutting it open. Blood leaks down her chest as fingers penetrate the slit flesh, squeezing and tearing and digging. She hits the floor side ways with a hard, wet smack. Water trickles through the fingers. The pounding in her ass doesn’t slow.

Her Beast threatens to burst its chains at the apparent attack, to turn fang and claw on its invisible adversary, but Celia keeps it down. Some of the fingers withdraw from her throat. The remaining ones plunge deeper. Red, wet slashes suddenly appear over her belly and under her breasts. More fingers dig greedily into the cuts as a palm rubs against her nipple.

Celia: It’s not the sexual encounter she expected. Not from a ghoul. Unless it’s not a ghoul but a lick instead, someone like her who gets off on causing pain, which doesn’t explain the cock buried deep in her ass. Her snarl comes out as a wet gurgle, blood dripping freely down her body from the holes the shadow rips into her throat. Then more from her belly, threatening to stain her body and the floor both before the water washes it down drain. Her claws rake at the hands holding her to yank away their painful touch inside her abdominal cavity, clit forgotten in her quest for blood.

GM: The shadow seems only further aroused by her struggles. By her pain. It reminds her of someone Celia used to know. The fingers plunge deeper into her throat, gorily twisting and pushing upwards into her mouth, liker her head is a sock puppet. Another stabbing pain shoots up her cunt. Blood flows like the mother of all periods.

Celia: It reminds her of being fucked by Jamal. Only Jamal hadn’t tried to rip her apart with his hands, and he certainly hadn’t fisted her while he’d fucked her—though she vaguely recalls broken ribs after coming to, pinned beneath him with her knees near her ears and the monster buried deep inside of her.

It’s like that, almost. But with a smaller dick. There’s less chance of it tearing through her abdomen on its own, so the claws (are they claws or just nails? She can’t tell) do that part for it.

She bleeds. And she screams. And, again, it comes out as a wet, ragged rasp. Air hisses from her lungs and onto the shadow’s hand and fingers where it has torn her open, like a lifelong smoker who finally had an artificial larynx put in after theirs rotted out of their throats.

It’s not sexy. But this isn’t sex anymore. It’s a power struggle, and she’s losing. Losing because she keeps a firm handle on the thing inside of her that wants to tear the shadow’s throat out. Do shadows have throats? Beneath the shade he’s a man, certainly, or it’s a rather effective strapon.

She wheezes. It might be a laugh.

Her body can take the damage, though. His can’t. Her claws disappear, fingers moving back between her legs. She’ll get herself off since he won’t.

GM: Oscar Wilde said everything was about sex, except sex, which was about power.

She’s wrong about that firm handle, though. The monster bursts from her chest in an explosion of pure rage and hurt. Everything goes red. When she comes to, she’s coated in still more red that doesn’t smell like her own. The pouring shower head swiftly washes it away.

Celia: Whoops.

She looks for a body.

GM: She does not see one.

Celia: She flips off the water, feeling around the floor for a body. She follows the scent of the blood if she can. She’d thought that maybe the stealth fades if they die, but what does she know.

GM: She does not feel a body. The lingering coppery odor leads out of the room.

Celia: She sniffs, too, for the tangy, musky odor of human jizz.

GM: She does not smell any.

Celia: Shame. Her poor shadow friend didn’t even get off.

GM: They can’t all be Jamal.

Celia: She should call him. See what he’s up to these nights. Maybe he’ll give her the fuck she needs after… whatever this was.

Someone has blue balls.

Her body repairs itself, Beast so amused by the fact that it got to come out to play twice this evening that it doesn’t even fight her for the blood. It gives instead, sharing its resources with the girl that takes such good care of it. Her earlier transgressions must be forgiven, she thinks, and she stretches contentedly as muscles and skin and sinew wind back together. She clears her throat as her esophagus heals, pleased that everything is in working order, and finishes her shower.

She doesn’t show off this time.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Ughh I usually fall asleep midway through the day if I do that, reads Emily’s answering text after Celia exits the shower.

Tomorrow’s Sunday so no school to keep me up

Celia: Still early enough to go to bed and wake up at normal time. Not a big deal. Take a sleep aid & call it a night.

GM: Eh true I’ll try not to wake Mom getting bills… see you tmrow

Celia: Who said having a sister had to be difficult?

GM: Jade has a moderate amount of time until her scheduled meeting with her grandsire.

Celia: She passes it at the Evergreen. There’s no reason to leave when she has to come back anyway, and there might be a handful of people hanging around. The cowboy, the warlock, or the Gangrel once she’s done being questioned. Friends wait for each other, right? It won’t look weird if Jade dresses, then helps herself to a seat downstairs, eyes peeled for any of the three aforementioned friends.

Otherwise, she spends some time on her phone looking into this Vinny fellow. If she’s whoring herself out to get what she wants anyway she might as well go all the way. She looks for a public social media page, pulls the best-looking photo from among the lot posted, and does a reverse search for it to see if she can find him on a dating site. Middle-aged, lonely cop? Probably on a dating site.

Where else would he meet someone? Taking a statement at a hospital?

Oh, wait.

GM: Gui is present, still directing the cleanup. Jade does not see the other two.

The Evergreen slowly returns to normal as Jade pulls up Vinny’s profile on Facebook. He looks younger than middle-aged, though he’s definitely on his way there. Older millennial. He has olive skin and spade-black hair. Slim like the toothpick between his teeth, but toned and taut as a racetrack greyhound. His facial hair looks somewhere in between stubble and a beard. His face might be called ruggedly handsome, if not for its diminutiveness and half-dozen moles. He wears a dark-ribboned trilby in all of his pictures, but his hair looks a little thin around the edges, as though he’s going prematurely bald.

The page has a moderate amount of activity. There are no post or pictures that identify him as a police officer, and his work and education history is unlisted.

Jade does not find Vinny on any dating sites, though multiple pictures show him at the Fair Grounds Race Course, often known as New Orleans Fair Grounds, a thoroughbred racetrack and racino in Mid-City.

Celia: Jade waves at her favorite Ventrue as she takes a seat in clear view of both the elevator and the door, intending to catch Melton on her way out. If she leaves. What if she doesn’t leave? Uh oh. What if Jade had been about to make a friend and messed it up by opening her mouth?

Well, what else is new. She’s sure she’s done that sort of thing before. Spilling things she shouldn’t have. Whoops. But it’s for the safety of her grandsire, right? Making sure there’s not a spy hanging out in their midst.

Even if it means she won’t be able to learn that trick. And even if she doesn’t really think Melton was a spy, just someone who doesn’t want their real identity known.

She huffs, keeping an eye on the elevator while she scrolls through Vinny’s page. Maybe Gui could even introduce her. Though not if he hangs out at the tracks…

What sort of face would a guy like this be into? Someone attractive enough to be appealing, but not so attractive that he thinks it’s a trap. She can find a balance, she’s sure.

She pulls up the hours and the website for the track. Maybe there’s an upcoming event.

GM: It’s open from 9 AM to midnight every weekday, 10 AM to midnight on Sunday, and closed on Saturday. There’s also an on-site casino and dining options. Doesn’t seem like a bad place to take a date.

There’s a “3x multiplier madness” savings event on Tuesday. The horse races, though, all seem to be during the day.

Celia: She already has plans out the wazoo tomorrow night. Sometime this week, though, she’ll get that ball rolling. She doesn’t imagine it’ll be the sort of meet-cute that happens in rom-coms where she only has to run into him once. More of a slow burn.

Ah, inconvenient hours for racing. She navigates back to his page to see if his photos were mostly taken during the day or at night, or if he’s posted at all about horses or is more of a general gambler.

GM: Both, from the looks of things. Most photos are during the day, and show him in the stands for the races, but he seems to have come by the casino during some evenings too.

Celia: Perfect. She’ll go on Tuesday for the multiplier madness. If he’s a gambling addict—is he a gambling addict?—then he’ll probably be there. She’ll run into him, start up some small talk… She’s got plenty of cute outfits to choose from… And it beats asking Pete or Gui to introduce her, though she supposes those can be her plan B and C. Maybe C and B. Somehow her vision of “policeman’s ball” ends up with her sire and sister-in-blood also present, and she’d rather not have to deal with either one of them.

Is a policeman’s ball even a thing? Where had she gotten that idea?

Probably a movie.

Plan made, she pays less attention to her phone than she does her surroundings, though she keeps it out to look busy.

GM: Melton does not reemerge, though licks continue to come and go from the Evergreen, including Rosa Bale (who rarely attends the parties). The common lounge area is eventually restored to its former state.

“I think this is yours,” remarks Gui as he sits down next to her, holding up a bloody bra.

Celia: Jade finally slides the phone back into her purse, turning to face the smirking cowboy. Pirate? Naval officer? He’s something alright.

“Like a trail of breadcrumbs, it led you right to me.”

GM: He wraps an arm around her shoulder. “You’re too sexy to sit here with just a phone for company.”

Celia: “I was waiting for someone.” His hand finds no bra straps when it slides across her shoulders. She hadn’t lifted one from the free closets, though her chest doesn’t look any worse for wear at the lack of support. She tucks the bloodied garment into her purse.

GM: “Usually more effort than it’s worth to get dried blood out of clothes, but it can be a look.”

Celia: “Next week’s theme is ‘vampire.’”

GM: “Someone can tell the thin-bloods they still aren’t invited, then. One tried to get in.”

Celia: “Oh? How’d that go for them?”

GM: “Well, Veronica and Shep discovered they still leave behind ash.”

Celia: Good to know.

“What a waste of blood.”

GM: “Discovered for some guests here, at least. I don’t doubt they already knew that.”

Celia: “Wonder where they all keep coming from. They’re like an infestation.”

GM: “You and every elder in the Camarilla, lush. Even those pogroms in the ‘90s weren’t able to get rid of them.”

Celia: “I just ran into one in the square, actually. It tried to shake me down for money.”

GM: “Jackson Square’s a bad place at this hour. How’d that go for it?”

Celia: “How do you think it went?” She flashes a smile.

GM: Gui smirks and makes light banter with her until Fabian approaches and smiles to Jade that “Lord Savoy will see you now, madam.”

Celia: Ah. Well. She supposes she’ll talk to him about that bit of muscle sculpting business later then. And Harrah’s. And the Blackmatch. Better to do it privately, anyway, and he’d looked too cute in his little outfit for her to take him seriously. Plus she’d been busy pretending she’s a thin-blood killer, as if it’s something to be proud of to slaughter such helpless little things.

Christ, she really fucking hopes it wasn’t Dani. But she hadn’t told Dani about the Evergreen, so really there’s no reason for it to be…

She leaves Gui with a last lingering look—she’d ended up perched on his lap somehow, though their banter hadn’t led to anything beyond harmless flirting—and an invitation to give her a call in the next few nights if he thinks he has any use for… well, she holds up her hands and lifts a brow and expects him to know what she means. A final scrape of fang against his cheek sees her on her way, a spring in her step as she goes to greet her grandsire.

Celia can’t help but wonder if Fabian was her faceless attacker as she follows after him. He’s always smiling. It’s people like that you have to watch out for; they’ve usually got some sort of screw loose upstairs. All that smiling rots their brain. Pretending to be happy all the time. Yeah, she bets he wants to rip into a stray vampire if he gets a chance. She sniffs (discretely) at him as they get into the elevator.

GM: Gui says he expects he well may, and gives her bottom a pinch as she rises.

Jade smells no blood on Fabian.

But it’s possible the cheerful-faced ghoul is a very thorough cleaner.

Celia: He really is her favorite. Pity Roderick has that “no sharing with members of the Mafia” rule. She imagines they’d be fun together.

Bit awkward to ask, isn’t it? “Hey did we bang earlier? Sort of?”

“Sorry for losing my cool, I was kind of into it until you ripped my abdomen open. Wanna try again sometime?”

GM: Fabian takes her up to fourth floor, or technically, the third floor’s roof. Savoy and Preston are seated at their usual spots around the table. There’s also a ghoul cleaning up an ugly black substance off the ground, but the two make no comment of it as Savoy rises to kiss her hand.

“It feels like it’s been much too long, my dear, but a long absence only makes reunion all the sweeter.”

Celia: Jade eyes the black substance as she steps around it, though as soon as her grandsire rises to greet her he has her full attention. She dips into a curtsy, an easy smile finding its home on her lips at the words.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder, grandsire. Mine is fit to burst.” Her eyes move to Preston and she dips again, paying the steward her due respect. “Good evening, Madam Preston.”

GM: “Good evening, Miss Kalani,” the Malkavian returns.

Fabian pulls out Jade’s seat for her as Savoy resumes his own, then smiles at her. “My agents tell me you did masterfully in helping to apprehend Miss ‘Melton.’ She was eating out of the palm of your hand, by all accounts! Very well done, my dear.”

Celia: “Thank you,” Jade says to the ghoul. She crosses one ankle over the other beneath her chair. “And thank you, Lord Savoy. She was rather eager to make friends, it would seem.” Make friends. Fuck. Same difference. “Have you spoken to her yet?”

GM: “Not as of yet. It’s been a busy night.” He chuckles. “But she’s been gracious enough to wait.”

“She has little choice but to wait, sir,” states Preston.

Celia: “I was about to say the same, Madam Preston.” Jade smiles at the Malkavian.

GM: Preston doesn’t smile back, although Jade doesn’t think she’s ever seen Preston smile.

She wonders how many times men have told her she’d look nicer if she did.

Or let down her hair and removed her glasses. The esthetician can’t help but note the potential makeover.

Savoy chuckles again. “That’s true enough, you two. But I prefer to assume graciousness from others until they show us otherwise.”

Celia: Probably not many make that mistake twice regarding Preston and smiles.

“If it’s no trouble, will you let me know what you find? Only… we rather hit it off, and I was hoping to salvage that relationship if possible, as I think if she’s in the right camp she and I have a lot to offer each other.”

GM: “Of course, my dear. We could interrogate her here, if you care to change your face.”

Celia: Jade nods. “I’d be happy to.”

GM: “Very good. Have someone bring her up once we’re through other business, Nat.”

“Of course, sir.”

Savoy smiles at Jade. “Mr. Gui tells me Celia Flores picked up Miss Garrison from his club! I hope she’s proven an asset thus far?”

Celia: “Ah. I wasn’t aware that Mr. Gui knew who Celia was.” The lift of her brows suggests the question. She certainly hadn’t told Gui about her mortal identity.

GM: “Oh, I think quite a few people know who the famous Celia Flores is,” Savoy grins. “Certainly anyone with an eye for personal beauty.”

Celia: Jade smiles prettily for him at the compliment. She has Kindred followers? How amusing.

“But not her relation to me?”

GM: “I haven’t told him as much, my dear. I’d be surprised if he did.”

Celia: She nods.

“Thank you for clarifying. I was concerned that I had gotten sloppy with my mask. The recent incident with the hunters has set me on edge, I admit. Yes, I picked up Dani. Miss Garrison. I didn’t know if Mr. Gui was in on everything, and I didn’t want to take the chance that he discover her if not. We had been… well, he received a call while we were together that suggested trouble, and I thought it might have been her…” She trails off, wringing her hands.

“She was aware of what she had become, though none of the specifics. I gave her a bit of an overview so that she doesn’t wander into places less welcoming to those like her.”

There’s a brief pause. Her eyes widen slightly, gaze becoming more earnest.

“I hope that’s okay. I didn’t mean to step on your toes. I was just concerned for her safety, knowing the piece on the board she could offer you.”

GM: “The thin-blood was in his territory. There were few better agents to monitor her,” states Preston.

Savoy smiles in understanding. “I trust your judgment with Miss Garrison and her brother, my dear. I’m glad you did what you felt was best.”

The elder Toreador doesn’t repeat his earlier question, but they have clearly come back to it.

Celia: “My mistake for not asking about his hand in this. I apologize. She is being looked after and has been advised to stay within the Quarter.”

The words are stiff. Perhaps, she wants to say, if they had told her that Gui knew about it then she wouldn’t have been so pressed to move Dani to a safer location. She really had been concerned for the girl’s safety. But she should have assumed that Gui knew; Dani had been there for almost a week at that point. It would be a sloppy landlord indeed who didn’t pick up a thin-blood in his own territory.

GM: “The thin-blood’s fate is irrelevant save as leverage over her brother,” Preston replies, seemingly unconcerned.

She should have known Gui would know.

Stupid, whispers Maxen.

Celia: A Dani under her control is a Dani that makes Roderick play right into her hands.

Maybe that voice should check itself.

“Mr. Durant has been apprised of the situation regarding his sister. He chafes at the idea of keeping her here and seeks a way to liberate her to a more thin-blood friendly city. He thinks Houston will treat her better. I have disabused him of this notion. He has asked to be able to see her to hear her wishes on the subject before he agrees to anything permanent, but submits himself to a boon should you be amenable to allowing his reunion with her.”

She pauses to collect her thoughts.

“I have given Miss Garrison an unfavorable view of life outside the city as well as an idea of what to expect should she try to make a home for herself outside the confines of your territory. She is not interested in leaving. The thing about Mr. Durant…” She takes a breath, then lets it out slowly. “He will try to play hero. He will try to move her, possibly against her wishes, but he has no one to assist with getting her out of the city. He mentioned an attempt to retrieve her from the Quarter during the day with an independent shadow dancer.”

GM: “Oh? That’s curious he’d promise me a boon for a reunion with Miss Garrison,” muses Savoy. “From Mr. Durant’s perspective, that offer would likely make me very curious who this thin-blood is to him.”

Celia: Of course that’s what he’d focus on. Not any of the rest of it. Not any of the careful maneuvering she has done since she realized she botched the situation.

She could lie. She should lie, rather than admit that she fucked up. Rather than admit that she opened her mouth. Rather than add insult to injury by not only moving the thin-blood but spilling the beans as well.

She starts to. To say that that “perhaps he just meant move through your territory for an evening,” but even to her the reasoning is thin.

What happens next? He never trusts her again? Never asks her to do anything for him again? Strips her of her domain, rescinds his offer of support and guidance, tells her that he should have let her burn in the Gulf?

She falters. Her eyes find the floor for a long moment.

“I thought,” she says at length, “that in the interest of long term manipulation he would be more susceptible to the idea of someone in his corner, and thus become more pliable. I had wanted to convert him fully rather than ask him to play double agent to a sire to whom is he twice-bonded, as I doubt the integrity of such reports.”

GM: She feels a hand against her shoulder.

“It’s hard, isn’t it, given the history?” Savoy asks.

Celia: Her lip wants to tremble. She presses her teeth together rather than let it, nodding her head in answer to his question.

GM: The hand gives her shoulder a squeeze.

“Maybe this wasn’t fair of me to ask of you, my dear. I know how much you want to do well and impress. Maybe I should have asked someone else to bring over Roderick to my side, and then your two’s relationship could have rekindled under better terms, without any lies between you.”

Celia: “N-no,” she says, shaking her head, “I can do it. I shouldn’t have let our history get in the way. It was…” stupid “…it was wrong of me, and it would have been easier if I just… didn’t.”

Why are his gentle words so much worse than if he’d simply berated her?

“I can do it. I will do it. It’s just taking longer because I… thought that I had a better way.”

Thought she knew better than an elder who has been around for centuries, someone who could lie circles around her.

Maxen’s voice is back. She recognizes it this time. Two syllables.

GM: Stupid.

“You’re easily the stupidest of my children. I don’t have to do this with your sister. What’s wrong with you, Celia? Why have you turned out so intellectually stunted?”

“I don’t know, Daddy. I’m sorry. I’m trying.”

“You’re failing. You’re not trying hard enough. You aren’t just stupid, you’re lazy too.”




Celia: Yeah, that’s the one.

Maybe the floor will just… swallow her.

“I have this,” she says, pulling the paper from her pocket to thrust into his hands. As if that makes it better.

GM: Savoy tilts her chin up to meet his gaze.


C’est bon. It’s all right.”

“You want this. You have this. I can tell.”

He takes the paper, skims it, and smiles at her.

“You’ve brought me this. You’ve turned Miss Garrison against Houston. You’ve brought me Mr. Durant’s plan to get her out.”

“I don’t need to have faith in you, my dear. I have evidence. You do want this.”

“It’s not too late for us to fix this. You’ve got both Garrisons right where you want them, it sounds.”

Celia: Her eyes don’t leave his. Maybe he can see the emotion swimming behind them, the nerves and apprehension and half-shuttered expression that readies herself for a verbal backhand.

But it never comes.

He is not her sire. He is not her father. He is disappointed, surely, but he offers understanding and encouragement rather than beratement.

She does. She does want this. More than anything, she wants to impress him, to flip Roderick, to do something right for him. To make him proud of her. She will do it. She will.

She swallows, nodding her head at his last statement.

“He… he wants me to move in with him. In Mid-City. He spent this evening looking for a place for us. I thought… worst case scenario, you know, I could just borrow the notes when he’s not there. But that doesn’t… I mean, I’m sure you want to be able to ask him questions about what happens, so that’s not ideal, but it was my backup plan. There’s also…”

She steadies herself.

“There’s more. I have more.”

GM: “I do want to talk to him myself,” Savoy nods. “I’d suspect he’s going to be more careful with those if you’re living together.”

“If his sire finds out, she could arrange for the notes Miss Kalani finds to contain false information,” states Preston, looking up from her tablet. The Malkavian’s face is otherwise neutral.

“That’s possible too, Nat. But tell me what else you have, my dear,” Savoy says, turning back to Jade.

“In fact, I wanted to ask you some more about Mr. Durant too, now that you’ve spent some time together. What would you say he wants most? Regrets most? What would he change about his Requiem if he could, in your estimation?”

Celia: “He wants democracy. He’s an idealist. He wants Mid-City to be its own little city within a city. He wants to clean the city of the Mafia. He keeps saying that he wants to take them down but then he just ‘forgot’ because there’s more pressing matters to see to, and maybe that’s true but sometimes I think his sire just kept him busy so he couldn’t, and there’s that rumor that she sired Mr. Carolla, so I was going to meet up with him to find out, but… maybe that doesn’t matter, I was just thinking of ways to snap his collar to her.” She takes a breath. Collects herself.

“He’s twice-collared to her. He wants to believe that she’s good, but he knows that she was behind that massacre in 2011, that she sold them out to the prince, and she’s ‘just as ruthless as any other elder when it comes down to it.’ He implied that she was collared by him. The prince, I mean. That she made a mistake and she’s stuck now.”

“He wants to believe that Kindred can be good. He talks about Carthage a lot. He doesn’t think violence is a good answer to problems. He’s… loyal, once you get him on your side, but he… well, to be honest, he doesn’t like you because of your ties with the mob. He doesn’t trust you.” She looks down. “Sorry,” she murmurs, as if that makes it better.

“He regrets faking his death. He’s upset about his dad no longer having children. The Garrison line died with Dani. He wishes he’d stuck around for his dad. He’s concerned about me, to some extent, and my safety. He… um, his haven was attacked recently while I was there, and he lost control and killed them because he thought they might hurt me, and he’s never actually killed before that. He’s upset about it.”

Once she starts talking about him it gets easier. She tells her grandsire everything she thinks will help regarding his question about Roderick.

GM: “Very informative, my dear,” Savoy says thoughtfully, drumming his fingers. “I think there’s a few things we can use here. But you said you had something else?”

Celia: “A few more things. Unrelated, and related.”

“Has Warden Lebeaux spoken to you regarding the information I shared with him earlier this week? I don’t want to repeat anything you already know.”

GM: “He has, but why don’t you bring it up so we’re on the same page?”

Celia: “The prince has sired a childe.”

GM: “Ah, yes,” Savoy smiles. “It sounds as if she was quite taken by you.”

Celia: That, at least, earns a self-satisfied smirk.

“I believe so.”

GM: “Very good. You should continue seeing each other.”

Celia: “I had thought the same. My concern is that she knows me as Celia, and I don’t wish to connect Celia to Jade with more people than I need to. There’s also the possibility that she discovers the truth of my lineage, which… well, that could spell trouble.”

GM: “The secret of Celia’s identity is already out to her,” states Preston with a verbal shrug.

Celia: “That wasn’t my concern, Madam Preston.”

GM: “There are methods by which to mask the taste of one’s blood. It is not improbable she has tasted the sheriff’s already.”

Celia: “She and I have also already shared blood. That is the issue.”

GM: “You spoke ‘discovers’ in future tense, Miss Kalani. Save memory alteration or killing her, there is little to be done for the past.”

“Her relationship with your sire, however, is poor. All the more so now that both wish to be named the prince’s heir.”

Celia: There’s nothing to do about it except hope that Caroline keeps her mouth shut in the meantime. She doubts the girl has any reason to, given the situation, especially if what Preston says is accurate. And why wouldn’t it be?

Celia can simply die, she supposes. It’ll hurt her mother, but without proof… enough people can connect her to Jade though, which is a risk, but she can disappear for a bit. She plans to leave the city for a while anyway.

It’s not really her neck on the line if Donovan is caught with an illegal childe, is it? She’s not an abandoned fledgling. Not that it would stop them from taking away one of her grandsire’s pawns if they could, coming for her anyway. And Veronica for claiming her. And everyone else who helped cover it up. Guilty by association and all that.

She flattens her lips into a thin line.

Maybe they should just lock her in a basement somewhere to keep her from fucking things up.

“Mr. Durant mentioned that some of the primogen on the Calbido would appreciate your presence there as well,” Jade finally says to her grandsire. “You can see the vote, split as it is. I wasn’t sure if it was something you wanted, or if you’d prefer to just know what they were up to without the seat, and I discovered something that could tip the balance in your favor.”

“That being said… I think there is a greater use for it than a seat on the Calbido.”

“It is no longer a matter of if our prince will abdicate his throne. It is a matter of when. While the issue of his childe causes some concern, I believe that her history these past months has worked against her. She has made enemies of most she should have been able to call friend, and while her blood is potent, while she is physically strong, I do not believe that she would be anything more than a puppet to the seneschal, Cabildo, or anyone else that she allies herself with were she to claim power. The city needs a stronger prince, and I have little doubt that the city’s elders would be leery at best to throwing in for someone so young.”

It’s a rather polite way of saying that Caroline has absolutely no social skills.

“The fledgling aside, the others who stand in your way, with the exception of my sire, are all Invictus: Primogen Poincaré, Prince Guilbeau, and Lord Councilor McGinn. As discussed prior, we have begun the process of pulling Mr. Guilbeau to our side with the takeover of Harrah’s, and progress has begun on that front.” She’s already fucked one of the two people she needs to fuck, she means, and will be meeting with Marcel shortly now that she has his attention.

“I will be honest that I don’t know Regent McGinn as well as you or Madam Preston probably do, so perhaps my calculations are off base… but we have seen his climb to power these past few years, and we all know of the way he wishes to grind his ‘rival,’ Primogen Poincaré, into the dust. Not getting a seat on the Calbido surely rankled him. While it is not the title of prince, perhaps he would content himself with that were we to open the door for him.”

Finally, Celia allows herself a small smile.

“I have discovered interesting information about the current Ventrue primogen that would possibly vex the prince to the point of dismissing him from his position. Were that information to make it into the right ears, well, perhaps it would be enough to make Regent McGinn thankful enough to throw his weight behind you when the time comes.”

“There remains the issue of Primogen Poincaré. Some say that he has turned his sire into no more than a puppet, but I think, perhaps, the opposite may be true. I have no wish to speak ill of them, but… they stand in your way.”

They stand in his way, and she will remove them for him if he needs her to.

“Perhaps you have use for them. If not, I… may have further information that could be essential in dismantling their power base.”

“The first is what you’ve already read on the transcript. Primogen Chastain suggests to throw childer to the Inquisition. Just… like we’re nothing.” Celia finally looks back at him now, hands twisting in her lap. “I… I get it, I guess, get rid of the new to save the old, let at least some of them survive, make them think that they got all the Kindred in the city. You can always create new childer, right? What does it matter if a seven-year-old neonate dies compared to the loss of an elder? All that history. All that power. Life, even unlife, is cheap.”

Would he do that to her? Throw her to the hunters to kill like she’s nothing? She doesn’t want to think that he has it in him, she wants to think that he cares more for her than some random off the street, but what is she to him? His grandchilde. Not even of his blood, just his estranged childe’s blood, and no matter how useful she tries to make herself she doesn’t think she will ever be able to atone for spilling their plans to Donovan shortly after her Embrace or messing up with Roderick. If her own grandmother would have seen her aborted for the good of her child, what’s her life worth against the rest of her kind?

She swallows the thought.

“I don’t think that any of the young ones would agree. And maybe they’re not heavy hitters, but they are numerous. If we could get that word out, tell people how callously she views them all… perhaps it would turn public opinion. Which, admittedly, might not sway who takes the throne. As you pointed out to me before, this is not a democracy. But if the favored childer or pets of elders start disappearing… it might be enough to turn the tide against her, and her childe. For example… Mr. Durant was attacked in his haven by three hunters. He’d be ash, possibly worse, if I hadn’t been there to wake him. If his sire were to think that it was another primogen who sent them after him as the first sacrifice…”

Maybe Coco’s loyalty isn’t something that he needs.

“I mentioned before that she’s stuck. Collared. Not fully, maybe, but he said after the accident of Mr. Kelley she became stuck, and if she had to drink from him to avoid further punishment, and if she had to do it when she arrived because of their clan enmity…”

Celia shrugs. Maybe Coco is a non-factor here, but from what Roderick said Savoy has been courting her for some time to sway her to his side, and she had seen as much last night.

“She might throw in for Malveaux-Devillers regardless, depending on the bond or her desire to assert more independence to Mid-City. Mr. Durant has implied belief that the next prince will not be as strong or heavy-handed and will be unable to crack down on the Anarchs as much as our current prince does, which I believe is also a factor in her holdout.”

Finally, she shakes her head.

“I’ve gotten off topic. There is further yet to be used against Primogen Poincaré and the prince both.”

Celia sits back in her chair, crossing one leg over the other. She doesn’t otherwise fidget, though the words stick in her throat. After a moment she finds her voice.

“I have reason to believe that the prince is feeding on neonates. Specifically the Storyvilles. It was something that came up before Rox—Miss Gerlette died. I think that her lover, Evan, was killed for it. Drained by the prince, perhaps, and his childe covered it up by blaming the scourge. She’s an easy person to lay blame on, and I had thought to do the same with Miss Gerlette’s disappearance. Perhaps Evan was an accident, but when the Storyvilles started looking into it they started vanishing, and the coincidence of Malveaux-Devillers joining up with them and pointing fingers at others is… well, it’s a bad cover up, really, and it’s rather telling that the only one of them still alive is her lover, Miss Jocelyn Baker. I would not be surprised if the story she concocted about Meadows coming after Suarez was but another cover. She’s fast, certainly, and maybe she brought an army of ghouls like the Anarchs claim, but then why hasn’t retribution been taken against her? Why is Meadows content to leave her alone if she thrashed her so thoroughly? I think Malveaux-Devillers sought to curry favor with her sire and has been feeding him, made up the story about taking on Meadows because she was tired of looking like a bottom-feeder, and used it as a convenient excuse for his behavior.”

“Which brings us to Primogen Poincaré.”

“I have Evan’s former ghoul. I questioned her thoroughly about the situation, and she let slip that the Storyvilles were meeting covertly with the prince. She was mind-twisted into forgetting it, but I was able to get through that. It sounded like there was some sharing of blood, at the least.”

“She mentioned that shortly before his disappearance Evan was on edge. Scared, nervous, anxious. And that he met with Primogen Poincaré about it. Felt better when he came back. I think… I think he might have told Primogen Poincaré. I’m supposed to meet with him after Elysium next week to speak about it. I don’t expect he’ll sell out his prince regardless of my relationship to him. But if he did know, and if he didn’t do anything, and if he sat idly by when the prince excused that behavior from Mr. Matheson…”

What’s that saying? Guilty by association? Accessory after the fact? It’s circumstantial, but then when have Kindred politics ever played fair?

It’s enough, she thinks, to sink both of their reputations.

GM: “The Cabildo have wanted Lord Savoy to sit on their body for some time, as well as the Baron,” states Preston. “This is unlikely to come to pass even if they achieve a majority vote. The prince will simply overrule them.”

“But it is telling that it’s come up again, Nat,” Savoy replies consideringly. “So is the size of the vote, for that matter.”

Savoy smiles at Celia’s words concerning Vidal’s childe.

“Oh, she’s definitely something special, my dear. I should like to see what she’ll make of herself in a century or two! But no, she’ll never be prince this early in her Requiem. She’ll either be a figurehead for Maldonato or a bride for Donovan.”

“I find the latter unlikely, sir,” states Preston. “Anarchs might mistake her for the sheriff’s pet, but their poor relationship is not news to us.”

“She has made many enemies and few inroads, as Miss Kalani observes.”

Savoy just grins. “You should know better than anyone else not to underestimate her, Nat. We both know how fatal a mistake that can be.”

“I see very few of those enemies as lasting ones, given the names in her lineage. Except perhaps for Donovan. If she’s Maldonato’s figurehead, after all, he won’t be prince.” He winks at Jade. “Your sire’s the one I’d watch closest, my dear, out of all the claimants.”

“Potential inducements for Regent McgGinn have been considered,” states Preston. “Primogen would likely be an appealing position for him in the new order. What information have you discovered concerning Primogen Hurst, Miss Kalani?”

Savoy smiles at Celia’s talk concerning the primogen. “The last time elders threw their childer to the Inquisition’s pyres, my dear, the results nearly destroyed all of our kind. Feeding a fire only makes it burn larger and hotter.”

“But we are going to keep this to ourselves, concerning what the primogen have been saying. Right now it’d largely amount to rumors and hearsay, even if we came out publicly. That would just make us enemies among the Cabildo and alert them as to Mr. Durant’s leak.” Savoy chuckles. “Before we’ve even managed to make him a ‘real’ leak, at that!”

“Don’t ever forget, the Invictus, Tremere, and Anarchs aren’t the Sanctified. Their leaders only support our prince as long as they consider him the winning horse.”

“Feeding on neonates like Mr. Matheson could certainly well change that.” Savoy smiles. “That would rather neatly explain what become of the Storyvilles. How can we assist you in your meeting with the primogen, my dear?”

“He’s hardly going to blab ‘I know the truth’ to Miss Kalani, sir,” says Preston. “If he knows anything, he’ll just lie and send her on her way. Then send someone to silence her if he thinks she suspects.”

“Don’t underestimate this neonate either, Nat,” winks the French Quarter lord.

Celia: Celia waits while the two discuss her report amongst themselves, quietly absorbing their words. They make solid points considering many things she brought up that she hadn’t considered; she’s glad she waited to speak with them before acting.

Perhaps they should take this item by item.

Unfair, isn’t it, that Caroline can blunder her way through her Requiem and all is forgiven when she is announced as Vidal’s childe, while if Celia were to come forward as Donovan’s they would wonder what such a monster saw in her and ask themselves how thoroughly she takes after her sire. It is all well and good for the sheriff to have the personality of concrete, but his neonate childe is nothing but a chink in that armor and an extension of his severity. Her existence serves only to punish him should that truth get out. Already she can picture the responses of those close to her: immoral, cold-blooded, inflexible. Ruthless.

Isn’t she, though? Isn’t that why she thinks he turned her? Not because she has mastered his level of austerity, but because she will stop at nothing to achieve her goals. She is not some unstoppable force, no, not some battering ram that hits again and again and again and hopes this time her opposition shatters; she is not ice, unyielding with her jagged edges. She is liquid. She overcomes obstacles by rising above or swirling around them. She gives when someone puts their hand inside of her, nestles into the little nooks and crannies of the world around her, carves her niche out over time like the great rivers of the past. She can be as gentle as a trickle or as forceful as a tsunami. Even her form is malleable: she takes the shape of whatever container they put her in, hardens when the atmosphere calls for it, or floats on by as little vapors in the air, unseen.

The waves do not care if you cannot swim when they come for you.

“Fatal?” she asks after their words about Caroline. She looks between the pair, because the idea of a well-connected, powerful, beautiful blonde Ventrue coming after her is some cause for concern. Why wouldn’t she take out her rival’s childe?

GM: “From what Warden Lebeaux has informed us, Miss Kalani,” Preston answers, “had Miss Malveaux wished you ash, she had more convenient opportunity to render you such while you were in the Garden District. Slaying you gains her nothing, in any case. It is more probable, if she ascertains the blood relation between you and the sheriff, that she will seek to use your existence as leverage over him.”

“I can’t see him taking that well,” chuckles Savoy. “He’d then most likely attempt to kill her himself. Discretely.”

“A Prince Maldonato with Miss Malveaux as his figurehead is a greater threat to us than Prince Donovan. If the sheriff succeeded in killing her, so much the better for us!” smiles the French Quarter lord.

“Better still if the prince discovers his deed, too,” states Preston. “It will drive Prince Vidal to a fury like little else, and the seneschal will have no figurehead. The succession would become a truly open question.”

“Hmm,” muses Savoy. “I think there’s much that Miss Malveaux and I have in common, and many things we might do for one another. You know I hate to throw away any potential asset, Nat.”

“But she might not be salvageable, either. It has been some time since she last gave us a call.” The French Quarter lord gives a self-deprecating chuckle. “So we’ll go into this with open eyes, but we’ll give diplomacy a last go. Jade can see Miss Malveaux again to discuss the benefits of a continued association.”

He looks at Celia. “I think she already suspects that I know her real sire. You can play apparently straight with her, my dear, and confirm that I do—I don’t imagine she’s about to report your conversation to the prince. You can tell her that I’d like to discuss the things we can do for one another. Things ranging from her personal future to Richard Gettis to the future of the Sanctified. I’d like you to arrange a direct communications channel between us. Perhaps a meeting with Melissaire at the LaLaurie House or Giani Building—I can speak through her, and I imagine Miss Malveaux will feel safe at either of those locations.”

“And if she doesn’t seem interested in talking, well, I suppose we’ll have to kill her. There’s several ways we might orchestrate that.” Savoy sounds for all the world like he’s discussing the weather.

Celia: Jade nods her head at the plan. Part of her fears are put to rest. She switches gears to the other thing weighing on her mind while they are on the topic of the Ventrue.

“If Miss Malveaux has already disseminated the fact that I am an illegal Embrace… I’m no longer an unreleased fledgling, so the prince’s rule concerning their treatment doesn’t quite apply to me. But I wouldn’t put it past someone to use it as an excuse to take away one of your subjects.”

Is there such a thing as statute of limitations in Kindred society? For all the friends that she has made, she can’t quite imagine any of them jumping in front of that blade for her.

GM: “There is not,” Preston answers. The punishment of such crimes depends entirely upon the inclinations of the prince and the clout of the illegal childe and their political allies.

Celia: Well.

That answers that question.

She supposes she’ll have to cross that bridge if it’s ever built.

She moves on. Or rather, moves back to a prior topic.

“Primogen Hurst has taken a thin-blood lover that resides within the Quarter.”

Saying it aloud now, she doesn’t know if it will be enough to displace him from his seat. It would be one thing for him to take one of those from Mid-City; his dalliance with someone from her grandsire’s camp, she imagines, is even less favorable.

GM: Preston makes no effort to hide her look of disgust.

“Rather damning,” chuckles Savoy. “Well done, my dear. Tell us more.”

Celia: She gives him the details of the thin-blood: Patricia Strickland, former adjunct professor at Tulane (she taught something with gender studies, Jade had found in her digging, and she relays this as well; she thinks that maybe Strickland and Preston would have gotten along if the former wasn’t a thin-blood).

“She has been around since at least 2011. She lived in Mid-City prior to her relocation to the Quarter. There was a…” Jade pauses, considering her words. “An extermination of the thin-blooded populace in December that year, set up by the two regents of the parish. They ducked out to hide their hand in it and save face.” As they’ve been told to again, according to that transcript.

“Strickland was one of the most vocal of the thin-blooded to attend. She pushed for equal rights. When the group came to kill them, she was one of two survivors. She has since been in the Quarter and has assisted with the transition of many from Mid-City to your territory, citing that Mid-City is unsafe and that you are a better, um, overlord is the word I’ve heard used.”

Jade pulls out her phone, showing them the former professor’s photo on a defunct Tulane faculty page.

“I had hoped we could use it to oust him from his seat.”

“Truthfully I’m not sure why she’d have taken up with him in the first place. Though he was a perfect gentleman to her while I was there.”

GM: Preston gives Jade an extremely flat look.

“Do you think we are idiots and do not know who Strickland is, Miss Kalani? Or what occurred at Cypress Grove Cemetery in 2011?”

Celia: “I… was just being thorough.”

GM: “Vidal is the city’s current prince. Lord Savoy rules the French Quarter. The Camarilla is an organization of vampires, who call themselves Kindred. Vampires drink blood and burn in sunlight. Is that also sufficiently thorough?”

Savoy raises a hand. “Now, now, Nat. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain in thoroughness. Better we review some details we may already know than risk overlooking even one we may not.”

Jade’s phone silently vibrates in her purse.

Celia: “I don’t have anything further to add about Strickland.” She doesn’t know what else they’re looking for.

She ignores the phone; she’ll get back to them later.

GM: “Where and how did you discover this information, Miss Kalani?” Preston asks.

Celia: Oh. That. Why hadn’t they just asked to begin with?

She tells them: at his haven using an alternate identity that can pass as mortal.

GM: “Do you have photographs, audio recordings, or other inculpatory evidence, Miss Kalani?” Preston asks.

Celia: “Yes, Madam Preston.”

The phone makes another appearance. She pulls up the relevant files.

GM: Savoy smiles. “Cleverly done, my dear. The two of you can schedule an audience with Regent McGinn to discuss how best to release these pictures. We’ll do so publicly once he understands he owes his Cabildo seat to our support.”

“If he doesn’t find that arrangement palatable, there are other interested parties who likely will.”

Celia: Jade gives another nod and says she will make herself available as needed. She asks Preston if, considering their shared Invictus ties and her greater standing in general, she would prefer to be the one to reach out, or if Jade should take care of it.

GM: The Malkavian answers that she will do so, so as to secure a sooner audience.

Celia: That settled, Jade moves on to their final “targets,” Primogen Poincaré and his sire.

“I believe Madam Preston’s earlier assessment is correct in regards to how he would handle the situation. The meeting is already scheduled, but if you would prefer that I not make contact about it there are other avenues to pursue. We could handle them another way.”

GM: “How would you play things, my dear?” Savoy asks.

Celia: “I don’t know,” Jade admits at length. “I don’t think they should be allowed to freely stand in your way, but I agree that leaking the transcript with Primogen Chastain will lose us more than it gains. I haven’t had much contact with her. With him… he still has concern for his childe, estranged though she may be, and thinks well enough of me to send the archon my way for assistance with a surgical matter. Perhaps there is a way to use her for an in? His feud with Regent McGinn could be utilized, but if we’re promising him a seat on the Cabildo…” Play them both? She’s not sure that she has anything her pretend grandsire wants. Just the thing with Cloe, but even that she can’t do on her own. His hands, maybe. She’s long thought about fixing his hands. But she’s not a bone surgeon, she doesn’t know that she can right it. Unless he lets her remove everything, pull the phalanges from a cadaver. Then it’s not bone work itself, but flesh work around the bone, and that might work if he’s amenable to not having his own fingers…

Would he trade favors for the use of his hands again? She would.

Cartilage, maybe. Harden it. Use it as a stand-in.

Meet with him anyway and suss out the truth of the matter with the Storyvilles, find out if he knew. What’s the worst that happens, he gets suspicious and rips his way into her mind and she ends up lobotomized?

GM: “Use of his hands is a small thing to trade for information that could remove Prince Vidal’s legitimacy,” Savoy muses. “If this information is true, I suspect Poincaré is already considering how to use it to advance his position.”

Celia: That definitely answers that question.

GM: He chuckles. “I don’t see our prince responding especially well to direct threats.”

“However, whether it’s true or not matters less than whether there’s proof.”

“Talking to the primogen, by itself, wouldn’t get us that. We’d be no worse off than if we just started a rumor, without Jade ever talking to him.”

“We might even be better off, since her doing so is a potential danger.”

“Merely starting a rumor accomplishes little by itself, sir,” states Preston. “It must have apparent basis in fact for it to spread and take hold in minds.”

“You’re not wrong, Nat.” He looks back to Jade. “I’d continue to look into what’s become of the Storyvilles. The prince feeding on them would be a delicious scandal after Mr. Matheson. But I don’t know how fruitful an avenue the primogen is likely to be.”

Celia: She has further avenues to explore. The Baron’s girl. The fortune teller. It doesn’t solve the problem of the primogen standing in his way, but she’s not sure there’s anything she can do about that right now. She’ll keep looking into both.

She says as much.

It feels like less of an overall victory; she had hoped to take out all three of them for him.

GM: Savoy expresses his approval and says she has but to ask if there are any resources she desires to aid in her search.

“You originally scheduled this meeting, sir, to discuss Mr. Durant,” Preston states.

“Ah yes, so we did,” Savoy smiles. “Where did we leave off?”

Celia: “His plans to move his sister.” She shares her final thoughts on that, but that’s the last she has on Roderick directly after spilling her guts about him earlier. She had told him everything she could think of.

“The idea of serving you doesn’t appeal to him. His sire and the rest of the Cabildo has poisoned his mind against it. I thought maybe I could pull him away from his sire, but he’s twice-bonded. Short of overriding that with my own—” which has all sorts of potential complications but is something she’ll do if she needs to “—I had some thoughts on other ways to sever it. Tying his sire to the Mafia somehow, though that would need to happen independently of our relationship as I don’t think he’d trust that if it came from me or anyone on your side. He was pretty angry when we discussed that rumor about her also siring Mr. Carolla.” She’ll find out the truth of that when they get together, but if it is just a rumor then she needs a backup plan. Maybe one of them has an idea.

“He doesn’t want to betray her. She has been a good sire to him. But if he thought that she betrayed him first, or even if her entire purpose in Embracing him had been a ruse…” Jade trails off, leaving it open for discussion.

It feels too much like asking for help when she’d been the one to knock the plan astray. So much for riding the high over the Hurst thing; she’d imagined this meeting going very differently. Shame, hot and heavy, makes her drop her gaze.

“There’s also the matter of Miss Garrison herself,” she tells the table. “She doesn’t recall who Embraced her. Perhaps if we could offer Mr. Durant a name it might give him somewhere to focus his aggression regarding her state, and he might be grateful to us for turning them over to him.” Not that she expects a real name, just a likely patsy. She thinks both Savoy and Preston realize the implication, though. And if they did happen to have a hand in Dani’s Embrace she doesn’t want to know.

There’s more, but she waits a beat.

GM: “That’s a promising idea with his sire, my dear,” Savoy smiles. “Very promising. Wouldn’t you agree, Nat?”

“As long as he’s as loyal to his sire as Miss Kalani describes, sir, any intelligence from him is suspect,” Preston replies.

“That’s very true. All right, Jade. I want you to arrange a meeting between Mr. Durant and me,” says Savoy.

“Tell him that’s how he’s repaying his boon to me. He’s coming here to the Evergreen so the four of us can talk in privacy.”

“If he wants to enter in disguise, that’s fine with me. He doesn’t have to tell the world that he’s stopping by. I doubt he particularly does. So long as he’s sitting next to where you are now, I’ll consider the boon fulfilled.”

Preston looks through her tablet. “You have a Wednesday opening at 3 AM, sir, to meet with Mr. Durant.”

“Hmm,” answers Savoy. “When are you going to reunite him with his sister, my dear?” he asks Jade.

Celia: “I had planned on tomorrow evening.” She tells them briefly of her dinner plans. Her mother lives further into the Quarter than she thinks he will risk attempting a breakout from, and she doesn’t think that he’ll endanger the Masquerade to force Dani out in front of her mother or sister. She had also planned on applying some “special effects makeup” (they both know what she means, but Roderick doesn’t) to disguise him. At this point, Dani doesn’t know that her brother is still around.

“I’d thought that if she did she would demand to see him immediately, and I wanted to make sure I had her loyalty first. If any of what I’ve just said is unacceptable to you I will cancel tomorrow. Mr. Durant is unaware of the plans; I didn’t want to give him enough time to make his own.”

GM: “Prudent,” says Preston.

Celia: “I suspect he’ll want to speak with her privately as well. I had planned to use my public haven. Or the krewe’s.” Both are situated well into the Quarter, and Dani is staying at neither.

GM: “The location is immaterial,” says Preston.

“It’s best if we see Mr. Durant soon after he sees his father,” says Savoy. “When are the next openings in my schedule, Nat?”

“Monday at 11 PM is the soonest, sir,” answers the Malkavian.

Celia: “I can reschedule the dinner to Monday, if you’d prefer.”

GM: “Sunday still works splendidly, my dear. Just introduce him to his sister too before he stops by the Evergreen.”

“There is also the matter of Mr. Durant’s plan to abscond with the thin-blood, sir,” says Preston.

Celia: She had planned to introduce them after the dinner, when they’d have a moment to actually speak to each other privately. She could put it off until Monday, and Dani shouldn’t know it’s him if things go to plan. Which she can’t count on. And he’ll want to know why he can’t talk to her immediately. Then exchange numbers, she’ll want to know why she can’t go with him immediately or stay with them. Track her phone. Steal the phone? Guards. All she has to do is keep Dani safe until Monday evening, which is tomorrow and Monday during the day. Rotating guards. Maybe see if she can borrow Tantal, cash in the favor if Lebeaux doesn’t need him. The shadow dancer?

No, maybe not.

Tell Dani to call off school and work for the day to keep her out of Riverbend and Mid-City.

Stake her in a basement somewhere, no one will find her then.

Stake him in a basement somewhere.

He’ll know she spilled the plan. So much for trust.

Then again, if they just can’t find Dani, that doesn’t really come back on Jade.

GM: “So there is. What advantages do you see to introducing them on either day?” Savoy asks Jade.

Celia: “Sunday: he’ll expect it after dinner since one of them flows well into the other, he’ll trust me or at least that I’m doing right by his sister, she will likely be less angry at me when she discovers that I’ve kept her from her brother. It’s essentially just their opinion on me, sir. He’ll see me as on his side. Better for the longer game.”

Is Coco telling him the same thing, to get in good with Jade so he can manipulate her, too?

“Monday will cause tension, but gives him less opportunity to sway her to his side. It will allow me to warn her he’s around. Meeting her will be fresh in his mind when he meets you. I can show her what unlife is like for thin-bloods in other cities or even other parts of the city. And him. Show him the Square once the tourists are gone, maybe, or the rest of the unappealing parts of the Quarter. More time to get things in order, less chance he makes contact to abduct her. Better for the short game. Unless he sees me not letting him meet her privately as a, um, breach of trust and then doubles down on his plan without telling me about it.”

Then there’s no game.

“My concern in letting them meet on Sunday is that he’ll have more time to get to her and pull her away. She’s rather taken with me, but he’s family.” Sunday makes more sense from a flow perspective, but Monday is objectively better otherwise.

She’s also concerned about him putting his fists through her face again, then dragging her to Coco to wake up, and that’s… a problem.

Celia: Speaking of Coco…

“There’s also one other thing that occurrs to me regarding Mr. Durant and his sire. He mentioned that they have gotten into it a few times. Most recently he screamed at her following last night’s Elysium, but he has mentioned it happening a few times.” She can’t imagine screaming at her grandsire regardless of how vastly their opinions differ. “I don’t know if he’s the type to be able to quietly continue serving her if he thinks she violated his principles. Which makes him less useful to you if he’s on the outs with her and no longer the scribe.”

Which undoubtedly already occurred to both of them.

GM: “Tell you what, my dear. I trust your judgment. Introduce brother and sister to each other on whichever day you see fit,” smiles Savoy. “Just let us know where Dani is staying, so we can have someone keep an eye on her during the day.”

“If you can find out the shadow dancer’s name, all the better. Pass it along to Fabian and we’ll take care of them.”

Celia: “Yes, sir. I’ll find out.”

She passes along the address where Dani is staying and says she’ll let them know if it changes.

GM: “Very good,” says Savoy. “We’re going to acquire a vitae sample from Mr. Carolla for Warden Lebeaux. That’ll be someone else’s mission than yours. If you can acquire a vitae sample from Mr. Durant, that’ll let us find out whether there’s any truth to the rumor of them being broodmates. We’ll proceed based on what we find.”

Celia: Does that mean she doesn’t need to go on a date with him?

“Yes, sir. I’ll get one. I have one from his sister. If you want it to find out who did this to her.” If they don’t already know.

GM: “Her sire is irrelevant for our purposes,” states Preston.

“Doesn’t hurt us to have, though,” answers Savoy. “You can turn both of those over to Mélissaire or Fabian once you have them. Before our Monday meeting would be best.”

Celia: “Yes, Madam Preston. I assumed as much. I just wanted to cover my bases. It will be done as you say, sir.”

There’s a brief pause.

“Her usefulness to us is only as leverage over her brother. She’s pretty adamant about finishing school. She goes to Tulane and clerks in Mid-City. If she’s picked up in either area we lose our leverage. I thought that if I could secure her safe passage into Riverbend her brother would have less to complain about. Or rather, it would put him further into our pocket. I don’t think she should be allowed into Mid-City at all. Chance of being picked up is too high if they’re looking for her there.”

Another pause. Nothing to lose in asking, even if she doesn’t think he’ll go out of his way for a thin-blood.

“I was wondering if there was any way to put her in at the Supreme Court instead. I was planning on marking her to make her smell human, so no one would know. The shadow dancing trick.”

GM: “The thin-blood’s job occupation is hardly meaningful to us. Have her give haircuts at your salon if you wish her to be gainfully employed,” Preston answers disdainfully.

Celia: Right.


“Except that every trip outside the Quarter is going to be a risk she’s picked up by someone else. So while she doesn’t matter, if we don’t have her then we don’t have him.”

GM: “We can also secure her employment as a waitress. Or perhaps a strip club,” the Malkavian continues, faintly sneering. “Or a janitor, if she would prefer slower-paced work. That seems like a good idea, Miss Kalani. She might as well earn her keep if she’s staying with you.”

Celia: Jade purses her lips.

“I’m aware that you look down on her kind. Until her brother is securely in our pocket I had wanted to at least pretend to care. I already can’t adequately explain why everyone hates her, or why she can’t come to the cool kids parties, or why she’s suddenly a second class citizen. She’s a female version of her brother; she hardly sits idly by while something she perceives as injustice is thrown in her face. It would be the same if you were barred from something on account of formerly being female.”

“I’m not asking to parade her around as a pet. I’m asking to give her a reason to not run into his arms the moment he shows.”

“And I’m not interested in stepping on your toes to do so,” she says to Savoy. “So if it’s no then it’s no.”

GM: Savoy chuckles. “I’m inclined to agree with you, my dear. That sort of work is only likely to make Mr. Garrison and his sister both resentful.”

“There’s an immigration court here in the Quarter. We’ll get her a place there.”

Celia: “Thank you.”

GM: “Courts conduct their business during the day, sir. The entire point may be moot,” says Preston.

Celia: “She doesn’t burn.”

GM: “Abominations,” says Preston, shaking her head.

Savoy smiles vaguely. “I suppose that addresses that.”

Celia: “I don’t understand,” Jade finally says. “What’s the prophecy about them? Why are they supposed to doom us all?”

GM: “Oh, that’s really just old superstitions,” answers Savoy. “But they do provide some extra oomph to the secular reasons, don’t they, Nat?”

“Yes, sir. Thin-bloods reproduce at an extraordinary rate. Almost every one of them is a violation of the Third and Fourth Traditions, and many of them wind up violating the First and Second, down the line. They represent a breakdown in the Camarilla’s civil order. A mass breakdown.”

Celia: She’s curious about that, whether they reproduce so much because no one bothered to explain the rules to them or if it’s something worse. Like a contagion. Maybe they can’t help it, it just spreads. And Dani can’t even use powers half the time, not unless she has vitae in her system it seems like.

“Primogen Chastain seems convinced they’re going to be the cause of our destruction. Even Mr. Durant’s sire wouldn’t tell him about it.”

Must be bad, secular reasons aside.

GM: Preston shrugs. “The chances of Mr. Garrison’s sister being apprehended in Riverbend during the day are minimal. But the risk is not nonexistent, and there is no gain to us in a thin-blood’s continued school attendance.”

Celia: Jade lets the topic drop. If they don’t think it’s a concern then she won’t let it bother her.

“I had planned to mark her. With the shadow dancing mark, to hide what she is.”

GM: “Then the risk is close to nonexistent, but there is still no gain,” states the Malkavian.

Celia: “It just comes back to us presenting a friendly front to both of them until we get what we want. And if it looks like I pulled strings there then he’ll feel indebted to me.”

Durant, she means.

GM: “I’m inclined to agree,” says Savoy. “Mr. Durant would understand the reasons for his sister not to attend law school, but I doubt he’d be happy, and his sister even less. That just makes us the villains to tell them ‘no.’ I think the risk posed by Miss Garrison’s continued attendance is acceptably low, especially if Jade marks her.”

“A thin-blood with a law degree. What a milestone for Kindred civil rights,” Preston sneers. “Perhaps they will hand them out to monkeys next.”

Celia: “Did they say similar to you when you went to school? The first of many who were born female to take that path. Why is this any different?”

GM: “How forward-thinking of you, Miss Kalani,” replies Preston, her lip curling.

Celia: “She’ll be an expendable pawn. A law degree only makes her more useful before she’s inevitably destroyed.”

GM: “Respected professions have standards to maintain, Miss Kalani, even if your own profession lacks both qualities.”

It’s there on her face. The same look as when Roderick asked if she wanted to paint the scourge’s nails.

Celia: “I have a medical degree,” Jade snaps at her. “Just because I let my clan think I paint faces all day doesn’t mean I don’t have any skills. It’s an easy, passive source of income while I pursue other interests.”

GM: “An online degree if I am not mistaken, Miss Kalani?”

“Enough, Nat,” says Savoy.

The Malkavian says nothing further.

Jade’s grandsire degree smiles at her. “I lack any degree, my dear. So does the prince. It’s easy enough for younger Kindred to get attached to credentials and lose sight of the bigger picture.”

Celia: There’s no other option than an online degree when you’re murdered at 19.

She doesn’t bother thinking it, even knowing that they’re in her head. She just nods her head at her grandsire’s words. No one calls him stupid, she bets.

GM: “If Miss Garrison wants to earn a degree, there’s little harm in it. If she wants to work a legal job without one, credentials are easy enough to forge.” The French Quarter lord chuckles. “What are scraps of paper to one with power to defy life and death? We can take pride in our achievements among kine society if we choose to. But we must never forget that such achievements are as water in a world ruled by blood.”

“‘We are given dominion over the line of Seth, third son of Adam, as he is our youngest brother. We will watch over his children as if they were our own, we will show them the right way, and in return, they will serve us all of their days.’”

Celia: “Yes, grandsire.” Jade bows her head in deference. “As you say.”

GM: “We’ll re-acquaint you with Miss Melton after you’ve brought Mr. Durant to the Evergreen. Would you say that seems fair, for us to make new friends at the same time as one another?” Savoy smiles.

Celia: It feels like punishment.

Deserved, maybe, but punishment all the same.

“Yes, sir.”

GM: Savoy rests a hand on her shoulder.

“I have every confidence in you, my dear. I’ll wish you good luck over these next few nights, but we’ll see how much you even need it!”

Celia: As long as she keeps her mouth shut everything should go fine.

“Thank you.” Her eyes find the table for a moment before she rises, dipping into a curtsy. She doesn’t want to know what happened when they’d put her under earlier. What sort of disparaging remarks had been made about her, how disappointed he had been. There will be no lap for her this evening.

“While I’m here, I found something else that might be of passing interest to you concerning your rival’s mayoral candidate. Drouillard gave the order for Gettis to be put down following the shooting rather than subject his victims to a public trial. It might throw a wrench into his plans if it gets out.”

“The shooter, Jeremy May, has been holed up with the Devillers in the Garden District as private security since his dismissal from the force.”

GM: “Oh, now that’s rather useful for us to know,” smiles Savoy.

He pats his lap.

Celia: She shouldn’t want it as much as she does. But the offer means she did something right, doesn’t it? Even if it’s trivial. Even if it doesn’t mean anything to him, even if it’s a silly gesture. It moves her. She takes a step forward, then another, and soon she’s sliding onto his lap as if it’s the most perfect place in the world. Like this is exactly where she belongs. He’s not large, but she can make herself even smaller; she tucks and curls and fits herself snugly against him, her face hidden in the hollow of his neck. How easy it would be to just… bite. To forcibly take another collar, and then a third, and then there’s no more fuckups, no more questions of loyalty, no more risk that someone else will try to force it on her.

The thought is fleeting.

“Grandsire?” She turns the word into a question, her breath a whisper on his skin.

“I… I wanted to say that I’m sorry for deviating from your plan. I thought there was a flaw in it that I could fix, but that was arrogant of me. Of course there wasn’t. You’ve had centuries to learn and I…” She swallows. “Regardless of my history with him I should have trusted that you had accounted for it. I’m sorry I made it messy and risked everything.”

“It won’t happen again, sir.”

GM: Savoy rubs his hand up and down Jade’s backside. He isn’t a large man. But she can make herself smaller, and his lap is very comfortable. He smells very nice (he’d asked Jade for cologne recommendations, once, as “the beauty professional in our midst”), and his touch is soft and lingering. A hug with one hand.

“I know it won’t, my dear. I can tell how much you want our mission to succeed. So I’m trusting it to you. It’ll be quite a win for us both, if we can get Mr. Durant to come over.”

“But I want you to look for flaws in my plans, too. I want you to tell me every possible flaw you see. I want to hear your ideas. Two minds are smarter than one.”

“It’s very common for the other clans to think our heads are empty because our faces are comely. Sometimes, we hear it often enough that we start to believe it.”

Celia: She blinks back something that might be emotion, snuffing it out like a candle before the wick can do so much as catch. She just wants to prove that she’s not broken, that Paul wasn’t right, that the Nosferatu aren’t right, that she has more value than what she can do on her knees or her back. Even Roderick had—

Celia—not Jade, not right now—closes her eyes against the thoughts because she doesn’t want to think them and she certainly doesn’t want him to hear them. She’ll do better.

She has to.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Ayame III
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXV, Emmett XVI

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia XXIV
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia XXV, Emmett XVI

Story Twelve, Ayame III

“I’ll figure something out.”
Roderick Durant

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: Ayame’s phone gives a ring. The caller ID is Roderick.

Ayame: She answers on the fourth ring.

“Hello, Roderick.”

GM: “Hi, Ayame. I was calling to ask about your friends. Some things have come up on my end.”

Ayame: “Oh?”

GM: “Sooner would be better than later now, if they can swing it.”

Ayame: “I see. Is everything okay?”

GM: “For now, yes. But you know how these things can get.”

He clearly doesn’t want to go into specifics over the phone.

“If extra payment can move up their schedules, that can be arranged.”

Ayame: “I will reach out. If you are free this evening I can make time to meet with you to discuss.”

GM: “All right. What time?”

Ayame: Ayame glances at the time on her phone.

“An hour?”

GM: “Okay. Same place as last time?”

Ayame: “That will suffice.”

GM: “All right. See you then.”

Ayame: “See you then.”

Ayame hangs up.

Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

Ayame: An hour later Ayame arrives at Cypress Grove.

She hates this place. She reminds herself how much she hates it as she strolls through the gates in black combat boots, their waterproofed leather exterior keeping the worst of the mud at bay from the dark jeans tucked inside. Gravel crunches beneath her feet with every step that she takes through the grounds, otherwise silent save for the footfalls that herald her approach.

She hates this place. She reminds herself how much she hates it when she shoves her gloved fingers into the pockets of her over-sized black hoodie, its cowl drawn up to turn her into just another shadow-clad wraith in the night.

She hates this place. He could have chosen any other, but he chose here. He’d done it last time as well. Hundreds of other places to meet in the city, but he chose here. A message? A game? To remind her? To prove what’s at stake?

As if she does not know.

Every time they have a rant here she wants to ask why they can’t find another place. Why they have to be here, where everyone died, and she wonders if she’s the only one who still gives a fuck. And with just the two of them they don’t need nearly this much space. They can talk anywhere. She can only assume he doesn’t trust her enough to take her somewhere more personal. Or that he has eyes in the fog, watching to make sure she… what? Doesn’t betray him? As if she’d want to take on a Brujah.

She searches for him among the headstones.

GM: It’s Ayame’s guess why they still do. There were a few other calls not to meet here anymore, from similarly uncomfortable licks, but not much seemed to come of them. Rants have remained a regular thing as Cypress Grove for years.

In the end, most Anarchs just tried to forget.

She finds Roderick there, dressed in an overcoat and carrying an umbrella against the steadily falling rain. It’s cold and wet, but that doesn’t matter to either of them.

“Thanks for making it on short notice.”

Ayame: Hadn’t he said the last time? It seems to be a recurring theme.

Ayame inclines her head.

“Your call implied it was urgent.”

She had said that last time, too.

GM: “I think the duskborn I want to get out has been found out.”

“So, it’s that simple. If you can arrange passage out of the city by tomorrow night, I’ll owe you a boon for the rush order.”

Ayame: A grimace passes over her face at the news that his duskborn friend has been found out. There’s pity in her eyes, followed by something a little more… devastated at his request. She glances away.

“Houston has not come to fruition.”

Ayame: “The situation there is…” she trails off, her eyes finding his once again. “It is not good, Roderick. The few I know who could take your friend will not. They do not want more mouths to feed and do not have the blood to spare for half-breeds.” Bitterness colors her voice; she sounds as if she is quoting someone directly.

“Are you positive that your duskborn has been found out?”

GM: Roderick receives that news with a stony expression from under his umbrella.

“Upwards of 90%.”

“Houston is huge! They can’t be out of juice to go around.”

“You’d be hearing about Masquerade breaches and territorial fights between licks if that was the real problem.”

Ayame: “No, I would assume not. But their attitudes there are no less than ours here.”

GM: “I guess some Anarchs will always be more equal than other Anarchs.”

Ayame: “I am sorry.” Ayame bows her head. “I am sorry that I could not come through for you.”

GM: “Maybe you still can. Can you arrange simple passage to the city?”

Ayame: “Drop a duskborn in their midst without anyone to watch their back?” Skepticism colors her voice.

GM: “I’d still be going with you. I’ll do that at first.”

“I might have to stay in the city a little longer, but, fine, it’s that or someone’s life.”

“Half-life. Whatever it is with them.”

Ayame: Ayame shakes her head. Her hair spills in front of her face, hiding her shame that she cannot even do that much. Without a contact in Houston to meet them… they’ll be targeted by anyone watching the border, staked or slain before they ever set foot in the city proper.

GM: “Can’t, or won’t?” Roderick asks. He sounds like he’s trying to keep the sharpness out of his voice.

Ayame: Her head lifts, eyes flashing.

“Do not,” she snaps at him, “insinuate that I would willingly keep someone here who wishes to flee. If it were as simple as that it would be done. There are countless factors at play that—”

She cuts herself off.

She sees why they call him elder’s pet now, if this is how he acts upon hearing bad news.

GM: His grip tightens around his umbrella. “Excuse me for making sure. If it was won’t, then—”

“Never mind. It’s can’t.”

Ayame: Ayame is silent for a long moment.

“I know that it is not what you want to hear,” she finally says. “And I am sorry that I could not provide for you. But there is… for licks in Houston, it can seem nice. For someone like you or me. But those who are less-than are treated as less-than.”

She looks down at her hands, covered by their leather gloves.

“It can be a nightmare to be a less-than.” Her fingers curl into fists. A spasm of something like pain crosses her face. “I was a renfield for some time there. The duskborn are considered less than even them. It is not an experience I would wish on anyone.”

She holds up a hand to him to forestall a response.

Her gaze lowers to her gloved hands. It is no easy thing for her to do, and she takes a moment to steady herself before she pulls at the wrap around her wrist that holds them in place. Another grimace of pain crosses her features, though whether it’s physical pain, shame, or the sight of what greets her is anyone’s guess. She pulls her glove off.

Ayame offers her hand for his perusal.

It is a nightmare. A field of angry red scars have cut deep into her flesh. One part looks as if it goes beyond all the layers of her skin. Scar tissue has built into waves of uneven lines across her palm, fingers, and the back of her hands. Her movements, without the gloves to conceal them, are stiff. The burns and scars go all the way to her wrist, with swollen knuckles and loose, ragged edges that constantly catches on any surface that isn’t 100% smooth. It is easy to imagine her tearing skin off again and again as the nights pass, leaving her wounds open. They look waxen, half melted, shiny in their hairlessness.

“This,” she says quietly, “is what happens in Houston when you are less-than.”

GM: Roderick stares at the hand. His eyes don’t widen so much as flare. There’s surprise, yes, and horror, but there’s anger too.

“Jesus Christ,” he mutters.

He looks back up at Ayame after a moment.

“There are night doctors,” he says. “I know one. Being an Anarch has some privileges. They could fix your hand.”

Ayame: She doesn’t quite flush—she’s dead, her body doesn’t do that—but something in her eyes shutters at his reaction. It flattens a moment later, face once more becoming nothing more than the austere marble it so often resembles.

“Who?” she asks, as if to distract him from the way she fumbles with the leather to tuck her hand back away.

GM: “Dr. E,” he says. Many night doctors, Ayame knows, adopt pseudonyms and only sell their services while masked.

Ayame: The “name” means little to her.

GM: “I don’t know if they’re a man or a woman, but they do good work.”

Ayame: “Where would I find them?” At last the glove goes back on. She yanks it into place; a piece of skin flakes off at the rough treatment, aging years in the blink of an eye as it falls to the ground. She keeps her eyes on her hands as she re-wraps the strap around her wrist to avoid whatever expression crosses his face. Only when she has secured the glove once more does she look up.

GM: “Graffiti. Paint your tag somewhere public with two snakes twisting around it, like the Caduceus symbol. They’ll come by your territory once they see.”

Ayame: Ayame gives that a nod and tucks it away for the future. She would like to have her hands back.

“I see someone for it now, but… the going is slow. We had to rebuild much of the nerve endings. I could not feel before. When it happened…” Her mouth turns down at the corners. “The nerves died. Prolonged exposure. You know what it is like to receive a burn and then you get it warm on accident? Like in the shower, with hot water? It was all I felt. All over my hands.”

Agony. Every time she touched something it was hell all over again, like she’d just stuck her hand back into that fire.

GM: “That’s horrific. I can understand why you choose not to take ghouls.”

“I don’t need to say that it’s an incredibly easy relationship to abuse.”

“I hope your domitor faced some measure of justice.”

Ayame: “For this?” She can’t help but laugh. It’s a cold sound, though its mockery is not directed at him; rather just the idea that a lick would be punished for how they treat their ghouls.

GM: Roderick doesn’t look surprised. Though he does look faintly angry.

“I tried to get that to extend here, you know. Before you came to the city. I tried to pass a law that would’ve made abuse of ghouls in Mid-City a punishable crime, and required they be surrendered to new domitors.”

“Obviously imperfect, but still better than the total lack of protection they have now.”

Ayame: “Noble, though I can see why they would not. No doubt they think it better to put them down than hand them off and let someone else ransack their minds for information.”

GM: “That was one of the arguments. I argued those fears were overblown. There are plenty Anarchs who don’t know how to do that, and the lesser forms of mind-reading can only find out so much.”

“The law actually got some supporters. Just not enough.”

Ayame: “Perhaps, in time, you pitch it again.”

GM: “Maybe you’d be interested in pitching it with me. It’s a different Anarch population now than it was in 2010.”

Ayame: “I would stand beside you in that, though given my lack of slaves some might say I have nothing to lose to add my voice.”

GM: “They’d also be right, but that’s immaterial next to the experiences you could tell them about.”

“I think your voice would add a lot to the debate.”

Ayame: “Consider it done.”

GM: “I’ll be in touch.” He gives a wan smile.

Ayame: “What are you going to do? With your duskborn?”

GM: Roderick’s face has as much cheer as the rain-spattered tombstones.

“I’ll figure something out.”

Ayame: Ayame nods her head at his statement and wishes him luck, a final apology for her inability to assist the last sentiment she utters before turning to leave. The night swallows her as the rain pours from above; the heavens convey her distress this evening. She has nothing else to offer him.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXIII
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXIV

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Ayame II
Next, by Character: Story Thirteen, Ayame I

Story Twelve, Celia XXIII

“You are a woman."
Josua Cambridge

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jackson Square covers a decent amount of land. Jade has been here before many times, both with her Jade face and her Celia face, and with other faces besides. Ordinarily she’s content to people watch, to listen in on snippets of conversation and enjoy a leisurely stroll through the square.

Tonight, though, tonight she hunts. Not for blood. No, not that. Not for her next meal. But for information. For the Ravnos fortune teller that haunts these parts, another piece of the puzzle that she gets to put together.

She keeps her gait slow, just another tourist on a stroll, her eyes peeled for the lick known as Yellow Sidra.

GM: Jackson Square is relatively safe until 10 or 11 PM (or at least, the police presence tries to make it feel safe), and it’s past that hour now. The ghost tours are over and even the crowds of visitors that gather around the back fence of St. Anthony’s Garden to take pictures of the giant shadow cast by the “Touchdown Jesus” statue are all gone. The square’s iron gate is closed and locked so that homeless people don’t sleep inside. Instead they sleep outside, with all of their dogs. Or they don’t sleep. They piss, shit, vomit, fuck, and shoot up. Jade is immediately accosted by several disheveled and foul-smelling men who get extremely close to her face as they scream for money. A few others just lick their lips, eyeing her like she’s a piece of meat as their fellows surround her. One wrinkled-faced man pulls down his pants and starts furiously masturbating in front of her.

Celia: Charming.

This is why she pays the boys, though, for nights like tonight when she has to put in an appearance in an otherwise unsavory part of the Quarter. They’ll need to have a chat about meeting her at her car rather than in the middle of… this. Screaming, dirty, masturbatory kine. The kind of juice bags she’d maybe feed on as a last resort. And this is what Dani has to look forward to if Roderick succeeds in sending her to Houston, without even the gifts of a clan to back her up.

Or a renfield. Two of them, actually, just beyond the men that gather around the not-so-helpless not-woman in their midst. What a sight for sore eyes.

She can help, at least. Can call on her deity-of-choice-given abilities to pull her out of this before things get ugly. Uglier, anyway. She’s pretty sure that guy in front of her won’t win any pageants anytime soon. She sends it out from her in a cresting wave, the impression that she isn’t some doe-eyed bambi that needs rescued. Celia, maybe. But Jade? Oh no. Jade is the heinous bitch with claws and fangs and a smile that’ll persist while she shreds right through a body with a quick swipe of those nails.

GM: The brothers yell and shove and get aggressive, like primates in a dominance contest. Somehow that feels like all this amounts to. The panhandlers grouse and spit obscenities, decreasing in volume as Jade’s presence washes over them, as they back off.

“Fucking homeless…” swears Randy.

Celia: It’s a contest they win, though, and handily.

That’s why she pays them the big bucks.

Well, one of many reasons.

She’s happy to see them in any case, despite the fact that they made her wait longer than normal, and she moves into the circle of their protection quickly enough. And isn’t that a thought, a vampire being protected by a pair of ghouls. Maybe if somebody stopped throwing her around to fuck and focused on the fighting she wouldn’t get jumpy about being surrounded by a bunch of kine. What had he said to her? “You’re a badass vampire now.”


She’s got a pair of badasses with her now, anyway.

GM: A thin, dirty figure makes their way up to Jade, or at least as close as the brothers let them. They’re small and slight, dressed in an oversized dirty hoodie with a raggedy-edged blanket wrapped around their frail shoulders. Their facial structure looks male, but they have breasts and long hair, matted and unkempt. Their dark skin is worn and splotchy, dotted with acne scarring. Jade thinks they’re a ghoul at first, from the smell, but when they lick their lip Jade sees a chipped fang.

Just one fang.

“Hey, hey lady, lady lick, what you doin’ here…?”

Celia: She’s glad Dani avoided that fate, at least. One fang. How to they manage? She imagines it’s like drinking through a pinched straw. Or maybe they bite twice.

Curiosity overpowers her disgust. She doesn’t recognize this one. She puts a hand on Randy’s arm to prevent him from doing anything like shoving it away, letting the ragged half-breed through. Close enough to smell the stink of its body rather than its blood. Close enough to see that chipped fang. She smiles politely all the same, just like she would for a real vampire.

Maybe she’ll bring Roderick down here so he can get a glimpse of what fate awaits Dani if he sends her out of the city to a place where she doesn’t have friendly backers willing to share their very lush domain with the best feeding in the city.

“Evenin’,” Jade says back to it, gesturing it forward. Boy or girl? She can’t tell. Neither, technically. “I’m looking for someone who hangs out around here. Think you can point me in the right direction?”

GM: Randy and Reggie both regard the thin-blood warily. Or at least disgustedly. They remain protectively close to Jade. Close enough to block their arms between her and the sorry creature.

The thin-blood nods up and down.

“Oh, you bet, lady, they here, I know… who you lookin’ for?”

Celia: Lucky boys to get such a good-looking, true-blooded domitor, aren’t they?

“The fortune teller,” she tells the thin-blood.

GM: "There lotta fortune tellers, lady, lotta fortune tellers… " says the thin-blood. “But you mean that one… yeah… I know… I know… need some green, first… help me rem’ber…”

A thin, scabbed-over hand materializes from the hoodie.

Celia: Jade slides a bill into the outstretched hand. Where it came from is anyone’s guess; she’s not so silly as to carry a purse or wallet with her this late at night.

GM: Reggie removes the bill from Celia’s hand and drops it to the ground. The thin-blood bends to pick it up, seemingly unconcerned.

Celia: Rude.

GM: “Oh, that good… that good… yeah, my mem’ry’s comin’ back…” nods the thin-blood. The bill disappears into the hoodie. “She ain’ here, this hour… she leaves, when the tourists do… mmm… lil’ more green, maybe I rem’ber where she be…”

Celia: Jade pulls free another bill, giving Reggie a look.

GM: “Hey, you might catch something,” he says, moving to pluck the bill from her hands.

Celia: “You don’t need to be rude.”

GM: “Unless it’s from sticking my dick somewhere, I’m not going to catch something either.”

Celia: He better not catch something from that, either, or he won’t get to stick it in her ever again.

GM: He’ll be just like his brother then.

“Maybe just place it on a bench,” Randy offers helpfully.

Celia: She gives the hands another look, though, in case there’s something to be done about it. She hasn’t seen this many scabs since… the monkey’s master.

The ugly one.

Not that that narrows it down.

GM: The hands are small like a woman’s and look dirty and unwashed. Some of the partly-healed scabs are a yellowish brown.

“Hey, leave the money where you like, I don’ give a shit… s’long as I get it…” says the thin-blood.

Celia: Wherever Reggie ends up putting it, then.

She really should bring Roderick down here, show him how the thin-bloods exist. Easy to imagine Dani’s unwashed face and hands, cuts oozing from lack of treatment, being pushed around by ghouls and licks and kine, even.

“The location?” she prompts the thin-blood.

GM: Reggie drops it on the ground.

The half-vampire picks it up.

Celia: She’ll reprimand him later for it. Maybe with a paddle.

GM: “Okay… she be at… seein’ a customer, guy who wants his fortune… mm…. can’t rem’ber who, just yet….”

The hand stays outstretched.

Celia: Another two bills to speed the process along.

GM: Reggie’s fingers brush against his concealed carry, as if asking whether Jade is tired of throwing away money.

Celia: She gives a small shake of her head. She’s happy to pay for information so long as it pans out.

GM: Reggie drops those bills on the ground too.

They both disappear into the hoodie.

“Okay… okay… it comin’ back, now…”

Celia: Her smile tightens, but she waits, expectant.

GM: “Marigny… that be where…”

“I can’t rem’ber where in Marigny… maybe if…”

Celia: “Marigny is a large place.”

GM: “You already got two bills,” Reggie says flatly.

“Oh… guess I did… heh heh…”

Celia: She’s starting to doubt that the thin-blood even has the information.

She will be very unhappy if she has to come back.

GM: “The Midnight Bayou… that be where…”

“Hey… say… can I have some money, lady…?”

“You just got eighty fuckin’ dollars,” says Randy.

The thin-blood shrugs.

Celia: “If she’s where you say she is,” Jade tells it. She turns to go.

GM: “Always fun hitting up low-lifes,” Randy mutters as the trio leave.

Celia: “I should have expected it. No reason to peddle her trade once the gates close.” She’d spent more time with her family than she’d realized.

GM: “So that’s one of those other scary vampires,” says Reggie.

Celia: She glances at Reggie.

“No. That’s a half-breed. Diluted blood.”

GM: “Pretty sad,” answers Reggie.

Celia: “It is. They’re stuck between worlds.”

GM: “You guys all gonna turn into that someday?”

Celia: “No. It’s like breeding dogs, though. The problems get worse the further the line goes.”

GM: “Kinder just to put ’em down, maybe.”

Celia: “A lot of people agree with you.”

“The gifts that you have because of my blood? They don’t.”

GM: “So, what, they’re just… blood drinkers? Ordinary people with a special diet?”

Celia: “Sort of. They have some gifts, but they follow different rules. Sun doesn’t hurt them. No Beast.” Both of them have been warned about that, at least. “They can learn the tricks, but it’s different.”

“They’ll never be as strong. Their distance from the original prevents it.”

“If I were to turn you right now, as a day old, you’d be stronger than someone like that who has been around for years.”

GM: “So why make them?” asks Reggie.

“Why does anyone do dumb shit?” shrugs Randy.

Celia: Randy has a point.

“The man on the bottom will always look to put someone else beneath him.”

“Control. Power. Loneliness. Accident.”

GM: “I just wonder who the fuck took a look at that and decided, ‘Hey, let’s make a discount vampire,’” says Reggie.

“Maybe an accident,” says Randy.

Celia: “They only recently started popping up,” Jade tells him. “Most of the powers-that-be exterminate them when they’re found. Not a lot is known about them.”

GM: “Seems like the right idea,” says Reggie.

Celia: “There are some benefits,” Jade says with a shrug. “The sun and Beast thing. They can eat. Fuck.”

“Nothing worth the drawbacks, though.”

GM: Sucks to be Dani.

Celia: It really does.

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: Clubbers shoot jealous looks as bouncers usher Jade into the Midnight Bayou ahead of the line. The club is much the same as Beach on Bourbon was: a dimly-lit space where dozens of tightly-packed sweating bodies writhe and undulate to ear-rupturingly loud music. Flickering red lights bathe the shouting, dancing, crowd in a blood-like sheen. There’s barely enough room to move one’s arms at times. The admixed smells of sweat, cigarette smoke, alcohol, perfumes, and cologne clings to everything. The music is omnipresent, thumping and pounding in one’s ears louder than any beating heart. It’s enough to make the dead feel alive, if ever so briefly. Jade doesn’t hear any Love & Liars in the DJs’ mix, this time, but the lyrics are much the same, and speak to the same disaffected youth. They scream what shit the world is and the pointlessness of living by the book.

Jade spots a number of Kindred eyeing or dancing alongside the club-goers, then luring them off to private bathroom trysts. It’s not unlike lions watching herd animals at the watering hole, then going after ones foolish enough to separate themselves from safety in numbers.

The Toreador is swiftly shown upstairs past sliding glass doors to the VIP lounge. It’s a more subdued than downstairs, though it’s done in the same dark color scheme. Better-dressed patrons lounge about on comfortable leather chairs and sofas, quietly conversing and sipping expensive drinks. A large glass window stares down on the club’s first floor, so that patrons might watch the revelry from a quiet distance and perhaps even decide which revelers catch their fancy. Revealingly-clad smiling waitresses glide across the floor, relaying orders between customers and the bartender expertly mixing drinks in the back.

Celia: She still doesn’t know how Sundown does it: how he determines who is who and tells his bouncers to let them in accordingly. She can’t imagine that it’s something as mundane as making them memorize photos. Still, it’s the sort of treatment she has come to expect from the clubs in Marigny, and the jealous looks and whispers from the line of juicebags only makes her smile.

Music assaults her once she passes the threshold. It thrums through her body, urging her to dance. She wants to find a partner and let them twirl her around the floor. To lose herself among the press of bodies. For far too many years now she has had her weekend evenings taken up by Elysia; and whose idea was that to schedule it the same night the kine come out in droves? Easiest feeding of the week. Just grab a vessel, sink in, and pull.

Jade resists the temptation, sweet though it is.

She moves up the stairs to the VIP lounge, content to let her eyes sweep the space for a brief moment.

GM: Jade instinctively senses that a number of the patrons are like she is. She can make out Esther Sue Parker, Abraham Garcia, Camilla Doriocourt, Harlequin, Lidia Kendall, Joshua Pacuad, and Emerson Newhouse Hearst, as well as the club’s proprietor himself, who is currently engaged with Harlequin. The gathered Kindred converse among themselves, murmur sweet nothings to vessels in their arms, watch the dancing crowds below, or watch one another. Whatever cause and elder one may pledge support to, Marigny is neutral ground.

Celia: Neutral it may be, but she calls none of those assembled “friend.” Loose, occasional ally. Partner. Guildmate. But none of Savoy’s partisans. None of the friendly faces she knows from his court.

And not the lick she has come to see. Perhaps the thin-blood had lied to her. Perhaps it will learn what happens when her time is wasted.

Far be it from her to waste this opportunity to mingle. Pacuad, Hearst, and Garcia all catch a smile from the pretty Toreador in their midst, the latter a wink. She can’t help the way her attention strays to Doriocourt, though. Not an enemy. Not a friend. Just a contender for her sire’s attention.

GM: Most of Savoy’s people are likely there at the French Quarter lord’s court tonight.

But such is the balancing act which Marigny’s regent must maintain, to court all factions and show favor to none.

Pacuad doesn’t smile back, though Hearst and Garcia both do. Doriocourt, who’s speaking to Garcia, pays Jade barely more than a glance.

Their sire’s attention.

The pretty Toreador is swiftly approached by Sundown’s smiling herald Kaia, a beautiful and slim-figured Vietnamese-American ghoul with smooth pale skin, rich black hair, and beckoning dark eyes. She asks if there’s anything the regent might do tonight to make her stay more pleasant.

Celia: Her. Her sire. He’s hers.

Jade checks the time. She’s due at Savoy’s court soon enough herself, though she’s not late. She has time.

Perhaps everyone else just takes longer to make themselves half so pretty as Jade.

Jade shakes her head at Kaia’s approach, murmuring only that she was looking for someone who doesn’t appear to be here.

GM: “Perhaps they are, ma’am. We can’t always see everything in plain sight,” offers the ghoul.

Celia: Jade accepts the point with a dip of her head. As much as she’d like to stay and chat—really, she would—she does have other business in the city this evening.

So she asks, hoping the ghoul can point her toward the fortune teller.

GM: The ghoul replies that she and Josua finished upstairs just a little while ago, but are down hunting on the first floor. If they’ve snagged a vessel, Jade can probably find them in the bathrooms.

Celia: Cambridge?


She could stay. Mingle. Chat.

Maybe she should. Finish that conversation with Garcia. Speak with Hearst about transport to LA; she can’t imagine she’d be too put out on the back of his bike for an evening or two. Planes are faster, but what a rush that would be. Find out how Pacuad’s project is coming, charm him into giving her one of the smiles he flashes when he thinks she can’t see. Hasn’t been the same since the split, really. At least prior he’d tolerated her. Politics, ugh.

Maybe she would, if Doriocourt weren’t here. Sisters have never been anything but trouble for her. Even Emily is getting uppity, interfering in things that have nothing to do with her.

Ah, that’s unkind. Diana is her mom too.

Still, two licks at once is a better deal than she’d hoped for. And she doesn’t quite trust her mouth to not run away with her this evening. Not with everything she’s recently learned.

Jade thanks Kaia with a smile and a polite word, asking her to pass her greetings along to her domitor and citing an excuse about not wanting to interrupt the two regents. She’s sure she’ll be back with Andi soon, no doubt the rock star will be pleased to see the club’s proprietor again.

She casts a long, lingering look at Garcia as she goes. Flirting with trouble, as usual.

GM: There’s at least Dani, her should-have-been sister.

Then again, the thin-blood is her own brand of trouble too.

Celia: Doesn’t she know it.

Big fucking headache on that end, too.

Why can’t I come to the cool parties, Celia?

Well Dani, do you like being half-alive?

Even if she wanted to be friendly with Doriocourt she couldn’t. It would draw too much attention.

GM: Maybe not, when she really learns what that entails.

Garcia doesn’t look away from Camilla, but makes a suggestive gesture behind his back.

Kaia replies she’ll be more than happy to pass along Jade’s greetings.

“And can I say you look Flawless as always, ma’am,” the ghoul smiles.

Celia: The motion she makes following that gesture might even be a nod.

Jade beams at the ghoul.

“You are very sweet, thank you.”

Then it’s back down the stairs for her, through the crush of bodies, and into the bathroom.

GM: The bathrooms are spacious and relatively clean, at least by a nightclub’s usual filthy standards. Sounds of fornication go up from the stalls. Jade can’t tell at a glance which one might have two licks in it.

But the coppery smell emanating from one is unmistakable to the vampire’s so-sensitive nose.

Celia: Seems rude to interrupt a meal. Jade busies herself by fixing her makeup in the mirror. Not that there’s much to fix. Mostly she just admires her own reflection.

GM: There’s a lot to admire.

She abruptly feels something small, furry, and squirming press against her vagina and try to crawl inside.

Celia: How the fuck had it gotten inside her panties? What the fuck is crawling on her?

Jade doesn’t have a problem with things inside of her vagina. It’s when they’re small and furry and squirm that she takes umbrage.

She bolts into an open stall, slams the door, and gets it out.

GM: She spots a hairless tail wriggling back and forth out of her womanhood like a tampon string. Cat-quick, she plucks it out and produces a squeaking, flailing mouse.

Celia: Jade scowls down at the mouse clutched in her grip. She sniffs at it, looking for a trace of the blood.

GM: She smells none, but phlegmy laughter rings in her ears.

“What’s the matter, barbie, don’t like your new vibrator?” leers Gerald Abellard as he fades into view.

He’s still a walking, one-man freak show. His face is a blasted wasteland of every type of acne in Jade’s not-inconsiderable vocabulary. Every inch of the dark, leathery skin is ravaged by pustules, papules, whiteheads, blackheads, nodules, cysts, and residual scars. Some are big, some are little. Some are whole, some look freshly popped. Rancid-smelling white pus freely dribbles down flabby cheeks and a squashed nose like water from someone who’s just stepped out of the shower.

Celia: Disgusting.

“Easier ways to get in my panties, you know.”

GM: “Oh I don’t doubt, but I was all out of dollar bills.”

The mouse squeaks and struggles in Jade’s grip.

Celia: “For you, I’d have done it for a smile.”

Jade considers the mouse, then the rat to whom it belongs. She holds it out to him.

GM: The Nosferatu cackles, then holds out Jade’s panties for her to deposit the rodent in.

Celia: “Souvenir?” She puts the mouse into the scraps of cloth provided.

GM: The shrieking mouse finally calms as it leaves the vampire’s grip. Gerald stretches out the panties over his hands and lets the mouse crawl over them.

“Maybe nest material for this little guy. There’s probably enough diseases he’ll feel right at home.”

Celia: “Mmm,” Jade says absently, “would you believe me if I told you that I died a virgin and am sadly lacking in diseases?”

“But if you need more nesting material for him…” She trails off with a shrug.

“Happy to supply.”

GM: Gerald hacks with laughter at her question, making the pus from his face seem to ooze faster.


Celia: She flashes him a smile.

“I didn’t think so.”

There’s a brief moment of hesitation before Jade reaches out, touching a hand to his cloth-covered arm. Her face softens, voice dropping to a low murmur.

“How’s Malo?”

GM: That cloth is better than touching the sewer rat’s greasy skin, but not by much. The long-sleeved t-shirt doesn’t look (or smell) like it’s been washed in years. Jade can’t even begin to guess where some of those stains might be from.

Gerald twirls the panties in his wart-dotted fingers as the mouse climbs across them.

“Oh he really misses you. Think he can get a blowjob, next time you meet?”

Celia: “Was hoping a handjob, actually.” Jade arches one brow at him.

GM: “It’s a date,” the sewer rat leers. “Expect him sometime soon, monkey dick primed and ready for your so-practiced hand.”

“He’s pretty greedy, though. He might make you give him a blowjob too.”

Celia: “Saving my lips for you, sweetheart.”

GM: “When it comes to your assorted holes, barbie, I think the thing you’re best at is ‘filling’ more than ‘saving,’” the sewer rat says with another leer.

“Well, this was fun. Mwah.”

He blows her a literally wet kiss, dripping with puss freshly wiped from his lips, then vanishes into the air with the mouse and panties. A squelching sound half like a huge fart, half like someone throwing up, heralds the Nosferatu’s departure. A stench not unlike ripe shit fills Jade’s nostrils.

Celia: “…oh, bye,” she says to the empty air.

She misses him already.

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: She’s glad that she doesn’t need to breathe and takes a moment to wipe away anything that had gotten on her outfit or face. Should have expected a Nosferatu at Sundown’s place, really.

Now pantyless—the second time in two nights, what’re the odds?—Jade exits the stall, hoping that her mark is still around.

GM: The smell on Jade’s palms lingers and requires thorough washing. The coppery smell from the other stall has reduced, but hasn’t completely faded.

Two other women touching up their makeup remark to one another on a technique one of them picked up from Celia Flores’ MeVid channel.

Celia: Jade scrubs until the stink fades. She chimes in that Celia just released a new video and it’s ultra fab, have they seen it? Upload went live, like, two hours ago.

GM: “Oh no, I hadn’t!” says one of the girls, pulling out her phone. Celia’s tiny voice floats up from the device.

Celia: “Best one yet,” Jade tells the pair. She glances at the stall door. How long does feeding really take?

Maybe it had only seemed like ages she’d been wrapped up with Gerald because of the way he makes her heart go pitter-patter.


GM: The pair nod and comment on the video, but it’s not overlong before the stall door opens and three people come out.

The first one draws immediate attention.

He’s beautiful. There aren’t many men who are beautiful, but he is, and handsome too. He has a boyishly winsome face, tousled ‘I woke up like this’ brown hair that has to be deliberate from how perfect it is. A bit of stubble gives his face some extra definition, but just light enough not to seem unkempt. Soulful green eyes frame his firm nose and invitingly kissable lips. He’s dressed in a white button-up with the top several buttons undone, giving a peek at his chest, a tan blazer, dark jeans, and brown leather dress shoes. His shirt and jeans are tight, amply showing off his smooth chest, trim but not too buff arms, and firm posterior. This Kindred’s body is a temple and it’s evident he worships it reverently. The other women in the bathroom immediately start staring and making comments, and he just flashes them a pearly white smile.

The female Kindred is dusky of skin and could be either Latina, Roma, or some typically New Orleans mix of races. She looks in her early or mid 20s and dressed in somewhat out of place fashions for a nightclub: purple gypsy skirt, a low-cut black and white-striped shirt, and a top hat threaded with red and purple scarves in place of a band. Gold glints from her ears and fingers. Her inky black hair is a wild and untamed forest that plays home to a ghouled monkey wearing a purple vest and miniature top hat of its own. The tiny animal scampers across her shoulders and uses her hoop earrings as swings while remarkably shuffling a tiny deck of tarot cards.

The women don’t spare her a glance. Or the droopy-eyed girl in club attire the two vampires are half-carrying between them.

The male newcomer spares the women a few laughing remarks, but he has eyes only for the fairest face among them.

“It’s Jade, isn’t it?”

He places his hands on her shoulders like they’ve known one another for years. His gaze drinks in the Toreador’s form like chocolate wine as he purrs softly,

“You are a woman.

It sounds almost sacred how he pronounces the word.

Celia: Oh.

Oh my.

This is Josua. She has seen him before, she’s sure, around. But not this close. Not this in her space. Not this… this.

Her eyes drink him in. Some distant part of her mind registers the lick she’s been looking for came out of the stall with him, that she has business with her, but for the (un?)life of her she can’t remember why she’d want to talk to her when this is in front of her, looking at her, touching her. He’s the golden prize at the end of the quest. The reward for getting through the thin-blood, the VIP lounge, the rat and his mouse. Sidra who?

He knows her name.

It’s a giddy sort of lightness that bubbles from the center of her chest outward. He knows who she is. Her Beast brushes against the inside of her ribs, purring; even it wants a piece.

Is he prettier than her?

Her lips part just slightly, gazing up at him from beneath long lashes. Slowly, she blinks, and finally she gives a tiny nod. She is a woman. And never before has that sounded so sweet. She finds her voice.


GM: She knows what it sounds like when it’s not. She remembers one time her parents were ‘fighting’ (insofar as there can be a fight with just one person dishing it out) when they thought she couldn’t overhear, because Maxen never swore around his children. “You stupid fucking woman,” he’d snarled at her mother, as though the last of those words was somehow the most insulting.

Celia: And the way their kind reacts, too, to the very idea that they had once been gendered beings.

GM: “Jade,” repeats Josua. His smile spreads across his face. “Our names even start with the same letter. That’s so pretty.”

His hands start to massage her shoulders, the motion at once intimate and reverent.

“I’d like to paint you,” he says. “Your beauty should be immortalized on a canvas. Your beauty should be copied and replicated in as many places as possible. The more places there are for people to admire your beauty, the better. The world will be a better place, if it has more Jade in it.”

Celia: It’s been years since someone has touched her like that. Since someone has offered her a massage and just gotten right to it, brushing the stresses of her Requiem away with the simple press of his fingers. She melts.

Paint her. He wants to paint her. She wants to be painted. She wants to be immortalized on canvas. She’ll hang it above her bed so it can be the first thing she sees in the evening when she wakes, the last thing she sees before daysleep claims her. Everyone should get a copy. The entire city. They should all see how beautiful she is, how hard she’s worked on her body, her face, sculpting it to be the epitome of perfection, the prettiest lick in the city—the world, even. To be flawless.

Her eyes shine at the words.

“Yes,” she agrees. She’d wanted photos from Garcia, but what are photos compared to an artist’s rendering? What is a headshot compared to her soul on canvas? She’ll sit for him, pose for him, model for him.

She deserves it.

The world deserves it.

“Paint me,” she says, with another nod of her head, hanging onto the images that he evokes with word and touch. She blinks again, trying to summon additional words to convey her sentiments. She’s normally so much more eloquent than this.

GM: Josua just nods, his eyes seemingly all-too understanding at her brevity. He takes her by the hand, and soon the two Toreador are leaving the club, Sidra quite forgotten. Josua hails a Ryde from his phone. His massages work their way up and down Jade’s shoulders as they wait. His touch isn’t a masseur’s, but what it lacks in training it makes up for in reverence and sheer ardor. Josua’s eyes shine as though he’s running his hands along a statue made from solid gold.

“You’ve put so much work into your beauty. I can tell. It isn’t easy, to be as beautiful as you are. It takes so much work. So much time. So much pain. You’re so dedicated. I want you to know that I don’t just see your beauty, I see the work and dedication behind it, and that makes you even more beautiful.”

Celia: Oh. He means now. She’s supposed to be doing something now, isn’t she? Talking to someone. Multiple someones. Wasn’t there a monkey…?

The thoughts fade away. It doesn’t matter. He’s going to paint her. He understands her. He knows what it’s like, the work she puts into it; she bets he wouldn’t laugh at her closet space or her piles of makeup or discredit her occupation for being frivolous because it isn’t intellectual. It’s art. It’s all art. She, herself, she’s art, and she’ll be immortalized, and that…

That is beautiful. Just like her. Like him. Like them.

They could be a them. They should be a them.

Does he want to be a them?

Shining, golden statues. How the heads would turn. How they’d whisper.

Outside the club, Jade presses against him. She lets the words he whispers in her ear travel through her, just like his hands move up and down her body. He’s good at that, the touch. But she’s better, and she wants to share too, to tell him with her hands what she struggles to put into words. She shows him how good she is at it, arms sliding around his body, untucking his shirt, palms pressing flat against his back once she moves the material out of her way. Up, higher, across the lats, the obliques, the fascia around his lower spine.

Like this, that touch says.

GM: Josua’s skin is smooth and firm, free of any fat and blemishes. He doesn’t even have any back hairs. Jade could rub his back forever, especially with the way he melts under her touch. He gasps and exhales with pleasure, his rapture evident with every second under his clanmate’s practiced ministrations. He doesn’t try to massage her back, as if realizing his efforts would be wholly inadequate before hers. But his hands still trace and travel the contours of her body, wordlessly praising the Toreador’s perfect form.

At some point they wind up in the cab. Jade isn’t sure when. All she notices is that the position of their bodies change.

Celia: She ends up on his lap. She always ends up on their laps. And this is a lap that deserves someone as beautiful as her on it. She’s happy to oblige.

GM: He presses his face to her breasts and nuzzles against them as though he’s an infant returned to his own mother’s. His hands explore her rear, too. There’s lust in them, but there’s more than lust, too. There’s appreciation for what she is, for the perfection she represents.

“You’re so good at this… oh, Jade, you make me feel so good… you’re a feast for the eyes… a feast for the mind… a feast on my skin… you touch me on every level…”

“You make everything better… you make everything beautiful… that’s why you need a painting, so you never leave, so you make things beautiful forever…”

Celia: It’s different when he does it, the way he touches her; others want to use, to claim. He wants to admire. She lets him. She basks in it, revels in it. She is perfect. She’s always been perfect. Flawless. Her work. All her work, all her time, energy, devotion, it has always gone into this.

Her fingers move across his back. Touching, stroking, teasing. His body is her playground.

Beautiful forever. She is. She will be. She won’t leave. She nods along, murmuring the same thing to him, that she won’t leave, of course she’ll never leave; where will he put her when he’s done? Where will he hang the painting?

GM: “Heaven,” he whispers, rapturously. “I’ll send it to Heaven. So the angels can admire it, and be jealous, too, of how they’ll never be as beautiful as you…”

At some point their ride steps. Josua pulls Jade out, by the hand, then hugs her close against his side, as if he can’t bear to be parted from her. He wraps both his arms around her as they walk, keeping her as close as possible as he nuzzles his face against her hair. He says how he’ll die if has to leave her, if he has to stop touching her. He has seen perfection.

He has felt perfection.

He has basked in perfection.

Celia: Heaven. With angels. Not the demons here on earth. No darkness will touch her there. No shadows will mark her days. She will be… ascendant. Transcendent.

Is that possible? She asks how it’s possible as he pulls her from the cab, tucking herself against his side. She wants to hang in Heaven. Tell me, she pleads, tell me how it’s possible.

Her eyes, full of him, only briefly turn away to take in her surroundings.

GM: They’re outside a riverboat. Then they’re walking inside.

Celia: She falters for the first time.

She’s not supposed to be here. She doesn’t have permission to be here.

GM: “By being so beautiful they have no choice but to lift you up…. that they’d be committing sacrilege, if they didn’t…” Josua whispers. His voice is ecstatic as he drinks her in, his every glance and touch brimming with worship for her body and the perfection she represents.

“My cabin’s just inside… I’ll paint you, and we can do anything else we want… I’ll worship you, Jade, worship you like you deserve to be…”

Celia: Twice in one week. She’ll be caught twice in one week where she shouldn’t be. And it’s only luck that kept Riverbend’s people from finding her.

But she’s already here. And his cabin is close, he said.

He’s unreleased. It isn’t his territory. It’s Marcel’s. She’s supposed to be courting him, not his toy, not…

Worship. The word sends shivers down her spine. She takes a step, then falters again. It’s wrong. Someone had beaten that into her.

“Ask,” she tells him, “ask him, if I can…” Jade gestures to the boat, the proverbial line in the sand that marks his personal territory. She takes his hand, pleading with her eyes. “I shouldn’t have to hide.” Perfection shouldn’t hide. Everyone should see. Call, ask, and they all can. The two of them.

GM: Josua presses a finger to Jade’s lips, then hugs her close against his chest as he strokes her hair, as though comforting a frightened child.

“Don’t worry… he’s fine with me bringing guests… just so long as we don’t do it in his bed…”

Celia: Oh. Oh. She likes this. Being held like a child, small and dainty and fragile. Jade presses her face against his chest, her arms moving around him. She really likes this. She nods her head while he strokes her hair.

GM: He plants a tender kiss on her head.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: The walk to Josua’s cabin passes in a blur. There’s sounds and people, but none of the matter with his arms wrapped around her. The interior sumptuous-looking space with an amply large ovular-shaped shaped bed with silky red sheet. A TV hangs from one of the walls. There’s a phone and tablet on the bedside table. The rest of the space is taken up by a painter’s easel, canvases, and assorted brushes, paint tubes, and other artist’s supplies. It’s a relatively cramped room.

Josua falls into bed with her. Literally. He hugs her close against his chest, her back to his head with his arms encircling her waist, then simply falls backwards. They land with a soft oomph. He rolls to the side with her, then turns her around. His tongue hungrily and expertly explores the contours of her mouth as they kiss. His hands start to remove her clothing.

“I have a question…” he murmurs.

Celia: The lights, sounds, and smells of the casino disappear. It doesn’t matter. They don’t matter, the people around them, nothing but the sensation of arms around her, his body against her. She thinks they fall, but that doesn’t matter either, not when his lips press against hers, when the clothing starts to come off. Less than there would have been if she’s run into him first, before the other, but even that doesn’t matter.

She almost doesn’t hear his words. She’s doesn’t even cease the progress of her fingers down the buttons of his shirt, continuing to remove them one by one.


GM: “Who you want on top.”

He throws her down suddenly, interrupting her progress on his shirt. One hand presses over her heart, keeping her down, while the other encircles the back of her head, as if to say he’s got this, and she can let go with him in charge.

“It could be me… I’ll use you, maybe roughly, maybe gently, but you’ll be mine to use as I see fit, and you’ll be my little girl, surrendered and helpless….”

Then he slides down, off the bed and onto the floor. His hands reverently stroke the smooth skin of her legs, then work their way down to a shoe-less foot. He cradles it in his hands as though handling a holy relic, and places it upon his face. He bows underneath the foot, prostate and submissive. He kisses it too, reverently, like he’s receiving the greatest privilege on earth.

“Or it could be you… your body is a temple and I am your acolyte, hoping only for the privilege of pleasing the goddess, however she sees fit…”

He smiles and pokes his head up.

“I don’t mind being top or bottom… I want to experience you, Jade… I want to experience the very best you, whichever you you feel like being…”

Celia: Little girl.

Her eyes close. The words send shivers down her spine, unconscious tiny little movements that betray her thoughts on the matter. Her body reacts like the girl she had once been; she doesn’t hide it from him, the stiffening of her nipples, the liquid heat that pools between her thighs.

Surrendered and helpless.

That one. That one, she wants that one. She wants to let go, to let someone else take control, to stop worrying about everything and just experience. Gently, roughly, it doesn’t matter. She wants to submit.

She half-rises onto her elbows as he works his way to the floor, watching with half-lidded eyes the attention he pays her body, the way he offers to worship. Only when he looks up again does she crook a finger at him, pulling him toward her by the shirt still half-buttoned on his frame.

“You,” she gets out, “you top.” That’s her best self. When they make her bend.

GM: Just like that, he’s gone from the floor. His hand clamps down over her throat, holding her down and cutting off her speech as he dextrously pulls off what’s left of her clothes. When she tries to take off his shirt, he slaps her hands down.

“You don’t get that privilege, yet. You haven’t earned it. You haven’t shown me you’re a good girl.”

His hands move from her throat to her wrists, pinning her down as he inspects her naked body, ascertaining whether it is good enough.

“What’s this?” he asks critically, staring down at her womanhood. He touches a finger to it and sniffs.

“How dirty. How perverted. You’re such a bad girl. Bad girls get punished until they can be good girls.”

He flips her naked body over his lap, still clothed in his dark jeans, and delivers a sharp smack to her buttocks.

“Say you’re sorry, you bad girl.”

His hand comes down on her rear again with another sharp smack. It doesn’t hurt as much as Maxen’s spanks did, and Jade’s body doesn’t bruise as easily. But her Beast does. Its pride bruises. It instinctively rebels against this rough treatment, snarls its protest. A sense of debasement surges through her blood, for she is a predator and chooses now to submit like prey.

Celia: Shame, hot and heavy, floods her cheeks. She could have hidden it. Should have hidden it. She’d thought, slut that he is, he’d understand. Instead he bends her over his knee and—


It hasn’t faded. Not one bit.

Each smack sends tingles through the rest of her body. It stings but doesn’t hurt, doesn’t bruise, doesn’t leave behind handprints; it’s just the sharp smack of flesh on flesh, the humiliation of being bent over, the inherent shift in dynamic with him clothed and her not. Each smack summons forth a sound from her—a snarl first, until she tells the Beast to fuck off because right now she just wants to be a girl, not an undead abomination, then a whimper, a stifled yelp, and finally a broken, breathy moan. Even the thing inside her chest understands that.

She’s not a good girl. Good girls don’t get wet. They don’t become aroused when someone bends them over their knee. They don’t get off on the humiliation, the feeling of being exposed. They don’t fuck anything and everything they want to fuck for the sheer joy of it.

She’s not a good girl.

And she has nothing to apologize for.

GM: “Oh? Can’t get that out?” he asks. Smack, goes the open hand against her ass. Smack, smack, smack, like she’s a naked toddler over her daddy’s knee.

“I guess we’ll have to try something else, you bad, dirty girl. Such a disappointment to your daddy. You have so much to be sorry for.”

He yanks her off by her hair and throws her back down on the bed. There’s a blur of motion, and then there’s handcuffs around her wrists. He snaps each one around a corner of the bed, leaving her spread-eagled and exposed. He makes do with sheets to tie down her legs, then retrieves a paintbrush.

He runs it along her belly. The hairs are rough and ticklish. It descends steadily, steadily lower.

“I bet you want that over your clit, don’t you, you dirty pervert, for me to paint your clit until you’re wet as a sponge?”

Celia: She’s already wet. Soaked, even. The spanking had seen to that. Legs spread as they are, he can see it too.

Jade tugs at the cuffs around her wrists, testing their hold, then does the same to the sheets around her legs. Both hold firm. Surrendered and helpless, just like he’d said. She squirms as the brush trails down her skin, back arching, teeth sinking into her lip to keep herself silent, watching the movement of the brush with wide eyes.

Finally, she nods.

GM: The paintbrush descends teasingly close, stroking the folds of her outer lips.

“Such a dirty pervert. Beg for it, you dirty pervert. Beg me for it.”

Celia: She doesn’t need to breathe. She knows that. He knows that. But it hitches anyway when he draws the brush closer to where she wants it.

“Please,” she whispers, starting small.

GM: The brush snakes its way closer to her inner lips, then retreats back.

“I can’t hear you.”

Celia: Her hips lift, attempting to make him touch her where she wants.

“Please,” she tries again, and this time her voice is colored by clear desperation, “please, there, don’t tease…”

GM: The brush ‘paints’ over her inner lips for a second, then passes over her clitoris… and over it, without once touching.

“You don’t sound desperate enough. You don’t sound like you’re really begging. Swallow your pride.”

Celia: Her eyes close to shut out the beautiful, smirking face. Her eyes close because he’s right, she’s not desperate enough, she still has too much pride. She’s Jade, and Jade is never not in control. So her eyes close, and her tongue flicks across her lips, and Jade retreats to make room for the girl inside, the eighteen-year-old who has never been touched, the delicate flower that can’t even think the word ‘sex’ without turning red. Not Jade, not Star or Neveah or Violet. Not even Celia. Leilani. No physical change takes place but her face softens, her lips part, and her eyes… her eyes lock onto his when she opens them again, uncertainty and shyness shining out at him.

She becomes what he wants her to be. Surrendered.

“Please.” Whisper-soft, hesitant… but trusting. Helpless. “Please, touch me, show me, let me c…” Her cheeks burn. She can’t even say the word. She looks away, then back at him. Little girl. “Please, Daddy.”

GM: Josua pats her head like a child who’s done well.

“That’s better.”

The brush starts to ‘paint’ her clit. It’s not like a tongue feels. It’s dry and light, and ticklish, too. It reminds her of Pietro’s touch. It dances back and forth in Josua’s nimble hands, sometimes stroking other parts of her, but always finding its way back to her sweet little nub.

“There’s something my little girl still has to do, though. Does she remember what?”

Celia: She turns her face to press a cheek against the hand that pats her, seeking comfort in the touch. Her breath comes in quick, short puffs of air, chest rising and falling with the effort. Extraneous, all of it, but it sucks her into the role.

Something left. What’s left? She can’t think with the brush on her body, and every time she opens her mouth to answer he takes it back to that spot between her legs that makes her see stars. Her body trembles beneath his touch.

Apologize. It hits her all at once when he takes the brush away again, teasing her by denying what she wants. Only good girls get rewarded. She takes a breath she doesn’t need.

“I’m—I’m sorry I was bad.” A short pause, eyes closing, back arching off the bed when those bristles touch and flit away again. “I’ll be a good girl.”

GM: The hand finds her face again. It pats her head and remains nearby for her to nuzzle her face against it, then pats her cheek too. Josua smiles down at her.

“That’s a good girl. That’s a very good girl.”

The paintbrush doesn’t return, but another one does. It’s a smaller brush, lighter, and definitely softer. It tickles a lot more, too. Josua ‘paints’ it in steady clockwise patterns around her clit, bringing her closer and closer to release.

“My little girl is still a pervert, though. It’s one thing to be sorry, but you need to make up for what you’ve done, too.”

“So. If you’re enjoying this, then we’re just going to have to take it to its full conclusion. Are you prepared to do that?”

Celia: Jade—Leilani—strains against her bindings, pulling at them with every jerk and quiver that thrums through her. Make up for it. Full conclusion. She doesn’t know what he plans to do to her, how she’ll have to make up for being a pervert when she’s tied to the bed, but she doesn’t care. She wants it. Needs it. She nods over and over again, voice cutting her response to a quick and quiet yes, please.

GM: Josua nods, withdraws the brush, then leaves the room. He closes and locks the door behind him.

Celia: Oh.

That wasn’t…


Unsatisfied, still too close to the edge to think straight, still caught by the blessing of her clan, she stares at the door. She waits, nerves starting to get the best of her.

GM: Her nerves have enough time to do more than start before the door opens again. Josua walks back in, along with three men in suits, ties, and security badges. The first one, who smells like a ghoul, unbuckles his pants and forces his penis into Jade’s mouth without so much as a hello. The second man, a breather, unbuckles his pants and takes her in her womanhood. The third man, another breather, patiently waits his turn, hands clasped in front of him in a security professional’s stance. There’s no room for him to simultaneously take her third hole when she’s tied down, after all.

Celia: Betrayal stings, a sharp slap across the face. Trusted him. She had trusted him, had let him bring her here, had let him talk her into this, tie her down, had shown him secret parts of herself that no one else gets to see. She yanks at the cuffs, the ties around her legs, but they’re on her in seconds, filling her, holding her down. She bucks, arching off the bed, but the bodies over her are heavy. Wide, fearful eyes seek him out.

GM: He sits down on the bed and rubs a palm over her naked belly.

“This is how my little girl wants it. We both know it is.”

The ghoul slaps her face when she doesn’t start sucking. His erect member presses against her tongue. The other man’s balls smack against her thighs as he humps back and forth.

Celia: The slap across the face turns her head to the side, cheek smarting where the ghoul struck her. Her Beast snarls in response, demanding to be let out, to tear the hand from the mortal that had dare slap it. Pain, humiliation, degradation—she is not some kine to simply lie back and take it like this. She is not Celia, brought to her knees by stronger, more powerful people, helpless to do anything but scream the way they want her to and cry bitter tears while they take from her. She thrashes against her bindings.

But then he’s beside her, stroking a hand against her belly, reminding her that it’s just a game, reminding her that she had asked for this when she’d told him to take top. His touch keeps her claws from coming out, keeps the fangs tucked away, soothes the ragged, frayed nerves of the Beast who only sees the insult. Little girl, he calls her, summoning her forth. She’s not Celia, the survivor. She’s something… else. Different. More pure, more willing to submit, more… innocent. She’s Leilani again. His little girl. He knows best. He’s in charge. He coaxes her forward with the gentle stroking across her belly, telling her that it will be okay, that he has her, that he’ll be there the whole time. Watching. Guiding. Like daddies should for their little girls.

She craves his touch. Needs it to keep the rest of them at bay, to focus on the soft and gentle. This is her gift. Her reward and punishment both. Because she’s a good girl and she apologized for being bad, but she still has to make amends and this is how he has decided she will do it. Her lips finally close around the cock in her mouth. She sucks.

She pulls again at the cuffs, then at the sheets. Not trying to get free, but to shift, to give the third man the space that he needs so he, too, can fill her. Now, not later. Now, while Josua holds her and tells her that this is what she wants, while he touches and strokes and takes control so she can submit.

GM: Jade’s Beast rages and tries to break free at this latest humiliation. It would burst its bonds, rip out the men’s throats, and paint the bedroom in gore. But Jade’s—Leila’s—Celia’s—who even is she?—submissive instinct runs strong, and what is there to be angry about when there’s a fat cock in her mouth? That’s what she is made for. To suck fat cocks. “Yeah, you’ve done this a lot, you little cocksucker,” leers the ghoul, making a fist in her hair and yanking it forward to push his penis even deeper. It takes some effort for the third man to position himself, but he’s able to slip underneath Jade and fill her ass with his cock. He holds her shoulders as he thrusts back and forth. All three men vigorously pump her holes. Josua is there the whole time, to rub her belly, plant it with delicate kisses, and murmur sweet words. He rubs her belly a lot, and scratches it too, like she’s a pet who should take just as much pleasure in that as the actual intercourse. The men take turns alternating between Jade’s holes, giving her a taste of them in each part of her, but they all finish in her mouth. Or at least from her mouth. The first man pulls out and blows his load over Jade’s face. The second man pulls out and blows his load over her tits. The third man cums inside her mouth and tells her to swallow. “Swallow like the dirty little cocksucker you are.”

Her Beast instinctively rebels at this last demand. Cum tastes better than Diana’s cooking, but only because there’s less of it. She can let the cum sit there in her mouth, until whenever Josua lets her off the bed (only a very bad girl would spit it out), or she can expend precious blood purely to swallow this breather’s seed.

“Go on, little girl,” Josua nods encouragingly. “Swallow for Daddy. I’ll be very nice to my little girl, if she can just swallow for Daddy.”

“I know she can do it. I’ll be very proud of her.”

Celia: It washes over her: pleasure. Pleasure like she has never known, to have all of her holes filled at the same time, to have another whispering sweet, tender words of encouragement in her ear, his hands stroking her body. It’s that touch that keeps her grounded, that touch that prevents her from spiraling downward, that touch that tells her everything is okay. She can enjoy it. Lay back and let herself simply feel. She has never been taken like this before, submitting so fully to someone else, letting their whims dictate the terms of play. This is how she wants it, he’d said, and he’s right. They don’t hurt her. They don’t smack or spank or hit her. They just fill, and touch, and taste—one of them kisses her neck while he fucks her from behind, another flicks his thumbs across her nipples, and the last cradles her head while he thrusts inside her mouth. And Josua. Holding her. Touching her. Whispering to her how she’s such a good little girl to take it like this.

It’s overwhelming, an onslaught from all fronts, and were it not for daddy’s hands on her she might feel used; but he’s there for her and that makes it sweet instead of ugly, and when she wants to lose control he’s right there to bring her back. Punishment and humiliation, but exactly what she wants. It’s not mean or cruel, not meant to ruin her. It’s just what she wants and he’s making sure she gets it. She surrenders, losing herself to the movements, sucking, licking, trembling when they find those spots that make her toes curl and her breath catch and her whole body tighten. But they never send her over. He knows, or they know, or someone knows, and no matter how she pleads around the flesh in her mouth they keep her riding that edge until she’s a panting, quivering mess.

One by one they finish, denying her further when they don’t immediately start to fuck again, and she mourns the loss with a quiet whimper, a whispered plea, until another takes her mouth to silence her.

Now this. The finale. All she has to do is swallow. Good girls swallow, don’t they? And he said he’d be proud. She can make him proud of his little girl. There’s no hesitation when he puts it like that. When this final man blows his load in her mouth she swallows what’s left of her pride along with the cum.

She wants him to be proud.

Fitting, that the Beast finally rebels at her treatment of it. She had fucked last night without feeding. Fucked again this evening without even biting. Swallowed human swill and it had not complained, sated by thick, warm Brujah blood. But this? This takes it too far. This humiliation goes beyond what it will endure. The girl retains control, but the Beast takes from her, raking its claws inside her chest and stealing the blood that it wants to slake its hunger. It snarls inside her chest, leaving her with precious little.

But she swallows. And she keeps it down. And finally, finally, she turns to Josua, eyes wide in expectation.

GM: Josua smiles at her and pats her head approvingly.

“Thank the man for his cum, too.”

“Good girls say please and thanks.”

Celia: It’s an effort to look away from Josua, but tears her gaze away to find the man’s eyes.

“Thank you for letting me swallow your cum.” Jade’s voice, but… softer. No hesitation, though. No sign of insincerity. She looks at the other two, thanking them as well for their contribution. Good girls are polite, and she’s a good girl.

GM: “You’re welcome, cum dumpster,” grins the first man as he re-buckles his pants. The others do too. They walk out of the room without a glance back, except to close the door.

Josua moves over on the bed. He doesn’t untie her arms or legs, but he sits cross-legged and places her head upon his lap. Her smiles down at her as he strokes her hair.

“I’m so proud of my little girl.”

“She knows her place. She knows how to submit. She’s happy to submit to her daddy. That makes Daddy very, very happy.”

One hand steadily pets her hair as he tilts her head against his lap to stare up at his smile.

“I’m so proud of you. My pretty little girl. My happy little girl. My good little girl. Such a good girl.”

Celia: Cum dumpster.

Someone that might be Jade snarls at the words. She’s quickly beaten down when her head winds up on his lap, fingers in her hair. She basks in the attention and adoration he lavishes upon her, smiling up at him. Happy, pretty, good. She’s all those things. And she’s pleased. Pleased that he’s happy with her, that he’s proud of her, that he’d do this for her. Her head turns, cheek rubbing against his lap, his hands, whatever she can reach to stay in contact, to make him continue saying such sweet things.

It reminds her… no, those aren’t her memories…

GM: His hands tenderly stroke the sides of her face as Josua leans down to nuzzle her nose.

“Give me a big smile, little girl. Give Daddy the biggest, happiest smile you can. I want to see your soul shining through that smile.”

Celia: She smiles for him. A happy smile, a proud smile, a pleased, sated, satisfied smile. And no matter what face she wears or who controls the reins, it’s never anything less than a beautiful smile.

GM: Josua strokes her hair.

“Try harder, baby girl. Make it an earnest smile. It’s not a desperate smile, but you aren’t satisfied just yet, because you haven’t pleased Daddy yet. You want to please Daddy, because he wants a smile. He wants a big smile. He wants the biggest, happiest, eagerest smile his little girl has in her. She isn’t really tied down. Her smile is how she’ll hug Daddy, because it’ll be so big and happy and eager that he’ll feel it from here, and he’ll hug her back, and hold her close, and she’ll be safe in his arms as they snuggle. That’s what she’ll get, if she can smile for Daddy. All the snuggle times in the world.”

He pats her cheek.

“Smile for me, baby girl. Smile as big and wide as you can. You don’t need to talk. Daddy will do all the talking. Daddy will take care of the hard things. All you need to do is smile.”

“I know my little girl can do it. She’s such a good girl.”

Celia: The smile fades from her lips at his words.

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. She is never enough.

Her eyes close. She inhales air she doesn’t need, lungs expanding to lift her chest, all of it a waste of movement. A waste of energy. A waste of space.

Cum dumpster. Whore. Stupid.

They twist together in her head, dancing before her closed eyes, their voices taunting, cold and cruel. Snippets of conversation press against her, demanding to be let in, demanding that she remember, that she feel. She’s not Leilani. She’s not Jade. She’s not even Celia anymore.

She’s lost.

But Daddy’s there for her. He has always been there for her. He calls to her, coaxing her toward the safety of his arms. He’ll protect her. Take her away from the accident at the end of the hall. Dry her tears after her neighbor forces her to her knees. Hold her hand through the ordeal of being fucked, then tell her how proud he is, how happy she makes him. He’ll tell her how proud he is. How she’s special. His little girl. She is his little girl. His special baby girl. She tries so hard. And he’s proud of her.

Her eyes open, uncertain, as if expecting him to disappear in the seconds they had been closed. But there he is, waiting for her. Like he’s always waiting for her. Because he’ll always be there for her.

Her lips move without a command from her, lifting at the corners, curling upwards to give him the smile that he wants. It’s her. All of her. Broken, bent, raw. But shining. Like the flawless diamond that she is.

GM: He’s there. Waiting. So very patiently.

Leilani. Jade. Celia. They’re just names.

She doesn’t need to be anyone. Just so long as she has Daddy.

Daddy starts to smile, then holds up a finger.

“Hold that, baby girl. Freeze that smile on your face.”

An easy thing, without face muscles that get tired.

Celia: She doesn’t question him. The smile freezes.

GM: “Good girl.”

“I’ll have an extra special treat for you, if you can hold that smile long enough.”

Josua sits down by his painter’s easel. In a blur of motion, it’s turned around, paint tubes are out, and Josua’s brush is racing around the canvas like a fast forwarding video.

Celia: She doesn’t get tired. She doesn’t need to breathe or blink or shift positions. She doesn’t move, doesn’t stir from the spot where he placed her. None of her muscles twitch. She stays, frozen, exactly how he left her. The smile never dims.

GM: The paintbrush continues to blur across the canvas. Time passes. The brush eventually stops moving.

“There. All done. Does my little girl think she’s been really patient? Should she get a treat?”

He smiles at her.

“No talking or moving her head. I haven’t said she can stop smiling yet.”

Celia: Her eyes flick toward the clock on his wall. Her head stays in place, smile never slipping.

GM: “Mmm, what’s that? Is my little girl trying to say something?”

“If only she could stop smiling, that would make things do much easier.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to stop smiling. But she does want to know how long she has been here, tied to the bed, waiting so very patiently for her reward.

She’s not the only one in her mind. Hers aren’t the only thoughts that swirl, and with each passing moment the other one gets stronger, chipping away at her control. She has to be somewhere. She has to be somewhere that she’s not, somewhere that isn’t here. But here is important too. If only she could check to make sure that the other one will still make it. She needs to know. She has to know, or it all comes crumbling down around her, and something like the Beast but less hostile paces in her chest, spiraling outward toward her limbs. She doesn’t move, but it swells beneath the surface of her skin, a bubble of anxiety that she can’t stifle because she needs to know.

GM: Josua walks over to the bed and sits down. He tilts Jade’s face up towards his and runs his hands along er cheeks.

“My silent beauty. Such a pretty little girl.”

“It’s okay, pretty girl. You don’t need to talk.”

“All you need to do is smile. It makes Daddy so happy to see his little girl smile.”

Celia: But she is smiling. She has been smiling. Even now, tied to the bed, anxious that she’s supposed to be somewhere else, she smiles for him.

Finally, she blinks. It’s as clear as she can make it, that blink. No muscles but those controlling her lids move, a quick flip down then up. Her smile stays in place. Her head doesn’t do so much as twitch. None of the rest of her body dares move either; like someone’s doll, she lays where he had put her, and only the eyes give the answer he’s looking for from his earlier question: yes.

GM: Josua gives a velvety laugh.

“I think my little girl is trying to say something. I think she does think she’s been patient. Well, okay, baby girl. I think you’ve earned it, with that pretty smile. So Daddy’s going to give you a very special treat.”

He unbuckles his pants and pricks his penis with an ornamental penknife from the bedside table. The heady smell of Kindred vitae suffuses the air. He daintily opens her mouth, as though he needs to do it for her, and guides his bleeding member inside.

It’s a small prick, at the head of his penis. Jade will need to suck really hard to get more than a trickle of vitae out.

Josua seems to concentrate for a moment, then his member grows firm and stiff in her mouth.

Celia: She’d thought that maybe, given his reputation, they were the same. That he, too, still got off the breather way.

But it’s just her. The pervert. Alone in her deviance.

The blood touches her tongue, though, and she doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter that he has to force it, or that he’d had to have someone else fuck her because he couldn’t. He’d done it for her. She knows that. He’d done it for her, and now he’s doing this for her, because it’s what she wants. Her lips close around him, sucking at the tiny knife wound to bring that precious vitae forth even as he stiffens in her mouth. The smell and taste grow her fangs but she keeps them tucked away, taking what he gives, how he gives. Submitting even now like the little girl she is to what her daddy wants.

GM: “Such a good girl…” he whispers, cupping the back of her head with his hands. He thrusts his hips back and forth, pressing his crotch against her face.

Josua’s vitae is sweet like candy. There’s almost no other flavor, it’s so sweet, but there’s the faintest undercurrent of sour underneath, like a few grains of salt at the bottom of a sugar-coated gummy.

“There’s nowhere on earth that my little girl is happier than with a cock in her mouth, is there?

Celia: Even with his cock in her mouth she manages a tiny shake of her head. No, there’s nowhere else she’d rather be. She belongs on her back or her knees or bent over a lap; wherever he wants her, that’s where he can put her, and she’ll be pleased all the same.

The flavor is so sweet it’s almost cloying, but she swallows it down obediently, even eagerly, happy to have it. And even though it doesn’t do anything for him, even though he doesn’t get off the same way, she gives him the same treatment she’d given his friends earlier just to show him how much she appreciates it.

GM: Josua’s sweetness, for all its strength, is a good kind of sweetness, like the natural sugar found in a succulent fruit. It isn’t the cheap kind instilled by star mode, that tastes so much like sugar dumped over already prepared food. Pietro always did say it’s “worth getting them in the mood.” Jade can taste her clanmate’s lust for her, but it’s a curious sort of lust. It’s more than lust. There’s enrapturement with her beauty on an aesthetic and intellectual level, beyond merely sexual attraction, although there’s a great deal of that too. She feels as if he worships her with the totality of his being. His sweetness fills and speaks to her on every level. But there’s a sour and salty undercurrent to it, too, the more she drinks. Anger and melancholy. All is not well in paradise.

It’s easy to see why Alana wants to do this with her, though. Jade is hard-pressed to think of many blowjobs that actively pleasure her like sucking blood straight from a cock does.

Celia: Her hands, bound as they are, hang uselessly from the cuffs. She wants to touch him. To let her fingers find the source of his trouble and fix it for him. That’s what she’s good at. Fixing. Making people feel better on a physical level. And if she can do that for him why wouldn’t she? She strains against the cuffs but they hold her fast. She can only drink what he offers. And drink she does, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of the sweet, hot red stuff. It wipes the cum from her palate, rids her tongue of the salty taste of kine. This is what she wants, what she has wanted the whole time. He rewards her for being a good girl and she can’t get enough of it.

GM: “Such a good girl… she doesn’t need to move her hands… she’s right where she needs to be, Dady’s cock in her mouth…. my little girl’s so good at sucking cock, and Daddy is so, so proud of her…” Josua whispers, stroking Jade’s cheeks as she rapturously sucks.

“Such a good girl…”

Celia: Is she? Does he like it, when she moves her lips like this, when she draws her tongue along the bottom like that? Does it turn him on the way it would for someone who could still feel pleasure like that? She stops pulling at the bonds, lets her hands hang limp, content to let him retain control. He’s Daddy and he’s in charge, and his little girl will take what he offers.

GM: Josua presses his groin up against her face. Her cups his hands around the back of her head, pushing her closer. She doesn’t need to breathe. She doesn’t need to see. All there is his cock in her mouth and his blood running down her throat. The moment could last forever, until he says, “All right, baby girl, I’m going to pull out soon… get in some good last sucks…”

Eventually, he does. He undoes the sheets around her feet, then the cuffs around her wrists. He sits down at the edge of the bed and pulls her onto his lap. He’s fully clothed, with his jacket on and his shirt buttoned up, and she’s still naked as the day she was born. He adjusts her legs, keeping them on the bed and folded against his body, making her as small as possible. He hugs her close and cradles her head low against his chest, such that she can hide underneath his arms. It’s like the way he held her earlier, like someone would hold a child, but it feels more like he’s holding an infant now. She feels so small and vulnerable and exposed. But Daddy is there, his arms around her. He strokes her hair and slowly rocks her back and forth against his chest.

“That’s my little girl…”

“I know it’s hard for her, losing Daddy’s cock… but she did very well tonight, and Daddy is so, so, proud of her… she’s the most special little girl in the whole wide world…”

Celia: She makes a sound when he pulls back. A quiet whimper of mourning that he has taken the source of such enjoyment away from her. She doesn’t mean to; it just comes out, followed by a soft sigh. The disappointment fades as soon as he draws her onto his lap. She snuggles against him, cheek against his chest. Naked, vulnerable in her nudity, but safe in the cocoon of his arms around her. She nods her head as he speaks, a gentle smile pulling at her lips. He’s proud of her. She made him proud. She’s pleased with herself, with him, with their time together this evening. A feeling like bliss settles over her. She’s a good girl.

GM: “Such a good girl…” he whispers, and then his fangs pierce her neck. Physical bliss washes over her, comingling with the mental bliss.

She’s doing Daddy proud. She’s making him feel good. She’s making him feel so, so good, giving of her life to sustain his. There’s no truer expression of intimacy, than feeding. To give of yourself, to sustain another. To trust them that intimately, that profoundly, to take as much as they choose.

In those moments of feeding, two lives become as one.

Celia: Her lips part in a silent sigh when his fangs pierce her neck. Her eyes close as it washes over her, entire body caught by the shiver of desire and need and something softer, something that might be trust or affection. Something sweet that flavors her blood, deeper than lust, stronger than the charm their clan so often employs.

Something beautiful, like her, the little girl on Daddy’s lap.

GM: The moment of bliss and beauty feels like it could last forever, but like all things, it must come to an end. Josua finally pulls out and affectionately rubs her cheek with his hand.

“All right, baby girl… Daddy’s going to step outside for a bit, okay? That’ll be so she can get changed into being Jade the badass bitch again.”

“Tonight was very special. Daddy loves his little girl very, very much.”

Celia: She gives a slow nod at his words. She doesn’t want it to end, but the mention of Jade… there’s something there, something she’s forgetting. She clings to him a moment longer, nuzzling at his neck with her lips. Shyly, before he goes, she tells him that tonight was special for her too, and that she loves her daddy. There’s a moment of hesitation where she wants to tell him who she is, but she’s worried that once he’s had her he won’t want to see her again. She finally looks up at him.

GM: He smiles down at her, eyes full of warmth and understanding. He runs his hands up and down her cheeks and the sides of her head in petting-like motions, then finally tilts her head up so she meets his gaze. She doesn’t need to do that herself. Daddy will do it for her.

“My little girl can tell her daddy anything.”

Celia: “Leilani,” she tells him, voice as soft as the silken sheets beneath them. It’s the first time she’s ever admitted aloud that she exists. For a brief moment she’s afraid he won’t understand. But he’s her daddy, and she’s his little girl, and he has to understand. She says it again, quiet but sure, that she’s Leilani and she wants him to know.

GM: “Leilani. What a pretty name for what a pretty girl,” Josua smiles, hugging Leila against his chest again. His rubs his hands up and down her back, stroking her hair.

“I’m very pleased to have met you, Lani.”

“You’re a very special little girl. You’re very lucky to have a tough big sister like Jade keeping you safe.”

Celia: She is lucky. She nods her head in agreement. Jade takes care of all the mean people so she can be soft and sweet and nice and let daddy spoil her with friends and blood and pon—

No. Leilani has never had one of those.

“And a daddy,” she tells him, snuggled against him once more. “To be happy.” There’s the briefest of pauses. A moment of hesitation. She remembers the taste of his blood on her tongue, the salty, sour emotions beneath the sweet. Good girls care about their daddies, don’t they? They should. She does.

She asks if he’s happy, too.

GM: Josua’s smile dims a bit.

“Daddy’s Requiem isn’t perfect, baby girl. Nobody’s is.”

He squeezes her shoulder. “Except Lani’s.”

Celia: “Jade can beat someone up for you,” Leilani offers with all the assurance of a little girl who thinks her “big sister” hung the moon.

GM: Josua laughs. “Maybe I’ll ask her. But that’s grown-up talk, little Lani, for the grown-ups to worry about. You don’t need to worry about anything when you’re with Daddy.”

Celia: And just like that, she’s forgotten it. The grown-ups can handle it, and she’ll be safe and warm and happy on his lap. She nods her head in agreement.

GM: He hugs her close for a while longer. Little Lani is right where she belongs in Daddy’s arms, without so much as a worrisome thought to worry her pretty little head.

“All right, Lani,” he finally says. “After I leave, it’s going to be time for Jade to come back out, okay?”

Celia: “Okay,” she agrees with another nod. Jade can come out and play again, and Leila can go back inside. Leilani says a final goodbye to him, a chaste kiss on his cheek before he goes.

GM: He plants a kiss on her brow, gives her hair a last tousle, then places Jade’s clothes on the bed before closing the door behind him.

Celia: There’s no physical change. Nothing to signify that one mask comes off and another takes its place, nothing to tell the world that Leilani has gone to bed and Jade is once more in control. One moment she is daddy’s little girl, the next she’s the childe of a harpy, cold and cruel and conniving.

Her stomach rebels as soon as the the swap occurs, and Jade comes to with her face inches away from a trashcan while she hurls up the jizz she had been made to swallow earlier. At least no one is present to witness the undignified way it slides back up her throat and splatters in the bottom of the wastebasket. Rancid, foul, but over quickly enough. She wipes at her mouth, tongue slicing against her own long fangs as if that will chase away the taste.

Her eyes sweep the room. Cramped, but a door to one side opens into a bathroom and Jade helps herself to his shower. A quick rinse to rid herself of the smell of kine: sweat and cum and other rank odors. Three minutes, in and out, scraping the gunk from her skin with a soapy rag, focused on her face, chest, and between her legs. Perhaps she should have asked him to join her. Leilani would no doubt appreciate bath time. Extra bubbles for daddy’s little princess, and they can play at being mermaids and she can paint his face with beard-bubbles and show him her dolls. Jade smiles at the thought; next time, she tells the little girl, next time she’ll ask. She does not bother to wash her hair, and when she steps out to look in the mirror she see is pleased to see that no traces of the kine remain. Her fingers blur across her skin in routine sweeps, touching up her makeup in half the amount of usual time. She dries with a towel and finds her clothing waiting on the bed. Quick movements put it all back where it belongs, sans stolen panties. It takes less than ten minutes before she is truly Jade again, once more ready to be seen in polite society.

She glances at her phone to check the time, then reaches for the door.

GM: It’s been about 2.5 hours since she ran into Josua at the nightclub. She’s likely missed the ‘court’ part of Savoy’s weekly court, and a decent chunk of the party, though it probably still has some time before it wraps up.

She finds Josua outside, playing on his phone. He smiles and tucks it away at her appearance.

“Would you like to see your portrait?”

Celia: Awkward. Now she’ll never know if opening her mouth last night did anything or if it had all been wasted breath. At least her meeting with him is after the party. Small blessings and all that.

“I would,” she tells him. “I assumed you didn’t want me peeking, so I refrained.”

GM: “Very thoughtful. You looked radiant with your clothes off, by the way, but you look radiant with them back on.”

Celia: “Careful, there, I might think you’re trying to get me out of them again.”

GM: He smiles again. “I think we were ‘under the influence’ most of these past few hours. Clan blessing and all. It’s nice to meet you.”

Celia: Clan blessing indeed. She’s glad she’s dead, that no flush gives her away.

“You too.” She can’t help but laugh. “We’ve done it all backwards.”

“I suppose I should introduce myself now that we’ve already gotten to know each other. Miss Jade Kalani,” she offers with a wry smile.

GM: “Josua Cambridge. I find introductions are usually less awkward this way. Or at least more fun.”

“You were every bit as amazing in bed as I thought you’d be.”

Celia: One brow lifts.

“Do you think about me in bed often?”

GM: “When we met, definitely, though I think about what everyone would be like in bed.”

Celia: “I suppose we have that in common.”

GM: “I wonder what Vidal would be like.”

Celia: “Rigid.”

GM: “I can say from experience, Ventrue can be really hot.”

Celia: “Perhaps we should ask his lover, then, and see if we can take a turn with him.”

“Hard to refuse two gorgeous licks like us.”

GM: Josua laughs. “If you’re serious, I wouldn’t mind screwing the seneschal either. I really wouldn’t. I’m curious what a real elder would be like.”

Celia: “Yours doesn’t do it for you anymore?”

GM: “Oh no, Marcel’s great in bed. But why have one when you could have two?”

He looks her over appraisingly. “Marcel would definitely like to bang you, though he prefers them less submissive than Lani was.”

Celia: Jade laughs. “I’ve no doubt. Get me a date with him, then, and I’ll show you both the other side.”

GM: “Now that I’d be very interested to see. I figured you’d be more like your sire.”

Celia: “Mm, truth be told Leila hasn’t come out like that before.”

GM: “Really? I feel special.”

Celia: “You should. She’d like to see you again, but I’ll let her down easy if you’re not interested.”

GM: “Mmm, maybe later. I’d like to see this other side to Jade, first. I’m not usually that dominant.”

Celia: “No?” Jade eyes him up and down. “I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

GM: “Oh, no. The lick I fuck the most these days is Marcel, and I’m never on top with him. He likes me as a boytoy.” Josua grins. “Sucking blood from a cock was something he showed me.”

Celia: “Now that,” she says with a matching grin, “was wickedly delicious.”

“But the breather way doesn’t do it for you.” A question more than a statement; she assumes the answer already.

Celia: “If you want another elder,” Jade offers after a moment, “you could come to the Evergreen with me sometime.”

GM: Josua shakes his head at her question.

“That’s really tempting. I bet he’s great in bed. I don’t think Marcel would be happy to share me with him, though.”

Celia: She doesn’t seem terribly upset. It’s the answer she expected.

A quick step closes the distance between them; one hand flattens against his chest to push him against the wall, lips at his neck, while the other hand drifts upwards so that her fingers curl through his hair.

“Disappointing,” she purrs. “I imagine you’d be quite a hit at the party next week, and I’d have loved to show you off even if we didn’t end up in Antoine’s hot tub…” She nips at his neck. “I suppose I’ll content myself with flipping the script from tonight and letting you present me to Marcel.”

GM: Josua grins at the aggressive motion, showing his now-protruding fangs. His hands encircle Jade’s body, lovingly caressing her back as they slowly work down to knead her rear. It’s not unlike how Roderick would do it, but there’s a feeling of reverence in his Josua’s hands distinct from the affection (and lust) in her Brujah lover’s. It’s a feeling of profound regard, like he’s getting to handle a holy relic, and getting a huge boner from doing so. His fangs brush against her cheek, letting her feel their sharpness and the softness of his lips, but stopping just short of drawing blood.

“Maybe we could sneak me in as a girl… Marcel likes to have me dress as one, sometimes… we prefer me as a man, but I make a very pretty girl, too…”

Celia: No wonder his count is as high as it is if this is how he treats all his lovers. She’d positively swoon if she were physically capable of doing so.

“I’m a magician with a makeup brush,” she tells him, “though if you ever really want to be a girl…” She trails off, her eyes raking his body. “I’m sure I could make it happen for a night. Ask nicely and I might even let you raid my closet.”

GM: “Oh, yes please, mistress,” he purrs, pulling Jade close and pressing her breasts against his chest. He closes his eyes for a moment, seeming to bask in the sensation of their physical proximity. He breathes his next words in to Jade’s ear like he’s sharing an intimate secret, his tongue lapping against her earlobe. “But I would never raid your closet. I would supplicate myself before you. I would pray that I was worthy of the honor and privilege of wearing clothes that had once touched the godhead, the divine feminine. I would tell you I felt as if I was carrying part of you with me, when I wore your clothes. I would tell you I felt safe and comforted to have some piece of you, not adorning me, but exalting me. I would approach your closet as though it were a temple and pray to receive of its blessings.”

Celia: Oh yes. She can definitely get used to this.

A shiver travels down her spine at the words, eyes widening when she lifts her head to look up at him once more. The very tips of her fangs peek out from behind her lips, though she keeps them to herself for now.

“Careful, pet,” she warns him, voice thick, “or I’ll steal you away from him and keep you for myself, and you’ll never get up off your knees again.”

GM: “But what if I don’t want to get off my knees,” he murmurs, sinking down to them. He presses his face against Jade’s crotch, like a child at its mother’s breasts, and hugs his arms around her legs.

“There’s no place I’d rather be than a woman’s knees. Than your knees. I love a woman’s knees. I love everything about women. There’s so much to love about women. I love the richness and fullness to their hair, how I can just run my hands through it forever. I love women with long hair. I love the softness and curvaceousness to their faces. I love how puberty doesn’t make them hard, how every woman still has a little girl’s face, how every woman is still a child at heart. I love the firmness and softness to their breasts, and how they nourish innocent young life with those perky, milky orbs. I love to suck on women’s breasts, but I didn’t with Lani, you know, because she didn’t feel aware she had breasts, innocent child that she was. I love the supple curves to women’s bodies, how symmetrical they are. I love how just the outline of a woman’s form is a work of art in of itself. I love the delicate, mincing steps women take in heeled shoes, how it makes their hips delightfully sway back and forth. I love the softness to their smooth, hairless legs. I could run my hands along a woman’s legs forever. I love the rosiness to their cheeks and lips. I love the wide, trusting nature of their eyes. I love the dainty smallness of their hands.”

Josua isn’t still as he talks. His hands lovingly caress up and down her legs the entire time. He plants tender kisses along her thighs, then her knees, working steadily downwards to her feet.

“I love women. I love fucking women, and I love admiring women. I love everything about women. That’s why what you do is so important, Jade. Because women aren’t beautiful on their own. Being a woman, really being a woman, is an art. It takes work and pain and dedication. Women must suffer to be women. They must bleed. They must know pain.”

“Art demands no less.”

He plants a loving kiss on Jade’s right foot. A blissful shudder runs through his body as he closes his eyes, then rubs his cheek against her foot as though to ‘seal in’ the kiss.

“And you… are an artist.”

Celia: It’s the sort of speech that makes a woman lose herself. The sort of thing that makes her eyes shine, her breath catch, her toes curl. His words do more for her than the clumsy, fumbling movements of so many men who try and fail to replicate what he says without thinking, and the touch on her legs, the kiss on her foot, the pure adoration that he lavishes upon her…

She breathes it in. Breathes it in with long, shaking breaths that she doesn’t need, but she doesn’t care because that, too, is art; looking human is art, breathing and forcing her heart to beat and letting her body react the way it wants to is art, art that she created through blood and time and tears because being a woman is art and she is its master.

Jade uses the foot he’d kissed to nudge him aside, putting him onto his back with his belly and throat exposed like the submissive toy that he is. She traces the tips of her fangs with her tongue, then drops. Her thighs spread to either side of his waist, dress hiked up around her hips to give her the freedom of movement. Her knees hit the floor hard, hands flashing out to catch his wrists and pin them above his head.

“Trouble,” she tells him, nipping once more at his throat, “you’re trouble, with a tongue like that.” She aches to break his skin, to sink her teeth in, but she holds off.

GM: “Oh, yes… I’m in so much trouble with you, mistress…” Josua purrs, his eyes lighting up as she spreads her thighs around him. He doesn’t fight her grip, but he wriggles his hips, grinding his crotch against hers. He pushes up and down from the floor as though trying to reach heaven. He mouths her breasts through the fabric of her dress, running his tongue across them in clockwise motions even as he contently suckles at the covered nipples. It’s a curious sensation, to receive such pleasure through a cloth barrier, but it’s far from unpleasant.

“You’re….” Josua murmurs, “a calamity, if I’m trouble… an apocalypse… I’m in completely over my head… what have I gotten myself into… once Jade is on the scene, all bets are off… all will be as the goddess wills, and mere man can never know her will…”

Celia: Less curious than he might think; she’s always been a sucker for teasing over the clothes before finally tearing them off, and her Embrace had only heightened those senses. She makes a sound deep in her throat, eyes closing when his hips move upward to rub against her. She presses down, not evening pretending anymore that this hasn’t turned into round two, that she isn’t slick and ready to go again. Even her Beast is ready to pounce and tear into this delectable young thing beneath her.

“Insatiable,” she murmurs, shifting to hold his wrists with one hand—it’s a loose grip at best—so she can drag her nails down his chest. “But you’re right,” she breathes into his ear, “that you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into; I’m going to leave you wanting and begging and panting for more, and all you’re going to think about these next few nights is how badly you want me to come back and finish what I started.”

Her lips press against the underside of his jaw, just over the pulse point on a mortal, and the tips of her fangs drag against his skin. Then she’s gone, pulling up and off of him, rising to her feet in a fluid motion and peering down at him with eyes that smolder in their intensity.

GM: “Oh, yes… I don’t know, mistress… I thought I saw you, with Lani, but you’re her wicked twin sister…” Josua murmurs. He rises, but not to his feet. He wraps his arm around Jade’s leg and presses his cheek against the skin, rapturously, like a freezing man clinging to a vertical space heater, or an ecstatic Indian to a sacred totem.

“There are so many sides to you… just when I think I have you figured out, you show me I don’t know anything… you’re an eternal mystery, try though I might to understand you… man cannot understand the goddess, only try to please her…”

Josua smoothly slides down from her thigh to her foot in a bowing-look motion. His hands to start to caress the sides of her shoe as he kisses its front, then licks the underside to polish it clean.

“You do torture me, mistress, and it hurts so bad, to be deprived of your touch… but it’s a privilege to be tortured by you… to know that my pain pleases the goddess, and that she sees fit to listen to my begging… it’s enough to help me through my pain, but to leave me on the brink of madness, wanting more, wanting so much more… but my wants don’t matter, only her pleasure…”

He fits the heel of Jade’s shoe into his mouth and begins to rapturously suck it, like he would a man’s cock. His lips move up and down the heel as his tongue laps across each side. He makes the same noises he would with a cock, too. Slowly savored “mmm… mmm…” ones in between each suck and inhalation. His eyes close contently.

Celia: She leaves him to it for a moment, amused by the sight of him on his knees in front of her, aroused by the way he clearly worships the entirety of her being. Were it any other night she might even keep him there; her mind runs wild with the fantasy of putting him on a leash, making him crawl after her, turning him into her very own pet.

But it isn’t any other night, and she does, unfortunately, have places to be and people decidedly less attractive to speak to, and despite his assurance that Marcel doesn’t mind sharing or guests she still doesn’t want to be caught where she shouldn’t be. Nothing like being forced to explain why she got caught trespassing to kill her boner. They’re not even in his room, she can’t help but note, but still outside of it where anyone could walk by.

She moves her foot, removing it from his mouth and settling the sole of it against his chest. Another nudge lays him out once more, denying him the satisfaction of touching her.


GM: He quavers underneath her foot, but simultaneously presses his chest against the shoe, as though it’s his last and only chance to get as close to her as possible. He loves the sensation of her sole, that much is plain.

“Yes, mistress,” he whimpers.

Celia: “Show me what you created. Your painting. The art. Show me me.” She turns, pulling her foot off of him, and strides toward the door. A snap of her fingers summons him after her.

GM: He swiftly rises behind her. “Yes, mistress. Right away.”

They walk back into the cabin. Josua turns the easel so that she can see.

It’s her.

The painting depicts her lying back-down on the bed, her arms spread. Josua hasn’t painted the handcuffs, but it’s a vulnerable and exposed-feeling position. She’s lying right there for the viewer to claim, everything from head to her belly. She’s a helpless prize to be won. There’s a rosy hue to her cheeks and the tips of her breasts that feels simultaneously innocent and suggestive. Indeed, the whole piece feels that way. One could appreciate it for its aesthetic merits or masturbate to it as pornography. An appreciative enough viewer might even be able to do both. Jade feels like Josua could do both.

But the crown jewel is the smile.

Everything shines through in that smile. Part of her looks happy. Her eyes glow with happiness. She looks eager to please, too. Her expression makes Jade think of all those times people told Celia to smile, and how Emily says it’s sexist. But the girl in the portrait smiles anyway. Part of it does feel a little sexist, the weight of patriarchy bearing down on her slim shoulders, and she can’t do other than go along. But she also feels like she’s smiling because it’s her. Really and truly her. It’s an innocent smile, fragile and broken. It lights up the world and shows all of its cracks. Jade can see the pain in the girl’s eyes. It’s a soft pain, long accustomed, that she meekly accepts as part of herself, yet perhaps yearns to break of and knows she can’t, because it’s not her place. She shares it all with the viewer. She’s smiling directly at them, sharing something innocent and fragile and trusting. She trusts you with her true self, in all its innocent fragility. The smile is just for you.

Trust. That’s a big part of what shines through. Jade may think back to Josua saying she couldn’t talk. She didn’t need to talk. She could place her trust entirely in another person’s hands. It makes her think of subspace, that state of mind Alana sometimes gets into. The ghoul becomes completely pliant and willing, aglow with pleasure at letting someone else totally control her and make all the decisions, because that person loves her enough to make all the right ones. It’s a position of total trust. The girl in the portrait doesn’t look fully in subspace; there’s no lust in the smile. But she looks like she’s familiar with what subspace is.

It looks like the kind of smile a girl would show her daddy. Or her lover. It’s the kind of smile that doesn’t exist between sisters, or between mothers and daughters. It makes Celia think about her family. Emily, who always will be her equal and peer. Diana, who’s brimming with affection, but who’s never been the one to protect and keep her safe. This smile is the look a girl reserves for her daddy. A dominant man who can make her his little princess. The pictures makes Jade wonder what life would have been like with Maxen as her loving father. In that smile, she sees a mirrored longing. A girl who’s close enough to see the daddy she’s always wanted, but too far away to touch. He’s missing from the picture. There’s just her.

A beautiful girl with a beautiful smile.

Celia: She takes a breath.

And then another.

Useless, those breaths. They do nothing to stem the tide of emotion that threatens to take her in its grasp and strangle her. The corners of her eyes burn as she stares, silently, upon what Josua has created.


It’s her.

Every empty, aching, twisted part of her resides within that smile. Every word that has ever been flung her way, every negative thought, every everything that makes her her. Not Jade, not Leilani, not Star or Lily or Violet, not the whore or the sinner or the bitch, not the harpy’s slut or the sheriff’s childe or Savoy’s pet neonate or Roderick’s girlfriend or Alana’s mistress.

Just her. Just Celia.

The girl without a dad who desperately wants one. The girl with four paternal figures who are too busy or too distant or too important to want to have anything to do with her.

It’s beautiful. And it’s devastating. And for long moments she can only stare at herself, at this fractured, fragile thing in front of her, at her complete and utter willingness to trust in someone else to take care of everything, and wonder where it all went wrong.

Canvas is not her medium. She can’t speak to brush strokes and dimension and proportions, can’t judge the color or the composition. She doesn’t try. She only stares, and wonders, and feels.

She doesn’t know when she took his hand, only that she reached for something to anchor her and there he was, and her fingers feel small in his grip and maybe that’s okay, maybe that’s what she needs right now, maybe just for tonight the mask slips and she’s not Jade anymore, she’s not Leilani, she’s just Celia.

A beautiful girl with a beautiful smile.

At last, she finds her voice.

“It’s me.” Quiet words, hardly louder than a breath of air. Her tongue flicks across her lips.

“It’s me,” she says again. She turns to face him, cheeks stained red. She points, as if she needs to, as if there is anything else she could speak of.

“It’s me.”

It’s truth. It’s beauty. It’s both. There’s no need to decide between the pair with each at home on the canvas.

GM: Josua squeezes her hand and guides her to a seat on the bed, pulling her up against him, back to his chest as they sit and look at the painting’s smiling sibject. His hands slowly work and caress her shoulders.

“It’s you,” he echoes.

“Art doesn’t lie.”

Celia: It can lie. Makeup lies. It makes the ugly look beautiful, the old look young, the barely adequate divine. It can change the shape of the face or hide deformities, smooth uneven complexions and whittle away too-broad surfaces.

But this doesn’t lie. This portrait, her, it doesn’t lie.

She nestles against him, eyes drawn back to the work of art. She can’t look away, even as his fingers work her flesh, even as her muscles tense, hold, and finally release beneath the pressure.

GM: “Where are you going to keep it?” he asks, continuing to attentively knead her shoulders. He’s no professional like she is, but the sentiment is there.

Celia: Her haven, she thinks, but she doesn’t know how she’ll explain it to her partner, or what his reaction will be if she tells him that she sat for it. Even without the sex, posing nude is… well, he’s not an artist, he doesn’t understand.

“I don’t know,” she admits.

With the dolls, maybe, the other little pieces of her soul, but this… this deserves a prominent location. Private, but prominent.

GM: “You could give it to someone else, too. But it’s a very intimate look at you.”

Celia: She can only think of one person she’d let see her like this. Even so, if he were ever to lose control of his rage and destroy it… well, she thinks she’d have to destroy him, then. She shakes her head.

“I don’t want to share it. I want to keep it. To… remind me.”

GM: “Hmm. Maybe there’s a lot to remind yourself about. Lani is so submissive. Not at all like Jade.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees. “But that isn’t Lani. Or Jade.”

GM: “You’re right. She is different. It all comes out on the canvas.”

“It’s interesting how we take new names.”

“I almost wish I had, before everyone knew who I was.”

“Everyone loves having a mystery. Being a mystery.”

Celia: “There’s beauty in honesty. In not losing sight of who you were, who you are.”

“That’s more important than we like to give credit.”

GM: “True. But we’re not who we once were, either. New names reflect that.”

“Maybe they’re more honest, in their own way.”

“Or maybe there’s a lie either way.”

Celia: “There’s a line about names and roses from Shakespeare.” Jade lifts a shoulder. “Sometimes the masks get heavy, too.”

GM: “We can take off masks.” He looks thoughtful. “Maybe. There is that quote, too, about masks ceasing to be masks.”

Celia: “Can you take off the mask? I haven’t been honest with anyone since the night I died.” She nods toward the painting. “That’s the most real thing I’ve seen in a long time.”

GM: “I think you can. It’s just a question of how much it’ll hurt, isn’t it?”

“There is hurt in her eyes.”

“Hurt and a lot of other things.”

“Either way, if you’re going to disguise me as a girl, I should take a new name anyway. There’s something fun about slipping on new masks. It’s why we played dress-up as kids. Getting to decide who we are.”

Celia: She accepts the change of subject with something that might be a sad smile. Turned away from him like she is, she doesn’t think he sees, and her shot at raw honesty fades into the night.

“What name would you pick for your feminine self?”

GM: “I think we should wait until we see how she looks.”

Celia: “She’ll be beautiful,” Jade tells him, “like you are. But we can wait and see.”

GM: “I know she will, in your hands. There’s something pure in that, in beauty. It can hide things, but beauty is always honest about itself.”

“I think you’ve probably been more honest than you give yourself credit for.”

“Jade and Lani are both honest. They’re both beautiful.”

Celia: What does that make Celia?

GM: “The world is worse if there’s just one of them. Instead of me sucking your heels, and you sucking my dick, there’d have to be just one of those.”

Celia: “Perish the thought. I wouldn’t deprive the world that way.”

GM: “Which one would you take? Are you a top or a bottom, or does the truth depend on the mask?”

Celia: “I’m a switch. I change to be what’s needed.”

GM: “I think I’m a bottom at heart. But I can switch.”

Celia: “Sometimes it’s nice to give up control.”

GM: “It’s an expression of trust. If someone can hurt you and they don’t.”

Celia: Jade twists in his arms, lifting her face to look up at him.

“Does he?”

GM: Josua grins. “Only in fun ways. So I guess not really.”

“Everyone says Ventrue have sticks up their asses, but he’s very laid back.”

“He’s helping me when he doesn’t have to.”

Celia: “Everyone has a reason they do things, even if they’re not readily apparent.” She pauses just long enough. “Personally I think it’s because you’re adorable.”

GM: He gives a velvety laugh. “Of course. My good looks.”

“They got me almost everywhere in life, I guess the Requiem shouldn’t be any different.”

Celia: “You don’t sound very enthused about that idea.”

GM: He pauses. “I wonder, sometimes, if they’re why my sire turned me.”

“Maybe I’d be happier if I’d been just a little less handsome.”

He smiles. “But not too much less. Only a little.”

Celia: “One of those famous writers once said that the most important days of our lives are the day we were born and the day we find out why. I think the same can be said of anyone who was turned without a choice.”

GM: “She turned me and just… disappeared. I still have no idea why.”

Celia: “You could let it consume you, let that question turn you into a bitter shrew. Obsess over it. Wonder why you were abandoned, why she didn’t stick around, wonder if it’s because you somehow didn’t measure up, like you weren’t good enough, like it’s acceptable to just pull someone from their life and ruin it and ditch them, like maybe you were a mistake all along, or a moment of passion that turned into regret.”

“And that’s fine. Plenty of licks do that. Plenty of people, too.”

“Or…” She turns fully, perched on his lap once more, knees bent with her arms around his neck. “You can accept that sometimes… sometimes there isn’t a grand plan. Sometimes things don’t happen for a reason. Sometimes you get a shitty sire and someone else cares enough about you to take you in.”

GM: “You are right there,” he grants. “I could’ve been Embraced as a thin-blood. Or been found by a thin-blood.”

Celia: “My breather family,” she says at length. “My sister was adopted. Her bio mom didn’t care enough about her to lay off the bottle, and she had a rough go of it. Bounced around foster care. We met and hit it off, and my mom brought her into the family, and they’ve been happy. No blood binds them, but they’ve got a better relationship than most people I knew.”

GM: “That’s a happy ending for them both.”

“Is she hot?”

“Your sister and all.”

Celia: “Oooh, yeah, not gonna happen.”

GM: “Ah, well. You’re hotter anyways, I bet.”

Celia: “I am.”

GM: “She must be happy, though. My dad was a douchebag too. For a long time, all I wanted was to fill that hole. Not many people get to.”

Celia: Jade makes a sound that might be choked laughter.

“Yeah,” she says, “I know that feeling.”

GM: “Douche dad too?”

Celia: “Abusive.”

GM: “That’s just a travesty. Like defacing the Sistine Chapel.”

Celia: It almost comes out then. The whole story about dinner, the apology, wanting to make amends.

But that’s a truth she isn’t ready to talk about, and it’s not just her unlife on the line.

“Yours too, sounds like.”

GM: “He wasn’t abusive. He just walked out and never paid child support.”

“One of my sisters still has some serious self-esteem and abandonment issues from it.”

Celia: “Sometimes it’s easier to cut someone out when you realize they’re toxic than coping with their absence.”

GM: “Easier said than done for a lot of people.”

“But this is getting glum.”

Celia: “What, you’re not turned on by emotional pain?”

She tsks at him.

GM: He laughs. “I’ve seen some weird fetishes, but never that one.”

“But you have a beautiful man with his arms around you. I have a beautiful woman on my lap.” He plants a kiss against her neck.

Celia: “Oh, no, no,” she murmurs, shaking her head. “I know how this goes. You tell me how pretty I am, I let you seduce me, we fuck again, I miss the rest of the party I’m supposed to be at…” She makes no move to get off his lap despite her protests.

GM: His hands start to massage her breasts as he plants kisses along her cheek.

“The party is wherever you are.”

Celia: Oh.


That’s certainly true.

GM: “It’s their fault if they didn’t get the memo where it was at.”

Celia: “How selfish of me to deny them my presence.”

“But logistically,” she murmurs, arching her back to lean into his touch, “they wouldn’t all fit in your room, and even if I were inclined to skip it and take you again, there’s the issue that I’d lose all control and rip your pretty throat out, and then you’d never let me turn you into a girl so we can tag-team Marcel.”

“And that, Josua, would be a travesty.”

GM: “I suppose you’re right,” he says wistfully. “When do you want to do that?”

Celia: “Mmm… sometime this week? I can make myself available.” She offers Tuesday or Wednesday.

GM: “Hmm, Wednesday’s better,” says Josua. “I’ll check things with Marcel.”

Celia: “Let me know. In the meantime, I don’t suppose I could talk you into smuggling me out of here and giving me a lift back to the Quarter?”

GM: Josua laughs. “You wouldn’t rather stay for round two? Are you sure?”

Celia: “I’d like to. I’d really, really like to.”

GM: “I know you would. You’re a switch. You’ve only seen half of all I can be…”

Celia: “Hard to say no when you put things like that…” Her fingers slide through his, halting the movement of the hands on her body before the rest of her self-control can slip away. Even if she didn’t have to go she couldn’t stay, not when it means poaching to avoid a bigger mess. Another twist and her lips find the corner of his mouth. “But I need to go. We’ll save it for next time when I turn you into my pretty little girl. Come, though, be a good boy and I might even let you worship me on the way back.”

GM: Josua sinks rapturously into the kiss, his tongue hungrily seeking out hers.

“Oh, but it’ll be a whole new way for us to fuck once I’m a girl… a whole new way of worshiping you… there are so many ways you can be worshiped, mistress, and so many you deserve to be worshiped… none of them enough… but mere men must try…”

He doesn’t try to remove his hands from Celia’s, but lowers them and casually hikes up the hem of her dress.

“Tonight we can still do it without protection… there’s only two nights we can do that… let me show you something, mistress, I think you’ll like it…”

Still holding Celia’s hands, as though because she hasn’t given him permission to let go, Josua bows his head and nimbly snakes it under her dress. He starts to lick her in her sweetest spot, just like Roderick does. But Roderick never did it with such an air of pure pleasure, pure joy, from pleasuring her.

Then, also unlike Roderick, Josua sinks his fangs into the flesh just above her clit. Celia feels the ecstasy of the kiss take immediate hold, shuddering up her loins like an electric current as her clanmate sucks her blood. His tongue simultaneously laps around her little nub in long, soft, counterlockwise circles. Pleasing the Man (the Woman) and the Beast at once.

He finally lets go of her hands. His fingers slowly and softly find their way towards her g-spot, then stroke it in steady rhythmic motions.

Celia: Words themselves lose all meaning. Thoughts dissolve into fragmented snippets of sensation: falling, drowning, and an overwhelming ember that starts a fire in her core. It burns. She burns. “Stah—” she thinks she might say, but without the pop of her lips to form the P it’s just more noise percolating through the atmosphere. Currents of electricity buzz through her body. Her back arches, the girl made marionette through tongue and teeth and fingertip.

Her protest dies before it has a chance to live. She succumbs.

GM: Josua brings her over the edge. She’s not even sure how many times he does so; it all blurs together under the ceaseless ecstasy of the kiss, gasm after gasm that turn her thighs to jelly. At some point he switches positions, 69ing with her so that she can suck the blood he’s taken back out of his (erect) cock. The fire in her core burns and burns and consumes him too, until they’re both guttered out and smoldering in one another’s arms.

“Bet they wouldn’t have worshiped you at that silly party,” Josua purrs, his tongue idly tracing a path across her labia.

The clock, however, tells another story. If she doesn’t hurry, the party may be almost over.

Celia: The mention of the party is enough to clear the fog from her mind. She sits up suddenly, breath hissing from between her teeth. Josua finds himself quickly displaced when she rises to her feet.

“Shit,” she says, pulling her dress down.

“Shit, shit, shit,” she says, reaching for her purse.

“Shit,” she says, glaring at the door where beyond waits guards and licks and ghouls and who knows what else that will try to keep her from making it back in time to do… anything.

“Come on,” she says to him, reaching for his hand. “Show me the way out.”

GM: There’s also the window, if she cares to take a swim.

Celia: She has wings, she doesn’t need to swim.

GM: “That’s not usually what a partner likes to hear after sex,” Josua replies amusedly, but pulls on his pants. “All right, though. Follow me.”

Celia: Unless he’s going to take her all the way to the border… maybe the window is the better bet. She eyes it. Then asks.

GM: “We don’t really keep any cars on board here, but I can hail a Ryde to take you to your party.”

Celia: “No,” she says finally, “we’ll pretend we’re in high school, only the roles are reversed.” Jade crosses to the window and shoves it open. “Keep my painting safe for me. I’ll be back to collect it.”

She takes a step back, then launches herself through the open window. Her body twists and she disappears with a flap of wings.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett XV
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Ayame III

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia XXII
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia XXIV

Story Twelve, Caroline XVI

“What makes a traitor so reviled, effective, and dangerous is that you do not suspect them.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t begin to know how to frame this one: it’s going to take more resources then she typically works with to explain the use of highly controlled military weapons in such numbers—at least in the face of any substantial scrutiny.

For the moment, she settles for working to get the cars near each other—to a passerby it might simply look like a horrific three car accident at high speed. Ferris sets to work policing the spent brass, gathering the automatic weapons and rocket launchers, and the like and hiding them at the edge of the woods.

She and Gisèlle work to mange any cars that pull up, that stop in the night. Altering memories, sending them on their way as though they’d seen just an accident, or a dead animal in the road.

GM: Midway through the group’s labors, the invisible staked figure suddenly becomes plain to Caroline’s sight. He’s a black-haired and tan-skinned man with Middle Eastern features in seemingly his late 20s. He’s lean-framed, shorter than her, and dressed in the same camo garb as his men.

Caroline: Caroline takes the opportunity to badly break both of his arms, his wrists, and fingers, stomping on them.

She’s taken enough chances tonight. He had his shot.

GM: “Shame we can’t just cut them off,” remarks Ferris.

Caroline: He’s right, unfortunately. Removing limbs is a prolonged and messy business for someone without supernatural strength, much less without sawing implements.

“Left my sword at home,” Caroline grins.

GM: “I’d be surprised if none of these people had bladed weapons. They were clearly targeting Kindred.”

Caroline: She takes the opportunity to check him for any ID, or clearly identifying marks.

GM: His ID card says Rajab al-Beydoun was born on June 4th, 1987 and is an organ donor. He also has a multitude of further weapons on his person, including a long combat knife.

Caroline: Caroline relieves the assassin of his weapons while they wait.

GM: The helicopter eventually lands. Hurst gets out with three ghouls who Caroline doesn’t recognize. He immediately rushes to Becky Lynne’s side, embraces her, and asks if she is all right. She answers in the affirmative, though sadly states that Peggy is dead, along with several others. Hurst shakes his head at the whole scene.

“Well, Eiren, it looks like a lucky thing you were here first,” says the aedile, nodding towards Caroline.

Caroline: “Lucky,” Caroline agrees.

As though the assassin hadn’t sought her out.

“Sometimes things just come together that way.”

GM: “So they do.” Hurst looks around the scene. “We got room for three, besides the pilot. Who’s coming back besides my sister?”

“Of course you’d say me,” smiles Becky Lynne. “The seneschal wants Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, myself, and our friend with the wood in his heart.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

“I have additional ghouls enroute,” she offers. “Including my cleaner. She’ll do what she can here. They’re manpower if nothing else. They left via car shortly after our first conversation, Aedile Hurst.”

GM: “Good news,” says Hurst. He hefts the staked vampire over his shoulder, waving off any of the women who attempt to help. He seats the assassin down into the helicopter and secures the seatbelt straps around his body.

Becky Lynne takes the seat next to her brother. Caroline is left to sit beside her would-be killer.

Caroline: She takes a seat next to him, wearing his knife, with her stake shoved in his chest. She tries not to look smug about it.

GM: The frozen-faced assassin doesn’t look like much of anything.

Hurst pilots the helicopter back to New Orleans, chatting with Becky Lynne along the way about how events down, and finally lands on Perdido House’s helipad. They are greeted on the roof by Robert Congo, who offers to take the assassin’s body, but Hurst says he’ll manage it.

The ghoul escorts them to Maldonato’s office, where the seneschal patiently awaits the group from behind his desk. Becky Lynne dips into a curtsy. Hurst bows and sets down the assassin on one of the room’s chairs.

Caroline: Caroline mirrors the older Ventrue.

She can’t deny there is relief to be back in the city—it washed over her when the city’s lights appeared over the horizon.

It’s a greater relief to be back in Perdido House, before the seneschal. That the two might turn on her at any moment during the flight was a possibility she had considered. The assassins’ knife had laid heavy against her thigh, loose in its sheath.

If it had come down to it she’d have let the Beast off its chains. Let it and the crash sort things out. Better than going quietly.

She’s glad it didn’t.

GM: “I am pleased your mission tonight has been successful,” Maldonato states as he surveys the three. “Risk has been ventured. Reward is now our due.”

He turns to the assassin. The stake removes itself from the vampire’s chest.

“Identify yourself.”

The broken-limbed man offers a bow from the chair.

“I am Raaid ibn Badr bint Khalil bint Nazeeha bint Fatima bint Thetmes ibn Sha’hiri ibn Haqim, Your Grace.”

Caroline: The information is less valuable than the identity of his employer, or confirmation of his target, but she allows the seneschal to play his cards as he will. He’s been at the game for far longer than she has.

GM: “I am sorry that we must meet under these circumstances,” says Raaid. “Your name is not unknown in Alamut.”

“Nor, evidently, is mine the only such name,” answers the seneschal. “Whom was your contract upon, son of Haqim?”

“The childe of Prince Augusto Vidal, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers,” answers Raaid.

Hurst’s eyebrows raise.

Becky Lynne’s don’t.

Caroline: Caroline bites back a hiss.

So much for the longevity of that secret.

An assassin, brought from around the world to kill her, within nights of her presentation.

GM: “From whom did Alamut receive her contract?” inquires Maldonato.

“I do not know,” answers Raaid.

The seneschal stares at him for several moments.

“You speak truly, son of Haqim, though I would have been surprised had you spoken falsely in this matter.”

Raaid inclines his head.

Caroline: There are plenty that would see her dead. There are fewer that might confidently name her the prince’s childe.

GM: “The contract upon Miss Malveaux-Devillers has failed,” states Maldonato. “Do traditions remain as they once did in Alamut? Are further contracts upon your target closed?”

“That is as things long were,” says Raaid. “Jamal no longer sits upon the Black Throne. Alamut may consider it a point of honor to avenge my final death and complete the outstanding contract.”

“That is unfortunate for us all,” replies the seneschal. “I would be inclined to release you as a gesture of goodwill to Alamut, if I knew for certain that further contracts upon Miss Malveaux-Devillers were closed. Yet I do not believe her sire shall be so forgiving.”

Raaid inclines his head again.

“This, too, is known to us.”

“If there are questions you would ask of our guest, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, you may do so now,” Maldonato bids.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I have several, Seneschal, thank you.”

She turns on the crippled vampire, eyeing him warily.

“You fought well. Very well.”

GM: Raaid offers another inclination of his head at Caroline’s words.

Caroline: “Were you given a time and location I would be at to conduct your strike, or did you arrange circumstances that would pull me from the city?”

GM: “I was given a time and location.”

Caroline: There are painfully few that might have arranged such a thing.

She nods. “I know little of Alamut, so please forgive my ignorance. It seems that in your, or my, victory or defeat, this contract could have provided no peace. I am months in the Blood, expendable. But no matter the victor between us, hatred seems now destined to continue between our masters. Is it the way of Alamut to become more than the blade between two foes, to become a foe itself?”

“I would speak plainly with you. It is not my desire to become leverage used to place my sire in conflict with others by his enemies. By your hire, this appears unavoidable.”

GM: “So long as the defeated perish honorably, that is not Alamut’s way,” answers Raaid. “We have rendered judgment upon the Get of Khayvin since time immemorial. Many rafiq have met final death in pursuit of Haqim’s will. If Alamut sought vengeance for every fallen son and daughter, we would have enemies beyond count—though individual sires may find it harder to forget a childe’s final death.”

“Alamut does not forget foes whose treatment of our defeated sons and daughters profanes Haqim’s name. One of the rafiq during the wars along the Eastern Seaboard was captured by a foul Tzimisce, given a degrading new form, blood bound, and mentally conditioned to believe himself a ghoul and plaything for his captor’s pleasure. His foul use and prostitution was a stain upon the honor of our clan. For this offense, Alamut took out contracts upon him and his captor. I shall hope for all our sakes to meet a cleaner death.”

Caroline: “If released, what message would you carry back to your masters?” Caroline asks.

GM: “That I have failed to complete the contract and Caroline Malveaux-Devillers yet walks the night.”

Caroline: “That is all?” Caroline probes.

GM: “There is nothing else of concern to them.”

“A contract was taken out. The contract was not completed.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Then we must all do as our masters bid. One final question: how long ago was the contract taken out upon me?”

GM: “I do not know,” answers Raaid. “I was ordered to fulfill your contract but recently. Whomever wishes you dead might have contacted Alamut anywhere from nights to years before then—though in your case, likely no earlier than six months.”

“You too fought well, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. All the more so for one so young. Your enemy is wise to contract your final death before you have time to grow more formidable in the Blood.”

Caroline: Caroline inclines her head in respect, then turns once more to the seneschal.

“I have asked my questions, Seneschal.”

“For what it may matter, I hold no ill will, and would see him banished, or if he must be slain, that it be done cleanly.”

GM: “What of the fact Miss Malveaux-Devillers asked for your release, sir?” asks Becky Lynne. “Will that go a ways towards smoothing over any ruffled feathers with Alamut?”

“I will be held no worse or higher in the rafiq’s esteem,” says Raaid. “Either way, I will have failed to complete my contract. Miss Malveaux-Devillers may be viewed more favorably.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue.

There’s little more to add now. If the assassin has been honest it is in God’s hands, and her sire’s.

The use of her ancestry in the attack tells her something, but little more than how the attack was arranged. How carefully it played to not only her own weaknesses, but those of the seneschal.

She supposes this is what her Requiem will be.

Her remaining questions, for Adler, are not the business of the assassin.

GM: Maldonato steeples his fingers as he regards the Assamite.

“Traditions in Alamut are not as they once were, son of Haqim. Would you make a second attempt upon Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ unlife if released?”

“If commanded to,” answers Raaiad.

“A debt too would you owe her, son of Haqim, if she contrived to spare your unlife.”

“That is so,” grants Raaid. “If Alamut commanded me to end her unlife, I would be able to fulfill but one obligation. But I do not believe my superiors would still entrust me to complete Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ contract after having failed once already.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “If released under those circumstances, would you see fit to convey warning to me if further attempts were forthcoming? Not of their details, that might betray your covenants, but of their intent?”

GM: “Surprise is an assassin’s greatest weapon. Is not such a warning still betrayal?”

Caroline: “Is not a departure from the old ways without such a warning dishonorable?”

GM: “The Shepherd now sits upon the Black Throne. His word is Haqim’s, and Haqim’s word is tradition. If the Eldest would overturn prior tradition, the rafiq will obey.”

Caroline: “I would not presume otherwise,” Caroline agrees. “We must all be loyal servants to our masters.”

“I seek only a way you might honor your oaths while repaying any debt.”

She bites her tongue. “Might you delay your reporting of this?” she asks.

GM: “I would not,” replies Raaid. “But if you wished to hold me here, I could not stop you.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip.

“That is an option,” she muses.

“My murder will mean far less in a year than tonight, for many interested parties.”

And hopefully be rather more difficult.

GM: “Our guest gives utterance to a thought he knows has already occurred to us,” states Maldonato. “If a second assassination attempt may follow the first, we shall endeavor to delay it by all means available. When are you expected to report back to your superiors, son of Haqim?”

“I am to return to Alamut when the contract is fulfilled, or when I believe it may no longer be fulfilled,” states Raaiad. “My superiors informed me the contract was time-sensitive.”

“How time-sensitive?”

“That every further passing night was undesirable.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face says everything at that admission.

GM: “If you had fulfilled your contract, how long would your journey back to the Mountain have taken you?” inquires Maldonato.

The assassin inclines his head. “I cannot stop Your Grace if you wish to view my thoughts, but I will not divulge that information freely.”

“We do not seek the Mountain’s secrets, son of Haqim,” states Maldonato. “Nor do I believe we might divine Alamut’s location through the contents of your mind alone.”

“Nevertheless, we shall not compel you to divulge that information, and we will err on the side of caution. You shall remain staked in Perdido House for one month.”

“One month’s time lost is preferable to an Istirja lost, Your Grace,” answers the Assamite. “I have no complaints.”

Caroline: She bets he doesn’t. Attempt to murder the prince’s childe and suffer a month staked.

She’s suffered worse for less. She distinctly remembers a night in which Donovan leaped across a table and unceremoniously staked her before leaving her for a weekend in a basement beside other undesirables.

GM: :: Your sire’s knowledge of this Kindred’s actions will result his final death. If you are sincere in your desire to see Raaid ibn Badr’s unlife spared, I would not bid you lie to your sire, but nor would I counsel you to reveal more than is asked for. ::

Caroline: That thought immediately turns her stomach, snatches the euphoria from this victory away.

It also demands she push back against the very idea.

:: I would not withhold information from him for Raaid ibn Badr’s sake. ::

:: I would spare him a battle on my behalf. ::

GM: :: The choice is yours, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. ::

Caroline: :: I will not lie to him, :: Caroline clarifies.

:: But you know better than any his wrath, how he would treat this attack. What he seeks he will find, but I will not lead him there. Not unless the circumstances surrounding this require it. ::

A pause.

:: You know she isn’t entirely innocent in this matter. ::

GM: The stake rises aloft and plunges back into the Assamite’s breast.

“Primogen Hurst, please move Raaid ibn Badr to one of the holding cells.”

“I shall also trust that your clan’s elders will not discover you were made aware of Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ lineage before they.”

“Lips are zipped ‘til they’re the ones to tell me, Your Grace,” nods Hurst as he hefts up the assassin’s body.

“Gabe, you can get a ghoul to do that for you,” smiles Becky Lynne.

Hurst chuckles. “You know I don’t mind gettin’ my hands dirty, sis. Good night, Your Grace, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.” The primogen nods to Maldonato and Caroline.

“Good night, Primogen Hurst.”

“I’ll see you soon, Gabe.”

Caroline: Caroline watches the exchange silently.

An act? Difficult to tell. They certainly appear to have affection for one another. How that arose from Matheson’s cruelty is a question for the ages.

The sight dredges up suppressed desires. The image of Cécilia, immortal alongside her, potent like so few neonates in the blood. Fully brought into this world, an ally she can rely upon like no other. She knows well she’ll never share another sister-in-blood as Hurst does, but she could share something different, almost entirely unique. Cécilia, not the observer and adviser, but an active participant in the All-Night Society. Cécilia, never growing old. Never dying.

She buries the urge as Hurst turns to leave. A few nights ago she’d never dreamed she would even have Cécilia as a part of this life at all. She’d feared her connection to her family would die with the bishop’s demands. Now she wants to see her murdered, see the life drained from her body, so she can prey on mortals in the night alongside her.


GM: Cécilia said she’d do it. That she would accept this burden. There’s less need for a Malveaux marriage with Caroline brought into the family.

Hurst, meanwhile, takes his leave of the office and closes its door behind him.

:: If you would question Miss Adler, you may do so now, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. But take heed that she may yet prove a potent ally. ::

Caroline: She rolls that idea over. Adler might indeed. But not if she knew. Not if she was a part of this.

She rounds on the other Kindred. “Ms. Adler. I regret that you were drawn into this, used as the bait to this trap, and that you suffered as a result.” She buries the Ventrue honorifics around the Lasombra elder.

She also buries the ‘but’, instead pausing for a moment before taking a breath and continuing.

“You heard what the assassin said. This attack required careful coordination and timing. It required knowledge of how both I, and the seneschal would react. If there is something you believe might be disclosed which would help identify the contract holder, I would request you do so now.”

Because when I find them, I am going to rip their treacherous heart from their chest.

GM: “Thank you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” says Becky Lynne. “Though I’d say poor Peggy suffered worse than me. I’m still unliving, at least.”

“I’m afraid I can’t think of anything that would help identify whoever’s behind this. This entire thing came as a surprise.”

Caroline: The gentle smile fades.

“Ms. Adler, who knew of our planned meeting tonight?” Caroline probes.

“That matter could not have been widely circulated.”

GM: “No one I’d suspect of having a part in tonight’s events, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” Becky Lynne answers frankly. “I might ask you the same question, and whether any prying ears have access to your haven.”

Caroline: “Ms. Adler, until Peggy’s arrival, I’d expected to meet you in person. No one on my staff, including myself, knew you were in Gulfport. This leak did not come from my side. Not because we are above suspicion, but because we were incapable of executing it.”

“Someone knew where you would be. They knew we would be speaking and when. They pulled massive levers to create a circumstance that would entice me to respond, and in addition they knew the seneschal’s own likely response.”

“They were able to provide all the way down to a date and time, predicting reactions accurately, with enough notice to have an assassin travel from across the world to execute.”

“An assassin hired with extremely sensitive, privileged, information.”

“That you do not suspect those parties knowledgeable of this does not relieve them of suspicion. We have a traitor in our midst.”

“What makes a traitor so reviled, effective, and dangerous is that you do not suspect them. That they are above suspicion. That you trust them.”

“This traitor is perfectly willing and able to use you as leverage. To threaten your Requiem and exploit the seneschal’s affection for you to entice him into taking risks he otherwise would not.”

She saves her trump card for now. The missing bodyguard. The suspicion that she’d poisoned him. There’s no need to make allegations yet.

Better to bait the trap, to see how Adler responds.

There are circumstances in which she could imagine Adler blameless. Though not innocent. She knows something.

“Ms. Adler, it worked. They know they have a lever. And because it worked they will target you again, as acceptable collateral damage if required, to get to not only me, but the seneschal.”

GM: “Foreknowledge of your activities does not imply knowing or willful participation in this evening’s events, Miss Adler,” Maldonato states calmly. “Individuals with such knowledge may have been ignorant or unwilling accessories. Nothing is yet established. It is for the sakes of those close to you as well our own sakes that I would know whom was aware of your meeting tonight with Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”

Becky Lynne listens between Caroline and the seneschal.

“Outside of Peggy, only my sire and Primogen Hurst were aware of my itinerary,” the other Ventrue answers. “It’s certainly also possible that other Kindred could have stolen that information from them or me, through a variety of means.”

“Because it doesn’t make sense to me that it would have been one of them. Not, as Miss Malveaux-Devillers says, because they are above suspicion, but because they were incapable of executing tonight’s events. My sire knows, if I may be frank, very little about the contemporary workings of Whitney Hancock, federal law enforcement, and legal institutions. My brother-in-blood doesn’t have enough pull in those groups to have arranged tonight’s events. Very few Kindred could have done so.”

“My sire could have hired the Banu Haqim assassin, but I wouldn’t be inclined to suspect Mr. Ibn Badr of arranging these events either. I’m to understand his clan favors more direct means of moving against their targets than influence games.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. “A boon perhaps, called in?”

She doesn’t comment on how inconvenient it is that ‘Peggy’ is not available to be questioned.

GM: “Am I to understand you’re hypothesizing my sire called in such a boon, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” Becky Lynne asks.

The Ventrue’s voice is mild enough, but certainly cooler.

Caroline: “I’m speculating someone might have called in a boon from your sire or brother, Ms. Adler,” Caroline clarifies quickly.

“I think it less likely they would so overtly risk you in this way—to say nothing of the appalling Masquerade breaches associated with this attack, and the damage it may do to your own personal Masquerade.”

“Such information may have appeared less sensitive than it proved to be.”

GM: “You think they could have disclosed my itinerary for a boon called in,” Becky Lynne clarifies. “That’s certainly one way someone might have found out, but to me it’d seem suspicious to spend a boon over it—why not simply ask and claim an innocuous reason, like wanting to meet with me over something?”

“For that matter, why ask either Kindred about their childe’s or sibling minor’s availability. Much easier to ask Peggy.”

Caroline: Because you were also compelled to dispatch your bodyguard and travel alone this night.

GM: “I don’t advertise my trips to Gulfport, and Peggy knows—knew, not to do the same, but there are many ways to make a ghoul talk.”

Caroline: Caroline is trying to offer her an out, trying to find an explanation that doesn’t make the seneschal’s favorite neonate into a knowing conspirator, but Adler is playing her role too well.

She’s well aware of how easy it was to make Peggy talk.

GM: “It is regrettable that we cannot question her, Miss Adler,” states Maldonato. “Yet more regrettable to you, I am certain, is the loss of a faithful servant. I am sorry that Miss Sweet’s life was claimed by tonight’s events.”

Becky Lynne bows her head.

“Thank you, Seneschal. She was faithful. She will be mourned.”

Caroline: Caroline gives that thought a moment to cool before continuing, not wanting to interrupt.

“There was nothing else unusual about tonight Ms. Adler, prior to your apprehension?”

GM: Becky Lynne seems to think.

“No, nothing especially so. I wish I could say more. As you observe, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, I’ve been targeted by these events as well. Directly and indirectly. I can’t even imagine the headache that’s going to await at the bank tomorrow—and it’s going to be all the more inconvenient to respond to, given the state of things with my mortal identity.”

She gives a faint smile.

“I suppose we’ll be in need of legal counsel that’s more sensitive to our needs than a kine law firm.”

She inclines her head again towards Maldonato.

“But you’ll forgive me, Your Grace. Your time is valuable and these neonates’ nightly dealings and concerns are not yours.”

Caroline: “Ms. Adler,” Caroline interrupts more gently.

“Almost half of the city’s Ventrue have been destroyed in the last year. Another has had his reputation so badly mauled he may never return to the city. Two more by all rights should have been destroyed tonight.”

She pauses.

“We’re losing. To everyone, and everywhere. Being dismantled. Picked off one by one and two by two.”

GM: Becky Lynne nods somberly.

“So we are, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. It’s my hope your sire may see fit to bring new blood into the clan, or perhaps invite older blood to relocate itself to the city.”

“Something needs to make up for these losses.”

Caroline: “Until then, I would fewer secrets between us, and greater alignment of purpose.”

She runs a tongue across her fangs, “When I sought to speak with you tonight in the first place it was to disclose something I believed might be of interest to you.”

“Richard Gettis is alive.”

GM: :: This conversation is best held on your and Miss Adler’s own time than mine, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, if it is not immediately germane to the events of tonight. ::

Becky Lynne raises her eyebrows.

“Oh, my goodness. That is something to hear. Is he one of us?”

Caroline: She’d hoped to off-balance the other Ventrue, to set her up for a push on the topic of her missing bodyguard, but she can all but feel the seneschal’s lack of patience. His frustration that his favorite neonate, his chosen heir to the throne, his dirty secret, isn’t interested in playing ball.

Speaking to her with the seneschal was a mistake.

He cannot be objective where she is concerned.

“I’m certain you have many things to see to Ms. Adler. When you’re interested in that story, the full story so far as I know, my door is always open.”

GM: “I should very much be, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” offers Becky Lynne. “I imagine we’ll have a great many things to discuss together.”

She turns to regard the seneschal, only for him to preempt her.

“I require access to your thoughts, Miss Adler,” Maldonato states without preamble. “Will you consent to allow me ingress?”

“I am our prince’s obedient subject,” Becky Lynne answers demurely. “May I inquire as to what Your Grace hopes to find?”

“I hope to find explanation for your alleged poisoning of your bodyguard, Miss Adler.”

Caroline: Caroline falls silent.

She’s too accustomed to working within the limits of her own abilities, of her own influence. Simply invading Adler’s mind had not occurred to her.

GM: Becky Lynne’s eyebrows raise again.

“I have nothing to hide, Your Grace.”

The seneschal holds her gaze for several moments.

“You do not,” he declares summarily, “but another does. You poisoned your ghoul at the subliminal command of another, Miss Adler, and were thereafter compelled to forget the deed.”

“Miss Sweet has rendered us all a further service since her death, for it was she who raised this matter to others’ attentions.”

Caroline: She’ll render a second if Caroline has any say in it. Sweet’s death, unfortunate though it may be, is a convenient writeout for Adler’s identity, and using the corpse on scene vice killing another to stand in her place is not only efficient but moral.

All the same, she bows her head for a moment.

She’s lost more ghouls than the average lick. She rarely handled it as well as Adler has.

“A well-conceived use,” she observes after a moment. “If Miss Sweet, Miss Adler, and I had all perished as intended, this secret would have been neatly buried.”

“I don’t imagine many had both opportunity and capability to do so.”

GM: “Even had not one of you perished tonight, this deed might have escaped our notice without Miss Malveaux-Devillers’ and Miss Sweet’s vigilant attentions,” answers Maldonato.

“Great thanks do I owe Peggy indeed,” Becky Lynne offers, bowing her head again.

“May I inquire by whose urging I was made to harm another of my servants, Seneschal?”

“You may not, Miss Alder,” Maldonato answers without elaboration. “Yet I do not believe you have immediate cause to fear further invasion of your mind.”

Caroline: That catches her attention as the list of suspects for this attack grows short.

GM: He withdraws his pocketwatch from his coat to examine its face.

“These events have claimed much of my time this evening. I may spare none further and have heard all I need hear. The Masquerade still must needs be observed. You and Miss Malveaux-Devillers will return to the battle site and ensure all evidence of our kind’s hand is erased. I do not believe your Requiems will be at further risk by doing so. Robert Congo awaits outside the door and will make available whatever resources you require.”

Caroline: “By your will, Seneschal,” Caroline acknowledges.

GM: “By Your Grace’s will,” Becky Lynne repeats. “Thank you, on my and my kin’s behalf, for the aid you have rendered us tonight.”

She rises, dips into another curtsy, then departs the office with Caroline.

The assassin’s attack may have been foiled, but the night’s work does not seem done.

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Robert Congo awaits attentively outside his domitor’s office.

“Another pilot for the helicopter has already been arranged,” states Congo. “Is there aught else madams require?”

Caroline: Other than disclosure on who pulled the strings on tonight?

“Not for me, Mr. Congo,” Caroline replies. “Most of my people are already en route. They should arrive around the same time we will via helicopter.”

GM: “I’d offer to bring some more of my own, but between Miss Malveaux-Devillers’, my brother’s, and the seneschal’s, I think we’ll have enough ghouls to go around,” volunteers Adler.

“Very good, madams. You may then return without delay,” states Congo. “The pilot is not a ghoul. His memory may require alteration if he sees anything amiss.”

“Landing where we do may be amiss enough,” considers Becky Lynne. “But thank you, Mr. Congo. We’ll see the First Tradition is observed around him as well.”

“Hm, actually, there is no need for that,” the Ventrue seemingly reconsiders. “I’d rather not add more work to what’s ahead tonight.”

“I don’t have an actual pilot’s certificate, but my brother has shown me how to fly this specific model of helicopter.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head.

GM: “Very good, then, madam,” states Congo.

“Perhaps better you make the flight yourselves.”

He shows the two back up to Perdido House’s roof and informs the waiting pilot, a still-handsome 40- or 50-something man whom he addresses as Mr. Barber, that his services will no longer be required. He will still be compensated for his time.

Caroline: Caroline gives the man a second glance, but not a third, as she and Adler climb into the helicopter.

She has to admit that it makes for much smoother ride than the seneschal’s powers.

GM: Barber seems happy not to make a flight out at this late hour if he’s still getting paid and takes his leave, though not before giving Caroline and Becky Lynne second glances too.

“I wouldn’t mind flying you lovely ladies at a saner hour,” he smiles.

Becky Lynne chuckles goodnaturedly at that. “Perhaps you’ll get to someday, Mr. Barber.”

Caroline’s clanmate takes somewhat longer than Hurst did in getting everything ready and double-checking things, but soon has the helicopter aloft again. The whir of the chopper’s wings makes the cockpit a less than quiet space, but there’s enough insulation for the two to speak.

“Well, I suppose there’s no time like the present now on the matter of Richard Gettis,” says Becky Lynne.

Caroline: Caroline isn’t certain that there’s no better time—a frenzying vampire flying a helicopter seems like a recipe for disaster—but doesn’t argue the point.

“He’s a ghoul,” she begins.

“A very, very old ghoul. Blurs the line between independent ghoul and hunter, but of late he’s leaned towards the former.”

GM: The other Ventrue frowns in thought.

“What makes you say so in that regard, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?”

“I’d think hunters would have more reason to target the Whitneys than independent ghouls.”

Caroline: “Because the last time I saw him directly he was working with agents of Mr. Savoy, and I have a credible report that he has longstanding ties to him. Mind you, he’s hardly the first hunter to take up with him. His stance is significantly more agreeable than that of my sire towards them.”

GM: “Ah, yes. I’d heard much the same,” says Becky Lynne. “I suppose it’s no surprise. He always has been more willing to seek friends in low places.”

Caroline: “I don’t know what the plan was, shooting my sister and your niece, but I doubt it was a spur of the moment decision.”

GM: “My niece, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?”

The other Ventrue sounds only mildly surprised, as if Caroline is simply mistaken.

Caroline: “It took me a while,” Caroline admits. “Longer than it should have, but I trust you’ll grant that I had admittedly pressing concerns early on.”

“But few things escape my notice these nights.”

GM: “The seneschal is a good friend to have,” Becky Lynne concurs.

“I trust you’ll further understand my and my sire’s reservations as to any Kindred’s involvement with the Whitney family.”

Caroline: “I’ve found him so, these last few nights. We seem to have found our accord,” Caroline agrees.

“And of course. I would have had stronger feelings and less kind words than you expressed at the prospect of another Kindred associating with my sisters. Your restraint was admirable, Questor Adler.”

GM: “It was for Sarah’s and the others’ benefits, as much as anything else. No reason for any neonate to get especially antsy over another Kindred’s interest in her sire’s domain, beyond looking out for his interests.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I can see many benefits to starting over, after the Embrace. Developing a new identity. It helps protect them. Keeps them out of things, as much as possible. Lets you start again, fully immerse yourself in this world, as painful as it might be to cut ties.”

GM: “Protects them, and the simple necessity of the Masquerade. I’ll turn 31, in not too many weeks. Sarah was six when I died. Now she looks about as old as I do. My father looks like he could be my grandfather. My brother looks like he could be my father. Cosmetics can only disguise the years for so long.”

Caroline: Easier for Caroline than Rebecca. Dying even a few years older means, if so inclined, she could disguise her age for decades. But it’s hard to hide a teenager’s features.

“It might have been easier, early on, if that option had been available. It might have mitigated some of the worst of my transgressions before Gerousiastis Malveaux. I don’t know that I would have had the wisdom to take it, though. Abandoning who you were is a leap of faith.”

“And without an education into the clan, or even the Camarilla, missteps would have still been all but certain.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I am grateful for that, as an aside. I know I was not an easy student.”

GM: It doesn’t help that the seeming 18-year-old’s small frame only further emphasizes her youthfulness.

“I’ve had no other students to compare you against, Eiren Malveux-Devillers, so for all I know you might have been,” Becky Lynne declares with a hint of a smile. “And it will be worth more dignitas now than it was before, I think.”

Caroline: “Only if I succeed,” Caroline observes.

GM: “That much was true anyways.”

“As to wisdom, time and experience is usually the only thing that teaches it.”

Caroline: “Not my strongest subject,” Caroline muses.

“But that brings us back to Gettis. I don’t know what his intentions were that night, but if I have an opportunity—and I intend on manufacturing one—I’m going to make him pay for it.”

GM: “That’s a worthy enough cause. I don’t imagine you’d care to chance a repeat of that night’s events. I wouldn’t either.”

Caroline: “I don’t know if you’d be interested, Questor, in being a part of that when the time comes, but it seemed right to extend the opportunity.”

GM: “Perhaps not personally, Eiren, depending on the final lay of things. But certainly in a background role.”

“I’d have no bone to pick with Richard Gettis, if I were confident he would never target another Whitney—my mama always said to keep your eye on the ball, and a feud by itself gains my family and I nothing. But without understanding Mr. Gettis’ motivations, I don’t feel able to confidently say the Whitneys won’t ever be in his crosshairs again.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. It’s a prudent view, and one she might have taken if Gettis had targeted her. He chose her sister though, and that she neither forgets nor forgives.

“I’ll keep in touch on the matter, then.”

GM: “Splendid,” says Becky Lynne.

“You’ll have to do it eventually, you know, Eiren,” she remarks a moment later.

“Disappear from their lives.”

“I suppose your sire considers another Malveaux death too much strain on the Masquerade, this soon. But in not so many years, staying will be the bigger strain.”

Caroline: “You’re more of an optimist than I’d believed, Questor,” Caroline observes lightly.

GM: Becky Lynne only gives that a faint, knowingly rueful smile as she stares out of the cockpit.

Caroline: Caroline’s mind dances back to all the negative, hostile thoughts she’s had about Adler, going back to their earliest meetings. The comment in the bathroom of Elysium, when she was trying to clean herself off. She’d thought the older Ventrue was just another petty ‘mean girl’—a type Caroline knew well. Hell, a type she was.

She reflects on her doubts even tonight. How she’d suspected Adler of plotting this, of arranging this. How ready she’d been for the stake in the back. And yet… it hadn’t come. By all available evidence Adler was as much a victim as she was—and in some ways more.

And the seneschal loves her. That thought burns bright and jealously, but the beacon makes it harder to ignore. She generally trusts his judgement.

She may yet prove a potent ally. Those words echo through her mind. Perhaps enough for a leap of faith. A sharing of secrets.

“It was all arranged, actually. I was to die quite soon. I’d burned the bridges with my father’s family almost to the ground. Destroyed my name, at the behest of Gerousiastis Malveaux. I was trying to bury as many sources of conflict between us as I could, to re-frame our relationship. It seemed to be working.”

“A painful, wasted effort it seems,” she continues.

“He was assassinated nights ago. And all of our plans have turned to ash.”

“With the final death of Gerousiastis Malveaux, someone needs to be there to pick up the Malveaux pieces. Someone loyal. Elsewise someone else will.”

“It’s funny, a year ago I might have fought him to the death for the family, for what I considered my family, but I suppose the effort wasn’t entirely wasted. His efforts weren’t entirely wasted. I don’t feel excited at he prospect of claiming them as a domain. I feel… burdened.”

“I guess, though Caroline Malveaux-Devillers will live a while longer, the Malveaux part of me is truly dead. He accomplished what he set out to—much as he did with the rest of his Requiem.”

GM: Becky Lynne raises her eyebrows at the reference to the gerousiastis’ final death.

“My goodness. His loss is a great one—to the Structure, the archdiocese, and certainly to our prince.”

“I don’t know that anyone will be able to fill his pair of shoes.”

Caroline: “Every Kindred I get close to, Questor, seems to get destroyed. Every bridge I build I find leads only to ashes.”

She bites her lip.

GM: “I don’t know the good bishop was ever much of a bridge with you, Eiren, if I’m being honest. But oh, no. This really is terrible for the clan. I suppose Praetor Bindusara won’t be visiting after all.”

Caroline: “It took me too long to kiss the ring,” Caroline admits without further elaboration as the conversation moves on.

“I don’t know that his destruction will alter the Praetor’s plans. In fact, in some ways it makes his visit all the more important.”

She runs her tongue across her teeth. “Questor Polk died with him. There are painfully few that have near to their experience with the clan’s records, but too few things that I believe might drive others to take up that mantle in earnest like the forthcoming arrival of Praetor Bindusara.”

GM: “Lord almighty, Questor Polk as well?”

Becky Lynne shakes her head.

“We can just about forget that, then. No one else is qualified to take up the mantle—I don’t think there will be any opportunities for dignitas here. The Gerousia won’t risk the local clan’s embarrassment. No, I suspect the honor will simply go to another city, now, one with more qualified archivists and genealogists.”

Caroline: “You know their minds better than I, Questor, and had they been destroyed in some terrible accident I would agree. Their murder casts quite a different pallor on it, however.”

“To wave off now would be to admit defeat, to show how badly we have been wounded. And no matter how much I believe we have—the death of two members of the Gerousia within months of each other, to say nothing of the less noteworthy deaths, cannot be denied—I do not believe my sire will show what he believes is weakness.”

“If you wish to be the king of the jungle, it’s not enough to act like a king. You must be the king. There can be no doubt. Because doubt causes chaos and one’s own demise. He knows that better than anyone.”

“Now is the time for strength.”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles ruefully.

“It’s less a question of victories and defeats, Eiren, than doin’ what best preserves the regional clan’s history. Not many Kindred outside the Structure know about our archives or the praetor’s visit, so lookin’ weak to outsiders isn’t an issue here. Just the simple fact New Orleans no longer has the region’s most qualified historian, so that mantle will pass to another city. Your sire is strategos of all the Southeast, not just our city. He sees the big picture.”

Caroline: But there are plenty of Kindred within the clan that will look to such a move, alongside the presentation of his first childe in centuries and presumptive heir, and see weakness.

She doesn’t buy it, but doesn’t argue the point with the Ventrue a decade in the Blood.

“I’ve been wrong before,” she concedes.

GM: “But, really, I suppose it’s not our concern any longer, unlike the gerousiastis’ final death. Such a tragedy. He’d been a peer to the old gerousiastes even as an aedile, but my brother hasn’t seen near as many years in the Blood. And none of the remaining questors and eirens have seen near as many as him, with Polk gone too.”

“It truly feels as if we’re diminished now, not simply letting clanmates who’ve long earned their dues finally claim them.”

“I’ll admit his personality could be rather prickly, but I always found him helpful when approached politely. Smart as a whip, too. I think he knew something about everything, to say nothing of our clan’s history—it’s so sad to think how all of that knowledge is gone forever. All of that loyalty, as well. He worshiped our prince, would have done anything for him. And I suppose the Structure will no longer have a master sorcerer on call, either. Or, really, any sorcerer without Questor Polk either.”

She shakes her head.

“This and the last year have been comparable to Katrina, at least for us blue bloods.”

Caroline: Of course he was unfailingly helpful to you, Caroline doesn’t exasperatedly declare. The childe of the second-oldest Ventrue associated with the city, who never had to fight for anything. Who had a krewe from her earliest nights and the unwavering patronage of the seneschal. Who was educated into the ways of Clan Ventrue before a messy public reveal. Who wasn’t competing with him for his domain, stomping all over it just to maintain her Masquerade.

It’s almost too convenient, when she thinks about it. Adler Embraced against the seneschal’s wishes, by a group that included a psychotic and cruel Brujah nomad and… Gerousiastis Matheson? It strains credulity, but she can’t tell in the moment if that’s because she still wants to think the worst of Adler, wants to have something to blame her for. Some imperfection.

“His assassination was well-timed,” Caroline agrees. “Six months ago it would have hurt, but not been nearly so backbreaking. The loss of a loyal priest and aedile is one thing. The murder of the bishop and member of the Gerousia is quite another.”

“And as you say, Questor, there is no one to take his place in any of his myriad roles. Perhaps the prince will invite others to the city, and certainly we will all shoulder more responsibilities, but he can only be succeeded, not replaced.”

“I wish we had met under other circumstances.”

GM: “Even six months later might have made all the difference,” Becky Lynne nods.

“But I suppose these thoughts are better saved for his remembrance, and all the clan can do now is soldier on.”

“Perhaps we’ll see other Ventrue invited to the city. Perhaps there’ll be new Embraces.”

“Perhaps some of both.”

Caroline: “Did you know, Questor?” Caroline asks.

“About me?”

GM: “No, not specifically. Though I did know that Questor Baristheaut’s childe shouldn’t have been able to revive Miss Baker from torpor with her own vitae.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “The worst kept secret in the city, I think, some nights.”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back. “In hindsight, perhaps wiser to have brought her to another Kindred, but spilled milk.”

Caroline: “I didn’t lie to her that night,” Caroline answers. “I knew some things then, but not all of it.”

GM: “I don’t think she’d begrudge you either way. We all have things we can’t talk about.”

Caroline: “Depends on what you lie about. More to point, I suppose, I wasn’t trying to manipulate her. I know she’s your friend, or at least was, Questor.”

“Lies are no way to build a relationship.”

GM: “True enough, Eiren. Honesty may be a luxury in the masked city, but it’s few Kindred—or people—who don’t enjoy luxury.”

“Miss Baker and I are on good enough terms, though we don’t spend as much time together as we used to. Our Requiems have taken us in different directions.”

Caroline: “No different than life in that way, I imagine. You drift away from your high school friends, your college friends, your young adult friends,” Caroline muses. “You don’t hate them, you just don’t see them.”

GM: “So I’ve found it,” Becky Lynne nods.

Granted, she died before making any college or young adult friends.

“The Baron is willing to let us investigate Louis Armstrong Park, by the way, so long as some of his people are there.”

“Though I’m not sure that may hold the interest or value it once did.”

Caroline: “It’s one of the few pieces I don’t have my thumb completely on,” Caroline admits.

“Such a distinctive location.”

“And such a distinctive sequence.”

GM: “I’m certain your sire or the seneschal know why you awoke there, Eiren.”

Caroline: “Verily,” Caroline agrees.

Not that they’re generally in the habit of doing so for her benefit.

“Likely not worth your time, Questor.”

GM: “I’ll simply thank the Baron’s people for their accommodation, in that case.”

“So what’s next for you, Eiren, with things as they now are?”

Caroline: It’s a good question.

“Recent events have seemingly pleased my sire. At least enough so that he has expressed willingness to acknowledge my existence and lift my head from the block. I’ve been told to expect sooner, rather than later, that I will be required to take some time away from this life to prepare for the one as his first childe in centuries.”

“I have a few house keeping matters to see too before that happens,” Caroline replies. Like exposing and destroying the sheriff.

“Things I cannot leave half-finished. Establishing and securing my hold on various pieces of my Requiem—Masquerade and otherwise. Leaving fewer loose ends. And there are several matters I intend on putting into motion.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “Some of which may be of interest to you.”

GM: “You should expect that time with him to last potentially years,” Becky Lynne nods. “But you’ll be glad for it, whatever the inconvenience. You’ll learn and receive more things than you can imagine.”

“Perhaps we might reach an arrangement over some of those unfinished matters. Which spring to mind?”

Caroline: She runs her tongue across her fangs. “I have a thin-blood ward.”

A pause. “She’s pregnant, pretty far along, but I don’t think I’ll be here long enough for her to come all the way to term. I promised I’d shelter her at least until her child was born.”

GM: “Oh, my,” says Becky Lynne. “They really can be more like kine than us.”

“I could arrange for her shelter.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, though the gesture is lost on the flying Ventrue.

“She was Embraced, if you can call it that, pretty far along.”

GM: “That’s unfortunate for her. I’m sure all she wanted was a normal life for her child.”

Caroline: “It’s all she still wants.”

She bites her lip. “It didn’t stop me from bringing her and her ‘sire’ to the hounds, but it did convince the seneschal to offer at least a temporary stay of execution.”

“As long as one of us—or specifically I—was willing to take responsibility for her.”

“I don’t think my sire would take it very well, but letting a pregnant teenager, a good Catholic girl, get executed was more than I could stomach.”

“I don’t know if the baby will survive, or what it will be, or if she’ll be spared afterwards, but it was what I could do. The least I could do.”

GM: “I don’t know if she’ll be able to get what she wants,” Becky Lynne answers frankly, “but I’d say you did all that you reasonably could, Eiren.”

“And more than some Kindred would have done.”

“You are right that your sire wouldn’t approve of you spending time and trouble on her, too. Neither would mine, for that matter.”

Caroline: “It’s easy to see why they may feel that way,” Caroline admits. “My circumstances of my Embrace and necessities of my Requiem have torn away more of my humanity than I’d like to admit. Sometimes she makes my skin crawl, just being in the same room. I look at her and I see something unnatural. We are not supposed to exist that way. The monster in me sees taint, sees perversion, an existence in a quasi-state that spits in the face of God.”

“It challenges everything we are. She can walk in the sun, she can eat and drink, she can pretend to be mortal better than we ever can—she can almost be mortal. Almost. And I hate it.”

“But I’m not all monster, not yet, and I also see a teenage girl, excited to be a mother, thrown into this hellish purgatory. Suffering. If she’d simply been murdered it would have been evil, but swift. To Embrace her would have been cruel, but decisive. This is worse than both. Because it gives her hope.”

“It’s the hope that kills you.”

GM: “Clean breaks are better,” Becky Lynne nods. “As painful as separating from my own family was, I think it spared us all more heartache in the end.”

“In so many things, you can’t have it both ways, and trying to have your cake and eat it too just makes a bigger mess.”

“That’s how it seems with the last generations—being simultaneously like Kindred and kine. And what do they have to show for it? Most of them lead brief and awful existences. Even groups that claim to advance ‘duskborn rights’ like the Ashfinders just seem to cause more pain and tragedy. For thin-bloods and full-bloods. There’s a compelling argument that it would have been kinder for them never to exist.”

Caroline: Caroline nods again. “I’ve heard talk of, and experienced firsthand, the unforgiving stance of my sire on the subject of unsanctioned Embraces. At first I thought it harsh, even cruel. My first introduction to Kindred society was being dragged before a crowd of Kindred, watching the execution of half a dozen others, and having my own head laid upon the block.”

“Only time, and experience, showed me his wisdom. We’re predators, we can take what we want. Are inclined to, even. Only the threat of unflinching, unhesitating, swift judgement can steer us from doing so. For every unfortunate killed, I think on how many his justice has saved.”

“It would be better if the thin-bloods didn’t exist, but we can’t change the past. All we can do is influence the future.”

GM: “His justice has saved many, without doubt,” Becky Lynne agrees. “It’s all-too few of us that remain virgins.”

“But even beyond the matter of temporal justice, there’s also the question of spiritual purpose. I’ll always be a First Estate girl through and through,” the other Venture declares with a faint smile, “but there’s real comfort in the Second’s faith. Knowing that God has a constructive purpose in mind for us. So from a theological standpoint, what purpose do the thin-blooded serve? They’re not wolves or sheep. I suppose you could argue they’re toothless wolves. Either way, I can’t reckon any explanation for why God allows them to be.”

Caroline: “A warning against the excesses of Kindred?” Caroline postulates. “A method of ensuring the continued fate of all Kindred remains tied to our eldest, closest to the original sin, vice the kine who may be fruitful? Another test upon us, and our discipline, that we remain divorced from the kine.”

She bites her lip. “A sign of the approach of the end of times, that the line of Caine draws to a close?”

Her mind races ahead, takes the thread of canon and the needle her mother’s words provided.

“Our immortality is a lie only the most cynical elder or naïve neonate would believe. The End of Days will come, and we will all be judged. The kine are given many signs to watch for, in Timothy specifically.”

She pauses, then quotes, “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good.

“More simply put, when the kine turn from the face of God in mass, when they abandon the covenant with Him.”

She bites her lip. “What then are the thin-blooded but Kindred torn from our own covenant? Sired in sin, without permission, and multiplying like rats in the same, degenerate in each generation. Broken from the line of Caine, from clan and bloodline, damaging to the Masquerade by their nature, still wed to the kine, and unable to fulfill their holy purpose. There is no holy law they can uphold, and only one Tradition they do not violate.”

GM: “If it’s a test of discipline, I’d say it’s one we Kindred are rather badly failing,” Becky Lynne says, frankly. “As you note, Eiren, there’s no express commandment for us to be fruitful and multiply. If anything, there’s the opposite. Scripture has a lot to say about how solemn and purposeful an event the Embrace should be, and even how worthy of punishment the sire is for it.”

“I suppose God does have a lot to be angry over, with how heedless—and simply ignorant the thirteenth generation is, in spreadin’ around their vitae. And I suppose that everything has to come to an end eventually, even us. But how soon? My brother says millennialist fears were steadily building over the 20th century, and hit a peak in the late ‘90s when the thin-blooded appeared. I can remember talk about the end being nigh back in ’04, but there was a sense it was getting stale. Then after Katrina, everyone in the city plum forgot about it. We’d had our apocalypse.”

Caroline: “That’s interesting,” Caroline observes. “I didn’t get that part of the history lesson, but I suspect it’s impossible to really appreciate it without having lived through it. I’d be interested in hearing from Aedile Hurst’s about it directly some time.”

“You’re right though, we’re no better than the kine when it comes to discipline or fidelity,” Caroline agrees. “Religious participation has been declining for decades as people have fallen in love with themselves, rejected tradition, and increasingly embraced deviancy and any ideology that will allow it. If anything we’ve matched them step for step. What I don’t understand, can’t wrap my head around, is how other Kindred do it so blithely.”

“The Sanctified dogma is harsh, painful, even callous, especially as a neonate. When Gerousiastis Malveaux first exposed me to it I recoiled in horror. It’s also rooted in Christianity, and I can academically understand why those with different religious traditions and backgrounds might not leap into our arms. But we are visible evidence every night that the secular reality so many of the kine are obsessed with, one that allows them to declare there is no morality and no god, and thus that every perversion is justified, is an outright lie.”

“How licks can see that, then decide they’ll continue as though nothing has changed, as though they don’t need any religion, don’t need god in some form, is beyond me.” She bites her lip. “But perhaps its as much a sign that they are truly lost as anything else, that they deserved their damnation as much as the rest of us.”

GM: “I suspect, like a lot of things, it’s easiest to just not think about,” says Becky Lynne. “To get accustomed to, and take for granted, once the initial shock wears off. People, and Kindred, can get used to anything. God isn’t knockin’ on their doors tellin’ them to observe the faith, or that they’ll be judged for not doing so upon the Second Coming. Even among Kindred, some things take simply faith. Or at least, zeal.”

“But I think that’s also the way God wants it. Kindred have free will, just as kine do, to decide their actions. Some of us, like your sire or my brother, actively choose to spread the gospel. Some of us, like me, merely try to observe it. Some of us, like my sire, pay mind to other faiths. And some of us don’t pay much mind to faith at all. It’s what we decide to do when we have the power to decide, I think, that most shows who we are.”

“As to my brother, I expected he’d be happy to share his memories of the period with you, Eiren. He’s no elder, but sometimes I still have to remind myself that he’s old enough to be my grandpa.”

Caroline: Caroline is polite enough not to observe that failing to spread the gospel means you aren’t exactly a faithful member of the Sanctified. The Fifth Canon is quite clear on this point.

The other Ventrue is right, though, about how deceptive ages can be: it’s easy too to forget that Adler is hardly the teenager she masquerades as.

“I’d like that, Questor,” Caroline answers.

“To point, I agree choice is essential in the meaning of any fidelity,” Caroline agrees. “I just think to the growing number of kine that declare their lack of faith for the absence of evidence—among the damned evidence of the supernatural is inherent to each night you awaken.” She tilts her head. “On the other hand, perhaps that call to evidence is more excuse than explanation.”

“We all seek to justify who we are by some means.”

GM: And even beyond politeness, it’s hard not to think what her sire would think of her own track record at spreading Longinus’ word.

Her thoughts so easily turn back to him, now. In this and all things.

“I think that’s what it comes down to,” says Becky Lynne. “Lots of us will spin facts to justify the opinions we have, instead of vice versa, if given choice and free will. Evidence takes a back seat, next to that.”

She chuckles faintly.

“But there’s probably even less to be done about that than thin-bloods.”

“In any case, Eiren, you’d had other matters of interest you wanted to bring up?”

Caroline: “Not in the immediate, Questor,” Caroline answers. “A fair number of my own matters are still very much in the air, and more pressing in the moment, I would speak to how you would prefer we handle the challenge ahead of us, at the scene of the attack.”

GM: “Ah, then one matter first, Eiren. Prestation-wise, I’m not rightly sure what I owe you for tonight. On one hand, your presence saved me from the assassin’s attack. On the other hand, from what he said, he was only there for you.”

“You also saved me from winding up in the hands of hunters, from what you and my brother said. I’m not sure to what extent their presence was due to the assassin—that is, whether the Kindred who took out your contract with the Assamites orchestrated the FBI raid, or whether that Kindred and the assassin simply took advantage of the FBI aid.”

“So we could say that taking in your pregnant thin-blood puts us even. My sire, much like yours, wouldn’t approve of my spending time and trouble on her if he knew.”

Caroline: Caroline muses for a moment.

“In principle I don’t object, Questor Adler,” Caroline answers. “I didn’t come to your aid tonight seeking to earn a boon, and any additional benefit is, for me, incidental.” She smiles. “I think your mother might have described them as like the sprinkles on a sundae.”

“There is the matter of Eiren Packard, but if you and your sire are content to see that her own actions this night are repaid, I’m happy leave things as they lie, Questor.”

GM: “I don’t doubt she would have, Eiren,” Becky Lynne smiles back.

“As to Eiren Packard and Aedile Landau, they ‘work’ for my sire, so to speak. He’s their sire too by a few more generations, and coming to my aid was part of their obligations to him. But he’ll make sure they’re rewarded for fulfilling those obligations.”

Caroline: “Then we are in agreement, Questor,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Splendid,” the other Ventrue declares with another smile.

“As to the aftermath of this mess, I suppose Peggy’s left me with a body.” Becky Lynne’s smile fades at those words. “And my brother, I suppose it’s no surprise, wants to do what keeps me safest.”

On the helicopter ride back to Perdido House, he questioned Caroline and Becky Lynne extensively about the FBI raid. He concurred that it sounded like hunters. He was in favor of Becky Lynne staging her current pseudonym’s death to throw them off her trail.

Caroline: Caroline can imagine some of what she feels—she’s buried a lot of ghouls.

“How long had she been with you?” Caroline probes.

GM: “Yes, for around ten years,” Becky Lynne answers.

Caroline: “Since almost the beginning,” Caroline observes as quietly as she can while being heard. Helicopters are loud places.

GM: The other Ventrue nods.

“She was always faithful. Kind. Attentive. Thoughtful. Modest. Trustworthy. Never greedy. Never asked for more. Wanted to, of course, what ghoul doesn’t, but never did. She understood we weren’t equals, and she didn’t ever try to be more than she was. But what she was, she was to the fullest. She saw a great deal of me. I couldn’t have asked for a better confidant or employee.”

“I wish it had been possible to save her.”

Caroline: “How did she come into your service?” Caroline asks, steering the topic away from death, and towards life.

There’s been plenty of death already tonight, and they will have to deal with it in the hours to come.

GM: “She worked at the bank, as a PA to someone who I didn’t think fully appreciated her. I invited her to come work for me.”

Caroline: Coming from another Kindred ‘invited’ might have a more sinister undertone, but Caroline can’t imagine it from the seneschal’s favorite neonate.

“What did she think, when you told her?”

GM: “She was taken aback and a little frightened. I did my best to set her at ease.”

“She liked the thought of working for a nicer boss and being part of something greater than herself.”

Caroline: “And she did. You were able to invite her into a world she didn’t even know existed,” Caroline observes.

“I’m certain her life was far different than she’d ever expected, that serving you gave her opportunities she never imagined.”

GM: “It certainly did, Eiren. Though I’m not sure she’d believe those opportunities were worth the cost of her life.”

Caroline: “Respectfully, Questor, she seemed to think it was worth enough to risk her life trying to save you.”

“I don’t think any of us expected rocket launchers to be part of the equation, but she knew this was dangerous.”

GM: Becky Lynne gives a sad smile.

“That’s a domitor’s eternal question, Eiren. How much of their actions are their own?”

Caroline: "Questor, you are my senior in many things, but please take this for what it’s worth. I have been directly responsible for the deaths of ghouls in my service. I’ve been made to kill them to satisfy others, I’ve killed them because they became monsters, and I’ve had them killed in front of me to make a point to me. I’ve also seen them die trying to protect me. In six months I’ve buried seven ghouls, and every one of their names I’ll remember for the rest of my Requiem.

“Many of them were soldiers, all of them were fighters, and none of them leaped so eagerly to their fates as Ms. Sweet. She cared for you, Questor, beyond just the bond.”

“You were in no way responsible for her death. Others contrived to do evil to you. They invaded your mind and plotted to do it. They compacted with or knowingly used witch-hunters against you—and against me. Ms. Sweet stood against that. She stood against them.”

“Don’t take that from her. As much as you might mourn her death, as much as you may feel guilty, don’t rob from a slain faithful servant the last, most impactful choices, of their life.”

GM: Becky Lynne takes that all in with a somber, thoughtful look.

“Wise words, Eiren, and ones that sound learned through bitter experience. This might be one area where I’m not your senior,” she replies.

“I’d hoped Peggy cared for me beyond the bond, but we can delude ourselves. It’s of some comfort to hear from a second party that Peggy’s feelings and choices were real.”

“You’re right, too, about honoring and making the most of her sacrifice. I think it’d please her, to know we were able to use her body to help keep me safe, even after she’d given her life to do that. She can have a proper funeral and internment of her own later.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t know if the words truly move the other Ventrue—their stoicism cuts both ways among them—but she hopes they do.

“To that end, car accident remains, I think, the best of poor explanations. Head-on collision at high speed, joyrider in one vehicle, with the third vehicle caught up in the wreckage. I expect, barring interference from someone else, Mr. Ferris will have already begun to stage it in that way. Much of our work, I expect, tonight will be helping paper over memories of first and follow on responders. The follow on—ensuring that forensic evidence matches or is falsified—will take days to weeks.”

“I don’t have those contacts this far out, and it’ll also prove both dangerous and lucrative to continue that effort. If, as I believe, hunters were at hand in this, they’ll attempt to dig into what happened tonight, and that investigation may open holes in their shroud.”

It’s possible they’ll simply abandon this endeavor and retreat into secrecy, but Caroline doubts it. Hunters are like bloodhounds: once they have a scent getting them to leave it well enough alone was more trouble than it was worth—at least at the bottom.

GM: “That sounds like how I’d want to stage things, Eiren,” Becky Lynne nods. “A car crash is nice and simple.”

“The only issue I see is the missile launchers and the burned state of the cars and bodies. I’m no weapons or automotive expert, but I know cars don’t really explode like they do in the movies.”

Caroline: “No,” Caroline agrees. “But they do burn, and all it would take is one ruptured tank to start it. Roger or Autumn will have identified the most likely candidate variable by damage, make, and model. The difficulty will be staging so the explosive damage appears to a casual observer like it’s plausibly a result of the crash. That, and making sure there’s no other obvious evidence of what happened—wreckage blown too far away or bullet casings amid the debris.”

Fortunately they should have enough bodies to comb the site, between her own arriving ghouls, the two elders, those they left on the scene, and the Hurst’s own ghouls left behind after the flight.

“Needless to say, this isn’t going to go away in a night, though. We can lay the groundwork, but it’s going to require regular follow-ups over the next year as cases are opened, investigators assigned, claim agents review damage, and, obviously, the hunters.”

GM: “Ruptured fuel tank sounds good in the short term,” agrees Becky Lynne. “But my lord, Eiren, are you right about this not going away in a night.”

“I think Mr. Campbell will be of a mind to sue the Bureau, and possibly the sheriff’s department and other parties too, for the death of his niece.”

“God knows they’ve caused the bank enough trouble they can at least pay a decent chunk of change for it.”

Caroline: “Is Mr. Campbell your sire’s most recent identity, Questor, or simply a useful mortal proxy?”

GM: “He’s the former, Eiren.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. She’d been afraid of that.

“I don’t know that there’s any good way to tell him this, Questor, but he’ll likely take it better from you than any other: that identity is also well known to our enemies. So much so that they had no difficulty convincing mortal authorities that it was both a valid and desirable target.”

GM: Becky Lynne frowns.

“His name came up among them, as well as his niece’s?”

“No matter. Retiring the identity won’t be much trouble, he’s hardly met anyone with it. Whitney Hancock, I think, will still be inclined to sue.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “They expressed interest in using his niece—who had an unsavory reputation of her own—to lure him out. The kine seemed to believe he was the real target.”

She muses, “Which leads me to suspect you were not simply intended as bait this evening for me. It took knowledge, and months, maybe years of planning and investigation to dig far enough into each of your holdings, to identify identities and poison them with law enforcement, to make the ordered raid tonight possible. I suspect this was an alignment of purposes—laying one existing plan or contingency atop another. They could have pulled the trigger on this raid any number of nights. They chose tonight.”

“If they’d succeeded, they’d have destroyed the childer of the two most powerful Ventrue in the city in a single night.”

She bites her lip. “And the timing, alongside Gerousiastis Malveaux and Questor Polk’s assassination seems… more than coincidental. And convenient.”

And it really is. She couldn’t think of a better cover for her assassination of Malveaux if she tried, not that she expects they thought this would serve this purpose.

As for this attack, there are only really two suspects when it comes right down to it: two foes with cunning, resources, power, motivation, and knowledge. To have mapped out Adler’s routine. To have invaded her mind. To have identified the seneschal’s blind spot. To have called an assassin across the world. To have named her to the assassin, to ensure one of appropriate skill was dispatched.

She supposes its possible that Savoy is responsible, rebuffed as he must be by her decision. But she suspects another, one much closer to home. The same one she suspects orchestrated René’s return, her abduction into the Dungeon, and the seneschal’s descent into that hell to save her. The same one that knew how much Adler’s Embrace had affected the seneschal—that likely arranged it in the first place. The one standing in the room, who her identity was definitively declared before, only nights ago.

It’s just as she said before the seneschal. A traitor.

Not that anyone will believe her. Not without proof.

“Questor, may I lay my cards on the table between us?” she probes.

GM: “Long investigations is how it usually is, with the Feds,” agrees Becky Lynne. “I certainly don’t see this raid having happened on the spur of the movement, though the magistrate judge you mentioned signing off on the warrant is interesting. One explanation is that their pretext for the raid was less than rock solid and a magistrate was easier to coerce. Or that they simply don’t have friends among any district judges. But if this was an alignment of purposes, there could have been a time crunch that only made the magistrate immediately viable. I’ll be very interested to find out the full story from him or her.”

“But please do, Eiren, as far as laid cards.”

Caroline: “The seneschal would not share the name of the Kindred that invaded your mind, in the lead up to this evening,” she observes.

She runs her tongue across her fangs.

“I have a suspect. The hand in this evenings events and others. One that I cannot prove—yet—but that I will. I would not ask you, your brother, or your sire, Questor, to rush into anything, to take the word of an eiren on such a weighty matter. But when I can prove it there are painfully few Kindred I would trust, and when that night comes I will need some I can call.”

GM: Becky Lynne seemingly takes that in stride.

“In what capacity would you desire to call on us, Eiren?”

Caroline: Caroline muses, “That would depend on your appetite, Questor.”

“I am inclined to take the fight to this foe with steel in hand.”

“Another sword, or two, by my side would be of great value when they meet the fate they so richly deserve. But that is asking for a great commitment. Down the spectrum somewhere from that would be logistical support in the lead-up and moment. Down further than that would be support in the immediate aftermath. Whether it’s who I suspect or not, I don’t expect anyone capable of arranging tonight’s events to roll over, and I expect to be uncomfortably vulnerable thereafter.”

GM: Becky Lynne looks as if she might tap a chin in her thought, but both of her hands are occupied steering the helicopter.

“I’d be most inclined to suspect Mr. Savoy or any of Prince Vidal’s would-be successors of being behind this affair,” says Becky Lynne, “seein’ as they have the most to gain by eliminating the prince’s childe. The Baron has equally much to gain, but I don’t see his agents moving in FBI circles.”

“Yet if it were Mr. Savoy or the Baron, I don’t rightly see why the seneschal would decide to keep that from us.”

“Seneschal Maldonato told my brother that our clan elders were unaware of your lineage, which would seemingly rule out Gerousiastis McGinn and Gerousiastis Guilbeau.”

“No motive, if you’re not the prince’s childe to them.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her tongue for a moment. “The number of Kindred privy to that secret, before this night, should have been counted on one hand. Perhaps two, if you were to include those who had reason to suspect.”

GM: “The author being Primogen Steinhäuser, Primogen Poincaré, or Primogen Duquette would certainly be a delicate situation, and I could understand the seneschal keepin’ mum over any of them. But if this attack required highly privileged information to execute, I don’t rightly see why they’d have it when the Gerousia don’t. They’re bound to our prince by neither blood nor faith.”

“As you say, Eiren, the remaining suspects on the list are rather few.”

“Though I’d say they can better be counted on one or two fingers than one or two hands.”

Caroline: Caroline lets the other Ventrue work through it.

“I confess too, Questor, I have some knowledge of this matter you do not. My suspect has high level connections to the sort of hunter groups that might have arranged your imprisonment, and that I fear were used to assassinate Gerousiastis Malveaux.”

GM: “I’d need hard proof before I was willing to move against the remaining suspect,” Becky Lynne answers, frankly. “My analysis could still potentially be wrong—what if the other gerousiastes have already have been informed of your lineage, and the seneschal simply doesn’t want them and my brother talking, or for us to know the extent that one or both gerousiastes might be in the seneschal’s counsels.”

“My kin and I would be willing to provide direct or logistical support with the seneschal’s blessing.”

“In lieu of that, we’d be willing to provide support in the aftermath of whatever might take place, with the understanding that we will inform the seneschal of our actions.”

Caroline: It’s more than she had any right to expect, honestly. But then, this attack tonight was brazen. It felt almost… desperate. Killing Adler might smash two birds with one stone, but the consequences of the failure have the potential to be profound if they can deliver her allies. Especially from within Clan Ventrue. To say nothing of how much easier it makes framing him for Malveaux’s death—perhaps the only hostile act she doesn’t lay at his feet.

Caroline nods. “That’s fair, Questor,” she answers. “I think hard proof will be hard to come by—all I have right now is circumstantial. A tremendous amount of circumstantial, as much of it very sensitive, but circumstantial all the same. The seneschal’s blessing all the more difficult for many reasons, including the danger of such an attempt. But any assistance is more than I might have hoped.”

GM: “I don’t much care for someone murdering my servants, violating my mind, or attacking my and my sire’s domain. Whatever else may come, my kin and I will investigate what occurred here and not stop until we have conclusively established who was responsible. Tonight’s events will not pass without consequence.”

Caroline: Caroline grins.

“Then we have that much more in common, Questor.”

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

Caroline: By the time they land, the scene is rapidly falling—falling apart and falling into place.

Ferris meets the two of them at the helicopter with a pair of dark blue windbreakers with ‘POLICE’ across them in big yellow letters. Their owners seem to have misplaced them tonight.

True to Caroline’s expectations, Ferris and the elder ghouls have moved the vehicles already—they’re nearly slag by the time Caroline and Adler arrive, the bodies within charred beyond all recognition: dental records will be required to identify them, and in the cases of some of the worse victims of the ‘crash’ even that may not suffice. A body has been moved into the drivers seat that Kâmil vacated—but who’s body Caroline isn’t certain—and Sweet’s into the van, though Caroline can only tell because the deceased ghoul is smaller than the rest of the bodies. Fire does horrible things to Kindred and kine alike.

It’s fortunate the rest of her ghouls left when they did—their arrival beat most of the emergency responders and helped wrangle gawkers, sheriffs, local police, firefighters, and paramedics. It’s similarly fortunate that Hurst’s ghouls are older in the blood than hers—they wield a broader range and depth of potency in the blood that has mostly worked to keep things contained.

It’s also fortunate that the emergency responders beat Caroline and Adler back: they’ve had time to put out the fires set by the ghouls that would have hell for the vampires’ Beasts.

Despite the ghouls’ successes, the limitations of ghouls in the scene had begun to become clear by the time the two vampires arrive: there just isn’t enough blood, and not enough ghouls gifted with the proper disciplines to handle the number of and increasingly pointed questions that coming from first responders. Not even with Packard.

That is where Caroline and Adler slot neatly in, to pick up the pieces falling apart, to fill in holes in memories and handwave explanations away. The gulf between the childer of elders and those of more humble bloodlines is on full display as the matching blondes move through the ever-expanding crowd.

Identities spring out of whole cloth for the ghouls in response to side ‘conversations’, complete with provided credentials. Eyewitnesses emerge to the crash from among the lookie-loos after ‘interviews’. They fill in the police reports about what happened, the reckless driver, the crash, the terrible fire that engulfed all three vehicles.

They also stoke tensions, build recriminations: between the deputies and officers, between city and county, introducing distrust and a lack of cooperation that makes it all the easier for her people to blend into the effort, that will make putting things together afterwards harder. Professional relationships fray. There’s a punch thrown that gets swept under the rug. Offending officers and deputies are told to leave.

Amid the scuffle, several people take their own initiative. Bodies are removed before the scene is fully documented—an overly zealous coroner. Then a wrecker shows up and manages to get hooked up to the ‘vehicles’ before someone realizes they haven’t finished initial investigations. It takes leads time to get the scene under control. Precious evidence is destroyed and tainted by mishandling—not that anyone is terribly shocked: it isn’t often the thin blue line buries four of their own. Everyone’s nerves are frayed, for too many here this is a personal tragedy, and screw ups only make it worse as all sides point the finger at each other.

Some of the chaos is Caroline’s doing, others Autumn’s suggestions, with a sprinkling of advice from Ms. Green given her own experiences on the force. At the heart of it is Ferris. The eight-fingered ghoul turns his devious mind to the problem: sowing dissent, hatred, and anger.

As the scene stabilizes the ghouls begin to withdraw. Adler has to leave before Caroline—the helicopter being the last thing on scene will attract too much attention—but she’s not the first to depart. Ghouls vanish into the night with the lookie-loos as they begin to disperse, stolen police jackets returning to their owners.

Last out are the elder ghouls, Caroline, and Ferris as the feds begin to arrive. It’s not their scene, not their business, and the call went out late. Shame about that.

It’s been a daunting evening, and they have a long drive back.

Caroline doesn’t waste it. As Kâmil takes the wheel she turns her mind to the next task. “Kâmil, can you tell me of the Banu Haqim?”

GM: Having help has its perks.

Staging the scene is an altogether different experience for Caroline than her early nights, by herself or just with Autumn, scrubbing bloodstains, spraying bleach, and disposing of corpses single- or two-handedly. Supervising a team of ghouls and Kindred with a panoply of Cainite gifts to draw upon is an experience all of its own. It feels less like trying to preserve the Masquerade, and more like deciding how she’s going to preserve the Masquerade. It feels like the sheriff maybe feels when he goes about his duties. There are so many people to order about and assign to this task or that. Caroline takes a more supervisory than front-line role, mainly stepping in to rewrite memories that the ghouls couldn’t do as well. The casquette girl greatly assists by facilitating silent telepathic communication among the many actors, keeping Caroline apprised of their activities, and relaying orders. No one notices her as she moves among the responders, taking items, planting others, or simply spying. Becky Lynne helps Packard and Caroline rewrite memories, but most helps by playing responders’ feelings like a cheap harmonica. Irritation, impatience, jealousy, and anger surge as she walks past. Ferris provides mundane pretext to justify and further stoke their feelings. The wrecker is his idea. All Caroline has to do is sit back and watch the fireworks.

“Your stupid fucking people let the wrecker through!”

“Yeah? Well who the fuck let the coroner move the bodies? We hadn’t even finished the fucking photographs of the scene.”

“Because your goddamn people told us they had pictures!”

“Oh, did they? Which one of my people was that?”

“I don’t know, Jon? Johnny?”

“You don’t even have a name? Jesus. You city boys are fucking lost.”

“Eat shit, you pig-fucking country bumpkin!”

“The fuck did you say?”

A punch gets thrown.

“Goddamn, Ricky!”

“I’m going to fucking kill you! Get off me! Get the fuck off me! He’s a dead man!”

There are scuffing sounds of someone being pulled away.

“Yeah, yeah, pick up your teeth and get the fuck out of here, city,” the punch-thrower grins smugly.

Ferris doesn’t smile, but Autumn can’t refrain from doing so.

Wrapping things up takes some time, but Caroline can’t even begin to imagine how much more it would have on her own, or if such a task would be even possible. She’s come a long ways from her first nights causing these breaches: now she supervises their repair. Indeed, it’s not lost on her that the seneschal didn’t go himself or dispatch the Guard de Ville to handle things: he trusted her to. The Masquerade is the foremost law of the Camarilla’s and the foremost responsibility of Clan Ventrue.

And hers, now, as well.

To wear a crown is to assume many duties. How many other neonates could do what she has done?

Ghouls and Kindred return back to their cars in increments, rather than all at once, to make their departures less conspicuous. Becky Lynne remarks that she’s “most impressed indeed, Eiren; you’ve come a ways,” before returning to her helicopter.

“This felt like working for the Krewe again,” remarks Autumn. “In a good way. Just in terms of… all of the resources and experience to draw upon. Everyone knowing what they’re doing. I don’t think the Krewe could’ve done a better job, here.”

On the drive back, Kâmil answers Caroline,

“They are rarely seen in New Orleans, but they are more common in the lands of my birth. I knew nothing of them before I came to the archdiocese, for it was here that I received the Blood. My domitor has had dealings with the clan, however. What would you know of them, bayan?”

Caroline: There’s a contented feeling as the car leaves.

“I’d like to start with…”

Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline’s convoy returns to Perdido House. Gisèlle and Kâmil ride with her. At the Ventrue’s request to see Raaid, Kâmil states that the Assamite is likely in the holding cells. He parks inside the underground garage, then proceeds to the elevator, where Caroline swipes the keycard she received from Robert Congo to allow access to the restricted basement floors. The doors ding open, revealing another steel door where the Ventrue presses her hand against a biometric scanner. Congo added her print earlier as well. Kâmil leads Caroline down a hallway to another locked steel door. Inside are several bodies wearing dark hoods with stakes protruding from their chests, unceremoniously laid out over the floor like kindling. Kâmil shoulders Raaid’s and carries it into a nearby interrogation room.

It’s a cheerless place. Unlit, though the vampire’s eyes penetrate the dark without issue, and neither ghoul requests a light. Rows of alternately sleek- and brutal-looking steel instruments whose only function can be the causation of pain sit nearby. Kâmil lays Raaid on a heavy steel table with leg and arm restraints.

“Do you wish him fettered, bayan?”

Caroline: Caroline eyes the assassin. He’s still crippled from their last encounter and unarmed.

“I don’t believe it necessary at this time, thank you, Kâmil,” she answers.

He had also declared his mission a failure. She doubts he will try again.

She removes first the hood, then slides the stake from his chest.

GM: The dusky-skinned vampire lies still upon the table.

“This is sooner than a month,” he observes.

Caroline: “It is,” Caroline agrees.

“I apologize if you had desired that long rest, but there are further matters I would discuss with you, Raaid ibn Badr,” she begins. “They were not suitable for our previous company.”

GM: The Assamite’s eyebrows faintly raise.

“Very well, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. Please proceed.”

Caroline: “There are some topics beyond the attack, but I had one more follow up about it,” she begins.

“Were you and your agents given any direction at all, in so far as the presence of and intended outcome of Ms. Adler, in your attack?”

GM: “Miss Adler was to be spared.”

Caroline: The Ventrue mulls that one over.

“Very well.”

She takes a breath.

“You are the first of your clan I have met, so please forgive this question if it is disrespectful. Is your word your bond, Raaid ibn Badr?” Caroline asks.

GM: “It is, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, save only when to fulfill it would hinder the will of Haqim,” answers Raaid.

Caroline: “And I presume you would not give it of you believed it would do so,” she clarifies.

GM: “That is so.”

Caroline: “I do not believe you will survive the 30 days helpless here,” she states starkly.

“Your Requiem and return to your master are of no value to the enemies of mine, while your death could benefit them greatly.”

“Whether by direct hand, accident, or the intentional sharing of your actions and whereabouts, I believe they will arrange for your destruction.” She lets that thought hang in the air for a moment.

“I do not wish it so.”

GM: “So be it,” Raaid answers calmly. “Your seneschal has seen fit to place me here. The world is not always as we wish it so.”

Caroline: “I am his servant, but I am foremost the servant of my prince, who is his master too.”

“For both of them, I may intercede, if an alternative may be found.”

GM: Raaid inclines his head.

“What alternative would you offer?”

Caroline: “If I see your Requiem spared, would you be willing to do a service for me, Raaid?” she asks.

GM: “That would depend upon the service, Caroline.”

“But in principle, my Istirja for a service rendered seems a fair bargain.”

Caroline: She nods. “There is a battle to come. I know not exactly when, but it will be soon—before your month-long sentence has passed. My sire would slay you for raising your blade against me. I would see you spared if you would raise it beside me when that conflict comes.”

She tilts her head. “It would seem a thing of balance.”

GM: “As are all conflicts. You say you do not know when this battle will come, and also that I will die if I remain here. How, then, is there any surety I may participate in this battle at all?”

Caroline: “I would present two options, the more palatable before you.”

“I can take you into my own custody, or I may release you on your own recognizance until the time comes—or two weeks have passed.”

GM: “The latter of these would likely be more palatable to us both, if you did not wish me torpid or starving when the time comes.”

Caroline: Caroline inclines her head. “As long as your honor permitted it.”

GM: “It would, so long as this battle is not against the Banu Haqim or friends and allies to the Banu Haqim.”

Caroline: She thinks on that, then continues, “I do not believe that to be case, but confess I am not privy to the inner workings of the Banu Haqim. If there are those you would count among either group in the city, that you might wish to name, I would put you at peace regarding them. Otherwise, you have my afore offered word that such a conflict is not my intention.”

GM: “Your seneschal’s name is held in some esteem among our clan. Beyond him, I was briefed on none in the city, though nor is their temporary presence impossible in a major port.”

Caroline: She nods. “Then I foresee no troubles. I would not raise a hand to him.”

GM: “Very well. Then upon the Ancestor, the Shepherd, the Blood of my sires, and my honor as a childe of Haqim, I swear to assist you in your battle, and to not leave this city until I have either done so or two weeks have passed.”

Yet even as he speaks, another voice echoes within the Ventrue’s mind.

:: Gisèlle has informed me of your present intentions, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. To seek permission before overturning my judgment in this matter would be a matter of courtesy. ::

Caroline: She bites back a scowl at the casquette girl as the seneschal’s mind brushes against her own, but her response to the seneschal is demure. Not false, nor apologetic, but humble.

:: Seneschal, I’m certain you know my intention was not, and has never been, discourtesy or disrespect to you or your office. ::

GM: :: Chain of command must needs be observed, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. If you would reverse the judgments and decisions of your superiors, you will ask them if you are not compelled by dire and immediate need. ::

Caroline: She could argue that this falls under that. That she doesn’t believe that Raaid will survive a day and a night in these chambers, but she knows it isn’t what the seneschal is getting at. She’s done more than skirt his authority on this matter. Her provisions, though not at cross purposes to the seneschal’s, significantly exceed them.


:: I understand, Seneschal. ::

A beat.

:: Do you disapprove of my purposes in this matter, and might any disapproval be moderated if I acceded to requiring your approval to call upon Raaid’s promised service? ::

GM: :: You may take Raaid into your custody. He is to remain staked until such time as you deem his service necessary. His freedom incurs graver risks than you understand. ::

Caroline: Perhaps it is so. There are many secrets the seneschal has kept from her, that give weight to his decisions. So too does the weight of centuries of experience among the Damned give gravity and wisdom to his judgements.

Caroline isn’t going to argue either way.

:: It will be as you have said, :: she answers.

A pause. :: Thank you for your patience. ::

GM: :: You are welcome, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Responsibility for Raaid’s actions shall lie with you. ::

The Assamite, meanwhile, patiently waits across from Caroline.

Caroline: :: I understand. Is there anything further I may do for you, Seneschal? :: she asks, her gaze leveling back on the assassin.

GM: :: There is not at present. ::

Caroline: “Your early release and remission into my custody is acceptable to the seneschal, but he wishes that you remain in my custody until the appointed moment.”

She meets his gaze.

“I will ensure vessels are available, as required, to ensure you are capable when the moment comes. This remains acceptable to you?”

GM: “That is acceptable,” answers Raaid.

Caroline: “Excellent.”

She doesn’t smile.

This isn’t a victory, and it is possible she has misjudged the older Banu Haqim. He could still betray her in some way, to say nothing of how driving around the seneschal on this matter might provoke his own wrath.

But it is a start, and she has to start somewhere.

She’s crossed blades with Raaid, and she likes to believe that gives her some insight into his character. She believes the assassin will be true to his word, and that is something vanishingly rare.

Traitor. The word slides across her mind like a curse, but there is a face attached to this name.

Like Adler there is only one suspect in her mind for this attack.

He’s tried to kill her twice. It’s well past time she returns the favor.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett XV
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXIII

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline XV
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline XVII

Story Twelve, Emmett XV

“Have you ever felt as if you could not be all that you were?”
Camille Richelieu

Date ?

GM: It’s in color.

Caramel-brown skin. Darker, almost black, but brown-tinted hair. Red lips. Gold earrings. Green eyes. Even poisonous as they are, even for all the awful memories they conjure up, they’re in color.

It’s all in color.

There’s a low breeze against his skin. There’s birds chirping in his ears, and pleasantly muted sounds of traffic, cars with living people behind the wheel, thrumming along towards their destinations.

He can smell again. Oh, he could smell in the Shadowlands, but the only smells there were of death and rot. They were all bed smells. Here he smells recently-cut grass and sweet floral scents.

And, above all, a coppery red that he knows is the most luscious scent he will ever take in, from now ’til eternity.

He feels no heartbeat in his chest. Some things haven’t changed since dying.

But he does feel the monster. He feels it in the fangs in his mouth. He feels it clawing and pacing inside his chest, sated only by blood, and only, he knows, temporarily. Monsters must feed. Monsters must kill.

“It’s not on your side…” Gasper had said, before it devoured him.

He’s lying on the ground. The Poison-Eyed Lady pulls back from him, licks closed a bloody gash along her wrist, and offers him a hand up.

It’d feel like clasping the Devil’s hand to make a pact, if he hadn’t already done that.

Emmett: Em blinks. Squeezes his eyes shut. And opens them slowly.

Color. All the colors in the world. Even the ones that make him nervous, like that poisonous shade of green.

The colors are still there the second time he opens his eyes. And, Em realizes, they’ll be there the third, too.

They’ll be there forever.

And when you’ve got forever, what’s a few seconds to take in the view?

It doesn’t take him very long to take her hand, though. Some things don’t take much thinking.

Nor does he break the silence. He simply gazes, at her, at the surroundings, at everything that isn’t rot.

Gorgeous, mute, and with something new Emmett’s never had before. Not in the flesh.


He waits for her to speak.

GM: Em’s hand is a black man’s. It’s a bit thicker than his old one.

Emmett: Okay, that’s strange.

Bit ironic to start complaining about color now, though.

GM: He looks around and takes in his surroundings.

They’re a bit different from last time.

GM: They’re outdoors, on the same rooftop, open-air garden that affords a spectacular view of the New Orleans skyline. Statues of fallen angels, some brooding by themselves, others locked in passionate embraces with their fellow elohim, are nestled among the garden’s trees, rose bushes, magnolias, and other fragrant-smelling flora. Blue-, orange-, and red-winged butterflies fly past gold cages containing chirping songbirds with exotic plumages displaying every color in the rainbow. A short ways off from them, a French marble jacuzzi patterned to resemble the ocean floor sits invitingly. Soft fluorescent blue lights cast hazy patterns over the bubbling water.

The stacks of corpses are gone. The blood and gore is gone. The rot and rust is gone. Everything is polished and fresh and bright with color. It’s night out, and Em feels like it’s going to night out for some time, but next to the Shadowlands’ endless gloom he might as well be attending a gay pride on a Miami beach at noon.

“I told you I’d have my eye on you,” winks the Poison-Eyed Lady .

It feels almost friendly.

Emmett: Almost.

“Both of them, even,” Em manages. “I’m a little confused. I think I was having a dream. I was dead, you see.”

Are they alone?

GM: Savoy is there. So is Preston. Both are seated by the table. Bale stares at him appraisingly with her glass eye. A dark-skinned woman in a cotton gown, who somehow feels… less than them, is packing away some unlit candles, chalk, bottles, an animal carcass, and assorted other Vodoun trappings. She’s also removing a veve inscribed on the floor round Em. He can hear a heartbeat thumping inside her chest.

All of the others’ cavities are still.

Savoy motions towards the iron table. The chairs around it have cushions. Intact, red cushions, not the hole-ridden and slimy bits of shredded gray cloth they did in the Shadowlands.

“Have a seat, Mr. Delacroix. I’m sure you’ve got questions.”

The Poison-Eyed Lady assumes a place by the table.

GM: The woman in the cotton dress finishes cleaning up. Bale looks away and back towards the French Quarter lord, though her gaze seems to only half rest upon him.

“I am called elsewhere,” she says.

Savoy inclines his head.

“Of course, Madam Bale. Thank you as ever for your services.”

Emmett: He sits down next to her, if such a space is available. “Many,” he says. “But I’m sure you know better where to start than I do.”

His gaze flickers to Bale at her statement.

“A pleasure to meet you, Madam Bale.”

GM: Such a space is available.

“Is his memory intact?” Preston inquires of Bale.

The glass-eyed woman does not look at or respond to either of them. She stares out over the city, offers a deep inclination her head, then slowly walks backwards with lesser-feeling woman.

She only looks away when she reaches the elevator, gives a murmured, “Lord Savoy,” and then takes it down.

Savoy offers Em an indulgent smile.

“Madam Bale can seem a little strange to Kindred who meet her for the first time, but she’s that way to everyone. It’s the price for the powers she commands, I think.”

“At least she is more coherent than Curry,” replies Preston.

“She is that,” grants Savoy.

“But as to Mr. Delacroix’s questions….”

He smiles towards the Poison-Eyed Lady.

“You were dead, and you are still dead,” she says to Emmett.

Emmett: “Not all afterlives are equal.”

GM: “They are not,” she agrees. “My name is Camille Richelieu. Madam Bale and I brought you from that afterlife to this one.”

“You are Kindred now. What mortals call a vampire.”

“For as long as you drink the blood of the living, you are immortal.”

Emmett: He nods, still patient. “That sounds better than my dream. In that one, I was a ghost, and I couldn’t drink anything.”

GM: “You were not dreaming.”

Emmett: “May I see a mirror, please?”

GM: “Nat?” asks Savoy.

Preston taps the tablet in her hands, then turns it around. It reflects the rest of his surrounding’s, though Em’s features are indistinct. The lighting is terrible.

“We’re what you might call camera-shy by nature,” smiles the French Quarter lord.

“Focus,” says Camille.

“Will yourself to appear. Look for your features. They’re there.”

Em concentrates. His face slowly swims into view. The lighting isn’t that bad after all.

It’s also not his face. He sees a moderately handsome, goateed African-American man with short hair in maybe his late 20s.

“I’m afraid your original body is buried over 100 miles away, Mr. Delacroix, so we had to get you a new one,” says Savoy. “If you’d prefer your old face back, we have an associate who can alter your appearance.”

Emmett: “I’ve seen worse,” En replies gamely, and lifts a hand to his goatee. “Whose body is this, and how did I wind up in it? And why?”

He glances over his shoulder. “I must seem terribly rude, having my existential transition right at the beginning of our acquaintance, Lord Savoy.”

GM: Preston sets down her tablet.

The French Quarter lord chuckles. “I think we’re both entering new territory here, Mr. Delacroix. There certainly aren’t many Kindred who enter their Requiems as you have!”

Emmett: “Not many,” Em echoes, “But more than one?”

GM: “If there are others, I can’t profess to have heard of them. As far as I’m aware, Mr. Delacroix, you are one of a kind.”

“If it can happen here, it could have happened elsewhere,” Camille says contemplatively.

“As to your body, I can’t say I know who it belonged to either. We wind up with a lot of bodies at the Evergreen, let’s just say,” Savoy winks.

“Though Nat can have someone look into it if you’re curious.”

Emmett: “That seems like it might end up being relevant. What was that about a…surgeon, you said? Somebody who could make me look like my old dead self?”

GM: “It unlikely to be relevant if your face changes,” states Preston. She looks towards Savoy. “Nevertheless, sir, I will see it done.”

“Very good, Nat,” he smiles, then turns back towards Em.

“Oh yes, her name’s Dr. Dicentra. She’s quite talented. She can make you look like your old self down to your nose hairs.”

Emmett: “…how?”

GM: “How do dead souls live on as ghosts?” asks Camille.

Emmett: “Fair enough,” Em agrees amiably. “I suppose I would like to know the name of this body anyhow, just in case somebody comes looking for it.”

GM: “It will be looked into,” Preston states.

“It’s a trade secret exactly how she does it,” Savoy winks at Em’s earlier question. “I don’t know the exact process either, only the results. But the Blood carries many gifts.”

Emmett: “Gifts,” Em echoes. “I suppose I’m confused as to how you come into this,” he directs to Camille. “Did you know I was a ghost?”

GM: “Yes,” she answers. “Madam Bale helped your spirit cross over into our world and was your midwife into the Requiem. She informed Lord Savoy that a Kindred’s vitae would be necessary to complete your transformation. In so many words, a sire.”

“He thought about who to call and asked around.”

Emmett: “And your name arose?”

GM: “He asked Sami first.”

Emmett: “Ah.”

GM: “She thought she would be a better sister than sire to Emmett Delacroix. She knew I’d had my eye on you, after all.”

The woman’s poisonous eyes simmer as she smiles.

Emmett: “So you turned her as well.”

GM: “She received her first taste of my vitae after you asked me to bring her back.”

“She received the full thing after she struck it rich and proved what an asset she was to our clan.”

Em remembers that. When she told him she was ‘happy,’ and he concluded she no longer needed him to survive.

Emmett: But there’s a more interesting word in that sentence.

“Our clan?”

No ‘K’ in front of that one, he’s pretty sure.

GM: “In the time before time, there was Gran Maître, the supreme god, alone and apart.”

“Gran Maître created Damballah, the great white serpent and primordial creator of all further life. Damballah created the cosmos by using his 7,000 coils to form the stars and the planets in the heavens and to shape the hills and valleys on earth.”

“Damballah created many further gods; his wife Aïda-Wedo, goddess of the rainbow; Ogoun, god of war and metal; Zarabanda, the messenger-god; Cristo Negro, the king of the dead; and all the saints and mystéres and loa and whatever you want to call them.”

“Long ago, a mortal king stole divine power by cutting out and eating Damballah’s heart. This was not actually fatal to the god, but it made him and his consort terribly angry. Aïda’s curse banished the king from life and the day, while Damballah’s curse banished him from the peace of the grave, but the two gods could not take back the stolen power. The king, however, could share it with others who accepted the curse as its price.”

“The king’s brothers and sisters persuaded him to share his stolen power, and in turn passed it on to others.”

“For all its curses, this power was a great blessing. After death, the worthy may become gods; but those who inherit the king’s stolen power may do so in the flesh rather than as spirits. They may live forever and command fantastic powers as living gods.”

“But the king’s brothers and sisters became greedy and wished to be the only gods. They used their powers to oppress and subjugate mankind, to destroy their spirits and prevent them from achieving their potential, denying them the chance to become gods upon their deaths. The king’s brothers and sisters would only allow further gods to exist by their permission: whomever they chose to pass on the king’s stolen power to.”

“The king’s son also received the stolen power from his father, but he did not grow jealous and greedy. He did not seek to oppress and command mortals, but to liberate them from their self-imposed chains and to see them all become gods upon their deaths. He passed on his stolen power to his own children, whom he considered worthy to aid him in this goal. They passed on the stolen power to their own children, who passed it eventually to me, and I to you and Samantha.”

Camille smiles at him knowingly. It’s almost comforting, if he can look past the glimmer of that awful night in her simmering eyes.

“Samantha believes none of this. She said you would believe none of it either.”

“Your belief is not necessary.”

“I would instead ask: Have you ever felt as if you could not be all that you were? Have you ever felt as if the world was stacked against you, and full of rules and power structures that benefited a small group of people who didn’t want to let you in to their club? Have you ever felt as if idiots enjoyed nice things they didn’t want you to enjoy too? Have you ever felt as if the only way to get what you wanted was to lie and steal? Have you ever felt as if the world would grind you down to a banal existence of 9 to 5 mediocrity if you didn’t cheat to get ahead? Have you ever felt as if you had an extraordinary vision, potential, or destiny that the world wanted to destroy before you could achieve it?”

Emmett: Em says nothing to her question. But he does not need to. The distance in his eyes is a soliloquy. Even the staring statues of the garden know what he knows.

Some stories are truer than the myths they’re made of.

“And what do you ask of me, in exchange for this blessing?”

GM: The poison-eyed woman’s smile turns content at the look in his eyes.

“That depends, partly, how you want to spend eternity.”

“Sami says you ran confidence schemes and wanted to make movies.”

“Do that. Do something else. It doesn’t matter what. Only that you fulfill your purpose.”

Emmett: “What purpose?”

GM: “What you felt everyone in your old life tried to stop you from achieving. The greatness that you knew lay within you.”

“What was that?”

Emmett: Em is silent for a time. But now the look in his eyes is less certain.

“I’m still trying to figure that out,” he says finally. “But you said I have eternity. Do you need an answer now?”

GM: “What is ‘now’ to one who has forever?” smiles Camille.

“You asked who we were. Our clan goes by many names. We call ourselves the Timoun nan Damballah, the Children of Damballah, we in whose veins runs the blood of gods, we whose forefather alone sought to uplift mankind to its full potential.”

“Ignorant Kindred call us the Followers of Set, but you will find no clanmate in the city who worships a jackal-headed god of Egypt.”

“Ignorant Kindred call us tempters and corruptors. They call us fixers, dealers, and purveyors of vices, and believe we ‘corrupt’ others simply to gain power over them.”

“But we seek only to do as our forefather has done, to break the chains imposed on humanity by the Aeons—our name for the forces that kept you from achieving greatness in your old life. Vice only holds what power one allows it. Sin is only sin because the Aeons say it is sin. One must transgress against taboos to overcome them.”

“Only the small-minded are ‘corrupted’ by us and enslaved by us. They are only trapped within our coils if they cannot see past them.”

Camille pauses briefly.

“You asked what we would ask of you.”

“We would ask to help you prosper, and that you help us to prosper.”

“We would ask you to help lead others to truth, and to use those who cannot find it—those you ‘corrupt’—as you see fit.”

“We would ask you to enjoy immortality’s pleasures alongside us.”

“We would ask that you allow us to help you achieve purpose and greatness.”

“We would ask to protect you from our enemies, and that you help us against our enemies, Kindred who hate us for the crime of our blood.”

“We would ask you to defy the Aeons, and that you help us to defy the Aeons.”

“We would ask that you do these things and accept these things only willingly.”

Emmett: “Only willingly? What would happen if I refused?” His tone indicates he has no intention of doing so.

GM: “Then we would part ways here. You could remain in the city, or establish a new unlife somewhere else. We don’t have any use for unwilling converts, and trying to harm you is effort expended for no gain.”

The woman extends a slender hand for him to shake. She smiles more fully, and Emmett notices that her eyes have vertically slit pupils. Like a snake’s.

Preston continues to work on her tablet.

Savoy, seemingly content to let Emmett’s sire handle things with him, grins with the pleasure that comes from watching a sealed deal.

“So what do you say, Emmett Delacroix?” asks Camille. “Are you one of us?”

Emmett: It’s a good sell. One of the best he’s ever heard. Here he is, naked and helpless and young, and all she has to do is make vague promises with vaguer obligations. It’s a winning formula for a scam: all carrot, and the only stick is how obviously ill-footed he’ll be without them. Em’s disoriented, but he’s not so out of it that “vampire snake cult” sounds like a winning proposition for eternity.

And yet. At least with a cult, you know where you stand.

“I’m one of you,” he says, as truthfully as that goes.

Just one more sucker trying to be a snake.

His hand is cold against hers, but so much more real than a wraith’s.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXII
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Story Twelve, Celia XXII

“This is a risk. A risk that will have terrible, terrible consequences for our family if you are wrong."
Emily Rosure

Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s a short drive back to Flawless, and perhaps too short for the thoughts swirling in Celia’s head. Alana tells her that a girl named Danielle Garrison has come by, saying that Celia wanted to meet her here. She’s in the Tranquility Room.

Celia: The brief drive leaves her no time to dissect the thoughts racing through her mind. She barely has a plan in how to deal with them, though she knows some meditation will be in order later this evening with Princess, Blossom, and Lucy if she gets a free moment…

Ah, but Lucy is with Elyse, she recalls. Ready, or soon to be ready, to be picked up. Perhaps just the other two, then? Three minds are better than one, aren’t they, and Princess might have some valuable insight to share. This area is her specialty.

Celia stops on her way to the Tranquility Room to briefly discuss things with Alana.

“What I’m about to tell you goes no further than us, you understand?”

GM: At this hour, the spa is mostly closed down for the night. Piper has already left to hit up the bars. Landen doesn’t have any six-year-olds to do the nails of, this time, so they’re off too, as are most of the other girls. Perhaps Celia can ask Madison about Reagan’s makeup later.

Alana nods. “Of course, mistress. You decide what I get to tell people.”

Celia: Saturday evenings are not so busy as their mornings and afternoons. She’s usually the only one here after six, though sometimes she runs into Natalia or Louise working on inventory or counting down the drawer. Less so the former than the latter; Natalia still has school to keep her busy, and she’s that age where Saturday nights mean parties and boys.

“There is a longer conversation you and I will have once things settle. Privately. I have plans and dreams for you, Alana, but I would not sandwich what I think will ultimately be a very enjoyable evening telling you about them between what I must do tonight.” Celia reaches out, tucking a strand of hair behind Alana’s ear.

GM: “I can’t wait, mistress,” the ghoul beams under Celia’s touch.

Celia: “The girl who said she’s meeting with me. Did you notice anything different about her?”

GM: She shakes her head. “She seemed like she had something on her mind, though.”

Celia: “She does. She is newly Embraced. I hope to find out more about the nuances of what she has become this evening, and I would like you to assist me.”

GM: “She’s already good at blending in. She’s been drinking the tea.”

“But of course, mistress. Whatever you’d like me to do.”

Celia: So she does eat food. Interesting.

Celia takes Alana’s hand in hers.

“She doesn’t know about Jade. That remains between us. As does what I do with my clients, the sculpting. But there are other things…”

There’s no delicate way to put this. She already trusts Alana with the flesh work, the dual identities, knowing about her mortal family.

“Are you familiar with the duskborn?”

GM: The ghoul nods at Celia’s first instruction, then shakes her head. “Not really, mistress. Just that the Quarter has a lot of them, in the worse areas, and they’re pathetic half-vampires.”

Celia: She had expected as much. Not even true vampires know much about them.

“Miss Garrison is duskborn.”

GM: Alana makes an expression of distaste.

Celia: “I knew her in life, before my Embrace.”

GM: “Should Randy throw her out, mistress?”

Celia: Celia’s lips twitch in an aborted smile.

“No, ‘Lana. I’ve taken her in for now.”

“Her brother once did me a great kindness. I plan to return the favor to his sister.”

GM: “All right, mistress. But they’re supposed to be nothing but trouble. That’s what the ghouls I talk to say, who have domitors in worse territories.”

Celia: “They’re products of their environment. Treated poorly by the powers that be. Like any marginalized group, they chafe at this treatment. But becoming a Kindred doesn’t change who you are inside, and Miss Garrison, I believe, will bring a certain light to this world that many desperately need.” Just like her brother.

There’s a brief pause.

“She’s also important to someone I care deeply for, as well as myself, and her safety is the utmost concern. I don’t expect you to wait on her, but I do expect civility.”

GM: Alana inclines her head. “Okay, mistress. Whatever you want her to have, she’ll have.”

Celia: “I knew I could count on you, ’Lana.” Celia gives the ghoul a smile. “Come, let’s get you two introduced.”

She keeps a hold of Alana’s hand on the way into the room to find Dani.

GM: She finds the thin-blood in the Tranquility Room wearing a robe and sipping tea as she scrolls through her phone.

Celia: She doesn’t stare at the tea. But she looks at it, wondering at the answer to her questions.

“Hey, Dani,” she says finally, “thanks for coming over. I have someone I’d like you to meet. This is Alana. Alana, this is Miss Garrison.”

GM: Dani looks up and smiles at Celia’s voice. “Oh, it’s no big! I was glad just to get out. And we met when I came in, actually.”

Celia: “Perfect.” Celia takes a seat beside her, gesturing for Alana to do the same. “How was your day?”

GM: The ghoul sits down.

“It was good. Pretty uneventful. I spent a lot of time on my phone or watching movies. Also studying for school. I have classes and work on Monday.”

Celia: “Where do you work? And what times are your classes and work?”

GM: “I’m a clerk for Judge Boner, at the Criminal District Court. It’s mainly thanks to my dad that I have it, ha.”

She provides her school and work schedule. It’s during the day, unsurprisingly.

Celia: “And you don’t burn. At all. Even with prolonged exposure?”

GM: Dani glances at Alana.

“She knows…?”

Celia: Celia nods in approval.

“Yes. Alana is my ghoul. Renfield.” They’d discussed them last night, but Celia is pleased that Dani had at least wanted to make sure that Alana was in on the secret before answering.

GM: “Okay. It’s nice to meet you for real.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure, Miss Garrison,” says the ghoul.

“I don’t, anyways. I tested it for a while. I don’t like how it feels, but it’s not like I can reschedule school and work to after dark.”

Celia: “No,” Celia says with a small smile, “of course not. The job with Judge Boner; do you meet him at the courts or elsewhere? I need an exact part of the city.”

GM: “I meet him at the courthouse. It’s at 2700 Tulane Avenue.” That’s in Mid-City.

Celia: Celia pinches the bridge of her nose in a gesture that is decidedly human.

“Mid-City was the sight of a slaughter a number of years ago. The people in charge of it rounded up everyone like you, brought them together under false pretenses, and sicced the sheriff, his hounds, and a dozen other licks on them.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “They still make runs through there regularly. And kill everyone they find.”

GM: “But during the day…?”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do. Problem is you smell like a ghoul. If you run into anyone who can pick up on that they’ll bring you in to find out whose you are. If they find out you’re Duskborn, you’re as good as dead.”

“And, frankly, I don’t trust them enough to keep their word if they grant safe passage.”

GM: “But will I run into anyone who can smell me during the day? I can’t just drop my job.”

Celia: “It’s a risk, honestly. I’d feel safer about it if you got another job.”

GM: “Well, why is it a risk? There’s… renfields during the day, but not the sheriff or vampires. I really need this job! My grades and resume aren’t as good as Stephen’s…”

Celia: “Because if their renfields are looking out for you then they’ll bring you in, too. People patrol the borders.”

GM: “I could sneak in. They can’t just keep everyone out.”

Celia: “It’s like shoplifting, Dani. You might get away with it once. But keep doing it and the chances of getting caught go up.”

“Let me think about this. We’ll figure it out, okay?”

“I have some ideas, but I need some time to figure them out, and I need to talk to a few people. Being able to walk around during the day is safer, but it’s not foolproof.”

GM: “Okay, please, let’s figure it out. I really can’t lose this job! My dad’s the only reason I have it. I can’t just stop going in to work, either, I’d need to give notice.”

“And I have to keep going to school, too. Law school has attendance requirements thanks to that fratire author.”

Celia: “I know, Dani. But I can get you another job. I can’t get you another life.”

GM: “I know. But in law, though?”

Celia: “I know some people.”

“There are a few other things I need to know about what you can do. It’ll help us figure out how to get around this for now.” Celia nods toward the tea. “Do you have any trouble swallowing that or keeping it down?”

GM: “Okay. But I think we need to figure this out pretty soon. School and work are on Monday, like I said. I can miss some class and take sick time at work, but I can’t do that forever.”

“And no, it’s good tea.”

Celia: “Good to hear that. Do you still need to use the bathroom?”

GM: “Uh, sort of? I don’t need to as often, and my poop looks like whatever I was eating.”

“It’s not even really poop. It looks like something between chewed-up food and vomit. It doesn’t even smell.”

Celia: “Huh. Sorry for the weird question. We don’t actually eat. Anything I eat I need to throw back up afterward.”

GM: “That must suck. Like permanent bulimia.”

Celia: “Worse. Food doesn’t even taste good.”

“That’s good for you, though. Easier to blend in.”

GM: “Oh, how does it taste?”

Celia: “Like, ah, ash and shit and garbage sludge.”

GM: “Seriously? You can’t eat?”

Dani looks taken aback.

“That’s awful. I’m so sorry. Food and blood are basically the only things I’ve enjoyed this past week.”

Celia: “Yeah. I miss my mom’s cooking, to be honest.” Sometimes. “What about sex?”

GM: “I haven’t really been thinking about sex lately,” Dani says slowly.

Celia: “Right,” Celia says with a wince. “Most of us can’t enjoy that either. I’m trying to figure out where you fall on the spectrum. We can fake it pretty good, but actual sex is kind of pointless to most.”

“That being said, I brought Alana in so we can try a few things.”

“Not sex,” she adds after a second.

GM: Dani tenses at first, then relaxes.

“All of that sounds so awful. It’s no wonder other vampires are jealous of duskborn. All the benefits and none of the drawbacks, besides racism.”

Celia: Celia gives that a nod, even though she doesn’t quite agree. Unless her theory turns out to be wrong.

“They hate anything different,” is all she says.

“So normally when we feed it feels really, really good to the vessel. It kind of fogs their memories a little bit too, which helps preserve the Masquerade. What I’m about to ask you to do is normally… uh, honestly just don’t do it outside of this situation. But I’d like to see what happens when you feed on Alana.”

GM: “Okay. If you’d be comfortable with that?” she asks Alana.

The ghoul smiles winsomely. “Of course. Like the mistress says, it feels very, very good.”

Dani gives the word ‘mistress’ a bit of a look, but doesn’t comment. “All right. Wrist or neck?”

“Wrist, please.” She extends her arm.

Dani sinks her fangs into it and drinks. Alana gives a little ‘happy noise’ and closes her eyes as color rises to her cheeks.

It’s a less enthusiastic noise than Celia usually gets, though.

Dani stops after a little while and looks at the ghoul. Alana has a glazed but not unhappy look to her eyes.

Celia: Celia watches, both to make sure that Dani doesn’t take too much or hurt Alana and to see the effect it has on her ghoul. Once Dani pulls away she tells her to lick the wound if she hasn’t and sees if it closes.

She sees the visible effect it has on Alana and remembers what it felt like when Dani fed on her, but she asks about the rest of it. The glazed memories, mostly.

GM: The puncture marks close under Dani’s tongue.

Celia: Perfect.

GM: Alana says that she “remembers thinking this was a good idea,” but can only recall the pair’s precise words after being pressed.

Celia: Celia beams at Dani.

“This is excellent. I was worried there’d be gaping holes and no fugue state.”

GM: “Okay, so that’s good news?” Dani smiles back.

Celia: “You still shouldn’t be feeding publicly because you could be seen, but it’s better than the alternative. Some of us have a painful bite, I’ve heard, which makes everything more difficult. I’d still try to disguise it as something else to be very careful, but this is good.”

“Now. The thing you did the other night. The fear. Try it again.”

GM: Dani pulls back her lips, showing her small fangs, and growls.

Alana doesn’t look terribly perturbed.

Celia: Celia nods again.

“Can you make her think she’s your best friend?”

GM: “How do I do that?”

Celia: “It’s an emotional pull. Like how you made the man afraid. You kind of just… will it to happen. Like you think about what you want to happen, ball it up inside of you, and then gently ease it around her. The emotional tools are things that are more subtle than other powers, so you don’t want to force it on her, but you want to kind of crook a finger at her and bring her to you. Like a skittish bunny that you really want to pick up.”

Celia gestures for her to look at Alana.

“Look at her. See how pretty she is? She runs a spa, she’s brilliant, she’s really good with makeup, she tastes great. You want her to want to be your friend, though. Close your eyes if it helps and picture it. Hold the thought in your mind: you want her to want you. Not sexually, but like the best girlfriend in the world. You want to drink mimosas and watch rom coms with her.”

“Feel for her. Mentally. Pretend there’s a line that connects the two of you and send those feelings across it. Picture it like a bubble enveloping her. A big friendship bubble.”

“Or a soft, warm blanket. Put it around her shoulders.”

GM: Alana fairly basks under the praise.

“Okay,” Dani nods at the description. “A bubble, a blanket. That’s a good way to visualize it. You’re a pretty good teacher.”

Celia: Celia smiles at the both of them.

“Thank you.”

GM: The thin-blood closes her eyes a moment, then stares at the ghoul with an invitingly familiar expression, the sort she’d flash to a girlfriend she shares mimosas and rom coms with.

Alana just smiles pleasantly back.

Celia: “Ask her something,” Celia tells Dani, “something personal that she wouldn’t share with a stranger.”

GM: “What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?” Dani asks.

“Sorry,” says Alana.

Celia: Celia nods again. She lifts her wrist to her mouth and sinks her fangs into her own flesh, holding out the fare to Dani.

“Drink, and we’ll try again.”

GM: Dani leans to imbibe.

She drinks hungrily and doesn’t stop.

Celia: Celia pulls her wrist away.

GM: Dani watches it longingly for a moment.

“…sorry. You taste really good.”

Celia: Her smile is fainter than normal.

“I’ll manage,” she says to the apology. “I have a theory that you take on the abilities of those you feed from. Like Rogue from X-Men. I don’t know if it’s the predominant abilities or any ability, so… I think we’ll test both.”

Claws sprout from the tips of her fingers, long and sharp and beautiful. She holds them up to Dani.

“Try this. Imagine your nails are claws. Like a cat. Or Wolverine.”

“You’ve seen X-Men, right? Stephen introduced me. I assume you’ve seen it.”

GM: “Oh, wooow! Yes, I have. Those are so cool, and pretty!” Dani exclaims.

“Everything about the mistress is cool and pretty,” Alana remarks contently.

Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh.

“Thanks, ‘Lana. You try, Dani. See if you can make them happen. Like Wolverine. Just pretend you’re about to fight some bad guys and you left your knife in your other pants.”

GM: Dani holds up her fingers and concentrates. Nothing happens.

“Why can’t I?” she asks, frustrated.

Celia: “Not every lick learns every ability. The claws aren’t something most people in my clan know. It’s not rare, but it’s unusual. That’s also why we’re practicing, to find out what you can do, which might let us find out who did this to you. Each clan has their own gifts. Problem is not a lot is known about duskborn, but finding out what you can do will help others.”

GM: “Okay. That makes sense. But why isn’t there much known about duskborn?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Because of the policy of open genocide. Vampires can’t generally kill each other without getting into trouble. But in most cities they’re not considered vampires, so they just die by the dozen. It’s like… being an illegal immigrant. You kind of don’t exist. Or a slave before the Civil War.”

“Also I think they’re kind of a recent appearance. So a combination of things. Sorry to be blunt.”

GM: Dani doesn’t say anything for a moment. Just processes Celia’s words.

“I didn’t ask for this.”

Celia: “I know, Dani. I know. We’re going to make the best of it. I have some favors to call in to get some things done for you. And the Quarter is the best place for you while we get it settled. At least here you’ve got someone sharing domain with you, you know?”

GM: “I do. And I’m really thankful for that,” she says, sincerely. “What sorts of things and favors are you thinking? I don’t want to put you out…”

Celia: “A lot of them are pushed to the edges. The ghetto. And once you finish this semester there’s more flexibility in what we can do, I think. How much longer do you have left for school?”

“Don’t worry about the favors. I’ve got it covered. But if I need help with something I’ll let you know if you want.”

GM: “I still have this year, and next year,” Dani answers. “I’m in the 3+3 program that lets you start law school during your senior year in undergrad.”

“And, please, let me know. You’ve already done so much.”

Celia: “Your brother meant the world to me, and to my family. He was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed him, and he pulled me out of a hole so deep and dark I never thought I’d be free. And you, Dani, you should have been my sister. I can’t change the world, but I can make this little piece of it more bearable.”

“Family means a lot to me. My ghouls, they mean a lot to me too. You can ask Alana how others like her are treated. Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I need to be a monster. And it might take a while for you. I know my adjustment was difficult and I didn’t have the stigma of being duskborn. Their world moves slowly because they’re immortal. Progress and change take time. But I promise, Dani, we’ll get you to a place where you’re comfortable with who and what you are.”

“And hey,” she adds, “some of them look down on me because I still enjoy sex, so fuck ’em, you know?”

GM: Dani stares at Celia with shining eyes upon her declaration. Some of it has to be the bond, but no doubt much of it is real too, and the bond has but amplified those emotions.

“I’m sorry that didn’t get to happen, you marrying my brother,” she gets out. “But I’m really glad you found me, Celia. Just so glad. I don’t know where else I would’ve turned. I trust that you’re going to make things turn out as well as you can. And I know you don’t want me to repay you, but… I’d still like to do something for you back, now or in the future. Just name it.”

Celia: Celia takes her hand. She feels bad about the bond. She really does. But it’s for Dani’s own good, just like pushing her brother to let her stay was for his good. It has to be. She’s not a monster. She’d said that. That means it’s true, that she’s not a monster. She’s doing the best thing she can for their family.

“I’ve got you, Dani. You’re safe with me. Always.”

“Now, let’s try that bubble again.”

Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: It takes a few tries, and some patient tutoring, but the bubble meets with some success. Dani manages to inflame Alana with adoration for Celia, prompting her to start hungrily kissing and fondling her domitor.

Celia: It’s an unusual reaction for the fact that it’s usual for Alana, less so that it came from Dani’s attempt to manipulate her. After she gently cools Alana’s ardor with a stray thought she returns her attention to Dani. She lets Alana stay on her lap, though, so long as she keeps her hands to herself.

She asks Dani what she did, what she was focusing on, so that she can better understand the ability that she had shown.

GM: Alana makes herself at home on that lap like there’s no place she’d rather be.

Dani says she “felt for what was there” and tried to give it a push. A blanket, like Celia said, but one Dani was picking up from the ghoul’s lap to drape around her shoulders.

Celia: Celia nods her head. It’s a good explanation of what she had just done as well, though she’d taken the blanket back off Alana and settled it on the ghoul’s lap instead. It’s a step in the right direction, and it tells her at least a little bit about Dani’s capabilities.

She tells her that the ability she’s using is called “star mode,” though Celia has always just referred to it as “charm,” and there are some who have more traditional names for it as well. Unfortunately Celia doesn’t know a lot of the other skills, so she might need to bring in someone else if Dani wants to find out what her capabilities are.

Celia, of course, has no idea how she’s going to explain this to anyone. “I’m running some experiments on thin-bloods, can I borrow your vitae?”

She offers to take a blood sample to her warlock friend, if Dani wants, to see if he can find anything out for her. Not that she thinks Pete will be much inclined to help a duskborn. She also kind of feels like she already owes him. But maybe.

GM: Dani is pleased to hear she’s making progress and asks what other things she could learn to do. Can she fly?

Dani thinks that Celia’s offer sounds like a good idea and draws a blood sample for her.

She also asks if she could be there. She’d like to meet some other vampires.

Celia: Flying, Celia tells her, is a very advanced skill. The only lick she knows who is capable of it has been around for over a hundred years. If Celia ever manages to learn it she promises Dani that she’ll bring her along for a ride.

Celia watches Dani draw the blood sample, wanting to know if she’s able to mend her flesh as easily as true-blooded vampires can.

There’s a pause while she considers the request. Generally duskborn only mingle with other duskborn. But if anyone would be open to meeting her it probably would be Pete, so Celia says she can ask him. She also wants Dani to meet a friend of hers, but she’s still working on a way to sneak him in. Bit of a Romeo and Juliet kind of thing, she jokes. The good news is they’re both already dead.

“By the way,” she asks, “did you get a hold of your father for dinner?”

GM: Dani’s eyebrows raise when Celia tells her that flying real. She’d love to come along for that ride.

Dani draws the blood by biting her wrist and licks it closed when she’s done.

Dani would very much like to meet Celia’s friend.

“I did,” she nods. “I told him there was a friend I really wanted him to meet, who knew Stephen, and who wanted to talk to him about Stephen. I didn’t say it was you. I wasn’t really sure how we’d explain how you, uh, only broke his heart because you were a vampire.”

Celia: “Probably for the best,” Celia admits. “I’m still working on a cover story for him.”

Celia: Celia nods. She asks Dani to excuse her rudeness for a minute and digs out her phone to call her mom.

GM: Her mother picks up promptly.

“Hi, sweetie! How was… your dinner?”

Celia: “It went well,” Celia tells her. “I’d like to tell you all about it. Are you going to be up for a bit? I have a client in…” Celia glances at the time, “soon, but it should only take an hour or so.”

GM: “Oh yes, definitely! It isn’t all that late, anyways.”

Celia: “Do you mind if I swing by after?”

GM: “Oh, that’d just make my night, sweetie! Please do!”

Her mother’s enthusiasm sounds as sincere as always. She loves having her daughter over. But it’s plain she wants to hear about that dinner with her ex, too.

Celia: Celia doesn’t blame her. All girls want to hear about their exes.

“Perfect. Hey, Mom… you remember Stephen, right? From college? I just ran into his little sister. And we got to talking about Stephen, and one thing led to another and… well, do you want to have dinner with her and her dad? With you and Emily and I?”

GM: “Oh, I definitely remember Stephen,” her mother says quietly. “That poor, poor family. I can’t even imagine what they must have gone through.”

“Yes, I’d love to have dinner with them. Over at our place?”

Celia: “If it’s not too much trouble. Maybe tomorrow or Monday?”

GM: “It isn’t, sweetie. Stephen did just so much for us. We wouldn’t even be in this house to have guests over for dinner, if he hadn’t put us in touch with Viv…”

“I’ll cook something extra special. But please let me know soon whether it’s going to be tomorrow or Monday, so I can know when to start cooking.”

“And so Emily can make plans.”

Celia: Celia considers her schedule. She doesn’t think she has anything pressing either night. And why not just go for it? The biggest hurdle is going to be clearing it with her grandsire, which she plans on taking care of tonight.

“Let’s do tomorrow, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Okay, tomorrow it is. You didn’t mention her with dinner, but Lucy’s obviously still going to be home.”

Celia: “What? How dare she. Send her to the movies, Ma.”

“Just kidding, that’ll be fine. I’ll see you in a bit, alright? Love you.”

GM: “Okay, we’ll talk soon. I love you too!”

Celia: Celia hangs up and looks back to Dani.

“Tomorrow it is.”

GM: Dani looks up from her own phone.

“Awesome. I heard something about someone not going to the movies?”

Celia: “My daughter.”

GM: Dani pauses. “Oh. That must be tough, to be a vampire and a mom.”

Celia: “My mother raises her.”

GM: “That makes sense.” She pauses again. “If vampires can’t have kids… you’d have gotten pregnant nine months before you broke up with Stephen…”

“Is he the father?”

Celia: Celia hesitates.

Lucy isn’t her secret. But it’s a good explanation, isn’t it? She’d told Stephen as much. That they could just tell Henry she’s Stephen’s child. And why not? What’s the harm? If Henry is as broken as Dani says he is, maybe he could use something beautiful in his life—

GM: Dani frowns. “Wait, no. He never said anything about you being pregnant.”

Celia: Her ruminations are cut off by Dani’s words.

“No,” Celia says.

“Lucy is not my child. Her mother was raped by a terrible person and didn’t want to abort her. I agreed to take her in, but… I died.”

“But to protect her mother, I’ve lied and said she’s mine.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani. “I’m sorry. But that was really, really kind of you.”

It’s just as well. Diana and Emily would probably look askance if Dani showed up full of excitement to meet her niece.

Celia: “A lot of people who knew me assume that Stephen is the father. We had a scare, once, but… well, I mean, I was Embraced shortly thereafter, so even if something had happened it died with me.”

“After Stephen died… I thought about… continuing the lie, you know, and introducing her to your father, but Stephen told me once that he’d rather have an ugly truth than a beautiful lie, and it wasn’t my place.”

GM: “Oh, I’m so sorry, Celia…” Dani repeats at Celia’s first words, squeezing her hand.

“And Stephen is right. Dad wouldn’t want to believe a beautiful lie.”

“I wouldn’t either. The law exists to maintain justice, and justice can’t exist without truth.”

Celia: “You sound just like him.”

GM: Dani gives a faint smile. “Same dad. Same family.”

Celia: “You’re good people, Dani. You and him and your dad.”

GM: “Thanks. My dad can seem stern or distant to a lot of people, especially since Stephen died, but he’s good underneath.”

Celia: “He warned me about that same thing, you know. Before I met you guys for dinner. I was so nervous I was going to say something stu—silly.”

GM: “I don’t think you did. He didn’t say anything later, either.”

“He has gotten harder and less outgoing since Stephen died, though. Like I said, part of him did too, after that. His son was just his everything.”

Celia: “I can’t imagine how hard losing a child is. There’s…” Celia forces the air from her lungs in a sigh. “A friend of mine asked if you’d be happier in another city, so you don’t have to hide what you are from him. And… ordinarily, you know, I’d have said yes. But I know how losing Stephen hurt your dad, and, Dani…” Celia reaches out, “I keep thinking about… what I’d say to him, you know, if you disappeared too, if you died…”

GM: Dani emphatically shakes her head. “Oh, no, I don’t want to leave!”

“I mean, he might rather have Stephen than me, but I’m still all he has left.”

“And all of my friends and people I know are in the city. I’d planned to go into law here.”

Celia: “That’s why I’m so uptight about everything with the territories. I know it’s awful of me, I’m sorry, I’m really not trying to fence you in.”

GM: “Could we… negotiate?”

Celia: “I’m going to try.”

“I can manage your school, I think. The person who runs the territory is a hardass, but I have something he wants, and I’m happy to trade it to him for you. It’s the Anarchs that run Mid-City that make me nervous.”

GM: “Could we just pay a toll? Because that’s what the Mafia and other organized crime groups do, sometimes. They let outsiders do business in their territory in return for a cut of the money.”

Celia: “Usually, yes. That’s what I’d do. It’s the fact that they’re the ones who claim they’re for equality and then sell everyone out the minute they get a better deal that keeps me wary.”

GM: “They sound like scumbags.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“It’s not even that their ideals are flawed, it’s just… they’re so two-faced about it, you know? Like. A lot of the elders, they can be awful. Play games. Put you down. Make up stupid rules. But you know what to expect from them. And yeah they’re old school and racist and I sometimes wish they’d all meet the sun, but you know what to expect. How to act. The rules chafe, but you learn them like it’s a game and you succeed.”

GM: “But the Anarchs say they’re on your side.”

Celia: “And then they call the sheriff on you. And watch you die.”

“There was a girl… the massacre, right? This one girl was real vocal about it, sticking up for the Duskborn, but the minute the sheriff showed up she was the first to bail.”

“If she hadn’t who knows what might have happened. Maybe the Anarchs would have stood with everyone else. And sure she feels bad, but those people are dead.”

GM: “Well, you see stuff like that in the law and organized crime, too. People who maybe don’t mean bad, but who get caught up in bad situations, don’t put actions to words, and make things worse.”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia agrees, “maybe that’s what it was. I can buy that. Bad situation all the way around. And I don’t blame her because it wasn’t all her fault, you know? But the people who are supposed to lead the cause? They knew it was coming. They set it up. I like their push for equality. But as long as those two are still around? There’s no way.”

GM: “Boot them out, then. Maybe better leaders will turn up.”

Celia: “They’re both super old and powerful. But I’d like to.”

GM: “Find other people who feel the same way. If there’s any hope for the movement, there’ll be people do.”

“And if there aren’t any, then maybe it doesn’t have a future anyway.”

Celia: “Maybe you can help. We can do it together.”

GM: “I think I’d like to do that with you.”

“I know I haven’t actually seen very much yet, but none of this society seems at all fair or just from what you’ve described, especially towards vampires like me.”

Celia: “Societies are built to keep the people on top happy. That’s what cultures do with anything, and they shove everyone else to the side. Keep them down. Powerless. They do it with words just as much as they do it with deed. You see it in religions a lot, it’s really obvious there, but in politics and… everything, really. They have terms for duskborn that are unflattering, spewed out like any other racist, bigoted term to marginalize them.”

“And the problem is that the people on top of our society have been there for a long time. You get more powerful as you age. So you hold onto it better.”

“And if you live forever and keep amassing power as you age?” Celia gives a half-shrug. “I’m pretty sure some places used to worship them like gods.”

GM: “How old are the oldest vampires here?”

Celia: “Well… one of the Toreador’s primogen is… centuries old. I don’t think she’s ever spoken publicly about her date of Embrace. The Brujah primogen was Embraced during the French Revolution. The lord of the French Quarter was part of the Sun King’s court. The prince… god, seven hundred? Eight? There are a lot like us, you know, newer blood. Late twentieth or early twenty-first century. But enough that were born hundreds of years ago.”

“Two of the people I regularly hang with were Embraced in the early 1900s.”

GM: “Wow,” says Dani. “They must have so many things to talk about. But that’s also… tragic, if they’re what’s keeping vampire society as unjust as it is. If they have all that power and experience but don’t use it for good.”

Celia: “It’s like this all over is the problem. There’s like… I guess there’s people above them that keep them in line, too. And they have these people that kind of travel around like detectives making sure everyone follows all the rules that they put down.”

“So it isn’t even just here. It’s everywhere.”

GM: “So there’s a government, beyond the city here? Who’s ultimately in charge?”

Celia: “I guess you could call it that, yeah.”

GM: “Is there a king, or a president, or…?”

Celia: “I think it’s a council.”

GM: Dani looks curious. “You think?”

Celia: “So… each territory is usually kind of self-governing, and as long as there aren’t any problems they usually just let us do our thing, you know? Travel can be pretty dangerous because of hunters and loops and stuff, so we don’t jet all over the place. And a lot of the old ones don’t like technology.”

“A lot of information is kind of like… not need to know, but just not readily available.”

GM: “That sounds like it would benefit the people at the top.”

Celia: “Exactly. Which is why they do it.”

GM: “So we don’t even know how our own government works, beyond the local level?”

Celia: “People do. My friend probably knows more. I bet he’d be happy to explain it to you.”

“Just, uh, don’t tell him it’s because I couldn’t. His sire is just more connected and into learning and history than mine.”

GM: “Secret’s safe,” Dani smiles.

Celia: “Appreciate it.”

“All right. Go ahead and give your dad a call. My client is supposed to be here in a few and I need to get the table ready. Take Alana’s number in case you run into any trouble during the day and can’t reach me. I’ll talk to some people about what we’re going to do with your school and work and everything else, and we’ll meet up tomorrow.”

Celia pulls Dani in for a hug before she goes.

“We’re gonna change everything, Dani. I can feel it.”

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jade waits for Rusty to arrive.

This late at night she walks the halls of her spa alone. Once she might have been bothered by this fact, but these days she knows that she can handle most of the things that go bump in the night. She had sent Alana home for the night after Dani’s exit to sleep off the effects of the feeding and emotional manipulation after asking about what Accou had said about their meeting, and promised that she and Alana would have a ladies night one evening this week to talk and unwind after a decidedly eventful week.

Now, though, her focus and attention moves to the man who will be coming through the door at any moment, already planning the treatment in her mind. She doesn’t keep notes for Rusty. She had, once, but years of working with him to reduce the pain from his disease have led her to conclude that the problem sticks to its usual haunts, and he sees her frequently enough that she no longer needs to consult the medical textbooks.

The thought of medical anything makes her think of her father’s promise to fix Diana. She can’t help but wonder which of the licks in Houston he’d get to do the treatment for him, but his mortal daughter, of course, doesn’t know anything about that. She’d been thinking of taking Diana there herself if her teacher or the archon fail to make a timely appearance, but if Maxen can take care of it…

And when, she wonders, had she decided that she trusts him with her mother?

The whole thing could be a ruse.

But it nags at her, the thought that what he’d said is true. A demon inside of him. A metaphor for the blood? He hadn’t smelled like a ghoul, but if he’d gotten rid of it… Or did he mean, truly, a demon? It’s too bad the priest who’d done the exorcism had died or she could simply swing by and find out.

But if there was a demon inside her father, what does that make her sire?

She has no time to figure it out. Not tonight. Tonight she has more worldly concerns, things that don’t involve demons and devils and soul-stealing, ghost-eating monsters. Things like muscles and blood and nerves that send constant pain signals to the brain of her ghoul, that no amount of muscle work will ever completely fix because the entire body itself needs realigned and reworked.

But she can help. Like she does with her mother, she can help until she finds a permanent solution to his problem.

Veronica had once told her that she doesn’t like broken things, but Jade seems to collect them.

She waits for Rusty, and when he walks through the door—slower than normal, she can’t help but notice, and she could kick herself for letting him go so long without her—she smiles at him and takes him back into the treatment room.

GM: Alana reports back that Accou’s herald said it was not necessary to set up a meeting between them over the matter of Cloe. “She said the primogen was willing to wait until North was back in the city, even if that took years. I guess being an elder makes you patient.”

“She also said to convey the primogen’s thanks for your offer of assistance, and that he will avail himself of it when the archon returns.”

“She also said that he would be available in seven nights to discuss Evan Bourelle.”

Celia: Elders and their pretend plans.

But she agrees, because she doesn’t have another choice.

GM: Jade is aware that many elders have real plans, commitments, and obligations, just as surely as any mortal mayor or CEO is likely to have a packed schedule.

Celia: Excuses, excuses.

When she’s an elder she’s going to make people wait months to see her.

Provided she makes it that long.

GM: Rusty, in any case, arrives at the spa and greets his domitor with a wordless nod. The ghoul looks somewhat stiff as he strides inside, and from more than just the time since their last session. He’s always looked a little stiff.

Needing someone else doesn’t come naturally to Regina’s son.

Or to someone whose family makes their own living off the needy.

Celia: Which is why Jade never offers to help, or makes a big deal out of their arrangement. She simply has the table lower for him to get onto without her assistance and a stool nearby in case he needs it. She understands pride. His pride, especially, after all these years.

She doesn’t ask him about the work she’d given him, either. This is his time, and when he’s on her table he is just another client. Everything else can wait.

Face up is the only instruction she gives him.

Once he’s settled she begins her work.

GM: “Still looking into Summer,” he says he lies down, bringing up a topic where Jade needs him. “We hit a new lead. She used to live at a shithole apartment in the Quarter for a little while.”

Celia: Jade nods her head, letting him speak while she works.

She starts with the neck. No face, no scalp. Those were the curt words he had said to her that first session when Reggie brought him in to see if she could help, and those are the rules she abides with Rusty. He doesn’t want the relaxation from the face and scalp. He wants the real work, the problem solving.

Her hands begin at the base of his neck, gliding upward in one long, smooth motion on either side of the cervical vertebrae. No pressure on the bones themselves, but close enough on either side to find the spots she needs. One hand and then the other, she repeats the motion.

GM: The ghoul pauses to sigh.

“Interviewed some neighbors who recognized her description. She had a roommate.”

Celia: Her fingers press upward into his muscles. She makes a sound that might be a “hm?” to show she’s listening.

Jade tilts his head to one side, cradling his cheek with one hand while the other strips the scalenes. Thumb anchored against his traps, the rest of that hand dips beneath his back to pull upward on the muscle fibers.

GM: Rusty falls silent again for a moment as Jade works her magic. He might not call it that like others do, but the silence says enough.

“Bad roommate too, seems like.”

“Pained noises from their unit. Sounds of throwing up.”

Celia: Perhaps if she had not just come from dinner with her father, if her mind was not already replaying the memories of her childhood, the words would mean nothing to her. Pained sounds. Throwing up. Anyone can throw up. She throws up every time she forces herself to eat.

But she is thinking about it. How her mother used to make those same noises when she was a child. How she’d thought it was stress, or pushing herself too hard at ballet, or maybe morning sickness with another surprise baby.

But no, none of that. A man with a demon inside of him had beaten her.

Maybe it’s a leap. Maybe she’s seeing connections where there are none. Maybe she has spent too much time with Elyse and the moon clan’s “enlightenment” has rubbed off on her.

Still, she digs.

With both her hand and mouth she digs for more. Information from his search: who is the roommate? Was she making the sounds, or was Summer? Has it continued since Summer’s disappearance? Information from his body: her fingers tap the message across his skin, stroking, gliding, kneading, until she finds what she looks for and presses down to release the bundle of tightly coiled muscle fibers that is so often responsible for the pain reverberating down his back.

GM: “Summer only lived here after she disappeared,” Rusty says thinly.


Celia: She chips away at it a little at a time, holding and releasing, holding and releasing, and beneath her touch the muscles melt like butter, releasing him from the aches that so frequently plague his body.

She pauses at the tone.

“I assume,” she says, and here her voice takes on the icy tones of her sire, “that if she were still there it would be a simple pick up. Ergo, another disappearance.”

GM: Rusty pauses again too as Jade’s hands do their work.

“It’s a disappearance if someone was expecting her to remain where she was, and she didn’t. This place was a shithole. There’s lots of turnover in tenants.”

Celia: Her eyes roll so far back into her head that they threaten to disappear. She leaves the topic of the roommate alone. If she were worth looking into Rusty would have already done it.

The nodule in his back finally disappears. Jade gives it a final stroke to ease the discomfort from the pressure she had applied and turns his head to work the other side.

GM: Rusty has not been able to verify who the roommate was. The lease was in Summer’s name, and she neglected to mention to the property manager there would be a roommate. The other tenants only think there was, because they sometimes heard voices from the unit.

Summer is gone again, in any case. There was an altercation in the building around when she left. Gunshots fired, though no one (known) dead. Violence is not uncommon around the property.

Celia: Jade thanks him for the update, her frosty tone since thawed. She tells him that she appreciates his work while her left thumb strips the left scalene twice before moving to the shoulders. This side of his body holds different tension: rather than work the lats she unrolls the traps to find the origin of his discomfort.

GM: As to the other two matters, Rusty has mixed news.

He thinks the name “Lee Andrin” that Jade got was a fake. There’s only a bare handful of people by that name, who live in Montana and Connecticut. One’s a retired rancher and the other’s a chiropractor.

Rusty hasn’t found any evidence they’ve ever set foot in Louisiana.

He has, however, had more success with Roxanne. He’s now in her Suncloud account. He passes its information to Jade.

Celia: Disappointing. But she’d gotten the name through a blood ritual… is it possible it had failed? She could ask Pete, she supposes. Maybe she’d heard wrong. The “glinko” thing hadn’t made any sense to her either.

She doesn’t sigh, but she nods her head and asks if he and Reggie can look into anyone with a fake ID (they know plenty of people, Reggie had told her once), or any other Andrins. She tells Rusty that she’d had to divine the name and it’s possible the “reception” was bad. She also mentions she has his friends’ phones, and asks if it’s possible they’ll help.

She supposes she shouldn’t be surprised about the name, in any case. The other hunters had used fake names as well.

GM: He says they can try, and that the phones likely will.

Celia: She’ll get them to him once they’re done here and showers him with compliments for getting into Roxanne’s account.

If he has nothing more for her in those regards, Jade continues the treatment. She waits until he’s done with his report to flip him onto his stomach—once he’s face down it’s more difficult to talk—and coaxes him into relaxing by phrasing it that she needs to feel for a few certain things on his back, and it would be very helpful if he could simply let his body be heavy and allow her to do the motions.

Celia: Only to herself does Jade admit to a certain amount of disappointment that Lee Andrin had not been so easy to find. She’d hoped that she could bring him to the Evergreen tonight, question him, and find out where the leak in security had come from in regards to Roderick. She doesn’t really want to think that it’s Coco, but if only a handful of them had known about his haven…

It worries her that her boyfriend isn’t safe. It worries her that she hasn’t been able to solve this problem for him, that she can’t balance the guilt in her heart with the knowledge that she had been able to eliminate a threat to his person, at least. It isn’t Rusty’s fault, she tells herself, it’s her own. She hadn’t heard right. She’d asked the wrong questions when Pete had used the ritual. She’d wasted the blood and now she doesn’t get another chance because the bodies are deep in the Gulf by now and while she doubts that Roderick or his krewe hadn’t drained their bodies no doubt that’s long gone too.


She is, isn’t she? If she can’t fuck her way out of a problem then she doesn’t know how to solve it. No wonder Savoy and her sire keep her at arm’s length. No wonder her “grandsire” won’t see her for a week, and Veronica lost interest in her, and the only reason Garcia wanted to speak with her was to make a pass and Gui had only wanted to fuck even after she’d showed him that cool thing and Pete… Pete just thinks she’s stupid, she knows it. Pretty but stupid. Someone had said that to her once, hadn’t they? While she was on her knees, someone had told her she was pretty but stupid. Someone who was supposed to help but didn’t, who just made it worse.

Celia’s memories won’t leave Jade alone. They drag her under and batter her from all sides, every nasty thing anyone has ever said about her, and even her father’s “you’re brilliant” isn’t enough to keep them at bay.

No wonder Nico left her.

Maybe her dad should have sent her to the dollhouse.

Maybe the wrong daughter died.

And that’s the worst part, isn’t it, that she can’t take it back, that she can’t fix her family, that she caused all of these problems and she can’t fix them. Every time she tries she gets it wrong.

It’s like a dam bursting. She’s glad Rusty stays silent on the table, that she doesn’t need to keep up appearances around him at least, because she can’t stop the flood of emotions, and only her hands on his body keep her centered.

Fix it.

Fix it.

Fix it.

Every beat of his heart thrums through her, reminding her who she is, where she is, what she is.

She can fix this, at least. She can do that much. She can fix the aches and pains that plague his body, can give him back his ability to walk, can take the tight lines from his face and the whiteness from his knuckles. She’s a physical creature. This is a physical thing. Like a Brujah who only knows how to smash, she’s the Toreador that only knows how to make bodies better.

So she works. She fixes. She glides and strokes and kneads her way down his back, working at the muscles, making them pliable, releasing the tension that she finds from the traps to the glutes. All along the spine she taps and vibrates her fingers to take away his pain because this, at least, this she understands. Bodies she understands. They don’t ask her to know about politics or hidden motives or hunters. They just lay there and let her work upon them and make them better.

Someone had told her that once, too. That she makes things better.

So she does that with Rusty know. She makes his body better because sometimes that’s all she can do.

And maybe that’s enough.

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: However low a girl might feel, there’s always one place she can go to feel loved and accepted.

Or at least that Celia can go.

“Hi, sweetie! It’s so good to see you!” her mother exclaims, smiling as she pulls her daughter close for a hug. Like it’s a treat that Celia came by again so soon.

Celia: Seeing her mother again makes her feel lighter than she has all night. She holds Diana close when her mom brings her in for a hug, content for long moments to just soak in the love this woman holds for her.

Even the dark thoughts that threaten to surface stay dormant in the wake of such shining affection.

“Hi, Momma. It’s good to see you too. Thanks for having me over.”

GM: “Thanks for coming over,” she smiles, rubbing a hand along Celia’s back. “I love having you over all the time, like this. It just makes me so thankful we still live in the same city, there are so many families that don’t.”

“I know you just went out to eat, but if you’re still hungry, just say the word. We have leftover casserole and cake, still. And some other things in the fridge.”

Celia: “How did I know you were going to offer me food,” Celia says with a laugh, following Diana into the kitchen. “I’ll let you know if I get hungry, but I think I’m okay for now.”

GM: “Because I’m your mother, that’s why,” Diana smiles back. “But okay. Let’s go get Emily, she’s in her room studying.”

Celia: “Actually, Mom,” Celia interrupts, “it might be better if just you hear this first. And then you can decide how much you want to share with her.”

“Emily has really strong opinions on Dad, and I… want you to be able to hear this without them.”

GM: “All right, that’s fair,” her mom nods. “Though I’ll tell her everything when we’re done, of course.”

Celia: “Of course. I just want to give you time to process first.”

GM: Her mom nods and heads over to the couch to sit down. She pulls up her knees and wraps her arms around her ankles as she looks up at Celia with an expression that’s simultaneously nervous and excited. Almost like a schoolgirl’s.

Celia: “There’s some good and some bad and some ugly,” Celia tells her as she takes a seat in the chair across the room. “As with all things, I think. Do you have a preference on where I start?”

GM: Diana pats a spot on the couch for Celia to sit down next to her. “Oh, wherever you think best, sweetie. But maybe get the bad over with first, like a shot, if you’re not sure.”

Celia: “I don’t want to upset you,” Celia says gently, abandoning her chair to sit beside her mother instead. “And if you don’t want to talk about something I won’t force you, okay? But a lot of stuff came up at dinner tonight. And some of it you might not have wanted me to know, and some of it… answers a lot of lingering questions about… about things that have happened to the family.”

She pauses to take a breath she doesn’t really need, mentally preparing herself.

“We talked about Grandma, a little bit. And why you don’t get along. About the school. And… I just… I wanted to say, Mom, I’m really sorry that I tried to force that relationship on you with her.”

GM: Her mother’s expression turns very still at the word ‘school.’

She doesn’t say anything.

Celia: “I didn’t know. I didn’t realize how painful it was, having a relationship with her. He told me that you talked him out of sending me there, and I’ve heard… I’ve heard things, I know some of what they do there, and… I’m sorry, Mom, I’m sorry I doubted you about her, I never thought that she’d do that to her own daughter.”

“So I just… wanted to say I won’t bring her up again around you.”

GM: Celia’s mother still doesn’t say anything. She presses her head against her raised knees, as if to keep her daughter from looking at her face.

Finally, she just nods.

Celia: “I love you, Mom. Even knowing that. Not because I pity you, I don’t look down on you for it, I don’t think less of you. You didn’t have a choice. I love who you are. And I would have loved who you were, I bet, and if you ever want to talk about it…” She doesn’t force her presence on her mother, but she touches the hand that’s wrapped around her legs. “I’ve seen really ugly things in the past few years, Mom, and if you ever want to talk about it, anything about it, I’m here. I’m listening. I believe you.”

“He didn’t tell me to hurt me. If it helps. He didn’t tell me to hurt our relationship, or to hurt you. And he didn’t say anything bad about you, ever. I asked once, about the divorce, about what happened, and he told me that he didn’t want to insult your virtue by speaking of it.”

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t look up for a few moments, though neither does she shy from Celia’s touch. When she finally does, she looks as if she’s blinking back tears before she pulls her daughter in for another hug. It’s desperate and tight, not warm like the embrace the two exchanged only minutes earlier.

Celia: Celia holds her close. She knows how painful it must be for her mother to speak openly about the things she’d gone through at the Dollhouse. And Celia can’t even tell her that she knows. She can’t ever tell her that she knows, or that she’s been there, that she’s helped. That makes her the worst sort of person: complicit.

She’s glad she had never made a doll for Lucy. Glad that she had never brought over any of the dolls she had made, that she hadn’t brought Lucy-Doll over to the house to show her mother.

GM: Their stares always seemed to linger for so long when she would get ready to visit her mother’s house.

“I’m… I’m sorry…” Diana finally gets out in a small voice. She doesn’t let go.

Celia: “Why? Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything to be sorry for.”

GM: Celia’s mother just gives a half-sniff, half-sob and holds on to her.

Celia: “You’re safe now, Momma. You’re safe. She can’t hurt you anymore.”

GM: Another lie. Elyse has said she brings in dolls for ‘touch-ups’ before. Dolls require maintenance and repair, sometimes more advanced than their owners can provide. Just like Lucy does.

Diana clings to her daughter like she would a husband. Minutes silently pass with the pair’s arms around one another.

“Is that… all the bad news,” Celia’s mother finally says.

Celia: But Payton can’t hurt her, and Celia won’t let Elyse get her hands on her mother again.

She holds her mother for long moments, letting her cry as she needs. She doesn’t press for details. She wants to know, of course she does, but Diana isn’t ready to speak about it, and Celia will not force her to unburden herself.

“I think so. Aside from that… dinner went well. Really well.”

GM: Diana pulls away at last to dab at her eyes.

“Tell me about it,” she sniffs. “Tell me something good and happy.”

Celia: “He’s… different, Mom. Really different. Like he was before he became… you know, who he was when we were growing up. It was like seeing a completely new person, one that I thought had died a long time ago. He remembers what he did, he knows he hurt you, and he said he’s been working on a way to make amends. Because ‘a man doesn’t just waltz back into someone’s life with apologies,’ that’s what he said.”

“But he did start there. With an apology for everything he’d done. How he should have sheltered and protected us and he abused us instead, kind of… a lot of stuff like that. How he messed up. He said Logan has been pushing him to reconnect but he wasn’t ready yet, because he wanted to do something instead of just saying words.”

GM: Celia’s mother looks like she’s about to start crying again. “Oh, he’s such a good man. I told you, Celia, he was so gentle…”

Celia: “And he told me that we’d succeeded despite him. That even though he’d tried to break us we were stronger and better than that, and he… I said something ki—kind of dumb, I misunderstood, and I thought he was going to call me stupid again, and then I said it, later, and he… he said I wasn’t, that I never had been, and I shouldn’t care, you know, I shouldn’t care, but I do.”

Celia’s mother isn’t the only one that looks like she wants to cry.

“And I hated him for so long, and now I just… I just kept thinking, he’s not even my dad. Why does it matter. He’s not my dad. And if he knew that, would he have been nice to me tonight? And I can’t tell him. And I just feel like a big liar.”

GM: Diana cups her daughter’s cheek with one hand. “Oh, Celia, you aren’t stupid, you’ve never been, not ever…”

The reminder of the lie, though, makes the happier expression on her face die again.

“It’s my fault there, baby, not yours…”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “I know. I know it’s not my fault, but it still affects me, and you said… years ago, you said that the Roberts people knew somehow, and Dad is running against him next year, and what if it comes out?”

GM: Diana blinks. “He’s running…?”

Celia: “He’s running for governor.”

GM: “Oh my… oh my goodness! That’s wonderful! He told you this? Even the buildup to the election’s still some time away…”

Celia: “Yeah. I wondered… you know, a little bit if some of this was because he needed to fix his image to run for higher office.”

“But I… don’t think that’s true. I mean, it is, but I don’t think that’s his motivation.”

“We had a… it’s kind of…” Celia trails off. She clears her throat. “It’s kind of weird, what he said, and I don’t… really know how to explain it…”

GM: Her mother takes her hands. “Go on, sweetie, I know you can, you’re so smart.”

Celia: She tells her mother about Isabel reaching out to their father. About the arguments they’d get into on the phone, and how Maxen had struggled to listen to her because he couldn’t beat her via call, and how if he’d tried she would have just disappeared again. She tells her how they’d talked a lot about faith, and how she’d pushed Maxen to confess his sins and let Jesus into his heart, and how he finally had.

She tells her mother what he said about the priest. And the demon. And the exorcism.

And when it’s done she lets the words hang, because none of it… none of it sounds plausible. Demons and priests and exorcisms. It’s a horror movie, not real life, but Celia doesn’t say any of this to her mother. She doesn’t tell her mother that she thinks it’s true, or that she knows it’s true, or that demons are the least of their problems, or that the same demon that had gotten to Maxen had taken her, too, had sunk his claws so deeply into her that she thinks she’ll never be free again.

She keeps that part to herself.

And she doesn’t say, either, that this is why she’d left Emily to her studies.

Because Emily would never believe it.

GM: Celia’s mother slowly takes in the tale. She doesn’t interrupt, just listens, and though her eyes might be surprised they aren’t judging.

“Celia… do you think he’s changed?” she finally asks. “Do you think… that he might hurt you, us, again?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “I think right now he’s changed. I think he wants to make things right. And I’m scared that if it got him once it will get him again.”

Because what else will her sire do when he realizes that Maxen is free?

Let him go?


GM: “But you think he’s better now. That he was like how… how things used to be.”

Celia: “I do.”

GM: Her mother makes another tearful sound.

“Oh, Celia, I miss my husband. I miss married life. I miss my children having a father. I miss having someone else make the hard decisions and take care of things, I don’t want to do that anymore. If he’s back, I don’t care why. I just want my man back.”

Celia: Celia had expected this. She doesn’t point out that technically her children still have a father, they’re just separated.

“I think,” she says slowly, “that this might be a wait and see situation. That if you want to get your toes wet… you’re an adult. I won’t stop you. But I don’t think jumping in is wise, given the history.”

“But he would like to speak with you and apologize for himself. And he gave me something for you. It’s in the car. Just… give me a second, I’ll go get it.”

Celia takes a moment longer than she strictly needs to retrieving the things from the car. The box of memories. The adoption paper. She looks down at the treasures in her hands and asks herself if she’s doing the right thing.

A year ago, she’d have said no. No way. There’s no way that she would have ever let her mother come near Maxen again.

A week ago she’d have killed him for showing up. She’d have pulled a knife like Emily, only unlike her (official?) sister, Celia would have finished the job.

Even last night. Celia would have gutted him. Would have told her mom no. Would have mind-fucked her so hard that she couldn’t remember her own name, let alone Maxen’s.

But that apology. The offer to fix Diana, when Celia hasn’t been able to. And maybe, if it had just been those things, Celia would have spat in his face and told him where to shove it. But the confession. The demon. It’s real. It has to be real because she’s seen it. She was inside his head. She knows there are ghosts and vampires and werewolves, why wouldn’t there be demons too? And maybe it’s not even him. Maybe it’s inside of him too, and maybe she has to pull it out of him. Maybe he’s been trapped for a hundred years with a thing inside of him and no one has even bothered to look and see because they don’t know him, they don’t care about him.

They don’t love him.

Not like she does. They’re connected, they have to be, because nothing else makes sense. Evil doesn’t get to win. Things don’t just happen for no reason. Life is cheap, sure, but maybe hers is supposed to mean something.

She’d asked him once. If he had known what her father had done to her family. And he’d told her it had made her strong. She hadn’t understood. Not then. But maybe now. Maybe this is what he meant, that she’s strong enough to handle the truth. Maybe he put her there, knowing it would be a loveless household, knowing that she would care about him anyway, so that she could save him.

Don’t you save people you love?

And that explains so much, doesn’t it.

Her father.



The mimic.

All of them just as icy, just as frosty and aloof and awful as he is. Because whatever is inside of him spreads. And it spread to them through him, and it might have spread to her. Maybe it tried that night. Maybe when she’d been inside his mind it had tried to pull her in and keep her forever, and maybe he had known that she is the one that can handle it because…

Because she’s special?

“You’re my special little girl.”

Because she’s special.

And that’s why he’d Embraced her.

Because she’s strong. And smart. And capable. And special. And loves him despite the fact that he’s awful to everyone else, awful to her. No one else would have survived being his childe if they hadn’t grown up in that household. They fear him. She doesn’t. Not truly. She was taught to see the world through fire and nothing looks safe.

It was the perfect blend of everything she needed to become exactly who she is now.

So she’s going to find it. The source. The thing that has him.

And she’s going to kill it.

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia makes her way back inside with the box of things her father had given her. She keeps the manilla folder to herself for now—she thinks Emily might want to be here for the big reveal—but she sits down on the couch with her mother and moves it toward her.

“Dad asked me to give you this.”

GM: Celia finds her mother massaging her leg with her eyes closed when she gets back, but when Celia does, Diana unwraps the box and pulls off the lid with a curious expression. She lets out a gasp at what she sees inside. All those trophies showing gold ballerina figures, a few of pointe shows, some with the name ‘Diana Flores’ and others ‘Diana Underwood,’ depending on the year.

Celia’s mother takes out one of the albums and opens it to a page showing a crowd of girls in black leotards and white leggings, the first row kneeling in front of the second as they smile towards the camera.

“Celia, how…?”

Celia: “He said he’s been collecting them for a while for you. He couldn’t give you the originals, but he tracked down people at your old studio, and your friends, and he was able to convince them to share with him. Because he said he was awful to you, that he stole what you loved most in the world, and that you hadn’t deserved it.”

“And he thought maybe it would help at least a little bit.”

“He also said…”

“He said there’s a medical center in Texas. And he spoke to them about you, and… and that your condition is going to get worse. But they have a new, experimental treatment available.”

“And he said that you might be able to dance again.”

GM: Celia’s mother starts crying again as she pulls her daughter into another hug.

“Oh, Celia… I don’t even know what, what to say…”

“This is like a dream…”

Celia: It is. It’s like the sweet dream after waking up from a terrible nightmare. Or the sweet dream before a terrible nightmare. Or something. She’s wary. She’s cautious. But she’s happy. For herself, for her mother.

“I know a little about the treatment,” Celia says quietly, voice choked with emotion, “I told you last month about my colleague, how he might be able to do something similar. I thought he could show me, that I could do it, but… he was called away, and I don’t know if or when he’ll be back, and I wanted… I wanted it to be me who helped, but I don’t have that medical training, and if he can make it happen…”

“If he can make it happen then you should do it, Mom.”

GM: “Oh, sweetie, it’s okay…” her mom murmurs, running a hand along her back. “You are making it happen, here… you’re such a blessing to have in my life, I don’t even know how many times I’ve thanked God for you in my prayers…”

Celia: She’s glad to hear that. That at least her mother loves her, even though she lies about… everything.

For long moments she’s content to stay in her mom’s arms, not speaking, just feeling. Letting the woman’s love wash over her. Letting it soak into her. Because so what if she doesn’t have a dad, right? Her mom loves her enough for two people.

“There’s one more thing,” she says finally, pulling away, “but it involves Emily.”

GM: Celia’s mom hugs her close and murmurs how much she loves her, equally content to let the seconds pass by and by. If there are moments that feel as if they last forever, there are worse ones that could.

“All right, sweetie, do you want to go get her now?”

“Or, actually, maybe I should, Victor and Shadow are in her room… we keep them there, usually, when you come over.”

Celia: Stupid cats.

GM: Smart cats.

She doesn’t fool them.

Celia: “Probably, then. I think… it’s going to be hard to explain Dad to her. She didn’t know him before.”

GM: “I don’t know why those kitties never liked you,” Diana remarks, shaking her head. “I think you’re right, though… I don’t think she’s going to take this well…”

Celia: “I don’t want to alienate her. She’s family. And I don’t want to make it sound like she doesn’t understand, or that she’s not part of this. Because she is.”

“And if I were her I’d see it the same way she probably does. Like we’re crazy.”

GM: “Oh, absolutely, I don’t want to alienate her either!” Diana nods resolutely. “I feel like God placed her in our lives, Celia, right when Isabel… left. You can’t replace one daughter with another, but… she was just the thing in our lives, when we needed her most. I don’t know how I’d have raised Lucy without her.”

“I want her to be okay with this. But I think you’re right she’ll probably think we’re crazier than soup sandwiches…”

Celia: Celia effects a sigh.

“I don’t want him to tear the family apart again.”

GM: “What do you think we can do, sweetie?”

Celia: “I’m thinking. I don’t want to lie to her. And I don’t think she’d believe us about, you know, the thing inside of him. Even though she does play all those Shadow games with Robby, it’s just a game, you know? Saying that maybe Dad really did have a demon inside of him… who would believe that? And maybe it wasn’t a real demon, but…”

Celia trails off.

“Mom, what about… the school?”

“What if we told her about that? And just make it sound like Dad… did it in reverse? Had it undone?”

GM: Celia’s mother falls silent.

Celia: “That’s your secret. I won’t talk about it if you don’t want me to.”

GM: She gives a slow nod.

Celia: “Okay. I’m sorry I brought it up again. It was a dumb idea anyway.”

GM: “Would you like some cake, sweetie? Us and Emily?” her mom asks.

Celia: “No, thank you. I don’t think I can keep anything down right now.”

GM: “Oh. Okay.”

Celia: “But I’ll take some to go, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Oh, yes, more than!” Celia’s mom smiles. "I’ll pack something up after we’ve talked to Emily. But I still really don’t know what we’re going to say to her. "

Celia: “I think Emily is going to bring up some valid points about taking things slow with him if she comes around at all. And I agree with that. And maybe we all get together for a family dinner sometime this week. Let her meet him. I mean, meet him again.”

GM: “That might be something,” her mother nods. “There’s no better way to calm the waters than breaking bread together, I’ve always thought.”

Celia: “He never liked being challenged, you know. I remember that. Didn’t like repeating himself. Maybe we just let Emily do her worst, and if he makes it through that it tells us what we need to know, too.”

“And if it is all fake, it’ll come out sooner rather than later.”

GM: “That’s an idea! Maybe frame it like that, us needing her help.”

Celia: “Perfect.”

GM: “You’re so smart, sweetie,” her mom smiles. “You’re my little smarty pants. But okay, I’ll go get her.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her mom, watching her walk away.

Times like these she’d love to just tell the whole truth.

GM: There are licks who do it. There are ones who get caught. But they always seem like such stupidly sentimental licks, unsuited for this life, not like Jade is.

What if there are smarter ones who tell and get away with it?

Celia: It’s not worth her mother’s life. Not worth Emily’s life.

All it takes is one wrong word and they’d both be dead.

And her, too.

For real dead.

Not animated body dead.

Unless she bloods them…

Emily would be a terrible ghoul.

GM: They’ll die eventually, if she doesn’t.

There won’t be anyone else who loves her like they do. You can find other lovers, but you only get one mom.

Celia: Emily got a second mom.

GM: Only because her first one was crap.

New sisters don’t happen on a lark either.

Celia: Not worth it, though. McGehee is in different territory. She’d have to explain that. Plus Riverbend for Emily at med school, and she’s already trying to juggle Dani’s situation.

GM: Maybe she’ll feel differently some night, after Diana is old and gray and retired.

Celia: Maybe the best thing she can do for them is let them live their lives.

GM: It’s not overlong before Diana comes back. Emily’s dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt. She smiles as she hugs Celia.

“Hey. How bad did it go?”

Celia: “Hey, Emmy.” Celia rises to her feet to hug her adopted sister. “It, uh, it went pretty well actually. I was kind of surprised.”

GM: “So ‘well’ means ‘you pulverized him into goo with a glance and he’ll never bother us again?’”

Celia: “I wish I could pulverize people into goo with a glance.”

“Is that a World of Shadow power? ’Cause listen, I want to play that guy.”

GM: “Sort of? It’s one of the things you can do with wizard characters, if you take the right abilities.”

“There’s a lot about that game I really like, but it’s not Black Dog’s most popular one.”

Celia: “You’ll have to show me sometime.”

“But, uh, but dinner… dinner went well, though. Maxen was… nice. We talked about a lot of what happened. And he apologized, which kind of blew my mind.”

GM: “Eh. I could see it, actually. Abusers can turn on the charm and do a sympathetic act.”

Celia: “Actually… It’s funny you bring that up.”

“I was going to save this for the end, but since you’ve provided the opening…”

GM: “Apologies are worth shit, anyway.”

Celia: “That’s what he said too, actually.”

GM: “Sounds like he’s a good actor.”

“I hadn’t thought he had that in him, after he called me a mongrel to my face. And said in the good old days, ‘human abortions’ like me were sterilized.”

Celia: “Then you know what to look for when he comes to dinner.”

GM: Emily looks between her and Diana.


“Maybe we should sit down,” their mom suggests.

“I’m fine standing, thanks,” Emily answers. “Since I’m presuming there’s not a lot to talk about, beyond ‘cut that piece of shit out of our lives, again.’”

Celia: Celia sits. This is going to be a long conversation.

GM: Emily sighs, then follows her to the couch.

Diana sits down on Emily’s other side.

Celia: “I’m honestly not really sure where to begin. I would just like for you to listen, though, and hold your skepticism ’til the end.”

GM: “Okay. But I’ll say this first.”

“We don’t owe him dinner. We don’t owe him a chance. We don’t owe him jack shit.”

Celia: “We don’t. We don’t owe him anything. I made that very clear to him at dinner tonight.”

GM: “I talked with Payton, by the way, and scheduled some time with Viv.”

Celia: “With Viv for what?”

GM: “Uh, legal advice, because I did something illegal.”

Celia: Celia makes a stabbing motion with her hand.

GM: “Yeah. Or might not have. Stand your ground laws and the restraining order. But that’s why I’m talking to the professional.”

Celia: “Makes sense.”

Which reminds her… “Did you tell her about tomorrow yet, Mom?”

GM: Diana nods. “I did, sweetie.”

“Yeah. Dinner with Stephen’s family. Sounds good,” says Emily. “I know how much he did for you.”

“Which having dinner with Maxen kind of spits in the face of, but I digress.”

Celia: “Oh, good. Before we talk about Maxen, I wanted to talk about Lucy. And let you know that—”

She’s right.

It does.

GM: “Yeah. You also told me all about that dinner Stephen had with him, that was so shitty and horrendous it opened his eyes and made him do all the things he did.”

“But, I digress. What about Lucy?”

Celia: “Just… just a sensitive topic, considering the timing could have made her Stephen’s.”

GM: “Well, we know she’s not. I distinctly remember watching Mom pop her out.”

Diana makes a mildly chiding throat-clearing sound.

“The timing, though… you’re right,” she frowns. “We can’t tell them Mom popped her out, obviously.”

Celia: “I was just going to talk to him about it privately before he came in.”

GM: “I’d just tell them the father isn’t Stephen and leave it at that.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “It isn’t their business beyond that.”

Celia: “Making sure we’re all on the same page.”

“But anyway, Maxen.”

GM: “I think we are,” Diana nods. “Just say she’s yours and not also Stephen’s. That’s nice and simple.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t need to rehash her entire history with Maxen to Emily. Between she and Diana, the girl already has a pretty good idea what he was like, and she’s seen firsthand the results of his abuse. Years ago she and Emily had spoken about what he was like before that fateful birthday party, so she knows that the entire history is… messy.

She doesn’t tell Emily about the demon, or about the school. Those aren’t things she thinks that Emily will understand, and how can she explain them anyway? But she does run down what happened at dinner. She describes his exorcism as “soul-searching” and “atoning for his sins” and “realizing his mistakes.” How he didn’t want to waltz in with apologies and nothing else. How he’s been searching for a way to make it up to them.

And how he’s started to, beginning with the box of memories. She lets Diana show it to her.

GM: Emily is true to her word and holds her tongue. But her face is flat as a pancake all throughout.

Diana wrings her hands at Emily’s expression, but all-too happily picks up the box and removes one of the earliest trophies, with the pointe shoes in pink as if for young girls. “So for this one I wasn’t even dancing professionally, yet, since I was only 13. I got it…”

“Give them back,” says Emily.


“This is what narcissists and abusers do, Mom. They give gifts. And yes, conventional wisdom goes that it’s as a means of control and getting close to victims, so they can hold ‘I gave you this’ over their heads.”

“But there was an interesting paper I read a little while ago that said gifts from narcissists are actually gifts to themselves.”

“Because gifts cause cause feelings of gratitude and admiration, which are what the narcissist craves. Gifts are how they purchase affection and control. They don’t actually care if the gift makes someone happy.”

“I think he does want me to be happy, sweetie,” Diana says quietly.

“I don’t,” says Emily. “I think it’s just an act, and a way to draw you back into his life.”

“And it’s working. He gave you gifts, now you want to invite him over for dinner.”

“So give them back.”

“Let me show you some of these old photos, sweetie,” Diana says, reaching into the box. “You never got to see me dance, like the others-”

“I don’t want to see them,” Emily replies flatly.

Diana looks hurt.

“You told me about those days, Mom,” Emily amends. “That’s enough.”

“You were a beautiful ballerina. I know that. I’m happy you had that. I’m mad that he took it away.”

Diana glances at Celia.

“These are just things, Mom,” says Emily. “Objects. Bits of plastic and whatever they make trophies from.”

Celia: “That’s why we need your help,” Celia finally cuts in.

“Mom and I are too close to it. I think I’m pretty good at reading people, but it’s entirely possible that he was lying to my face and had ulterior motives. Mom wants to have dinner with him. Obviously I’m not letting her go alone. And I thought if anyone could see through his act, it’s you.”

GM: “Okay. So if I say it smells like bullshit, that’s it? You’ll return the gifts and cut him out?”

Celia: “Well. He did give me something I can’t return.”

Celia finally hands over the folder.

GM: Emily opens it up.

Diana gasps.


Emily frowns.

“This has to be illegal.”

“Oh, you’re my daughter, sweetie! It even says so, right here!” Diana exclaims, overjoyed as she pulls Emily into a hug. “Don’t tell me this doesn’t make you happy, too!”

“I don’t want his gifts,” says Emily. She returns the hug, though with rather less vigor.

“I’m already your daughter. A piece of paper doesn’t change that.”

Celia: Celia nods. She’d expected as much.

“One dinner. If you smell bullshit I’ll walk.”

GM: “That’s all he’s giving, Mom. It’s just… confetti. It’s pretty, but it’s nothing of substance, nothing we need.”

“So he can have this back. I’m not taking it.”

“In fact, I’ll talk with Viv about this, too. He didn’t even get my signature.”

Celia: “That’s probably a good idea. Find out sooner rather than later.”

GM: “Sweetie… if there were ever a hospital emergency, or if one us were to die without a will…” starts Diana.

“We have wills,” says Emily. “And yeah. It’d suck, if something came up, and the fact I wasn’t legally your daughter shut me out.”

“But I’d rather not be legally recognized as your daughter than let this piece of scum back into our lives so he can hurt you again. Hurt us again.”

Celia: “So it’s settled. You look into it. And if he doesn’t pass your bullshit detection test then we’re done.”

GM: She looks at Celia. “Couple things.”

“First, I expected this from Mom. Did not expect it from you.”

Celia: “Mm. Never mind that I just had dinner with him to make sure he wasn’t going to report you. And am playing peacemaker until his arm is fully healed.”

GM: Emily sighs. “Yes. I fucked up there. I know. Mea culpa. I’ll talk to Viv and see what our options are, because I am not relying on his goodwill.”

“Second, dinner is playing into his hands. He’s going to be on his best behavior. Because he knows that’s how he’ll ‘win’ and get close to you again, and hell, maybe he’ll try to look so nice and sweet that I’ll look like the crazy and unreasonable one for being cold and rude, probably helped by how I have a vagina and he doesn’t. Hell, maybe that’s how he hopes to drive a wedge between us. It’s all just fucking mind games with narcissists. You can’t win against them. You can’t out-mind game them. All you can do is refuse to play.”

“Third. Why take the chance?”

“Okay. Let’s say there’s a possibility he’s somehow turned around. It’s incredibly remote, and like something out of fucking Disney, but I’ll grant it’s at least theoretically possible.”

“But from your perspectives, it should also be possible that he’s not. That this all just an act, exactly what I described, and a way to get close to us again.”

“Why. Take. That. Chance?”

“There are other men. If you want a man, Mom, we’ll help you find one. There are more men in the world than Maxen Fucking Flores!”

Celia: “Mom, can you give us a sec?”

GM: “I should know that, I’m currently fucking a pretty good one.”

Their mother clears her throat. “Ah, of course, sweetie. Just give a holler!”

“Or just knock on my door, I’d rather we not yell with Lucy asleep. Or yell anyways.”

“Okay, we’ll do that,” says Emily.

Diana gets up and leaves.

Emily looks back at Celia.

“Seriously. I expected this from her. But not you.”

“Why the fuck do you want to take this chance?”

“If the dice come up short, Mom could lose her leg or get raped or killed or who the fuck knows what.”

Celia: “Because he dangled something in front of me I can’t look away from. And because I think you’ll agree with me.”

“And because if and when this does turn to shit I’m going to be in the position to ruin him.”

“None of which I’m going to say in front of Mom.”

GM: “So what did he dangle that’s worth gambling Mom’s life?”

Celia: “Her leg.”

GM: “Her leg?”

Celia: “There’s a procedure that can fix it. He has access.”

GM: “There isn’t a procedure. She got shit care when she needed quality care, and it fucked up her leg permanently. All we can do now is treat symptoms.”

Celia: “Those toes grew back by magic, did they?”

GM: “No, by science. Toe reattachments are possible. They can go wrong, but they can go right. We lucked out that hers went right.”

Celia: “Luck had nothing to do with it. What do you remember about that night, Emily?”

GM: Emily frowns. “What does that matter?”

“What if Maxen is lying? What procedure is this? Dd he actually show any proof?”

“Because while neither of us may be actual doctors, I’m a lot closer to being one than he is.”

“Not that you need to be a doctor to sell someone a load of bullshit.”

Celia: “Maxen didn’t need to show me proof. I’ve heard of the procedure he mentioned. I brought it up to you a while ago and you said it wasn’t possible so I didn’t push. But it is. And if he can get it for her and I just have to swallow shit for a year then that’s what I’ll do for her.”

“And, again, perfectly placed to ruin his career. He’s not the only one capable of lying.”

GM: “Okay. Let’s assume this procedure is possible,” says Emily. “Couple things.”

“First, Mom is past 40. Her best friend just retired from ballet.”

“Her ballerina days are over. Have been for years. She can still dance. She dances at her classes. She just can’t do it on stage, at a professional level.”

“But could she do that anyway, with her leg back? There’s probably another principal dancer at her old production company now, someone who’s also been working years to get there.”

Celia: “She won’t be in pain anymore, Em.”

GM: “More pain than Maxen might put her through? There are meds she can take for her pain.”

Celia: “I’m not saying for her to date him again. I’m not saying that she’s going to live with him. I’m not saying they’ll be a family.”

“Those meds don’t treat the problem. You don’t slap a bandaid on a bullet hole.”

GM: “Sometimes there is no cure, just treatment. And sometimes a cure can be worse than the disease.”

“If he fixes her leg, Mom is going to fall head over heels for him. What if she does something stupid, like say he’s Lucy’s father?”

Celia: “Then I’ll kill him.”

GM: “…okaaay, leaving out the ‘how,’ that’s another cure worse than the disease.”

Celia: “Emily, I’m the last person that wants to believe he’s suddenly a good person. But if he can fix her leg? If she can stop taking pain medication and grimacing? I’ll swallow my hatred for that. And I’ll make sure that he doesn’t hurt her.”

GM: “How? Let’s say the procedure is real, and that he’s not changed. Mom falls for him, and he hurts her, again. Then what?”

“Because unless you live with them 24/7, you can’t guarantee that. He will have an infinity of chances to hurt her.”

Celia: “Then I’ll get her out. Like I did last time. And I was a kid then. I didn’t have you. I’m better prepared. And she’s not moving in with him. No. Ever. Never. She’s not going back to Audubon.”

GM: “What if he hurts her and she doesn’t want to leave?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say that she’ll kill him again.

But she will.

GM: “What if she blabs about Lucy? What if both? What if she wants to move in?”

Celia: “She won’t blab about Lucy. She doesn’t get to.”

GM: “What if she does? Can you guarantee she won’t?”

Celia: “Then I’ll fight that custody battle. And Maxen will be known as the guy who raped both his teenage daughters.”

GM: “All she has to do is come out that you aren’t Lucy’s mom, and there is no custody battle.”

Celia: “You think I can’t fake a paternity test?”

GM: “Uh, why would you have anything to do with it? He’d do his own test. Mail in the sample to a genetics lab. And if it comes to a court dispute, guess who wins?”

“He’s a fucking rich white male politician, they always win there.”

Celia: “You think she’s not just going to sneak off to see him if you put your foot down? Like a rebellious teenager? We control it this way.”

GM: “What, we’ll just tell Mom she can’t see Maxen? We’ll keep her under guard, restrict her phone use, so she can’t ever talk to him?”

“If he fixes her leg, you think she’ll be able to stay away? Gifts are how narcissists establish control, and if she accepts a gift that big, he will have control. She’s gaga enough for him already.”

“She’s an adult. We can’t physically stop her from seeing another adult if she wants to.”

Celia: “And she’s going to do it with or without our approval. We can at least be there with her to show her if it’s wrong.”

GM: “Or we can try to nuke this entire thing, right now.”

“Before it gets any worse. Any more out of our control.”

“Give back the trophies. Give back the birth certificate. Call off dinner.”

“Fucking hell. Lie about Maxen hitting you when you return them, fake some bruises, if you think there’s no other way.”

Celia: “I get it. I do. Trust me, I understand. I lived through it. I’m asking for one dinner. And then, if you don’t like it, we walk.”

GM: Emily sighs.


Celia: Celia reaches for her.

“I’m not going to let anything bad happen. I love her.”

GM: “Lucy won’t be there.”

Celia: “Of course not.”

GM: “Be a good moment to give back the birth certificate.”

Celia: “I’m looking forward to seeing you riling him up.”

GM: “I’ll say something else, too. Mom has bounced back from some horrendous shit, and for all I give her about being a doormat, you were right when you said she’s come out from hell, twice, as a source of light and love and life, rather than someone mean and broken and bitter. If she goes through hell a third time, I don’t know if she’ll come out the same. Or come out at all.”

“And Lucy. Mom and us have raised her right. She’s happy. She’s safe. But it would be so fucking easy for Maxen to ruin that.”

“I believe you are strong and capable, but these ’I’ll just ruin him’ and ’I’ll just kill him’ ideas sound like something out of a fiction novel. I see ten thousand ways they could go wrong and fuck up our lives. Ultimately, you can’t predict or account for everything, and there are no guarantees. You are playing with fire inviting Maxen back into our lives, because however you slice it it, this is a risk. A risk that will have terrible, terrible consequences for our family if you are wrong.”

“I’ll risk one dinner, to get you on my side. Not because I think this is a good idea. I think it’s a terrible idea. But because I don’t know how I’m going to keep Mom away from Maxen if you’re not also on my side.”

Celia: “I suppose I was a little dramatic,” Celia allows. “And you’re right. And when he shows his true colors in front of Mom, where we can see it happen, where we can stop it from escalating, I won’t even be mad when you say ‘I told you so.’”

GM: “I’m more scared if he doesn’t show his colors, Celia, than if he tries to hit her.”

“I’m more scared if he just hides them deep and Mom doesn’t believe me.”

Celia: “This is where I twirl my mustache and say ‘I have ways of making them talk’ in a bad Russian accent.”

GM: “Like I said. You can’t out-mind game a narcissist. All you can do is refuse to play.”

Celia: Sure you can. Especially when you’re a vampire.

GM: Emily sighs. “Let’s get Mom.”

They make their way down the hall. Emily and knocks and then opens the door anyway. The bedroom has floral-patterned white and pink wallpaper with a large bed heaped high with pillows and colorful quilts. There’s pictures of all the Flores children at various ages, Emily included, and two paintings of dancing ballerinas, and a pink ‘tutu lamp’ on the bedside table that Diana thought was the cutest thing. She’s on the bed, cradling her leg and making low noises with a pained expression.

“Damn it, Mom, you need to take your meds,” Emily sighs as she sits down and starts massaging the leg.

Celia: “Or stop overdoing it.”

“Maybe you give the extra lessons a rest for a while.”

GM: “The… sorry, sweetie?” she asks with a wince. Emily shifts her hands.

Celia: “The extra lessons. With the Devillers.”

GM: “Oh. Well I think they could use me, their youngest is just so scared of strangers, and it’s a crime for her not to dance…”

“That’s their problem, not ours,” says Emily.

Celia: “It’s not worth your leg.”

“And I spoke to your friend last night, actually.”

GM: “Oh, that’s wonderful, sweetie! I’m glad you did! I’ve wanted you to meet a few times, but just haven’t been able to make the schedules work out.”

Because Celia is a vampire.

Celia: “Bit of an accident, didn’t even realize who I was calling. Naomi and Mom are close on the phone list. But we got to talking. And I remember you saying she was looking for a job. So… I mean, two birds, really.”

GM: “Well, she needs to get a job at a dance studio. The Devillers don’t pay enough to make a living off of. It’s side money.”

Celia: “Which will help while she looks.”

GM: “Oh, I have an interview lined up for her, though. It’s pretty soon. And she’s staying on at the company, for a little longer.”

Celia: “Mom. This allows you to bow out gracefully. Your health is worth more to me than their daughter dancing.”

GM: “I think more meds will be a better treatment than less lessons, though,” says Emily. “Even if they can be combined.”

Diana shakes her head. “I can’t take those, they make me say crazy things.”

“They don’t make you, Mom.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but I think they do.”

Celia: “I mean, when you said the crazy things, you’d just left their house. Maybe it’s stress of all that extra? The whole evening was kind of… crazy.”

“And if it’s just side money anyway you don’t need it. You have a comfortable salary.”

“Even if you did, your health is, again, more important.”

“I knew a massage therapist who messed up her hands forever trying to keep up with too much work. Younger than you and she had tendinitis and carpal tunnel in both arms. Can’t even hold a phone properly now.”

“Take a break from that. When you stop feeling the constant pain you can try again.”

GM: “…all right, sweetie. Maybe until the pain gets better,” Diana relents. “That poor friend of yours…”

“The pain won’t get better if you don’t take your meds,” says Emily as she works.

Celia: Celia squeezes her mom’s hand.

“It’s not forever. Just have to take care of you first. Then you take care of everyone else. Like on an airplane with the oxygen masks.”

“And Emily is right, Mom. Take your meds.”

GM: “They make me say crazy things,” she repeats.

Celia: “Maybe we can get a different prescription? Try something new.”

GM: “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.”

Celia: “That’s what you’ve got us for.”

GM: Her mother smiles. “Would you mind giving me the rest of this massage, sweetie? You’re both amazingly talented, but I can get them on-call from Emily, since she lives here and all. They’re rarer from you!”

Celia: “Of course not, Mom. Happy to help.”

Celia switches places with Emily.

GM: Their mother sighs with relief as Celia eases into her familiar routine. She asks if Emily would mind packing Celia some cake “and other food, too!” since she’d rather not get back up. Emily answers it’s a sure thing and leaves to do so. Diana sighs again and closes her eyes as her daughters take care of things.

It’s as Celia said.

That’s what she’s got them for.

Even if she won’t always let them.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett XIV
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett XV

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia XXI
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia XXIII

Story Twelve, Caroline XV

Unknown FBI Agents

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline makes preparations to receive Adler atop the Giani Building, as has become her habit. The more professional setting has always felt more appropriate for the just too polite, just a bit distant, elder’s childe. She suspects some of the awkwardness has to do with differences in social status – the near universally well regarded shorter blonde avoiding undue familiarity with the unproven bastard childe of Clan Ventrue. She idly wonders if that will change in the future.

It’s chilly tonight, and Caroline is still warm from feeding earlier, so the Ventrue has the doors to the rooftop patio closed and the heat running.

She sends Widney down to meet the older Ventrue while she waits, filling the spare minutes reviewing the social media feeds of her family, swiping perhaps more aggressively through any photos of food. She’s almost forgotten what it’s like to be alive.

GM: Caroline is met, perhaps unexpectantly, by a ghoul in her older clanmate’s place. She’s a plump-faced but still pretty blonde with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Caroline has seen her hovering beside her mistress before.

“Don’t worry, ma’am, Questor Adler will still be with you this evening,” the ghoul smiles. “She’s just out of town right at the moment. That’s what we’ve got this for.”

The ghoul takes the offered seat, removes a Sunpad from her purse, and sets up the video call app.

Becky Lynne’s face and shoulders appear on the screen. The Ventrue has on a white business jacket rather than her usual knee-length dresses, and her blonde hair is styled into a bun. Her face is made up too, with highlights and dark foundation that make the edges of her face more prominent, giving her a more mature look. The heart-shaped locket she usually wears isn’t visible, though its gold chain still is. The overall effect makes her look older than her 18 years. She looks like she’s in a corporate office. The skyline past the window is unfamiliar.

“Why hello there, Eiren Malveaux-Devilers,” she smiles. “I guess the drink would be doubly wasted on me, but your sofa there looks awful invitin’. Makes me sorry I’m not here in person!”

The ghoul sits down on the sofa and holds up the tablet to just over her chest, giving Caroline a good view of the screen.

Caroline: Caroline greets the ghoul unexpectedly and very unhappily, either unwilling or unable to conceal her disappointment. None of the matters Caroline would have shared with her clan mate are those she’s willing to share with a ghoul.

More than that, it’s a slap in the face. It would be one thing to offer to send the ghoul in her place, but to send her like this under the banner of a meeting between the two of them makes clear exactly how little Adler thinks of her, and how absolutely furiously exhausted she is with being looked down upon by everyone.

For a moment she contemplates simply throwing the ghoul out, but when she breaks out the tablet it’s even worse.

It isn’t just that Adler didn’t consider Caroline worth her time, or even worth sending word that she couldn’t make it, or worth sending a ghoul in place of. It’s the assumption that nothing Caroline might have to say is even worth the aegis of the Masquerade.

For a moment she sees red, but the bubbling fury is drowned under more shame. It reminds her too much of not even getting a phone call from her father on her birthday. This is what she’s allowed herself to be reduced to in the eyes of others. She might hate that Adler sent a Zoom call in place of even a trusted servant, but too much of that hate is devoted internally.

She’d often wondered how the old, atrophied, dying families that used to have money and power lived with their fall into obscurity. She supposes now she knows, and now she knows as well just how difficult it must have been for some of those proud old men and women to swallow their pride and come hat in hand to her own family, how much it must have eaten at them when she arrived in place of her father or mother. It gives her better context on why some had been unable to do it—and how strong those that had were.

She buries the anger, buries it deep. It doesn’t serve anything other than her vanity here. It could have been worse: Adler could have completely ignored her.

The Ventrue first makes an effort to plaster over fake smile across her face as Becky Lynne’s own appears. It’s not the first fake, hollow, smile she’s worn. She’s grateful for the Beast’s hatred of any attempt to capture it as only once the smile is in place does sooth it, allowing herself to shift into focus.

“Oh, Questor Adler, not nearly as sorry as I am. I had the most interesting tale I wanted to share, but you know how it looks when you can’t even wait to do it over the water cooler—and it’s definitely better shared over the kind of drink we both might appreciate.”

GM: She’s hard-pressed to remember the last time her father made a birthday phone call.

Maybe her sire will remember her deathnight. Becky Lynne had said they celebrate those.

She has had so much practice with fake smiles, either way.

In life and death.

“Oh, don’t we both, I’m sure,” the blonde laughs politely back, covering a hand to her mouth as she does. “I suppose a Zoom call can’t substitute for everythin’. People keep saying the medium is the future, but I don’t rightly see what could make it, can you?”

Caroline: “I’m certain there are some people that might more readily adapt to it,” Caroline answers. “But I somehow doubt anyone like you or I will, Questor Adler.”

“There are certain things you just can’t say over the internet.”

GM: “I somehow doubt so too, Eiren,” Becky Lynne nods. “Would you care to come over to my and my brother’s place to chat in person?”

“I don’t expect to be out of town for too much longer, thank goodness. Home is where the heart is and all that.”

Caroline: Caroline is fairly certain, based on fairly extensive experience with her own and those of others, that the heart is actually located slightly to the left of the sternum, but she doesn’t argue the point.

Harder to explain showing up with her new entourage without raising questions she’s confident Becky Lynne can find answers to.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to trouble your brother with our talk. I’m certain he’d be polite enough to smile through it just like anyone with a proper upbringing might, but some things fit better just between girls, don’t you agree, Questor?”

She wonders if the older Ventrue reads through the lines there.

GM: “I certainly do,” smiles Becky Lynne. “So don’t you worry, Eiren, my brother’s practically only there to sleep or entertain company of his own. We’ll have the place to ourselves. Peggy, can you tell us when a good opening in my schedule might be?”

The chubby ghoul lists several dates and times in the near future.

Caroline: Caroline passingly wonders if she should introduce the chubby ghoul to Meg. The two might be good for each other.

Caroline laughs lightly, belying her buried irritation. “Sooner is better, Questor, you know how gossip can age like milk in the sun, but I’d hate to crowd your schedule. I know how many people are clamoring for your attention, and I’d hate for them to be disappointed if this consumed more of your time than you might expect. It’s particularly…. juicy.”

GM: “Is that so? I’ll look forward to hearin’ it, then, and we’ll try to aim sooner without steppin’ on any toes,” smiles Becky Lynne.

“How is the day after tomorrow at 3, ma’am?” asks the ghoul, mirroring her domitor’s expression.

Caroline: Two more nights? Who’s to say at the rate things are going. She hadn’t expected tonight.

She bites her lower lip.

“We can put a cork in this and call that a date, Questor—it won’t be the first time.” Worst case scenario, if she is recalled by her sire, it serves her right for pushing Caroline off.

“We’ve survived this long, and I don’t have any reason to think that the wine is going to go off over a couple days if its kept this long.”

GM: It beats McGinn having her wait a week.

“Splendid,” beams the older Ventrue. “I’ll see you at my place then, Eiren.”

Caroline: “Until then, Questor,” Caroline answers, the fake smile pulled all the tighter.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back, then suddenly frowns and whips her head away.

Caroline hears a door slamming against a wall, then multiple pounding footsteps.

FREEZE! FEDERAL AGENTS!” bellows a heavy voice.

Becky Lynne immediately puts up her hands and shoots up from her seat.

Caroline: Caroline’s form blurs as the Beast reasserts itself even more quickly than her hand blurs to kill the outgoing feed on the tablet.

She briefly considers killing the entire connection, but the damage is done if they are able to track the call.

She digs out her phone and hits send. “Roger, I need you now.”

Her gaze settles on Adler’s ghoul. “Where is your domitor?”

GM: “En route,” responds the ex-CIA agent before hanging up.

The ghoul’s mouth falls open as she stares down at the tablet in her lap. “G-Gulfport! Mississippi! 2510 14th street, the Whitney Hancock headquarters!”

Caroline: Caroline flips her phone on the side and starts to videotape the exchange as it continues.

“You have Primogen Hurst’s number?” she asks.

GM: “Puh-puh, p-please, don-don’t h-hurt me, I’m j-j-just an in-t-tern!” Becky Lynne’s voice sobs from the tablet.

The white-faced ghoul nods and rattles it off.

Caroline: Caroline’s hand blurs as she writes it down with her right hand, attention divided between filming the exchange and continuing damage control.

She’ll wait for Roger to actually make the call—she knows he’ll have a burner.

Caroline waits for the federal agent to approach.

She can’t help but wonder how the hell Adler ended up with no one to give her even a moment’s warning before they arrived. Clumsy.

They can mock her parade of ghouls all they want, but she’d never be caught in that particular circumstance.

GM: “Step away from the computer!” orders a second voice.

There’s more sounds through the room. Drawers opening. Papers rifling. Footsteps approaching. Becky Lynne sobs some more.

“Zoom call on this,” says a third voice. Caroline sees a grim-faced Caucasian man in his early middle years wearing a white shirt, tie, and blue jacket with yellow FBI letters.

The connection abruptly dies.

Caroline: Gotcha. Caroline videotapes the man as he kills the connection. A face will have a name attached.

GM: “Oh my god!” exclaims Becky Lynne’s ghoul, staring at the blank tablet in her lap.

She looks up at Caroline. “Ma’am, we have to call the primogen!”

Caroline: “We will call the primogen,” Caroline answers more calmly, “just not from any device that is linked to you or Questor Adler.”

Roger will be here shortly, she knows.

The call ending though gives her the opportunity to get ahead. She rises and moves to the door dividing the clubhouse, sliding it open to unleash the elder ghouls.

“Ms. Adler was just seized in her office at the headquarters of Whitney Hancock in Gulfport by federal agents.”

“I will arrange communication with Primogen Hurst, but I presume there are many potentially sensitive matters for others tied to Ms. Adler, and that the prince or seneschal may have more immediate contacts available extra locally than he.”

GM: Becky Lynne’s ghoul covers her mouth as she sees the casquette girl.

Kâmil wordlessly looks towards Gisèlle. The casquette girl closes her eyes.

The seneschal’s face appears in Caroline’s mind.

:: Miss Malveaux-Devillers will retrieve her. Inform her she is to return to Perdido House. Transportation to Gulfport will await atop the helipad. ::

Caroline: Eighty miles to Gulfport, Caroline knows. Half an hour by helicopter.

She meets the casquette girl’s eyes.

“I understand.”

She bites her lip.

“Let’s go.”

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: “Come along,” Caroline gestures to the shellshocked ghoul, “you will have the drive to Perdido House to bring me up to speed on your domitor’s activities in Gulfport and any other matters of interest.”

She opens the door before Roger can. “We’re going to Perdido House,” she offers by way of explanation, not pausing but extending a hand as she makes for the elevator. “Burner.”

GM: Ferris hands it over without comment as he follows behind, along with the three other ghouls.

“She’s there on business for Whitney Hancock,” Becky Lynne’s ghoul starts.

“This was supposed to be a routine trip.”

Caroline: “That’s how they get you… when it becomes routine,” Caroline muses.

She plugs in the number provided by Adler’s ghoul, trusting that Ferris will pick up on the details as she offers them to the primogen.

GM: The phone picks up after several rings.

“Gabriel Hurst speakin’,” sounds the Ventrue’s lazy Southern drawl.

Caroline: “Gabriel,” she keeps the tone light, informal. They’ve spewed enough information over electronic circuits today. “It’s Caroline. I just heard the news about your sister. You all must be so worried.”

GM: “The news?” he asks slowly.

Caroline: “I’m sure it must be a misunderstanding,” she continues. “I don’t know what could have possible brought authorities to the bank, but I’m certain it has nothing to do with her and she’ll be released soon.”

“I just wanted to make certain your father and the rest of the family knew.”

She slides her own phone into Ferris’ hand as she enters the elevator. It’s open to the most recent recording.

GM: The ghouls troop in after her. Ferris silently takes in the FBI agent’s face.

“We did not know,” Hurst answers gravely. “Well. There will be a few calls to make. How recently was this?”

Caroline: “Very,” Comes Caroline’s blunt response.

“I know for a fact there are already things at work to ensure her welfare, but it’s been a rather rough year for the whole family… I just wanted to ensure everyone else was taking it well.”

She’s already inventorying possibilities in her mind. The timing might simply be a coincidence… or it might not. She hasn’t heard of many FBI raids conducted in the evening, vice the early morning or daylight hours.

GM: “There’s nothing here to take well, Caroline,” the primogen answers in the same grave tone. “I’ll let our father know about this and get started springin’ her out. Thanks for letting us know.”

Ferris continues to look at the phone image, though his eyes are moving across the device’s surface, away from the man’s features.

Caroline: Caroline scowls.

She always figured Becky Lynne was the brains of the operation anyway.

“Happy to have been of help, then. Let me know if there’s anything else I can do.” She keeps the pitch of her voice sympathetic.

GM: “We’ll be sure to. You stay safe yourself.”

The line dies.

Caroline: Caroline hands the phone back to Ferris. “How many FBI raids have you seen in the evening vice daylight or dawn?” she asks skeptically.

Her professors always said if the feds come for you, they don’t need to hide and prefer a sledgehammer approach.

Mind you, different kinds of coming for someone.

GM: “More often at homes than offices, but still atypical,” Ferris answers. “You raid when people are most likely to be there. Groggy or asleep in the case of homes.”

“Obvious answer is they suspect someone keeps nocturnal hours.”

Caroline: “Our friends?” Caroline speculates.

The doors open to the parking garage and she makes her way to one of the two black SUVs, stopping at the back to briefly rifle through a set of hanging garnet bags before distastefully settling on one.

“We’re flying to Gulfport to get her either way.”

GM: Kâmil wordlessly takes the driver’s seat.

Ferris does a head count as everyone climbs in.

“We could have room for more, depending on passenger capacity.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head. “If we need more than four, we’re biting off more than we can chew anyway, and anyone else identified leads back too readily to everyone else.”

GM: “Five,” Ferris corrects, but otherwise doesn’t disagree.

Kâmil drives them out of the garage.

Caroline: Caroline grins. “She’ll need to prove she has something valuable to offer if she wants to come along.”

She turns her gaze to the plump ghoul.

GM: “I’m basically her personal assistant, ma’am, in so many words,” the ghoul answers.

“As I said, this was supposed to be a very brief, routine trip. She had other business for me to take care of in the city.”

“I imagine the most I can provide here to be of help is information and familiarity with Gulfport.”

Caroline: “How frequent and regular are these trips?” Caroline asks.

GM: “They’ve been more frequent lately, ma’am, with the bank relocating its corporate headquarters in New Orleans—my domitor does so appreciate your service there.” A brief smile. “That’s affected some things in Gulfport, too. Usually once a week.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shimmies out of her dress, tossing it in a pile on the floorboards as she pulls out a business suit from the garment bag.

GM: Gisèlle wordlessly reaches into the bag to see if there are more.

Caroline: There’s an entire set—one for Caroline, Widney, Green, and Autumn.

Whether any fit the ghoul may be another matter, but Widney is probably close.

GM: The casquette girl strips and changes without embarrassment or complaint. The rest of her body is as pale and milky smooth as the rest of her.

Everyone else is already wearing business-appropriate attire.

“If there’s no objection, ma’am, I’m going to let the primogen know y’all are flying to Gulfport,” says the ghoul. “He’s probably acquiring another helicopter right now.”

“My domitor’s already taken the regular one.”

Caroline: “I object,” Caroline answers.

“You should sharply limit your electronic communications along predicable lines until you have an opportunity to verifying the source of this event, and I am not eager to announce my activities and arrival to anyone.”

GM: “He’ll want to come along, ma’am, as it’ll probably take more time than whatever’s arranged at Perdido House,” answers the ghoul. “I don’t need to say he could be of quite a bit of help.”

Caroline: No doubt he might, but Caroline is waiting for no one.

“Phone. Tablet. Any other electronic devices.” She extends a hand to the plump ghoul.

GM: She extends a tablet and smartphone.

Caroline: She powers them off then extends them to the casquette girl. “Please hand them off to someone at Perdido to be taken elsewhere.”

GM: The casquette girl accepts the devices.

Caroline: She meets Adler’s ghoul’s gaze. “My direction was to recover your domitor, and I intend on executing that direction in the most expeditious manner possible, with the lowest probably of blowing this into another, larger, matter.”

GM: “Then we’re on the same page, ma’am,” says the ghoul. “Anythin’ I can do to help, I will.”

Caroline: “Delaying for her brother presents another avenue for complications to arrive, and informing him of our plans puts them in the wind.”

“As the esteemed Mr. Ferris taught me as a child, the best plans are those with the fewest moving pieces.”

And the fewest egos. She doesn’t need to get into a pissing match with Matheson’s older childe.

GM: If the primogen would even presume one could exist between them.

“The more intricate the machine, the more ways something can go wrong,” Ferris concurs.

Caroline: She also meant what she said to Ferris. If two elder ghouls and she are insufficient, they shouldn’t engage at all.

That bringing him along would create the opportunity for him to seize anything they discover or accomplish for himself is also not lost on her. She doesn’t doubt her sire has other servants he could send. The decision to send her is calculated. Far be it for her to rebalance those scales.

GM: The casquette girl’s visage shimmers into that of an older woman with different hair and facial features.

“All right, ma’am. What else can I do to help?” asks Becky Lynne’s ghoul.

Caroline: “Talk to me about your domitor’s activities, answer Mr. Ferris’ questions.” She lets him take the lead, letting the ghoul’s answers fade into the background as she dresses.

Ferris digs around as to typical pattern of life for the Gulfport visits. Did she travel the same route regularly? Meet with the same people? Meet with the same Kindred? Did she carry her phone?

Anything to get a bite on what might have pointed either federal agents or hunters (or worse, both) at Adler.

It’s fishing.

GM: The ghoul answers that Adler took a similar route every time. She would arrive by means of helicopter at the helipad on the roof of the bank’s headquarters. She did not expect to run into trouble. The city’s Kindred are friendly.

Her visits always included a good deal of time at the bank’s headquarters, where she met with its chief executives. She also sometimes met with them at their homes.

Among Kindred, she met semi-regularly with Robert Landau, who is Gulfport’s prince and one of Gerousiastis Matheson’s more distant descendants. Adler met with Landau on perhaps 50% of her visits. Less frequently, she would meet with Alan Parker, Landau’s childe. Their meeting locations would vary. Sometimes she would attend Elysium, “such as it is” in the small city. There are very few Kindred actually in Gulfport. (Landau is ranked merely an aedile, not a praetor.)

Adler did carry her phone.

Gulfport is friendly territory. Gerousiastis Matheson considers the small city to be his possession. Adler expected less trouble there than she does in New Orleans.

Caroline: “Who else knew her itinerary? Who knew when she was here?” Caroline asked pointedly.

GM: “Gerousiastis Matheson and Primogen Hurst always knew, ma’am. Prince Landau and other Kindred knew when she visited them, but they usually didn’t know if they didn’t.”

“She’d occasionally tell other Kindred she was out of town, but she wouldn’t say she was going to Gulfport, or advertise her sire’s connections there.”

Caroline: The Ventrue listens in silence, drawing her own conclusions. Few enough sources suggests an outside activity. Matheson has plenty enough enemies.

“Any thoughts from the footage?” Caroline asks Ferris.

She slips on some more plausible, professional heels with the more professional wardrobe while she talks.

GM: “Miss Adler had better hope her claim to be just an intern checks out,” says the ex-CIA agent.

“It does,” nods the ghoul. “She is, ostensibly, just an intern.”

“Can’t rightly pose as an executive at the age she was Embraced.”

Caroline: “Interns stuck working late.” She tilts her head. “Plausible.”

They’ll see if it’s plausible enough.

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: It’s not a long drive from the Giani Building to Perdido House. By design.

GM: The group is not stopped on their way up the building. Gisèlle hands off the tablet and phone to another ghoul. Kâmil leads them to Maldonato’s office. The seneschal is occupied at his desk. He offers no greeting as he rises and takes its private elevator to the building’s roof with them. Wind whips at Caroline’s clothes. The night sky stretches endlessly above them. Glittering lights stretch out far below.

There is no waiting helicopter.

“You wish these four to accompany you, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” Maldonato asks without preamble.

Caroline: “I believe them to be the most efficacious companions for this task, Seneschal,” Caroline replies.

Did we simply arrive more swiftly than he expected? Is the helicopter still en route?

GM: The seneschal closes his eyes. He, Caroline, and the four ghouls rise aloft into the air, then abruptly hurtle through the night sky at incredible speed. Wind blasts across Caroline’s face. Her hair is all but destroyed. Anything not tightly secured to her body flies off. Darkened cityscape rushes past, then wilderness. The ghouls’ rippling cheeks are all but peeling off their faces. Their eyes are tightly, furiously closed despite the incredible view, and their arms are tightly wrapped about their bodies. The experience does not look pleasant for them. Adler’s ghoul is missing her shoes.

Caroline: It’s more akin to being fired from a gun than the flying experience she’d had as an incorporeal being. Completely out of her control and at the mercy of the wind and sky. Only Caroline’s lightning-fast reflexes save her own shoes—and only then because they are significantly more ‘functional’ than her typical footwear.

How quickly are they moving? It’s impossible for her to say as the landscape whips past. Forcing her eyes open is a painful, unpleasant experience, and at this speed it’s impossible to properly orient on any landmark other than the presence and absence of lights in the dark.

A grin spreads across her face, though. They will arrive far swifter than she suspects any might expect, and with considerably less warning than the arrival of a helicopter in the small city might foretell. And certainly far more swiftly than the ‘primogen’ can arrange his own transportation.

It’s also significantly safer and less predictable, part of her notes. Some dark, suspicious part of her mind had floated the idea that in a commercial helicopter, hurtling across the open night far from the city, would be a rather vulnerable position if, say, one had the means to acquire a man-portable surface the air missile.

GM: The fall might easily be enough to torpor her, too, if the explosion didn’t (or destroy her outright). And even if she survived both without succumbing to torpor, there’s do doubt she’d be hurt enough to be much easier pickings.

Jocelyn had once mentioned a trick of the blood, for bolting, that allowed licks to survive great falls unscathed. Even novitiates to the discipline can learn it, as a precursor to powers of levitation and true flight. The Toreador’s sire had offered to teach her, but she’d wanted to learn others instead.

“Falling. Since when does that ever happen to you?” she’d scoffed to Caroline.

Caroline: Only socially.

Caroline sympathized, though: there were plenty of more readily useful devotions in one’s Requiem. If the helicopter took a rocket, odds are she’d have more problems than the fall. Escaping the blazing wreck as it spun would be difficult enough that it might not even matter.

GM: The sound of the shrieking wind is interrupted by thoughts that are not her thoughts.

:: You will arrive at your destination in approximately 5.6 minutes, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. I suggest you use the time to further plan with your subordinates. Envision their faces within your mind and you may communicate with them. ::

Physical words would doubtless be torn from their mouths.

Caroline: :: Thank you, Seneschal ::

And she means it. The elder facilitating this entire series of events for her, giving her another opportunity to succeed before her sire and her clan at large.

She pictures each of the ghouls in turn, forming a gallery and sends to them group, laying out her plan, such as it is.

:: It is my intention to arrive at the headquarters and, as soon as presentable, enter in the alternating guise as bank employees or federal agents, as most applicable. In the latter, Mr. Ferris or I will take the lead, using his knowledge or my abilities to bluff our way through en route to Ms. Adler. In the former, I expect Ms. Sweet to take the lead cutting through any barriers. ::

:: The first priority is protection of the Masquerade. If these are federal agents, we cannot simply slay them and are best served slipping through them with as few interactions as possible. The second priority is the retrieval and exfiltration of Ms. Adler. The final priority is gathering as much information as available on the cause of the raid, and information on any associated agents we discover, especially if they prove to be motivated by more than simply their civic duties. In that way, identification including names, faces, fingerprints and DNA so far as possible are higher priority than information they might volunteer. ::

:: The first goal then, in any agents we uncover, is identifying to the extent to which their actions are driven by knowledge of Ms. Adler or Mr. Matheson’s ties to the bank. Towards that end, Gisèlle, your abilities are invaluable. Should they become a strain upon you, inform me and I will subsidize you as needed. ::

She doesn’t expect her blood to be as appealing as the elder fair the ghoul typically enjoys, but she does expect it’ll take the edge off.

:: As we do so, Mr. Ferris, it is also vital we identify or arrange our means of departure from the city—likely by car convoy, but possibly via helicopter of the timing if Ms. Adler’s brother-in-blood proves fortuitous. ::

:: Questions. ::

GM: The responses back are not immediate. Caroline can feel the ghouls straining to concentrate on her ‘words’ past the stomach-churning vertigo and hellishly fast air basting across their faces.

But it’s not as if they can use the time for much else.

:: Where… is drop point… going to… be… :: sends Ferris.

:: We’re… going to look… out of sorts… when we arrive… :: sends Sweet.

:: What… is… ETA :: sends Ferris.

There is a fragmented sense of acknowledgment from the casquette girl. She is capable of reading their thoughts.

There is agreement from all ghouls at minimizing interactions with the federal agents to the greatest extent possible.

:: Prince… Landau… can help… convoy… :: sends Sweet.

Caroline: Caroline sends on Ferris’ question about arrival location to the seneschal, picturing the ancient Moor’s stern face before moving onto the others.

GM: :: That location is your purview to determine, Miss Maveaux-Devillers. ::

Caroline: :: We will land on the roof, :: Caroline sends, encompassing the rest within her thoughts.

There’s no guarantee what might away them on the ground level around the building, though she hopes to get a look before they land.

She counts the time from their initial call—something like thirty minutes total perhaps, to arrival. Odds are the feds will have finished sweeping the building. And if they’re hunters, as she suspects, they’ll be expecting far more from the outside than in at this point.

:: Arrival in less than six minutes.: :

Landing on the roof will also let them sort their appearance, in theory, before interaction with the employees or government agents. Unless they’re lucky enough to have someone on the roof…

:: No outside entities until we determine situation. ::

GM: :: Missing… shoes… will look… strange… :: sends Sweet.

:: Find… employee… to… mesmerize… :: Ferris.

:: Please describe the building’s layout. :: Kâmil’s mental voice sounds steadier, though the ghoul’s eyes are just as tightly closed against the winds.

Sweet does so, including any sites and features Caroline wants to know about.

Caroline: Caroline is grateful to the ghoul for taking the lead.

She listens carefully as Sweet explains the layout of the building and the number of employees within, getting a lay of the land as best she can.

She passes to Sweet that they will ‘liberate’ new shoes for her promptly.

To Ferris that an employee—or agent—in their grasp early is deal.

And all the while the thought flits around: did she bring this down on Adler? Is this the Barrett Commission? What exactly are they walking into?

Time will tell.

GM: Almost as abruptly as the group’s flight began, it immediately ceases.

They’re on the roof of a multi-story office building, not quite tall enough to be a true skyscraper. A smaller city’s skyline stretches out before them. The buildings aren’t nearly so tall or numerous as the Big Easy’s. The draft from high up is weaker.

Sweet doubles over and vomits over the ground.

Ferris follows suit a second later, spewing the contents of his stomach a few feet away.

Gisèlle looks green in the face and clutches her stomach, but holds it in.

Kâmil alone seems unaffected beyond a brief grimace.

Caroline: The speed of the transition is dizzying, but fortunately Caroline doesn’t suffer from the same nausea that the rest do.


They aren’t quite kine, but they’re close enough. Still beset by the weaknesses endemic to their kind.

That the bodyguard is unaffected further ticks up her respect for the Turk.

Caroline surveys the roof while she waits for the ghouls to recover, looking for any ‘guests.’

GM: :: Alas, such flight is rarely agreeable to the living’s constitutions, but better you arrive sick and early than late and hale. God be with you in your efforts, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. ::

As abruptly as the group arrived, Maldonato is gone. His tall form is briefly visible as a gray blot streaking into the night sky.

Caroline and the ghouls appear alone.

Everyone looks awful, Caroline included. Their hair and clothing are completely disheveled, the long-haired Gisèlle’s most of all. Ferris is missing his wristwatch, Sweet her jewelry in addition to her shoes. The ghouls’ faces are reddened and perspired, and they smell of sweat. The stink of puke hangs heavy in the air, though Gisèlle does not further add to it, and removes her hand from her stomach after a moment’s wait.

The Ventrue, at least, feels fine. Her stomach is as dead as the rest of her.

Caroline: Caroline watches the seneschal depart with mild trepidation. Out from under the umbrella here, at least.

She moves to the edge of the building, looking down into the night around the building for flashing lights, government vehicles, or a perimeter while she lets the others collect themselves.

They need to hit a bathroom, and preferably several offices for fresh changes of clothing, but she has a vague memory of how debilitating nausea was.

GM: The building they’re on looks like one of the tallest in the city, though that’s not saying much next to New Orleans. Gulfport looks like a pretty small city.

True to Caroline’s expectation, she sees a number of black and white vans (some marked with the FBI’s blue letters) assembled around the building’s entrance, replete with flashing lights, a do not cross perimeter, and assorted lawmen maintaining watch. Bystanders look at the building and gossip among themselves from a distance.

Caroline: An actual raid, then? Or a convenient camouflage?

It doesn’t matter, really—either way they need a light touch here.

She does a rough count of the number of vans and vehicles and probable agents on site and pulls back from the edge, looking back to the ghouls.

“We we ready to move?” Caroline asks.

GM: She’s answered by nods.

Caroline: She leads the way to the roof access, proceeding down into the next floor.

It’s advantageous that most CEOs and executives are vane enough to put their offices on the top floor—it provides them the most immediate access to replacement clothing and washrooms.

She slips slow, light feet down the stairs, senses on edge.

GM: Voices and heavy footsteps are audible further in.

Caroline: She slows, holding up a hand to forestall the others, and listens, trying to get a count on the number of voices and what they’re saying.

After a moment she points to Gisèlle, and gestures with one hand in front of her face, as though lowering a veil.

Can the casquette girl continue on undetected?

GM: A nod.

Caroline: Caroline gestures for her to do so, pausing to listen while the centuries old ghoul investigates.

GM: There’s a questioning look, as if to ask her objective. She feels the ghoul’s mind touch hers so she may give silent voice to her thoughts.

Caroline: The ghoul’s touch, as always, is like a feather compared to the seneschal’s anvil.

:: I need to know how many on this floor, if we can easily elude or overcome them, and what their immediate goals are. Are they hunters or simply FBI agents? And, if possible, whether Ms. Adler is still on this floor or if she’s been elsewhere. ::

GM: Without further word, the casquette girl winks out of sight like a snuffed-out candle.

Caroline: Caroline creeps down the stairs to wait near the bottom for her return—and to do some eavesdropping of her own.

GM: Caroline slowly makes her way down the carpeted hallway. Footsteps and voices are audible from nearby offices. They have doors rather than a common area with cubicles. It sounds like the one nearest to her, and at least several others, are still being searched. Drawers are opening and closing and papers being rifled through. She hears several presumed FBI agents inside amiably chatting about how, depending on how things go here, they may be getting “help from the boys at CI.”

“We’re just spread out over so many statutes, especially when counterterror and counterintelligence got big after 9/11,” says a Bureau agent. “CI’s always my first choice for financial crimes.”

“You will love working with those people,” says another man. “When CI brings a case to a U.S. Attorney, it is done. It is wrapped up with a ribbon and a bow. It is a genuinely impressive thing to watch.”

“Even Al Capone was no match for the IRS,” laughs a younger-sounding man.

“Yeah. Don’t fuck with the tax man,” says the first.

Caroline: Interesting that they’re not all familiar with Bureau procedure. New agents or cross agencies? The plot thickens, despite the mundane topic at hand for the agents. It would be easy to rampage through the building dominating everyone in her path, but she’s content to wait for a moment, to let the elder ghoul do her work and continue to listen in until she gets a better count on the number of nearby agents.

GM: She overhears that “a girl” matching Adler’s description has been arrested and is currently sitting comfy in one of the FBI vans.

Caroline: That is very interesting news for her. Her professors had been pretty clear, the Feds only arrest when they’ve got you dead to rights or they have no other option. Working late is hardly something she believes would drive then to arrest a young white intern with no criminal record. And even if they did, why not hand over to locals?

She withdraws back into the ladderwell to confer with her team while she waits for her spy to report. Sneaking in and out with none the wiser seems increasingly unlikely, so as much as anything this becomes a matter of what kind of footprint she wants to leave.

She relays, quietly, what she’s learned to Ferris, confirming with Adler’s ghoul the Ventrue’s identity here and how well it will stand up to scrutiny.

GM: Sweet says the identity is as real as any identity can be. It has everything from dental records to credit card food purchases. Gerousiastis Matheson arranged only the best for his childe.

Caroline: Caroline wouldn’t know anything about that. Yet.

GM: Ferris thinks that no identity will stand up to sustained scrutiny if you have a team of determined feds actively pouring over it. “If they already think it’s bull they’ll eventually find a string to yank.”

Caroline: The Ventrue agrees. She proposes posing as another agency angry over the feds stomping in and disrupting their investigation. Perhaps pitching Adler’s identify as a fake one in their employ. Treasury seems like a fair bet. Stomp in as a Treasury agent screaming about the mess they made and demanding to see their boss or whoever the hell authorized this shit show.

GM: Caroline’s ghouls raise no objection to the plan. Kâmil and Ferris both consider it wise to have a mundane cover story that Kindred powers can supplement over relying on those alone.

“One thing, ma’am, my domitor’s identity… she’s the niece of Edward Campbell,” says Sweet. “That’s the man with a controlling interest in the bank. And her sire’s identity.”

“That’s why people here listen to her and take her seriously, despite being ‘just’ an intern.”

Caroline: She’d have preferred to slip in and out to pick up Adler and leave none the wiser, but some footprint seems unavoidable. As an additional benefit, if they vanish with Adler into federal bureaucratic minefields attempts to figure out who is responsible among the agencies will leave fingerprints they can follow backwards.

Adler as such a high-profile identify though may create problems. She chews her lower lip.

GM: “He has no children and it’s believed she’s going to inherit everything from him.”

Caroline: Caroline wouldn’t mind making that a reality, truth be told, but this is hardly the audience for that topic.

“I see,” she answers. Is there an answer here that leaves that identity in place? She eyes Sweet. Probably not, but some answers may leave fewer questions than others.

GM: The ghoul smiles back. “Just seems tricky, that way, but maybe she is cooperating with the Treasury? The bank gets up to as many, ah, questionable enterprises as any Kindred-run business.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. And when she doesn’t show up again? Or can’t come in during the day? They’d blow that identity wide open, and with it a great deal more.

“I wonder if any of Mr. Campbell’s other assets were raided,” she muses while they wait.

She needs to get more of her wealth off the grid, make it harder to trace. She has an idea for that. Perhaps Miss Adler will have a similar interest.

GM: “I hope not,” frowns the ghoul, “but they won’t be able to leave him penniless, even if they seize everything attached to the name.”

Caroline: One hell of a stroke of luck to land on Adler in their first raid if she’s only here a few times a month.

GM: Without announcement, Gisèlle reappears.

Sounds and images fill the Ventrue’s head. She sees at least a score of different lawmen methodically searching the office building in teams, tearing through documents and arresting everyone they find. Some wear blue and yellow FBI jackets, but others appear to be local law enforcement. She hears voices talking about financial crimes and political corruption—one of the Bureau’s foremost areas of interest since 9/11. She sees handcuffed bank employees and Miss Adler being moved into the police vans outside.

She sees a middle-named man with a grimly set, all-business expression and receding brown hair being addressed by the others as “sir.” A name floats through her mind. Supervisory Special Agent Ruben Gates.

Mr. Gates and the other lawmen talk about a great deal of things, but Caroline hears nothing about vampires from any of them. Just a specific arrest warrant for Mr. Campbell’s niece.

They’ve got the warrant in hand, too, when Adler asks to see it. It’s signed by Magistrate Judge Samuel Chambers of the Southern District of Mississippi.

Caroline: A patsy. No way any magistrate with a brain in his head would sign off on something this large and sweeping. Caroline glowers. Catspaws at work here. The feds, the justice system. Using a system she has found power in.

Well, two can play at that game. Can they make it to a washroom to freshen up? Did she have an opportunity to snag a spare pair of shoes in her travels for Adler’s ghoul? She imagines that Adler keeps a closet here. Most executives do.

GM: Caroline sees no shoes in the ghoul’s hand. She does see, in her mind’s eye, that same image of lawmen busily searching the offices on the floor. They look busy, but they are there. It likely depends how stealthy the group is.

Caroline: No time like the present. She, Ferris, and Gisèlle will take the lead. Caroline will draw attention if required. She pulls her hair back into a simple ponytail and quickly smooths her appearance. Not perfect, but enough to stand up when layered on top of her powers. She gets concurrence from the others and creeps back down the hall.

GM: There are several hair-rising close calls from the busy federal agents, but the group makes it to the washroom without apparent detection.

Caroline: Caroline takes advantage of the mirror to finish smoothing her own appearance as best she can. There’s limits on what she can, but it looks better than nothing. More attention is directed to the others. They’re not going to be fooling anyone anytime soon under normal circumstances, especially the ghoul without shoes, but Caroline doesn’t intend on this being normal conditions.

GM: The others follow suit in cleaning up as best they can. Ferris and Sweet gargle water to get rid of the vomit on their breath.

Caroline: She looks at herself one more time in the mirror, then smiles.

“Time to make a scene.”

GM: “I look pretty out of sorts without shoes,” admits Sweet, but they follow her lead.

Caroline: “It would have been much better if you hadn’t lost them,” Caroline agrees pointedly. “If you have an opportunity to raid Miss Adler’s closet for a pair, do so.”

She leads them back to the hall, turns on the mojo, and sticks her head into the first room full of agents.

“Where the fuck is Gates?” she demands of the startled federal agents, channeling her best Claire.

GM: The blue-jacketed feds pause in their ransacking of the office and its contents. Four pairs of eyes sweep Caroline with taken aback expressions.

“Excuse me?” one man asks coolly.

Caroline: “Like hell I will,” she snarls. “You clowns just shit on three years of investigations stomping in here like you owned the place and there’s going to be hell to pay before I’m done.”

“Do you have any idea how much time and effort you destroyed? How many scumbags are going to walk free because of your FBI hard-on for jumping in the shit?”

GM: “And just who the hell are you people?” asks another fed in a milder-sounding tone than Caroline wonders if he might muster.

Sweet stays out of sight in the corridor.

Caroline: She turns her wrath on him. “Agent Bueller, Treasury. And who are you, so I can add your name next to your boss’ on the ‘audit every year until you die’ list?”

She looks around at the scattered papers and riffled through drawers and shakes her head.

“Goddamn, no wonder you guys have the same fuckers on your most wanted list for twenty years if this is what you do for investigations.”

GM: The agent gives her a sullen look at the ‘audit’ threat. The all-too real-sounding audit threat.

“We’re just doing our jobs. I didn’t order this raid.”

Caroline: It’s not life-shattering moments of fear that strikes terror into people, it’s lifelong tedious life-eating bureaucratic hell.

Her gaze sweeps across the other agents. “Then where the fuck is your boss? Someone’s ass is going to get roasted over this, and I don’t much care whose.”

GM: “He’s on the next floor down,” glares another fed.

Caroline: “You assholes actually here for something or is this someone flexing their dick on a goose chase?” she asks the more talkative one.

GM: “If you’re this pissy about the raid, I guess you’d know what’s here as well as us,” says the first fed.

Caroline: She rolls her eyes. “Got it, prick waving.” She settles on the fed that she threatened with the audit. “Bring me to him so I can stop having this same conversation with every one of you in sequence.”

GM: The man glowers at her, but moves off.

Caroline: Caroline shows her first smile, a sharp and cruel thing. “Hope you boys have good accountants.” She follows the unhappy agent, confident the others will no longer be so shortly.

GM: He exits the room, then stops and looks down at Sweet’s bare feet.

Caroline: When his gaze comes back up Caroline meets it. The monster inside her runs roughshod over his mind as she unleashes it.

“Forget about her feet and keep leading me as though you never saw them.”

GM: The man gets a glassy look in his eyes, then frowns again as he sees Sweet’s feet still in front of him. He touches his temple, but wordlessly leads Caroline downstairs.

“He cannot long forget what is plain to his sight, bayan,” Kâmil murmurs low in her ear.

“Maybe I should stay out of sight?” floats Sweet.

Caroline: “Can you?” Caroline asks.

GM: She shakes her head. “I’m no good at veiling, but I could wait on the roof?” she whispers.

Caroline: She looks at Gisèlle. “Can you veil yourself and let her ‘borrow’ yours?”

GM: The casquette girl silently hands over her shoes. A new ‘pair’ reappears.

Sweet murmurs her thanks and fits them on.

The FBI man leads Caroline and the ghouls downstairs. She sees a scene unfolding much like the one upstairs, but there are more lawmen. Many of them are carrying out computers and other seized pieces of evidence while others methodically tear through the contents of offices. It’s supervised by the figure Gisèlle showed her in her mind’s eye. A middle-named man with a grimly set, all-business expression and receding brown hair. Supervisory Special Agent Ruben Gates. He wears the same dress shirt and tie under a blue FBI jacket as the other on-scene feds.

“And who the hell are you people?” he growls as Caroline and the ghouls show up.

Caroline: “Treasury. What the hell are you people doing here?” Caroline snaps right back.

GM: “Our jobs,” answers Gates in that same low growl.

His eyes suspiciously survey the Ventrue and her ghouls.

“Let’s see some badges.”

Caroline: Irritating. She’d planned on more subtle powers holding out against less marginal scrutiny inside the perimeter. There’s not much to be done for it. Her gaze bores into man’s.

“I already showed my identification,” she doesn’t quite snarl. She releases the Beast to make it truth in his mind.

“How about you show me your warrant for this…” She bites her tongue off short of tearing him down in front of everyone else, glances around, then continues in a lower voice, “How about we step into an office to continue this conversation.”

GM: The man’s agitated expression slackens. “Okay. This way.”

“Sir?” asks one of the other feds.

Gates waves him off and takes Caroline aside into one of the already searched-looking offices.

Caroline: She shuts the door firmly behind them, leaving her ghouls with the rest of the Feds and rounding on him.

“What the devil is going on here? Raiding Whitney Hancock in the middle of night? Not conferring with anyone else?”

GM:I wasn’t told the Treasury Department had any skin in this,” Gates answers stiffly.

Caroline: “And we had no idea you had an investigation going into them literally at all, much less that you were planning to raid one of our most cooperative ‘partners’ in illicit funds and asset revelation in the region.”

She heaves a sigh and continues in a less aggressive, more business-like tone, at the same time shifting her influence upon him to something gentler, more invasive. She doesn’t lay it on too thick, just… a bit. To take the edge off his irritation and the inherent distrust between feds.

" So why don’t we start the fuck over and then we can find out how we’re going to un-fuck this one. I’m Jessica, you’re Ruben. This is obviously not entirely on the up and up or you’d have done it during the day and with a signature on the warrant from a district judge vice a magistrate one."

GM: Ruben sighs. “Jessica. Well, you’re right. I didn’t like this either. This was a bad time to do this. This was a bad warrant to do this with. Hearing this steps on someone else’s toes too honestly doesn’t surprise me.”

“But orders are orders.”

Caroline: “Then which idiot gave the order?” she asks, not quite exasperatedly. “Let me point this shit storm at them before it lands on you, you and that poor magistrate you all hoodwinked into signing off on this that’ll be lucky to hold office as local dog catcher when people are done with him. Why the sudden rush to come here and execute this raid?”

“Do you have any idea how many professional relationships have probably been ruined tonight? How many investigations are going back into the garbage? Years of work all gone in an instant… for what?”

GM: “Take it up with my bosses,” answers Ruben. “I got my orders from my ASAC. He got his orders from the DSAC. He mentioned nothing about a Treasury investigation. I was barely in on any of this before the raid. Boss just told me to make it happen.”

“I told him we should get a warrant from a real federal judge, and that we should do this during normal business hours. He said if I didn’t want to lead the raid, someone else would instead, and that I could hand over my badge while I was at it.”

Caroline: ‘Jessica’ purses her lips, then her expression softens.

“That’s fucking ridiculous. And these clowns wonder why we have so many problems keeping talented and motivated people.”

“The shitty government salary and red tape is at least supposed to come with job security and feeling like you aren’t the crook.”

GM: “My wife keeps reminding me how much more I could make in the private sector. I’ve gotten offers.”

Caroline: “Drop an IG complaint and take one,” she offers, but it’s a lifeless joke. Anyone with enough time in the bureaucracy of the government knows the IG only really sticks for fraud waste and abuse and allegations of racism. And you don’t rise to Ruben’s level without the ability to put your frustrations in a box, to take them out in ways that let you keep working for the Bureau like alcoholism or beating your wife.

DSAC, though, that’s interesting piece of information. It takes some real teeth to pull strings at the director level.

GM: Wife-beating and alcoholism work in plenty more jobs than the Bureau, too.

Ruben smiles humorlessly.

“My men are just doing their jobs. So am I. I’m not sure how much we can un-fuck things for the Treasury at this point.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles with more mirth, and some teeth.

“How precise are your orders?”

Career bureaucrats can find plenty of ways to un-fuck—or fuck things up within the letter of the law and their instructions.

GM: There’s another tired smile.

“Un-precise enough, if someone were to need it. The only part of this my boss left no room for error on was arresting the intern.”

“‘The’ intern.”

“I’m sure you people know who she is.”

Caroline: “Campbell’s niece?” Caroline asks skeptically.

“Little blonde, looks like she stepped out of a cheer squad recruiting video?”

GM: “That’s her.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an incredulous look. “That’s what this is all about? What, did she launder her Girl Scout Cookie profits to Hamas or something?”

GM: Ruben gives Jessica an equally dubious look.

“If your people have been at this for years, you know she’s no Girl Scout.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a guilty grin.

“Can’t blame me for trying. Campbell is going to blow his stack over her in custody.”

GM: “He sure is.”

Caroline: “You don’t sound especially broken up over that.”

GM: “I’ve not been investigating this bank for years, but I’ve been briefed.”

Caroline: On what? Caroline wonders.

Adler’s ghoul hadn’t exactly been forthcoming with what might convince a hardened agent that cute as a button Becky Lynne deserved a trip to prison.

“You figure your boss is trying to provoke him into action?” she asks. “See what comes out of the tree?”

GM: “He didn’t say outright, but that wouldn’t surprise me,” says Ruben. “She’s his hand. You probably know better than I do how hard he is to reach.”

Caroline: “What’s the charge attached to her, or is this a catch and release?”

They both know they can hold her for a while without charging her. It’ll be a headache of the lawyers show up, but with rich girls a trip to the station can be bad enough.

Caroline should know.

That Adler was targeted by name introduces some extra complications. Caroline had hoped to snatch her away amid the confusion associated with the raid, just another intern not worth recording. At worst she’d planned on leaving behind the ghoul in her place—another blonde that looked close enough to her domitor to pass uncareful scrutiny.

Adler vanishing into thin air, though… that’s harder to explain. And they’re not going to accept a vaguely passable double if they had a specific target.

GM: Caroline knows almost as well as another rich girl connected to Matheson.

“Contingent catch and release. Campbell is the real target. But if he doesn’t show his hand, there’s enough here to tie them up in court and make their lives miserable.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, then curses.


“Not much to do for it then. I’ve got to go call my boss, let him know this place is about to dry up like the Sahara Desert. Expect a nasty letter from him through official channels, but I’ll try to paint your ASAC. He have a name?”

GM: “Thanks,” grunts Ruben. “Everyone here is just doing their job.”

“His name’s Anthony Dotson.”

Caroline: “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve heard that story before,” Caroline agrees, holding up a hand. “No bad actors, just shitty scripts we’re all given.”

She meets his gaze, then bites her lip before continuing, her gaze boring into his own as she unleashes the Beast within his mind.

“Tell me, are we off the record here, no wires or recordings?”

GM: Ruben stares into the Ventrue’s eyes with a sleepy expression.

“No,” he answers tranquilly.

Caroline: A chill runs down her spine.

Someone’s fishing for bigger fish than just an executive.

She looks away, breaking the connection. “Fair enough. I’ll keep my opinions to myself and play the role I was given.”

“Wish I could say I’ll enjoy the fireworks, but they’re more fun when they aren’t going off beside you.”

She smooths over the transition with a flare of the Beast, lowering his inhibitions. Making her just a little easier to trust. To give the benefit of the doubt.

GM: The FBI man blinks slowly as the spell subsides.

The initial spell.

“Hold a moment,” he says. “You keep my guys and me out of your boss’ line of fire, I’ll owe you one.”

Caroline: “I’ll do what I can,” she agrees after a moment.

“If you feel like I’ve done right by you when it’s all said and done, reach out. Maybe I’ll even let you buy me a drink while we bitch about our bosses.”

GM: He gives ‘Jessica’ a long-suffering smile.

“You got a card?”

Caroline: She pats her pocket-less sides, then her pocket-less blouse wryly. “Not enough damn pockets. The failures of gender equality.”

She snags a sticky-note off the desk and dutifully prints her fake name with a pin from beside it.

“Look up me. Shoot me an email if you want to talk.”

GM: Ruben sticks the sticky inside his jacket pocket, then hands ‘Jessica’ a white business card with the FBI’s logo located to the upper left of the text:

U.S. Department of Justice
Federal Bureau of Investigation

Ruben F. Gates
Supervisory Special Agent

Below is his office address, office phone number, cell number, and email (

“Likewise to you.”

Caroline: She whistles, “Fancy,” and palms the card.

“Good luck, Ruben.”

GM: “Damn should be. $115 for a batch of 300 and they say ‘what an honor’ it is to serve us.”

Caroline: “The dinosaur at the officer says civil servants only got respect right after 9/11. Before my time.”

GM: Ruben grunts. “Not mine. Your people sticking around?”

Caroline: She shakes her head. “No meaningful jurisdiction here, just creates possible headaches down the line. We’ll get out of your hair.”

“I was really hoping you were going to be some podunk sheriff we could run over.”

GM: Ruben glances around the empty office, then reaches inside his jacket again, but doesn’t pull anything out.

“This whole thing stinks, Jessica.”

Caroline: She glances at his jacket, then bites her lip. “What am I missing, Ruben? Even as a short squeeze on Campbell, this doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are better ways to go about that.”

“Am I about to step in it on this one?”

GM: “I don’t know. The fixation on the intern is bizarre. My boss told me specifically how to arrest her.”

Caroline: “What do you mean, how?” she asks skeptically. “He afraid you were going to forget to mirandize her, or want her roughed up?”

GM: Ruben snorts. “Just bizarre instructions. Like to transport her to the county jail up along the I-10, instead of Gulfport PD’s here in the city. No explanation for the longer drive.”

“But, everyone else we arrest, fine if Gulfport PD holds them.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression turns grim. She bites her lip nervously.

“I need to go.” She swallows, then looks back at him. “Get away from this one, Ruben. Call in a favor if you have to.”

GM: The Bureau agent glances around the ransacked office again. Muffled sounds of lawmens’ footfalls are audible past the doors.

“Little late for that now.”

Caroline: “Then keep your name off of whatever you can. Turn over early.” She bites her lip again.

GM: He regards her for a thoughtful moment.

“I’ll take that advice.”

Caroline: She starts towards the door, then stops. “And don’t dig on this shit when it gets weirder, because it will.”

GM: Ruben shakes his head as he follows her out.

“I’ll take that too.”

Caroline: He sounds like he will. That’s something.

She hopes for his sake that it’s enough.

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: The Ventrue leaves the FBI agent to his business, leaving office first and heading out to gather the ghouls with a gruff, “We’re leaving.”

They have one stop before they go at the buildings security office downstairs.

GM: The four follow after her without a word.

No one stops them along the way to their destination. It’s a typical enough security office, with rows of screens and monitors and several swivel chairs to sit in. Caroline finds, to her good fortune, that it’s completely empty of security personnel and law enforcement agents alike.

Caroline: The Ventrue sends her agents into action—and joins them—seeking to pry any security tapes of the raid and subsequent events (including their arrival and exploration of the building) from the system.

Given the option she copies them and deletes the originals, making it look like mishandling. Without the option to copy, she simply deletes.

GM: Unsurprisingly, the terminals are password-protected.

Gisèlle meets Caroline’s gaze. In her mind’s eye, the Ventrue sees blood flowing from her wrist, then a bypassed login screen.

Caroline: The heiress nods, turns her wrist over, and brings it to her fangs to draw blood.

GM: The casquette girl sits down, touches the keyboard, then types in a password. She rises for Caroline and Ferris to systematically delete the footage. Sweet has the fortune to find a spare USB stick available for copying.

Caroline: Caroline supposes it’s fortunate the ghoul is good for something. She save her questions until they’re on the road.

The Ventrue works quickly, and they’re careful to wipe their fingerprints when they’re done.

They head out into the night and rolling chaos that is the perimeter, picking through the mess to determine who has been shipped out and who remains. It’s fortunate that those inside a perimeter attract far less attention than those without. They’re much more concerned with those attempting to gain entry.

She has Ferris and Sweet make whatever calls are necessary to arrange their vehicles for immediate pickup as she tries to locate Adler.

GM: Caroline finds that she and her ghouls are not alone with the law enforcement officers in the perimeter.

A short and vaguely bookish-looking man with tan skin and dark hair is also there, talking to one of the Bureau agents. He’s dressed in a tailored black business suit with a blue necktie patterned in white longhorns. He’s trailed by two more men in suits and a woman in similarly professional attire. The larger of the men carries himself like a bodyguard. But Caroline can sense all the subtle predatory cues, from the slowness of the short man’s blinks to the distinct lack of heartbeat.

He is Kindred.

He looks at Caroline and gives a faint smile that doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“Let’s talk.”

“Excuse us,” he says to the Bureau agent.

Caroline: “Let’s,” Caroline agrees. She nods to Ferris and Sweet to continue on their business and breaks away with the two elder ghouls.

GM: They walk away from the perimeter.

“What are you doing in my city?” the vampire asks without preamble.

Caroline: The heiress bites back her initial reaction: venom and spite.

“Prince Landau, I presume,” she answers more mildly, deferentially. Her pride isn’t worth starting a conflict with a neighbor.

“My apologies for not presenting myself more presently, we arrived only minutes ago. I had hoped that Prince Vidal might have had the opportunity to send word ahead.”

“We received word that Questor Adler had been taken into FBI custody, and I was able to arrive much more swiftly than any other.”

GM: “I’ve been made aware,” the small-town prince answers perfunctorily.

“You may present yourself to me now.”

Caroline: “Begging your pardon, my prince, but to show you the respect you are due within your dominion would invite undue scrutiny in this moment: this raid specifically targeted Kindred, down to special handling instructions for the specific target.”

She doesn’t dally before continuing.

“That not withstanding, I am Eiren Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, childe of René Baristheaut, childe of Robert Bastien, childe of Lothar Constantine, childe of Dominic de Valois-Burgundy, childe of Gaius Pedius Marcellus, childe of Alexander, childe of Ventrue, and I humbly request both your forgiveness for my trespass, and permission to continue in my duties as ordered by my prince, Strategos Augusto Vidal, within your domain through this night.”

She wonders if even that humble pedigree shames the small-town tyrant.

GM: It’s an estimable enough list of names, at least from Bastien on upwards.

“I’ll give you better than my permission, Eiren,” says Landau.

“You can do it under my supervision. Bring me up to speed on what you’ve found.”

Caroline: She gives a faint bow of gratitude—limited by their publicity. “Very magnanimous, my prince.”

“Questor Adler was taken into custody a little less than an hour ago. This raid was specifically directed by someone with ties to the Domestic Security Alliance Council—presumably a highly placed hunter—with the intention of capturing her. Most of those here are catspaws, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have agents seeded into the group. Given time I’d comb through them, but we lack that.”

“Questor Adler is supposed to be taken not to the local Gulfport PD holding, but to the county jail down I-10. The guidance was specific to the route. I have not ascertained if she has been transported yet, but I do not expect we will see her again if that convoy is not intercepted in a timely manner.”

“It was my intention to locate her, if here, and if not to procure vehicles to intercept the convoy, by force if necessary.”

GM: Landau seems to consider that. He frowns slightly at the mention of procuring vehicles, but answers,

“You can borrow some of mine, then. Eiren Packard will help you. She’s a fair hand behind the wheel.”

Caroline: “As directed, my prince,” Caroline acquiesces without argument.

A ‘fair hand.’

“Is she nearby?”

It’s not lost on her that associating himself here allows him to take credit for this publicly… but nor is it lost on her that an eiren of modest breeding handling such a sensitive matter must raise some concerns for even the pauper prince.

GM: Landau removes a flip phone from his jacket pocket.

“Take two cars to the public library. Lickety-split.”

He ends the call and looks back to Caroline.

“Block and a half down 25th Ave.”

Caroline: “Thank you, Prince Landau,” she replies.

Then, “Was it possible to ascertain whether Questor Adler had been taken away yet?”

GM: “Sure was, Eiren. She’s gone. You and Packard had better be fast.”

Caroline: She refrains from offering a curse at the time wasted with formalities.

“By your leave, then.”

GM: The prince motions, dismissing her, and walks back towards the bank with his people.

Like in so many other things, it looks like it falls to the neonates to do the heavy lifting.

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress withdraws with Landau’s assent, gathering her ghouls around her as she heads down 25th Ave.

She gives them the bare minimum as they walk. “Ms. Adler is being taken to the country prison. We will intercept the vehicles transporting her with the aid of Prince Landau’s childe, who is graciously providing two vehicles.”

GM: 25th Avenue is Gulfport’s largest thoroughfare and drives home what a small city it is. Only a few buildings are more than several stories tall. Gaps between them feel more spacious. Palm trees line the avenue, swaying in the balmy seaside air.

Ferris and Sweet are gone, having been dismissed to procure vehicles, but meet Caroline outside the public library after being called over Ferris’ phone. It’s closed at this hour of the night and located next to a sleepy O’Tolley’s still seeing some traffic at the drive-thru.

“Which one, ma’am, if I might ask?” asks Sweet.

Caroline: She bites back a more biting response, and not for the first time this evening.

“Eiren Packard.”

GM: “Ah, good,” smiles the ghoul. “She’ll want to get Questor Adler recovered safe and sound.”

Caroline: “They knew about your domitor,” Caroline snaps. “Apparently she had quite the unsavory reputation.”

GM: Sweet’s eyes widen at Caroline’s first words.

At the latter ones, she just offers a sad smile.

“So do all ghouls and Kindred, ma’am, to people who know our dirty laundry.”

Caroline: “Typically the FBI isn’t on the list of people I’d expect to be read in on that.”

She continues to walk. “Questor Adler was the sole target tonight. They had special apprehension and transportation instructions for her.”

GM: “Oh, no,” the ghoul murmurs. “They knew she was Kindred, then?”

Caroline: “I suspect someone did,” Caroline answers.

Which only further reinforces what she’s come to suspect: that someone is targeting the city’s Ventrue quite aggressively.

GM: “Gisèlle identified no individuals among the Bureau agents who were more than they appeared, bayan,” states Kâmil. “But as you told Prince Landau, it is entirely possible such individuals evaded our limited scrutiny.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I expect they will have their agents waiting to take Questor Adler into custody—either on the road or at the jail.”

GM: “Is our primary objective to extract Adler or capture their agents?” asks Ferris.

Caroline: She glances at Sweet. “The former.”

GM: The ghoul looks relieved.

Caroline: “Anything else we get is simply an added benefit.”

GM: “Pros and cons to taking her into custody on the road or at the jail,” considers Ferris. “On the road, fewer witnesses, easier operation. At the jail, more possible coverups. Podunk cops make good patsies.”

Caroline: “May not get a choice. If you were a black team would you take her on the road, knowing her connections, if you wanted to shuffle her off to a site?”

GM: “Road for sure if I wanted to capture her and didn’t mind a more suspicious disappearance. She wouldn’t be in any jail cell for long.”

Caroline: “Have to catch her either way,” Caroline muses.

GM: “I find it remiss that an elder’s favored childe would be caught so easily, bayan,” observes Kâmil.

Caroline: “In what way?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Could you see this same sequence of events happening to you, bayan?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks on that one. “Odd that she was alone, that she was taken so unawares.”

GM: The Turk dips his head in concurrence.

Caroline: “Convenient that I was watching when it happened.”

Caroline turns to Sweet.

GM: “I’m certainly glad you were, ma’am, for it to get this level of response,” nods the ghoul.

Caroline: “How frequently does she do Zoom calls for Kindred business, Ms. Sweet?”

GM: “It depends on the nature of the business, ma’am. Usually Zoom calls are just to set up somethin’ else in person.”

“Though for business that can be discussed in veiled enough terms, she prefers to do over video calls than voice calls.”

“She likes to look people in the face—and let them see hers, too.”

Caroline: “And does she frequently travel to foreign cities alone?” Caroline presses.

GM: “Questor Adler doesn’t consider Gulfport to be foreign, ma’am. Gerousiastis Matheson considers the city his possession, in so many words. She feels, or I suppose felt, safe comin’ here.”

“But ever since the bank’s been relocatin’ its headquarters, she’s usually popped by here once a week.”

“Before then it was once every few weeks or so.”

Caroline: “Routines make us complacent,” the Ventrue observes to the Turk.

“But hurry makes us blind.”

Out on the interstate far from the city with only a fraction of her typical ghouls and with unknown foreign Kindred makes her awfully vulnerable.

“You think it’s a trap.”

GM: “It would be a convenient moment for one,” observes Ferris.

Caroline: She has always trusted her vision, her perspective, but how much of this could be someone playing off her own expectations?

GM: “I am uncertain, bayan,” answers Kâmil.

“It is, as Bay Ferris notes, a convenient moment for a trap.”

“Yet few are the prizes that may be won without struggle or risk.”

Caroline: Dread rolls in the pit of her stomach, and as her gaze settles again on Sweet anger blossoms. “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

She rounds on the petite ghoul, her features taking on a darkly wrath.

“You know something,” she snarls.

GM: Sweat beads along the ghoul’s brow as she raises her hands placatingly.

“I-I haven’t told you everything ab-bout Questor Adler’s activities , ma’am, but it’s nothing, nothing harmful.”

Caroline: The aura of palpable menace rolls off Caroline like a dark suffocating cloud.

“Tell. Me. Now.”

GM: Ferris silently falls behind Sweet, his own face dark. He doesn’t say anything about blacksites and CIA interrogation techniques. Sometimes more words dilute the impact of your first ones. He just gets behind the ghoul and lets her feel surrounded, back exposed and vulnerable to a second and very unfriendly-looking face.

Kâmil and Gisèlle watch impassively.

“She has a bodyguard!” spills Sweet, trembling a helpless piece of debris in that darkest tempest.

“He, he was down with poisoning tonight, food poisoning.”

“He couldn’t be, be here with her.”

“I thought, okay, that, that happens, sometimes, I just…”

“Just what?” Ferris breathes behind her.

“I think she did it!” blurts the ghoul. “Poi, poisoned him!”

Caroline: Caroline glowers.

“You maintain her schedule. When did she schedule this trip? Was it after I tried to arrange a meeting?”

She glances as the casquette girl. “Can you reach the seneschal from this far away?”

GM: Gisèlle shakes her head.

Caroline: She looks back to Sweet.

She already knows the answer.

GM: “After, ma’am,” the ghoul answers quietly.

“This, this wasn’t a setup. I know her. She wasn’t acting. She is in trouble.”

Caroline: “I’m sure,” Caroline all but sneers in Sweet’s face.

But it’s not impossible. Adler already holds leverage over her, but her departure and arrival here is something that would have been difficult to predict. There’s another hand at work.

A pause.

“Who did she meet with between my request and the scheduling of this trip?”

GM: “It doesn’t matter to her either way,” observes Ferris. “If Adler’s not in trouble, and Sweet sends us after her, as planned, she’s being a good ghoul. If Adler is in trouble, maybe we save her, and if we die, oh well.”

“Good ghoul either way.”

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement. “And she’s inclined to see the best even if she is genuine in her concern.”

“The list, Ms. Sweet. My patience runs exceptionally thin.”

“And if you lie or misrepresent something to me again I will leave you in a ditch and your domitor wherever she has found herself.”

GM: An image flits through Caroline’s mind’s eye.

Two cars have arrived.

The ghoul, meanwhile, pales at Caroline’s all-too genuine-seeming threat.

“She, I’m sorry, she saw… Primogen Hurst, Gerousiastis Matheson, Lady Speaker Defallier, Hound Doriocourt, Lady Commissioner Preston, Questor Brodowski, and Seneschal Maldonato.”

Caroline: “Wonderful, a who’s who of people that want me dead,” Caroline snaps.

She bores her eyes into the ghoul’s. “Forget this conversation,” she demands before tearing her gaze away.

“-e need to hurry,” she picks up mid sentence. “If she’s already been handed off to a second group we’ll never find her.”

GM: The still-pale ghoul blinks and nods shakily. Dread continues to roll off the Ventrue in a dark yet unseen tide.

Caroline: She brushes a hand on the the casquette girl’s as she advances towards the vehicles and sends feeling through it. Tension. Violent readiness.

“Gisèlle, can you link us across cars if they are in close proximity?”

GM: The casquette girl inclines her head.

Caroline: “Do so, I will have additional instructions once we are on the way. Mr. Ferris, please join Ms. Sweet and Gisèlle in the second vehicle.”

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

Caroline: Her foul mood has not abated, but she buries it as best she can.

Perhaps it is her temper guiding her. The smarter move tonight is to turn around, to drive these cars back to New Orleans and report to the seneschal.

But she’s been manipulated. She’s been lied to. Deceived.

And by god, someone is going to pay for it.

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: The group proceeds to the cars. They’re a pair of SUVs parked within 10 or so feet of where the conversation took place. The driver inside each is watching them. One, female, smells like Kindred even past the windshield. The other, male, smells human. Kâmil follows at Caroline’s flank.

Caroline: Caroline approaches the Kindred driver, appraising her and sliding around the car to the passenger side door before climbing inside.

GM: Most Kindred, from what Caroline’s seen, are Embraced young. Twenty-somethings, like she is. Sometimes younger, like Becky Lynne and Roxanne. The Kindred behind the wheel doesn’t look young. There are lines across a hard and determined face that looks like it’s seen more scowls than smiles over the years. She’s in her mid-late 30s, maybe, with fair skin and dirty blonde hair cut short. She wears a button-up and gray pants without any makeup or jewelry.

She waits for Caroline, seemingly, to break the silence first.

Caroline: “They tell you what’s going on?” Caroline asks, breaking the silence.

GM: “No,” the woman answers frankly.

Caroline: “Questor Adler was picked up by federal authorities, likely being handed off for transport to a black site. We’re supposed to go get her. Somewhere down I-10 Eastbound.”

Except it’s far from that simple.

She arches an eyebrow. “Sounds like fun, eh?”

GM: “Not one bit,” answers the other vampire, then twists the ignition.

Kâmil sits in the back behind the two.

The car moves. 25th Ave rolls past. It’s not a long drive to the city’s outskirts. The whole city feels like somewhere else’s outskirts.

Caroline: Caroline lets them get into the darkness before she looks over. It’s not complicated, a simple ‘hey, what’s this?’ to get the other vampire, the older woman to look at her for a moment, and she sets to work on her mind, even as one hand snakes out lightning quick to catch the wheel and keep it steady.

“Drive as I tell you and when I next say ‘alpha’ freeze and do not move for the rest of the evening..” she demands.

GM: “Fuck y…” growls the woman, eyes hard as they bore back Caroline’s. She feels the other vampire’s will like steel beneath her. The Ventrue’s mouth opens, as if to issue some counter-command.

Caroline: “In your dreams,” she snarls.

GM: A moment passes.

No sound emerges.

The woman’s features gradually still.

She looks back towards the road and calmly resumes driving.

Kâmil is sitting forward, a large hand resting inside his jacket pocket. Upon seeing the woman’s acquiescence, he releases it and sits back.

Caroline: Caroline sighs, then slides out her phone.

“Continue onto I-10 eastbound,” she directs as she dials her sister, letting it ring.

GM: The car drives.

Cécilia picks up promptly.


Caroline: “Cécilia,” Caroline greets her. “I’m sorry, I know it’s late.”

The sound of her sister’s voice is reassuring. Calming. It pats down the anger burning under the surface.

“I’ve found myself in something of a bind. Is Maman available?”

GM: “For us? Of course.”

“And it’s fine. Do you need help?”

Caroline: “Advice at least,” she admits.

GM: “All right. I’ll go find her. What’s the situation?”

Caroline: She’s mindful of how unsecure the line is.

“I thought I was coming to help a ‘friend’ in Gulfport, but now that I’m here the entire thing seems… questionable, and I’m beginning to wonder why they called me at all.”

GM: “Oh, that is difficult,” frowns Cécilia. “Do you feel like you can’t just come home?”

Caroline: “That’s probably the smart move… but you know how I feel about people jerking me around. How much I’d prefer to confront them face to face.”

“This just seems a little… calculated. I was hoping Maman had some ideas to change the odds a bit.”

GM: “I can do that. What do you want me to pass along?”

“You know how phones really don’t agree with her.”

Caroline: “Please,” Caroline indicates. “For what it’s worth, I think that distant relative of mine, the one that lives out in the country, may be involved.”

GM: “Oh no, personally?”

Caroline: “Hard to say, but… starting to think so. I brought a couple old friends out, and there aren’t many other people I can think of that would want to get into it with them if it gets ugly.”

GM: There’s a pause.

“She thinks that’s unlikely.”

“That he’d rather ask someone else to get involved for him.”

Caroline: “Awkward. You know how much I hate backing down from a confrontation.”

GM: “Oh? No, she doesn’t think he’s there himself.”

“Probably one of his friends, children, or employees, if it’s him.”

Caroline: “Funnily enough, the friend I came out to help was one of his daughter. Seemed like if someone wanted to cause trouble they wouldn’t just send her though.”

“Especially since, you know, he knows me.”

GM: “Is there any benefit to sticking around? She says she’d be inclined to leave, do some digging, and confront whoever’s involved on her terms, rather than on someone else’s.”

Caroline: “I involved a couple of other people getting out here. Bummed a ride… and if I’m wrong and his daughter is in trouble she’d be in a pretty bad spot.”

“And I hate backing down.”

GM: “Maman says that’s your pride talking,” Cécilia says in a lightly chiding tone.

“Do you think helping out his daughter is worth the risk of getting burned?”

“Nothing good without effort, and all that, it’s mainly a question of how important this is to you.”

Caroline: “It is. Pride talking,” she admits.

“But you know how it is. If you let people push you around, they’ll just keep pushing.”

GM: “Maman says you should always push back. Just on a battlefield of your choosing, and not someone else’s.”

“What about the daughter, though? Is this a now or never thing?”

Caroline: “Seems likely,” Caroline answers.

“I’m also concerned that if I walk away without making the attempt it’ll disappoint dad.”

GM: “That is tricky, then. What can we do to help?”

Caroline: “Well, if it’s not him, the only thing I’d be concerned about is unfavorable numbers. You know how brave people get when they think they have the advantage.”

“I don’t suppose she could do anything about that?”

GM: “Numbers?”

A pause.

“She says your father or his husband might be better able to help you, there.”

Caroline: She gives a faint smile. “I understand, I’d met a friend who could always seem to conjure up friends from out of nowhere, I’d hoped she might do the same.”

GM: Another pause.

“Maman says your friend probably knows nicer friends than she does.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks and pauses to give direction to her dominated driver again.

“Understandable. Does she have any recommendations on not getting psyched out, beyond the norm? I’m a little concerned about them getting in my head.”

GM: “I’m afraid not. That’s something you want to avoid all of the time.”

Caroline: “Well, I feel better having at least talked about it.”

GM: “She thinks maybe using some patsies to feel things out from a distance? That’s very easy for you to set up.”

“Anything that balks their plans and makes things not turn out the way they expect.”

Caroline: “Not going how they expect? Cécilia, that’s my specialty.”

GM: Cécilia laughs.

“That’s too true.”

“Are you going to get help from your dad or stepdad?”

Caroline: “You know how hard they can be to reach. Never picking up their phones.” Caroline observes.

GM: “Oh, their PAs, too?”

Caroline: “No harm in trying I suppose.” Caroline agrees.

“We’re getting close. Should make that call now. Give Maman my love?”

GM: “She says she loves you too. So do I.”

Caroline: “I’ll see you when I get back,” Caroline answers, ending the call.

GM: Ahead, the highway steadily rolls past the windshield.

Caroline: Caroline picks out Congo’s contact information and hits call.

GM: “Hello, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” the ghoul greets.

Caroline: “Good evening Mr. Congo,” Caroline replies.

She wastes little time in explaining the situation to the ancient ghoul as opaquely as she can over the phone without losing context, pausing to answer question as required.

She relays that the circumstances appear suspicious, as does the timing, and that she is increasingly concerned this may be a setup of some kind. The fact that Adler was alone. The damning suspicion she forced from the terrified ghoul that Adler had poisoned her bodyguard. The scheduling of the trip and their video call. The waiting prince with his brood and readily available cars.

She also touches on how few might know that she could get out here this quickly. She intend on proceeding, barring an order to divert, but is far from comfortable with the situation.

GM: Congo receives Caroline’s news gravely. He states that he does not believe his domitor would condone Caroline proceeding into what appears to be a trap—nor does he endorse the same. The seneschal’s ghoul quotes Sun Tzu on avoiding battles fought on the enemy’s terms: “Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.”

Congo concurs that he finds suspicion in Adler being alone, her bodyguard potentially being poisoned, and the scheduling of the trip.

Congo does not find Prince Landau’s waiting cars to be suspicious, however. He states that Primogen Hurst called ahead to notify his kin in Gulfport about Adler’s situation (no doubt reasoning they could reach her faster than he), and is in fact en route to Gulfport himself, with such allies as he could muster on short notice.

Caroline: “You would have us turn away, then?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Let me consult my employer, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. He shall be available very soon. In the interim, I can provide Mr. Hurst’s contact information if you lack it, so that you might coordinate activities. I do not believe it productive for him to make the trip out to Gulfport if his sister is no longer there.”

Caroline: Caroline takes down the contact info, but caveats, “Better to avoid reaching out to Mr. Hurst until we have confirmed your employer wishes us to proceed. I expect he will take it poorly if we decide not to. I’ll await your call Mr. Congo.”

She rolls over scenarios in her mind, the least likely possibilities receding with time.

Does Matheson know that the seneschal can catapult a group a hundred miles away in minutes? Perhaps. Does he know he could do so for Caroline? That she would immediately reach out to the seneschal, that she is within his grace? Perhaps less likely.

So how would this trap work, if it is a trap? The next quickest transport from the city would likely be… with Hurst. With whatever ghouls Hurst might assemble. Perhaps without her own, due to loading requirements on a helicopter.

Is that the play? Hurst and Adler overpowering her with their ghouls, alone out here?

If so, the proper reaction is to move quickly. Take Adler before Hurst can arrive and bring the matter before her sire. Let him discover the truth of it back in New Orleans, where her allies are.

GM: “Mr. Hurst is already en route to Gulfport, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” Congo continues. “The sooner he is notified, the sooner he might join you. I do not believe my employer would object to this, especially when the situation has proven more dire than initially believed.”

“And whatever else has come to pass with Miss Adler, Mr. Hurst is loyal to your father above all other men.”

Caroline: She mulls that thought. “Has the truth of that been disclosed to Mr. Hurst?”

It’s one matter to move against the prince’s childe. It’s another against the troublesome Ms. Malveaux, sireless neonate who has given offense to his own.

GM: “It has not been, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Yet the company you presently travel in is most unusual for one of your presumed parentage.”

Caroline: “I’ll reach out,” she agrees. “And I’ll await your call, Mr. Congo.”

GM: “Very good, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. We shall speak again soon.”

Caroline: Caroline has ridden in enough helicopters to know that a phone call is a losing proposition. She shifts to text.

_Just stopped by to visit your sister but she wasn’t home. I think she headed east with some friends. _

GM: The response back is immediate.

Where to?

Caroline: She drops and sends a pin, not directly on top of the jail but close to it.

Not sure if she’s arrived yet.

GM: Good to know. Who’s she driving with?

Caroline: Not sure, your cousin in Gulfport might know. He told me she’d left.

GM: I’ll get in touch. Where you headed?

Caroline: Was going to try and meet her there. I’m a little ahead of you.

GM: You up for it?

Caroline: Goading her, or doubting her?

Of course.

GM: Good luck. I’ll try to catch up .

Caroline: She’s left wondering if that’s a good or a bad thing.

GM: “I can confirm Primogen Hurst’s loyalty to our prince, bayan,” states Kâmil. “My domitor believes him trustworthy. One of the most trustworthy Kindred remaining among the Sanctified.”

“I would not refuse his help against adversaries of unknown strength and numbers.”

Caroline: Her sire(s) also believes Donovan to be a loyal servant, and she knows well how folly that belief is.

“I did not decline it, but this matter will be much easier if concluded before the jail.”

GM: “I have little doubt as to that fact, bayan. Yet your continued safety is my foremost duty, above Miss Adler’s retrieval.”

Caroline: “I cannot be made of porcelain,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Perhaps not, bayan. Such matters are above my concern.”

Caroline’s phone rings. The caller ID is Congo’s.

Caroline: She answers.

GM: “I have consulted my employer, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. He is ill-inclined to abandon Miss Adler in her hour of need, if that need is genuine, yet he is also ill-inclined to fight any battle upon so unfavorable a field. He is attempting to gather further intelligence as to your battlefield’s nature.”

“For now, he wishes you to maintain your present course. I will call you again when there is new information.”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t surprised.

She knows better than most that the seneschal is anything but objective where Adler is concerned. That he blames himself for her Embrace. Not the for the first time, she wonders how it came to pass. Regardless, his vision is clouded.

As clouded as her own is at the prospect of a challenge. At the idea that someone has underestimated her, the idea that they believe they can best her.

She wonders when she became this way. When she stopped running from fights and started running to them. It’s reckless. Foolish. And yet… she can’t help herself.

Maybe it’s her bloodline, the arrogance of her deathright overwhelming her sensibilities. Perhaps it’s the predatory nature of all Kindred.

Regardless, she doesn’t argue. Unwise though it is, she agrees with the seneschal in this matter: let them come.

“I understand. Thank you, Mr. Congo.”

When she’s concluded the call she informs Kâmil of their orders: press on.

GM: Maybe it’s two of her bloodlines.

Her father is no warrior. He was not Embraced into this life. But would he have run from a similar challenge?

Arrogance did not come from her deathright alone.

“Very well, bayan,” concurs Kâmil.

If the Turkish bodyguard believes this course of action unwise, he holds his tongue, and stares motionlessly ahead into the onrushing night.

“Then we commit ourselves wholly to victory.”

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: The two cars drive and drive. There is little enough traffic on the remote highway at this late hour. Yellow-stripped asphalt rushes endlessly past under endless night sky.

GM: The hard-faced vampire silently steers the wheel. Kâmil looks at her at one point and remarks, “This one despises subservience,” but says nothing further.

Eventually, Caroline gets another call from Congo.

The seneschal’s ghoul informs her in so many words that Adler is handcuffed in the back of a police van still en route to the county jail. She has enspelled the minds of several police officers on board. They are not breaking their orders, but they view her with great sympathy and arresting her is breaking their hearts. They were engaged in conversation with her. Maldonato believes Adler is counting on being broken out procedurally, rather than attempting to escape through her own powers, but has subverted the officers’ minds as a ‘just in case’.

Caroline: Caroline can’t say much about that, looking at their unwilling driver. She did much the same.

It raises more uncomfortable questions though, about what game Adler is playing at, and why. Why draw Caroline out, if that was even the intention?

GM: “My employer will continue his investigations. Is there aught else you desire to know, Miss Malveaux-Devillers?” inquires Congo.

Caroline: “How far are we from them? Can we overtake them? If so, where? Their numbers as well.”

GM: “I shall ask, Miss Malveax-Devillers. Is there further else?”

Caroline: “Does she appear distressed?”

It feels disrespectful using the seneschal as her spy, but it is the position they’re in.

GM: Perhaps he would consider the cause a worthy one, if it has already clouded his judgment.

A pause.

“You will be able to overtake them in several minutes at your current speed. You will still be on the highway. There are four officers inside the vehicle.”

“Miss Adler is engaging the officers in conversation about their interests and families. She does not appear unduly distressed, but grace during times of trial is a virtue of your family’s.”

Caroline: “Then we’ll see her shortly, and we’ll see what is to come. Thank you for your aid, Mr. Congo.”

GM: “You are welcome, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. Yet if you believe matters here are more than they appear, my employer remains skeptical that four police officers is the totality of the opposition you may face.”

“The circumstances of Miss Adler’s bodyguard’s ‘illness’ remain deeply troubling to him.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “The die is cast, Mr. Congo. Our strength will be sufficient or it will not. If not, there are painfully few that could have anticipated this course of action, and I trust your employer and my father’s wrath will do honor to my memory.”

“Now is the time for action. The analysis may follow.”

She says her goodbyes to the elder ghoul and turns to the plan of action, teaching out mentally to Gisèlle as well to pass the plan to the trusted agents in the other vehicle as she explains to Kâmil.

The intent is for the vehicle Caroline is in to accelerate past the police van, then flip around and accelerate towards it at high speed, leaving Kâmil on the side of the road if necessary prior to doing so. Caroline will bail out just before the collision, trusting her speed to carry her and the other vampire free from the vehicle. She can see no other reason the vehicle carrying a prisoner could be convinced to stop. The collision will likely injure the police inside, and allow them to quickly overpower any remaining resistance and release Ms. Adler.

She is inclined to leave behind Sweet in Adler’s place, warping the memory of applicable police as required… or leaving behind Sweet’s corpse if required. A mangled blonde recovered from the crash site.

She’s also inclined to leave the follow-on cleanup to Hurst. The trap, such as this is, is better avoided by speed.

GM: Kâmil considers Caroline’s proposal.

“I may survive a car crash without undue injury, bayan. A steered vehicle is more likely to hit its mark than an out of control one in any case. If we are to execute this plan, I believe I should remain behind the wheel.”

“I, too, see little we could say to convince the lawmen aboard to stop their vehicle. Perhaps an inconvenience or obstacle placed on the road ahead could do so.”

The Turk gives a sad smile.

“I believe my domitor would seek an alternative to the deaths of these men and woman. But he is not here and your plan is efficacious. Your command is mine.”

Caroline: “A vehicle steered by her,” she gestures to their dominated vampire companion, “is even more likely, and risks not your life. At worst, I can revive her.”

She pauses.

“For what it’s worth, I find it unlikely even a high speed collision with this vehicle will kill any onboard the van. The mass advantage on the van means the collision will be far worse on this vehicle. Casualties are possible, but seem more likely the product of fortune’s cruel hand than foregone,” she offers, trying to assuage the Turk’s conscience.

She doesn’t especially want to murder police officers either. And a drunk driver colliding with the vehicle while suspicious is not impossible, or even implausible.

She hopes Landau has properly insulated his assets from himself. And that he has good insurance.

GM: “I do not believe Primogen Hurst, Prince Landau, or Miss Alder are likely to think well of you for using one of their kin in such a manner, bayan,” Kâmil offers mildly, glancing once more at their driver. “Nor Miss Packard herself.”

Caroline: “Better then that she remember this as her own daring idea, and her the eager participant,” Caroline offers.

She can’t make everyone happy.

GM: “I believe I could serve in the role you intend, bayan, without worsening your clanmates’ esteem of you. My domitor is gravely concerned that too many Kindred view the name of Miss Malveaux-Devillers with indifference or hostility.”

“But if it is your will to use Miss Packard in this manner, I remain yours to command.”

Caroline: “I am disinclined to risk the lives or well-being of those that serve me, even for a brief time, to further nebulous ends,” Caroline answers the elder ghoul starkly.

She sighs.

“But as ill at ease as it would leave me to do so, wisdom would seem as much listening to elder counsel as following your own better inclinations. If you wish it, if you believe it wise…. I will defer to your experience in this matter.”

GM: The large man inclines his head.

“My domitor has tasked me with your protection, bayan. He did not specify whether this protection was to extend beyond ensuring your immediate physical safety, but I believe this course of action is within the spirit of his orders.”

Caroline: “Then we’ll do it your way, Kâmil.”

Caroline confirms that Gisèlle is tracking the plan as well—their second car will be the ‘getaway’ as it were, arriving on the scene immediately after the crash.

GM: Some of the disadvantages of telepathic communication become apparent when Caroline realizes she cannot initiate communication with the casquette girl.

Eventually, though, she feels Gisèlle’s mind touch hers. There is a sense of acknowledgement and images of the other ghouls’ faces as the plan is conveyed to them.

Well, all but Sweet.

Ferris approves of killing the blonde. Good way to throw people off Adler’s trail. She likely won’t get a better time to stage her death.

Caroline: Caroline is hardly shocked by Ferris’ approval. But that’s why he’s there: to provide the ruthless perspective.

The plan comes together neatly: Caroline and the other vampire will bail out when they turn around after passing the van, allowing Kâmil to steer the car into the police van. Ferris and Gisèlle will arrive to follow in the second vehicle and with Caroline subdue the injured police officers and release Adler, staging the scene to look like a drunk driver or joyriding thief struck the vehicle, intending to hand over or further facilitate that stage through the follow on arrival of Hurst.

GM: The casquette girl relays that Ferris and Sweet approve of this plan (or at least, the latter does of what portions she knows). Kâmil repeats that he believes it to be an efficacious one. He takes over the wheel.

The highway continues to roll past the cars as they accelerate to catch up. It’s not long before the police van appears in the headlights of Caroline’s vehicle. There’s little to see that’s out of the ordinary in it. It’s a white van with sirens (not currently wailing red and blue into the night) and a sheriff’s badge on the striped sides.

Kâmil puts his foot on the accelerator as he changes lanes, swerving into the left, then back to the right after he clears the police van. Its sirens start to angrily flash from behind.

Maybe he’ll get a ticket.

Caroline: She expects given the option he’d get worse than that for what’s to come.

GM: Kâmil speeds ahead of the police van, then swerves around back into its lane and drives straight towards it.

Caroline: Caroline, having since given their ‘driver’ her safety word, bails out with her, trusting unholy speed and toughness to soften the blow.

GM: They hit the asphalt as the car roars past them. The motionless woman stares up at Caroline with undisguised hate.

It’s gone as swiftly as it appeared, though, returning to the telltale placidity of the mesmerized.

The police van tries to swerve aside when they see Kâmil’s car is headed straight at them. Sirens scream red and blue.

The ghoul’s vehicle collides into the front of the van with a tremendous crash. Tires screech against tarmac. Glass shatters. Steel and aluminum crumples.

Caroline: She winces.

She can’t help it. She could claim its a result of her heightened, near-superhuman senses, but that would be a lie.

She winces at the violence. At the destruction. At the knowledge that once again she’s ordered others to conduct violence on her behalf, that lives have been damaged if not destroyed in an instance.

It’s ridiculous. Arbitrary. She’s watched her mother snuff out lives by the score. She’s taken so many lives herself that she can barely remember all the faces, much less the names.

But she does nonetheless.

There’s little time to gawk though. They have to take the vehicle and escape. She rises, leaving the frozen vampire where she lies nearby, and blurs towards the van.

GM: The van hasn’t toppled over. Her own car, much as she said, has too little mass. But the police van has careened to the side and come to a final-looking stop. The front of the vehicle is smashed in and one of the headlights has gone out, and the two police in the front seats aren’t moving. The air bag has exploded in the face of the one in the driver’s seat. Caroline can’t make out much of him beyond arms and shoulders. The second man looks in worse shape: he’s smashed his head directly into the dashboard. Neither man moves. She’d need to be up close to see more, but the vampire smells an unmistakable scent:


Her former car looks in worse shape than the van. It’s been totalled. The horn blares ceaselessly, joining the cacophony of the ceaselessly wailing sirens. Caroline sees movement behind the air bag before Kâmil extracts himself from the bent-looking doors. The ghoul’s formerly crisp suit looks rumpled, and there’s glass over his head and shoulders, but he looks little worse for the experience as he brushes it off.

Thoughts then well in Caroline’s head. Ferris’ voice and the image of Sweet.

:: Say when you want her dead. ::

Sounds of movement, meanwhile, are audible from inside the rear of the van.

Caroline: “Check them,” Caroline instructs Kâmil, gesturing to the two officers in the front seats. She moves to the rear of the van.

::Not yet. Let’s see what card Ms. Adler has to play::

GM: Kâmil finds the door locked, then punches in what remains of the crack-lined glass and fiddles with the lock. Moans sound from the front seat.

The second car edges closer, headlights bathing Caroline under their harsh glare.

The van’s rear door opens a few moments later. Becky Lynne climbs out. Her hair is a mess and her once-neat clothes are rumpled, but her dead flesh doesn’t look worse than scuffs and bruises.

The same cannot be said for the two police officers lying in heaps on the floor. Neither was wearing a seatbelt. A pair of handcuffs lies on the ground.

“Why, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, what a surprise to see you here,” the other Ventrue smiles.

Caroline: I bet, Caroline doesn’t observe.

“Happy to be of any service, Questor Adler. I trust your time in their custody was not excessively unpleasant,” Caroline answers, looking at the two crumpled police officers.

“Our vehicle is arriving in a moment, and your brother is on his way via helicopter to help clean this matter up.”

“There’s an outstanding question I will pass to your discretion before we depart.”

GM: “Much less unpleasant for me than it’s turned out for them, but thank you for askin’,” Becky Lynne replies.

“I’d counted on bein’ released by lawyers,” she says with a growing frown. “My gettin’ out this way could cause more headaches than it ends. But if my brother’s on the way, then okay, I’ll trust you’re followin’ whatever plan he thought best.”

She turns back and kneels by one of the fallen officers, feeling his neck.

“He’s got a pulse, but I’m afraid I don’t have your first aid know-how. Will these gentlemen make it without vitae?”

Caroline: Caroline approaches them to find out, speaking at she does. “After speaking with the agents at the scene it felt unwise to trust to an early release in that manner: they’d been cued very irregularly, very swiftly, to specifically pick up the identity you use for these dealings, Questor Adler. This was not simply a random raid.”

She doesn’t mention they wanted her transported separately. Or that Adler sent her guard away. Or that this whole thing appears to have been staged by her.

She doesn’t turn her back on Adler.

“I might propose that it might be best for Mr. Campbell’s niece to have died in this tragic accident.”

GM: The two fallen officers remain motionless on the van’s floor as Caroline approaches them.

“That’s a big decision to make,” says Becky Lynne. “I’ll want to consult with my sire and brother first, and find out what exactly what’s happened at the bank. Somewhat moot anyways without a body.”

“Though I do suppose there’ll need to be an explanation for what’s become of Miss Campbell if I’m not stickin’ around. This is a Masquerade pickle. Who else is here with you, Eiren?”

Caroline: “Ms. Sweet jumps most readily to mind,” Caroline answers. “She’s in the second vehicle.”

GM: “I’m not quite that cold-blooded, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers,” Becky Lynne smiles. “Who else is on-scene?”

Caroline: “Eiren Packard, one of her ghouls, and several of mine,” Caroline answers.

It’s even technically true.

And the seneschal watching.

She tries not to allow the tension that fills her at that admission to show.

If this is a trap for her this is the moment it will spring. Her mind runs through the possibilities. Obfuscated individuals in the van? The two ‘police officers’ in the back as ghouls? Just Adler herself, believing she can slip a stake into the lightning-fast Ventrue?

GM: Caroline knows better than to risk further injury to the cops by moving them. Even a layman could tell, though, that the fact they’re unresponsive is probably not good. Caroline recalls a statistic from her pre-med days that a shocking number of police officers don’t wear seatbelts. They believe it will prevent them from getting to their firearm or or being able to quickly exit their vehicle to address a violent threat. Law enforcement has a lot of people who view themselves as 10 feet tall, bulletproof, and somehow exempt from the laws of physics.

Here, at least, the statistic has proven true. Physical bruises are in abundance. One cop directly smashed his head into the side of the van. He’s unconscious. It looks bad. He’s probably looking at a TBI. Internal injuries might be in the cards. He should be able to make it, though, if he gets to a hospital in time.

The other cop slowly starts to stir and clutches his side. He flew off his seat and crashed into the opposite steel bench at an bad angle. The protruding section slammed right into his stomach. He might as well have gotten hit by a medieval mace. Blood wells from his mouth, definitely indicating internal injuries and uncertain survival (how long before an ambulance can arrive?), as he moans,


Becky Lynne’s eyes sharply cut towards him. “I don’t fancy giving either of these gentlemen a vitae habit, but it beats dying. Are they goin’ to make it?”

Caroline: She gestures. “The first could die, but its not likely. Traumatic brain injury is touchy.”

“He’s in worse shape.” She gestures to the second as he coughs up blood. “Internal injuries. Something’s ruptured, maybe multiple somethings. He could bleed out, and depending on the surgeon on duty, even the hospital could be a question mark.”

“Idiots not wearing their seatbelts.”

GM: “I told them they should,” says Becky Lynne, shaking her head.

She kneels, bites her wrist, and extends it to the wounded lawman’s mouth. He drinks desperately once the taste hits his tongue, but the other Ventrue doesn’t let him do so for long.

“You were knocked out durin’ the crash. You never woke up. Go back to sleep.”

Caroline: Caroline watches but offers no commentary until she’s finished. “I doubt they were inclined to listen to the advice of their charge—especially since you were the specific target of this raid, Questor Adler.”

GM: Becky Lynne frowns.

“We can use these gentlemens’ radios to call for help, though there needs to be an explanation for what happened to Miss Campbell. Bother if this isn’t a Masquerade pickle. I can’t well stay on the lamb.”

Caroline: “Forgive me for observing so bluntly, Ms. Adler, but you do not appear especially surprised or concerned that this identity was compromised.”

GM: “Questor Adler, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers,” she corrects, though not unkindly. “Surprise and concern is well and good if it leads to action, but right now there’s not much to be done for it.”

Caroline: “If this identity is compromised, presumably by hunters, the action I would advise is burying it here and now.”

GM: “Perhaps I will, Eiren, but not here and now at Peggy’s expense,” says Becky Lynne.

“We’d best be off. One of your people can call an ambulance for these gentlemen.”

Caroline: “As you wish, Questor.” Caroline isn’t going to argue with the older Ventrue about how to handle their own Masquerade.

She moves around to the front of the van and finds the siren under the slumped over man in the driver seat, turning it off, then raises her voice. “You can come out now.”

On the drive over they’d accounted for several contingencies with Packard, including things going off without a hitch. Better if the secret of her domination was restricted to Kâmil and Caroline, and that they raised as few questions as possible with Adler. That particular command phrase replaced her memories of the drive with the planning for this exact course of action, with Packard hanging back to provide backup in case things went wrong.

GM: The word stabs through Caroline’s mind like a stake to the heart. Her mother’s voice, urgent with warning. To act. Now.

No questions. No time.


Caroline: There are few things Caroline can imagine would set her mother to place fear in her heart.

She doesn’t want to imagine what those things are.

Caroline blurs in the night: back down I-5. Towards New Orleans. Towards the second car. Towards her mother.

She gropes in the night for the casquette girl’s mental touch. We’re going, NOW!

Her rational mind is already working. She’s faster than the car, but blurring down the road makes her a very obvious target. A vehicle can blend with the kine.

She could vanish off-road, but she knows, at least in principle, the monsters that wait out in the wilderness. Out there is no safety there for one of her kind.

No, the best chance is to get back into the car, beside her casquette girl bodyguard, and hurtling through the night at a hundred miles an hour in a cage of steel that works both ways.

GM: Caroline’s hyper-alert and razor-sharp eyes notice it.

A patch of night air, where rain does not fall through.

Then the police van explodes as it’s blasted off the road, as though flung by an unseen hand.

Fire lights up the sky. Caroline’s Beast shrieks in instinctive alarm as her ears ring and shrapnel rains everywhere, though between her inhumanly fast reflexes, her mother’s forewarning, and the vehicle’s sudden dislocation, the Ventrue escapes unscathed. A wooden stake flies into Caroline’s hands as a second voice echoes through her mind.

:: Your foe is accelerating towards you from directly ahead and is armed with a stake. He does not believe you can perceive him. His heart is approximately 70 inches off the ground. ::

Caroline: The fire is a distraction—but not an effective one. Not tonight. There’s only a single moment that matters, a single moment to strike. A moment in which this contest will be decided one way or the other.

The second balances on the edge of a knife, and so she plays her part, obvious to her attacker, confused, torn by her terrified Beast.

She plays it until she’s close enough to strike, luring in her attacker closer and closer, and then the moment slows. She turns slightly, presenting her right side to him. With a heart 70 inches off the ground she knows the attacker has a substantial reach advantage—she needs to buy back distance. Force him to extend further, come in closer. She’d prefer to strike with her left, but space and distance matter much more in this moment than precision.

The second turns into a minute, then an hour, time slowing.

It’s not that different than when she was fencing—the moment you commit, in which a fraction of a second decides winner and loser. Except in this contest its a fraction of a fraction.

And god does she feel alive in this moment.

She wanted this, didn’t she? To spring the trap? To see if she was stronger, was faster, was smarter? To test herself against this enemy here to destroy her, and cast them into the dirt at her feet.

How many times could she have walked away, have broken off, have turned around?

No, she wanted this fight. Because Caroline Malveaux-Devillers will be no princess of spun glass hiding in her sire’s castle. She cannot be. Not just because the moment demands it, but because that is not who she is.

Her stake comes up. She thrusts, her whole body extended, arm held perfectly straight, angled upwards, in line with her shoulder even as she drops her center of gravity, moves her heart from where it was a moment ago, makes her attacker reach down.

The stake drives towards the nothingness she know hides him like a bolt of lightning.

GM: She said it once, not a lifetime ago, but near the end of her lifetime:

“Dirty men in dirtier times killing each other in bloody and brutal ways. What’s not to romanticize? For me it was about that moment when you lined up across from the other person, when you knew that the only thing that mattered was which of you was better, and the only thing that mattered was that.”

Something hard and unyielding painfully stabs into Caroline’s chest.

She collapses forward.

Then the stake becomes visible as the pressure behind it abruptly releases.

It lightly clatters to the asphalt, just as something heavier crashes after it.

Rain falls over the road.

Rain falls, but stops short over a body-shaped patch from which a second stake protrudes.

Caroline: A grim smile forces its way over bloodless, tight stretched lips.


So close.

It’s the best way to win. She can almost feel her heart beating in her chest, the feeling of being alive. Even if it does hurt like a son of a bitch.

She cups the protruding shaft from her chest with a hand, ripping it from her breast with a snarl as she reorients on the rest of the world. On the police van, burning, destroyed. On the approaching car. On Kâmil, wherever he may lie. And on the source of this little excursion.


She grips the stake intended for her heart with kill in her eyes.

They gambled. They believed they could take her. They lost.

It’s her turn.

She plants a foot on the chest of her attacker, her defeated foe, driving the stake further in.

Surrounded by death, destruction, and violence, she is in this moment content. Controlled. Commanding.

GM: As Caroline turns to regard Kâmil, she sees that he is exchanging gunfire with two camo-garbed men. No sound is audible as the muzzles of their firearms flash. The ghoul looks badly scored by shrapnel and fire alike, but also seems to be more than holding his own as his .44 magnum drops both attackers to the ground. Becky Lynne, who looks at least as bad, crosses the distance in the blur and orders one man, “Freeze,” as she yanks his gun from his hands.

Gunshots suddenly split the night. Some come from the trees. Others come from the nearby parked car, where Packard is shooting from behind a door’s cover.

Abruptly, the car explodes in a conflagration of fire and shrapnel. The nearby Ventrue howls as she burns, then races across the asphalt to sink her fangs into the man not yet disarmed by Becky Lynne.

Caroline: She gropes in the darkness of her mind for the voice that pointed her at the first Kindred.

:: Where is the second, the sorcerer? ::

She overcame her initial attacker, but the battle is turning into a muddy brawl where anything that can go wrong will, and they still do not have identities on their attackers—or knowledge of their strength.

They need to make their escape, but with the destruction of the second vehicle leaping into a third at the moment, without addressing the source of the explosions, feels like suicide.

GM: Footsteps thump against asphalt. Gisèlle blurs down the highway, half-dragging Ferris after her. The parked car with the other ghouls explodes behind them. The casquette girl and ex-CIA agent drop to the ground.

Two simultaneous images fill Caroline’s mind. Two more camo-garbed men armed with rocket launchers.

Her body is directly in the target scopes.

Caroline: There’s a moment of intellectual fear—she can conceptualize what a weapon like that will do to her body—that she shoves down. She’s grateful that the Beast does not understand things like rockets and explosives. It’s just as well, this is a task for Caroline, not a Beast.

It’s trivial to extrapolate their position—relatively—based on how her profile fills their scope, and then she’s off.

Fortunately for her, large tube-launched rockets are designed to kill vehicles—especially large bulky ones. Not lightning fast human sized targets in the night at relatively close range. Maybe from a mile off they might have had a chance—the field of view wide enough. But they’re not a mile off.

They’re humans, and they’re in the dark with a nearly bulletproof vampire that moves faster than they can think.

It’s almost criminal, especially as she moves away from the light cast by the burning vehicles.

She zips into the night. A stake isn’t an ideal weapon against a human, but humans are so fragile.

GM: Two more explosions rock the night as the spot where Caroline stood erupts in flame. The Ventrue blurs out of the incendiary missiles’ pathways, fast enough to only suffer moderate burns instead of complete immolation, but she cannot outrun the Beast within. Rational thought burns away as the red haze descends.

When Caroline comes to, she’s standing over a dead man with his throat ripped out. The stake formerly in her hands is gruesomely buried into his chest with its once-all-too alive and beating heart. Adrenaline-spiked blood lingers on her tongue as it runs down her chin. Not piss-tasting, like so much other mortal vitae.

Her lucky night. The man must have been attending college.

Caroline: If she feels any remorse for the murder, it doesn’t show. Even were she human, even were her conscience not a whimpering, simpering voice locked deep in her mind, even if she knew him as anything more than a fool that came out here with a weapon—he was literally trying to murder her.

It was him or her, and she’s satisfied that it was him.

She wipes the worst of the blood from her face with the back of her hand, resisting the temptation to lick it up like the sweet nectar it is. Charred flesh flakes away, replaced by first pink, then pale flesh beneath.

GM: :: The others have dispatched your remaining assailant. I can account for no other foes in your immediate area. Rendezvous with Primogen Hurst and return to Perdido House with Miss Adler and the assassin. ::

Caroline: She nods, “By your will, Seneschal,” not trusting to the coming and going of his telepathic touch.

She turns and heads back out to the street and the Masquerade nightmare.

GM: She finds the other ghouls and vampires regrouping near the totaled police van. Everyone looks burned and hurt, except for the disarmed man, who stares ahead with a sleepy look on his face.

Caroline’s invisible foe has been dragged up along with the others, if the stake seemingly hovering in the air is any indication.

Caroline: Brazen doesn’t begin to describe the attack. Automatic weapons. mortals and ghouls. Explosives. Rocket launchers. And an obfuscated assassin.

She almost admires their gall.

There are four dead police officers to explain, three torched vehicles hit with rocket launchers. Two dead ghouls and multiple dead attackers.

On the bright side, they have a charred corpse to replace Adler in the van.

She looks over the injured faces of her ghouls, and of the other two vampires. “We’re leaving as soon as Primogen Hurst arrives. Who needs blood before that?”

GM: “Gisèlle and I shall recover, bayan,” says Kâmil. As he speaks, the two’s charred and perforated skin begins to return to their normal hues, though the ghouls’ clothes remain in shreds.

Ferris similarly waves her off as his wounds start to heal.

“My brother should be here soon to help with the Masquerade cleanup,” says Becky Lynne. “We need to get these cars off the road, to start with. It’s anyone’s guess how long before another motorist will come along.”

Packard scowls.

Caroline: “I’m sorry for your losses tonight,” Caroline tells the ill-tempered woman.

“Rockets. Fucking madness,” she spits.

“They paid.” She gestures to the woods. “And he,” she kicks the staked vampire, “will answer for it all.”

The Ventrue digs out the burner she’s been using and tosses it to Adler. “Your brother is the most recent call. It’s not a secure line, but it isn’t linked to me.”

“Kâmil, do what you can to help stage the scene, move the worst off the road. Ferris, help him.”

She kneels before the staked vampire.

“While we wait I’m curious as to what’s behind door number one.” She digs a finger around the stake, wetting it with the vampire’s blood, and brings it to her lips. “Who thought they could kill me.”

Her expression twists, then vanishes behind the Ventrue mask.

Someone has gone through a great deal of trouble to arrange this. She’ll be fascinated to discover who and what parts the players tonight played. The late breaking meeting. The missing bodyguard. The suspiciously well-timed attack.

Her gaze sweeps over Packard, Adler, and her prisoner.

Fortunately most of the players are here. She doesn’t play her hand just yet. Not until they’re back in the city. But she doesn’t forget, and she doesn’t forgive.

She’s much like her sire in that way.

GM: Kâmil and Ferris incline their heads and move off towards the nearest ruined car.

Becky Lynne presses a delicate finger to the same spot around the stake, then dabs it against her tongue.

“The helicopter has room for a pilot and three passengers,” she then says. “So that’s me, Eiren Malveaux-Devillers, and our guest, though my brother knows how to fly it—I expect he’ll want to see me back himself. I expect he’s brought some more ghouls he can leave to help with things.”

She taps into the phone.

“Fucking wonderful way to spend a night,” snaps Packard. “I lose a ghoul, get chewed out by my sire for losing his ghoul, plus the cars, and get stranded here cleaning up someone else’s Masquerade breach. You big city licks are all the same.”

“Peggy is dead,” Becky Lynne responds quietly. “I don’t think there’s anyone who’s happy with tonight’s events, Eiren Packard.”

Caroline: “I’m certain too Questor Adler’s sire will be rather pleased to hear of the part you played in her rescue,” Caroline observes.

“Your actions will be recognized.”

The prospect of crawling into a helicopter with Hurst and Adler turns Caroline’s stomach, but she says nothing for now of it.

GM: “Yes, I’m mighty obliged to you and Eiren Malveaux-Devillers both,” says Becky Lynne, inclining her head towards both clanmates. “I thought staying put was the right call, but that looks as if it would have gotten me incinerated.”

All actions tonight will be recognized.”

“I suppose that’ll be something,” says Packard.

Caroline: Caroline can hear the doubt in her voice. She doesn’t blame the other Ventrue. She’s seen firsthand the nepotism inherent in even the Clan of Kings.

“Remember me, Eiren Packard.” Caroline fixes the other woman with a stare. “Remember my name. I’ll remember yours when this matter stands before Prince Vidal. You have my word.”

GM: There’s less doubt in the Ventrue’s voice than bitterness. Familiar bitterness.

The hard-featured woman actually looks surprised by Caroline’s words, of all things. Her promise does not seem a familiar one. Then Packard simply grunts, “Guess we’d better get to work either way. Though I don’t know what the fuck explanation there is for a police van getting attacked with rocket launchers.” She looks at Becky Lynne. “Who the hell wants you dead this badly, sunshine?”

Becky Lynne gives a faint, joyless smile and glances at the adjacent casquette girl.

“There’s a lot to untangle here, to be certain. But I’ve no doubt that interested parties will soon get to the bottom of this.”

Caroline: Of that she can be certain.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett XIV
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXII

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline XIV
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline XVI

Story Twelve, Emmett XIV

“Bring the pain, Gaspy. You were always the one who couldn’t handle it.”
Emmett Delacroix

Date ?

GM: Em falls and falls through an endless black void. Howling winds buffet him. Voices are audible through the storm.

“God, you’re such a fucking hot little bitch,” whispers Stines.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Em, but you’re, well, an idiot,” says Villars.

“You’re bad seed,” wheezes Ron. “Everything you touch turns to shit.”

“What is your shirt and pant size?” asks the corrections officer.

“Heart’s desire,” smiles Abélia.

He lands in hell’s pretty little condo. A man who wishes for death laughs and throws up over a redbone cop, and a sea of vomit and broken, blood-smeared glass washes it all away. Poison eyes smile up at him from glass as the noxious wave carries him to the corridor of a prison’s death row wing. It’s a condemned man’s final walk before facing the needle. Vomit and squashed cockroaches, the kind that came in his meals, stain he walls, along with movie posters spelling out in blockbuster lettering:

This way to everything you’ve ever wanted

This way to fill the void that’s always gnawed at your heart

This way to meaning and purpose

This way to things no longer being shit

A figure stands in front of the door. He’s a king of two courts, with a crown made of teeth and a smile made of gold. He does not need to float, not when he stands over twelve feet tall. Over twenty feet tall. God, he’s tall. He’s wearing a suit, a hoodie, a polo and khakis, a poncho—it doesn’t matter. He’s wearing Em down.

He’s his own best friend.

And he’s in control.

“Mini-me, huh?” smirks Em, staring down at Em.

Emmett: Like a greatest hits montage, only it’s just him smashing like a comet through each successive rock bottom until he lands here, in his freshest hell. Well, he’s here now. Time to see it through to the end.

“Huh,” Em says, and squinting up.

“I mean, I knew I had a big ego.”

He folds his arms. “So. Harrowing. Spooky. You have any demands before you start making me eat shit, or are we getting to it?”

Even here, even small, he’s not going to let the bastard think he’s won.

Even when the bastard is him.

GM: Em smirks down at him.

“I’m only this big ’cause you fed me so much. As in, literally fed me, with every stupid sap you sent Abélia to chow down on.”

“Thanks to you, I’ve grown up big and strong.”

He mockingly folds his own, much bigger arms.

“Two ways this can go, Em.”

“We walk down this corridor together, and that’s that. We claim the prize, and you spend the rest of existence with me.”

“Or, you can try to beat me. Because this prize sure is something special. Win, and you’re done with me forever.”

“Lose, and you go straight to Oblivion, and I get to enjoy it all to myself.”

“Because boy oh boy, Em. Is it great. Is it sure something. Abélia really came through on this one. You have no fucking idea how badly we’ve wanted this. You didn’t even ask for it. That stupid ‘adopt me into your family’ crap you were thinking. But we’ve wanted this for years. In any fair or just universe, there’s no way we should get to have it.”

“But hey, since when has the universe been fair or just?”

Emmett: He acknowledges the point with an incline of his head.

“Beat you how? Duel of wits? Brawl? Harrowing? What sort of contest are we talking about, before I take a step off the last cliff?”

GM: Em just smirks.

Emmett: Em looks up at himself.

And sighs.

“There’s a smart answer here, isn’t there.”

GM: “Since when did we do smart?”

Emmett: Em tosses his hands up. “Look. I’m feeling unusually zen right now. Maybe it’s because we’re separated.”

Which means…

Oi. Cunt. Midget. Dwarf-in-a-flask.

He awaits a response.

“You want me to challenge, I’m guessing. Because you think you can win, and that’s that for being the backseat driver.”

GM: Em only continues to smirk down at his smaller self.

Emmett: But this is all pussyfooting, a bit of foreplay before the violent round of fucking that’s coming.

Em already made up his mind. And Em knows it.

“You have grown up big, haven’t you? And nasty as a fucking gator. Congratu-fucking-lations, Gaspy. You ate your veggies.”

“But you know what? I still can’t bring myself to be all that scared of you. Because you’re me, right, and I’m you? And you’re the bit of me that got Sami raped, the bit that made sure Clarice went to Hell crying her eyes out, even the bit that drove away the people that loved us because you knew that they saw past you. And because you’re me, you’re a good liar. You had me fooled, most of the while.”

“You made me think I was the weak half. That all the parts of me that hurt were mine alone. You’re too big to cry, aren’t you, Gaspy?”

“Except you aren’t.”

“Every bad thing I’ve ever done I did to run from the pain. But I did them. I was the one who got Sami raped. I was the one who chose to let rip over Mouton’s shite fucking outfit. I was the one who kept digging my own grave, because to be honest, it looked a lot more comfy from the outside.”

“And you? You were the bit of me that took it personal. You know how much I’ve thought about Stines and Sami and all the rest who made me feel small since I’ve died, all on my own? Jack. That’s why I felt nothing when he died. That’s why you’re so hung up on seeing me get my vengeance, too.”

“You empty-headed, smiling cunt. You forget, I know how your mind works too, only I’m reflective enough to appreciate it. You aren’t big because you’re strong.”

“You’re just compensating for something.”

Em isn’t aware of when he started growing. It doesn’t really feel like that, in this not-place. Maybe the other guy’s shrinking. All he knows is he’s suddenly staring into his worse half’s eyes, and they’re not so high up anymore.

“Bring the pain, Gaspy. You were always the one who couldn’t handle it.”

GM: But Em isn’t staring into Em’s eyes. Not anymore.

Now he’s staring down at them.

Em looks like the scrawny misbehaving brat everyone always said he was. He’s fat, too, from a garbage diet of Nutella and Hot Pockets. His greasy skin is pasty and acne-ridden, bereft even of the good looks that were always so good at covering up the emptiness and the ugliness festering in his heart.

For a moment, he doesn’t say anything. Just stares up at Em—at himself—with a look of pure hate. Hate enough to hurt everybody and everything until his own pain is eclipsed in the resulting detonation of grief, agony and sorrow. He wants the whole world to suffer because he does, the entirety of existence to writhe with his tantrum and know that nothing, not a single moment of kindness or love or hope or resurrection will ever undo the crimes committed against him, the defendant: everybody else.

Em knows then, that whatever waits on the other side of that door, it will not make Gasper happy. Maybe for a little while. But he will find a way to sabotage it. He will take a good thing and he will turn it to shit, like he turns everything he touches to shit, exactly like Ron said he did. There is only one place that Gasper can be happy. It is the same place Em tried to reach after he realized Sami didn’t need him and he gave Roberts a call for lunch at Cafe Soulé.

Gasper is the first one to say it, the words seething with spite.

“I’m gonna drag us both to Oblivion.”

The corridor starts to collapse around the pair. Chunks of wall, floor, and ceiling spiral away into a void as black and empty as his worse half’s own heart.

Emmett: “Yeah. Maybe you will, fatty. But I’m bad at standing still, and your sorry ass doesn’t like going anywhere.”

So Em throws the handful of wriggling roaches he palmed while he was getting up into Gasper’s eyes, and then darts past him and to the door.

He’s going to lock the bastard into his own mess.

GM: The 12-year-old screams and flails like a girl as the roaches get over his face. Em takes off. Track pays off, like it always has. Em feels more agile than he ever did while he was alive. His corpus isn’t a fragile thing of meat and bone and ligaments like his old body was, but a mutable thing of ego and desire made solid, and his ego has always been so much more than his body.

Corridor blurs past him as as he runs and runs. The chunks falling away into the void seem to pass in slow motion.

He runs… and runs… and runs…

The door swims tantalizingly ahead.

His own voice laughs behind him.

“It’s not gonna be that easy… you fed me so much, Em…”

The floor splinters away beneath him. He falls through a howling void. It’s full of regrets and mistakes. Hospital corridors, where the doctors all rape you, places he hated for no reason until Doc Brown and his nurse gave him one. Stairs up the strip club, to a private lap dance room with Courtney, the latest in a string of bad decisions. The blood-soaked grass courtyard of Giacona Manse, where it all went wrong with Sami. It all jumbles and spills together like an ill-fitting jigsaw puzzle.

But it is not empty of inhabitants.

Em’s wriggling roaches fall through the void, mating like roaches do, facing away from each other. They exoskeletons fall away as they die. The egg they laid bursts open in a wash of foul-smelling blood. A presence stalks through the void on all fours, drawing steadily closer like an approaching comet. Em can’t make out exactly what it is. There are claws, he is sure, and horns, and teeth, but he cannot say how many. Everything about it is sharp and cruel. Nightmares enough to make Abélia sing praises swim across its rippling flesh. Hatred pours from it in nigh-tangible waves, even from so far away, and Em knows instinctively that it portends doom… but its burning gaze does not alight upon him.

“You IDIOT! LOOK WHAT YOU DID!” Gasper shouts from nowhere and everywhere, his voice shrill.

Emmett: “Don’t tell me you’re scared of a little bug, big man.”

It’s big talk. Em’s terrified. Still, the terror just makes him giddy. It always has.

“Come on, Gaspy. You hate me and I hate you, but this thing’s more dangerous than both of us. Work with me and we can take it down together. If you call out to it and rearrange the furniture around here, we can trap it in this place.”

Bullshit, but believable, especially with the all-too-real note of terror in his own voice.

GM: “You know, Em, I actually believe that,” sounds his nasally 12-year-old self. “I really do. It’s just your bad luck there’s an even better way to get rid of it…”

The ground gives out underneath Em. He lands in Orleans Parish Prison, on the other side of a plexiglas barrier, seated on a too-familiar stainless steel stool with a phone in his hand. Ron stares at him from across the glass. His uncle’s words are as blunt and heavy as a dropped anvil:

“What the fuck happened to my son?”

Emmett: Ron. The face, followed by the words that started the cruelest conversation in his life, might stop Em’s newly lightened heart.

If it hadn’t stopped a while back, anyways.

For a moment, he waits for the old panic. The defensiveness that always led him over one burning bridge and onto another, never figuring out why everything behind him kept catching fire.

But he’s done chasing his own shadow.

“I killed him, uncle Ron. I killed Jermaine. And nothing I can say will ever make that alright. I told myself it was because I needed to save somebody else, or that he deserved it, or that he wouldn’t have live longed anyways. But that’s all bullshit. I killed him because I was scared, and desperate, and I thought it would be easier to get away with than letting the girl die. I cut his throat and lied to him about not liking him much as I did it because I didn’t want him to know what a pathetic cousin I knew I was being. I killed him because I’m a bastard, and it’s a lifetime too late and a coffin too little, but uncle— I’m sorry I took your son from you. It hurt too much to say it then, but no matter what else I am—I love you, and I’m sorry for what I did that night.”

“And one way or another, I won’t rest ’til you know that. I owe you that much.”

GM: Ron is quiet at those words, at first.

Maybe Em isn’t sure what he expected his uncle to say. It’s hard to say what someone should say to those words, that come a lifetime and a coffin too late. The movie response would be to break down in tearful exclamations of forgiveness.

Ron’s tomato-red face loses some of its color. It doesn’t lose its edge so much as go still. It’s hard to say what’s moving in his eyes.

As Em looks into them, his surroundings shift again in his peripheral vision. They’re not in OPP anymore. They’re in a bayou. It’s hot and humid even late at night. There’s insects buzzing and bullfrogs ribbitting, but the most noticeable sound by far are the snapping jaws of the alligators.

Em’s on a rowboat. Gasper sits in front of him, twelve years old and smiling and fat.

“Well, that was touching. I’m sure it felt really cathartic. But the right thing was a little obvious, wasn’t it?”

He glances to his side. There’s two other rowboats. Bud’s in the one on the left. Cash Money’s in the one on the right.

Bud and several faceless goons are holding Lena, tied up and gagged. Cash Money and some equally faceless goons are holding Ron, in the same state. They’ve lifted both of their hostages over the sides of the boat, and the gators are snapping hungrily as they try to get closer to the succulent meals. Ron and Lena thrash and make terrified gagged noises as they’re slowly lowered closer to the water.

Gasper glances between them both. “Decide who you save, I guess.”

“We’re pretty done with Lena, aren’t we? There’s just no living her down. But good old Uncle Ron didn’t give us a Hollywood moment at that confession, either…”

Water splashes as the gators’ jaws snap steadily closer.

Emmett: Em looks, too. They aren’t all faceless. He sees Josh in there. Bobbi Jo, too, though she looks confused by what’s going on.

His expression is moving faster than the rest of him. It has to be like that, sometimes. If he thinks too hard he won’t be able to act.

His face, already pale with death, blanches. His eyes widen, his lips quiver, his hairs would stand up if they could, but he works with what he has. For a moment, Delacroix seems arrested, broken.

For a single cruel moment, he lets Gasper think he’s won.

It’s a good trap, as far as traps go. Whoever he tries to help, Gasper gets to drop the other, and swell in the shadow his choice will cast over him. Taken from a hundred spy flicks and superhero movies, but Em saw them all growing up, and unlike Gasper, he remembers the right answer.

The right answer is the unrealistic one.

The right answer is both of them.

Em’s face is a tableau of doubt that Gasper can’t look away from. That’s helpful because it keeps his adversary from noticing the phantasm he’s spinning until it’s been spun.

It pours from the sky in a trickle, then a tumble. Probably at first if anybody notices it they guess it’s rain, no uncommon sight in the bayou, but then some of it gets in their eyes, and they quickly realize the error.


First a bucket’s worth, then a beach’s. Coming from everywhere and nowhere, dancing in the wind and spilling from the waters. It blinds the henchmen, buffets the bosses and gives the gators some very, very dry throats. Gasper gets a sandcastle up the nostril.

And everybody but Em’s flinching and swearing and fumbling as the hostages fall into the water and the gators dive in confused animal terror, and he dives in after them.

GM: Em’s seen movies where people try to swim through sand. There’s one he saw with a guy in an Amish… grain mill? You can drown in sand, but you can’t swim through it, even when you think you can. It’s too thick and too heavy. The guy in the movie tried and failed. Or maybe it was his girl. Bud and Cash Money and the goons all try to, but they can’t, and give muffled yells through mouths full of the stuff as they try to ‘swim’ through.

“It’s an illusion, you idiots! He can’t make sand out of thin air!” yells Gasper.

They either don’t hear, don’t understand, or can’t deny the illusion’s power. Maybe all three. Gasper grabs at Em’s pant leg as he dives off, but the tubby 12-year-old never took track and hits the water with a loud splash as Em dives under.

The gators are all trying to get away from the free-flowing sand. But another shape cuts through the waters, simultaneously black as midnight and red as blood. It’s much closer now than when it burst out of the cockroach egg. Em can’t even begin to count how many claws and teeth there are, or how many ways it has to kill. The sheer force of the thing’s hatred boils the water around it into smoke.

Gasper motions with his hands like a fussy director rearranging a movie set. Ron and Lena seem completely forgotten by the Shadow as he frantically sends wave after wave of subsurface water crashing into the monster, forcing it away.

Emmett: The glow of the victory is tempered by the encroaching doom. Out of the corner of his eye, he tries to make sense of its shape. He decides it’s something like a beetle, if only because it makes him incessantly think Deathwatch,with none of the associated coziness of the particular species.

It gives him the self-control he needs to keep his mouth shut and undo the bindings of his prisoners of conscience with quick and silent fingers under sand-logged waters. It helps that he’s had to get out from the other side of the ropes more than once. That’s the harder trick.

Then he starts to guide them to the nearest shore, taking what advantage of Gasper’s distraction that he can.

GM: The other two are struggling and drowning as Em alights upon them. They have some ways to swim after he gets out. It’s nothing but water and moss and trees for as far as they can see. Mosquitoes alight upon their flesh as the bullfrogs ribbit.

“Shit, kid… it’s all a movie, see?” gets out Ron.

“It’s all movie logic. But that still doesn’t explain… something’s wrong here.”

“Something’s really wrong.”

Emmett: “Wrong how?” Em asks as they bob and strain against the current.

GM: There isn’t much current. It’s a swamp.

Emmett: Oh. It just feels like that, because of his noodle-weak arms. One thing death hasn’t fixed for him. Yet.

GM: “All surgeries leave scars,” says Lena. “Anytime there is a cut through skin, there is a 100 percent chance of a scar. How big it is depends on how careful your surgeon is.”

“Nah, nah, that ain’t it,” says Ron.

“I mean, fuckin’ duh. I think this whole thing is actually-”

Suddenly, there is a current, fast-flowing and furious. There are alligators, too. The fake sand couldn’t last forever. They swim for the trio, jaws wide and snapping. Ron and Lena shout and swim furiously.

The current rises into a full-blown wave, carrying the gators with it. Then it’s a tsunami, swallowing the bayou into a giant wave that goes on forever. Gasper’s laughter sounds as it crashes forward. Ron and Lena both try to shout something.

He doesn’t hear it, not as the wave smashes into him like an avalanche. The gators burst through. Enormous fangs clamp over Em as the jaws close, rip, and tear. The water turns red with his blood as Gasper laughs over his screams. Cash Money’s laughing, too. Bud and Stines and Josh and Bobbi Jo and everyone else he’s ever hated or cheesed off, all laughing, except for Doc Brown, who’s just smiling, because not all of the pain in his body feels like it comes from gator teeth. The rushing waters carry him off a cliff, and he plummets through the void.

He lands with a crash on the carpeted floor, wet and bleeding and broken.

“Ah, just in time!”

His surroundings painfully swim into focus. He’s in Commander’s Palace. There’s lots of people seated at tables, all wearing suits and nice dresses, and looking towards a movie projection screen.

It’s a huge screen. Enormous. Taller than a house. The restaurant goes on for miles. Em can’t see the doors out. There’s a whole army of people in their nice evening clothes, sitting around an infinity of tables.

Gasper’s on a raised stage, standing behind a podium with a microphone. He looks good. He looms Em’s age, now, and devilishly handsome in his black tux and bowtie. A little old-fashioned, but he pulls it off. The Devil always knows how to dress well.

The lights dim as a white spotlight shines on him. Then on Em, in his bloody and tattered rags. People make faces and start murmuring amongst themselves. Gasper flashes the crowd a pearly white smile.

“I know what y’all are thinking.”

“It’s appropriate he should be here for the movie, though.”

He snaps his fingers. “Garcon, want to get our late guest a chair? I can’t imagine anyone wants to share a table with him.”

A smirking waiter appears behind Em with a rickety-looking chair. One of the legs is shorter than the others. The black paint is badly chipped. People start snickering.

Emmett: His body’s racked with pain, so he welcomes the chair, even ka-klunking as it does with the short leg. There’s too much at stake, the parts of him that aren’t writhing in agony cry, but he he has no juice to heal with. It’s a grind from here on out.

But that’s okay. He’s seen Gasper with his pants down.

He’ll manage. He has to.

GM: “Would you care for a drink, sir?” asks the waiter with a thin, preening smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

Emmett: He may as well. Seems like an open bar.

“A Café Brûlot, please,” Em requests, shifting in the uncomfortable chair.

GM: The waiter gives Em a shot of brandy with an orange peel stuck in it. It’s a rather less memorable performance than the last Brûlot Em ‘had.’

Emmett: He holds it up to his eye and squints, sloshing the liquid inside around.

“Cheap service,” he stage whispers. “Get on with your movie, then.”

GM: “Every guest here gets what they deserve, Em,” smiles Gasper.

The crowd variously smiles or titters. He’s got them in the palm of his hand.

Em’s Shadow flashes another pearly smile.

“Now that all y’all are finally here, I won’t bore anyone with a speech. Art speaks for itself. Hit it!”

The restaurant’s lights dim as the screen comes to life.

It starts with a close-up of Em. Really close up. There’s just his eyes, then it slowly pulls away.

He’s dressed in a prison jumpsuit, sitting in a wheelchair behind the glass. In prison. Because where else. He looks like a young man left aged and haggard before his time. He’s holding a phone to his mouth.

The camera follows his eyes. Cécilia’s on the other side of the glass. She looks on the verge of tears, but valiantly keeping it together. The beautiful love interest.

The camera follows Em’s eyes. Down to his legs. Back to up his face. Close up to his mouth.

He opens it. The audience doesn’t hear any words. The camera zooms all the way into Em’s mouth, into a black empty space. The camera fades out into a fishing boat on the bayou. It’s a hot-looking summer day. A young-looking Em is there on the boat, with his father, rods dangling over the sides.

A fish bites and tugs the line. Em gives an excited exclamation. His father’s eyes mirror the emotion. He tells Em to pull, pull, boy, pull-

Em pulls out the carp. It’s a big catch, for a boy his size. Phil whoops. The camera focuses on the carp. It’s wounded and cut from the way it chewed at the bait. The camera zooms closer. It flicks and tries with all of its living will to swim away, to escape, to be free—only to cut itself deeper, and deeper, denied the quiet dignity of death or joyous current of release.

The camera focuses on Em’s face. He’s not smiling. Just watching. Quietly hypnotized.

Phil’s yelling fills the audio. Quiet, then suddenly loud, like he’s been making noise this entire time and Em tuned him out. Phil yanks the rod out of his son’s hands, drops the carp to the boat floor, and stabs his hunting knife into the fish’s brain. Ikejime, Phil once told him the technique is called. It grants a quick, humane death.

Phil’s face is scarlet red as he shouts at his son. Em pulls away, as though afraid his dad will hit him. Phil never does. It’s inaudible what Phil is saying. Just yelling. Pointless noise filling the air, that gets quieter every second, like Em’s tuning it out.

The camera pans away, focusing closer on Em’s face. Closer.

He mouths something, also inaudible. Maybe that he’s sorry. But the words clearly don’t matter, or the audience would hear them.

The camera zooms in closer. Em’s mouth disappears. There’s just his eyes.

There’s nothing in them.

No sorry.

No regret.

Just… nothing.

Nothing, and the reflection of a blank-eyed dead fish.

A few audience members look away. Angry murmurs and ugly looks go up from most of them.

Emmett: He looks into his eyes through a camera’s stare. His eyes gazing out of a television the size of the moon, the way he always meant them to be. Eyes made gorgeous with the distance of a lens, buffed by the haunting sociopathy.

It’d be a dream come true if it wasn’t so damn honest.

He waits. Acting prematurely could mean the end of everything. He turns over the words he might need to say to free himself.

But for now, he waits.

Still as the carp with a knife through its brain.

GM: The movie plays on.

Teenage fights with his parents.

Detentions at school.

Doing weed in his bedroom, while homework sits undone.

Cruel remarks to other kids, wrapping the needful and insecure ones around his finger.

More fights with his parents, Phil’s face getting steadily redder, and then no fights at all, as they just stop talking.

Eating dinner in his bedroom, instead of at the table.

His sins catching up. Transferring to Brother Martin’s, his parents’ last (second to last) effort to set straight, just as he planned, just as he’d abuse.

Whispering things to Lee at the dance. Adeline’s exposed tits. Elliot’s first beautiful lies to Cécilia.

More beautiful lies. Talking to Ron. Plotting. Planning.

Sami’s smile. Blacking out. Wiping cum off the seat, with her paper note and its hotmail address.

His seething fury. The gangbang. The cigarette lighter flicking open, in front of her dead and empty eyes.

The knife, slitting Jermaine’s throat.

Josh. Screaming past Cash Money’s cock, as Em smiles. Screaming louder, as Maneater carves him open.

Laughing in the hospital bed to the two cops, Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

Ron’s tomato-red face, calling him bad seed, saying everything he touched turned to shit.

The heartbreak on his parents’, then the sad resolve, as they hang up the phone and walk out.

Shaking hands for the first time with Bert Villars, smiling his oily smile.

Laughing as Taylor sputters with anger and throws his shit in the broken toilet.

The savage satisfaction on his face, spite burning his blood, as he saws off Mark Stines’ penis.

Recruiting girls into porn in Los Angeles, promising the world and turning a blind eye to their screams. Ron always said not to ask about the ones who wind up with Death Mask Productions.

Robbing the girl he’d stayed with for three months, disappearing without a goodbye.

The sins back home, playing out like a hand of cards being dealt, one after another after another. There are so many to pick from. Maybe that Affel-something guy trying to kill himself, whatever his name was, and sleeping with his freaky wife.

The hole in his chest, when Sami said “I’m happy now,” and the realization of what he must do. The call to Roberts…

Himself in the hospital bed, croaking out, “Deal,” to Bud. The Dixie mobster’s good ol’ boy smile, dribbling through the receiver.

“Miss any payments an’ we’ll kill yer family.”

Lena’s furious face as she literally dumps him on the curb.

“I’m not a good person, Lena.”

Some of the final lip he showed after Underwood’s warning, just the last of so many warnings that never mattered, never slowed him down.

“…as part of your plea in mitigation, you have forfeited the right to appeal any and all aspects of this judgment and conviction.”

Cécilia’s tear-moist eyes as she talks into the phone, the words inaudible. The specific ones don’t matter. The director really gets that right. Lot of showing and not telling in this movie.

Elliot’s smile, and then his shadow.

Emmett strapped down to the execution gurney, the team having dotted their i’s and crossed their t’s.

The prison warden’s question, the last words anyone ever spoke to him alive:

“Do you wish to make a final statement?”

The camera pans in on Em’s face. Up close and personal, like in one of the movie’s earliest shots.

“I deserve to die. But I’m no judge of anything, so don’t take my word for it.”

Just like that, it cuts to black.

The credits roll.

The Many Sins of Emmett Delacroix.

The lights come back on.

Gasper smiles from the stage.

A gaping back pit yawns open. It’s a swirling vortex of absolute nothingness that chills Em to his soul.

A chunk of ceiling caves away, directly over the pit. In its place there’s a bright white light. It’s warm. It’s right. Part of him wants, with all of his being, just to float on up.

“There you have it,” Gasper smiles at the crowd.

“I won’t waste my breath on a speech.”

“You’ve seen his life and times.”

The room is utterly silent. People aren’t staring at Gasper, now. They’re staring at Em.

Their faces are very, very still.

Many of them.

Disgust boils in his others. Anger, too, indignant and righteous, and perhaps hypocritical, but there all the same.

“If you think he belongs in the pit… throw him in!” Gasper exhorts.

The crowd is silent for a moment.

Then, hundreds of legs rise from their seats.

Emmett: Em’s staggering up to the main stage, arms flailing, lungs heaving. He doesn’t look good. He doesn’t even look pitiful, as far as that goes. He looks like a dead man.

But he makes it, somehow.

“Hold up,” he gasps, defiant to his last. “Hold up, dammit.”

He grabs the mic from Gasper. His worse half lets him have it. Why? Maybe because he thinks he’s already won. Granted, Em thinks he probably has, too.

But he’s done it by lying. And just this once, Emmett Delacroix cannot let that stand.

“That was a good movie,” Em says as the mob presses closer. “But what if you saw the director’s cut?”

Restlessness in the crowd. Confused expressions. This is off-script, and this lot aren’t improvisers. All the free will of a bacteria between them.

“Come on!” Em yells at the back of the room, at the cosmic shadows that control the projector. “Come on, if this is going to be it, show them the whole thing!”

For a cold, still moment, nothing happens.

Then the lights dim, and the film starts anew.

GM: Gasper just smirks in his tux and gestures grandly towards the giant screen.

“Sit back down, y’all. It’ll be extra satisfying for us to chuck him in, after this.”

Emmett: Lights. Cameras.


It’s those eyes again, but not. So clean. So young. They stare down at the carp, who stares back but does not see.

Something pools in his eye. The boy (when was the last time he thought of himself that way, as just a boy?) looks away so Philémon does not see it. But this camera captures all, artifice and artistic license be damned.

The camera shows the tear, but cuts before it falls. Maybe it never does. Did. What’s time, in a movie? A matter of where, not when.

The movie keeps on playing. Em doesn’t watch it. It’s like he’s seen it before, only he knows he hasn’t, because he’s crying and he never does that with a movie except for the first time.

Anyways, he didn’t direct this movie or write it, and if he starred in it that was only because he hadn’t made room for anybody else in the spotlight. He only knows it because he was there. For all of it. When you’re dead, your life doesn’t flash before your eyes. But you do remember it. Not as a story, nor as regrets. You just remember it as a moment, all one glorious, cascading moment of change. That’s all anybody actually gets with the lifetime racket, Em supposes. Just a single, glorious cosmic moment in which to be.

Only now, his life is over, so movies about it feel a mite silly. He doesn’t really watch the movie, because he remembers the movie.

Em doesn’t need to watch his stammered apology to his dad. His bewildered, unsure excuses. He knows now what Phil did already, and he remembers Phil’s too-wrinkled face growing older in that moment as he replied:

“You’ll learn.”

The scenes with Clarice are tiring, and he does not watch those either, barely registers the sounds he makes onscreen. They simply don’t interest him anymore. His own suffering is banal, especially to this audience. It’s the part after that’s a mindfuck.

“Em, did anything happen while you were there?”

A moment, dark eyes wide and innocent, but hollowed out. “No.”

His first lie, and he supposes the most successful one. They never suspected a thing, after…

A quiet whispering in a mirror, each word quieter than the last:

Look how happy you can make people.

And Em wanted to make people happy. He might have forgotten a lot about who he was, but he remembers that part of him, and it lives in him, not in Gasper.

The world is the camera. It spins and takes the viewer with it because this is not good camerawork. This is kismet, like fate or something, because somehow from this angle on the far end of a movie screen he can see it all:

He’s not a good man. He’s not even properly a bad man. He’s a wicked ghost, a conniving wraith.

But he’s not properly evil, either. Just a mean, mean bastard who wished the world hadn’t taught him that to be mean is to be safe, to be cruel is commendable, and that his father perhaps should not have told him—

Ah. This is the core of it. This thing he never forgot but never precisely could recall until he sees it now, on the screen, the scene doubly enthralling because he knows, unlike so much in this place, it is true.

“So anybody? Anybody could be forgiven, if they were really sorry?”

They were outside the church in St. Charles Parish. The one Phil had grown up going to. It was night, but there are lights on inside.

“That’s the idea of the thing,” Phil answers, eyes sunk into the annotated pocket bible he always brought to the church, regardless of occasion. Em had nicked it once, when he was older, but he couldn’t read the handwriting.

“What about the really bad people? The ones who nobody can ever forgive, like Hitler? Or Marshall, I guess.”

The then-president.

This was, after all, 2004.

GM: Phil hadn’t taken very long to answer, even if his answer took a while.

“It is really an old question, Emmett, often asked to imply that if Jesus would forgive a person like Hitler, then the God of the Bible is unjust. The truth is, all of us fall short of the glory of God. If we had ‘forever’ to do our own thing, we would never create a world conducive to life, light, love, and liberty. Without the soul-changing power of the Holy Spirit and the unabridged and undeserved grace of God poured upon us, we would find ourselves standing before a throne of judgement one day with absolutely no credentials to present that would be worthy of admission into those great gates of pearl.”

“How many times a day do we sin? We’re not talking about just murder, stealing, and blaspheming. We’re talking about everything—the attitudes of your heart, your motives, the actions and failing to love God with your whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, failing to love your neighbor as yourself. Those are moral requirements that we fail constantly. Even say you only commit one sin a day, and only from when you’re 18 to 70—that’s almost 20,000 sins. What judge would let you off with that kind of a rap sheet? And that is the best case scenario.”

“Was Hitler worse than that? Most likely. There’s a spectrum. A few relative lightweights like Charles Manson might be standing under the dictator’s shadow. Many world leaders throughout the ages, people like Caligula, Mao, many kings of England and other European states, some caliphs, some popes, and many, many others will make up the rank and file of those who had it made on earth but came up wanting when the scales were balanced in Heaven.”

“How sad it would be to find that we were ‘not quite as bad as they, but not good enough to avoid joining them.’ Justice? It was meted out at an old rugged cross. That bought the grace that makes it possible for a vile sinner to come to terms with the error of his ways. If Hitler ever had a chance, it would only have been evidenced by his renouncing his wicked ways and standing good before his death. The fact that, rather than face responsibility for his heinous acts, he escaped the judgement of man by taking his own life is evidence that he went from the frying pan directly into the fire.”

“Theoretically, could Hitler have gone to Heaven? Yes. But repentance is a process, not an event. The more time and effort you spend on it, like anything, the better it will turn out. This is why ‘deathbed repentance’ is frowned upon. Sure, anyone can say they believe, say that they repent, say they are changed moments before death, and trust God to know their hearts—but will those words have actually changed them? God can tell. Repentance is for you, as much as those who you wronged.”

“For Hitler to be forgiven, that’d require him to realize the depth and wrongness of his errors, and to shed his pride. That includes national pride, particularly the kind that treats others as ‘lesser than.’ It would be a very different Hitler coming out of this than the Hitler we’re familiar with. This new Hitler would have been incapable of leading Germany into war and ordering the killing of millions. He would be a completely different person. Change like that only takes a sudden about-face in Hollywood. In real life, change that big takes years and years of hard spiritual work.”

“So yes, it can happen. There’s no doubt in my mind that Hitler went straight to Hell, but he could have gone to Heaven. God’s capacity for forgiveness is infinite. It’s only our capacity for change that falls short.”

Emmett: Em takes a while to answer. His father is hopeful his recent silence is a delayed sign of precocity, and maybe it is, but mostly Em’s trying to make sure he doesn’t need big words to ask this next question.

“But how do you start to be better? How do you go from being, well, whoever it is that’s going to hell, and then turn around? How are people supposed to find their way back, if they’ve already walked so far away?”

GM: “Confession,” answers Phil, more succinctly. “Admitting the problem, any problem, is the first step to fixing it.”

Emmett: He might have confessed then, had he the words for his sin. But he did not have them, so he could not.

Instead, Emmett lives. That’s the rest of the movie. He doesn’t understand, thinking back on it later, what editing magic trick the director must have employed to make it so. But the movie tell the story of his life, all of it, the absolute essence of it, and it doesn’t seem boring or unnecessary or middle. It is not sparing, either. It still contains Em at his utter worst, and the truth is there’s simply no getting around the naked fact that Emmett Delacroix was a villainously awful person. His life was spent in the throes of great bouts of escalating mischief that often evolved into cruelty. He had brief moments of kindness and mild moments of self-awareness. But for the most part, he was a cruel, rapacious bastard, and then he died.

But there’s the thing.

The movie doesn’t end there. Em is dead, the first man to be killed for his crimes in more than ten years. That he did not commit the crimes in question owed more to the way of clerical error than to actual injustice.

But the dream of Em, the story of him, his role, his star, the part of his soul that would have become his celebrity had he ever passed through that celestial gate of makin’ it in Hollywood—had lived on, and mutated in the zeitgeist. His story was more, now, than that of a wicked man meeting wicked ends.

He was a ghost with a cause, a revenant on a quest for righteous vengeance, for justice, for redemption—and that means only one thing in this place that’s nine-tenths silver screen.

Em turns to Gasper, and the little shit’s not fat again but he’s shorter, and Em looks straight through him over the crowd.

“I’m too interesting to die.”

He holds out the mic, so naturally that Gasper’s hand actually starts to respond to it and reach out—

Only for Em to drop the mic to the floor, the thump of it going everywhere in the perfect acoustics of that room.

GM: Too good to die is probably a lost cause to sell the crowd on, after those back-to-back movies.

But too interesting to die is something altogether else, if the applause he’s receiving is any indication.

Hundreds of hands clap and clap and clap at the conclusion of the director’s cut. Cheers, whistles, and exclamations of “bravo!” go up from the crowd’s newly-adoring eyes.

Gasper scowls like when Phil told him to stop watching TV and take out the damn trash.

“Fine. Guess we’ll do this the other way.”

“Boys, KILL ’EM!”

Gunfire explodes through the crowd as Gasper’s goon squad opens fire. They’re all there. Cash Money. Bert Villars. Bud and Sue. Mark Stines. Doc Brown. Judge Underwood. Dino. Bobbi Jo. Sugarbelle. Yvette. They’re carrying old-fashioned tommy guns. Rat-a-tat-tat, they go. Dozens of people scream and die, gorily mowed down by the hail of lead. The survivors scream and stampede every which direction.

“Don’t worry, Em, I’m on your side! We can take ’em-aaaaAAAGH!” screams Mouse as bullets riddle his chest. He goes down twitching, soaked red, and stops moving.

“Don’t worry, Em, I got your back!” whoops Zyers, and then flees for the exits.

“Good luck,” says Hannah, and dives for cover. Taylor looks undecided for a moment, then follows suit. “Yeah, good luck,” echoes Ren. Jermaine dives without a word.

Turner, Westley, and Fizzy also abandon Em to his fate. The goons shoot at him too. Gunfire explodes the area around his feet as he falls off the stage. A few upturned tables offer some modicum of cover.

Courtney, though, shoots back with her own tommy gun. Dino goes down is a spray of lead. Ginger takes out Villars. Sami blows off Cash Money’s crotch and seems to take no small pleasure from it. Miranda kills Mark again, ranting conspiracy theories about the Malveauxes. Cécilia says, “I’m afraid I don’t really know how to use these things,” and tosses Em her own tommy gun.

“I’ll try to talk some sense into Yvette.”

Em’s family members are notably absent from the picture.

The floor explodes. Hell crawls out. The monster. Em sees it up close now. It’s huge, four-legged, and black as sin where it isn’t on fire. Ravenously crackling, hateful red flames wreathe its flesh like an unholy mantle. It almost looks like it’s bleeding into the air. Its claws and quills and talons are enormous and wickedly sharp, and there are so many of them. Its maw goes on for eternity. It has more teeth than Em’s criminal record has items. It has no eyes. Just more instruments of death.

TAKE IT OUT! TAKE IT OUT, YOU IDIOTS! TAKE IT THE FUCK OUT!!!!” Gasper screams, his voice shrill with panic.

They try. They rain down a hail of lead over the monster, but the bullets don’t so much as slow it. Bud, Underwood, and Bobbi Jo all go down faster than a preacher’s daughter. They look like they’ve been fed through a wood chipper when the monster is done with them, but it doesn’t slow. Just races for Gasper.

But the restaurant-turned-theater is so large, and there are still so many tables and corpses and bystanders between Shadow and monster. Gasper allows himself a smirk as the tommy guns scream lead, then pulls out a rocket launcher.

Emmett: During which point Em contents himself with getting to the ethereally lit exit. It’s been a fun day, but a long one, and it’s past time he quit the scene.

He does feel a pang for Mouse, though. Ah, well. At least this version of him had died nobly, in defense of somebody who cared about him sometimes.

GM: Cécilia looks horrified as Em runs away and leaves his friends to trade gunfire with Gasper’s goons. “Em! How ca-”

The rocket launcher explodes.

Em hits the ground in a heap, the blast ringing in his ears as shrapnel lances his legs. His abandoned allies are caught dead center. Their screams abruptly cut off as gory pieces of them rain down over the ground around Em.

Gasper’s goons, no linger pinned down by enemy fire, turn their tommy guns at the fleeing Delacroix. Lead belches after him as Gasper grins.

His Shadow looks taller than before.



Emmett: One last miscalculation, and it’s cost him all the allies he’s accumulated. Is that it? The sorry state of his corpus tells him it might be. He’s out of strength, out of tricks, and when he reaches for the determination that’s carried him through this mad vision quest his fingers strike bottom.

Oh, he had a good run, Emmett Delacroix. But this is where it ends.

It is a bastard, though. Even he has to admit Gasper looks handsome.

Celia: He is handsome.

Very handsome.

And so is the girl that steps out of the shadows behind him, the girl with a wild mane of dark hair that curls around her face and has a smile that will break a thousand hearts. But right now she’s young, innocent, with wide eyes that look in adoration upon the Shadow who wears her cousin’s face.

“Hey baby,” nineteen-year-old Celia Flores says to Gasper as she slides up beside him. “Did we get him where we want him?”

GM: A sports car smashes through the movie screen. It’s black and sleek and sexy. It’s open-roof and got a badass entrance. The Poison-Eyed Lady is the driver.

“Oh, missed one,” smirks Gasper, then punches Celia in the throat. Cash Money smashes the butt of his tommy gun between her shoulder blades. She goes down in a heap as Em kicks her in the vagina for good measure. Bud and Sue tie her up, then throw her into the convertible’s back seat.

“Was gonna do that to Sami and Cécilia, but I guess one cunt’s as good as another,” Gasper sneers, then leaps into the car and takes the wheel.

“In this movie, Em, the bad guy wins,” he smirks, then hits the accelerator and plows through the movie screen again, leaving another car-sized hole.

On the other side, Em sees a highway in an American Southwest desert, perfectly flat, that stretches on for miles into the setting sun. The perfect ending locale for any movie.

And at the end of the highway.

At first, it looks like Château Devillers. Then it’s the glowing briefcase from Pulp Fiction, the macguffin that drove the whole movie. Then it’s the prison corridor a 20-foot Gasper tried to block Em from.

But he knows what it is, whatever it looks like.

The prize.

Home stretch.

Gasper’s car roars down the highway and into the setting sun, towards his happy ending.

Celia: She goes from almost-ally to damsel-in-distress in the blink of an eye. Gauzy white dress, ropes around her torso and legs, hands bound behind her back, a cloth gag in her mouth. Muffled screams rise up from the back seat as the car speeds away.

It’s a stereotype and a cliche, but a cute and effective one for all that: they’d had a discussion once about Detective Em coming to save her from the bad guys.

Now’s his chance.

Emmett: His chance. Isn’t that a chuckle? How many chances has he had, so far? He’s spent so long in this fever dream the real world is starting to swim away from him, and let’s face it, Em, you’ve always had a a pretty touch-and-go relationship to reality—that place the grown-ups live, where dreams never come true and the good guys and bad guys never quite figure out which they are.

In this child’s world, he’s supposed to be one or the other. When he fails to embody the archetype, the world convolutes itself around him, making the stage what it needs to be for his path to resemble choreography. Celia? The blossoming adult he had to die to become wants to howl. She’s his cousin, and a mess and a half herself, and also he’s pretty sure she’s lying to him still about something. He’s seen the real her, too, in glimpses and glances—she’s as bloody-minded as him, and more cunning by half. What a terrible damsel she would make in the real world.

And yet.

Even in the real world, she’d look damn good playing it. In this twisted funhouse of mirrors? She’s brighter than the sun.

Which gives him an idea.

Where’s he get the motorcycle from? Who knows, this movie isn’t big on continuity. It’s all explosions and somersaulting cars. Em has to slide under a collapsing truck, the leather on his back kissing the sparks from his Harley’s back wheel. He lets out a whoop and does a stuntman jump over a combusting petrol tank. His whole corpus aches like Satan’s bad back, but the stunts aren’t about him; they’re the magnetic forces of story marching to climax, or anti-climax. It’s almost like the rhythm of sex, but inverted. A decoupling, an unraveling of one being—into two.

CELIA!” he bellows. “CICI!” He swerves on the bike, almost kissing asphalt but righting just at the right moment to avoid a sputter of tommy gun fire. “CELIA, I need to ask you something, and I need you to answer! Do—you—trust me!?”

A cliché wrapped in a trope and smothered in romanticism.

In a dream, the question becomes a binding, a ritual. The flourish of a magic trick.

One that only works if she says the right thing back.

The blindfold slips from her mouth, the dramatic forces in play too vast for something as fragile as cloth to obstruct.

Does she trust him, this one last shred of his psyche that looks like love? This one tortured part of him that might live in somebody else?

Does she trust him?

GM: Gunfire sprays past Em. The rest of Gasper’s goons are on motorcycles too, riding two to a bike. One drives, the other belches lead death from their tommy gun.

They miss, of course. It’s a movie. They’ll miss no matter how many rounds they fire. At best, maybe they’ll graze his shoulder or leg.

Celia: The damsel wrapped in rope in the back seat of the car twists to see the (leather-clad?) motorcycle-riding stuntman cousin/friend. Whatever he is right now, he’s always been her cousin and her friend, and he’s coming to save her.

Does she trust him?

He’s the one she’d called when she was in trouble. When she needed help with her dad. When she found out that monsters were real. His was the number she punched into her phone to save her from the bad guys. And now here he is, riding in on the back of a Harley like he has every right to be.

She works the gag free—they never tie those things tight enough in movies like these—and screams back,


Emmett: The camera pans in to capture her face. In a theater that resides in dimensions incomprehensible, the non-Euclidean gaze of every entity is on the red of her lips, the flush in her cheek, the glimmer of truth in her eye. For a moment, precious and timeless, the entire cosmos could fit behind her eye and nobody would notice the Big Bang.

Magic tricks, Ron had told him once, require misdirection. Maybe on some level, real magic does, too. Movies certainly do.

Gunfire sprays over Em’s leather-clad corpus. His luck, already strained well past the suspension of disbelief, snaps entirely. Two of Gasper’s goons cackle maniacally as they pull alongside him on either flank, death-belching machines that bear little resemblance to actual firearms ablaze. Lead turns Em into swiss cheese under his chin.

He looks confused. He also looks… different.

His cheeks are chubbier, for one thing. The blood that bubbles in the back of his throat is Nutella-colored. His eyes are smaller than they were a moment ago, as if contact lenses have shriveled and fallen away to render them greedy and hollow and mean.

The Em on the bike looks confused, and so do the goons on the bike, wondering how it is they’ve shot up their boss. For his part, Gasper finally earns his name. His lungs have been wiped away by lead.

The camera tilts along with everybody’s necks as they look again at the man behind the wheel.

If he had a mustache, now would be the time he tears it from his lip. As is, though, Em and Gasper look alike enough a change in lighting is enough to distinguish one from the other.

“Oldest trick in the book,” the Confidence Man quips as he helps Celia into the passenger seat. “It’s a switcheroo.”

The logic is lazy at best, the device just a few strings shy of a deus ex machina. But Em sells it. He has to, and not just because it’s his ass on the line but because it’s basic acting, and this role’s old hat to him.

It’s all about confidence, really.

GM: It is all about confidence.

The old switcharoo, when the mark’s distracted.

Em knows it well.

Both Ems.

That’s why Celia’s throat is slashed, her eyes staring blankly up into the sunset as blood gushes over her gauzy white dress. Just another disposable woman in grand cinematic tradition.

Just another switcharoo.

He looks up from his dead cousin, and a solid face of dessert rock meets the car’s headlights.

“Ha… ha…” wheezes Gasper as he crashes off his bike.

The car smashes into the rock at triple-digits-miles-per-hour. In equally grand cinematic tradition, the vehicle explodes in an enormous red-yellow-white fiery conflagration that lights up the highway like an atomic bomb.

Em rolls to a literally dead stop on the highway, charred and smoking and burning, his blackened flesh baked to a crisp as smoke billows around him. The door to Château Devillers, the briefcase, the prison corridor is only feet away at the highway’s end.

“I… win…” wheezes Gasper past the holes in his chest. He doesn’t look much better as he crawls along the asphalt by his palms and knees. He’s burned too, from the explosion, and bleeding from dozens of gunshot wounds.

He hauls himself tortuously towards the prize.

“You… lose… Em…”

“I… win…”

He spares enough effort to kick his other half’s corpus, despite the stab of pain that shoots up through his own bullet-riddled leg. He wheezes another laugh, blood frothing from his charred lips.

“I… win…”

Only this round.

The goons are all dead. Em can’t say for sure, but he feels safe presuming, given that all that’s left of them is shredded bits of bone, gore, and viscera on their smashed-apart and blood-spattered motorbikes. The monster paces patiently down the highway, blood dripping from its uncountable claws, fangs, and horns. It’s night now, and the only illumination comes from the moon, stars, and the sports car’s burning wreck, casting the monster’s already nightmarish visage in an even more hellish glow.

Gasper stares down the road at it, then gives a soul-deep, half-gurgled cry of boundless frustration and sheer terror.

He won the battle.

But he lost the war.

“Em…” he wheezes, “let’s make… a deal…”

The monster paces closer.

“I can… help you… see… won’t fight you any… more…”

The monster paces closer.

“Won’t… try to… seize control… I can… do a lot… for you…”

The monster paces closer.

“Partners… like we said… invisible friend in… your head…”

The monster paces closer.

“Just… call… it… off…”

Emmett: Em stares. Up close, the beetle is even more terrible to look upon. Even more merciless and inescapable and vast. God forgot to name this thing, when all the other beasts were labeled, the tidier monsters defined.

Forgot, or maybe did not dare to.

How long has he dreamed about this moment, or one like it? His enemy begging for his mercy, for forgiveness. How often has he considered the perfect quip, the last parting sting?

But now, in this dream that is more than real, Em has no final rejoinder. Maybe that’s the cruelest reply of all. Nothing.

He’s as silent as God, but at least Gasper knows he’s watching.

And he does watch.

GM: Up close, the thing doesn’t look like a beetle at all. It doesn’t look like any kind of animal. Just incarnate hate, hunger, and destruction.

“It’s not… on your side…” wheezes Gasper, still crying to crawl away. The monster draws ever closer.

“You’ll be… next…”

“The two of us ca…”

The thing pounces. Gasper’s feet are the first to disappear inside its mouth. There’s a grisly crunch and spray of blood. Gasper screams and writhes over the pavement, and the great jaws come down again with another crunch and wet tearing. Gasper’s screams grow higher, then higher still as the monster’s jaws descend again, as it gnaws off his legs bite by bite. There is no clean and quick devouring of either limb all at once.

The monster rips open Gasper’s chest next and tears out his entrails, bite by bite. Blood gets everywhere. Gasper writhes and flails his arms, until the monster’s teeth crunch down over his fingers. Then his palms, then his wrists, until it’s gnawed off his arms and left him a gore-spattered torso with four stumps and a head whose mouth gapes open in ceaseless scream.

The nose and ears come next, then chunks of his cheeks. After that come the chunks of flesh nearest to the stumps. The monster takes its time. It eats Gasper whole, piece by piece, bone by bone, organ by organ, until all that’s left is a head, a neck, and a heart. The stench is unspeakable. Red paints the highway asphalt. Em may wonder if it will ever come out. Gasper, either out of taunts and offers, never stops screaming.

Em’s reminded of the carp on the hook. Twisting, writhing, denied the peace and dignity of a swift death, suffering for his younger self’s idle amusement.

When the end finally comes, the monster’s jaws open wide to swallow what’s left of Gasper down its gullet. It doesn’t pause to chew. Em’s Shadow disappears into the literal belly of the beast, still clinging to life. Em can only imagine his darker twin will die a tortuously slow death being immersed in the monster’s stomach acids, if he doesn’t simply bleed out first. Either way, he will die in darkness and pain, and utterly alone. There’s a last, barely audible scream from the monster’s stomach, more like the whining of a dog than a proper scream. It goes on for several minutes.

Finally, silence reigns over the highway.

The fire from the burning car wreck has guttered out. Darkness reigns.

Up ahead, the prison corridor and the door at the end patiently await.

Emmett: It’s everything Gasper deserved and then some.

Em feels nothing.

Nothing at all.

It’s an almost anticlimactic end to his Shadow. But it’s like he’d said:

“And you? You were the bit of me that took it personal. You know how much I’ve thought about Stines and Sami and all the rest who made me feel small since I’ve died, all on my own? Jack. That’s why I felt nothing when he died. That’s why you’re so hung up on seeing me get my vengeance, too.”

Em gets to his feet. It’s a little ridiculous to watch, like seeing a drunk man stumble into his pants, but then again, there’s nobody left to watch. Everybody’s dead.

Even him.

The door’s right there, only it’s not a door, it’s a briefcase, no, it’s an electric chair—whatever it is, this place won’t wait for him forever. It won’t do to idle.

Still, he looks back at the thing that’s apparently given up all interest in him as he approaches the door.

“What are you?” he croaks out, hand on the knob.

GM: The door opens.

All Em sees at first is pitch darkness.

But, swimming through that darkness, like a half-remembered nightmare.

Poison eyes.

Poison-green eyes.

“How badly do you want…" the woman’s voice warbles, "…to live, boy? How much will you… hurt for it?”

“Anything," wafts Em’s voice from the gloom. "I’ll do anything to undo this. Please.”

Suddenly, Em is on the ground. The monster is on top of him, and the Poison-Eyed Lady is holding him down, anthrax dripping from those awful eyes. The monster rips open Em’s chest with its claws, splitting him from throat to groin. The pain is indescribable.

The Poison-Eyed Lady grabs hold of the split flesh with both hands and pulls it wide open, splaying Em’s insides to the night sky like a rat in a high school dissection lab. Impossibly, the monster dives inside.

Em wildly looks up into the sky. The moon looks like the pure white light that awaited him at the end of his harrowings. He remembers the sense of calmness and peace as he ascended into that light, as his Shadow was silent, as all his dark and spiteful and hateful thoughts and memories were finally still. All was quiet. All was warm. All was right. He knew peace such as he never had before.

Then, with a feeling of ineffable sadness, the light dies.

The moon and stars are gone. Agony surges through Em’s arteries as a fire roars within him. It’s a thirst, terrible and burning, it’s more thirsty than he’s ever felt, it’s an almost stabbing pain, like the monster is coiled inside his chest and madly clawing to get out, and it does get out, some small part of it, as he feels two fangs surge from his mouth as he screams, and screams, and screams—

He’s on a hard floor again, and he sees only red, tastes only red, smells only red, as the bliss hits him. It’s drinking the finest champagne from a movie premier, it’s making love to Cécilia and Sami together in the same bed, it’s the rush of snorted cocaine, the drag of his first cigarette, and that’s only some sense, some tiny, infinitesimal sense, of what it feels like to drink the liquid ecstasy coursing down his throat.

Emmett: After the night he’s had, the unbroken adventure of his execution?

He guzzles like a babe at the tit, and doesn’t stop until it’s dragged away.

Then, and only then, does he look for poison eyes.

GM: They’re right above him.

Staring down.

Smiling their anthrax smile.

“Ah, Mr. Delacroix!” exclaims Antoine Savoy’s voice. “Welcome back. And welcome to your Requiem.”

The other vampire sounds like he’s grinning.

“We have a lot to talk about.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XXI
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Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Emmett XV

Story Twelve, Celia XXI

“There are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to.”
Maxen Flores

Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: After the time Celia’s spent with Dani, 4 AM is soon approaching. She has time to change back into her dress for Roderick, if she wants to. Dani asks what she’s dressing up for and where she’s going, but doesn’t raise any objections. “Only one bed in here, anyways.”

She asks, again, where she can go in the Quarter and the larger city, and if she can go more places during the day, when other vampires won’t be around.

“I’m so glad I found you, Celia. I really, really am,” she exclaims, giving her brother’s girlfriend a last hug. “I’m sorry how things turned out with Stephen, but… I think he’d understand, if he knew. And be happy that he was able to help your family.”

Celia: Celia clarifies the rules about the Quarter and the territory for her. She says that she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to risk anything during the day, since ghouls are out and about. Not yet. Maybe once Celia finds out a few things for her. She gets Dani’s address and keys so she can visit the house in Riverbend and retrieve her belongings, though she doesn’t promise it’ll be soon. And she reminds Dani that it’s secret: Celia isn’t a vampire (even to other vampires, don’t tell even them, maybe especially them), vampires aren’t real, be careful not to be seen feeding. Take them into the bathroom rather than doing it in the middle of the club, that kind of thing. Also that she won’t be available during the day, but if she needs something to text and Celia will get back to her when she wakes up. She mentions that she’s free on Sunday or Monday for dinner if her dad wants to come to the Quarter. They can go out or Celia can host him here.

Celia hugs Dani close once her dress is back on, saying the same thing.

“I’m happy we found each other too, Dani. We’ll figure this all out together and make a plan. And… I think he’d understand too. Thanks for saying that. It means a lot.”

A few final goodbyes and Celia heads out to meet with Roderick. She has so much to tell him.

GM: Dani doesn’t look happy to limit her movements so much, but says she can do that for now as she passes off her keys and address. “I do still need to attend class, though… law school has attendance requirements.”

She says she’ll be careful hunting. She’ll call her dad and see what works for the D.A.

A drizzle starts outside outside. Dani looks around for an umbrella, so as not to ruin Celia’s pretty dress. The Toreador finds her haven much as it was when she returns at 4 AM.

Roderick arrives soon thereafter. Her lover looks glum and tired, but smiles when he sees her.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

He hangs up his coat, then scoops her up in his arms.

“What I said earlier. You’re not allowed to walk, in here. You’re too pretty to.”

Celia: She wants to know what it is that has him looking so glum, but she doesn’t want to ruin the mood. She’d almost expected him to fail to show, or to show up angry and berate her for letting someone else touch her, or say something rude about being able to fight his own battles. But there’s none of that, and the fight she’d been prepping for, the tightness in her shoulders, it all disappears as soon as he pulls her into his arms.

Her lips find his immediately, settling into his embrace with a little giggle.

“Is it silly that I missed you all night?”

GM: “No. It isn’t silly at all.” His answering kiss isn’t passionate, but it’s definitely… needful. He gives her a tired smile.

“Let’s get you onto the counter, it’s hard to molest my present when she’s in my arms like this.”

Celia: She can agree to that.

GM: Roderick carries her to the kitchen counter and sets her down, even placing her feet in the sink. His lips trace her cheek, her neck, and then her breasts as his hands appreciatively trace her her hips and rump. He finally lays his head against her chest for a long moment.

“Tonight sucked.”

Celia: Celia pulls him close, stroking her hands across his chest and shoulders, then around the back of his neck and head. She cradles his face against her chest.

“Talk to me. What happened?”

GM: “Just a lot of… bullshit in Elysium.”

Celia: “Oh, did I miss something after I left?”

GM: He lays his head contently against her.

“The story. With the hunters.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t wince, but she wants to.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: “They wanted the details. All the details. Everything I could remember.”

“Guess the topic was a real hit.”

Celia: “Bet it made you look like a badass, though.”

GM: “I’m not proud of what I did there. I felt sick, boasting about it.”

Celia: She should have realized. Should have used something else. Anything else.

GM: “Chris congratulated me for losing my virginity.”

“That was a real hoot.”

Celia: Maybe the floor will swallow her.

GM: “Veronica and Adelais had a real time with it.”

Celia: “Were they cruel to you?” Sharpness in her voice that hadn’t been there a moment ago.

GM: “They’re cruel to everyone.”

“I guess this was mild, for them.”

Celia: “Cunts.”

GM: “Backhand barbs in all the compliments. I swear that only the harpies can make compliments still feel like put-downs, but like there’s nothing you can do except nod dumbly along.”

Celia: “You could dig back. Or divert their attention. They’re like dogs that see a squirrel. Chase after it.”

GM: “I guess,” he says heavily. “They just really liked the story with the hunters. I guess fuck hunters.”

“Coco… god. She drew it out.”

“The story. Brought everyone back to it, when other things started to come up.”

“So I had to just nod along, because, well, she’s my sire.”

Celia: Her lips purse.

“Why would she do that? She knows how you feel about it.”

GM: “Yeah. She still did. Asked a bunch of questions. Said a bunch of things. Just wouldn’t let the topic drop.”

Celia: “I thought she was better than the others, but the more you tell me about her the less I think that.”

“At least Veronica is upfront about being a bitch.”

GM: “She is better,” Roderick says defensively. “I’d rather have her than Veronica, I know that.”

Celia: Celia sighs.

“Right. Sorry.”

GM: “She didn’t put me down or try to make me look stupid. Just… wouldn’t let it drop.”

Celia: “Was she fishing for details? To find out if you’d really been alone?”

GM: “I already told her all the details, before tonight.”

Celia: “Then why?”

GM: “That’s what I asked her, afterwards.”

“Well, ‘asked.’ More like yelled. We got into it.”

“She said she was looking out for me, that it raised my standing for Elysium to hear I’d killed those hunters. That it did, indeed, make me look like a badass, and other Kindred would respect me more. Killing hunters is a socially contributive thing for good Camarilla licks to do.”

Celia: Gee, Celia should show off her kill count then.

GM: “I told her how I wasn’t proud of it. That the whole thing made me sick.”

Celia: Tell them all how she made them kill themselves while she’d been cuffed.

Doesn’t sound like Coco cares much about what her childe wants. But Celia knows better than to say that.

GM: “There’s a quote from Foundation that I like. Sci-fi book I read a while ago, if you haven’t. ‘Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.’”

He shared it with her once as a mortal, too. Back in college.

Celia: “Did you say that to her, too?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “How did that go over?”

GM: “She took it pretty calmly. Said she agreed, herself, but that Elysium doesn’t see it that way. That they hadn’t mastered their instincts and just liked to hear stories about how blood flowed, beyond the hunter aspect.”

“She said how violence is essentially entertainment. That it’s technically only an incompetent’s refuge if they’re trying to achieve an end that doesn’t need to involve violence. So the quote doesn’t actually apply.”

Celia: “Mmm.” A noncommittal sound at that.

GM: “You don’t agree?”

Celia: “I know better than to debate with you and Coco.”

“I just think that she could have let the talk fade. Bringing it back up looks… well. Like she’s reaching.”


It looks bad.

GM: “Without debate, the mind stagnates. It’s a fitness regimen for your brain.”

“Her words.”

Celia: Of course they are.

Celia smiles politely.

GM: “She didn’t look reaching. She was… subtle. Just a word here or there, giving me extra spotlight. She let it drop after enough, but it would’ve dropped sooner without her.”

“Perks of having a primogen sire, I guess. More time in the limelight.”

Celia: Elder’s pet.

He’d be hunter chow if not for her.

GM: “I still yelled at her over how I wasn’t proud of that and didn’t want credit for it.”

Celia: And Coco didn’t care, she bets.

GM: “She said I needed standing and respect if I wanted to make a difference in Kindred society, and this was another stepping stone. She said they were already dead, so it’s not like I was hurting anyone.”

Celia: “…you don’t… you don’t think she…”

GM: “Think she what?”

Celia: “Nothing,” Celia murmurs. “I don’t even want to suggest it.”

GM: He looks up from her chest. “What?”

Celia: “How many people know about your haven?”

GM: “Her. My krewe. You, i…”

His mouth drops. “You are NOT saying…!”

Celia: Celia hadn’t said anything.

She’d just asked a question.

GM: “No! She wouldn’t do that! How can you even say that!?”

“She’s not just another elder like you keep making her out!”

Celia: “Roderick. Stop. I didn’t say that. I asked a question. I didn’t mean to imply anything. I’m trying to figure out who has it out for you because you could have died. I love you. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Makes sense though, doesn’t it? Knows her childe can fend for himself. That his ghouls will help.

GM: “Why would my sire have it out for me,” he grumbles. “She wanted to ash me, she could do that with her own hands, easy.”

Celia: “Do you want to have a calm discussion about this?”

GM: “I am calm.”

Celia: “It’s not to get rid of you. It’s to use the fact that you killed them to your and her advantage. You look good. She looks good.”

GM: “She’s the one who taught me to fight. There’s no way I could take her i…”

Celia: “She knew you could handle it.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t say anything to that for a moment.

“She knew I was a virgin. That I didn’t want to kill.”

Celia: Celia stays quiet with him, her fingers moving slowly across the back of his neck.

What had he said about Coco? That when push comes to shove she’s still another elder. Life is cheap.

Maybe she’d been embarrassed by her virgin childe. Or maybe she’s playing a different game. Maybe he’s just the first childe to be thrown to the Inquisition.

“Maybe she didn’t expect you to kill them,” Celia finally offers. “And maybe if you hadn’t been worried about me you wouldn’t have.”

GM: “Don’t blame yourself for this,” Roderick says, shaking his head. “They attacked me, in my home, with lethal force. I’d have tried to take them alive, but I could’ve easily lost control. You know how I do that. How all my clan does that. Provoking a Brujah is not a smart thing to do if you don’t want someone getting seriously hurt.”

Celia: She’s been on the receiving end of those fists. She knows how true that is.

She shivers at the memory, but holds her tongue.

Doesn’t remind him what he did to her.

GM: Roderick effects a sigh and pulls her close again, rubbing his head against hers.

“I’m just glad I can come back to you, at the end of the night. My sweet and kind and dolled up present who’s too pretty to walk.”

Celia: Is that all she is?

She doesn’t put the thought into words.

“I like coming home to you. Knowing that you’ll be here.” Celia touches the side of his face. Her thumb traces across his lower lip. “I’m happy with you. Safe.”

GM: He smiles back.

“I am too. I feel safe with you.”

Celia: “Because I’m so tough?”

Celia flexes.

GM: He laughs. “Tough comes in a lot of flavors. But also safe because I can be who I really am, around you.”

Celia: Wouldn’t that be nice. To have someone she can be herself with.

Who is she with Roderick? She doesn’t even know anymore.

“I’ll always be here for you. I don’t care what happens in the rest of the world or city. This, here?” Celia touches his chest. “This is home.”

GM: “This is home,” he murmurs, nuzzling her neck.

“Now, I promised I’d clean your shoes, didn’t I?”

Celia: “I recall you mentioning you’d worship me. With your mouth.”

GM: “Mmm, so I did. Do you still want me to clean your temple, or do you want to be worshiped, right away?”

Celia: “That depends. Am I allowed to tell everyone that I made you clean the soles of my shoes for me?”

“I’ll say we arm wrestled. And I won.”

GM: “Never. They’d all beg for the privilege too, once they realized that was allowed.”

“I’d have to fight them all, to keep them from your shoes.”

Celia: “I didn’t realize you had a thing for ladies’ shoes.”

Celia squints at him. “Do you still have my panties in your pocket?”

GM: He smirks and fishes them out.

“Put them back in just for this occasion.”

Celia: “A souvenir from your conquest. Worship away, loyal follower. I shall not dictate the terms of your service.”

GM: “All right then.” He picks her off the counter and slings her over his shoulder, ass in the air.

“I guess I’ll enjoy my conquest…”

Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: Enjoy it he does. Celia doesn’t feel his seed fill her womanhood, when she can tell how he hits his climax from the way he pumps faster. He goes limp, after that, but the lack of cum seems to have its advantages (beyond the diminished mess), because he’s hard again in no time at all. The lovers know pleasure in one another’s arms until the sun rises, and Roderick pulls Celia against his chest in familiar spooning position. They wake up after eight hours that pass in a second to their clothes still on. It’s not like the two corpses sweat or fart or smell or move in their sleep.

“Mmm,” he murmurs into her ear when she stirs. His arms still encircle her waist. “Someone’s up earlier.”

Celia: Good thing, too, because she’d meant to talk to him about a handful of things earlier and he’d distracted her with the promise of sex.

Her Beast yowls in her ear as soon as she wakes, making sure she knows that it, too, is hungry. That it doesn’t appreciate being ignored and not having its needs met while she fucks her lover. Where’s the blood, it demands.

Celia snuggles back against Roderick’s chest, ignoring it for a moment.

“I couldn’t let you shave my head,” she says seriously. “I have an important meeting today. Can’t look silly.”

She checks the time. Early. She doesn’t even need to rush to get ready to meet her father.

“What are you doing tonight?”

GM: “Haven-hunting, first. That meeting anything I can help with?”

Celia: “Just stay with me forever.”

GM: “That’s tempting. But it’s tempting fate to come into the Quarter every night, even this close to the border.”

Celia: “We’ll dig a tunnel.”

GM: “Mmm. Bad idea, in this city. Same reason we don’t have basements.” He gives her a squeeze. “You can come stay at my place, though. You’ll always be welcome there.”

Celia: “Probably shouldn’t be seen visiting you that much. Don’t need people talking.”

GM: “Turn into a cat. I’ll give you belly rubs inside my haven.”

Celia: “Sold.”

“What would you want to be? If you could change.”

GM: “Oh, change what?”

Celia: “Your form. If you learned how to shift.”

GM: “Hmm. Interesting question.”

“Wolf is a classic. I’ve always liked dogs.”

Celia: “I could see that.”

GM: “There’s a lot to admire in wolves, too.”

Celia: “You’d be a corgi. Maybe a pomeranian.”

GM: “A corgi?”

Celia: “A little fluffy thing. I could put you in my purse.”

GM: “Ha. Haven’t heard of any licks turning into toy dogs.”

Celia: “That’s because they’re embarrassed.”

GM: “There’s worse places to spend your Requiem.”

“Much worse.”

“Though if I’m going to be something small, I’d rather be something small enough for you to stick between your bra…”

Celia: “Like a spider?” Celia makes a face.

GM: “Ew. I’ll pass.”

Celia: “Same. Don’t think I’d let one in my bra anyway.”

“They can’t hurt you, yada yada. Still gross.”

GM: “They are. Anyways, this meeting anything I could help with?”

Celia: “I don’t think so,” Celia says after a moment of consideration. “It’s with… um. It’s with my dad.”

GM: “Your dad,” he says slowly.

Celia: “When I called him the other day. We set it up. About Emily stabbing him. You fell asleep before I could tell you.”

“Which is a shame because I told Emily how good you were in bed. You missed it.”

GM: He gives a slight smile, subdued by obvious thoughts over Celia’s meeting with her father.

Celia: “I’m nervous,” she admits. “I don’t know what he wants.”

“I haven’t seen him since… you know. "

GM: “Yeah. So what do you want to get out of it?”

Celia: “I want him to leave my mom alone. I want to know what he did to Lucy when he drove her to school. I want to make sure he isn’t going to go running to his master about Emily stabbing him.”

GM: “Okay. Those are all good goals.”

“Do you think you can get him to?”

Celia: “I’m not sure,” she admits. “I don’t know why he’s suddenly acting nice. If the sheriff pulled his talons out of his head or what.”

“People don’t just change.”

GM: “I’d assume the worst with him. He made your and your mom’s lives living hells. He’s a scumbag rapist child abuser.”

Celia: “I know. It just doesn’t make sense. Why now. Why come after her now. I mean, Logan is the one who brought him over, but… it just… Logan told me that he misses us, that he’s proud of me, that he never remarried or anything. And my mom…” Celia shifts in his arms, looking up at him.

“She had a nightmare about falling. And Maxen taking Lucy away. And she did fall. And now I wonder if Maxen is going to come after Lucy.”

GM: “He thinks she’s your daughter, right? You’re positive?”

Celia: “Yes. But he was alone in the car with her. What if he took a hair or something?”

GM: “Hm. I was about to ask why he’d want to do a paternity test, but… you’ve not said who the father is. Maybe he somehow thinks it’s his business to know.”

Celia: “He could ask. And it’s no one’s business anyway. Lucy doesn’t need a dad. She has three moms.”

GM: “A male role model might not be bad. But I agree. Her needs seem like they’re being more than met.”

“And I know. He could, and it’s not his business, but he’s a sick and twisted fuck who doesn’t respect other people or their boundaries.”

Celia: “What do I do if he knows?”

GM: “Prepare for a custody fight.”

Celia: “My mom wants to get back with him. I don’t know if I told you. There’s been a lot going on.”

“But the other night she was talking about it. How she misses him. As if he didn’t take her leg off with a hacksaw. Or rape her. Or hurt the rest of us.”

“Jesus apparently wants her to forgive.”

GM: “Your mom’s a little nuts.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I’m not sure what to do about that. But I guess meeting with him… well, I’m not about to say it can’t hurt, but the rewards sound worth having to let him back into your life, even a little. Just to find out what he’s after.”

Roderick squeezes her again. “You’re a badass lick now, though. He can’t hurt you.”

Celia: His friend in the shadows can, though. And probably will if he finds out about this.

“Right. Badass lick. I’ll beat him up.”

“I lied. I thought of something you can do to help.”

GM: “Anything.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to ask. It’s lazy of her. She could hurry and get ready and find a willing mortal somewhere along the way. But he’s right here.

Celia bites her lip. She glances away.

GM: He hugs her close again, shifting her position so his mouth is by her ear.

“I’m here. Name it.”

Celia: The breath on her ear sends shivers running down her spine.

“I don’t want to lose control around him. I mean. I do. But I can’t. And I’d rather spend what time I can with you instead of tracking down a vessel before I have to go choke down food.”

GM: He nods. “Okay. Let’s get a cup or something so I don’t collar you any tighter.”

Celia: “Smart.” Celia pulls away to find one. Luckily she’s got all those pots and pans she’d knocked over the other night; it takes a few seconds to find a cup.

GM: Roderick bites his wrist and bleeds into it.

“Just say when.”

Celia: She says when. The thing inside of her wants more, it always does. It’s a greedy little monster. But Celia doesn’t want to put him out any more than she needs to. He’s already doing her a favor; no need to drain him dry.

She watches the glass fill, can feel her fangs distend in her mouth. She’s patient enough to wait a moment longer before she reaches for the glass to drink down his offering.

GM: His blood is hot and filling and ferocious, like all Brujah blood, but sharpens and clarifies her thoughts too. It feels like a good libation before she sees her father.

Celia: She drains it. Licks the rim. Doesn’t let a bit of it go to waste. And when it’s gone she curls herself around his body, tucking her head against his chest, and thanks him for what he’s done for her.

“Do you really want us to get a place together?”

GM: He holds her close and runs his hand along the back of her head.

“Why not? We’d be safer, and I love spending time with you.”

Celia: “It’ll need a big closet. Really big. Whatever you’re thinking, triple it.”

GM: He laughs. “Okay. Walk-ins, got it.”

“Actually never had one of those.”

Celia: “You still won’t.” Her brows lift. Celia shares many things. Closet space is not one of them.

“What’s your krewe going to say when they find all those beautiful dresses in your place? Could tell them you’re exploring your feminine side.”

GM: He smirks. “Could also just tell them they’re my renfield’s. But I doubt they’ll see your closet.”

Celia: “Do you spoil Bess with clothes?”

GM: “Bess isn’t my renfield.”

Celia: “…did I get her name wrong?”

GM: “She’s the property manager at my old haven.”

Celia: “Oh. So the boy with the messy place is yours.”

Messy place. Her eyes dart around her still-destroyed haven.


GM: “Yeah, he’s one of them.”

“All right. We should get ready for our nights. I’m also going to reach out to Ayame, I still haven’t heard back from her.”

“Dani can’t stay in the Quarter.”

Celia: “She’s not safe anywhere else in the city. You think the sheriff is going to let her go back to her place in Riverbend?”

GM: “That’s why I’m getting her out.”

Celia: “She doesn’t want to leave, Roderick. She… your death broke your dad. That’s what she said to me last night. That he’s just a shell. That she’s a poor replacement for you, but she’s all he has.”

GM: “Wait, what? You spoke with her?” Roderick’s eyes widen.

Celia: “I told you I’d find her.”

GM: He frowns. “Why didn’t you tell me last night?”

Celia: “You were upset about Coco. And then we got distracted.”

GM: “All right. Tell me about her! Is she safe? Is she all right?”

Celia: “She’s safe. She’s all right. She was turned a week ago but she doesn’t remember by who. She thought she was the only one in the world, and she’s been looking for answers, but so far she hasn’t gotten anywhere. She’s…” Celia runs her hand through her hair. “She’s a thin-blood. Like for real. Didn’t have any idea about anything. I had to explain it all to her. She’s in law school, you know.”

“And she said your dad wishes she had died instead of you. That she’s… how did she put it, the O’Tolleys playground after being promised Disneyland. It was… bleak.”

GM: “Oh my… god…” Roderick whispers, taking all of that in.

“That’s not true, he loves her just as much as me!”

Celia: “That’s what I told her. We talked for a while about it.”

GM: Celia may think back to their own discussion about her mother’s favorite children in 2012.

How Roderick said all parents have favorites.

Celia: Parents are supposed to love the one that’s left, though.

“When we were dating, all those years ago, she said similar things to me.”

“It sounds like she’s always felt as if she were in your shadow.”

GM: “I’m the older sibling, by six years. And the one who was going to carry on the family legacy. I guess that was inevitable.”

Celia: “She wants to now. You should have seen her, Roderick, she scared off some guy who tried to rape a teenager. Talked about wanting to do good, change the world. It was like talking to you.”

“Just… a you with no confidence.”

GM: Roderick smiles at first, then stops.

“I’ll be honest… she’s a vampire now. And a thin-blood. That really closes a lot of doors.”

Celia: “She won’t do any better in Houston than she will here. Those doors will still be closed.”

GM: “Houston doesn’t have a policy of active genocide. It’s not going to be a good unlife for her, but I saw that massacre, Celia! She isn’t safe here!”

Celia: “I can keep her safe. I will keep her safe. She’s already learned the basics. She’s a bright kid. And I have some ideas for her.”

GM: “Except for how she’ll be Savoy’s hostage.”

Celia: “I promise you, Roderick, I will keep her from being harmed. Even by Savoy.”

“You know she doesn’t have a Beast? It’s safe for her to be around your dad. She won’t have to fake her death, not for a long time.”

GM: “Celia, you can’t keep her safe from Savoy. He knows who she is to me.”

Celia: “She doesn’t have powers, Roderick. None of them do. What do you think is going to happen if she goes to Houston? She’ll be a punching bag. Worse than a ghoul. They might not have an active genocide, but they aren’t going to give a fuck if some random thin-blood ends up dead.”

“You can see her here. Your dad can see her here. He won’t have to bury another kid.”

“She wants to go into business with you. Legal stuff. You could be a team.”

GM: “And all I’ll have to do is kiss Savoy’s ring, betray Coco, and work for him.”

Celia: Celia takes his hand in hers. She’s quiet for a moment, searching his face with her gaze.

The moment stretches between them. She doesn’t let the silence get awkward; how can it be, with two people who love each other? It’s a comfortable silence, the sort of silence that neither one of them need to fill. An understanding silence.

Celia moves her hands down his chest, working at the buttons on his shirt as she goes. Once they’re free she slides her hands back around him, fingers moving against the muscles on his back. She doesn’t dig, just lets her skin slide against his, feeling for the little spots of tightness that speak of tension and pain and past trauma.

She knows his body well. She knows where to touch, where it hurts, where her hands will find the answers she’s looking for.

And she’s well practiced at this technique by now. It stretches between them, that little band of energy that pulls her along for the ride. She doesn’t become him. It’s different with licks. Their Beasts are more wary than the kine. But she can surround him with herself. She cans see the spinning orbs and set them into motion, can free the ones she needs freed, the little blue light at his throat that might ordinarily keep him silent.

“I’d like to ask you something, if you don’t mind.” she murmurs after a moment. Her voice stays quiet. Steady. She’s nothing but a concerned girlfriend giving the boy she loves what comfort she can. “A personal question.”

GM: Roderick sighs with relief and doesn’t fight his girlfriend’s massage. He used to eat her out in return for this, after all.

It’s even easier to invade his mind than Diana’s was. He just lets her right in, equally oblivious to the supernal influence washing over this thoughts.

“You can ask me anything,” he murmurs.

Celia: “We talked before,” she continues quietly, moving her hands up and down his lats and making tiny circles across the paraspinals, “about getting married. And taking that third step with each other. Making it special. And I keep coming back to that thought. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets me through the night, the thought that… that you’re waiting for me, that I get to come home to you.” Her cheek presses against his chest while her fingers work their magic. “And I was just wondering… if you’ve done that with anyone before. If you’re already fully bound to someone.”

Like Coco.

GM: “No, I’m only two steps collared to her,” Roderick answers calmly.

Celia: “And to me?” The words come out as barely more than a whisper.

GM: “Once, I’m pretty confident.”

“I’d like to save the second drink for sometime special.”

Celia: So it had snapped that night. Broken face, broken heart, broken collar. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Celia silently nods her head. Something paces back and forth inside her chest. Not the Beast, but something similar. Something worse, maybe, that tells her… that tells her she’ll never be good enough for him. That if she doesn’t make him drink he’ll never choose her over her Coco. He’ll never think she’s smart enough. He’ll never think she’s strong enough. He’ll never think she’s capable. He thinks she’s pretty, but so does everyone. That’s all she has. She’s pretty.

She doesn’t realize when the tears begin to leak from her eyes. She wipes her cheek on her shoulder but only succeeds in smearing the blood across her face.

She’s a monster. And now it’s written across that oh-so-pretty face of hers.

Celia finds the tether between them, the little beam of white energy. She pulls it back into her body, withdrawing from her boyfriend’s mind. Her hands don’t stop, though. They continue for another beat before traveling upward and around his shoulders and the neck, rising to the tips of her toes so she can whisper, “me too,” right before she presses her lips against his.

GM: Roderick returns her kiss and wraps his strong arms around her, holding her close and tight.

“You’re crying,” he says after a moment, pulling away enough for her to see the concern writ across his face. “What’s wrong?”

Celia: Everything.


She doesn’t know anymore. She’s forgotten why she’s upset. She’s forgotten what she’s supposed to be doing. She’s forgotten her purpose.

She wants him. She wants him to want her. She wants to get his sire’s talons out of his head. She wants to break that bond so Roderick can see, clearly, the problems that she’s causing with her blind obedience and loyalty. She wants him to see that he’s on the wrong side. That his sire is just as bad as every other elder, and the fact that she hides it behind intellect and charm doesn’t mean she’s not. She wants him to realize that Coco set him up, that she sent the hunters after him, that she’s keeping him busy with scribe duties and note taking and won’t lift a finger to help him with his actual dreams because she doesn’t want him to succeed, because she doesn’t care about him. He’s a pawn. A tool. Like her.

But she can’t tell him, can she? Because his mind has been twisted by the blood. And maybe hers has too. Maybe the thing in her chest, the green monster, maybe that’s controlling her thoughts.

Maybe it’s the sheer amount of collars on her and leashes that tug her in so many different directions that causes this loss of control, that makes it spill down her cheeks. Or the thought of failure. She’s failing. Again.

But she can’t answer his question. Because she doesn’t even know where to start.

GM: “Shhh. It’s okay,” Roderick says softly, drying her tears with his hands. Celia can see the fangs in his mouth at the heady scent, but he hugs her close again, running his hand up and down the small of her back. “I’ve got you. I’m right here.”

“I love you. You’re safe.”

Celia: Twice in two nights.

She’s a wreck.

“Are you coming back tonight?”

GM: He rubs up towards her head.

“You bet.”

Celia: Celia nods. The smile she tries to send his way falters before it makes a complete journey across her face.

“Savoy summoned me tonight. I expect it’s for an update.”

GM: “Oh, what on?”

Celia: He knows what on.

GM: His face downturns into a scowl.

Celia: She doesn’t quite flinch. But there’s a wariness to her that wasn’t there a moment ago, like she’s ready to bolt if he decides to take it out on her.


GM: “Christ. I’m not about to go apeshit. You don’t need to do that every time I frown.”

Celia: “You keep getting distracted with other parts of my body when you’re supposed to show me how to throw a punch.”

GM: “I’ll show you. We’ll make time specifically to fuck first, then to get in some practice.”

Celia: “We did that last night. And we still ended up fucking. Again.”

GM: “Okay. We’ll make time to fuck twice.”

Celia: “Is that going to be enough?”

“I don’t know about you but the entire time Elgin was droning on I kept thinking about all the things I wanted you to do to me, and we’d just fucked.”

“And then I had to call you Mr. Durant and I had this schoolgirl fantasy…”

GM: “And what a naughty schoolgirl you’d be, not paying attention to the teacher’s lecture. Should I put you over my knee and spank you?”

“Ah, wait. Crap. That probably isn’t a turn-on for you.”

Celia: “Er… actually…”

GM: He raises his eyebrows. “It still is?”

Celia: She gives a sort of helpless shrug, eyes dropping to the middle of the chest rather than meet his gaze. She can’t quite keep the smile—two parts bashful, one part wicked—from her lips.

GM: “Well, if you want to now… when do you have to be out the door by?”

Celia: “I’m torn between arousal and horror at the thought of showing up to dinner with my dad after you spank me.”

GM: “Yeah, I kinda had the same thought…”

Celia: “Bet we have time to fuck, though. In the shower. Two birds.”

“And then later tonight I can find a plaid skirt and some mary janes.”

“Maybe get you a tie.”

GM: “Eh, the schoolgirl skirt and shoes don’t really turn me on. I love you in this dress, though. Happy to spank you in it. It’s so tight and sexy, the way it clings to your hips…” He runs his hands up and down her sides again.

Celia: Celia leans into his touch. Her breath hitches as his hands move down her sides, whatever she had been about to say lost to the moment.

“I suppose,” she murmurs, “that it’s a good thing I have dozens just like this. Why don’t you help me out of it and tonight I’ll let you pick something else you can bend me over your lap in…” She tugs him toward the shower.

Conscious of the time, Celia and Roderick make it quick. Their clothing comes off without any prolonged foreplay, and when he takes her in the shower with her legs around his waist and her back pressed to the tile wall it’s frantic and needy. No fangs come out to play, just skin and lips and hands that bring them both to completion.

She loves him for it. For his willingness to play human and take her like a man takes a woman. For not judging that she still revels in the closeness of their bodies, or that she cries out the same way she used to, or that sometimes she just wants to kiss him without the taste of blood. She loves him for many reasons, but that’s one of them.

She tells him that after he lets her down, when his hands, lathered with soap, run down her body. She tells him that she loves him, that she’ll always love him, and that she can’t wait to spend the rest of her Requiem with him. She’s looking forward to more evenings like this: waking up in his arms, discussing their plans, going their separate ways, coming back home to each other.

She only wishes they didn’t have to hide it.

“Let me know what the Asian says so I can figure how to play this tonight, yeah?”

GM: The shower sex is brief but passionate. Roderick is so strong now and can lift her up like she’s nothing as he penetrates her. It probably doesn’t hurt how she’s removed many of her internal organs either. Or how his ass is now tighter. The pair emerge wet and dripping from the shower, and Roderick enjoys himself setting Celia on the counter and toweling her off in manner that feels more like being molested through the towel.

“God, I can’t keep my hands off you,” he murmurs.

He says he loves her too, so much, and can’t wait to get married as breathers. The way they were meant to.

He does so much to pleasure her body, to show the depth of his affection through touch. He touches her in ways Pietro never will with his feather-light fingers. He touches her like a woman, not just a lick. His libido is up to fuck whenever hers is.

And yet, her thoughts have strayed to other licks and ghouls and men, as assuredly as Evan strayed from Roxanne.

Perhaps they do now, or perhaps they don’t. But it’s as Mabel said.

Enough love to go around.

“Her name’s Ayame. I think she probably gets enough of ‘the Asian’ from other Anarchs.”

“And the sad thing is we’re still the most progressive club. Pretty sure the Invictus still calls them ‘orientals.’”

Celia: Her mind doesn’t wander when Roderick is inside of her. Or when he lays her out on the counter to “dry her off.” Or when he touches her. Right now her attention is fully on him, despite the overabundance of love in her… heart.

“Sorry,” Celia murmurs. “You’re right, of course. I know her name.” She lets out a long, forced sigh.

GM: “I also don’t like hearing how Savoy expects progress reports on manipulating me.”

Celia: “…you’re the one who brought it up nights ago, that he probably will expect them.”

“I don’t know if that’s what this is about. It could be any number of things.”

GM: “Let’s just not talk about him while we’re here.” He lifts up her chin to dab some moisture around her upper neck.

Celia: “Politics free zone?”

Celia lifts her chin for him, giving him easy access to the spot he needs.

GM: “That’s right.” She wonders if there was even anything to towel away there, because he kisses her instead.

Celia: There wasn’t. They both know there wasn’t. But Celia is happy to play along.

She lets out a breathy giggle at the touch.

“You’re insatiable.”

GM: He steals another kiss.

“Only because you’re irresistible.”

Celia: “I heard,” she whispers slyly, “that I’m the cutest lick in the city.”

GM: “You heard wrong. I heard you were the cutest lick in the world.”

“Although I suppose ‘in the city’ is still technically accurate.”

“We should schedule an entire night, sometime. To do nothing besides fuck in every way we can think up. I wonder if that would get it out of our systems.”

Celia: “Doubt it. But we can certainly try.”

GM: “We’ll do it for research purposes.”

Celia: “Of course.”

“Has it gotten better for you?” She nods toward what’s hiding behind the towel around his hips.

GM: There’s already a bulge.

“Think that answers your question,” he smirks, glancing down.

Celia: “But are you doing that?” She reaches for him anyway, loosening the towel to let it fall to the ground.

GM: His penis is there and hard.

“Not consciously. It’s funny.”

“I thought we couldn’t enjoy sex, so for a while I just didn’t try to.”

Celia: “It’s because I’m so pretty, to be honest.” She takes him into her hand.

…what if it is her?

GM: He’s stiff and pulsing under her touch.

“Must be it. It’s not like I’ve ever seen a girl who compares.”

He smiles and glances down.

“You know, I bet your dad will expect a kiss on the cheek, and if those were the same lips that had just sucked a dick…”

Celia: “Scandalous.”

But she’s on her knees a moment later.

GM: He lays out the towel underneath and folds it twice before she does. It seems less scandalous when he doesn’t cum in her mouth, but her lover still looks as if he (greatly) enjoys himself, and she can indeed kiss her father with lips that just sucked a dick.

Celia: What else can any girl possibly want?

It’s when he pulls her up after he finishes and kisses her throughly (that lack of cum is good for many reasons, it turns out) that she finally asks the question she’s been wondering since they’d gotten back together:

“Are we exclusive?”

GM: Roderick picks her up and carries her to her closet so she can pick out clothes.

“I’d like us to be, yeah.”

Celia: She had expected as much.

Celia opens the closet door, revealing a veritable treasure trove of clothing and accessories. It’s no wonder she demanded her own closet earlier: there’s literally no room for anything but her in here. It must have served some other function and been turned into a walk-in, because the space itself measures half the size of the front room. Clothes, shoes, bags, and other assorted accessories cover every square inch of it, neatly arranged by… well, by some sort of system that only she seems to understand. Dresses hang from the bars that have been installed on every wall, with racks of shoes beneath them. Countless pairs of heels, flats, and boots wait for her to step into them. Above the dresses shelves have been built into the walls to hold her collection of handbags and hats, and the scarves that dangle from hooks look more like decor than fashion. Soft, shimmery, glittery. A custom-built “island” has drawers that pull out to reveal undergarments ranging from barely-there strappy little numbers to a more conservative cheeky panty. Thigh-highs, fishnets, stockings, and socks sit pretty in another. The last reveals a tray of various pieces of jewelry nestled in velvet, half of which were gifted to her by Pietro; the thief had once said that she looks her best when he drapes her in diamonds, pearls, and emeralds. “Just jewels and skin.”

She directs him toward a section in the back corner where a smaller selection of more modest clothing hangs, separated from the rest by a large white garment bag.

A pair of eyes peer out at Celia from behind a handbag on the top shelf as Roderick sets her down. Blossom has always loved spending time in here. Celia gives the doll a fond smile, arching a delicate eyebrow at her as if to ask if she’s getting up to something she shouldn’t be. She’s been quite taken with a certain somebody since their introduction… and, yes, there, a flash of brown hair. Delighted, Celia winks at the doll.

“Are you going to start fights with everyone who looks at me sideways?” she asks idly of Roderick, thumbing through the hangers.

GM: “Jesus, this is a lot of clothes. And you have even more at your other haven?” he remarks as he carries her over.

Blossom smiles back at her mother.

“He didn’t just look. He touched you.”

Celia: “I like clothes,” Celia says with a shrug. She turns her eyes away from the doll, letting her keep her secrets for now.

“And yes, I’m aware he touched me. You were going to come to blows over it.” There’s no question there; she knows exactly what his plan was.

GM: “I like how good you look in them, too. Just surprised you have so many.”

“And yeah. I was gonna challenge him to a duel.”

Celia: “I assumed. I’m flattered. But you know that’s what they do, right?” She turns to face him, clothing forgotten for the moment. “They touch me. That’s how they see me, as a pretty, vapid slut they get to touch.”

GM: “You’re not vapid or a slut, and I’ll punch out anyone who treats you like you are.”

Celia: He’d almost called her stupid the other night. But she doesn’t point it out.

“It’s just a mask, Roderick.”

GM: “You don’t need to wear that mask.”

Celia: “Are you planning on declaring your love for me to the whole city?”

GM: “If you wanted to join the Anarchs, we could. Some licks would try to take advantage, but would it be so bad?”

Celia: “I will not support Vidal. Ever.”

GM: “I didn’t say Vidal. I said the Anarchs.”

Celia: “The Anarchs support Vidal. Coco and Opal support Vidal.”

GM: “They might, but plenty Anarchs have about as much to do with the prince as you do.”

Celia: “I will not even nominally throw in with someone who would support the massacre of people like your sister, or let monsters like the sheriff roam the streets and mete out his version of ‘justice.’”

GM: Roderick effects a sigh. “I have an answer to that, but maybe it’s better we just not get into politics.”

Celia: “Frankly I’d be surprised if whoever takes over for him even lets the Anarchs keep what they have.”

Celia closes her mouth.

GM: “Their mistake. Whoever takes over is going to be a weaker prince, and even Vidal wouldn’t want to deal with the fallout of that.”

“But I’m already breaking my word.”

“Speaking of Dani. I want to see her.”

“Could you bring her here? I know you’re concerned about this place’s security, so you could just leave her phone behind, take her in the trunk, and blindfold her on the way in and out.”

Celia: “They’re watching her. I told you that.”

GM: Roderick effects another sigh. “You did. And you’re right. They’d just watch you do it.”

“Wishful thinking.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I know you want to see her.”

“Maybe I can… ask him.”

GM: Roderick’s arms tense under Celia.

Celia: “I’ll just offer a favor or… or something.”

GM: He shakes his head. “You don’t need to do that. Get in any deeper with him. I’ll get to see Dani.”

Celia: “I’d do it for you. To make you happy. I’d do that.”

GM: “I’ll get to see her,” he repeats. “We do need an extract plan, to get her out of the city. I’ve already been working on that. Part of what I’m going to take care of tonight.”

Celia: “With Ayame?”

GM: “This is on my end. She promised transport out of the city, not moving a thin-blood out of the Quarter unseen.”

Celia: “…are you going to break into the Quarter to get her out?”

GM: He presses his lips together. “It’s a bigger security risk if you know the details.”

“But I trust you, if you want to know.”

Celia: She looks as if he’d slapped her. Just for a moment, until the rest of it follows.

GM: “…I just said I trust you.”

Celia: “Considering I’m the one that’s going to take the heat for this, yeah, Roderick, I’d like to know.”

GM: “Okay. I’m going to get her out during the day.”

“I’ve talked to some duskborn. They still burn in the sun, but not as bad as us.”

Celia: “Dani said she doesn’t burn. She said she just gets tired.”

GM: He blinks. “What?”

Celia: “I asked. She said she tested it.”

GM: “You’re positive? How comprehensively did she test it?”

Celia: “She said she read about it in Dracula. That he doesn’t burn, just loses his powers.”

GM: “Sure. But that’s fiction.”

Celia: “Right, which is what I told her.”

“Are you going to let her finish the semester, at least? So she has a chance to transfer?”

“I had to drop everything. It… sucked.”

GM: He shakes his head. “It’ll suck less than the alternative. She has forever. She can take as long as she wants to finish school, if she still wants to.”

Celia: “But you still burn in the sun, so I don’t imagine that you’ll be the one retrieving her. You trust your ghouls with this?”

GM: “Almost. Mine, and an independent I’m hiring who’s good at shadow dancing. To hide them on their way in and out.”

“You’re positive Dani can’t burn in the sun? That would make things easier.”

Celia: “I’ll double check. The whole thin-blood thing is… weird? Fascinating?”


GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Who even knows what the rules are with them.”

Celia: “She wants to know why people don’t like her kind. I didn’t know what to say.”

GM: “Hatred of the other. Fear. Jealousy. Disgust. Scripture. Lot of reasons.”

Celia: “That’s kind of what we discussed. It just felt thin.”

GM: “All reasons for genocide are thin. Everything about unreasoning hatred is thin.”

Roderick effects another sigh.

“I really wish I could’ve been there for her, last night.”

“But I know she was in good hands with you.”

Celia: “It was fine. She was… happy to see me, actually.”

“She wants me to talk to your dad.”

GM: He smiles. “Good. I’d been worried she’d be angry at you, over…”


Celia: “Yeah. About how you helped my family. About how you’re a good person.”

GM: Roderick’s face grows still, and a moment passes before he replies, “I think… I think he’d really like that.”

Celia: “Does he know… what happened with us?”

“It’s one thing to explain to Dani, but your dad…”

GM: “Yeah. He knew.” Roderick’s words are slow. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t just keep it to myself.”

Celia: Celia rubs a hand across her face.

GM: “I wish he didn’t think I was dead,” her lover says heavily.

“I think that was the worst decision I made in my Requiem, in a lot of ways.”

Celia: “I had this thought to invite him to dinner at my mom’s house. Introduce them. Let him see how you helped my family. Bring Dani. Sneak you in, somehow.”

GM: He gives a sad smile. “That’s really sweet. You should.”

“I’d like to see him again, even if… even if he can’t know it’s me.”

Celia: “Hello Mr. Garrison, this is my boyfriend Roderick that I definitely didn’t cheat on your son with.”

GM: Roderick starts crying. Celia’s fangs lengthen in her mouth at the coppery tang.

“He was just… the best dad, Celia… I did this to him… so I could… throw body parts off boats… like a mobster…”

Celia: Her heart breaks for him. She pulls him into her arms, holding him tight while he lets it out.

GM: “I haven’t even gotten around… to the Mafia…”

“I wish I could… take it back… I shouldn’t have, have let him think I was…”

Celia: “I sent flowers. To your funeral. I didn’t show up as me because… I didn’t want to hurt them, seeing me, with you gone, I didn’t think you’d want that, but… when Dani goes, I can… I can be there, maybe, do you think..?”

Otherwise he’ll be all alone.

Burying another child.

No more little Garrisons to carry on the family line.

No more Mafia behind bars.

GM: “I… I guess it couldn’t hurt…” Roderick wipes his eyes. “He doesn’t have to think Dani’s dead, just moving away…”

Celia: “She can never come back, Roderick. Once she’s gone.”

“She’ll never see him. No holidays, no birthdays…”

GM: “He doesn’t have to think she’s dead.

“He could… come see her, maybe…?”

Celia: “She was crying last night. Like you are. At the thought of leaving him behind. About how she’d wanted to… to do so much to make him proud, and how now she can’t even have kids to carry on, and…”

GM: “Yeah,” he says bleakly. “It sucks.”

“I… I accepted this, but it was for a reason. A chance to do more good.”

Celia: But he hasn’t.

GM: “Dani was just… there wasn’t even any reason.”

“She shouldn’t exist, like this. The thin-blooded shouldn’t exist.”

Celia: “I thought you were an ally.”

How can he say that?

About his own sister?

And if he thinks that, what about the strangers in Houston?

Surely he’s considered that.

GM: “I am. Genocide is wrong in any form. But if the thin-blooded just weren’t a thing, and all thin-bloods were still breathers? They’d be better off.”

“Dani sure would be.”

“Our dad sure would be.”

Celia: Maybe Coco knew exactly what she was doing when she’d taken him.

Kept him busy with all those projects of hers.

Maybe that rumor about Carolla is more correct than he knows.

Maybe she’d arranged for Dani’s Embrace.

Half-Embrace? What do you call the partial transformation of a half-vampire?

“Don’t take her away from him, Roderick.” The words come out as a whisper. She touches a hand to his cheek, lifting his gaze towards her. “Everything she told me last night… they need each other.” She wipes at his tears with her fingers. “Losing you almost killed him. He shouldn’t have to bury another child, and that’s exactly what he’ll be doing. He’s busy. He won’t make the trip out to Houston. And how will Dani feel then? She already thinks he doesn’t love her.”

Her voice catches, threatening to break. She’d seen the pain in his sister last night.

“You can’t undo what happened to her, but you don’t have to take her away from everything she knows, everyone she knows and loves. She should have been my sister, too.”

GM: Roderick sighs wearily.

Still 22 years old, but he looks every bit past 30.

He looks down.

He’s silent for a moment.

“Let… let me see them, Celia. Dani, here. Her, my dad, at dinner.”

“I should talk to my sister. She’s the one who’s… who’s been in my dad’s life. I should hear what she wants to do. How she even feels, about Hoston.”

“But… you don’t have to stick yourself on a cross, for me. I’ll owe him. Not you. Tell him that. He’ll have his marker, to call in.”

The words sound like he’s had to pry them out of his mouth.

But above all, they sound tired.

Celia: Celia pulls him in. She rests her cheek against his chest, offering him what comfort she can with her physical body. She loves him. And she wants him to be on the right side. And that’s how she justifies what she’s doing to herself: that it’s for him. For the greater good. For Dani and all the licks like her who shouldn’t be put down for what they are. Because Vidal is a tyrant and Savoy should be in charge and when the prince takes his dirt nap Roderick will be safe.

“I’ll make it happen,” she tells him, “and I’ll keep her safe. I promise.”

GM: He holds her back for a while. He doesn’t say anything. Just holds her close against his body, face in her hair as he breathes in her familiar scent.

“Okay,” he says at length.


Celia: She loves him. She tells him that, after a long moment, that she loves him.

And she repeats it to herself. That she loves him. That she’s doing the right thing. That it’s for his good. Dani’s good. Henry’s good. The city’s good.

Still, she feels like the monster everyone says she is.

Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: It’s not quite the same after that, getting ready with him. Roderick is quieter after his concession and Celia gives him his space. She selects her clothing with little fanfare, packs a bag with the extra outfits she plans for Savoy’s Elysia and the rest of her meetings, and throws her makeup kit into the bag atop the gently placed dress. She has a lot to do tonight and doesn’t want to waste time coming back here to change. It doesn’t take long to do her face: natural makeup with just a hint of color on her lips and cheeks, mascara, brows filled in. Any man looking at her would assume she isn’t wearing anything at all.

She gives Roderick a final kiss goodbye at the door, long and lingering, and tells him that she’ll see him soon. Then it’s a quick drive to GW Fins to meet her dad.

She’d made the reservation under his name—she had wanted to make sure they’d get a good table without a wait—and gives that name to the maitre’d.

The dress she’d chosen for the event is sure to please her dad. It’s the same sort of thing she’d wear with Elyse: a long, flowing skirt that almost reaches her ankles and a sleeveless blouse. Even in March New Orleans can get warm, but she has a white sweater just in case the weather changes. Not that she’ll notice, dead as she is. A golden belt adorns her waist. It matches her golden shoes with little flowers on the toes. Dark pink skirt, lighter pink top. Cute, feminine, but modest enough to not cause any sort of insult to the state senator. Not even a man like Maxen.

She tells herself that she’s not nervous. That meeting her dad isn’t any worse than meeting anyone else in her unlife. That her sire is loads scarier than her dad.

But maybe that’s what she’s worried about. That her sire will find out about this meeting and demand to know what she’s doing with his toy. His words from years ago play through her mind now: I won’t be lenient a second time.

Maybe that’s what she’s counting on. That he’ll come to her and demand answers. Negative attention is still attention, isn’t it?

Pathetic, some part of her whispers. The Maxen part, she’s sure. She’s been hearing his voice a lot lately. Seven years of silence thrown away by one dinner, one meeting.

She follows the man to the reserved table to wait for her father.

Even with the sex, the blowjob, and the talk Celia, has arrived in plenty of time to not be late. In fact, she notices, she’s a few minutes early.

She uses that time to send out a series of texts:

To Rusty, to confirm the time of their appointment.

To Alana, to tell her to meet her at the spa at the same time.

To Dani, asking her the same thing. She gives the address of the spa and the approximate time.

Briefly, she checks her Insta page to like and respond to comments from her most recent posting. Someone from Pat McGrath’s team had seen her prior work and sent her a whole PR kit for their new release. Not just the little samples everyone else got, either, but whopping full sized products, foundation in every shade, and a collection of lip and lid colors that would put a Lisa Frank fan into a happy color coma. She’s been experimenting with the products these last few nights and finally added the photos to her update queue. The first of them had gone out earlier today while she slept.

GM: The maitre’d recognizes the reserved Flores name and smiles how “my daughter follows your MeVid channel, ma’am,” as he shows Celia to her table.

Rusty responds promptly to confirm the time.

Alana does the same.

Celia also has some texts from her ghoul that arrived while she was driving. They’re to say that Clementine got back about a time her domitor could see Celia. Which turns out to be at the Evergreen, anyways.

Dani also replies immediately that she’ll be there.

The promptness is a refreshing change of pace from dealing with elders.

Celia’s Instagram page is full of responses as ever:

Love you Celia!!!

Four hearts faces.

So pretty


Gorgeous. Two hearts.

:) :) :) :)

You are stunning… Heart.


CELIA! You this look plus your HAIR!

So pretty!!! That lip!

Beautiful & great tune

Celia: It’s the sort of pick-me-up that she needs before a meeting with her father: running into someone whose daughter watches her videos, prompt responses from both of her ghouls plus Dani, and the influx of love and admiration from her online followers. She lets the maitre’d know that she’s happy his daughter his a fan and tells her to send her love to his girl, hearts a bunch of the comments and responds to a few others, and otherwise uses the time to mentally prepare for this dinner.

She’s glad that the new software is working out, anyway. She’d had Alana do the updates by hand during the day for a long time, but since she found it she’s been able to do a months worth of content in one night—thank you, super speed—and schedule the posts to normal “daytime” hours, which further cements the ruse that she’s nothing but human and frees up the rest of her month to pursue other things. Alana isn’t much of an editor, but Landen knows their way around a computer and has been happy to work on the MeVid videos for extra pay, so that’s worked out quite nicely for her.

All she has to do is smile and look pretty.

And do the makeup, of course.

The surprising bit is how well Madison knows her way around social media; she’s been a godsend in hashtags and marketing trends for all that she’s pushing seventy.

GM: Emily had remarked on that once. “Older people aren’t fossils. Some of them get really into social media. Some just never pick it up, but I think more because it’s outside what they’re used to and they just don’t have the interest, more than that they actually can’t.”

Case in point, Celia’s mother hasn’t touched Instagram, but she’s all over Facemash.

One of the comments on Celia’s Instagram (Gorgeous! :)) is from Dani. There’s also a Facemash friend request from her.

Celia: Unlike her Instagram, her Facemash page itself is mostly private. Friends, family, people in the industry. She’s got a public page for herself as well, but she has no problem accepting Dani’s friend request once it comes in on her personal page instead of relegating her to following the more public fan profile.

GM: Dani is following that too. As well as Celia’s Twitter.

Celia: That’s normal, right?

They’re friends.

Maybe Dani can work at the spa until they figure things out.

That’s not weird. Especially if the ideas rolling around in her head pan out.

Not that she can imagine Dani being happy at the spa, or expects the younger girl to want to “settle” for something like that. She doesn’t have the passion for it. It’s different with Celia. She’s loved that sort of work since she was a child. And she has skills to enhance her trade. Regardless of what her clan may think, she doesn’t just play with face paint all day. She sculpts bodies, too; she just doesn’t tell them that because then there’d be no end to the requests:

Remember that time I was nice to you in Elysium, Jade?

Remember when I told you that choice bit of gossip first?

Remember how we hunted together that one time and then we fucked and that definitely makes us best friends even though you haven’t had much to do with me since?

And still they’d find a reason to scorn her for something.

There’d been a few veiled comments once about her place in the Guild of Hephaestus, as if it’s somehow lesser than live performance like dance or song to turn something functional into something beautiful. Pearl hadn’t chimed in, and Adelais had just given Jade a haughty look, which she supposes she should be thankful for since they both knew what it meant. At least no one calls her a poseur.

Pity she’d given that gift to Donovan before she’d had a chance to show it off. She supposes his comment of “satisfactory” had been enough. Then again, she doubts that anyone else would have appreciated the lethal, utilitarian purpose of them. They’d have asked where the ornamentation was: the roses or scales or marbling or ridges or something that sets them apart from any other pair of black bracers. But he knows, and she knows: they suit him just fine. They’re exactly what he needs.

Maybe, she thinks, for her Journeyman’s piece she can restore Pearl to her formerly vibrant self instead of the dusty relic she’s become.

Though perhaps that’s more Master level.

No, no. Taking all the excess body off of Beaumont is Master level.

She’ll have to tell that to Veronica later.

Maybe not. Fat jokes are just low hanging fruit with Beaumont.

…like her tits.

GM: It feels normal enough. She follows her other friends’ social media.

Not that she has many breather friends anymore.

So maybe it feels more like it should be normal than is normal.

Veronica had said she should be thankful to be in Hephaestus, anyway. Makeup was an atypical art form for their clan. She’d seemed disappointed her childe hadn’t pushed harder for Aphrodite, though.

Well, more like faintly sneering.

But she could’ve done worse than to wind up with Pietro.

Celia: Hephaestus has cooler parties, but Jade never told her that.

They’re a guild secret.

GM: “You know what they say about millennials and their phones,” chuckles a male voice.

Celia: Celia ceases her ruminations about the infighting and backstabbing of her clan and presses the side button on her phone. Her own reflection winks up at her from the suddenly black surface. She lifts her gaze.

GM: It’s her dad.

He looks good, after the better part of a decade. There’s a few more wrinkles on his face, but not too many. He’s taken good care of his skin, the esthetician notes. His physique is as thick and tapered as over. He doesn’t look like he’s given up the martial arts. His head, perhaps unsurprisingly, is still bald. It makes him look well-preserved. There can’t be more gray in his hair when he has no hair. He’s dressed down from his usual politician’s uniform in a gray blazer, black pants, and light blue button-up with no tie, though he still has an American flag pin on the jacket lapel.

“You beat me here,” he smiles. “I’d thought I was going to be the early one.”

He holds out his arms for a hug.

Celia: For half a second all she can do is stare at the man that used to be her father.

Seven years. Almost seven years. Except that one night, but she doesn’t count that. She hadn’t been herself. Here he stands like… like the years had never passed.

She’s a little kid again getting off the bus from school with her Barbie backpack slung over her shoulders and there he stands, arms open for a hug.

Celia clears the thoughts with a blink. She rises, phone sliding neatly into her purse in a smooth, practiced motion, and steps toward him. Even in heels he’s taller, bigger.

She’s a little kid again and he’s the giant that used to tuck her in and read Goodnight, Moon.

She steps into his embrace and it all comes flooding back.

“Hi, Daddy.”

GM: His arms encircle her and hold her close. Maybe Stephen is stronger, but her dad is bigger, and definitely has more muscle. Celia breathes in the scent of his aftershave. It’s a new one, which the spa owner thinks she recognizes. Invictus, which debuted in 2013. (The name was a hoot.) It opens with fresh grapefruit and a marine accord that lead to the heart of aromatic bay leaf and Hedione jasmine and a woody base of guaiac wood, patchouli, oak moss and ambergris.

“Hi, sweetie. It’s good to see you,” he murmurs.

Celia: Almost thirty years old, seven of them spent as a member of the Damned, and something as simple as her father saying it’s good to see her threatens to buckle her knees.

She breathes him in. She doesn’t mean to. It’s the esthetician in her. She recognizes the scent, just not on him. What had he used to wear? Something with anise. She’s hated it since. She even avoids the kine who drink jager because of it.

“You too, Dad.”

How long is too long to hug her estranged father? How short is too short? Why are there no etiquette guides to this sort of thing? She lets him pull back first, and when he does she smiles up at him.

“How have you been? How’s… everything?”

GM: Her dad takes care of it. Like he took care of everything. It’s a long embrace, appropriate for a father who hasn’t seen his daughter in many years, but appropriate for a public space too.

“That’s a long answer,” her dad smiles. “But if you’ll humor your old man and let him be a gentleman first?”

Her chair is mostly pulled out already. But he scoots it out a little more.

Celia: “Of course.” She answers his smile with one of her own, taking the offered seat and letting him push the chair in for her. She tucks her legs beneath the seat, one ankle crossed over the other. Like a lady. “Thank you.”

GM: “It’s my pleasure, Celia. It truly is.”

He takes his own seat. The waitress is already there for them with menus.

Maxen thanks her as she pours their waters, but sets down the menu after she leaves.

“You look lovely this evening. I like how the shoes match our name.”

Celia: Celia barely glances at the menu before she follows his lead, setting it down on the table in front of her to gaze across at him. She laughs at the comment on her shoes.

“Thanks, Dad. Florals are big this year.” Her eyes scan his frame, his face, the outfit. “You look good. Still doing Crossfit?”

GM: “Oh, yes. I’d like to participate in some larger events, but work doesn’t leave me with much time. Especially now.”

He smiles again. “I think flowers will always be big, though. There’s a flower shop in the Quarter run by a girl who shares our name. Bloom Couture. Have you ever been?”

Celia: “Dahlia Rose?” Her eyes light up at the mention of the store. “I have. I love her work. First time I went in she told me that I was the second Flores to visit that week; apparently someone from your office hired her for an event? The atmosphere is just… amazing in there. The whole feel of the place, like walking through a rain forest or a beautiful, vibrant garden.”

She wants to take Roderick there on a date.

“Election keeping you busy?”

GM: “Oh, yes. We’ve hired her for several. You can’t ever go wrong with flowers, especially with a last name like Flores.”

“And it certainly is. But it’s not polite of me to talk politics over dinner, even if politics are work. Let’s talk about you. You’d said you were opening a second location for Flawless?”

Celia: She’s happy to let the matter of politics rest. She doesn’t want anyone to think she’s meddling where she shouldn’t be.

“I am, yes. We’re still in the process of scouting locations and speaking with contractors and landlords, getting through all the red tape. There’s a beautiful place in Riverbend that just went up for lease, but I’m not sure if I can make it work with the man who owns the property, so that might not take off.”

She hasn’t even bothered to ask him. She’s pretty sure the answer will be “no.” Same with what she’d found in Uptown and Lakeview. The dream of a second location might die before it ever gets off the ground.

GM: Her dad smiles knowingly. “I’m still in real estate. That red tape is familiar.”

Celia: “How do you find the time?” she laughs.

GM: “Oh, mostly, I don’t. Our state’s technically a hybrid legislature, but at least for me, this is still a full-time job. Other people run most of the business’ day-to-day things. But I still carve out time to check in and make the bigger decisions.”

“A PA can be very valuable, there. Do you have one?”

Celia: “I’m in the process of moving my staff around to accommodate for one. I’m speaking with her about it tonight, actually.”

GM: “Smart. With two locations you’ll increasingly need to delegate and schedule your time. Though I’m sure that idea isn’t news to you.”

“What’s the issue with the man who owns the property you want?”

Celia: He killed me.

“He seems inflexible about making a few modifications that I’d need to make the most of the location. And the rent. It’s manageable, especially considering the locale and the additional revenue I’d bring in, but I’ve dealt with his kind before and it might be more of a hassle than it’s worth to get into a long term contract with someone like him.”

It isn’t lost on her that this is the first time her father has said “smart” in reference to her since… well, too long ago. Or had he ever?

“I’m sure I’ll find something suitable, though.”

GM: “If you don’t, or if your heart’s set on this location, let me know. A few phone calls to the right people can change a lot of minds.”

Celia: “I’ll keep that in mind, Dad. Thanks.” She smiles at him, though she doesn’t think it’s the sort of offer she can ever cash in on. Still, she’s surprisingly touched by the gesture. “How’s your arm?”

GM: He smiles back. “It’d be my pleasure. One business owner to another.”

“The arm is good, thank you for asking. I’m already back to lifting weights with it.”

Celia: “Oh, good. I’m glad there weren’t any lasting issues. Just a scratch then?”

GM: “Deeper than a scratch. But we’ve got good genes. We heal up fast.”

Celia: Is that all it is?

“We definitely bounce back.”

GM: “That’s what resilience is. Everyone gets knocked down at some point. It’s bouncing back that counts.”

“Are you two ready to order, or could you use a little more time, still?” smiles the pair’s waitress.

They’ve had menus available for a little while.

Celia: “Oh! Hm…” Celia glances down at the menu, then her father. “I’m ready, if you are?”

GM: “I’ll take the Lobster Dumplings to start off, and the Scottish Salmon for the entrée, please,” says Celia’s father.

Celia: “Mmm, lobster dumplings sound good. Just the Yellowfin Tuna for me, please.” Celia smiles up at the waitress, handing over the menu. “Thank you.”

Celia declines the offered wine pairing—no reason to force that down as well, not when bringing it back up makes it twice as vile—and looks back to her father as the waitress moves away.

“Lucy was quite taken with you. She said you have good taste in toys.” She can’t help the half-laugh that accompanies the words.

GM: Celia’s father declines anything to drink as well. “Just water, please.”

He smiles at the mention of Lucy. “She’s a hard child not to be taken with. You’ve done splendidly with her, Celia.”

Celia: “Ah, well,” color rises to her cheeks at the compliment, “Mom helped a lot.”

“Especially those early years while I was getting the business off the ground. She’s been a blessing.”

She watches his face, searching for any sign of… anything. Guilt. Regret. Anger.

She doesn’t know what she’s looking for after all these years. If he even remembers what he did to his ex-wife. Or if that, too, was wiped from his mind.

She’s never been able to get the screaming out of her head.

GM: Maxen smiles back. “I’m sure she has. That’s what grandmothers are there to do. I’m sure it’s made her very happy.”

Celia: “It has.”

“We were all pretty surprised to see you.”

There’s a question there, a lifting of her brows.

GM: “We all have Logan to thank for that. He’s been pushing me to reconnect.”

“You and your mom too, by the sound of things.”

Celia: “Is that… something you want?”

GM: “I think what I want may be the less important factor here.”

Celia: A wry smile meets his words. “That doesn’t sound like the Senator Flores I know.”

GM: “I’m glad it doesn’t.”

Celia: “Is it, though?”

GM: The appetizer arrives. The lobsters are completely encased in their doughy gyoza covering, which is lathered in a mousseline consisting of cream, olive oil, egg, mustard, and lobster roe (eggs). Some diced green onions add a touch of color to the affair.

Maxen thanks the waitress as she refills his water, but pauses to answer Celia’s question until she’s left.

“Celia, there are three very important things I want to tell you tonight.”

“I said it was rude of me to talk about politics over the dinner table, so I’ll preemptively apologize for this.”

“I’m going to be governor.”

“I don’t know how closely you follow politics these days, but the GOP established a trifecta government back in 2010. That means we control the governor’s mansion and have majorities in both legislative chambers. We’ve retained our hold over the state legislature. But Pavaghi, thanks to his corruption, lost us the governor’s mansion in 2012 to Bill Roberts.”

“We plan to take it back next year. I’m going to run, and I’m going to beat him. I’ve beat him in an election once already, and the thinking among the party is that I’ll beat him again.”

“Kelly and Malveaux are both behind me. There’s already behind the scenes work going on to keep other candidates out of the primary. We want to deliver a knockout blow, without the need for a general election, if we can help it.” He smiles. “If you aren’t familiar, Louisiana elections have a jungle primary system, where any number of candidates from any party can compete. Any candidate who wins more than 50% of the vote becomes governor. Otherwise, the top two candidates proceed to a general election.”

“This fact isn’t widely remembered, but governors don’t have term limits.”

“It isn’t, thanks to public outcry over Pavaghi’s corruption, government mishandling of Katrina, and the decades-long realignment of our state from Democratic to Republican. All of those factors have sent governors from both parties prematurely out of office.”

“It’s been a while since we had a ‘for life’ governor. Who served until he died.”

“Louisiana’s political realignment was effectively completed in 2010. The state is now solid red. It’s only thanks to Pavaghi’s naked corruption that the party lost the governor’s mansion, and we don’t intend to bungle things twice.”

“I intend to be the GOP governor of a GOP state, and I intend to serve for life, unless I should seek and obtain higher office.”

“I also intend to pass the governor’s mansion, and a U.S. Senate seat—not a state senate seat—to David and Logan. We will establish a political dynasty to match the Kellys and Malveauxes.”

“There are many opportunities available to ‘for life’ governors. Exponentially more than there are to single- or duo-term ones. I expect our family to become very wealthy.”

“I intend to rule as king of this state, and to make princes of my sons. We will shepherd Louisiana into a new and brighter age, free of the corruption and mismanagement and failures of its past.”

He pauses, seemingly to give Celia a chance to process and reply.

Celia: Times like these remind Celia why the kine so often have working lunches or dinner meetings. It allows them to stuff their face with food or drink while they process what the other person says, negating any awkward silences. It gives them something to do other than twiddle their thumbs while their estranged father lays out his political plans.

Seven years as a lick and her adept ability to pass herself off as one of them has given her other means to convey her interest and attention: little gestures here, fond smiles there, and a whole host of eye movements impart her introspection. Another mask, just the human kind this time.

Governor. For life. And higher yet, if his plan bears any fruit. Moving up in the political sphere. Donovan must be pleased.

Already the wheels turn.

“That’s wonderful, Daddy.” She reaches for his hand across the table. “I’m so proud of you. Is that silly, a daughter being proud of her daddy? But I am.”

“Say, if Logan and David are going to be princes, does that make me a princess?” She flashes a teasing smile his way.

GM: “You’ve always been my princess, Celia,” her dad smiles as he squeezes her hand. “But this will make you princess to a lot more people.”

Celia: Has she? She seems to recall things getting pretty bad after he’d started dancing to Donovan’s tune.

“I’ll have a tiara made,” she says with a laugh, “maybe a flower crown from Dahlia Rose.”

GM: “Princess Flores could do a lot worse than a floral crown,” he chuckles back.

Celia: “But that’s one, I assume? You said three.” Her brows lift.

GM: “Yes, and the least important. But give me a moment to finish these dumplings, first. Feel free to help yourself.”

He takes a bite from one. “That isn’t silly for a child to be proud of their parents, either. That’s how things should be.”

Celia: How is becoming governor the least important? She doesn’t ask. He’ll tell her in time. There isn’t really a polite way to lean all the way across the table to try his lobster—and it would be wasted on her, anyway—so Celia lifts the glass of water to her lips but sets it down when he addresses her without taking a sip.

“You’re right, of course. Pride can go both ways. I admit I was a little young when you were first getting started, but there’ve been some people who ask, ‘are you related to the senator?’ and it tickles me pink every time they talk about how you won your seat so young and the things you’ve done for the state.”

GM: Her father moves the dish across the table.

“I’m pretty sure I get asked if I’m related to ‘the’ Celia more often than you get asked if you’re related to ‘the’ senator, these days,” her fathers chuckles. “State senators aren’t well-known figures to the public at large, usually, and party leadership positions are even more obscure. Even most casual political junkies can’t name the leadership in their state senate. But I’d be hard-pressed to name any of my female staffers who don’t also know your name.”

Celia: Ah, well, if he’s going to push it at her. She thanks him with a smile and helps herself to one of his dumplings, giving her Beast a mental nudge to let it know what’s about to slide down her gullet.

She keeps thinking about building a second esophagus for herself that leads into a pouch she can empty out, kind of like changing a vacuum cleaner bag, but she hasn’t done it yet. Tonight, maybe. She still has materials at the spa she can work with. And she’d wanted to experiment with her eyes as well…

“I went to see Logan the other day and I was mobbed by his classmates,” Celia confesses with a grin. “I had to borrow one of his hoodies to sneak out. And… not to count my chickens before they’re hatched or anything, but you might be hearin’ a bit more of that in a year or two.”

She bites into the dumpling.

It’s like eating raw sewage all over again.

GM: The texture is different from the slop her mom served her, but that’s it. It all tastes equally like shit.

Her mom will probably be thrilled, though, if she can eat more.

“That will make me very pleased to hear, Celia. I hope my name being more known will also help spread yours.”

Celia: She wants to tell him. About L.A., getting into acting, maybe breaking into the movie industry. She wants to tell him so they can share this moment together, because she can’t tell her mom. Diana will be upset that Celia has been in contact with Ron.

But she remembers what he told her once, that he would never let her go to a cesspool like Hollywood.

She swallows the dumpling.

She wants a dad. The thought hits her as she sits across from him, that she was robbed of having a father in her life. Maxen isn’t her father. Literally. And Ron doesn’t want to be her father. Donovan certainly hasn’t been very paternal. She has her grandsire, sure, but that’s different. As much as she wants him to like her for her, as much as she wants him to be proud of Pher, she still thinks he just sees her as a pawn. And that’s his right, old as he is, but it still… rankles. She wants him to be pleased with her. And maybe he will be tonight, after she tells him everything she’s done, but even then… isn’t that just another form of making herself useful to him? What about her?

She’d rolled her eyes when Roderick had said that Lucy could use a paternal figure, but maybe… maybe he’s right. Maybe girls need their dads.

She wants what Roderick had. What he still has, with his sire.

The food sits in her stomach like a piece of lead.

Her Beast, thoroughly warned, doesn’t even protest.

Maybe Roderick’s blood had sated it enough that this paltry mortal fare doesn’t even bother it.

Small blessings and all that.

“I imagine it will. Like how the Malveauxs have all sorts of doors opened for them because of their name. Maybe you could put in an appearance on my channel. ‘The governor does my makeup.’”

She’s only teasing, though. She can’t imagine her father would say yes to that.

GM: Her father smiles back. “It’s funny you should say that, Celia, if you’ll humor your old man with a story.”

“The 1960 Kennedy vs. Nixon debates is one of the most famous presidential debates of all time, because it heralded the transition of old media to new media. It was the first televised presidential debate. If you asked most people who was going to win, they’d have probably said Nixon. He had experience in TV debates, and had used a 1952 televised address to debunk slush fund allegations, and to secure his spot as Ike’s running mate by talking about his pet dog, Checkers. Nixon had also bested Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the famous Kitchen Debate, also televised. But he still lost to Kennedy, and that might have decided the election. The 1960 election was an extremely close thing.”

“And you know why Nixon lost? Makeup.”

Celia: “He lost because of makeup?”

GM: “He definitely lost the debate because of makeup. In the aftermath of that debate, Nixon’s running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, had a few choice words for the GOP presidential candidate. ‘That son-of-a-bitch just lost us the election.’”

“Here’s why he lost.”

“When Nixon arrived for the debate, he looked ill, having been recently hospitalized because of a knee injury. The vice president then re-injured his knee as he entered the TV station, and refused to call off the debate.”

“Nixon also refused to wear stage makeup, even when people at the studio offered it. Kennedy also turned down their offer. But only because he had spent weeks tanning on the campaign trail, and had his own team do his makeup just before the cameras went live. The result was that Kennedy looked and sounded good on television, while Nixon looked pale and tired, with a five o’clock shadow beard. He was thin, sweaty, and beady-eyed next to his dashing young opponent. It’s a well-cited fact that listeners who heard the debate over radio thought that Nixon won. But viewers who watched the debate over TV thought that Kennedy won.”

Celia: Celia nods at the explanation.

“Appearances are pretty important to the world, even in politics. Something as simple as how someone smiles can influence our perception of them. We like to think that we’ve moved beyond that, and there are plenty of people who try to say it doesn’t matter, but the truth is that if you’re fit and attractive you have an easier time of things and people are more likely to listen to you, take you seriously, and even just hand things to you.”

GM: “I might even go so far as to say appearances are especially important in politics, which for good or ill, come significantly down to a candidate’s cultivated image. Their personal brand. That probably isn’t anything new to you at all.”

“It’s still debated by political scientists how decisive those debates were. Some people think it was other factors, like the last great gasp of Chicago’s political machine, that were chiefly responsible for Kennedy’s victory. There are obviously lots of factors that can swing an election. But Nixon apparently believed the debates were decisive. He refused to participate in any televised debates when he ran for president in 1968 and again in 1972. Debates only became an uninterrupted feature of presidential campaigns after Gerald Ford revived them in 1976.”

“Then in 1980, of course, one of the candidates was a former movie star. And makeup artists haven’t lacked for work with presidential candidates ever since.”

Celia: “One of my employees worked with Reagan.”

GM: “I bet she has a lot of stories. His campaign was a groundbreaker in so many ways.”

Celia: “Actually… I think she came out with him, because prior to that she’d done work in L.A.”

Had Madison changed politics somehow?

GM: “I’d be honored if she, and you, wanted to work with my campaign. Someone has to do my makeup for the TV debates, after all,” her father smiles.

Celia: “I’d really like that, Dad. That really means a lot to me.”

GM: “It means just as much to me. I’ll have someone contact your business before the debates start. The governor would probably do a bad job at doing your makeup, if he appeared on your channel, but someone good will need to do his. Perhaps you could put that up on your channel.”

Celia: “Well, the trend right now is having someone unusual do your makeup—a lot of girls use their boyfriends—and it’s supposed to come out pretty silly. But you don’t get anywhere by following the crowd.”

Which isn’t exactly true in the MeVid game, but she’ll live.

GM: “Silly makes sense as the objective. I can’t imagine the boyfriends would otherwise do very good jobs.”

Celia: “Mmm, no, there was one who ended up with eye shadow all across her forehead.”

GM: Maxen chuckles as the waitress arrives with the pair’s food.

Celia’s Yellowfin Tuna is seared rare with sticky rice, stir-fried vegetables, and sweet soy butter.

Celia: It certainly looks appealing, even though she won’t be able to taste anything.

GM: Her father’s order is wood grilled Scottish Salmon with butter bean succotash, sweet corn spoonbread, and roasted corn butter.

Maxen thanks the waitress as she sets down their food, refills their waters, and clears the empty appetizer dish.

Celia: Celia echoes his words, giving the girl a small smile before turning her eyes to her plate.

“This looks amazing.”

GM: The waitress smiles back at the pair and repeats to let them know if they need anything. She also follows Celia over social media.

“It does. I’d never have thought to try this place without you,” her dad remarks. “I’ve been to those other ones I brought up with you a thousand times.”

Celia: “I’m glad you humored me. I’ve heard so much about it but haven’t been yet. I hope it measures up.” She reaches for her fork. “Do you still have steak every Saturday? Well, except tonight.”

GM: “Oh yes. Get in that protein, which I’m still doing tonight.”

Celia: “Maybe next time we can meet at a steak house so you don’t have to eat two meals. Fish does have a lot of protein, though.”

GM: “Oh, I wasn’t clear, sweetie. This is my protein intake.” He smiles down at the food between a bite. “Fish is still meat, and let’s not forget the nuts too.”

Celia: She can’t help but laugh.

“I thought you meant you were going to go home and grill up a ribeye or something.”

GM: “Maybe if I were Logan,” he chuckles back.

“I’m pretty in shape for my age, but I definitely don’t have his appetite.”

Celia: Seven years ago he would have insulted her intelligence for the misunderstanding.

She smiles with him and takes a bite of the tuna.

Early on in her Requiem she’d thought that maybe she could get away with eating solid food like this as long as it was rare. Undercooked. Bloody. But it isn’t blood that touches her tongue now, and she’d been quickly disabused of that notion.

GM: It tastes like shit.

Celia: Yum.

Sometimes she wants to tell her mom the truth just so she doesn’t need to do this to herself anymore.

It wouldn’t help here, no, but at least part of her family would stop hounding her to stuff herself when she visits.

There’s nothing glamorous about bending over a porcelain bowl to heave the contents of her stomach back up later.

And regurgitated food tastes just as bad as it had when she’d forced herself to chew and swallow in the first place.

The gummy texture of masticated cuisine and sludge sliding back up her throat makes for the worst part for her Requiem.

She’s going to have to ask Dani later if she still enjoys food.

And if she throws it up later or if the rest of her body works.

Imagine being a vampire and still needing to take a shit, though.

“I think Mom got sticker shock the first time she went grocery shopping when Logan hit his growth spurt.”

“Emily and I used to have to hide the chocolate so he wouldn’t get into it.”

GM: As Roderick says, who even knows what the rules are with them.

Celia: Celia will.

She plans to find out.

GM: “That was good of you. Big boy like him should have plenty to eat, but chocolate’s an occasional treat.”

“I’ve heard about a man who runs a fitness gym, Fouled Anchor Fitness, who eats the same thing every day. Same meals. A balance of lean proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Doesn’t ever consume sweets or alcohol or deviate from his meal plan, even on Thanksgiving.”

“That’s discipline. I think he’s a military vet.”

Celia: “That’s admirable. I think a lot of people see food as a reward, sometimes. Culturally a lot of our celebrations are based around it, which certainly doesn’t help.”

GM: “It doesn’t. It takes a lot of dedication to resist eating a Thanksgiving meal.”

“It’s further than I go. Or that I think Logan needs to go. But I respect that man for doing so.”

Celia: Celia asks her dad if he’d like to try the tuna since they’re not dedicated to eating the same thing every day.

GM: He would, and offers her some salmon.

Celia: Only so long as it doesn’t throw off his macros.

It’s a strange feeling, sharing food with her father.

Maxen, she reminds herself. Not her father. Not in a long time.

After some moments of enjoying (or at least pretending to enjoy) their food, Celia eases the conversation back around to him and his news.

GM: “Celia,” he says slowly, “there are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to. They feel utterly inadequate. But they seem like the only place to start.”

“I’m sorry.”

Celia: Celia stares across the table at her father. This hadn’t been what she’d expected. Not at all. Not an apology, thrown out so openly.

I’m sorry.

It threatens to drown her.

How long since her last breath?

She takes one now. Deep. In through her nose. She can almost smell it then, the threat of the coppery tang that the words bring. She blinks down at her plate and snuffs the blossoming emotion before it can do more than knock at her heart. The smoky tendrils of it drift down into her gut to join the rest of the garbage she had just imbibed, filling her stomach with the same sort of poison.

She kills it before it has a chance to live.

“You’re sorry?” she finally repeats, voice soft.

GM: Celia’s father takes her hand and stares into her eyes like they’re the only objects left in all existence.

“I am sorry for the pain and hurt I have caused you, your mother, and all of our family. Emily included. Instead of nourishing you with love, I traumatized you with abuse. Instead of pampering my princess in her castle, I imprisoned her in a fortress. Instead of protecting you from the world’s dangers, I was the danger you needed protecting from. Instead of showing you tenderness and affection, I beat and humiliated you. Instead of recognizing your brilliance, I belittled you and said you were stupid. Instead of supporting you in your dreams, I said you were not good enough to achieve them. You are the success you now are not because of me, but despite me. I failed in my essential function as a man to provide for my family, on innumerable levels, but perhaps the greatest thing I failed to provide them with was my love. Instead of my love being a foundation to help you, your siblings, and your mother thrive and succeed, my abuse was a nemesis to overcome. That I did not ruin your lives completely is a testament to your own strength of character, and my actions are a shame I will carry with me for as long as I will ever live. I don’t know that it’s even possible to make right a wrong on the scale that I’ve committed towards you. But I pray to God that it’s possible to make some manner of restitution, however small.”

“Starting with the fact that I, am, sorry.”

Celia: Silence greets his words. Sharp, stunned silence. He has hold of her gaze just as solidly as the hand in his; she can’t look away.

For a moment, she can’t breathe. For a moment, her heart stops. For a moment, her thoughts still.

Aren’t they always? His voice in her head. Is it, though? Is it his voice, or is it her own? Is it the Bitch inside of her, the Beast’s steadfast companion?

“You’re sorry,” she says again, and it bubbles up inside of her, threatening to spill over into the air between them. Her tongue flicks across her lips.

“What changed? Why now?”

GM: “It wasn’t now, Celia. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But I’d waited to approach you, because a man does not just apologize for his mistakes. He fixes them, or at least tries to. I’ve been trying to for some time now, because I was resolved not to re-enter your lives bearing only apologies.”

“This still happened earlier than I’d planned. Logan had been pushing all of us to reconnect, as I said. He forwarded me the texts from your mother, and it seemed like there was something I could do for her immediately.”

“I’ll tell you what’s changed, and what’s brought me to this point. But I wanted to start with some of the ways I’d like to make restitution to you and your mother.”

Celia: She doesn’t trust herself to speak yet. She nods mutely.

GM: “First, I’ve been talking to some doctors in Houston about your mother’s condition. They have the world’s largest medical center there. Tulane doesn’t compare at all. The doctors told me your mother’s condition is likely to deteriorate with age, and that she may eventually need a wheelchair, in addition to suffering worse pain.”

Celia: He did that to her. Does he remember that night, taking a hacksaw to her mother’s leg?

“She’s getting worse,” Celia finally says, confirming their words.

“But that’s not a solution.”

GM: Maxen nods, as if unsurprised. “But there are some experimental treatments available in Houston. Ones that might not only be able to stop what I’ve described from happening, but which might also be able to fix your mother’s leg, too. Full mobility and no more pain.”

“She could dance again.”

“These treatments are very new, very expensive, and access to them is a question of more than simply money. You won’t hear about them just by asking a doctor. It’s taken me a lot of effort to hear what I have, mere state senator that I am.”

Celia: “How did you come across them?”

GM: “I’ve been laying the groundwork to run for governor for a while now. This was part of it. There are doors that open to governors, and even more to for-life governors, but candidates can get glimpses at those doors. Especially if they push.”

“When I’m governor, I will have the clout and resources necessary to obtain access for your mother. If she would like Texas Medical Center’s doctors to fix her leg, I will make it happen.”

“It doesn’t make up for the years she was not able to dance, or for the pain and trauma she has suffered. I can’t magic that away.”

Celia: Or everything he took from her when he threw away all of her belongings. The tangible evidence of her memories.

The years of hardship she endured when he sent her into medical debt.

She says none of this, just nods again, waiting for him to go on.

GM: “I owe your mother a separate apology. More than an apology. I had wanted to wait until I was governor to break this news, so that it could happen immediately and be more than just a promise. But there are some other things I’ve brought tonight that I hope will be of greater restitution than promises.”

Celia: “Why did you do it?”

“That night.”


GM: Celia’s dad flags down the waitress, but pauses at her question.

“I believed your mother had been intimate with another man, Celia, under circumstances I disapproved. I can’t even begin to muster the words to describe how wrong I was. I destroyed her greatest joy in life, ended her career, and caused her mental, physical, and financial hardship that she suffers to this day.”

Celia: “Under circumstances you disapproved.”

Her tone lacks any confrontational quality. She simply sounds incredulous, as if wondering if there are circumstances he would have approved.

Your mom’s a sex slave.

She dismisses the stray thought as soon as it occurs.

GM: “I’m sorry. That was an extraneous choice of words. I doubt there are any circumstances under which your mother believes I would have approved, or have felt herself safe under my disapproval.”

Celia: She doesn’t understand. “You thought she was having an affair, or you thought she had been with someone else at some point in her life?”

GM: Maxen clears his throat. “I feel that it impugns your mother’s virtue, Celia, to discuss these things about her, even in the context of mistaken beliefs.”

Celia: Her lips flatten into a line thin enough that even Payton would be proud of.

GM: He offers a wan smile. “You look like your grandmother.”

Celia: Not him, though. Never him.

“We spend a lot of time together,” is all she says.

His master had killed his parents, after all.

GM: “I’m glad you’re able to have that relationship. I don’t think she was ever able to forgive your grandmother.”

Celia: “For telling her to abort me?”

GM: Maxen looks surprised, but answers, “For the measures she took, after your grandfather’s death.”

Celia: “They won’t tell me,” Celia admits. “Can you?”

GM: Maxen presses his lips together, but answers, “There is a… you might call it a finishing school, Celia.”

“A private school that’s only known by word of mouth. Mostly among wealthy families, or old families. For young women whose families are displeased with their behavior.”

“Your grandmother sent your mother there.”

Celia: Payton did it?

The dolls.

Payton had sent Diana to become a doll.

GM: “Their methods are… extreme.”

Celia: “When? After me? After I came out? Or before?”

GM: “Before you.”

“Your mother did not enjoy her time there.”

Celia: No, she doesn’t imagine her mother did.

“I’ve heard of it,” she says faintly, still reeling from the knowledge that Payton had sent her mother there.

GM: “I’d thought, several times, about sending you there. Your mother begged me not to.”

“I’m glad I didn’t. Your mother says she was never the same after that place.”

Celia: “But I wasn’t… they don’t send them there for being stupid.”

GM: “Celia,” her father says harshly. “You weren’t stupid. You aren’t stupid. You’re brilliant.”

“But I’m to understand the headmistress doesn’t ask very many questions about the girls who get sent there, so long as their families are willing to pay.”

Celia: Celia isn’t supposed to know about a place like this where girls become dolls. So she doesn’t confirm what he says.

Or maybe she’s too busy reeling from the fact that he’d wanted to send her there.

Or maybe… maybe it’s what he said about her not being stupid. Maybe, if they weren’t in public, if she didn’t have such a tight lid on her emotions right now, she’d have let them show on her face. Maybe her cheeks would be red with blood.

But she stuffs that down, too. Buries it in the pit of her stomach so she can throw it up later and let herself feel.

GM: “As I said, their measures are very extreme. The students aren’t even allowed to use their own names. The headmistress gives them new ones.”

Celia: Lucy.

Why would she name her daughter after her doll?

“Why did Grandma send her there? What was so wrong with her?”

GM: “From what your mother has told me, your grandfather’s death tore your family apart. Or at least tore a rift between your mother and your grandmother. She never thought your aunt Prudence or uncle Stan were as rebellious as your mother was.”

“They fought, all of the time. Your mother would disappear for nights. Her grades were suffering. Your mother told me she attacked your grandmother once.”

Celia: “It’s hard to imagine Mom being rebellious. Or doing anything like that.”

A rebellious doormat, maybe, curling in at the corners.

“Did you know her? Before she went?”

GM: “I found it hard to imagine too. Your mother told me the turning point came when she attacked your grandmother, with the gun, and said she was leaving home for good. She ran off with your grandmother’s car and all of the house’s cash and jewelry.”

Celia: “…with a gun?”

GM: He nods. “Last I heard, your grandmother still keeps a number of firearms in the house.”

Celia: “Is that why you wanted to send me? Because I came after you?”

But, no, she’d done that the night everything blew up. The timing doesn’t work.

GM: “I thought about it then. I thought about it other times. Celia, I can’t even imagine how you might have turned out if I’d sent you there.”

“Your mother was a shell when I first met her. Really met her. She was the shyest, most docile, most timid girl you’d ever laid eyes on.”

“I didn’t believe her at first, when she told me the story. I thought it was some kind of joke. A tall tale.”

Celia: “When did you realize it wasn’t?”

GM: “When she started to cry.”

Celia: If the timing he claims is accurate, she would have met Ron after she’d become a doll. But it doesn’t make any sense why she’d have been at that party.

Dolls don’t go to parties. They don’t have sex.

They do, but…

Celia sets her head in her hands.

GM: Her father rests a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Celia. Maybe it was wrong of me to tell you this.”

Celia: “No. It wasn’t. I’m just trying to figure out the rest.”

GM: “I don’t know that your mother will want to talk about it. The memories there are very painful for her.”

Celia: “I know. I know someone who… who went through it, too.”

She’d been there.

Breaking her.

Breaking countless hers.

For years.

GM: Her father nods slowly. “It’s not widely talked about. But move in the right circles, pay attention, and you’ll hear things.”

Celia: “Thank you for telling me. And for not doing that to me.”

GM: “Thanks are what you give someone for favors and kindnesses. That was just the absence of more abuse.”

Celia: He’s right, so she just nods her head.

GM: “Here. I have something for your mother.”

He motions to a server, who approaches their table with a large wrapped box.

“These are your mother’s ballet things,” he says. “They aren’t the originals. Those are long gone thanks to me.”

“I’ve had people go to the places where she’s danced. Look up records. Who won what trophies. Make some calls to the production company owners, or the companies that make the trophies. They’re all there.”

“There’s also some scrapbooks and photo albums. I got those from the other dancers. Some of them simply let me make copies. Others were willing to sell the originals.”

“After this long, I don’t know if your mother still misses these things. But maybe Lucy would like to see them.”

Celia: Celia swallows the lump in her throat as she listens to his explanation. The gift she’d only just started to think about: how to get those memories back. She’s had years and only last night did she think to talk to Mom’s friends and fellow dancers to get copies of photos. Because of him, yes, because of him. But because of her, too. She hadn’t saved the things from the garbage. Luana had told her to, and she’d been too busy worried about her appearance to grab anything more than the makeup.

Despite her best attempts to keep it down the emotions bubble up again. She needs to purge. To let it out, somewhere no one can see her cry, can’t wonder at the blood that spills from her eyes, and to expel the poison in her body.

“Excuse me,” she murmurs, rising, unable to look at him or the box, “I just… I need a moment.”

GM: “Of course,” he says quietly.

Celia: She moves quickly through the restaurant to find the bathroom, taking the first open stall and locking herself into the small, cramped space.

She’s not alive. She doesn’t need to breathe. Her shoulders don’t shake and she doesn’t shudder or gasp or wail. The tears simply fall. She presses a hand to her mouth as if that helps, as if it will keep anything inside of her, but still they come.

Mom is a doll.

Dad said she isn’t stupid.

Why? Why does it mean so much to her after all this time? She knows she isn’t stupid. She’s never been stupid. She’s been hurt and desperate and afraid and frivolous but she has never been stupid. She shouldn’t care. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Too little too late, right? One dinner, one box of memories, it doesn’t make up for the years of living under his rule, it doesn’t make up for everything that he had done to them. To her, to her mom, to her siblings.

It can’t.

It can’t matter.

She’s supposed to hate him. She’s supposed to hate him more than she hates anyone. He’s the villain. The bad guy. The monster that tucked her in at night. Not… not this. Not whatever it is he’s trying to be out there. It’s not him. It’s a trick. It has to be a trick because it can’t be real, none of it is real.

She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead, and he isn’t her dad anyway. He’s not her father. He just raised her. And he doesn’t even know. Does he know? Is that why he’d gone after Mom? But why meet her? Why not just let her do her own thing, live her own life, when it doesn’t matter?

He’s not her dad.

And she desperately, desperately wants him to be.

It comes out of her suddenly, a violent heaving that has her doubled over atop the toilet as her stomach empties its contents into the bowl. Salmon and tuna and lobster, half-chewed, pulverized by her teeth pours from her mouth. The water splashes as it hits.

Again. Again. Again. It comes out of her. Her body purges, emptying itself of the rotten seafood stuffed inside. She gags at the taste, gags as it slides across her tongue, no better the second time around than it had been on the way down. And it sits in the bowl, staring up at her, the water turned murky by the little chunks of vomit.

She stares back.

She’d sink to her knees if she weren’t in a public bathroom. But she can’t do that, not here. She gives herself a moment to let it out, let it all out, before she pulls herself together. A wad of toilet paper wipes away the worst of the blood from her face, and a makeup wipe from her purse gets the rest of it. She tosses both into the toilet and flushes it all away, letting the swirling water take everything resembling emotions along with it.

Celia touches up her foundation with the tip of her finger in the small compact she keeps in her purse. None of the rest of her makeup had smeared. She washes her hands at the sink and stares at her face in the mirror, wondering if her eyes have always looked so hollow or if it’s just that she’s finally dead inside, shut down to avoid feeling anything unpleasant.

She returns to the table.

GM: Less vomit than mushed-up food, but it’s all just waste either way. Poison festering in her guts, that she’s forcing there when her Beast doesn’t want it there.

If only her unwanted feelings could be expelled so easily.

Celia: She can kill those too. There’s a spot in the brain that she can simply rip out.

Maybe she will.

GM: Just like Elyse does for her dolls. She can be just like Mom.

Mom the doll.

Celia: And Payton.

Sending her daughter to become a doll.

She’d thought it was Maxen.

GM: That would’ve been easier.

Celia: She could still hate him if it had been him.

Instead of whatever this is.

GM: Whatever this is, her father is waiting for back at the table.

“We could call things here tonight, if you’d like,” he says quietly. “I know this all must be a lot to take in.”

Celia: They can’t, though. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to see him again after this.

“I’m okay,” she says.

GM: “Okay,” he says.

“Will you give your mother these things for me, when you see her next?”

Celia: “I will.”

GM: “Thank you.”

Celia: “She’ll appreciate it. She… she still misses it, Dad.”

“And I want the treatment for her. After you win. Take her to Texas, fix her.”

It makes more sense than trying to explain Xola to her.

GM: “Okay,” he says again. “We’ll ask her. If you’re on board I hope she’ll be too.”

Celia: “I’ve been looking for something to help her. To prevent the pain. That’s why I turned to a more medical focus with the spa, so I could… find something.” But she hasn’t learned it yet, the work that goes bone deep. “I thought I knew someone who could help, but I was wrong.”

GM: “I’m sorry they didn’t work out. But I think your mom would be very touched to hear you tried.”

Celia: Failed. Not quite her fault, not really—it’s not like she’d sent North to Vienna. But she nods anyway.

“Where were we, before we got sidetracked?”

GM: “I was actually going to bring up something else. Your mother sounds as if she loves Emily very much. Sophia and your brothers tell me she’s adopted her.”

Celia: “In name only. Legally you can’t adopt an adult in Louisiana. They considered a road trip but you have to be a resident to do it elsewhere.”

“But she does. We all do.”

GM: “Well, about that.”

Maxen hands her a manilla folder.

Celia: Celia reaches for it, brows lifted. She flips it open.

GM: Inside is a laminated copy of a birth certificate for a one Emily Rosure. The father’s name is blank. The mother’s reads ‘Diana Flores.’

Celia: “How…?”

She can’t get out more than the single word. Even that is choked.

GM: “All a question of knowing what levers to pull,” smiles Maxen. “Remember that your old man writes the laws.”

Celia: Celia presses her fingers to her lips as she stares down at the laminated page.

She’s quiet for a long moment. She doesn’t think it will fix anything with Emily, but… it’s a step in the right direction.

“Why?” she asks again, finally looking up at him.

GM: “Because I called her some unkind names, and because you and your mother love her.”

“I don’t expect a piece of paper will change their relationship, but perhaps they’ll feel better knowing that it’s also recognized under law. There are rights and privileges like hospital visitation rights that may only be available to legal family members.”

Celia: “I don’t know what levers you pulled. But thank you. This… this will mean a lot to them.”

GM: “I’m thankful to hear that, Celia.”

“I would like to see your mother again, to tell her the things I’ve told you.”

“She’s never been very good at saying no, even to things she doesn’t want. Would you be willing to ask her for me, if she wants to do that?”

Celia: “I will talk to her. I won’t force her, if she’s not interested. She doesn’t owe you anything. Not after what happened. Not even with all of this.”

“Neither does Emily. She knows what we went through, even if she wasn’t there to experience it herself.”

GM: “They don’t,” Maxen nods. “You don’t either.”

Celia: “You said you’d tell me. Why the change.”

GM: “Celia, I have an answer, and I don’t have an answer.”

Celia: She waits, expectant.

GM: “The answer is with your sister Isabel.”

“We’d been on strained terms for a while. I don’t know if you were aware, but she had a baby, who’s being raised by your aunt Mary. She and her husband were never able to have children.”

Celia: His baby.

“I heard.”

GM: “Our relationship was never the same after that. I abused her, further, for getting pregnant out of wedlock. She ran away after she gave up the baby.”

Celia: She died after she gave up the baby, but Celia doesn’t correct him.

“You locked her in her room. And took her things away.”

GM: “Yes. I withheld my love and support when she needed it most.”

Celia: She’d been telling the truth.

She’d been telling the truth and Celia had killed her for it.

“And you feel bad because she was always your favorite.”

GM: “I feel bad because she is my daughter and she needed me.”

Celia: And now she’s gone.

GM: “But she wasn’t my favorite. Parents don’t have favorites.”

Celia: “Parents have favorites. There was a study about it. They just don’t admit it.”

GM: “Maybe some do. But the study didn’t measure every parent. Or your parents.”

Celia: Celia lifts her shoulders.

“But it’s about Isabel,” she prompts.

GM: “We didn’t speak for a long time. But she reached out to me again, some time back. Her boyfriend had gone missing.”

Celia: “That’s awful.”

GM: “Yes. We started talking again, over the phone. She’s in Sudan, you might already know, doing missionary work.”

Celia: Celia nods along.

GM: “So it’s possible that something very, very bad happened to her boyfriend. It’s possible he’s dead.”

Celia: He is dead.

He was probably eaten.

Or torn apart.

Or both.

“I can’t imagine what she must be going through.”

GM: “I have some idea. We started talking again. About a lot of things.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Our lives. Our pasts. Our faiths. We talked about a lot.”

“She never sounded so vulnerable as when she made that first call to me. I’d thought for years that I’d lost her. Many people think she’s doing missionary work because of me, but she chose to do that herself.”

“It felt good to have my daughter in my life again, even over the phone.”

“All I could offer her was words, and to try to fix things with those. If I’d sought to punish her, hurt her, she could have simply cut me out again. It was a blow to my ego, not having any power in the situation. But I think Isabel would say a necessary one.”

Celia: So it had nothing to do with Celia. It had nothing to do with missing her, wanting her in his life, wanting to make reparations for what he’d done to her, to Diana, to the rest of their family.

It’s about Isabel.

It’s always about Isabel.

“I see.”

GM: “I don’t think I would have reached out to you or your mother on my own,” her father says. “I didn’t reach out to Isabel, either. I don’t think I had that in me. She took the first step.”

Celia: “She was always the perfect daughter.”

GM: “She didn’t feel as if I thought of her that way.”

Celia: “Of course she did. She rubbed it in my face every chance she got.”

GM: “Your sister felt as if your mother didn’t love her. She tried to compensate for that, around you.”

Celia: “You told them that she didn’t love them. That’s why she left, you said.”

GM: “I did. That probably was why. That certainly was why.”

“From what David’s said to me, it sounds as if you and your mother started to reconnect in college, once you were off on your own. Isabel told me she’d never been so jealous.”

“I’m sorry. That she was right. That you had to hide it. That I put her in the hospital.”

Celia: “So you felt bad about Isabel and decided to reconnect with the rest of your family.”

GM: “Partly.”

“Things were tense with Isabel and I at first, you have to understand. I couldn’t physically abuse her, but we hung up on more than one phone call after a bitter argument, sometimes if that call was the last.”

“But your sister had no one else, except for Logan. The boy she loved increasingly seemed like he was dead. Her friends were turning against her. She was desperate to make this work between us.”

“She told me about the missionary work she was doing, spreading God’s word. She told me how it had fulfilled her like nothing else.”

“She had purpose and calling beyond herself. Before Sudan, her whole existence was framed in terms of me. It was only when she went out into the world as her own woman, and outgrew me, that she felt able to reestablish a relationship.”

“We talked a lot about God. She challenged me that I wasn’t serving Him. That I did not truly love and accept Jesus in my heart.”

Celia: “And you decided to mend your ways?”

GM: “No. But at her encouragement, I started to talk more with men of faith. To prove her wrong, in fact. That there wasn’t anything I needed to change. But I think some part of me already knew there was.”

Celia: He couldn’t abuse his daughter over the phone, so he found Jesus.

She nods. Waiting. Expectant.

GM: “So I talked. I didn’t confess my sins, so much as the things I didn’t believe I had to confess.”

“And one of the priests I talked to told me, straight and direct as you please, that I had a demon inside of me.”

Celia: “A demon,” she repeats.

GM: “I didn’t believe him either, at first.”

Celia: “What changed your mind?”

GM: “He didn’t change my mind, especially when he said an exorcism would be necessary to remove it. But I told Isabel, and she believed it. She said she would only be willing to continue having a relationship with me if I undertook the exorcism.”

Celia: “Who was the priest?”

GM: “Father Connelly. He passed away recently. Everyone knew he was old and in ill health.”

“But that wasn’t why he died, Celia.”

Celia: “No?”

GM: “First, you have to understand that he was a Catholic priest. Catholic priests cannot formally take confession from non-Catholics, nor can they perform exorcisms without special dispensation from the Vatican.”

“But Father Connelly felt my need was dire.”

Celia: “So he did it anyway.”

GM: “He told me he sought and received permission from his superiors. I trust his word. But it happened very fast.”

Celia: “And he died from it?”

GM: “I’ll get to that. I went to St. Louis Cathedral. He told me the exorcism was more likely to succeed on holy ground. We went to a special room, and when I knelt and closed my eyes, like he instructed, he handcuffed me down. He said the exorcism might take hours or even days, and that the demon would try to make me leave.”

“You know I’ve been a Protestant all my life, Celia. And you know how much I work out. How I practice martial arts. I should’ve been able to fight off that old man, but he just held me down and declared that God lent him strength beyond his own. He lit fires. He chanted in Latin. There was a sense of gravitas in that cathedral, two thousand years of faith, and when I looked in that man’s eyes I saw an absolute certainty and fervor of conviction like I have never seen.”

“This was a man who believed with all of his heart and soul that he was doing God’s work, and all the threats I shouted about destroying his life didn’t even faze him.”

“He was right. It didn’t happen in one sitting. It took days of constant prayer and ritual. He let me use the bathroom in a pot, but didn’t allow me food or more than a little bit of water.”

“He didn’t allow me to sleep, either. I don’t know how he stayed up like that at his age. As soon as it seemed like I was nodding off, I’d get ice water to the face. Or he’d just hit me.”

“I started hallucinating, or experiencing what I thought were hallucinations. I saw all sorts of things. All sorts of people. You and your mother were there.”

Celia: Celia leans forward in her seat, clearly captivated by his story.

GM: “You accused me of… of all the things you had to accuse me of. You said if I didn’t help Father Connelly expel the demon, it would drag me back to Hell with it. I thought I was going crazy.”

“I saw my parents. I saw angels. I can’t even describe some of the things I saw. I felt a presence, so much vaster than anything I ever was or ever could be. I felt terrified, like I had never been in all my life.”

“I didn’t know, then, how long it went on for. I started pleading with Connelly, with God, with you and your mother, to make it stop. That this was torture. To just expel the demon and I’d be good.”

“But one of the voices, I don’t even know who, said that a demon could not have possessed a righteous soul. That I had allowed it in through my own faults and failings, and that I was to blame for the actions I had committed under its sway. It had only unlocked what was already there.”

“Connelly couldn’t exorcise it. Only I could. And if, and only if, I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my lord and savior.”

“Everything was suddenly clear to me. It was like I’d been starved for years and food was finally within reach.”

“I don’t remember how it ended. I was delirious. I remember coming back to earth, Connelly uncuffing me, and saying the demon was gone. My head felt clear again. Clear like it never had in years. All of the anger I’d felt, all of the hate, all of the fear, was simply gone.”

“But the exorcism took a lot out of Connelly. What strength he had left, he’d used on me. He died shortly afterwards.”

Celia: “And you think it was an actual demon?” Celia asks him. She doesn’t sound disbelieving; no, she sounds as if she might think it’s true.

GM: “I don’t know what else I could call it, Celia. I don’t know how to explain what happened in scientific terms.”

Celia: Celia scoots her chair closer to him. She takes his hand in hers.

GM: He squeezes her hand back. “I also knew then, once the demon had departed me, that I had to make right the wrongs I’d done. That I had to try.”

Celia: “When did it start? The… the demon? When did it take over?”

GM: “I’m not sure. But I think a very long time. At least as long as when you and your mother lived in fear.”

Celia: “Before we moved to Audubon?”

GM: “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Celia: “There… I mean, you believe this, right? That it’s true? That you had a demon inside of you?”

GM: “I do.”

Celia: “Because I remember… when I was a kid, you were different. You loved us, clearly. You let me put makeup on you. We played dress up. You had tea parties with me. And then one day it changed. And I thought maybe it was because your parents died. Or the election. Stress. And… we had dinner once, Daddy, right before I left for college, and you… you looked at me like you had no idea who I was. Do you remember that?”

GM: Celia’s father shakes his head.

Celia: “What about other things? The spankings? Isabel. Me. Until we bled.”

GM: “I remember those. I am sorry for them. I wish those words were enough to undo them.”

Celia: “What about the night you tried to finish the job with Mom?”

GM: “I remember.”

Celia: “And with Isabel?”

GM: “I told her to leave. That wasn’t for her to see.”

Celia: “Afterward.”

GM: “I’m sorry?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. He doesn’t remember. Mind-fucked, probably.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

But if the thing inside of him is gone, if it had been a demon, had her sire put it there? And does he know it’s gone?

“How long ago did you see Father Connelly?”

GM: “It was some months back. Getting back your mother’s ballet things and arranging Emily’s birth certificate didn’t happen overnight. It’s been looking into the treatments for your mother that have taken longest.”

Celia: “I believe you. About the demon.”

GM: “That means more to me than I can say, sweetie.”

Celia: “What do you want to do now that it’s gone?”

GM: “I want to make things right with my family. As right as I can.”

Celia: No one is going to believe her.

And there’s no one to talk it over with.

But she knows.

He really had fucked her entire family.

“Can you tell me what happened the night of the election?” Celia presses again. “Mom said something about a party and a woman, and I just… want to make sense of it all.”

GM: “A woman?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” she admits. “It didn’t make sense. She doesn’t like talking about it.”

GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie. I don’t know what she meant.”

Celia: “Then tell me your side.”

“Mom wasn’t the only one there that night. She’s not the only one who it affected. I had nightmares for years. I heard her screaming every time I closed my eyes. I’m the one who saw her in the hospital afterward. Who got her out of debt later and fixed that mess. So if you want to fix this, if you want a relationship with your family, then I need to know why it happened.”

GM: “I understand. I’m just not sure how much help my reasons may help when they weren’t reasonable.”

“I told you about how I’d believed your mother had cheated on me.”

Celia: “You did.”

GM: “I didn’t believe the affair was with Bill Roberts. I believed it was with a black man.”

Celia: “In 2003?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: “Why did you think that?”

GM: “Your mother and I had both been drinking at the victory party. She made remarks about a black staffer of Bill Roberts’, likely jokes to her, that I seized on as evidence of an affair.”

Celia: “What did she say?”

GM: “The remarks could have been construed as sexual in nature.”

Celia: “Dad, I’m not a kid. You’re not going to offend me.”

GM: “They are inherently offensive to repeat in the same breath as your mother, Celia.”

Celia: “So was trying to take her leg off with a hacksaw.”

GM: “Yes. That doesn’t mean either should happen again.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “Would you like to get dessert?”

Celia: “My stomach is kind of in knots right now, to be honest. I don’t think it can handle anything sweet.”

GM: “Understandable.”

Celia: “But if you want it I’m happy to stay.”

GM: “Meals should be enjoyed between two. I usually don’t treat myself.”

Celia: “I could steal a bite and pretend to eat it if you want.”

GM: “It’s all right, Celia. I don’t think the staff will mind us staying.”

Celia: “I don’t know how you’re going to top demons and becoming governor.”

GM: “There are other offices. Cabinet positions. Even president.” He smiles. “But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.”

Celia: “President Flores.” Celia tries it out. “Has a nice ring to it.”

GM: “The Malveauxes already took a shot at it.”

“They missed, but if the party loses the general election this year, Nathan is sure to run again in 2020.”

Celia: “I imagine you’d like to enjoy being governor for a while, but would it be considered bad form to run against them?”

GM: “They wouldn’t like it. But that’s politics.”

Celia: “Can I ask something? About you running. Don’t they usually kind of… dig into families sometimes?”

“I just remember what happened with that girl, you know, the abortion, how it all kind of blew up. And I guess I just don’t want to have to worry about someone coming after my daughter. She’s a child. She shouldn’t be exposed to all of that ugliness.”

GM: “The Malveauxes engineered that. They fought harder and dirtier than the Cherrys, and that’s one of the reasons they won.”

“I won’t allow anything like that to happen with Lucy.”

Celia: Celia nods. She squeezes the hand that still holds hers.

“Thanks, Daddy. I appreciate that.”

GM: “You’re welcome, sweetie. You and the others can be as involved or uninvolved in my run as you like.”

Celia: Celia nods her head at that. She can’t imagine that she’ll be able to be involved in his run in any tangible way, but already her plans shift to accommodate for this new information. Every time someone answers a question it seems like three more pop up in its stead, only this time… this time she doesn’t think there’s anyone to ask. Not anyone who will be inclined to shed light on it for her.

Who will even believe her? If she hadn’t been exposed to this world the way she was, would she have believed him?

“Was there anything else, Dad? I know we got sidetracked a few times.”

GM: “Just one thing, Celia.”

“I love you.”

Celia: “I love you too, Dad.”

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