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Blood & Bourbon

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Story Twelve, Ayame II

“Easy to think of what might have been, what could have been, how we could have changed things.”
Ayame Seong-Jin


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: Ayame’s phone rings. The caller ID isn’t familiar to her.

Ayame: Ayame jumps at the noise. She has been deeply involved in the outlining and planning of her next novel, and the chime of her phone has pulled her from the pages upon pages spread out in from of her, ink-stained fingers clutching a black ball-point pen.

She doesn’t often give her number out, and for a moment she looks in suspicion at her phone. Her mother had once said “no good news comes at night,” and even now, despite her undead status, she hasn’t been able to shake the thought.

She doesn’t have the number saved, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. She doesn’t save most numbers. Safer that way. Still, she’s wary as she answers.

“Hello?”

GM: “Hi, Ayame. This is Roderick,” sounds a male voice.

“I had some business I wanted to discuss with you. When would be a good time for us to talk in person?”

When are other licks good news?

Might be her mom was righter than she knew.

Ayame: “Hello, Roderick.” Now there’s a surprise.

Her eyes slide toward the clock on the wall. It’s late, but not so late that she can’t squeeze him in if she wants to. Does she want to, though? He’s been cool to her since that night five years ago when she’d pulled Max from the circle.

“I am in the middle of a project at the moment…” She glances down at the leather notebook open in front of her, her slanted, cramped writing scrawled across the page. A reference journal or completed manuscript of some sort, as no longer does it contain blank space in which to write. A slew of highlighters in various colors sit perpendicular to the edge of her desk.

“But I can be free in an hour or so, if it is urgent.”

Always make them wait, that was another rule from Mom.

GM: “Okay. How’s our club’s usual meet spot?”

Cypress Grove. The Anarchs didn’t stop using it.

Ayame: “Certainly. I will see you there.”

Must be urgent, then. Or he simply enjoys the privileged position of primogen’s childe and is used to getting his way immediately. She doesn’t let her attitude color her voice, though, simply wishes him a good evening and hangs up. She’ll need a moment to get dressed, she supposes, and with a sigh sets aside her notebook. Her outline can wait.

GM: An hour later, she’s there at the cemetery. The rows and rows of mausoleums stretch on for as far as the eye can see. It feels like an appropriate enough place for a massacre to have occurred. Or at least like it’s been despoiled less.

Roderick’s there in an overcoat, with an umbrella in one hand to ward off the steadily pattering rain.

Ayame: An hour later, to the minute, Ayame strolls into the cemetery. She’s dressed for the weather, with black boots that rise to her knees and a raincoat on over a dark hoodie and jeans. She, too, has brought an umbrella with her, and it keeps off the worst of the almost-spring rain as she traverses the ground towards where Roderick waits for her.

Apprehension gnaws at her. Not only for the lick waiting, but for the chosen location as well. She had never said anything to any of the Anarchs about how she feels for this place, but she wonders if he can guess. If he knows about the shame that she has carried with her since that night in 2011 when she all but bowed before the sheriff and his retinue of executioners. If that is why he chose such a location for their impromptu meeting.

She says none of this as she approaches the dark figure in his suit, stopping some feet away to look him over. She cannot help the glance she makes past him with stormy-gray eyes, as if searching for his co-conspirators.

GM: None are immediately apparent to the novelist’s sight.

But the thick rain and fog hides what the darkness alone can’t.

The seemingly lone Brujah nods as he sees her.

“Glad you could make it.”

Ayame: “You implied it was urgent.”

GM: “I did.” He looks around at the walled structures where there’d normally be gravestones. “I feel bad for my part in what happened here.”

“I’d been one of the licks to suggest Cypress Grove instead of Delgado, for where to meet.”

“Dunno how much of a difference it would’ve made in the end, but it might’ve been harder for the Sanctified to surround us there.”

Ayame: “Perhaps,” she says neutrally. “Though perhaps they would have simply brought more with them. It did not seem as if they happened upon us by chance; I have no doubt that they would have adapted to the locale.” She pauses briefly, considering her words.

“For what it is worth, I do not think that anyone blames you for what happened.”

Not like they do her.

Her mouth twists, bitterness hardening her features.

GM: “You’re probably right, on both those counts. But it’s natural to think about what we could’ve done differently, and to blame ourselves.”

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think as many licks might blame you as you think, either.”

Ayame: She doesn’t know what to say to that. Of course they blame her.

“I folded. I was the first. It would have been different had I not been concerned about the threat posed by the sheriff, the scourge, and that… harpy.”

GM: “Veronica and Pietro had made up their minds to stake Max and Jonah. They were heading behind Sanctified lines whether you folded or not. They already had.”

“And once they did, with all the ringleaders staked, everyone else would’ve folded too.”

Ayame: “I should have removed the stake. I made a mistake, thinking that to pull Maxzille to safety was the right call. I did not wish to see her perish for a technicality.”

“But I thank you, regardless.”

GM: “I think if you hadn’t, there might’ve been bloodshed. A lot of Anarchs might have died.”

“Or at least Max might’ve.”

Ayame: He would have been safe, dragged behind enemy lines as he was. His Blood protects him, unlike the rest of them. But she doesn’t say this. She inclines her head, acknowledging the acknowledgement.

“Perhaps,” she allows. “If it came to an all-out brawl, I have no doubt many would have perished. On both sides. It would not have been a decisive victory for the Sanctified.”

She has spent many a long night thinking about it. She cannot help but sweep her gaze past him once more, toward the spot where it happened. Their kind do not leave physical remains behind, but she will always remember the screams of those who died.

“All the same, I regret my part in it. I have no wish to see our duskborn cousins slaughtered.”

“I think, sometimes, what would have happened had I been quicker to shove you aside when he came for you as well, and how that might have ended for us all.”

GM: “The sheriff?” Roderick gives a wan smile. “I don’t know if you could’ve stopped him. I’d definitely lose in a one-on-one.”

Ayame: “Stop him?” She shakes her head. “No. But should he have missed his mark, taken down the wrong lick?” Her shoulders lift, hands spreading wide.

“As you say, easy to think of what might have been, what could have been, how we could have changed things. The butterfly effect, as it were.”

GM: “True. Just denying him a quick win and the psychological impact there might’ve been enough.”

“But there’s other licks who could’ve tried to do something and didn’t. Pietro’s pretty damn fast, too.”

Ayame: “I believe, as you said, they made up their mind already as to which side they were on. Even when they spoke they said nothing of merit.”

GM: “And they barely spoke at all.”

“Veronica could’ve ran that rant, if she’d wanted to. She sure was able to whip a bunch of Anarchs into doing something when she decided Savoy was the horse to back.”

Ayame: “She does what she believes is best for her. As do most of them.” The corners of her lips lift in a wry, sad smile. “Though given the allegations leveled against the one she thought to harm her childe… well, they were simply heinous. It is no wonder she could not support someone who denied such accusations. Would yours have done the same, do you think?”

GM: “That’s a hard question, in some ways.” Roderick smiles faintly. “If I say yes, it’s admitting Veronica was right to do what she did, and the only thing that makes the situation different is who rather than what.”

Ayame: The corners of her eyes crinkle, and though the motion does not reach her lips it is, possibly, the closest anyone has seen her threaten to smile in some time.

“Your profession keeps your words neutral. Not so easily trapped, I see.”

GM: The Brujah still smiles back.

“My profession and my bloodline. But maybe the trap here isn’t so dangerous. You stuck with us instead of jumping ship to Savoy.”

Ayame: “Was it your bloodline that made you do the same?”

GM: He shakes his head. “I’m my own man, or at least Kindred. But I’ll grant that a lot of people with my advantages say similar things.”

Ayame: “Privilege. It is a catchy term among the kine these days. They speak of white or male… but you have that and more.” Her head tilts to one side beneath the cowl of her hood, eying him sharply.
“How easy it must make things on both sides of the fence. We say we do not care about such things, and yet look at those who run the First Estate. A drop of black or yellow in your white and you are ruined.”

GM: “I remember a couple Anarchs yelling at you for being Chinese. Sorry. It probably feels isolating to be the only yellow face in a crowd.”

Ayame: “I am Korean.”

GM: “Sorry again. I guess I shouldn’t have expected them to have any idea what they were talking about.”

Ayame: “At least,” she muses, “you did not ask me if I am from the ‘good’ Korea or the ‘bad’ Korea.”

GM: “I’d be pretty surprised to meet anyone from the latter.”

“Though I wouldn’t say it’s bad so much as its government is.”

Ayame: “Too often individuals are confused for their governments or rulers.” Another shrug. “I have long since stopped being surprised at the things that come out of the mouths of other people.”

GM: “Not a bad attitude to have in unlife.” A pause. “Do you know if it’s true what they say about our kind in North Korea?”

Ayame: “The Kuei-jin?”

GM: He shakes his head.

“I read about it over SchreckNet. Actually saved the post, because it was pretty interesting.”

He digs out his phone and scrolls through it before reading,

‘Listen, boss, you don’t actually want to know about North Korea. You think you do because you are certain we’re the top of the food chain. You think that if you go there, you’ll find out it’s all under the command of some secret cabal of Brujah zealots or Ventrue dictators. Is it Sabbat territory or maybe the Kuei-jin (or Wan Kuei—whatever). After all, it’s a place under the absolute oppression of a tyrannical minority and that means someone must be pulling the strings, right? You don’t want to go to North Korea because you’ll be the only supernatural there.’

‘Now, this is a bit of hyperbole. There’s probably a few there. A Nosferatu or two in the sewers picking off random citizens, a werething or two living in the woods, or maybe a scavenger or two around the gulags. However, there is a much nastier creature than us ruling over the people in this nation: humans.’

‘From the Korean War to the present, the vampires of the country had their followers purged and their herds removed. The mages were crushed under the weight of a system that did its utmpst to destroy their dreams. If I believed in fairies, I imagine they all died out too. Lupines don’t seem to be anywhere, even though the place should be paradise for them—rural countryside that’s pitch dark when you view it from space. The Kuei-jin, who the fuck knows why they aren’t there, maybe it has shitty feng shui. It is one of the most spiritually dead places on the planet and barely hanging on for a thousand little things that make it an uncomfortable place for just about all of us.’

‘Mind you, this doesn’t mean they don’t believe, boss. The North Korean military did have some people in the know long ago and they have all the books, names, and faces. They already think all enemies are horrible monsters so no harm in burning down an entire building to get just one of us when they see it. Not much even an elder can do when the response to one rousing an army of starving peasants is to just bomb it to the ground. Hehe, I bet that’s what happened to the Lupines too. The North Koreans have accomplished what the rest of the world only dreams and wiped out all supernaturals—yay humanity. This is what it looks like without us.’

Ayame: Ayame listens as he reads the text from his phone, though after a moment she draws near enough to stand beside him so she can see the text over his shoulder as he scrolls. She shakes her head when he finishes.

“I cannot say. I have not visited back home since my Embrace, and the family that I still have in the area is not apprised of my undead status here. While I admit to curiosity, I can hardly call them and ask. Further, they live in South Korea. It is not a simple border hop to get into such a place.”

She pauses, rereading a line or two. “If travel were not so dangerous I might even wish to see for myself, though I have no doubt it would be a foolhardy and perilous undertaking.”

GM: “President Benson called the DMZ the scariest place he’d ever been. It’d be easier to get in through China, but I’m not in any hurry to do that either.”

“I don’t know if any of that post is even true, but it feels like it could be true.”

“Humans can be monsters just as awful as any of us.”

Ayame: “We are created from them. As much as we would like to blame the Beast inside of all of us for all of our less than ideal ways, as much as we seek to shed the lives we left behind, it stands to reason that some of it crosses over when we do. And should they be among those who are not turned, well, monsters have a way of manifesting. Even prey will eventually snap when cornered.”

“Perhaps their scales are smaller, their existences briefer, but their cruelty can be just as heinous as any of ours.”

GM: “Someone should write about that,” the Brujah remarks.

Ayame: Her brows lift.

“Have you read my books?”

GM: He shakes his head. “I’m more of a non-fiction guy. But I’ve heard about them.”

Ayame: “Good things?”

GM: “Yeah. I tend to agree with Stephen King that if you’ve been paid for your words and the check didn’t bounce, you have talent.”

Ayame: It’s not a ringing endorsement, but a smile finally cracks the Toreador’s face. It transforms the usually austere lick’s visage into something striking, much warmer than the cool exterior she often presents to her kind. The expression is brief, disappearing as quickly as it came.

“Should you ever find a spare moment to indulge, I hope you will let me know what you think. Or perhaps, if time permits, you will allow me to pick your brain as to the monsters you have seen. I find the best fiction has some element of truth to it.”

GM: Roderick smiles back when he sees Ayame do so. The expression looks like it comes easier for him, but it’s no less warm.

“You should smile more often. It looks good on you.”

“But as far as monsters, feel free. I’m a lawyer. You can see some pretty horrible and desperate people in that industry.”

Ayame: Ayame wonders if he realizes the inherent sexism in the comment of being told to smile more. If anyone ever asks him to smile more. Perhaps he does not realize it. Or perhaps he offering the sort of back-handed compliment that is so intrinsic to their kind. Golden boy like him, though, she thinks it might just be simple ignorance. Maybe smiling does look good on her. She tucks it away for further consideration.

“I have heard family law sees the worst of it, people at their most desperate and petty, though I imagine criminal law has its fair share of monsters.”

“I have a relative who is a nurse. She could not give the details of the cases, but she was called in to consult on multiple trials where they needed a medical perspective. Negligence, some of them, and others… others more willful action.”

“There was a woman who came into her emergency department almost every month. Broken bones. Black eyes. Broken fingers. My relative—she took good documentation. Wrote it all down. Made sure to keep her records. Some call her a pack rat, but those records were needed when the woman was arrested for manslaughter. Apparently her husband came at her and she tried to fend him off. She happened to be cooking dinner, had a paring knife in her hand. When she stabbed him, she struck his heart, and so he died. The officers put her in cuffs, but all of the nurses, all of the doctors that she had seen, they testified that she underwent years of abuse at his hands, that she was a victim.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head.

“I’ve seen some really ugly cases of domestic abuse. Knife to the heart was probably a lot cleaner than that asshole deserved. He had to have died pretty fast, not like years of living in pain and terror. Visiting the hospital in and out like a grocery store.”

Ayame: “As I said, their scale as breathers may be smaller, but their crimes are no less than our own. When we kill it is often quick and effective, and sometimes—sometimes they do not even know that death comes for them. But those who abuse their spouses, their children, their renfields… that shadows them for their entire lives, however long they are. It spreads, like a cancer, infecting everyone around them.”

GM: “I knew a family, once, whose father was just a demon. He beat and psychologically abused his wife and daughters for years. They only finally split when he tried to amputate his wife’s leg with a saw.”

“It just poisoned their entire family.”

Ayame: “That sounds… awful. Awful for them, for his wife, for his daughters. I hope they have found peace.”

“And that his children did not go on to become abusers themselves.”

GM: “That’s a… complicated answer. I guess I’d say they found varying levels of peace, some better than others. Some as much as you could realistically hope for. But they all had scars.”

“It could’ve ended a lot worse than it did, though.”

Ayame: “The Sanctified would say it is our job to remove such a demon and see to it that his family is taken care of. We are not Sanctified, but sometimes… sometimes it is nice to see the bad people pay.”

GM: “The Sanctified buy into a lot of dogma that makes fundamentalists look reasonable, but they get things right too. Some of the covenant’s more liberal creeds have a lot of ideas that Anarchs here could probably get on board with.”

Ayame: “You sound as if you were close to the family. I hope it was not your own, that it is not your own scars you speak of.”

GM: He shakes his head. “I was involved in some legal work for them. You get to see a lot of the ugly details of people’s lives as a lawyer.”

“It got to me pretty hard, though I suppose not as much as what that asshole did to his family. He never faced any real consequence for it.”

“Sometimes the bad guys win. But I guess that’s the tagline of the Requiem.”

Ayame: “Against the kine?” She gives him a puzzled look. “Perhaps. There is often more that we can do now, though your status as lawyer possibly keeps you neutral.”

“Not,” she adds, “that I am suggesting we simply slaughter those with whom we do not agree.”

GM: “Less agreeing, maybe, than passing judgment over. But he’s not the only scumbag I can name from my breather days. I’d frankly be up to my knees in blood if I wanted to kill them all. And at that point I’m a serial killer vigilante, not a lawyer.”

“The family members he’d abused most got away from him. That’s a happier ending than a lot of people get, even if it isn’t perfect.”

Ayame: “Is there a difference? I thought lawyers were all cutthroats.” She doesn’t smile, though her lips twitch to suggest amusement, then flatten again at his words.

“Ah. Well. Good that they got away, at least.”

“And good on you for assisting with their legal battle. I am sure it meant a lot to them, to have someone of your caliber represent their interests.”

GM: “Thanks. I was pretty upset at the time I couldn’t do more, but like I said. Happier ending than a lot of people get.”

“Good on your relative, too, documenting all that abuse. Keeping thorough records never hurts and sometimes really helps.”

Ayame: “Sometimes I think I chose the wrong profession.” A rueful twist of her lips accompanies the words. “Admirable, to be out there in the field, be it legal or medical.”

GM: “I think you might’ve chosen the right one, actually. Harder to be a lawyer or nurse as a lick, but I imagine it’s not too difficult as a writer.”

Ayame: “Nothing but time to pen my novels.”

“Though I suppose,” she says at length, “you did not invite me here this evening to speak of professions and monsters.”

“Or scars,” she adds, and perhaps he sees the way her fingers curl inside the gloves she wears, her grip on the umbrella’s handle tightening. The other, at her side, forms a fist before it relaxes.

GM: “You’re right that I didn’t. But I also did.”

Ayame: “Oh?”

GM: “We haven’t really talked a lot, and I wasn’t sure how you felt over the massacre here.”

“There’s a duskborn I know who needs transport out of the city. I was thinking Houston would be a good stop. No prince enforcing a pogrom. Big city with room for duskborn and nightborn.”

Ayame: Ayame is silent for a long moment, considering him. This is why he brought her here, then. This place. The sight of the massacre. To guilt her? Trick her? Avoided her for years because he thought she, what, sold out the thin-bloods? When she speaks at last her voice is cooler than it was moments ago.

“Next to yours, you know, my voice was one of the strongest pushing for their rights.”

GM: “You’re right, it was. But you never know. Some licks were spreading a rumor that I’d tipped off the Sanctified in advance about the duskborn coming to the meeting.”

“In hindsight, it was probably Veronica. Who tipped them off and started the rumor.”

Ayame: “You were put down by the sheriff and immediately taken behind their lines to safety, of course she thought you were an apt target. For whatever it means now, neither she nor her cousin seemed much surprised to see them show up.”

GM: “That’s just how it is, anyway. It’s so hard to trust anyone.”

Ayame: Easy to point out the favor he’s asking of her will require trust, as well, but if this is an olive branch… well, she could stand to make a few more friends among her peers.

“Happy to pass your test, then.” A pause. “I can contact my friends in Houston.”

GM: “I’ll owe you one, of course. What licks do you know there?”

Ayame: “A fair few. I was part of their organization for a number of years.” She fires off a handful of Hispanic-sounding names. “Is it just the one to transport?”

GM: “I might also come along. Coco has some business with the Anarchs there and now would be a convenient time to do it. I won’t be staying, obviously.”

Ayame: “Both of you, or just you?”

GM: “Who won’t be staying? I’m coming back. She’ll stay. I don’t need to say this is a bad city for duskborn.”

Ayame: “Oh, I meant if Coco is coming along, and I wondered why you would need me to transport a primogen, but I assume that is not the case.”

“I will need some time to contact my friends.”

“A few evenings, perhaps. You know what it is like when they pretend to be busy.” She waves a hand. “Or perhaps not,” she adds, eying him. Primogen’s childe, status among the Anarchs, Calbido scribe; how long does he really wait?

GM: He shakes his head at Ayame’s initial statement. “She’s staying in the city. This is more routine stuff I’m handling for her.”

“It’s not that different from among breathers, to be honest. You want to meet with a mayor or city councilperson, you usually have to contact their staff and let them fit you into the boss’ schedule. But a fair number of licks from less privileged backgrounds never had to go through that, and get surprised when they can’t just talk to elders whenever they want.”

“I do usually wait less time than licks with less prominent sires, so there is that.”

Ayame: “Lucky you.”

“The advantage of being a nobody is that I do not often have business with elders.” Amusement crinkles the corners of her eyes. “I will reach out to my contacts within Houston.”

GM: “All swords are double-edged,” he agrees. Partly seriously. “Thanks. I’ll be bringing a couple renfields with me too. Greater safety in numbers and all.”

Ayame: “Ah. Yes. A good idea.” There’s an awkward pause, perhaps where she should offer to do the same, and at last she says, “I do not keep slaves. I cannot contribute that way.”

GM: “Oh?” he asks. “Is it an ethical objection?”

Ayame: “Have you been a slave, Roderick? Bound to someone for whom you would do anything? Told to do vile things for their amusement, and you jump at the chance?”

GM: He shakes his head. “I was a renfield to Coco, for a little while before my Embrace, though she didn’t collar me.”

“It sounds like you were.”

Ayame: “Then you are lucky. I spent years as a slave to a domitor who thought it would be funny to find my point of limit and push me past it. Repeatedly. Who, for a small slight, would have me beaten and humiliated.”

“You do not strike me as the type of person to kill or torture for pleasure. And yet there are those who do. Those who think it funny to find a person’s limits and push them beyond that. To spread the corruption inside of them to everyone around them. To twist and rend innocence until it is an ugly, wretched thing. And so he did with me.”

GM: “I’m sorry you had to go through that. Some licks are pointlessly, stupidly sadistic and cruel, and it’s usually their renfields who experience the worst of it.”

Ayame: “My sire killed him for it. In the instant before the collar snapped I thought to throw myself in front of his blade, to keep him from harming the lick I had served for years. My own life for his, I would have paid that. She did not collar you, so maybe you do not understand that sort of obsession.”

GM: “I probably don’t. I’ve heard the accounts, but it has to be something else to experience them firsthand.”

Ayame: “I told myself I would never do that to another person. Our blood—it is good for a great many things. But the collar? No. Never again.”

GM: “I think it’s possible to be decent to your renfields. But I respect anyone who’s willing to put their principles before convenience.”

Ayame: “Would yours say that you are decent to them?”

GM: “I hope so. I try to be.”

Ayame: “And yet you took them from their lives and families. Keep them addicted to a substance worse than heroin. There is no retirement for a renfield; they serve until their life ends. The most that they can hope for is a quick death, perhaps Embrace.”

“I understand why we do it. But I will not. They are the first to pay should their master make a mistake.”

“So yes, to answer your question, I believe that falls under ethical or moral objection.”

GM: “I think you can make similar arguments about Embracing childer. At least a renfield’s addiction doesn’t directly risk killing anyone.”

Ayame: “I have heard of those who died on an overdose.”

“But you are correct. There are many who have moral objections to siring a childe as well. I do not know that I will ever be moved to do so.”

“We are are still young. We have eternity, as they say.”

GM: “I’ve heard of renfields who OD too. I don’t know any domitor that generous with their juice, though. I think it only really happens with rogues who drain a staked lick completely dry.”

“But you wouldn’t be the only Kindred happy to go childe-free.”

Ayame: “The kine do it as well. DINK, they call themselves. Double income no kids. Enjoy their vacations and early retirements.” The flash of a smile. Hadn’t he told her to smile more? “No retirement for us, though.”

GM: He smiles back. “I’ve heard of that. Maybe it’s right for them. I always wanted kids, though. Whole gaggle of them.”

Ayame: A beat of silence. Ayame inclines her head, almost a short bow that sends her hair swinging in front of her face.

“It is unfortunate that you are no longer in the position to do so. Sometimes, as former women, we think that we are the only ones who want such things, never observing that we are only half of what makes a child.”

“I am sorry that it is no longer an option to you.”

GM: He nods. “Thanks. There’s not a lot to be done about that, but I’ve enjoyed getting to know you tonight, Ayame.”

Ayame: “You as well, Roderick. I will let you know when I hear back from my contacts in Houston.”

GM: “You mentioned you were Korean, by the way? ‘Ayame’ sounds Japanese, though I’m no expert.”

Ayame: Ayame laughs, covering her mouth with one gloved hand. It’s a light, delicate sound, and it gives her face the allure that she should have had all along. If only she were to smile more, right?

“I am Korean, and it is Japanese. I am surprised you know the difference; most people assume that one Asian language or heritage is much the same as another. Perhaps I should take back my words about white privilege.” After laughing, her mouth more easily curls into a wry smile.

“But yes, I was named for my grandmother, after a sort. It is not common in Korea for families to name their children after relatives as they do here; they believe that each name should be unique to the child. My father was very taken with American society when he moved here and wanted to name me after his mother, Ailiseu, but my mother desired a more traditional naming convention. They compromised and took a word from another language that had the same meaning. Thus, Ayame.”

“When I still drew breath I dated a man of Japanese heritage, who asked me the same question. He used to tease me that I grew up with the wrong culture because of my name, or that I had been stolen from a nice Japanese family as a child. My parents were distraught that I was interested in him; they had hoped that I would settle down with a nice Korean boy, or a nice American boy.”

She gestures down to herself, fangs flashing in her mouth as she looks to him.

“As you see, it does not much matter in the end.”

“I suppose, though, it is better than what my brother did.”

GM: “It may have mattered, at least so far as your name. Ayame sounds nicer than Ailiseu to my white boy ears.” He smiles. “What did your brother do?”

Ayame: “Gave himself an American name because he did not like what my parents gave him. ‘Brock.’ A bastardized version of what his name means.” She doesn’t point out that his white boy tongue butchered her grandmother’s name.

“He wants nothing to do with the culture.”

“It is… or, well, it was, at least, a point of contention between them.”

“But I believe the fate of middle children is to be a nuisance to their parents.”

GM: “Better to have them in ones, twos, or four-pluses. That’s too bad for him though. We can all use something to belong to.”

“Anyway, we both probably need to get going. You have my number once you hear from your friends.”

Ayame: “Of course. I will be in touch, Roderick. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”


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Story Twelve, Caroline X

“This is the face of the evil my sire fought against.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline and Fatimah do not wait a great deal longer before Maldonato’s astral form materializes through a wall.

“All is in readiness?” inquires Fatimah.

The seneschal nods.

The two say nothing further, but set off through the complex.

“I hope your time with my cousin has been fruitful, Miss Malveaux,” Maldonato states.

Caroline: “She was most illuminating on many matters, seneschal. I am grateful for the opportunity to have met with her,” Caroline replies.

GM: “I am pleased by this,” Maldonato replies as they walk.

“Clan Lasombra will soon petition the Camarilla for formal entry into the sect. My cousin and I have worked with like-minded antitribu to lay the groundwork for this event for some time. Recent events have accelerated our plans.”

“Others, we fear, have imperiled them.”

Caroline: She wonders if she metaphysically rocks backwards at that revelation, given her ethereal form, but certainly mentally does.

A clan joining the Camarilla? She’s never heard of such a thing happening.

And, how, in this world of lies and mistrust could it ever happen?

“Does your exposure count among such factors by placing yourself and many others that might associate with you under suspicion, seneschal?” Caroline asks.

GM: “It does, Miss Malveaux. Mr. Smith’s hastily spoken words now threaten the work of decades. Change may happen slowly among our kind, but calamity’s pace is rarely deterred.”

Caroline: It makes more sense now. Her sire’s abject rage, a fury so intense that it drove her to action, overwhelmed her.

Certainly, it was rage at the traitorous words of another of his clan, a final rebuttal of everything proper and decent. Certainly, it was rage at the attack on his rule, and the besmirchment of his lover.

But the undermining of said lover’s dream, centuries in the making? She remembers George’s childe’s screams as she was drawn from the crowd and thrown into the flames. They haunt her. But she understands.

GM: “Your sire was also to be one of Clan Lasombra’s greatest advocates and sponsors for entry into the sect,” Maldonato continues, as if proceeding down Caroline’s same line of thought. “I need not say that recent events have also undermined this component of our plan.”

Caroline: “In many ways.” Timing is everything. A few years later…

No wonder, though, that he has held on so stubbornly to his throne.

GM: “Yet nor are all tidings ill ones, Miss Malveaux. Recent events have also furthered our plans. Events which have occured far beyond New Orleans, but whose ripples touch even our city. I have brought you to Cairo so that you might bear witness to some of these events with your own eyes.”

Caroline: “I am here to serve, seneschal,” Caroline replies.

GM: Maldonato takes Caroline by the hand. Fatimah’s palace disappears as the pair hurtle through space at speeds the Ventrue can only guess, yet it hardly feels as if they have moved at all. They reappear outside of an airport. Planes roar in the background as they land and take off.

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Caroline sees three vampires and four mortals waiting around three cars. They’re parked on the tarmac a ways off from the terminal.

The first vampire is a thin young Caucasian boy who looks around Simmone’s age. He only just breaks four and a half feet tall. There’s a knowingly smug, self-content smirk to his lips, and eyes that take in his surroundings with subdued but unmistakable arrogance. They’re eyes that say, I’m the smartest person in the room. He’s dressed in a tailored navy suit that fills out his slender frame, along with a pressed white dress shirt and black necktie. His brown hair remains uncombed and unruly in juxtaposition to the rest of his ordered appearance.

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The second is a 20-something Hispanic man who’s a walking piece of art. A punk rock stereotype bound up in black leather and chains, with a mouth that looks like it was made to hold a cigarette. Tattoos cover every bit of exposed skin below the line of his jaw, itself a hard, cutting thing that looks like it could take a solid blow. His head is shaved on the sides and longer up top, hair slicked back with enough product to tame even the unruliest of strands. Deep-set navy eyes peer out from under a strong brow, lips quirked up in a perpetual smile. A pair of gold rings glint off his right hand, and over the charcoal three-piece suit he wears a distressed leather jacket.

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The third is a 20-something Egyptian woman with short black hair, dark almond eyes, and a slender frame. She’s dressed in a tank top and black pants, rather immodest apparel for the region, although Caroline only notices so up close. Shadows coalesce thickly around her, faintly rippling against the night. Even the Ventrue’s deathless sight cannot fully pierce their depths. A full-looking bag hangs from her shoulders.

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The three vampires all turn as Maldonato and Caroline abruptly appear out of thin air.

“Miss Malveaux, may I introduce you to Mr. Westphal, Mr. Cimpreon, and Miss Mahmoud,” states the seneschal.

“They will brief you on the details of your present mission. You are in operational command.”

The Moor’s form fades into the night as though it were never there. The other three vampires’ gazes settle on Caroline.

Caroline: If the seneschal’s abrupt disappearance bothers her, she gives no indication of it outwardly. Indeed—her reaction is perhaps stronger at his severing of half of her name. An oversight or an intentional commentary? Either way, one that bodes ill.

Her gaze sweeps across the assembled vampires once, then again, as she takes in the details.

The boy genius, convinced of his superiority. She knows that look. Has echoed it more than once, though less since her death. Ventrue? She could see it, but part of her doubts one from the clan of kings would choose a child.

The second dredges up memories of Diego she buries more deeply than she buried the once gangster now corpse. Here too she could see something that might appeal to her clan: this man made over in the image of modern success. Young, potent, confident. The others might be of any age, but the tattoos mark him as a product of this or the last century—likely its latter half.

The last, the woman, is harder to read, and not only for the darkness around her. Local, rebellious but practical. Well-armed, she suspects.

It takes only a second—barely one longer than it might have once but noticeably less all the same.

She recalls wise words, ‘a beginning is a very delicate time.’ Here as in all things. Whomever she addresses she gives implicit legitimacy to within their hierarchy—and she might too show her own ignorance in so doing. Better then to let them choose their own speaker.

“Gentlemen,” she preambles, nodding in her insubstantial form. “Lady,” a further not quite bow to the dead woman.

“My name is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers,” she considers adding more, but dismisses it just as quickly. “We can speak here or en-route to our destination, as better suites the timeline.”

We. Our. Establish the bonding words quickly. They’re hard to ignore, break down barriers. At least, it works among kine.

Is this a test? A pressing matter that truly requires oversight? An opportunity? Perhaps all three she admits to herself.

It doesn’t really matter. Her role in matters may have changed but the truth hasn’t: the only way forward is through.

GM: “Conroy Westphal,” the boy enunciates crisply by way of introduction. “We’re already here.”

“Nico Cimpreon,” continues the man, not interrupting Conroy mid-sentence, but picking up where he might have continued. “Mission’s to escort a Camarilla bigwig to Cairo, once they get off their plane. Maldonato’s worried about Sabbat attacks.”

Conroy’s I’m-smarter eyes seem to look as if their owner considers himself smarter still when Nico says ‘Maldonato,’ but the smaller vampire says nothing.

“Talibah Mahmoud,” the Egyptian woman introduces, echoing the others, but adds nothing further.

Caroline: Sabbat. The bogeymen of Camarilla stories. She knows they exist, but relative to the more pressing dangers to her Requiem they’ve rarely occupied her thoughts.

That the boy spoke first helps clarify the bounds of the relationships between them, but doesn’t clearly bound them either, what with Nico’s interruption.

A personality conflict, then? Thrilling.

“These are your available assets?” She gestures to the yet unspoken for ghouls.

GM: They’ve each brought several. Westphal’s look a lot like the security types Caroline grew up around. Close-cut hair, dark suits, disciplined posture, and hard but blank expressions all suggest former military, but there’s an arrogant edge to their expressions. Cimpreon’s ghouls look like gangsters. They’re in suits too, sporting tattoos similar to their domitor’s. Their faces look more mean than arrogant. Mahmoud has just one ghoul, a thin and pasty-faced Egyptian woman in similarly casual attire. She’s black-haired, slim of build, and looks in her 20s.

“Yes,” answers Westphal. “All former Blackwatch contractors. Mine, at least.”

“Members of my crew,” answers Cimpreon. “They don’t like the suits, or the heat, but we’ve worked together for twenty years.”

“I can also conjure Apyssal entities, put not wizout risk to ze Masquerate,” answers Mahmoud.

Caroline: She acknowledges the inventory of ghouls without comment, then turns her questions immediately towards the intended extent of their mandate: are they to simply interdict any such attack, or are they intended to actively prevent it from occurring—at least so far as the representative is concerned?

Even as she asks the question her mind is already churning. She wishes she had Ferris or Fuller with her, but she’s listened to them enough that principles of force protection are far from lost on her.

Any dignitary in this circumstance almost certainly has their own protection in place—to say nothing of likely fearsome powers of their own. Contrarily, any attacker almost certainly has accounted for this protections. Their job then is to complicate those calculations and throw them out of balance.

GM: “All the elders said was to get the bigwig to Cairo in one piece,” answers Cimpreon. “Without having to get their hands dirty, knowing them.”

Westphal gives a humorless laugh. “We don’t want to prevent any attacks. We’ll look better if one happens and we fend it off than if the ‘bigwig’ never feels as if they’re in danger. The seneschal and the emira will want the Camarilla to feel as if they need us.”

Cimpreon sneers, though seemingly not in disagreement.

Caroline: Abyssal entities. Shadow magics. ‘Us.’

Of course they’re a coterie of Lasombra.

“Open-ended means opportunities,” she offers Cimpreon, not quite providing a smile. “Still, if the goal was a show of strength, there would be more pieces on the board. Presumably there are multiple political aspects in play, including a desire not to step on the toes of Cairo’s elders.” She nods to Mahmoud. “I presume they would be as displeased by a Masquerade-damaging conflict in a very public place as any other.”

And she’s essentially only a watcher in this game, at best a puppet master, not a blade on the field herself.

Shame, that, in some ways.

GM: “The elder’s from Europe,” says Cimpreon. “There’s been a lot of them lately. They might not even know any of Cairo’s Kindred.” He doesn’t quite smile either. “You’re right though. Opportunity, that’s wherever you fucking grab it. The bosses don’t want to give the order. But they know we’ll grab what’s in front of us.”

“Ze trib to pe city’s also pretty long,” shrugs Mahmoud. “And you Americans haf a stricter Masquerate zan us.”

Caroline: “That’s where you’d strike?” Caroline asks, her eyes meeting Mahmoud’s.

GM: “Yes,” the woman answers.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. In some ways that makes it easier. A conflict at the airport would be a disaster. “Are we providing explicit protection for him—traveling with him—or is he bringing his own? Regardless, how many do we expect him to be traveling with?”

GM: “They didn’t care to tell us,” shrugs Cimpreon. “That’s elders.”

“The elder’s a woman,” says Westphal. “We’re expected to escort her to the Khitta Antonius.”

Caroline: “Excellent,” Caroline answers. She takes a moment. “Is there anything else immediately pressing?”

GM: “You need a physical body,” says Westphal. “Mahmoud can give you one.”

Caroline: “Eventually,” Caroline agrees, mostly to cover up the fact that the idea—even the capability—hadn’t occurred to her.

She turns her gaze to the other ‘female’ Kindred. “Presuming you are willing.”

“Before we do so, however, I intend on taking the opportunity survey the route from the air.”

GM: “Further intelligence can’t hurt,” says Westphal. He surveys Caroline for a moment with his I’m-the-smartest eyes, then says, “Sabbat packs have made a regular practice of ambushing newly-arrived Camarilla elders. They’re convenient targets for reasons you can probably guess.” His gaze rests on Caroline for a moment. “Cairo’s bishop can’t control the packs anymore. Or at least the new ones.”

“Less chance of us being ashed if zhere’s four of us here,” answers Mahmoud.

Caroline: “Oh, I expect if they’re here to diablerize the elder getting ashed is one of the least of our concerns,” Caroline answers pointedly.

“How long do you need to prepare a body?” she asks the sorcerer.

GM: The word ‘diablerize’ doesn’t elicit any surprised or curious looks from the presumed Lasombra. But they seem to consider her thoughtfully upon hearing it.

A cut above the average Camarilla lick? Caroline never heard that word before she accepted her now-mother’s forbidden knowledge. Somehow she doubts anyone else would have told her.

“Longer I have, zhe petter zhe pody,” answers Mahmoud. “Rush job, 10 minutes. Somezhing better, hour.”

Caroline: More evidence they’re from outside the Camarilla, then, if the word isn’t new to them.

Caroline nods. “Do you need me present to begin?”

GM: “Yes.”

Caroline: The heiress nods. “Then I’ll return presently. In the meantime,” she turns her gaze to the other two Lasombra, “adding at least one, and preferably two additional cars would be ideal.”

She flashes a smile at the tattooed vampire. “I presume that can be easily arranged?”

GM: Cimpreon smiles back. “When it’s a beautiful woman askin’? Easy.”

Caroline: “I love strong men,” she almost purrs, turning her gaze to the last if their group.

“In the meantime, while an attack on the road may be most likely, the airport presents the most certain position to any attacker. We’d be foolish to discount it. Presuming you screened them from the top vice the bottom, your contractors will more readily sniff out something that doesn’t smell right here. I’d like them to poke around while we wait.”

GM: “They already have,” answers Westphal. He doesn’t say that of course he’d have thought of that. “We’ve been here for nearly an hour. We arrived early to check for ambushes and other surprises.”

Caroline: “Prudent,” she agrees. “Your diligence and forethought warms my cold dead heart.” Parry, riposte.

“I’ll not attempt to hold your hand then—you’re clearly far from a child.” Soothe.

A seed planted with each—perhaps enough. Prudence, lust, and respect. It’s superficial scatter, but she judges them to have all done something.

“I don’t intend on being long. If I am… you’ll have learned something of value from that, at least.”

She shoots into the sky, floating up, high enough to get a vantage on the airport and surrounding terrain both.

GM: Grim smiles answer the Ventrue’s final statement.

Caroline’s silver cord trails after her as she ascends, spiraling off into infinity. It has to be thousands of miles long, to reach her body back in Perdido House. The Ventrue feels no air against her face, nor any of the coolness of the desert night. The skies are dark but clear. There is none of the soggy humidity so endemic to her home city, even this close to a major water source.

Cairo’s airport, like most outskirts, is located on its city’s outskirts. Glowing white and yellow lights illuminate the signs of human civilization and the stretch of road back to Cairo. Beyond that is nothing but lightless, barren desert.

With some few exceptions.

Caroline soars down.

It’s far enough away from the airport that she’s not surprised the Lasombra didn’t notice it. She doubts anyone without a means of flight would have.

There’s a couple Toyotas, a few more aged-looking cars, and a military jeep. A small party of vampires stands outside them. Each and every one is unmistakably a monster. Some look like ISIS fighters, clad in dark face coverings, camo fatigues, and bristling with the amounts of weapons one only sees in the Middle East. Others make no effort to conceal their faces. It’s hard for Caroline to tell if they’re Egyptian, American, or something else. Almost one and all, they’re as pale and lifeless-looking as corpses. Some of them have hideous scars and ritual piercings and tattoos to rival any Amazonian tribe’s. Some have lamprey-like mouths with rows upon rows of hungry fangs. One has a tiny suckered mouth where he should have an eye. Some have claws and horns. Some of them wear necklaces of fangs, severed hands, and in one case, a half-decayed breast. They look like freaks. They look like savages. They look like monsters.

Caroline sees no ghouls among them. But she sees many kine. Maybe several dozen. They come from every walk of life. Some wear pajamas. Some wear tourist clothes. Some wear airport uniforms. Some wear military fatigues. Some look Western, some look Egyptian. Some are youths. Some are mature adults. A few elderly. There’s several young children.

One man tries to run. The vampires are on him in seconds. They literally disembowel him, cutting open his stomach and pulling out guts as the crowd of onlookers helplessly watches. They rip off his fingers and plug them up his ears and nostrils. They literally feed him his own guts, but before he can expire, they rip off his pants and shove an AK-47’s barrel up his rectum. They squeeze the trigger. The man explodes into gory chunks. The gun’s barrel and stock explode too, no doubt due to the obstructed muzzle capturing all of the rounds’ kinetic energy. One piece slices apart the vampire’s cheek, another piece opens his throat, and several more fuck up his fingers, but all he does is laugh. He and the other vampires roar with laughter as they point at the man’s red-stained leftover pieces.

“Anyone who runs dies like this! Do as you’re told, and you’ll die fast!” shouts one of the vampires.

“Someone translate for the sand niggers,” sneers another.

“Ay shakhs yarkud yamut hakdha! afeal ma qil lak, wasatamuat nzyfana!”

The white-faced kine turn to their tasks. The vampires toss them shovels. A few people vomit. When one woman freezes up, the vampires execute her in similarly gory fashion, then rip off her head and punt it around as a kickball. The one who blew up his gun messily slurps from the corpse to heal his wounds. The vampires scream orders. The survivors quickly start digging and excavate a pit. The vampires scream at them to hurry up. The kine dig until their hands are blistered and bleeding. Anyone who slows gets disemboweled on the spot. The survivors manically dig until the shovels are slick with red.

They don’t need to be told they’ve dug their own graves.

The vampires still tell them. They taunt the kine. They tell them how they’re going to rot in the earth, how they will never see their families again, how all of their ignoble lives led to this ignoble demise. How does it feel, to know they will die here?

One of the vampires dressed in a blood-caked Catholic priest’s habit chants something over a chalice. All of the other vampires bleed into it. The priestly vampire continues chanting. It sounds like the scraping and hollering of beasts. The vampires go down the line of mortals, one by one, and drain them each, then feed their corpses a little blood from the chalice. The kine all look too paralyzed to run, perhaps held at bay by supernatural means, perhaps by simple terror. Eventually, the vampires kill everyone, then dump the lifeless bodies on top of one another into the pit. It reminds Caroline of Holocaust and Khmer Rouge photos.

The vampires finally pick up shovels themselves, then start to throw earth over the corpses.

Caroline: A year ago, the sight might have made her vomit. Might have driven her to tears. Might have even sent her in terrified flight. A year ago she was kine.

Tonight, Caroline is one of the Damned. Her hands are stained with the blood of dozens. Her soul is stained with among the darkest sins even the Damned could indulge in. She doesn’t vomit, doesn’t cry, and doesn’t flee.

But that doesn’t mean the horrific scene leaves her unmoved. There’s valuable information here. About their soon to be attackers. About individual vampires’ capabilities. The strong ones, the quick ones. The weapons they have available. These are all things she notes almost subconsciously. Has to note subconsciously. Because while the scene doesn’t drive her to despair, it does drive her to something else: cold fury.

The callow slaughter—and presumptive mass Embrace in progress—by these monsters makes even the prince’s worst excesses seem tame. This is the face of the evil her sire fought against. This is the evil that makes sins like McGinn’s casual bigotry and Matheson’s deviance so easily overlooked.

Wanton violence and damnation conducted with a casualness only borne in long familiarity. Does she truly care for the slaughtered kine? Perhaps not. But these beasts, these monsters, these abominations, should be, must be, destroyed. Their very existence hardens her will.

There will be violence to follow. Violence she’ll be gladdened to be a part of.

She withdraws to her own band of licks.

GM: Her last sight as she floats away is of the shoveling vampires playing kickball with one of the riped-off heads.

The other three are where she left them. They look up at her approach.

“See anything?” asks Cimpreon.

Caroline: “Almost a dozen licks, and not fresh ones. They abducted and murdered twice that many kine for a mass Embrace. They have half a dozen vehicles and automatic weapons.” Her voice is calm, measured.

GM: Three scowls greet the news. But not surprise.

Caroline: “Presumably their intelligence is good enough to identify when the elder is arriving. I would expect them to be in place ready to ambush us on the road, likely using IEDs to disrupt the convoy, then releasing the starving fledglings onto it before cleaning up when it’s done.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs. “At least, that’s what I’d do. Alternatively, you could hit with the fledglings from one side and the ones that know what they’re doing from the other.”

GM: “It’s never fuckin’ easy,” mutters Cimpreon. “You guessed their MO. You fought the Sabbat before?”

Caroline: “Not like this, but like I said, it’s what I would do. It’s a good tactic if you can stomach murdering and damning a few dozen men, women, and children. The kids are a nice touch—they’re counting on your people to hesitate.”

GM: “They won’t,” says Westphal with a contemptuous smile.

Caroline: She gives the ‘youngest’ of their group a grim smile. “I didn’t think that would be an issue with your people, especially not from Blackwatch.”

GM: “The IEDs won’t be enough to destroy any Kindred,” he continues. “They’ll incapacitate the ghouls and soften up the Kindred. But the pack will want to save the elder and any strong-blooded childer to diablerize.”

Caroline: “I saw a few RPGs as well. Presume they’ll use those along with the explosions to try and immobilize vehicles.”

GM: “Almost a dozen is pad odds,” says Mahmoud. “Did zhe shofelheads dig out yet?”

Caroline: “No. They are still burying them now,” Caroline answers.

Which says very bad things about how good their intelligence is, she doesn’t need to add.

GM: “We need to stop that from happening,” says Westphal. “Dig up the pit. Decapitate or burn all of the corpses.”

Caroline: “Presumably they’ll hang around to make sure that doesn’t happen. It didn’t see one, but if it were me I’d try to cram them into a van or truck to deliver them to the point of the attack,” Caroline answers.

“There’s another thing—this isn’t a local pack. Looks like hitters brought in from elsewhere to reinforce.”

GM: “Not a surprise,” says Cimpreon. “They’re probably here to have fun in the Gehenna War.”

Caroline: The what? She keeps her face still.

GM: “They’ll be able to control the shovelheads. Van delivery would be convenient but they ain’t gonna need one.”

“Mostly control, barring interference,” corrects Westphal.

Caroline: “Will the control survive the priest’s destruction?”

GM: “They use a combination of mundane and supernatural control,” answers Westphal. “The priest’s control won’t be fully precise either. Most of the shovelheads will be frenzying from starvation and mental trauma. Even the ones who drain the slower risers won’t have much blood in their systems. Packs mostly point shovelheads at a target and let their Beasts take over.”

“But destroying the priest will make it harder for the pack to control the shovelheads and direct them towards targets not in their immediate vicinity.”

“Priest’s someone we’ll want to take out fast anyways,” says Cimpreon. “Second-in-command and all. What’s he look like?”

Caroline: Caroline provides a description, complete with the Catholic robes.

GM: The three take note.

“You need a pody,” repeats Mahmoud. “Zhese are pad odds. As I said. I can give you a rush job zhat won’t last long, or take my time to make a petter one.”

“Zhe rush jop will fall abart in apout an hour. Zhe petter one, a night.”

“We need to capture the priest, ductus, or both for interrogation,” says Westphal. “They’ve obviously received good intelligence to set up this ambush.”

Caroline: “How long for the shovelheads to dig out?” she asks Cimpreon, smiling at Westphal’s observation.

GM: “It’s up to them,” says Cimpreon. “They can hit the shovelheads with a shovel, drain ‘em, blood ’em, then dump ’em in the ground. They’ll wake up fast after that.”

“But the pack can take longer if they want. If they make the shovelheads postmortems.”

“They won’t do that here,” says Westphal. “The elder’s arriving tonight. Which they know.”

“Any back can berform a bostmortem or immediate mass Emprace,” says Mahmoud. “Briests who know ze ritae can time when zhe shofelheads wake up.”

“I’d assume the shovelheads are going to start digging out shortly before the elder arrives,” says Westphal. “That’s what I’d do if it were me. I’d perform the mass Embrace with a window of time in case something goes wrong, lay low, then time the shovelheads to wake up when they’re needed.”

“I’d also hafe eyes on zhe airport, if it were me,” says Mahmoud.

Caroline: Caroline nods and sweeps her gaze across the group.

“Capturing or killing is a pleasant fiction, but let us proceed under two assumptions I judge safe given their information as to the arrival of the elder.”

“First, they likely know the strength and capabilities of the elder and of all assembled here—myself excluded. Second, that they have judged their strength sufficient to overcome not only this gathering, but it in addition to the elder and their retinue.”

She waits a moment for any interjections or objections.

GM: “Yeah, but those fucks don’t know what we know,” says Cimpreon. “They’re countin’ on an ambush. They’re countin’ on the shovelheads. They’re countin’ on rocket launchers and maybe IEDs. We take those things away, and their plan’s gone to shit.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Verily? Assuming we could approach with all of your ghouls and Mr. Westphal’s without alerting them, how many of their ten would you expect to account for, presuming they average fifty years in the Blood and there are no elders among them?” Her tone carries no mockery or scorn.

GM: “Sabbat elders don’t go on missions like this,” says Cimpreon, shaking his head. “Be surprised if they average fifty years dead. Packs tend to be young.”

“There’s about as many of us as them, after Mahmoud gives you a body and brings over helpers. We stage an ambush too, fight this fight on our terms? Edge goes to us.”

“Or we let the pack attack the elder,” says Westphal. “It’s a better look if we help save her than if we simply say ‘there was a pack we took care of before you got here.’ Who would care about something like that? It’s better if she actually gets attacked, feels threatened in a foreign environment, and sees how much she needs us. And our elders.”

Caroline: This is taking too long. She’d hoped to let them reach the conclusion on their own, but the egos are too significant in the group.

Caroline shakes her head. “If we let them take the fight where they want and how, with the elder, we’ll lose. They’ve measured their strength as sufficient, and given their intelligence so far, I’d not doubt them. Even if the body Miss Mahmoud could provide was everything I might wish, I am not confident that I would meaningfully tip the scales in that conflict. I have less stake in that than you, since it won’t be me getting diablerized out in the desert, but I do have a persistent aversion to failure.”

“Which means you’re right, Mr. Cimpreon,” she gestures to him. “We need to attack them and disrupt their plans.”

She gestures to Westphal. “You’re also right, Mr. Westphal, simply disrupting them is the least of the victories we could take from this. If we attack them without the elder present, we need something to show the elder for our efforts: a captive with specific information, for instance, to lend credibility to our efforts.”

“But four on ten is poor odds, even with the ghouls,” she nods to Mahmoud. “In the night, in the desert, I expect them to be less effective. And if they’re able to wake the shovelheads against us we won’t be able to withdraw effectively either. Bringing the ghouls likely also forgoes the element of surprise.”

Her gaze sweeps across each in turn. “We need something to tip the scales significantly in our favor, and I don’t expect it to be our dignitary or further aid from the city,” she gives Mahmoud a moment to interject, “so we need to make our own.”

She settles her gaze on Mahmoud. “Something like two dozen frenzying shovelheads in their midst when we attack. Is that something you could accomplish, Miss Mahmoud?”

GM: Some very mean-sounding laughter goes up from the three vampires at Caroline’s suggestion.

“Yes,” answers Mahmoud with a hard smile. “Zhere’s some Apyssal creatures I can summon to really fuck with zhem.”

“We still need to take out the priest, and quickly,” says Westphal. “He’ll be the one best-positioned to disrupt that plan. If it comes down to it, the priest is expendable so long as we still capture the ductus.”

Caroline: “I think that can be arranged,” Caroline agrees.

She looks at Mahmoud. “Is there a different in capability between the bodies you might provide, based on time, other than longevity?”

GM: “Bropaply not, but zhis is ze first time I’ll hafe done zhis.”

Caroline: Caroline grins. “No pressure, then. It’s only your Requiem at stake tonight.” She looks to Westphal. “I presume your people came equipped for this? Explosives? RPGs? Magazines loaded with tracers?”

GM: “It’s bretty likely you’ll lose some of your mind, soul, or poth if you die in it, so no bressure eizher,” Mahmoud darkly smirks back.

Westphal nods. “We expected there’d be trouble.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs darkly at Mahmoud’s claim. “I don’t suppose you brought a spare blade as well, Mr. Westphal?”

GM: A sardonic smile. “We’re not amateurs.”

“Swords. Firearms. Help yourself.”

Caroline: “Who says chivalry is dead?”

She turns back to the Arab vampire. “Shall we then?”

GM: Mahmoud calls out in Arabic. Her ghoul gets out from one of the cars. Mahmoud starts to chant in a dark tongue that sounds only vaguely like Arabic and makes several of the nearly ghouls’ skin crawl. She seizes the female ghoul’s shadow by the throat and yanks it free from its owner. It writhes in place like a spider only half-squashed by a fat book as its limbs jerkingly flail. The syllables in Mahmoud’s chanting grow darker and her eyes turn solid black. Minutes pass as she beats and flays the shadow until it has six limbs, ten limbs, then is finally a formless black and blood-like mass seeping through the gaps in her fingers.

“Open wide,” she tells Caroline in a deep and chill voice that sounds nothing like her own, then raises her hands and blasts the formless shadows into the Ventrue’s mouth. The taste is horrific, like swallowing nitrogen alive with crawling spiders. Blackness pours over her vision as voices whisper in her ears.

You’ll never make him proud…

Seneschal’s plan is doomed…

You can’t protect them…

Caroline: If Caroline had teeth to grind she might. Instead she twists and jerks as the darkness pours into her, as it’s poison fills her soul even as the whispers fill her ears.

It’s not the first time she’s been on the receiving end of demons that whisper to her of her worst insecurities, but that doesn’t make it easier to hear them. Her fears repeated back to her, given form and voice beyond the everpresent voice of Claire in the back of her mind.

She falls, suddenly no longer weightless, and lands hard, hands and knees. The sharp stinging pain is nothing to the skewering of her own hopes and dreams, sharp barbs sunk into her spirit.

She could stop perhaps, could dig them out like the hooks and barbs and splinters they are. Reason them away. If there was time. If she believed they weren’t true. If she wasn’t mainlining the source of them in a way a junkie could only dream of. Getting her own fix.

Instead she does what she always has, rising, squaring her shoulders.

Don’t let them see your hurt. Better to bleed quietly beneath your clothing than to stop, clean, and bandage it where all the world can see. Isn’t that why she wears black after all?

You can’t see the blood if she’s already clad in night.

GM: More than clad.

As the shadows retreat from Caroline’s sight, she looks down and and sees her once-translucent body is black. Her surroundings are in black and white, too. She feels weightless and cold. Very, very cold. Mahmoud commands her ghoul to open her mouth. The Egyptian woman looks less than thrilled, but does so. Mahmoud gestures again, and Caroline’s vision races as she floods inside the woman. There’s a roaring in her ears, then a hammering thump-thump in her heart. She feels sweat beading down her back. She feels queasy and sore. But no longer cold.

Her vision, though, remains in black and white.

“You’re basically a ghoul, and any of zhe zhings zhat hurt zhem hurt you,” says Mahmoud. “You’ll hafe your full range of bowers.”

The vampires don’t wait for Caroline to recover her footing. One of Westphal’s ghouls tosses her a sheathed, one-handed sword that looks like an extra long tactical knife.

Caroline: She snatches the blade out of the air with she could never have managed in life, despite the unfamiliar body, taking the opportunity to judge the body’s reach, how it reacts, how it feels.

The breath that comes with the motion is an unpleasant reminder that the body is alive, as if she needed another beyond the bizarre aches and feelings.

“I’ll try not to get your ghoul killed,” she answers.

The body is shorter. Its reach is less than her own. Its weight is different. Unfamiliar.

“Do you have anything longer?” she ask of the group as a whole, checking the blade’s edge.

GM: The edge looks sharp, but one of the Blackwatch ghouls tosses her another sword that’s a few inches longer.

The three vampires spend some time reviewing strengths and tactics. Cimpreon is best at hand-to-hand combat. Mahmoud at Abyssal magics. Westphal at controlling minds. Cimpreon points out that’ll make him useless against the shovelheads.

Caroline: She belts on the first blade and holds the second as she takes note of the coterie’s specialties.

Then she lays out their plan in greater detail.

As previously stated, the goal is to strike when the shoveheads awaken, then introduce panic into their ranks, causing them to frenzy on the pack. Westphal’s soldiers will open with RPGs into the vehicles and incendiaries into the group as a whole. When the fighting is joined, they’ll aim to break up any packets of resistance with the same while holding back to screen Mahmoud and her sorcerous ghouls.

Mahmoud will focus her efforts on disrupting control of the shovel heads and sowing chaos into their ranks, screened by Westphal’s ghouls.

Caroline and Cimpreon will lead the laters ghouls into the pack from the opposite side from the shovelheads, screening Westphal with them. Their goal is to kill or capture the priest and/or leader, ideally with Westphal’s control abilities.

Once they’ve captured one and induced panic and confusion the intent is to withdraw as effectively as possible—the goal is to stop the attack, not attempt to slaughter a pack with twice their numbers.

“I expect the first few moments to be where this is decided—the fire and suddenness of our strike inducing frenzy into the pack as well, driving some away or at each other. In that moment they will not know our numbers or strength. The longer the battle goes, the worse our odds.”

GM: Cimpreon points out that the shovelheads will almost certainly be frenzying when they burst from the earth, as a consequence of their traumatic deaths and ravenous hunger. Only a few fledglings of exceptional strength of will don’t succumb to their Beasts after that dark rebirth.

Mahmoud has brought no additional ghouls. She will call forth shadow servants, what Cimpreon terms “helpers,” before the attack.

They will also be what facilitate the shovelheads’ attack of the pack.

Westphal agrees with her objective. They don’t need to take out the whole pack. They just need to make them give up the attack on the arriving elder as a lost cause.

“The shovelheads already present a significant asset loss. If we take out the pack leadership too, the rest of them will likely give up the mission.”

“There’ll be a few motherfuckers crazy enough to fight ‘til they’re ash, though,” says Cimpreon. “How it is with these packs.”

Caroline: Caroline grins. “Not just among them.”

Her gaze settles on him. “One more thing, for you specifically. If I should lose control in this body for whatever reasons, get away.”

GM: “You think so little of me, beautiful,” says Cimpreon in mock hurt. “You’re lookin’ at one of those motherfuckers. If you go apeshit, we’ll leave you. But the rest of us ain’t leavin’ until the ductus and priest are in the ground.”

Caroline: “Oh, to be clear, darling,” Caroline answers in a voice that’s not quite her own, “I wasn’t suggesting you flee from the battle. Only from me.”

GM: “I’ll give you the same advice,” he smirks.

Caroline: “Any final points?” she asks, tearing her gaze from him and to the group.

GM: Mahmoud says the others have some time while she calls forth servants.

Caroline: She looks back to Cimpreon. “In that case, might I trouble you for a warm-up?” she asks, loosening the longer of the blades in its sheath.

GM: “Get used to the new body,” he nods, borrowing another from one of Westphal’s ghouls. He doesn’t seem to be carrying his own.

Caroline: Caroline steps away from Mahmoud’s ritual with Cimpreon and draws the offered blade. It doesn’t quite make up for the loss of reach in this body, but it’s better than the first one offered.

She opens several paces between them and nods her ready to the Lasombra. “Be gentle, it’s my first time,” she offers wryly.

GM: “I’ll treat you right, baby. Just relax and let me in…” he smirks, raising his blade.

Then the vampire lunges at her, bringing down the sword in a high arc that scores the tarmac as Caroline sails past. She feels sluggish, though, like she’s been drugged. In a sense, she supposes she has been. She perspires, gets winded, and has to deal with so much noise in her ears from her bodily processes. Cimpreon doesn’t have to deal with any of that as he viciously presses his assault: his undead body never slows down. It’ll always work at peak efficiency.

Compared to her early nights, fighting blindingly fast Kindred like René, Caroline supposes she’s gotten in more practice with brutally strong ones of late. Baker, Meadows, and now Cimpreon, who isn’t so fast as either of the last two. Caroline just has to duck his savage blows and wear him down with a thousand cuts. He provides a good match, and by the time they’re done, Caroline is sore all over. Calluses are starting to form on her hands. The ghoul’s hands.

Westphal observes the fight with interest.

“You were wrong, Mahmoud. She doesn’t have her full range of capabilities,” the child vampire assesses. “The ghoul’s body doesn’t have any of her old body’s muscle memory. It’s never received any combat training.”

Cimpreon shrugs. “Extra sword ’gainst the pack either way. When the fuck do we get to pick the fight we want?” He puts away the sword he was using. “Good match, beautiful.”

Caroline: Caroline’s chest heaves in great gasps of air. Or rather, the ghoul whose body she’s inhabiting does. Sweat runs from the body and has already soaked through its hair.

She’s pushed it beyond what she thought its limits were, or perhaps are. She’s too accustomed to not having to deal with tiresome needs like breathing. Not being encumbered by muscle fatigue is an advantage she’s not fully appreciated since her earliest nights.

“We’ll… have to go again… on my terms.” She grins despite the obvious fatigue.

Still, this had value. It showed her the weak spots. The difference in her reach she has to account for. In stamina. As predicted, the flight will be over in its early moments one way or another.

Still, for it, she’ll put up a better showing against the real enemy.

She downs several bottles of water from the group’s stores, mindful of the frailty of the body she inhabits and the desert’s dry heat. She waits on Mahmoud to finish her conjuring.

GM: All of the ghouls have a fair amount of water bottles between them, perhaps little surprise for non-Egyptians unaccustomed to the country’s heat. However, the desert doesn’t feel too warm at night, either. It’s moderately cool. Probably 50-60 Fahrenheit. All of the ghouls have coats or jackets on. Caroline’s, which she didn’t remove during the sparring match, is soaked through with sweat. That’s another thing she’d gotten used to not doing.

The desert night is alive with shadows. Mahmoud has traced a summoning circle over the ground, etched within her own blood. It looks like the section of tarmac inside has fallen away into a realm of utter nothingness. Animate shadows cavort inside of it. Sometimes they’re shaped like demons, sometimes cobras or crocodiles, sometimes skeletally thin humanoids with too-long arms and hands. The air around them seethes with cold hatred. The other ghouls do not look eager to stand nearby. Mahmoud barks a final word in a guttural tongue and the circle collapses. The shadows seep out, their shapes alternately morphing between three dimensions and just two, pressed flat against the tarmac.

Caroline: She reverses the jacket, ignoring the appearance in favor of function—she’s not accustomed to getting cold—and ties back the ghoul’s hair. She’ll have to ditch the jacket before the fighting starts, either way.

The Ventrue doesn’t study the shadows too closely, but nods her approval to the occultist.

Time to go. She’s certain calling and controlling the monsters is not easy.

GM: The vampires and ghouls pile into cars and drive off. Westphal accepts a shorter blade from his ghouls. He’ll need to get up close to meet the pack’s eyes, and his mental powers will avail him not against frenzying Kindred. Mesmerizing some of the pack into attacking their ductus will be the only way to be certain who that is.

Once they’re close enough, the cars disembark for the party to proceed in greater stealth on foot. One of the Blackwatch ghouls volunteers binoculars.

The pack is still there, standing vigil over the mass grave. Many of them look bored and are playing a grisly game of kickball with some of their victims’ severed heads, now stripped clean of flesh into little more than grisly skulls with clumps of attached hair.

Caroline: Caroline puts all the ways this could go wrong out of her mind as they walk.

Once the die is cast, there’s no longer any room for doubt.

She looks over their numbers again. In for a penny.

When Mahmoud answers affirmatively to her whispered inquiry about the potency of blood across her ghoul’s body, she quietly offers the gift of her speed to the other vampires and Cimpreon’s ghouls.

GM: The ghouls are all-too glad to imbibe. Mahmoud says Caroline’s vitae, technically a ghoul’s, won’t be able to bond the other vampires. They merely offer thin smiles and say they’ll let it cool for a few seconds anyway, “Just in case.”

Caroline: “Of course,” she answers almost mischievously. She lets each of the licks take their turn and three more ghouls besides before pulling back, tightly wrapping the shallow wound. Each throb of it his another reminder of the weakness of this flesh.

GM: It’s actually painful, too, to cut into her flesh with the hard steel. Caroline has some inkling of what Cécilia went through, though no one volunteers to do the cutting for her. Mahmoud takes Caroline’s wrist before she can wrap it and licks the wound closed, then carefully licks up any trace of remaining blood.

“Zhat plood’s smell will gife our bositions away pefore any noise efer does.”

Caroline: She nods to the mystic.

GM: Everyone seems to walk with that much more spring to their step after imbibing. The pack, meanwhile, has a few sentries keeping watch via binoculars. Caroline initially fears that stealth may be a foregone conclusion between the flat terrain, the pack’s night vision, and the size of her temporary coterie. Everyone digs down to wait after Caroline suggests one of Mahmoud’s servants cause a distraction. She confirms they can lift corporeal objects, and after a few thrown rocks, the pack sentries sharply turn away at the noise and send several vampires to check it out. Most of them, though, either watch the mass grave or play games with their victims’ remains. Several of them look very bored by the waiting.

Mahmoud’s other shadows seep across the earth, then sink into it.

Bestial howls start to go up from the shaking earth. Several packmates laugh. All turn to watch the spectacle. Caroline sees it happen through the binoculars. Badly gashed, newly-pale, and madly clawing hands burst from the graves like zombies in a horror movie, but terribly real. The fledglings that drag themselves out are ravenous-looking things with sunken eyes, protruding fangs, already corpse-pale skin, and shredded and earth-specked clothing. Almost all of them are bleeding, and screaming bloody murder as they throw themselves at their killers. Their sires. The pack laughs and starts to subdue them until the frenzies pass, clearly old hands at this. The ones who get hurt just earn more derisive laughter from their fellows.

Then the Blackwatch ghouls open fire.

Caroline: She’s moving when they rise to fire. Soft steps carrying her forth quickly across the desert. They have to time these attacks carefully, give them no chance to set themselves against the charge, to gain their own weapons. Chaos.

Chaos is the order of the day. The longer blade is naked in her hand, the shorter one still belted at her waist.

GM: Cars go up in flames as the HEIs go off, exploding 900 steel balls and 2-3,000 incendiary pellets over a 15 meter radius. The pack roars and screams. Someone bellows orders to disperse, to make less clustered targets. Several vampires lose themselves to their Beasts and mindlessly tear into their fellows, but most of the pack responds with discipline under fire and charges towards the source of the explosions. The priest raises the chalice and starts chanting in that same bestial tongue, only for a blast of shadow to knock it from his grip.

Then the shadows rise.

Mahmoud’s servants give bone-chilling screams of hate like nails over a chalkboard as they tear at the shovelheads, whipping them into frenzy and then seeping back into the earth, leaving them to turn upon their fellows. They lope forward on all fours like animals, smashing into the more experienced vampires with mindless savagery. Packmates roar back and tear into them, many losing themselves to their Beasts too. The voice from earlier shouts, “Take out the shooters!”

Caroline: She told the others their goal was to strike and withdraw. She told them they had no interest or hope in slaying the entire pack. She spoke truthfully. But not honestly.

Caroline is no saint by any measure, but these creatures are worse than monsters. They’re savages, heathens, nightmares from one’s darkest dreams.

The screams of the dying men, women, and children and the glee of the pack as they taunted, murdered, and damned them ring in her ears. Dozens not only slain—god, she’s slain plenty of her own—but callously consigned to Hell and Earth and thereafter in a cruel mockery of the divine justice of the Embrace.

The Sabbat. This pack. They deserve every ounce of fury she can muster. They are a foe she can fight without reservation or hesitation. As that anger burns bright she can almost feel the touch of her sire, through her blood. Perhaps it’s her imagination, but she imagines it’s the same thrill he must have felt in his youth against the same foes.

She flies into this battle with blade in hand and joy in her heart born from righteous fury. It beats in rhythm with the heart in her breast in a rising crescendo.

GM: Automatic weapon fire sprays the night from both sides; from the Sabbat, armed to the teeth, and from Cimpreon’s ghouls, shooting as they advance. Several vampires soar into the air with stupendous leaps, or simply blur across the desert, too fast for mortal eyes to follow. Distance means little to these creatures. Caroline ducks past a slashing blow from a vampire with knife-length claws and a woman’s half-mummified breast swinging from a chain around his neck. Her sword slashes through his neck, and then his howling face rots a month in an instant as his corpse hits the earth.

Caroline: Going for the guns was a mistake, Caroline well knows. They might be effective against the ghouls, but they’re the least of the threat to the damned with the advantage of their surprise—and especially the fire—spent. The rest of this fight won’t be decided by ghouls with firearms—it’ll be decided up close on the edge of her blade, Cimpreon’s strength, and Westphal’s will.

The thought is among the last of the tactical ones that cross her mind before the conflict turns very pointedly into a more personal one, time seemingly to slow as she avoids the first vampire’s attack.

She doesn’t quite howl with satisfaction as her blade finds its first lethal purchase, but the feeling is there all the same, a violent thrill echoing through the all too human hands she wields when the blade makes contact.

Going for the throat had been dangerous—if he’d been tougher, the blade might have snagged on his spine and been yanked from her hands. That’s a risk she’s willing to take while she retains a second at her belt. They need to even these numbers quickly, before the frenzying vampires turn their attention to them instead of their fellows.

GM: The guns mainly seem to be used by the slower vampires without a fast means of closing distance or ranged supernatural attacks. Shooting other Kindred is less than efficient, but it’s better than doing nothing. Shotgun and automatic weapons fire scream past her as she scans the sea of monstrous faces for her target. He’s still there, chanting and waving his hands at the shovelheads as they and his frenzying packmates savage one another. He tries to knock aside the anvil that’s come between his pack and the attackers’ sudden hammer.

They don’t give him the chance.

Cimpreon soars through the air, lands in front of the priest, and smashes a fist into his face with a hideous crunch of bone. Caroline blurs from point to point and slices into him from behind, dragging up her sword from the small of his back to shoulder blade. Up close, the priest’s ecclesiastical robes are a mockery of the church: the garment looks like tanned leather sewn from multiple human skins. Their flattened, eyeless faces soundlessly scream up at Caroline from his chest. Woven human hair provides a fur lining to the hood.

The priest himself resembles an alien with leather gray skin and no lips, nose, or mouth. Satanic tattoos dance along his features. He gives a pained grimace as the two vampires tear into him, and then inclines his head in a motion almost like a bow. His robes explode apart as his muscles gorily rearrange themselves and he grows over eight feet high. His new form resembles a scaled, greasy-furred humanoid with apelike arms tipped with jagged black nails, and a bristling row of spines tracing the length of its backbone.

Enormous claws slash through the air. Caroline ducks and weaves past them, but they rake across Cimpreon’s chest, leaving ugly red gashes through the Lasombra’s now-ruined suit.

Westphal’s ghouls maintain covering fire with the HEIs. Burning pellets explode through the pack’s embattled ranks, stopping the ones not battling the shovelheads from getting too close to Caroline, Cipreon, and the priest.

Caroline: She pulls back, breathing hard already as she pushes the kine’s body to its limits, but only to build speed on the charge—something to add weight to her attack against creature as monstrous on the outside as its deeds have been. Part of her instinctively recoils in terror from the monster, this creature far beyond her conception of Kindred, but he’s not the first such beast she’s seen.

The memory of the first only drives her at at him with renewed fury and hatred, his form overlaying in her mind with the last. Hack down, hack apart. She should have brought an axe, but any edge will do its work against flesh. And ultimately, he is still flesh.

This thing bleeds. She’s seen it bleed. And if it bleeds, she can kill it.

She’s killed a demon before.

GM: Caroline ducks low, avoiding another swipe of those enormous claws. She slashes her blade across the monster’s leg, sending it stumbling as she hamstrings it. Cimpreon leaps into the air and delivers two more bone-crunching blows to its already broken face, one of which puts out its right eye. Then he grabs the monster’s shoulders and launches himself over it. As it claws the air, Caroline blurs past on the ground, hamstringing its second leg. The monster topples to its knees, but catches Cimpreon by the torso. Claws rip through his chest. The Lasombra tosses Caroline a stake as it prepares to dash him head-first against the ground. She blurs up the creature’s leg, then rams the stake through its back. The wooden doom slides through the creature’s ribs like a knife through butter as she pierces the unbeating heart. The thing collapses and doesn’t move.

More vampires, however, are already breaking past the ghouls’ covering fire, howling as they converge upon the Kindred who’ve laid low their priest.

A short ways away, an imperious-looking man with solid black eyes conjures his own writhing tendrils of darkness, then sets them against Mahmoud’s. The night tears itself apart as whirling shadows fly between what can only be two Lasombra. Their contest reminds Caroline of the clash between Maldonato and her sire.

Caroline: She takes one look at Cimpreon’s maimed condition and the onrushing attackers. “Take him and go!”

The words cost her something—precious breath, but there’s not much choice. She trusts the Kindred’s speed-enhanced ghouls to buy him the time to withdraw with their prize and turns on the Lasombra conjurer. There can be no escape with sorcery dogging them into the night.

GM: Westphal’s voice rings through the din of combat over and over: “Stake the ductus. Stake the ductus. Stake the ductus.” Caroline briefly catches a childish glee in his eyes as he catches packmates’ gazes and orders them to attack their own leader. The look of supreme arrogance on his face grows with every will he crushes.

Cimpreon’s savaged flesh is already knitting itself back together, and he scowls as if to object, then seems to realize he’s the only one strong enough to carry the monster and hoists it over his shoulder. Caroline slashes through ranks of onrushing vampires rallying to the rival Lasombra’s side. He sneers at Mahmoud, casually exploding apart one of her monsters into a shower of screaming motes. Mahmoud’s conjured servants, the frenzying shovelheads, and the ghouls’ covering fire are keeping the pack from mounting a united response, but Caroline wonders how long it will last.

Westphal, however, beats everyone else to the kill. While Mahmoud pits her shadows against her clanmate’s, and Caroline cuts, slashes, and blurs closer, Westphal simply lets his dominated puppets bury the ductus under weight of numbers and ram a stake through his heart. One of Cimpreon’s ghouls blurs up to the paralyzed corpse and hefts it over his shoulders.

WIZDRAW!” shouts Mahmoud.

Caroline: Caroline blazes across the front as the ghouls and other Kindred pull back, seeking more distraction and disruption than outright harm of the the regrouping pack. Even down three of their number for the count—that she’s seen—they still outnumber the Lasombra almost two to one.

GM: Perhaps others have fallen too, but the situation looks grim. Animate shadows grasp at Caroline’s legs, trying to pull her down. Spectral wolves howl and bound through the flames. One of the HEIs stops firing—out of ammo, ghoul taken out, doesn’t matter. Grenades start exploding around them. Those can’t be the ghouls’. Where did the pack get those? Did they always have them? Meanwhile, the shovelheads, for all their savagery and numeric superiority, are going down hard against the more disciplined, experienced, and only marginally less savage pack. Mahmoud’s servants harass their flank, but the battlefield’s present state is all-too plain: they’ve accomplished their objective and it’s time to get the hell out.

Caroline: Everything aches—she can feel this body’s muscles burning as its feeble heart struggles to pump enough blood to keep it going, to match its demands. She pushes onward, the blade slicing through the grasping shadows.

It’s just not enough. She’s a flicker too slow, this body a flicker too weak. Everything just off enough to slow her down.

She pushes harder.

Weak.

The blade dances, blazing through the night.

Slow.

She’s bleeding, doesn’t even know where it came from in the chaos, but it doesn’t stop her.

Pathetic.

She fights as much against her own demons as against these ones as the plan starts to unravel. She just has to snip that fraying thread. She has to hold things together. She can’t fail. Not like this.

GM: Mahmoud runs, but the clash of shadows seems like it’s drained her. Shadows still cling to her legs and she runs as though caught in quicksand. Caroline wonders how much slower she’d be without her borrowed speed. Westphal only has a child’s legs: Caroline doubts he’d get very far without her blood, either. Cimpreon is either weighed down by the monster’s corpse, or the bulky thing is just awkward to carry even if he isn’t weighed down. Caroline may be unaccustomed to this body, but she’s accustomed to being fast. She blurs and weaves from point to point, harassing the regrouping pack from half a dozen positions seemingly at once, buying the others time to withdraw. A few stray gunshots clip the vampires’ backs, along with another blast of shadow before Caroline severs the owners’ fingers from their hand. The monstrous vampire screams in her face, and then she’s gone in another blur.

The ghouls, however, fare dismally. One of Cimpreon’s renfields goes down in a heap beneath two Sabbat vampires. They shred him apart like starving wolves before throwing themselves back at the shovelheads and Mahmoud’s shadowy demons. Cimpreon’s other ghoul, the one with the ductus’ body, seems like he’s about to break past enemy lines. Then one of the spectral wolves savages the Blackwatch ghoul with the remaining HEI right as he pulls the trigger. His aim goes wide and catches Cimpreon’s ghoul in friendly fire. The man loses half his face and goes down in flames, writhing and screaming over the ground. The remaining Blackwatch ghoul, however, rises magnificently to the occasion. He blurs right back into the fray, dodging and weaving past the still-clashing pack and shovelheads, then hoists his fallen comrade and the ductus’ bodies over his shoulders. He’s gone in another blur.

The glowing wolves harrow the survivors’ flanks as they withdraw. Spectral jaws close and tear around Caroline’s legs before she slashes open the creatures’ flanks. They dissolve into mist with ghostly howls. Lobbed grenades explode around the coterie. Mahmoud fires back with blasts of shadow. Westphal conjures a few lesser blasts. Bullets whiz back and forth between both sides.

The remaining shovelheads and Mahmoud’s servants keep the pack pinned down as the coterie pulls back. They get into their cars and drive like hell.

Caroline suspects she could run faster than any of the vehicles, at least in her real body. The tortured and gasping lungs in her borrowed one, however, wheeze for relief. She slumps back against the seat as the car moves underneath her, hurting everywhere. There’s cuts and gashes from more places than she can guess.

But there’s one sensation burning in her gut hotter than any wound.

Victory.


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Story Twelve, Celia XIV

“I am yours. Yours. Forever.”
Celia Flores


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick leaves Celia some money and tells her to send him a bill for the rest. Jade drives to the Evergreen. The sound of classic Louis Armstrong jazz fills the posh club’s air, though there’s few people in the lounge at this late hour. Actually, it’s all but empty. She’s still greeted by Fabian. The ever-smiling butler tells her she’s looking “Flawless as always, ma’am,” and inquires what he may do for her.

Celia: Jade doesn’t head immediately to the Evergreen. She has a few things to do first: change, for one (she’ll look relatively silly in front of Roderick, but not Savoy) and make a copy of the notes that Roderick had left behind. The latter she stuffs into the purse she carries with her, striding into the Evergreen with the ease of someone who has long been at home in the place. She smiles at Fabian.

“Is Lord Savoy free, perchance? I had wanted to follow up with our conversation from last night. I’d have called but, well, phone trouble.” Her smile turns wry. “I don’t have an appointment,” she admits after a second.

GM: “I am afraid he is not, madam, nor is he presently at the Evergreen. I can attempt to fit you in to his schedule later, or pass on a message if it is a matter of some urgency.”

Jade has never heard of elders being available for drop-ins. She supposes it was a long shot.

Celia: She doesn’t sigh, but her lips do pull down at the corners. She’s pretty certain that elders do this to vex them. Do they not want results? Did he think she’d take weeks to deliver Roderick to him?

“It’s not urgent.” Not really, anyway. “Can you set me up with something, sooner rather than later?”

GM: “His next opening is in three nights, madam. Is that amenable to your schedule?”

Celia: “It will do. Is the warden upstairs?”

GM: “I am afraid he is not, madam. I can pass on a message to him as well, if that would be most convenient for you.”

Celia: She should have stood on the roof and waited for her sire in the rain for all the good this trip did her. Do they not want fucking information or what? She’s doubly pissed now that Roderick destroyed her phone so that she can’t just call the detective to meet up somewhere else.

This time she does sigh, forcing the air from her lungs long enough to convey her mild irritation.

“No,” she says after a moment, “I’ll just call tomorrow.”

She supposes it gives her time to pack an overnight bag to spend the day with Roderick, at any rate. Clean the apartment, get rid of all the broken bits. Not how she wanted to spend her evening, really, but… well, whatever.

She can’t wait until she’s an elder and gets to dick people around.


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

Celia: It isn’t that she forgot about the extra phones Alana had purchased for her. Three, she had said, and the ghoul had delivered them. Two for her, one not for her, but with the phone smashed as it is she might delay the delivery of the third to the party she had intended it for. No, it isn’t that she forgot; it’s that she had thought, perhaps naively, that both Lord Savoy and Warden Lebeaux would want to see her, might even be expecting her. What had Roderick said? Only if you’re their childe can you expect them to let you hang around? Grandchilder count for nothing, it would seem, if Savoy can’t bother to see her for another three days.

It’s a less-than-charitable thought she has about her grandsire. A less-than-charitable thought she has of her sire. Selling hot air, Roderick had passed down from Coco; is that how they see her? That she has done nothing for them? She died for him. She died to get them that information. She has killed for him. Multiple times. Any time he’s needed anything she has jumped to do it. Murdered her own sister. Her own—

She can’t let her thoughts unravel further. She reels them in. She is conflicted, that is it. Conflicted over this meeting with Roderick, the things they had discussed, the plan she has moving forward. Even he had made her wait a night. The thought is a bitter one. Had he done it intentionally, to let her know that she thinks himself above her, or had he simply been busy? I don’t trust you not to be like any other lick, he’d said, but there he goes playing stupid games with her, too.

Jade gives herself a moment to let the irritation fade. She can only imagine that, should she not go calling after Lebeaux to change his ghoul back, she will be blamed for it if the sheriff picks him up as a hunter. As if he’d even listened to the thoughts she’d sent him in the first place.

Still, better not to risk it.

She pulls out her phone to dial Lebeaux.

GM: He picks up after a couple rings.

“Lebeaux.”

Celia: “Good evening, Pete. Are you and your friend available? I promised him a follow-up and thought tonight might work for him.” Vague enough, she thinks.

GM: “It’s a little late tonight. How’s early tomorrow?”

Celia: “Of course. Will you please remind him that if I’m to try the high-frequency ray he shouldn’t use any exfoliants or go tanning, and that he needs to avoid salicylic and benzoyl peroxide based products?” She supposes Lebeaux will have his ghoul do what he wants, but far be it from her to at least not warn the man.

GM: “I’ll listen to the expert. We’ll see you later.”

Celia: She bids him good evening and hangs up.

Her next call is to her “sire,” Veronica.

GM: The phone rings to voicemail.

“Make it good,” sounds the harpy’s voice.

Beeeep.

Celia: Typical. She’d expected this one, at least. The harpy is always busy, or at least pretends to be.

“Hello, gorgeous. I had the most delicious thought this evening and wanted to share. Give me a ring when it’s convenient, yeah?”

She hangs up.

GM: That’s probably ‘good,’ at least.

Celia: Of course it’s good. Jade knows her sire. It’s got a compliment, a secret, and a request at her leisure. What else can the harpy ask for?

Her thoughts turn to the girl who always picks up her calls. After this night, she needs it. She rings Alana.

GM: For once, it rings to voicemail.

Flawless’ day manager does need to sleep at some point.

Celia: Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

“Hey babe. Give me a call if you get this before your morning run.”

She hangs up.

She’s just going to go back home and twiddle her damn thumbs until 5AM, apparently.


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: The trip back to her half-wrecked haven is uneventful. She could get started on cleaning it up herself.

Or wait and let one of her renfields do it.

Celia: It’s a brief trip back to her haven on the edge of the Quarter. She lets herself in and once more locks the door behind her, gaze sweeping the destruction that the Brujah had left behind. He hadn’t given her nearly enough to cover the expense of replacing her furniture again, but he’d said to bill her for the rest of it, so perhaps… well, her tastes are marginally more expensive than others, perhaps he won’t be surprised when she hands him a large bill. And she does, indeed, intend to hand him that bill. His fault.

She does not need Alana or Randy to clean up this mess. They have not been told of this location and she will not do it now simply to save herself the headache of cleaning. She has arms and legs; she can do it herself.

She finds an empty garbage bag, a broom and dustbin shoved into the corner of a hall closet, and gets to work sweeping up the worst of it.

Quicker, perhaps, to use her speed to her advantage here. She knows that is one of its primary uses, cleaning up messes like this. And she could. But then she would not be able to listen to the music she has connected to her speakers, the songs that make her want to dance like she hasn’t done in years. Happy, upbeat songs; the kind of top 40s stuff she pretends she doesn’t listen to around other licks, but she and Alana belt in the car while Randy looks on, torn between amusement at her antics and disgust at her choice in music.

There’s a spring in her step as she sweeps. She’s spending the day with Roderick. He said he wants to trust her. He’d held her. All these years later and he still makes her giddy. Not being able to get ahold of Savoy, Veronica, Alana—what is that compared to him? A sleepover. Finally seeing his place. She wonders if it is the same as when they were in college together, if his work will be spread across multiple desks and tables. If his ghouls live with him. She’s never met them, never even thought that he had any. But of course he does. Every lick has their servants; why would he be any different? He probably doesn’t sleep with his, at least. Is that jealousy purring in her chest?

Christ.

Celia laughs at the thought. Of course not. That would be silly. She spins around the broom as if it were a partner in a ballroom, her skirt twirling up around her legs.

GM: The mix of pop hits belts out, one after another. It’s too bad she can’t tell anyone, “Me and Stephen are getting back together!” She can picture Emily responding, “Well good for you guys,” and immediately pressing for details. She can picture her mom gasping with delight before doing the same. There’s Alana, but would she be jealous? Randy would probably feel even more inadequate.

Then again, she and Roderick had floated that “get married as breathers” idea. Maybe it’s on the table again.

Celia: She hopes he didn’t see that thing in the closet. That would be awkward.

GM: Pick out dresses and venues. Send out invitations for guests. Since her dad’s an asshole, have her mom give her away. Have Lucy as the flower girl. Emily as the maid of honor?

Celia: Who would she even invite to this? Would she have to change Roderick’s face? Or has it been long enough that no one would notice? She won’t pretend she hasn’t thought about it, even after what he did to her. What it would be like to actually get a wedding. Whether or not there would be any other Kindred guests in attendance. Probably not—it seems a silly thing, doesn’t it, to marry as a mortal.

Does ‘til death do us part’ even count if they’re both already dead?

GM: Roderick can’t invite anyone. He’d said he’d prefer a smaller wedding, last they talked about the idea.

Celia: Pity. Celia had always wanted a big party. She enjoys being the center of attention. Being adored. Still, she understands the logic behind it, and of course she will give him what he wants.

They should have had something brilliant, though. Something beautiful. Maybe now he can invite his sister, at least. There’s an upside.

She tries to picture Savoy at an event like this. Wonders if he’d show. Not that she could invite him, anyway; Roderick would probably be opposed to his presence, even if she had a good way to explain why she wanted him there.

Would he be jealous? The cold, dark one?

She thinks such human emotions are beneath him. But maybe.

Her mind runs away with her—her sire showing up. Demanding a duel for her hand. Telling her that of course he cares about her and has all this time.

She is glad there is no one around to see the silly smile on her lips.

GM: The mix of pop hits belts out one song after another. The lyrics are bright, bubbly, and upbeat. The haven feels warm and cozy against the pouring rain as Celia tidies, dances, and sings along. She can picture Roderick. coming back. Picking her up again. Swinging her around in his arms to the music.

It’s as Victoria Ash’s Unique Technique pounds out that Celia feels it, like an icy hand suddenly locked in a death grip around her heart. Squeezing. Crushing. Pulling, like a magnet. Forcing her legs to move against her will, while she watches like a spectator. Yanking her towards the source.

Her sire is calling.

Celia: Up. The strings pull her towards him; were there no ceiling above her head she thinks, perhaps, that she might simply float away. Already wrapped in the fantasy—his icy chill touching her heart does not do so much to dampen it as he might wish—she can clearly picture their reunion this evening. His arms around her. His lips on hers. Cold. So cold. A shiver runs down her spine at the thought, from exhilaration or anticipation or some combination of them both.

She starts toward the door. Two steps and then she halts, catching sight of herself in the floor-length mirror in the hall, the silly outfit she had donned when she thought only Roderick would see her. She strips quickly, abandoning the skirt, leggings, and distressed shirt, and finds something more fitting in which to see her sire. Burgundy, long, tight through the bodice and hips before it flares out around her legs.

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But her face… he knows. She knows that he knows, and yet something inside of her demands the change all the same, that she meet him as her. The real her. The speed she had denied earlier serves its purpose now. She sits herself in front of the mirror to twist and sculpt her features back into Celia’s face. The same Celia she had been when he had come to her that night in 2009, when he had carried her body above the clouds, when his fangs had pierced her flesh to steal the life from her body. Celia Flores, 19 years old. A perfect, flawless version of her, to be sure, but still a younger visage than she has worn in many years. Innocent, wide eyes, long before she had given into Jade’s corruption and rot.

It is painful, as ever. But it is an old, familiar pain, and the hand that touches her heart—that soothes her. A balm to her hurts. Her sire has come to see her.

She is out the door a moment later, taking the steps that will lead her up, the winding spiral staircase that leads to the roof, an umbrella in her hand.

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It’s why she took this place, those steps. That easy roof access. Roderick had wanted to jump out the window earlier, and she would have let him, if only to see him in action. But Celia does not need to jump out of windows. She had made sure that, should her sire come calling, she has a quick way to get to him that does not require the scaling of buildings.

The tugging on her heart does not let up. Each step she takes tells her that she is moving in the right direction, though as the staircase winds it becomes more insistent the further away from him she gets, each turn of the stair that takes her in the opposite direction. Up, ever upwards, but for those few steps when she faces away from him she almost cannot stand it. Like that old “hot and cold” game her mother used to play with them when she hid their Easter baskets, only the prize this time is not an assortment of chocolate and other candies. It is her sire. And that, she thinks, is worth more than all the rest.

She does not run up the steps, but she does keep her gait quick, hand on the rail as she ascends. Even the rain beating down upon the city, the thought of runny makeup (as if hers would dare) and sodden hair, is not enough to deter her. She opens the door at the top of the staircase and steps out into the storm.

GM: Celia’s speed serves her well. No one is there when she reaches the top. A second later, there is. The dark blur descends like so much more rain—and a concurrent crash as a man’s form smashes into the floor.

It’s the punk Jade met at the club. He looks delirious with terror. Like he’s aged ten years. There couldn’t have been white in his hair or such heavy bags under his eyes. They’re bloodshot, feverish, and enormous. He’s barely able to raise his hands and gasp “Pl-” before a boot stomps down on his throat, gorily crushing it in with a loud crunch-snap. Blood seeps across the rain-spattered deck.

Celia’s sire does not glance down at the corpse. He’s dressed in a dark, double-breasted trench coat, its style vaguely reminiscent of a World War II German military officer. On someone else, it might look offensive. On him it feels like the Third Reich is back—and pounding on your door in the dead of night, each sharp bang promising you’re next. He bothers with no umbrella. The rain weeps against his waxen, corpse-like face, and perhaps seems to trickle down its frozen contours more slowly than rain should. He does not blink as the moisture runs down his eyes, nor move his mouth as it beads on his lips. He looks like a statue. Chiseled stone indifferent to its state in the gloomy weather.

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Equally chill thoughts fill Celia’s mind.

:: Dispose of this. ::

More materials for the spa.

Celia: The sight before her—the punk with his green hair, now tinged in white—is nothing short of shocking. The boot that ends his life is grotesque, the squelch of his lash breath, the blood leaving his body, the snap of his neck… Celia cannot look away. Does not look away, will not allow it. Not from her sire. Not from what he has done. A loose end. She had not forgotten about the punk from the club, the man that tried to roofie her, but she had not yet moved against him. Had thought he might not be involved.

Her sire had. Had tracked him down. Questioned him, she can assume from his haggard appearance. Because she had reached out to him? His had not been among the faces she had sent him. But he found the man. Found him. Ended him. Ended a threat to her. To all of them, yes, but to her. Her insides flutter.

The umbrella in her hand is abandoned against the door as she moves across the roof toward her sire. Her dress is soaked through in seconds, heavy around her legs, but she pays it no mind. Her heels click against the roof with each step that she takes. Stay, her heart whispers, please stay, just for a moment. She doesn’t dare let herself think it.

She stands before him in an instant, the dead body to her side. Her head dips in acquiescence.

:: Yes, sire. ::

A brief pause. She lifts her eyes to his face.

:: Thank you, sire. ::

GM: The dead-looking face remains motionless.

The rain pours down, plastering her hair against her scalp.

:: Inform me what intelligence you have obtained since our last meeting. ::

Celia: He had heard her. Had heard, had listened, had hunted for her. He cares. He has to care. That’s what this has to mean, doesn’t it? He hadn’t come swooping in to rescue her, but this… this has to mean something. She doesn’t dwell.

Intelligence. Hard facts. Her theories as well? She doesn’t ask. She will give them at the end. She takes a second to organize her thoughts so he does not need to sift through them. It reminds her all too much of the meeting with the archon, the steel trap around her mind.

:: Attack on Vienna, other cities. Catastrophe in Vienna. Hunters. Calbido will sit on it. Uptick in hunter activity within the city. Quarter. Mid-City. Prague conclave—they will send someone to discuss their options. The seneschal has said you are unavailable to go, that they cannot spare you. ::

Perhaps he picks up on her concern for him, the undercurrent of emotion behind the words, the relief that he will not be leaving.

:: The Nosferatu primogen pushes for Savoy and the Baron to join the Calbido. In contact with Vitel, Black, and Houston. Plan to host Black. Elders prepping for civil war. Savoy has found a way to manipulate an ear in Calbido. I am handling. Have ideas—later. ::

She has not confirmed that Savoy was the one to turn Dani, or have her turned, but she suspects. She will add it to the things she tells him that are not hard, cold facts.

:: Fledgling in the Garden District this evening, among her mortal family. Trespassing, possibly. Have ideas—later. ::

Another theory.

:: Soul-thieves in the city. ::

A pause.

:: Have possible answers to old questions. ::

Arms around her. Someone shoving a gun into her hand. Her mother’s earlier words this evening.

:: Information on Maxen Flores. ::

Hesitance.

GM: The rain continues to pour, soaking Celia’s already wet dress against her skin. Her sire neither questions nor interrupts until she is finished.

:: Expound. ::

Celia: Her eyes search his face. If she seeks an answer to question she does not find it in the marble that he has been cut from.

:: Maxen fathered a child with his daughter. Savoy knows. Possibly plans to use it against him. ::

She knows what she has done. That she has given him the card she could use against her father. The expression on her face does not change; she does not betray her inner turmoil. She has already sold out her family for him once—what’s it matter if she does so again? Perhaps she feels a twinge of regret that she cannot take him down, but he will not be useful to her sire forever; when he is old and gray, that is when Donovan will let her have him. Patience. She can be patient. For him.

:: Hunters have friends in the city, believe to be “Inq.” Will have more information tomorrow. Infiltrated meeting, need to collect. Audio device planted. ::

Pride at that. It was her doing.

:: Identity possibly compromised. By hunters. By fledgling. ::

An image of Caroline swims in front of her. She sends that along the mental path as well, the golden-haired Ventrue.

:: Theories, sire? Plans? ::

She’s asking if she should share the things she doesn’t know, just strongly suspects. Her own plans for the information she has obtained. How she will spin it to her advantage, but more than that, to his advantage.

:: Old information, as well. Perhaps not relevant. Can share regardless. Maxen-related. Just a theory, unconfirmed. Think it’s true. ::

GM: Just like that, another dagger against her father is laid before her sire’s impassive eyes.

Once again, he offers no response over the pouring rain until Celia is finished.

:: Proceed. ::

Celia: :: 2003. Believe Savoy moved against Diana to make her confess something to Maxen that would cause him to harm her. Discredit him, lose seat. Not confirmed. Mentioned ‘woman at the party.’ Can look into further, if desired. Fragile mind, need delicate approach. 2009… after Maxen’s arrest I returned to the house. Man waiting. Thought it was you. ::

She’d wanted it to be him. Had thought about what it would mean if it were him. Choosing her over her father. How many times has she replayed that scene in the hallway, the one where he took the gun from her, tucked her into bed? She tries not to dwell. Desire courses through her all the same. He’s just in front of her. Close enough to touch. She wants to touch. Wants him to touch her.

:: Not you. Savoy said not him. Gave me a gun, told me to shoot Maxen… believe him to be Gettis. Unconfirmed, strong suspicion. Knew I would be there. Possibly dead, not sure how relevant. Apologies if this is old news. ::

There’s a pause while she considers her next thoughts. The rain has destroyed her gown, but she does not seem to notice. It is not important, not next to him.

:: Fledgling. Caroline Malveaux-Devillers. Presumed to be childe of the renegade hound… But, sire, she has speed almost at your level. Months old? Not possible, is it? Think her to be the childe of someone else. Someone older. Potent blood. ::

Another pause. Her theory might be wrong, but she offers it all the same. It’s what makes sense to her given what she tasted, the offhand comment made earlier in the evening.

:: Prince? Seneschal? ::

There’s more. Always more. But she waits.

GM: Celia’s sire offers no response to her apologies. Nor any yet to her other news.

The ran continues to fall. Much of the blood pooling from the punk’s corpse is now a watery pink, but Celia can still feel her fangs elongated in her mouth. Perhaps it is her present company. Perhaps it is simply the residual so-heady coppery smell. Perhaps both.

:: Inform me of the circumstances under which you were proximate to Malveaux-Devillers. ::

Celia: Apprehension creeps into her at the question. Roderick’s earlier exclamation at her location this evening has come back to haunt her. Her eyes dim. She doesn’t dare move, doesn’t dare draw useless breath, doesn’t fidget or drop her gaze or let him know how he makes her want to squirm. A thousand lies pop into her mind, a thousand pleas for him not to hurt her, a thousand ways for him to ignore those pleas. She voices none of them. Squashes them down inside of her where they cannot betray her, where she will not be tempted. This dark man has no sympathy.

:: In the Garden District. ::

Invited, but it doesn’t matter.

If it were possible to whisper in her mind that’s what she would do. Will he drag her before the prince? Make an example of her? She has heard that now they call him judge, jury, and executioner; will she see his justice now, tonight?

:: Not poaching. Never that. Preserving my own Masquerade. ::

It doesn’t matter.

He’s going to kill her.

He’s going to kill her here, now, tonight, on top of this roof.

No one will know. They’ll just think she vanished.

More to do for him, more to tell him, but she will die for the sin of trespassing, no matter that the usual punishment is a drink.

She stands rooted to the spot.

GM: Just like that, he’s gone.

The rain falls and falls.

Celia: But… but she had more. More to tell him. More to inform.

She could have lied. Should have lied.

No, she reflects, never that. Not to him. Truth comes out.

He’s gone, but the burning ache in her chest is not. The knot in her stomach twists. Let him down. All that and she still let him down.

She presses her hands against her mouth to contain the sounds she wants to make, wants to scream. Any pride, any satisfaction she’d had in telling him everything—it vanishes in the wake of his departure.

Failure.

GM: Suddenly, he’s back.

So Celia’s mother. She’s on her knees at his feet, dressed in a long, floral-printed nightgown already soaked through in the rain. One of his so-pale hands is locked around her arm. Her eyes are enormous and mad with terror, like the punk’s were. When she sees Celia, her mouth starts to falteringly work. No sound comes out, as though she’s trying to speak—or scream—through a gag.

Celia: No.

They’re supposed to be safe. She’s supposed to be safe. French Quarter, it’s supposed to be safe.

But she’d learned long ago that safety is only an illusion, hadn’t she?

Horror has her in its grasp. She takes a step forward—and halts, faltering, looking between the two of them, eyes wide, hands reaching, stretching towards her mother, as if she can make this all go away, as if the thing that has her in its grasp is anything that can be reasoned with.

GM: :: It requires but one careless misstep to destroy that which takes decades to cultivate. ::

Celia’s sire flings her mother into the sky as though the woman weighs as much as a baseball. Diana’s flailing, silently screaming form recedes into the rain, becoming no more than a hazy white and pink smudge.

Then she’s gone.

A heart-arrestingly long moment passes.

Then, the white and pink smudge reappears.

Gets bigger.

Bigger.

Gets some spots of blonde and fleshy pink.

Gets a face.

Gets a mouth. A wide open, screaming mouth.

She’s falling.

God knows how many feet.

:: Catch. ::

Celia: No. No, no, no, no, no.

Anything. She would have given him anything.

“She’ll die—please!” She sees it as clear as she sees him in front of her. Her mother’s body hitting the roof. The screaming woman laid out and broken. Silent. Every organ inside of her rupturing. Every bone disintegrating into dust. Bodily fluids leaking out of every orifice. She’ll watch her mother draw her last breath, smell the blood as it spills from her body. Even catching her… the roof is hard, stone beneath her feet, Celia’s arms as stiff as any other corpse. A snapped spine if she lands wrong. Paralyzed. Her dreams will die, another funeral for the already-passed ballerina.

Her mom comes closer. Fast. So impossibly fast.

One shot.

She can’t miss.

Everything has to be perfect. Flawless.

This wasn’t how her night was supposed to go. It’s her last coherent thought. Absurd, chiding, that it wasn’t how she was supposed to see him again. She does not, cannot, spare a look at him. She does not waste her breath screaming. She stuffs her hatred of him down so deep inside herself that it will never again see the open sky. She makes herself as cold as him.

Celia had fallen once. It would have been enough to kill her, too, had he not already done it.

She may not be able to jump as high as a Brujah, but she is no helpless doe. A timely gift from the beautiful fledgling who had caused this problem thrums through her veins. Tonight she is fast.

I’m fast, she’d told the detective.

Not fast enough, he’d said.

Not fast enough to save herself, not from her sire. But she had not needed to save herself. She had needed to save her mother. Then. And now. She’d been fast enough for that then. She will be fast enough now. Fast enough to take a running leap, to catch her mother in the air, to descend with her in her arms and land on her feet like the cat that she is.

It will hurt. It will break things. It might break everything. But for her mother? For her mother she’ll pay the price. For her mother she’ll break everything five times over. She’d given her life for the woman once; what’s a little pain now?

She watches her mother come closer. She waits until the right moment. The perfect moment. One chance. That’s all she gets. That’s all her mother gets. Just one.

She burns through the blood, rousing her vitae to flood her body with the boost she needs.

I’m fast, she’ll tell him.

Fast enough, he’ll agree.

The moment arrives. She runs. She leaps.

GM: Celia summons everything she has. Caroline’s so-timely gift. The vitae coursing through her own veins, nine steps removed from Caine’s own. Everything to push her willingly broken and shredded undead body to its utmost limits.

The Toreador streaks into the air like a bloody missile, moving so fast one might almost think she possessed her sire’s gift of flight. She collides against her mother, swerving her head to avoid bonking it against the so-frail mortal’s. Their chests still hit, possibly hard enough to drive the air from Diana’s lungs, but Celia can’t see the woman’s face. She wraps her arms around her mother’s back, the soaked nightgown doing nothing against her equally soaked dress. Rain screams down over their faces as her Beast howls in her ears.

They fall.

They fall.

Then with a heavy thump, they stop falling. Celia rolls over. Diana is covered in blood. For a heart-stopping moment, Celia thinks it’s her mother’s. But it can’t be, not with the woman cradled in her arms as she was. Then she feels it: the Beast tearing her apart from the inside, yowling its rage to the sky for the blood that Celia burned through to save this chattel. The heavy impact of her heeled feet hitting the rooftop with the weight of another person in her arms, the reverberating shock traveling up through her body. The organs she’d removed from herself left a gaping hole behind, one that her very bones try to fill when they’re knocked loose by the high-speed collision. Several of them splinter through her skin, covering the pair of them in blood.

Her mom’s mouth tries to move. Sound still doesn’t come out. She looks over the blood on Celia, then tries to pull up her daughter’s dress around the reddest spots. Starts to tear off strips of her nightgown to bind the wounds. Maybe she’s crying. It’s so hard to tell, past the rain, but it looks like she is. She tries to mouth something, over and over. ‘Stay with me, Celia. Stay with me, Celia.’

Alive.

Celia: Blood. Blood everywhere. Blood on her mom. She’d failed. Failed her sire, failed her mom—but no, that can’t be right. It’s her blood spilled across the front of her torn gown, across her mother’s hands as, even now, even after all of that, she sees to her daughter’s wounds first. Stolen from her bed in the middle of the night. Carried across the Quarter. Thrown into the air. And still—still her concern is for her daughter.

That’s love.

That’s love that he will never know.

That’s love that no one who has become a monster will ever understand.

Her body aches. Muscles hang heavy from her frame. Her side is split almost in two by the ribs that punctured her skin upon crashing onto the roof. Her mother’s hands do nothing to mend her dead flesh; her own blood sees to that, or will once the threat has passed.

She rises. Agony. But the night isn’t over yet. Her sire isn’t done with her yet. She pulls her mother close, tells her that it’s okay, it’s all okay, even though it isn’t.

:: Yes, sire. Thank you, sire. I will not forget. ::

GM: Diana looks even more distraught as her daughter rises. She tries to get Celia to lie back down. Tries to say something else.

Then Donovan’s cold hand takes her by the chin. He stares into her eyes.

“This was a nightmare. You recall your husband’s face in place of mine. Sleep. Do not awaken until you are returned to your bed.”

Celia’s mother slumps forward like an expired wind-up toy, collapsing face-first into the rain.

Celia: It’s all she can do to catch her mother’s body before she hits the ground. Celia staggers, her knees threatening to buckle after the beating she has already taken, and lowers her mother gently down. Her eyes look up toward her sire.

GM: Donovan makes no move to catch Celia’s mother as his stare falls upon his childe.

:: You will stay out of the Garden District. You will ensure that Malveaux-Devillers, to whom you were sufficiently proximate to risk everything, causes us no problems. ::

Celia: She rises.

:: Understood. It shall be done. ::

GM: Celia’s mother lies motionless on the mat, rain pouring over her still face.

:: Obtain further information on Malveaux-Devillers that is of use to me and you shall be rewarded. ::

:: Slay her without revealing my hand, or find a means to suborn her to my will completely, and you shall have Maxen Flores to do with as you please. ::

:: Risk the cover I have orchestrated for us again, and I shall risk the life of Maxen’s wife again. ::

Celia: Rewarded. Maxen Flores. The offers send a thrill through her.

:: Yes, sire. It shall be as you say. Thank you. ::

GM: :: If you have remaining business between us, speak it now. ::

Celia: Celia nods. She centers herself. Recalls where she left off in the report that she had been giving him, how much she had revealed.

:: Yes, sire. Three things. Further information. A theory. Blasphemous, but not without merit. Possibly worth looking into. Dangerous, though, and I am uncertain of its validity. I would not voice it except that it is ruinous. A question, sire, if you’ll permit it. ::

She pauses. Her mind travels to the apartment below her. The box inside of it, waiting for him.

:: One more thing, to wrap up. Something for you. ::

GM: :: Proceed. ::

Celia: :: I believe that Prince Vidal is using neonates as blood dolls. ::

GM: :: On what basis? ::

Celia: :: One of the Storyvilles was in captivity at the Evergreen. While being questioned the neonate likened the prince to a god, implied that he was the childe of Longinus or that the childe of Longinus walks among us. The scripture chosen is telling: “…lays his hand upon my heart and I know the last gift I am to give.” It felt very cult-like. ::

:: Ordinarily I would assume a full collar, but then I began to wonder if that’s all it is. The harpy’s childe who was fed upon revered Matheson the same way. Meadows took out the entire krewe. She has always been loyal to the prince, but rumor says now she is loyal to the Testament, perhaps sees the death of the krewe as a way to rein in his headhunting. Proclaimed Matheson innocent to set precedent for his own actions and possible trial. The krewe member questioned was adamant about rebuilding the group and would have gone so far as to Embrace without permission so that he could receive his sustenance. ::

:: And… this is a leap, sire, but if I am correct about the earlier mentioned Ventrue then she had extremely potent blood in her system—not her own, someone else’s—more so than Savoy, and while I am sure there is another to whom it could belong… if it is his, it suggests that perhaps the kine no longer do it for him. The rumor is that he nears his long sleep; it is possible he uses thicker vitae to keep him from sliding down that slope. ::

GM: :: Such a rumor concerning Prince Vidal’s predilections is to our benefit. Its truth is irrelevant. Assist its dissemination. ::

Celia: :: Yes, sire, I shall. ::

She does not bite her lip, though she wants to. Wants to fidget as well, though she does not beneath his gaze.

:: The question, sire? If you permit. ::

GM: :: Proceed. ::

Celia: She hesitates. She had long thought the answer to this question was evident in Veronica’s approval to sire a childe. But Roderick’s words this evening ring in her ear: they usually do not say who they wish to sire, only that they wish to do so. She’d thought to ask the harpy, but who knows when Veronica will make time for her. It is a delicate thing, she thinks, but she does not want to dance around the subject or waste her sire’s time. She asks him, bluntly.

:: Was my Embrace sanctioned? ::

GM: Donovan raises his wrist to his mouth. There’s a flash of fangs, and then red wells from his wrist. He holds it over Diana and lets the blood run over her face.

Celia: No.

She’d just been through this.

Had just saved her mother.

Celia does not stand idly by this time. She steps forward, between her mother and her sire. Her jaw works as she watches the blood drip from his wrist… and she acts, bending, taking a knee, bringing it into herself instead of her mother, letting the red hit her tongue rather than the sweet, innocent woman beneath her. She will take this offering, understanding what it means, what it will do to her. Already he has twisted her mind, and now she will let him do it further, will take that final step and all it means.

She sends him wordless apologies across the tether in her mind. She’s sorry. So sorry. She shouldn’t have asked. Please, not her mom, not like this. She has given him everything else. Everything. Will still give him everything, just not this. Not this one thing, this one woman.

She won’t question him again. Never. She will serve. It is her place. It is why she’s here. For him. To serve. To deliver the city. To weaken Vidal. She understands. Nothing else is important. Just him. Getting him what he wants. She understands.

His point is made. He doesn’t need to do anything further. Not her mom. Please, not her mom.

GM: Her sire unceremoniously pushes her aside. The blood freely runs over her mother’s sleeping face.

:: I have no use for this broken kine, foolish childe. She must swallow it to be made my slave. ::

Celia: A moment passes. His words sink in, past the blood that calls to her. Past the sleeping woman on whose face it rests. Past the frayed nerves, the emotional upheaval of the evening, her mother almost dying and then being put in danger again just by her proximity. Her sire is not a lick from whom she expects benevolence; a trick, she thought, a way to remind her of her place. But the trick was in her own mind, her own dour expectations, and she realizes what he means to do.

Her imagination had run wild without her permission, twisted his offering into something malicious. Sick. Turning her mother into a slave. Giving her his blood and then slaying her, leaving Celia to pick up the broken pieces of her family. Some other ritual or rite or depraved act that she can’t let herself dwell on, doesn’t even have proof that he knows. Rumors and hearsay, none of them good. He is not known for his kindness.

It clicks into place, perhaps worse than she had even thought. Blood on her mother’s face so she can feed. So she can lick it off of her and mend her wounds.

Like a dog.

Like the panting bitch in heat that she has always been around him.

The collar chafes at her. She wants it. His blood. His body. His gift. Her mind twists in ways to make it palatable, playing over his past words to her. You will have a place in my new order. Where? She had wondered even then and now she knows: on her knees. He would keep her on her knees without even the dignity of an answer to her question. Ignored, as she so often is by him. Rejected. Never good enough. He could let the blood cool on his body and chooses instead to let it drip onto the ground.

The face of his ghoul flashes before her eyes, the threat he’d made when she was nineteen years old and had tried to end things with him. Turning her into a dog.

This, then, is where he gets it.

Revulsion roils through her, gut churning in disgust at the thought.

:: No. ::

GM: :: I had thought to reward you for the information you had brought me. If you would reject what gifts flow from my hand, so be it. ::

The sheriff withdraws his wrist. The blood’s heavy aroma tantalizingly wafts from Diana’s red-streaked face.

:: May hunger be the wages of your impertinence and stupidity. ::

Celia: She misses it as soon as it is gone. The noose around her neck tightens to a stranglehold, but she’s lying to herself if she thinks that is the only thing that makes her want him. Even now, after all of this, she knows the truth she had just denied: if the choice is between her knees and nothing she will let him push her down every time.

It is not pride that swells within her for not sniveling, bowing, and scraping. It is not gratitude for his offer. It is shame, hot and heavy, her cheeks smarting as if he had struck her rather than just call her stupid. An old trigger. And trigger it does.

Stupid, to risk their plans. Stupid, to question him. Stupid, to not accept his reward.

She doesn’t tell him that she understands, bites her tongue rather than ask for a re-do. She bows her head and lets the rain wash the hair into her face. Maybe it will take her along with it and they can swirl down the drain together, flush it away as she flushes away any esteem she might have gained this evening.

:: I have something for you. ::

A gift, but she doesn’t know why she bothers. It will not be good enough. She will not be good enough. He will always see her like this.

GM: :: Proceed, :: sounds her sire’s impassive voice.

Celia: Celia rises, the motion stiff. She does not wince, does not betray her body’s injured condition; she could have fixed herself had she not snubbed her sire’s reward. Perhaps if she leaps from the edge of the roof the ground will welcome her warmly into its arms, hold her in sleep until dawn, and the sun will burn her worries away. Then she cannot make a fool of herself, or of him.

The thought is fleeting.

The gift is downstairs, but if she leaves to retrieve it she fears that he will find reason to punish her for taking too long, and her mother’s body is right there, exposed and vulnerable to his mercy. Worse, she fears that she will come back to an empty roof. But they have never been inside together. She does not think there is a room on this Earth that can contain him. He simply fills the space he is in, and to ask him to submit to the offense of walls…

:: Will you come inside for a moment? ::

GM: He’s there. She’s there. Then they’re not. They’re inside her haven, water dripping from their damp clothes.

Yet it feels less that he submits to walls than those same walls have become a prison. Filled by him, with suffocatingly little room for her. Nowhere to hide. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to breathe. Nowhere to escape the weight of his roiling stormy eyes, and hope he will not decide she is wasting his time. What little forgiveness he may have seems close to spent.

Celia’s mother isn’t with them. Donovan must have left her lying face-down in the rain, clad in that blood- and water-soaked nightgown.

Celia: She hadn’t even seen him move. A blur, like she’d said to Roderick. How do you fight a blur? How do you keep it from destroying you? Because he has destroyed her. Every bit of her. Every time he touches her, every time he speaks, he takes a little bit more of her with him. Soon she will have nothing left of herself.

He had touched her, though. Brought her down here. Carried her, in his arms, though it was done and over with before she could so much as enjoy it. Not a kindness, she knows, not a way to prevent the discomfort of walking down steps when she is plagued by injury, when her muscles are sore and she hurts to her very bones, when each step, each movement, sends a throb through her core. Simple logistics. He moves faster than her.

Music still plays inside her home. She had not turned it off when she went up to the roof, and there it goes, the singer’s voice belting out his lyrics from the Bluetooth speaker Celia had set it up to earlier.

Every time I get no further
How long has it been?
Come on in now
Wipe your feet on my dreams


Her dress drips onto the hardwood floor, pink-tinged water settling into the grooves that she had gouged by her own nails twice over. She had cleaned the worst of it, the broken glass from smashed knickknacks and mirrors, the stuffing the Brujah had pulled from the couch in his frenzy, the splintered wood from destroyed kitchen stools. But the damage remains. Stupid, to sing and dance in her home when she had cleaning to do. His first time in—what must he think of her? Does he look around the destruction and wonder at the disorder, wonder if she had been attacked? She has been inside his haven, long before she knew it was his. The austere walls. The pristine condition. Her evening had been marked by violence, but she does not think he cares.

His presence suffocates her. Smothers her in its proximity. Outside there is room to maneuver; here, inside her home, she is trapped with a beast more deadly than she has ever known. Lion, tiger, bear, wolverine—worse than all of that, she is trapped with her sire. Ice incarnate. A freeze so cold it burns.

I’ve done this before
And I will do it again


Rituals, Savoy had said, keep the worst of it away. Rituals, she thinks now, when inside of her something tells her to play hostess. Ask him if he’d like to sit. But there is nowhere for him to sit. Everything had been destroyed except the large, four-poster bed in the corner with its carnation and charcoal sheets. Her stomach lurches at the thought of Donovan in her bed. On her bed. Whichever way she cuts it, the thought is the same, and inside her mouth her fangs lengthen. Frayed nerves, she blames. The recent smell of the blood she had not been able to taste, she blames. Not the thoughts of him in her bed, not that, not the images she sees, the memories she has of him—arms around her, give Daddy a kiss, you’re my special little girl, his fangs in her neck. Can you share what we share? No. Never. Never with anyone else. His. Forever.

She hopes—prays—that he is not looking into her head, that he has not seen what she wants, what she would give anything for. Something that would make every trial and tribulation worth it.

Come on and kill me, baby
While you smile like a friend
Oh, and I’ll come running
Just to do it again


Celia crosses the floor to where her phone rests on the kitchen counter next to the small black speaker.

You are that last drink I never should—

The music fades with the press of a button. Silence in the room. Silence in her haven. Silence but for the fluttering of wings inside of her. Can he hear them?

GM: It’s hard not to wonder what else he might have done, or still be waiting to do, if he’s looking into her head. If her mother would not ‘merely’ be lying in a cold and wet but still very much alive heap upstairs.

But, no. You can tell when someone’s in your head, can’t you? That’s what Pete had said. Some part of them in inside of you. It leaves a trace.

Unless some part of you is already inside of them. If they have your blood. The blood is power. The Blood is everything. If they have that, they can do anything to you.

How easily might he claim hers? She was so ready to accept his. It doesn’t even seem that bad. Maybe he would feel something more for her. Believe her more loyal. Trust her with more. Trust is so scarce, in their world. It’s scarce even to Roderick. How much more must it be to one such as him?

He does not survey the room, like Stephen did, or take in the decor and furnishings like her one-time paramour seemed to. His renfield’s house was as close to empty as it could be. Roxanne said the emptier her room got, the crazier it made her. What manner of soul makes their abode in an empty place?

His frigid gaze settles heavily upon hers. The music feels like it died long before she turned it off.

:: My time and patience are short. ::

Celia: Her heels tap against the floor with every step she takes. No faltering, not here; she does not play the games with him that she had played with the primogen’s childe. The gown hangs heavy from her frame. She is glad for it. Glad that it weighs her down, heart and mind. Glad that its color hides the worst of her wounds. Glad for the gift inside her veins that steadies her steps as she nears her sire once more. In the kitchen, she could breathe freely—should she need to. Here, approaching him, she cannot. His presence sucks the air from the room. Suffocates her, a firm hand on her throat. Every step closer to him is another piece of ice against her skin.

It will never be enough to turn her away from him. It will never be enough to not make her come when he calls. Does he know that? Is that why he does not pretend with her, because he knows that no matter how much he hurts her she will always return to his side?

Her mother showed her love on the roof. Love for her daughter many times over: even when she was in danger, even then, she saw to her daughter first. Against her sire. Against her father.

Is it love she feels for him? Some twisted version of it, brought on by the collar around her neck and his hand in her life? Twenty years, she has belonged to him. He is the answer to every question she has ever asked. Is that what he wants from her, love and adoration? Does he even recognize those emotions? No, she thinks not. He simply wants her to serve. To be useful. He will never care for her like she cares for him. Perhaps he doesn’t want her to care. The “place” she has in “his new order” is on her knees. He had shown her the truth of it on the roof.

She takes a knee now. Beside the bed, reaching under it to pull out a box. Wooden, a little over a foot long, half as wide. It slides across the carpet at her insistent pull. She lifts it, rising once again, the box in her hands. She’d thought about a bow. Wrapping paper. Had wondered for a long time if anyone has ever given him a gift. If he’d pulled apart presents on Christmas day, on birthdays, on anniversaries. If he has ever wished for anything.

Perhaps it is why she cannot have him. Or rather, why she does have him, just not the way she wants. Had he heard her wish that day she turned eight? A pony. She had gotten it—and him. Like a djinn, he twists her desires.

Still, she wishes for him. Wishes with every part of her. Every yearning, broken part of her, all the lying parts that had ever told anyone else she would be theirs. This, here, her true master.

This is not how she wants to present it. Not to an angry, disappointed, impatient sire. She had wanted to give it to him on a date that meant something special, three weeks from now on the anniversary of her death, when he had spared her life by taking it into him, when he had shown her what he is. The true him, the one inside his mind, that even years later she has not shared with a single soul. Will not share. His secret. Their secret.

She’d thought it meant they were made for each other.

Concern for his future is what moves her to offer it now rather than waiting. Concern and uncertainty—she never knows when next she will see him.

No fanfare planned, not even then. Perhaps a celebration, of a sort. More information. More dead enemies. More blows against the regime he seeks to overthrow. Not this. Wet. Cold. Her mother’s fragile body so close, too close. Celia’s beautiful corpse torn apart by her own hands. His insults heavy on her soul.

Maybe, even had it gone as planned, she wouldn’t have earned anything for it. No smile. No pat on the head. No offer to let her drink.

Still, she longs for that evening instead. She knows what she would say. How she would present it. Everything is different now, though.

She sets the box atop her bed so that he can open it.

GM: He doesn’t draw it out. He doesn’t ask or guess what the contents might be. He doesn’t smile, remark how thoughtful she is, or inquire as to the occasion.

He simply takes off the lid.

A bow and wrapping paper seem like they’d have only been regarded as inconveniences.

Celia: Nestled inside the box are a pair of leather bracers as dark as the night sky above them. Pure obsidian; indeed, they seem to drink the very light from the room, soak it up like the black hole that she has often compared him to inside her mind, the thing that pulls and twists and rends her, that she knows she cannot escape.

That she does not want to escape.

They are slim. Designed to be discrete, to fit beneath the long-sleeved garments that she has always seen him in. She has never seen his arms, only his hands. These will not draw attention, not like the saber he carries at his side. It is the saber that made her think of these, that spawned the idea and thus the craft she has spent long hours pouring over to get just right. She does not imagine that he can take his blade everywhere. But these? Oh, these he can take anywhere and no one will ever know.

Celia keeps her explanation brief.

:: The underside contains a blade. As long as your forearm. It slides free at a touch, and can be pulled further to be held by the hilt should you need a longer reach. :: It is designed to be a companion to his saber, not to replace it. The edge of the blade itself was inspired by the diamond-tipped tools she uses at her salon. Long have people used glass knifes, obsidian knives; they are finer than any scalpel, will keep their edge as they sharpen with each release. He will cut through everything in his path with ease.

:: The other contains three blades. They are folded inside, long and thin, can be expelled outward. When pressure is applied to the tip—upon impact—they will expand. Like an arrowhead. They hook. :: A Brujah had once shown her how he could throw anything and make it come back to him. Thus she had the inspiration for the second bracer: Donovan will no longer need to chase people down. He can simply fling the smaller blades at them and yank them back to him. Perfect for multiple enemies. Doubtless he will find other purposes for it.

:: The outsides are cured leather, but inside it is layered. Anything that impacts it will be sent reverberating among the layers to distribute the force. Were someone lesser to wear these they might bruise, but you should not bear a mark. It will turn aside projectiles, blades. ::

She had thought to put Kevlar inside. It had been her first idea, to steal from the kine police forces. But Kevlar works because it is curved; things hit it and ricochet off. Bullets may not do much to them, but she would still not want to be struck by one. The “layered” idea had come from the ancient Chinese. They used to layer paper in their armor. Paper. And it kept them safe for years. But paper disintegrates when wet and can only take so many blows. Her sire is made of firmer stuff.

So, too, are the bracers.

:: Inside, carbon fiber. ::

Steel is strong, but it is not flexible. Aluminum is flexible, but it corrodes, and not as strong as steel. Celia had wanted something that mimics the body itself. Humans are fascinating, truly; they heal from things most animals do not. Their bodies are made for shock absorption—how many drunk drivers had killed others but themselves gotten off without a scratch because they had not tensed? How many have been hit or mauled or burned by things that should have ended them and did not thanks to their own flesh and blood?

Since she began learning how to sculpt and craft the flesh she has poured over medical research, digging through thousands of pages and conducting her own trials. How the body works. How each piece fits together. Collagen is a major structural protein. It strengthens tendons and ligaments, provides support for their internal organs so their insides aren’t simply free to hang around.

Each fiber contains thousands of individual molecules to keep it strong, and its structure—the triple helix—provides additional strength and stability, allowing it to withstand most mechanical stress. The collagen in the dermis gives the skin its elasticity. Even the kine use it: cosmetic surgery, bone grafts, skin grafts, wound healing.

She had looked into multiple materials to find what she sought, natural and synthetic, but carbon fiber had jumped out at her. Lightweight. Stronger than steel. The strands are as thin as human hair. Woven together like yarn, like the collagen inside the body, it becomes even more durable. It is already used in military and aerospace applications; easy to find a design and turn it into what she needs.

The bracers are thin. Compact. Unobtrusive. He will be able to wear them without problem, strike people with surprise when they think he is unarmed. And black has long been his color.

She does not think to fight his battles for him. He does not need her help there. She has seen, has heard, the things that he can do. It is not a ring like she offered Savoy; he does not need ornaments, jewelry, anything to distract him. So she has gifted him something that serves a purpose. Something functional. Utilitarian and lethal—like him. Still, she does not expect the kind words she had received from her grandsire.

She only knows that there isn’t anything she wouldn’t give if it meant keeping him around. There is no world without him in it.

Celia does not put that thought into words. She does not send it along the mental link between them. She barely lets herself feel it. Tightly coiled constraint keeps her still.

Waiting.

GM: Celia does not wait overlong.

Donovan rolls up his coat and shirt sleeve to the elbow. His forearm is is like the rest of him: waxen, corpse-pale, and hairless. It’s well-muscled and proportioned, too, without an inch of excess fat. He looks buffer than Roderick does, in fact. He fastens on the first bracer, then rolls up his other sleeve to fasten on the second bracer.

He extends the blades. Longer from the first bracer, shorter from the second.

Then he turns and slashes them straight at Celia’s face.

Celia: She doesn’t so much as flinch. Some part of her had thought this might happen. Who is she to deny her sire his target?

GM: There’s a soft, almost tickling sensation along her shoulders and back. The Toreador’s hair falls to the ground in ugly-looking clumps, aged seven years in an instant.

:: Satisfactory. ::

The blades retract.

Celia: Pleasure thrums through her at the words. She is careful to keep it inside where he cannot see. She simply nods.

:: Thank you, sire. ::

She does not comment on the shorn hair. The attack against her person. The attack against her mother.

GM: Her sire lowers his sleeves back over the bracers. He cups Celia’s chin in his hand, tilting her face as though stare into his eyes. But before she can sink into its achromatic depths, sink and drown all the way to the hellish bottom like last time, he suddenly sweeps out her legs from under her. She falls. Her shortened hair stops just short of the floor before his cold hand seizes the back of her skull, splaying her throat to the air, and he kisses her. It isn’t a rough kiss, like a common brute’s, but it forceful, heedless, and direct, like an avalanche colliding against her lips. One that perhaps makes her want to be buried. She can feel his fangs stabbing against her lips and taste a faint trickle of blood against her tongue.

Celia: She cannot help but stare at the exposed flesh. She does not mean to. But she has never seen her sire without the long sleeves; she had thought about what it would feel like to lace the bracers onto him herself, the slow rolling back of his shirt sleeves, pulling them on—

Her thoughts are disrupted by the foot he kicks her way, her body beginning its descent—then halted, abruptly, by the hand that catches her.

Always catching her.

If there’s a heart left to melt it does so, but she has no time to dwell on it. Her lips part beneath his mouth; she can taste herself when his fangs tear her open, her own elongated to snap back. But only if he lets her. Only if he pushes her further, letting her sink her teeth in like she’s wanted to since he landed earlier on the roof of this building. Her hands snake around his shoulders, clasping behind his neck. Her dress is already destroyed; what does it matter if he tears it off? And she wants him to. Wants him to tear it off of her. Wants him to take her like he has before.

GM: There’s suddenly air under Celia’s feet. They’re rising. Floating. Higher. Higher. His pallid hands shift. Celia’s suddenly falling again, legs flailing through the air, and then stopping short. He’s holding her aloft by just her head. His palms are pressed crushingly hard against her temples. She can’t see in her peripheral vision past his hands. There’s no looking away. His frigid gaze bores all-too close and all-too intense, as though seeking to draw her bodily inside. It feels like her head is the only part left of her, and her body so much dross. There’s no world but her face and his. Just them. His colorless eyes flicker like tongues of lightning through a storm.

:: The prince’s torpor approaches. The hour I have long anticipated is at hand. A childe of Vidal’s blood threatens to undo everything I have worked to achieve. I am relying upon you, Celia. I am depending upon you. Destroy Malveaux-Devillers or place her wholly under my power, and you shall be everything I could have desired from a childe. ::

Celia: Falling.

Always falling.

For him, with him, it doesn’t matter; her body drops, her legs flail, but he’s there to catch her. Always. Her stomach spins; she clings to him, like she had that first night, that last night, but it does nothing to abate the pressure in her neck. A flick of his wrist will send the blade into her brain. A tensing of muscles will crush her skull.

And yet… her name. From him. For the first time. He does know. She could cry at that realization, that he knows who she is, that he trusts her, that her Embrace wasn’t some advantageous byproduct, that he chose her.

She is not some nameless somebody. She is Celia Flores, childe of Donovan. Jade Kalani, grandchilde of Antione Savoy. Groomed for this. Chosen for this.

She can’t nod. She doesn’t try. Her eyes stare into the depths of hell, recall the images she had seen inside of him that night he took her life into his body, let her fall to the Gulf below, let her shatter. So that he could rebuild her. So that they could rebuild her. Fire in her gut. Fire in her eyes. Fire, not ice, not like him, but molded from him, by him, for him.

:: I am yours, sire. ::

GM: Then just like that, he’s gone. Celia is lying on the floor. Rain weeps through the open window.

Celia: It is not the only thing that weeps this evening. She does not let it flow, not outwardly, but inside sounds a keening wail now that he is gone. The room is empty without him in it.

Dazed, she lays on the floor for a long moment. She can hardly think straight after this evening. A whirlwind of emotion pours through her, a whirlwind that she cannot get a grasp on, that she needs to get a grasp on. Her mother, upstairs, needs to be taken home. A body needs to be disposed of. And a fledgling… a fledgling needs to be dealt with.

Childe of Vidal. So she had been right.

Celia rises slowly to her feet, agony with every movement, her eyes on the open window. Out there, somewhere, her sire is plotting his next move. She breathes in the night air, inhaling deeply to bring the scent of rain and darkness into her lungs. It clears her head, though does nothing for the pain in her side, does nothing for the ache inside of her chest.

An outstretched hand shuts the window, closes the heavy drapes, and touches fingertips to her lips.

She will not let him down.


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a short enough trip upstairs. The boy’s corpse lies where her sire left it, the expression frozen in simultaneous agony and terror.

Celia’s mother lies in an almost equally motionless heap on the deck. The rain has since washed away her sire’s blood. She’s soaked to the bone and cool to the touch.

Celia: She hadn’t been looking for her sire’s blood. Not really.

That’s the lie she tells herself. That she would have not lapped it eagerly from her mother’s face had she found it. The shame of her misunderstanding, even after that kiss, lingers in her mind. She could have had him this evening. She could have had him but she was blinded by fear, by terror, for the mortal woman before her.

Her mother.

Not some kine. Not some breather. Not some ignorant mortal.

The woman who fought for her. The woman who puts her daughter’s needs above her own. A pang of something like guilt shoots through her. She will need to leave the city. Emily, Lucy, Momma—all of them. They’re not safe here, not if he can reach them so easily.

Celia crouches beside her mother, leaning over to lift the woman into her arms so that she can bring her downstairs.

GM: A limp human body isn’t as weightless as Roderick and Donovan make it look. It’s heavy, even though Celia’s mom is far from a big woman. The Toreador doesn’t feel any hurt or soreness in her arms, though. It just takes longer to get back downstairs. Her mom’s head lolls to the side.

Celia: Celia struggles down the stairs with her mother’s weight in her arms. Each step is another knife in her side, a reminder of her foolishness this evening. May hunger be your wages indeed; she needs to feed. Needs to hunt. The body upstairs, the one her sire had dropped off and killed, is calling her name. Cool by now, but she can sink in when she gets there, and it’s better than nothing. Better than drinking from her mother.

Opening the door with her arms around her mother proves difficult. But soon she’s inside, dragging her mother into the apartment and depositing her gently on the rug she kicks out from under the couch with her feet. Not a bed. Not the couch; right onto the floor. She does not know if Donovan’s “bed” order is Diana’s bed or any bed, and she does not want her mother waking up early. She needs to get her home.

She finds a blanket to cover her in, dragging it over from her bed to wrap around her mother’s slight form. Then it’s back up the stairs to repeat the process with the second body. This one, at least, she can drain of some blood before she drags it down the steps to dispose of.

Though, perhaps, that is not the best idea, feeding out in the open.

She discards it as soon as it occurs to her. She will drag him down the steps first.

He, at least, will be easier to carry. She does not need to treat him gently. Her hands slide under his arms and she hauls him down the stairs, uncaring if he bumps and scrapes himself along the way. More material for the spa. A loose end tied up before it could cause more trouble. She can store him in the fridge for the day, she thinks, if she cuts him into small enough pieces.

So much to do before 5AM.

GM: Celia’s mother shivers as her daughter swaddles the swiftly-moist blanket around her wet clothes. The boy’s blood tastes awful. It’s cold. It seeps down her throat like paint. It doesn’t leave feeling alive and full of fire, feeling like she has taken another person’s life into herself. It just leaves her cold. Leaves everything feeling like shit. Makes her feel snappish and irritable. It’s the O’Tolley’s playground after being promised Disneyland. A frustrated solitary wank after your date said they couldn’t make it.

Celia: She’s had worse.

Right?

That’s what she tells herself. That she’s had worse. That it doesn’t matter because if she doesn’t drink this she’s going to rip into her mom, and that’s unthinkable. She can’t do that to her mom. She’d already crossed a line earlier this evening when she’d hit her with her charm power; she won’t do this one. Never. Not her mom. Not Lucy. Not Emily. None of them.

She forces it down. Forces herself to swallow. Forces the blood past the tastebuds on her tongue that threaten to rebel, that want to throw it all back up. It’s sludge. Foul, runny sludge. Not like the first time she had tasted him, that night in her spa. There’s nothing satisfying about sucking the dead blood from the dead man.

She wishes, again, for her sire. She wishes that it was his blood that nourished her, his blood that fixed her wounds, that soothed her hurts. But he is gone, his mess—her mess—behind him.

She gets it down, though. That’s what matters. That it does slake her hunger. That her Beast stops scratching against her insides so she can focus on what she needs to do next: dismember the fucker.

GM: There’ll be some extra blood in there, if she’s thorough. More paint-like sludge to choke down.

The warm vessel wrapped in a bundle on her floor gives a faint whimper.

Celia: That’s the thought that spurs her on. That she can get to more. Can feed the perpetually starving thing inside of her. Even if it’s foul, it’s still sustenance. How many kine survive on cardboard-like protein bars? She can handle—

The sounds of her mother pull her from her thoughts. She pauses what she’s doing, claws extended, digging into the flesh of the boy to cut apart muscle and bone so that she can dispose of him, and turns her eyes towards her mother.

She’s not hungry. It should be… safe.

Even if she’s covered in blood. Even if she hasn’t mended her side yet, afraid to lose control with the woman’s body lying on the ground.

Celia takes a halting step toward her. Is she cold or trapped in the throes of a nightmare?

GM: Celia wonders what anyone else stumbling in on this scene would think. The savaged, blood-spattered monster slowly advancing from the partly-dismembered corpse towards the prone woman, her claws coated with still-fresh blood.

Her mom shivers and hugs the blanket tightly about herself. She looks cold. Wet, too.

But the look on her face all-too fearful. Even with her eyes closed, it’s not a dissimilar expression from the one Celia glimpsed through the computer’s camera seven years ago.

This was a nightmare. You recall your husband’s face in place of mine.

Celia: Nightmare, indeed. The words from earlier flood back into her mind. Maxen taking Lucy from her. Nightmares for weeks following her ordeal. How long has Donovan been inside her mother’s mind? What else has he stolen from her? What else has he done?

She cannot dwell. She will not dwell.

Celia crouches beside her mother. She should warm her. A hot bath, maybe. The woman is sleeping… but she’ll never know, will she? Celia had seen her drip from between her legs when she was with Lucy, had watched her expel the squalling child into a water bath some years ago. Seeing her mother naked, in a tub, is nothing compared to that.

She stalks into the bathroom to start the water. Warm her up, then she will take her home. She will not be the reason that Diana catches a cold.

Once the tub is full Celia unrolls her mother from the blanket. It’s quick work to strip her from the nightgown and bring her to the bathroom to deposit her in the warm water. She will be contained, at least, until Celia can take her home.

GM: Celia’s mother stirs as Celia picks her up. Her lips move slurredly.

“H… no… no… Max… sto, sto… Lu… don… take… Lu…!”

“Pl… Ma… I’ll be… goo… wife… Lu… Lu…”

Celia: Celia is careful with her mother. She shushes her gently, whispers that it is all okay, that she loves her, that Lucy is safe, that Maxen cannot hurt her.

GM: Celia’s mom settles some as her daughter sets her down in the warm bath. Her face twitches a bit, but she stops talking.

Childbirth wasn’t the only time Celia saw her mother naked, though. There was also nine months before then. Her breasts sag more than they did through the computer screen. Her skin’s just a bit more lined. She’s still a good-looking woman for her age, and a far cry from the “unbelievably hideous” and “used-up old whore” that her husband spat she was. Seven years of routine spa treatments under Celia’s attentive hand have seen to that. But time’s own hand is undeniable.

Celia: She could fix it.

It’s tempting.

So tempting.

To just… turn back the clock a little.

Who would know, right?

No one is around to see.

Another few years of her mother in her life (unlife), who could blame her? Better than giving her blood. Better than turning her into a slave.

GM: It’s her face that looks the worst. Celia knows better than anyone how fake those ‘I woke up like this’ Instagram pictures are, and plenty of people know those are fake. Fast asleep, rain-soaked, and red- and puffy-eyed from crying in the middle of the night with wet bed hair is not a good look on Diana. It’s not a good look on anyone. The dark bags under her eyes and the lines around her mouth look deeper. Some of the latter may be from smiles around her family. But Celia knows how many are from stress, too.

Your face is uglier too. A grotesque face to go with your empty head. I can’t think of any man who would ever want a used-up old whore like you. You’re a dog walking on its hind legs.

Celia: It isn’t fair. Diana is a good woman. She has a good family. Just because she’s made choices in her life—-they’ve all made poor choices. Diana shouldn’t be suffering for it.

Her mom had given her permission, hadn’t she? Told her that she was “putty in your hands, sweetie.” That’s a blanket permission. Celia hasn’t been able to do such deep work on her before, but she can now. Can… twist her skin a little bit, smooth her all out, fix the sagging breasts, reduce the scar tissue on her leg.

Perfecting timing, really. She won’t wake until she’s back in bed. Celia won’t need to use a needle to dull her nerves.

She reaches out, almost hesitantly, to touch the tips of her fingers to her mother’s face where the deepest of her wrinkles reside.

She’d been thinking that she needs to get Diana out of the city. So Caroline can’t use her family against her. So Donovan can’t use her family against her. What if she just…?

No.

She can’t do that.

Just minor, cosmetic changes. Tiny changes. Things she won’t even notice when she wakes up. She’ll just think it was always like that.

The old blood burns through her. Almost as if she didn’t feed. But it’s worth it. For her mother, it’s worth it. She can mend her own wounds later, will fix herself in her sleep.

Just like she’s doing here.

She starts at the face. Finds the deepest of the lines, the ones that look like crags in a rock. She touches the tips of her fingers to either side of the line and gives a slight tug, then runs another finger against the skin. Tiny changes, she reminds herself as the wrinkles begin to smooth. So small. Two, three, four, maybe half a dozen of them. Just smooths them out so that when Diana wakes up tomorrow morning she’ll think it’s that new face cream her daughter gave her.

Is it crossing a line to work her body itself?

Celia’s own body is tight. Firm. A perfect handful everywhere she needs it. And it’s not like… it’s not like she’s hurting Diana, she’s doing it to help. Just a lift. A gentle tucking of breast tissue, smoothing it out, giving her breasts a little more buoyancy. It’s her mother, yes, but once her hands are on a body that’s all she sees, all she feels: just another body. There’s nothing weird or uncomfortable about it. She’s shaped plenty of breasts in her work. People think Jade’s a surgeon, after all. She’s seen all kinds of things.

The change isn’t dramatic. That collagen she’d waxed poetic about—she can blame that. Say that’s what was in the leg cream, that’s what’s in the shots of antioxidants she has her mother take when she comes in. It’s even true. Not that the orange drink really does much for her; it’s just another bit of commission for her employees, but her mom is always happy to try new things.

She’s not giving her the tits of a twenty-year-old. They still look natural by the time she’s done with them. A little firmer, a little higher, less give. She’d fed six children with those breasts; she doesn’t need to look like a porn star.

Maybe Pete will be interested now. Or his friend, since he has told her, decisively, that he will not date her mother.

Pity, that. He seems like a good bloke. Celia might even be interested if he’d stop giving her those looks like she’s broken his heart every time she makes a mildly gray decision. She’s pretty sure he sees right through her.

She doesn’t linger long on the chest. A few touch ups, then the leg. Minor changes. Scar tissue here; it’s different than the face, different than the breasts. Tougher. She’s used to it, all that work she does on the Asian broad, this is no different. Even kine therapists can help get rid of scar tissue. Cross-fiber friction. But Celia isn’t kine; she doesn’t need to resort to that. She touches the tips of her fingers to her mother’s leg and presses down, feeling for the edge of the wound. All the way to her femur, hadn’t she said? It’s deep. Ugly. All the way down through the quads, the adductors, the long band of the sartorius… there, the edge of the laceration.

Laceration.

As if that’s an adequate word for what he did with his hacksaw.

Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need. Tries not to think about her father. Focuses on the woman in front of her, the woman who has shown more love in one night than her father has her entire life. She starts deep, working out the damaged fibers.

It’s like unrolling a piece of yarn. If yarn were… stringy, firm, sort of stiff. She presses down and works her fingers back and forth, back and forth. Scar tissue—also collagen. Tonight has been an evening of collagen. It’s great stuff, really. Maybe she can look into developing something for the breathers. They use it in wound healing, all sorts of grafts. Some sort of medical aid she can create to clot wounds, heal things immediately?

Maybe.

Maybe it’s too close to giving away the truth of her nature, though, and look how that worked out last time.

It doesn’t take long. Celia doesn’t do much. Minor changes. Very minor.

Ten minutes? Fifteen?

She doesn’t know. But she sits back when it’s done, looks at her work. None of it is blatant enough to even suggest a change, but Celia’s sharp eyes can pick out what she’s done.

Damn, she’s good.

GM: “Putty in your hands” was one way Celia’s mother phrased it. “Play-doh in your hands” was another. She’s said both, a million times. She doesn’t ask for specific treatments when she comes in. Celia is hard-pressed to remember the last time her mother asked for a specific treatment. She just lies down and lets her daughter do what she wants. If that isn’t blanket consent Celia is hard-pressed to say what is.

Diana looks better when she’s done. Anyone would look bad under these circumstances, but Celia’s mother looks better now. Fainter lines. Firmer, bouncier breasts. Fainter stretch marks, around those: six kids hadn’t done that any favors before Celia corrected it. And then there’s the leg scarring. It was ugly at first. It was less ugly after Celia’s first treatment. It’s really not so bad as Diana insists it is now, even if there’s still more to excise.

The woman looks better. Like Celia’s turned back the clock a few years. Someone’s probably more likely to guess late 30s, maybe mid-30s if she really dolls herself up, than early 40s.

And if Jon comes back. If he can show fix wear and tear deeper than mere skin. How to fix it. That’d truly turn back the clock. Celia can only imagine the look on her mother’s face to learn she was 30 again, there. Roderick said some beauty comes from within and shines out for all to see.

Celia: It’s not odd for women in their 40s to look younger, especially if they have a daughter who does what Celia does. The esthetics stuff, not the fleshcraft stuff. There are a few actors she can think of who she’s pretty sure are licks or time travelers or both; decades later and they look exactly the same. That’s the advantage of money though, right? Money, lack of stress, healthy eating habits, personal trainers.

Diana shouldn’t have to stress anymore. Not about Celia, not about Lucy, not about Maxen coming for her. Jade will get her out of the city. Send her with Andi and Tyrell next time they go on tour, or maybe to Houston. Close enough she can visit, not so close that her sire will zip off in the middle of the night to collect her. End of the school year is coming up soon; now’s the perfect time for it, really.

Celia gives her mother’s body a final smile, checks the temperature of the water to make sure it’s not too cold, and returns to the green-haired would-be rapist so she can finish cutting him into pieces.

GM: That grisly work requires far less care. Jade’s claws slice cleanly through the cold flesh. Getting through the bones takes more effort, even at the joints. She should probably get a saw.

That’s what all the kine come down to, in the end. Dead stacks of meat.

Celia’s pushed back the clock a few years, for one of them. But the clock will tick forward again. Has already started to. One day, Diana will look like she did in that bathtub again. Celia’s only postponed it. One day, Diana will look even worse. She’ll get old. Then she’ll die. She will never lie down on a spa and call herself play-doh in her daughter’s hands, blush over Christmas gifts of dildo or lingerie, or call Celia “sweetie” as they hug. She’ll just be a memory in Celia’s head while her corpse rots in a mausoleum. That’ll happen to Emily and Lucy too, in enough years. Eternity is patient.

Maybe if she’s lucky, she won’t fuck things up with Roderick. And he’ll be the last person on earth to really love her.

Maybe her sire. If she’s useful enough.

But maybe she won’t be lucky. Maybe that’ll be it, when her family dies. Lights out, no “one door closes, another opens.” Just a minus. A loss. A void that will never be filled. You can replace a mom, like Emily did, but you only get one. And once she’s dead, that’s it. That love is gone forever.

It’s the ghost of eternity. Celia can almost see it over her shoulder. Waiting to consume her mother. Waiting to consume everyone else she loves.

It’s patient.

It has forever.

Celia: So does she.

That’s what they say, isn’t it? That Kindred have forever.

Emily replaced her mom. Sure, Diana will eventually die—but the memories? Those last forever. Like her.

And if Emily did it… well, Celia can do it too. Find another woman she can look up to. Another light in the darkness.

Fuck the ghost of eternity.

She’s got another thirty years before she even needs to think about it. And maybe more. It’s not like her skills with the body are going to go away; she can just keep turning back the clock a few seconds at a time and no one will ever know.

GM: That’ll change is her looks. Her face. People will tell her how young she looks.

But Father Time won’t be fooled. He’ll come whenever he feels like it.

Celia: Father Time sounds like a miserable old coot. Jade will scare him off, too. Bare her fangs. Some claws. Show him what he’s really messing with. If she’s not going to let her sire take her mom, she sure as hell won’t let some concept of a thing.

There has to be something that will slow the aging process. A cell in the body. Some part of their DNA. Jade will find it. She’s got nothing but time on her hands.

Well, time… and blood. This guy’s blood and muscle fibers, the stringy bits of tendons and ligaments, the fascia that holds it all together. It looks like a murder scene, really. Maybe because it is. Or at least the roof was. This is just the cleanup.

Thank God she doesn’t have carpet.

She should check his pockets when she’s done ripping him apart. See if there’s anything useful in his coat.

There’s a rumor about Jade that populates Elysium. A rumor about a wetroom in the back of her haven where she dismembers the people who get on her bad side. A rumor that is, in part, true; though she has no dedicated space in this haven, she does have all the tools she needs, and before she tears apart the boy’s body any further she sees to it that everything is set as needed. Tarp on the ground. Tools sharpened. Clothing removed.

Part of this she had done earlier, as is her norm. It’s a simple process to dismember a human body, and she’s done it enough times that she doesn’t even need to think about the next step as she goes through the motions:

Remove the clothes and other ornamentation.

Lay the body on a hard, non-porous surface. In the salon she uses the suite she’d had designed for herself with the hydraulic table, but here she simply lays him out on the floor.

Drain the blood. Easier when he’s strung up, and her earlier feeding had done an adequate job of removing some of the blood, but there’s more to be had. Her Beast is a greedy thing. Wants it all. Jade will simply need to be a little more hands on in her draining. Blood pressure in humans is higher the closer you get to the heart, and the heart itself is simply a pump for the rest of the body. Jade makes a cut into the man’s neck over the carotid, a deep bowl positioned beneath him. Those earlier pots and pans have come in handy, at least. Her claws dig into his chest, fingers wrapping around the cardiac muscle hidden behind his ribcage. She manually pumps his heart for him. Similar to chest compressions with CPR, it keeps the blood moving. Flowing. Soon a steady red drip has begun to empty into the bowl.

Easier, she thinks to cut the subclavian to drain him quicker. Its position right next to the heart makes it prime for draining, but the clavicles themselves—hence the name, subclavian—protect it from most of the world. Not from Jade, certainly, but she is not in the right space to go digging into the man’s chest. If she had a lift, or an extra pair of hands, then she could do it. The carotid will work just as well.

The ticking of the clock keeps her company while she works, a far cry from the pop music she had danced to earlier. There’s a certain rhythm to dismemberment once she is done with the blood, though. She sets the bowl aside and gets to work on the rest of him.

First, the cuts around his ankles and wrists. Then a line from sternum to groin, peeling back his skin to have a look inside at the body’s organs. She cuts them free, tilts him to the side, and they spill out on the plastic-lined floor. She will save them for Sparky, she thinks—and then her lips twist into the smile at the name she had given her newest pet (a pet in truth, not like Alana), and she thinks she might need to rename him. Who ever heard of a pig named Sparky?

The skin is the next organ she removes, peeling it back a little at a time, using her nails to clean away the subcutaneous tissue, the adipose tissue, everything that holds it firm to the body. Some sections, like the chest where she’d reached through to touch his heart and the neck where Donovan’s booted foot had come down upon him, come away with more damage than others. She sets the skin aside to deal with later, already considering how she is going to use it.

Then the muscles. These, too, she can use as building blocks. She makes what cuts she needs into the tendons that keep them connected to the bone, tossing the lot of it into an empty garbage back for future projects. Even the connective tissue goes into another container; most of it is collagen, after all, and she has already gone on about the various uses she can find for that. The tendons, ligaments, cartilage, blood vessels—all of it can be repurposed.

It makes disassembling the skeleton itself that much easier, really. Ligaments are what bind bone to bone, and once Jade is done cutting the tough, rope-like strands of fibrous tissue free from their points of insertion the bones are easy to simply pull apart. Like a strand of fake, beaded pearls, cutting the thing that holds it all together makes the rest of it simply scatter.

Daddy needed a hacksaw to do this type of work, and he’d botched even that. Perhaps Celia will show him one day how much more effective Jade is.

GM: Her sire even promised. He did.

It’s a rote enough process to butcher another human being into so much meat by now. To pack the individual pieces inside the fridge. In plastic wrap if she cares about keeping it clean.

More materials for the spa. More food for Sparky.

Alana said she liked the name, but that’s the problem with ghouls, Savoy had once said. You can’t really trust them to give completely objective advice.

“You’d be surprised at the ways that can come back to bite you,” he’d chuckled.

Celia: Good thing Roderick hadn’t tried to put his jacket into the fridge with a desiccated body already inside; that would have been all sorts of awkward. She can imagine his shock. His wild accusations. How would she have spun that? Doubtless she’d have thought of something in the moment.

It’s a relief to be done with it. To put the blood into the microwave and heat it to an acceptable temperature as if that will make it more palatable. She begins the process of cleaning the rest of the apartment while she waits for the telltale ding. Lemon scented polish for the floor to cover the unmistakably coppery tang of fresh blood. A mop to soak up the puddles of water from her dress, from Donovan’s coat. The wooden box slides back beneath the bed, empty for now. Rolling the tarp for rinsing and disposal.

There’s a lot to do to cover her tracks, and Jade doesn’t waste time, conscious of the clock ticking down to daylight.

GM: Jade thinks she can still smell the faintest whiff that telltale coppery tang. Doubtless any breathers wouldn’t pick up anything, but her kind are drawn to blood like sharks.

Then again, that might also be the still-open tear wounds she’s sporting. Her dead heart doesn’t pump any blood out through arteries, but she can smell it.

The once paint-like cold sludge tastes better when she holds the bowl to her mouth and drinks. A lot better, actually. It’s not as good as fresh from a live vessel’s veins, but it’s warm and hasn’t been filled with all those flavor-diluting preservatives hospitals put into bagged blood.

Celia: She can almost pretend it’s a cup of hot tea on a cold night if she wants to. But she doesn’t want to; nothing compares to the taste of the red stuff. Every favorite meal she’d ever had as a breather is a pale imitation of what she prefers to swallow now.

At least he had delivered a meal to her during their exchange. She can’t help but laugh at the thought of him in a pizza delivery hat, and is glad that no one is around to break into her mind to see it. The act of laughing pulls at the tear in her side, though. She should fix herself.

Her eyes slide to the clock on the wall.

GM: There isn’t much time to get her mother home before 5 AM. She’ll have to be quick.

Celia: Too bad her car is in the Garden District, isn’t it?

She could call another Ryde. Or ask Roderick for a ride. Awkward to explain either situation though, isn’t it.

GM: The Ventrue’s powers have their advantages. Caroline could just tell the driver to take her somewhere and forget her face.

Celia: Drawbacks too, though. Like eye contact.

…which she had made with her sire earlier. Had he done something to her while he had caught her gaze with his? Had her do something and made her forget? Had she confessed to more than what she’d already done? Trespassing at Tulane?

No, he’d have… he’d have done something to her for that, surely. Wouldn’t he have? He took her blood, though. Pete said if they have your blood they can do a lot with it. Find out a lot. Dip into your mind and you’ll never know. What had he seen? What does he know that she doesn’t know he knows?

No, no, no. He couldn’t have. Why would he have? She’d told him everything.

Well, that’s not true.

Not everything.

Not even most things.

Celia presses a hand to her lips where his fangs had punctured her skin. She should have just bitten him back. They could have had a roll around the floor together, biting and clawing and scratching. Maybe that’s why he kissed her. Why he used her name. Because she’s been terrible at hiding the fact that she wants him, wants him to want her.

Christ, it’s a mess.

Like her. She lets her eyes sweep over her form. She needs to change. Needs to get rid of her mom. Needs to put Jade’s face back or Roderick will know something is up. That’s first order of business, then. Easier to explain to him that Celia’s mom had been caught in the middle of something than the fact that she can just change her appearance at will.

Let him play hero. Boys like that.

Quick steps take her into the bathroom where her mother lies face-up in the tub. She’ll need to take her out and dress her in something before he arrives; she doesn’t need him to see her naked. Now, though, Celia has her own face to fix.

GM: Celia does her face and waits. Her hair is shorter unless she wants to sculpt on some of the boy’s (and get rid of that green color). She eventually hears a knock against her door.

Celia: Face? Check.

Covered in blood? Check.

Torn open from apparent fight? Check.

The last touch is removing her mother from the tub and wrapping her in one of Celia’s robes, then tucking the blankets around her again to keep her warm. She kicks off her heels for good measure and moves to open the door.

GM: It’s Roderick. He looks like he could blink as he sees her.

“What happened?”

Celia: Celia steps aside to let him in. She doesn’t say anything until the door is closed and locked behind him. Each movement is a little more painful than the last, and she doesn’t try to hide it. But she shakes her head at his question.

“Nothing.”

The lie is… well. The sight of her speaks for itself.

GM: “That doesn’t look like nothing.”

Celia: No, it looks like Celia’s been torn into with a bowie knife, doesn’t it? Looks like she got the shit kicked out of her. Looks like she’s dead on her feet—and not in a literal way, since they all are, just more like a stiff wind would knock her over. But she shakes her head again, more insistently this time, her shortened hair falling into her face.

“Later,” she tells him. “Just—give me a minute, I need to…” She trails off. Gestures toward herself.

GM: “Clean up,” he says. He’s staring at her wounds with visible fangs in his mouth. “Sure.”

“Just don’t take too long. Coco says to always leave yourself extra time to get home before sunup.”

Celia: Coco says.

Of course she says. Has Roderick had his own thoughts since his Embrace, or is everything that comes out of his mouth just regurgitated from his sire?

She doesn’t know where the unkind thought comes from. Maybe she’d hoped for more concern from him. Stupid, isn’t it, to think he cares. And she’d been dancing to thoughts of him earlier.

What a mess. What a mess indeed.

Celia doesn’t take long. She needs his help getting her mother home. She packs a bag, wipes off the worst of the blood, pulls on a pair of yoga pants and a long sleeved shirt. She’ll shower tomorrow, fix her side once her mother is safely back in bed.

“Time to drop my mom off?”

GM: He frowns. “What’s your mom doing here?”

Celia: “My car is in the Garden District and I’ve been ordered not to return. Ergo, my mother.”

GM: “Okay. So what’s she doing here?”

“You look like something tore you apart. And your hair’s shorter. Seriously, what the hell happened?”

Celia: “Exactly what you said would happen! They found out I was in his territory. They found out who Celia is. And then they tried to use her—” Celia jabs a finger at her mother, wincing as the motion pulls against her torn muscles “—against me and if I had been just a little less on the ball she’d have died and I might have died and then it would just be Emily and Lucy all alone!”

“Or they’d kill them too! You know how thorough our kind are.”

GM: “What?!” Roderick grabs Celia and pulls her close. “They hurt you? Which of them did it!?”

Celia: She stumbles over her own feet when he grabs her; the movement makes her clench her teeth together, hissing out the complaint at his treatment as her open wounds are jostled once more.

“Who do you think, Roderick? Seven years. I go seven years with no problems, with no one finding out, and then I meet her and it all—I ruined everything.”

GM: “So it was Caroline who tore you up and tried to kill you and your mom? That’s who? Or did she tattle to the sheriff?” the Brujah asks, his face angry.

Celia: “D-don’t,” she shakes her head again, the unevenly shorn hair flying wildly with the urgency of her motions, “don’t get mad, I can’t—I can’t fight you off right now, my mom is here, please, we have to go—”

GM: “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at who did this to you!” Roderick exclaims. “Who was it? Caroline? One of the hounds?”

Celia: “No! I’m not—I’m not just going to tell you so you can run off and do something heroic and die, no. We have to go, it’s already 5, I’ll tell you, later, when I’m not torn up, when she’s not lying there—” She hadn’t let herself cry earlier. Not in front of him. But now her eyes run red, thin streams of it leaking down her cheeks.

GM: Roderick looks at Celia’s mom, then bites his wrist and holds it out to her.

“Here. You can mend up if you’re low.”

Celia: It’s right in front of her face. Blood. His blood. An offering of… something, at least, that he cares enough about her to offer it, that he’s not dripping it onto the floor or her mother’s face and making her lap it up like a dog as her sire apparently wanted her to do.

Her fingers close around his forearm. Her fangs are long in her mouth—not that she needs them. The blood is waiting for her, ready for her to just drink it up. She can use it to mend. Not risk hurting her mom if it takes more out of her than she thinks it will.

The flesh on her side begins to knit itself together. Just a bit, not all the way; she won’t take that much from him. Just a hit, just a—

“Later,” she says through gritted teeth, dropping his arm, turning her face away so that he can’t see the longing. “Can we take her home? Please?” Her eyes dart toward the clock. As much as she doesn’t want to admit it, Coco is right. They need to make sure they get to safety on time.

GM: “All right,” he relents. “If you’re sure.”

The tang of his vitae recedes.

“Maybe it’s better if you take her back, though.” She hears the frown in his voice. “I’m supposed to be dead. She can’t see my face.”

Celia: Of course she’s not sure. Of course she wants it. Just not now. Not here. Not like this.

“She’s been put to sleep until she’s back in bed. She won’t see your face. But—” She huffs, shoulders slumping. “Just… just go, Roderick, I’ll figure something out, I’ll call a Ryde or… you don’t need to get tangled up with this.”

Should have called a Ryde earlier. She could have found a way to make it work instead of playing twenty questions with him.

GM: He shakes his head. “It’s okay. I’ll drive. What’s her address?”

Celia: “On Burgundy. 1110. Can you..?” she gestures towards her mom. “She’s not heavy, but I’m not… I don’t want to drop her.” She almost had earlier, coming down the stairs. Near miss. Faster if he does it, she can follow him out.

GM: Roderick’s face falls a bit.

“That’s pretty deep in the Quarter.”

Celia: Ah… she hadn’t even considered that.

“You’re with me, though.”

GM: “Anyone who sees me will probably be thinking I’m with Coco before thinking I’m with you. And it’ll raise questions what I was doing here. From your club and mine.”

“We… we can risk it, though. It’s like shoplifting. Do it once, decent odds you’ll get away with it.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say a word. She just stalks toward her closet, opens the door, rummages around inside, and pulls out the Tulane hoodie she’d stolen from her brother a few nights ago. She holds it out with her brows raised.

“I have a scarf, if you’d prefer.”

GM: He pulls of his coat and jacket, then slips the hoodie on. Does up the hood. “Little big on me. You must’ve been swimming in this.”

Celia: She smiles at him.

“I was.”

GM: “Cute,” he smiles back.

He walks over to the bed, makes sure the blanket is secure around Celia’s mother, and then carefully picks her up between his arms. She doesn’t look as if she weighs him down at all. His expression is wistful.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen your family. She looks good.”

Celia: A long while. Seven years, maybe, since he’d actually interacted with them; less if he’d been stalking her as Coco had implied.

“She comes in once a week to see me. I try to make sure I take care of her. Helped get the business off the ground. And she’s my mom.”

Celia picks up the small bag she’d packed for the overnight trip, his coat and jacket as well, then moves toward the door to unlock and open it for him.

GM: “I’m glad. And I can tell you have. She looks really good for her age.”

He heads out the door with Celia as he adds,

“Oh, remote’s in my right pocket.”

Celia: “Oh, keys!” Celia darts back inside to pick up the keys she had “forgotten” on the kitchen counter, dropping down to snatch up the papers he’d dropped earlier as well. It’s a quick movement to tuck them into her bra before she’s out the door, locking it behind the pair of them and reaching into his pocket for his keys.

GM: It’s a remote rather than keys which she pulls out, but she clicks it and unlocks the car door with a beep. Roderick gently sets down Celia’s mom in the back and fastens the seatbelt around her.

“Maybe best if you drive and I sit in the back, too. Less chance of my face being seen.”

Celia: “Smart. I could lock you in the trunk if you want.” She winks at him as she slides into the driver’s seat. She sets her things down in the empty seat next to her and starts the car, waiting until he’s all set to put it into gear and get going.

GM: Roderick seems to seriously consider that.

Celia: “…do you want me to?”

GM: “It can’t hurt. I don’t mind a bumpy ride.”

“You also can’t lock people in trunks, technically. There’s a mandatory release button in them now. Happened because of kidnapping cases.”

Celia: “Kidnap a lot of girls, Roderick?”

GM: “Girls and guys. I’m an equal opportunist.”

A mandatory release button. Diana’s hands might’ve been tied, but she might’ve been able to hit that, if she’d known about it.

Celia: Celia is going to make sure that Diana, Lucy, and Emily all know about it now. She’d seen a movie once where a girl had kicked out the light, but it definitely seems easier to just press a button. Though she’s not sure if car trunks can actually open if they’re in drive, at least from the outside. She’d complained to Randy often enough about forgetting to put the car in park so she could open the trunk. Maybe the inside button works differently. Regardless, it’s a good thing to know.

She smirks at Roderick as she gets back out to load him into the trunk (mostly she just stands there while he climbs in, really), and tells him she’ll take Diana inside once they get to her house if he doesn’t want to risk it and they can swap places in Mid-City.

GM: “That’s probably safest,” he agrees as he gets in.

It’s a brief enough drive from Jade’s haven to Diana’s house. Celia has a key: her mom always said she was welcome at any time.

Carrying the limp woman inside is slow work. Jade knows how heavy a completely limp human body is. Still, her dead muscles don’t get sore or tired. It just takes longer.

The family’s two cats arch their backs and hiss furiously when they see Jade, their tails as thick as beavers’, before darting off.

Not everyone is fooled by her pretty exterior.

Celia: Stupid cats.

Celia moves through the house with her mother in her arms, careful not to accidentally whack her head on anything. It looks easier when Roderick does it; maybe she’ll craft some extra muscles onto herself, too. All those spare parts she can use now, no reason not to. Except that everyone will notice. Though she knows plenty of wiry-looking people who are just as strong as the dudes who look like they pump iron seven days a week. She can make it lean muscle. Always more time to experiment, anyway.

Once Celia reaches her mother’s bedroom she gingerly sets her mother down on the bed. Conscious of the orders Donovan had given her, she quickly retreats from the room.

GM: She hears a low groan, and then the unmistakable sound of someone throwing up.

Celia: Not her problem, not her problem, not her problem. Not with it as late as it is. She cannot be trapped here. Her mom can handle an upset stomach. Celia will make it up to her.

She flees the house, shutting and locking the door quietly behind her, and heads back to the car to begin the trip to Mid-City.

GM: “Do you want to switch with me in the trunk, once we’re clear of the Quarter? Your face probably won’t be too welcome in the CBD,” comes Roderick’s muffled voice.

Celia: Christ, getting around the city anymore is like being a black man at a Klan meeting. Who thought this was a good idea to divide up turf and determine where people could go? Hello yes you are dead and immortal now, stay inside the lines.

Celia scowls at the road as she drives.

“Yeah,” she calls back, “that’s fine.”

GM: Well, it’s all a matter of who you’re friends with, Mélissaire had explained during Jade’s early nights. But Savoy had the misfortune for his territory to be directly bordered by his two archrivals.

“It’s interesting to think how things would look if the Anarchs or Invictus occupied territory between any of the Big Three’s,” the ghoul had remarked idly. “Or if Sundown did. Buffer states can do a lot to reduce tensions between hostile neighbors. But that’s just not the way things shook out.”

Jade knows, too, that the three elders have agents regularly patrol the borders between their territories. ‘Patrol duty’ is a common task for regents in any parish to assign their vassals. Savoy takes it a step further and offers rewards to the Caitiff, thin-bloods, and other dregs crowded into the hunting-poor neighborhoods that border Treme (and to a lesser but far from nonexistent extent, the CBD). If they bring word of an intruder he later apprehends, they can hunt somewhere better, for a little while. If they bring him a captured intruder, they can hunt somewhere better for a longer while. So the riffraff keep their eyes sharp.

Roderick said entering domains you’re not welcome is like shoplifting. Do it once, you can probably get away with it. Do it twice, still probably. But the more times you roll those dice, the lower your odds of a clean in-and-out.

And Jade has been testing her luck. Those excursions to Riverbend. The Garden District. Her secret rendezvouses with Roderick.

Her luck can’t hold out forever. Bad luck is always just around the corner.

Or approaching in Jade’s rearview mirror.

She looks nice, to be out when she is. Where she is. Curly long red hair. Estee Lauder brown pencil liner on her eyes. Mascara-coated lashes. Blusher-colored cheeks. Handsome face with a jaw that’s a little too wide to be “delicate,” but she wears it well and her eyes make up for any supposed defect. The backs of her arms had gone a little fleshy by the time she was Embraced, suggesting a life of indulgence, but otherwise she’s rather trim. She holds an umbrella and wears a raincoat over a flare-hemmed dress that looks retro enough Celia could picture her own mom wearing it.

She’s run into this Caitiff a few times. The clanless vampire has to be pretty desperate to be out looking for intruders at this hour.

But how many clanless aren’t desperate?

Celia: Jade knows her luck can’t hold out forever. That’s why she doesn’t take chances when she’s got precious cargo in the back of the car. There are very few people that she gives enough of a fuck about anymore, but her mother is one of them, and Roderick another. She’s not going to play games with their welfare. She’s conscious of the eyes that guard the border. Conscious of the fact that she needs to avoid being seen with Roderick if anything is to ever happen between them. Conscious, too, of the fact that she wasn’t the only one trespassing this evening; the sheriff had made his own foray into the Quarter, and maybe that’s what put them on high alert.

So Jade uses that tightly coiled thing inside of her to her advantage. Now that her mother isn’t here, she loosens the reins. Lets it taste freedom, so long as it works for her rather than against her. She sharpens her sight, her hearing, her smell—fuck, she sharpens every damn taste bud on her tongue so that she can taste the rifraff that Savoy has patrolling the Quarter.

There’s no reason to stop her. She’s Jade fucking Kalani, not some intruder. How many times have they seen her on Savoy’s lap, whispering in his ear, his hand on her thigh? That’s right, fuckwads, you don’t stop a car in the Quarter with Jade inside of it, that’s just asking for trouble from the very lord who grants your territory. You think he’s going to take kindly to an interruption when you drag a loyal, legal vassal before him? Of course not.

Guess it doesn’t stop them, though, not if Edith-fucking-homewrecker-Flannagan is tailing her.

“Trouble,” she says to Roderick, but it’s trouble she can probably handle if it comes to that. She tells him that too. To stay quiet in case things get bumpy.

GM: He doesn’t respond. Probably better if no one can hear his voice.

And maybe Edith wouldn’t pay Jade a second glance, if she were in her usual gray Hyundai Genesis, and wasn’t driving into the CBD. But she is driving there, and she’s driving Roderick’s car, a dark blue Acura IXL. Maybe a Ryde or some other solution would have been better.

The CBD’s skyscrapers draw closer. Closer.

Then just like that, the Caitiff stops tailing her.

How many of them actually remember what car Jade Kalani drives?

Celia: She doesn’t breathe a sigh of relief once Edith is gone, though she thinks about it. She recognizes the necessity of the Caitiff, but tonight… tonight she just wants to crawl into bed and be left alone for a week.

“Gone,” she says aloud. Once they are safely away she finds a place to pull over. Before she pops the trunk she fishes the stolen papers from her bra and slides them into the inside pocket of his jacket. Then she’s out of the car to switch places with her ex, offering him a rueful smile when she climbs into the trunk in his stead.

GM: “Here, you can have the sweatshirt for some cushioning,” Roderick says, shrugging it off.

He puts his jacket back on.

Celia: He was right earlier: she swims in the hoodie.

The sleeves come down way past her hands. The hood obscures her face completely when she flips it up. Even the hem is halfway down her thighs.

Easy to imagine what she’d look like in his clothing. Stealing his tops, like she used to when she spent the night back in college. Just a shirt, legs bare, nothing underneath.

GM: Roderick smiles at the sight, and perhaps the memory, but hurries her into the trunk and closes it behind her. Celia can see the little release button. It even glows in the dark.

One push of that, and her mom would’ve been out. Lucy wouldn’t exist. Isabel wouldn’t have been raped, Embraced, and killed by her sister. And Celia would belong to Veronica. Maybe.

One little push of a button.

Would that have been a positive or a negative?

Celia: Celia would have never belonged to Veronica. Not unless she was stolen. She’s been Donovan’s since she was eight years old and eavesdropping on the conversation he had with her father, staring from the doorway with wide eyes while the cold corpse shook his hand and stole his soul.

Diana would have gotten out, certainly, and Celia would have never made the deal with Veronica. Celia would have given her other gathered evidence to Pete, and maybe she’d have ended up as Savoy’s childe. Another illicit Embrace, but this one she’d be really hunted for, both for being his childe and for the fact that she might have ruined her father. Donovan might have killed Celia rather than Embraced Jade when he came for her. Maybe not. Maybe she wouldn’t have been Embraced at all. Maybe Pietro would have come back for her at some point to finish her off. Maybe Celia and Stephen would have eloped. Maybe she’d have gone back to Paul’s house to ruin him, too, and found Jade’s sire waiting for her. Maybe Celia would have asked her dad to protect her from his friends.

That’s the problem with the word “if.” Two letters and it can mean a whole hell of a lot of things. Silly to think about, isn’t it? One mistake, one decision, one word can change the course of history.

She doesn’t regret where she’s ended up. That’s what counts. Can’t keep looking in the review mirror and expect to get somewhere; at some point your eyes have to focus on the road ahead of you, the scenery around you.

Her mother is happy now. Emily is happy now. Lucy is happy now. Everyone she cares about—they’re happy.

Mistakes? Certainly. She’s made plenty. But even with all the powers of their kind, changing the past isn’t possible. You can only alter the course you’re on now.

She’d heard once that life doesn’t give you more than you can handle, that growth happens outside the comfort zone. Maybe she’d read it. She’d been content for 19 years to let her dad rule hers for her, and only once she’d stepped outside of that and into the world itself had she really started to grow, to become the person she’s meant to be. She’s not sure that she believes in fate, and maybe it’s true that when you die you meet the person you could have been and that’s what hell is.

Not much she can do about it now.

So dwelling? Nah. Celia doesn’t want to dwell.

GM: So she doesn’t. She lies there in the big sweatshirt. It’s a bumpy ride, but one free of regrets.

“Your mom looks really good for her age,” Roderick says aloud after a while. His voice comes out partly muffled. “Credit where credit’s due, there. She barely looked older than I remember. Is it just run of the mill beauty treatments you do on her, or something extra?”

Celia: She likes big sweatshirts. Maybe she’ll nick a few of his while she’s over there.

Stolen things feel better.

“I didn’t ghoul her, if that’s what you’re asking,” she calls back.

GM: “I wasn’t. I didn’t smell any juice on her.”

Celia: “She pretty much just tells me to do what I want, so I like to try new things with her. All the experimental stuff.”

“But like I said, she’s in once a week. And she’s good at keeping up with her routine at home.”

GM: “I guess that’ll do it. I’d wondered if it was some extra Toreador mojo.”

Celia: “Reitnol promotes cell turnover, then you’ve got the AHAs, BHAs, benzoyl peroxide, high frequency lasers, dermaplaning…”

“Oh. Ha. I wish.”

“Sunscreen. Seriously. There’s this video they made us watch in school about a truck driver, half of his face is all jacked up because that’s the side in the sun. Other side is fine. I’m like 100% positive that’s why we don’t age.”

But he can hear her giggle.

GM: He chuckles back. “Guess that’s it. No sun ever.”

“I’ve heard some people say you—well, you as in breathers—should wear sunscreen all the time, even in winter and autumn. Is there anything to that?”

“Their bodies need Vitamin D.”

Celia: “Sure, but you can still get the D without the sun.” He can’t see her grin, but it’s there. “Some people take supplements. Regardless, it’s the UV rays you don’t want. In autumn and winter the angle of the sun changes because of the rotation of the earth. Plus in the northern climates they’ve got the snow it reflects from.”

GM: “I don’t know why I’m even asking about this. It’s like a girl watching a ‘how to tuck for drag’ MeVid video.”

Celia: “Because you’re secretly interested in being prettier.”

“Anyway, everyone has skin. It’s not a male/female thing. It’s an everyone thing. Largest organ in the body.”

GM: “You’d just watch a drag video for that, though. How to tuck is completely inapplicable.”

Celia: “Is it? I don’t have a penis, sometimes I’m curious what it feels like.”

“Like, for example right. I’ve got boobs. And they hang, ‘cause they’re boobs. But I have a bra to keep them from flopping around. But like dudes don’t wear dick-holsters.”

That’s not entirely true: nothing on her hangs or flops unless it is meant to, both from the youth of her Embrace and her own carefully sculpted body. But the point stands.

“Also just because something isn’t applicable to me doesn’t mean I don’t want to know about it. Plus now you can impress your next girlfriend.”

GM: What a loaded remark that is.

“Maybe you should start a dick holster clothing line, o Instragramer. Maybe the only reason we don’t wear them is is because there aren’t any phallus holsters available for purchase.”

“You could call them ‘cock bras.’”

Celia: “I feel like it needs a catchier name than that.”

“But. I am working on some fashion stuff that I’m actually kind of excited about.”

GM: “Hey, cock bra is great name.”

Celia: “Cock bra is a terrible name.”

GM: “It’s so terrible that it’s great. You’re dying to check out what one even is.”

Celia: “It’s a bra shaped like a cock. Or a bra stuffed with cocks.”

GM: “But that’s cool, what kind of fashion stuff?”

Celia: “I think ‘dick holster’ is where it’s at.”

“Ah, a clothing line actually. Sort of. It’s not like… commercial or anything. Mostly bespoke things. I’ve been messing around with it for a while.”

GM: “Makes perfect sense with the spa. Make people pretty from face to toe. Or hem, if you’re not doing shoes.”

Celia: “Pretty all-inclusive. Shipped out an order today, actually.”

Sort of.

GM: “Oh really, who to?”

Celia: “You know, I was trying to make it sound cooler than it was, it was really just to my sire.”

GM: “Hey, that makes perfect sense to start with someone you know before branching out to strangers.”

“Though your family might be more… considerate than your sire.”

Celia: “She’s got interesting taste. It’s fun to play around with. D’you remember when we were released on the anniversary and she came as a hurricane? And those spider shoes she has?”

“First time I met her she was in this little slinky club dress, then she pulls stuff like that. It’s crazy.”

GM: “Older licks can have weird fashion. Anything goes in Elysium.”

Celia: “I’ve been working on a piece for myself but I have no idea where I’d wear it. Maybe a party.”

GM: “I mean, is it any weirder than your great-grandsire showing up in Medieval or Antebellum garb?”

“I’ve actually seen her, at least once, wearing one of those pointed, cone-shaped hats. What are they called.”

Celia: “Cone-hats. Traffic cones. Witch hats?”

Celia snickers.

GM: “Ha. It’s not a witch hat, though. It has this veil attached to it.”

Celia: “I know. Hennin.”

GM: “Ah, no surprise the Toreador would know.”

Celia: “I study history.”

GM: “I do too. Just not historical fashion.”

Celia: “Fashion informs you of the culture. Culture is part of history. Culture tells you everything about a place. What they believed. How they lived.”

GM: “Absolutely. Just isn’t an area I’ve focused as much on.”

Celia: “I’ll fill in the gaps of your knowledge, don’t worry.”

“Y’know. Fashion wise.”

“Speaking of nerds, though, Emily’s boyfriend does this historical medieval fighting thing.”

GM:HEMA?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “Coco has a ghoul who’s active in HEMA circles, actually. Or at least was. I’m not sure if he still is.”

“She says it’s a good pool of people to recruit from. They’re typically well-educated and also know how to fight. With swords, at that. More useful than guns.”

Celia: “Makes sense. Robby seems pretty smart.”

GM: “They’re history nerds one and all.”

Celia: “Plus he’s like eight feet tall. Talk about reach, right? Don’t need to worry about getting hit if they can’t get to you.”

“I’m doomed forever if I want to learn how to use a sword. Too small.”

GM: “Fencing might actually be a good thing for you to learn, depending on how good you want to get at fighting. It’s definitely useful to know how to throw a punch, because you can’t take a sword everywhere, but bare hands only do so much against other licks without super-strength backing it up. There’s a reason so many of us still use bladed weapons.”

“I’ve had some training with them, though not as much as I have in unarmed fighting. Punching works better for me.”

Celia: “Thought you said you were faster than you were strong.”

Years ago, though. Maybe it changed.

GM: “I am. I’m still strong enough where it counts, though.”

Celia: She smirks in the darkness of the trunk.

GM: “Ha. Yeah. In both senses of the word,” he smirks. “But there’s not a lot a sword can do my hands can’t.”

“You might be pretty good at fencing, though, with the background you have in dance.”

Celia: “Maybe.” Worth looking into, anyway, if things are going to get as bad as he suggests. Maybe Robby really can show her some new moves.

GM: “I think ballet actually grew out of fencing. Though your mom could probably tell you a lot more than me there.”

Celia: “Pretty sure I’ve heard her say that before.”

GM: “Well, there you go.”

A beat. “I’m sorry I wasn’t able to say hi. I really liked your family.”

“Well, correction. I fucking detested your dad.”

Celia: “I can’t think of anyone who actually likes him. So you’re in good company.”

GM: “Maybe some of his colleagues in the legislature. Or Congress, if he runs for higher office. Hate to say it, but he’s probably not even the worst of them.”

Celia: “No? Hard to look past the years I spent with him.”

GM: “I might be talking out of my ass. Obviously, I didn’t spend any time with him beyond the most awful dinner of my entire life. I’ve just heard that monsters like him aren’t anything rare in D.C. That it takes the worst of the worst to hold the levers of power in our world.”

Celia: “That wouldn’t surprise me.”

“Kind of sad, though. I can imagine that others are just as bad, even more awful. All the time I spent there… I mean… it could have been worse.”

GM: “There’s things to be not sad about. Your family has good people too. Your mom, your grandma.”

Celia: Dinner might not have been so awful if she’d paid more attention in those cooking classes he’d made her take. Funny how she’d gone from not being able to touch raw steaks to butchering bodies on her floor.

“I’m not sad for me. I’m sad for other people who have to deal with it. I’m sad for the people in the stories you were about to tell me before I cut you off.”

GM: Diana cooked him a (probably) good steak the last time they were together. How did that work out for her?

Celia: She’d always said it was different with a wife.

GM: “Sorry, before you cut me off?”

Celia: “Ah, yeah, you sounded like you were about to tell me about things you’ve heard and then I started thinking about my dad and just blurted out words.”

GM: “Oh. No, my personal stories there are pretty limited. My family isn’t in national politics. I’m your guy if you want Mafia stories, lawyer stories, or JFK assassination stories.”

Celia: “I always want to hear your stories.”

GM: “Well, this one doesn’t have anything to do with the Mafia, but… when I was a breather, I wanted to clerk for your grandma. Seemed pretty cool to do that for someone in my girlfriend’s family.”

Celia: “Is that why you had Emily introduce us?” Teasing, though.

GM: “Oh, I mean after we were together. I actually clerked for Carson Malveaux.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Yeah. Relative of Caroline’s. There were more prestigious clerkships, but I wanted to see how criminal law worked up close.”

“I liked him. He was stern but fair.”

Celia: “Small world, I guess.”

GM: “Lots of Malveauxes, more like.”

“I clerked under him for a little while, then did a stint at the Eastern District Court.”

Celia: “I’d have set you up with my grandmother, you know. If you’d have told me you were interested.”

GM: “My dad talked me out of it. Said I’d already done a stint at a lower court and it wouldn’t look as good on my resume to go back.”

Celia: “Oh. Yeah, that makes sense.”

GM: “But still. I’d have picked her over Carson. She was there for your family when they needed her. And… Carson had to have known about the circumstances of your dad’s arrest.”

Celia: “Wouldn’t surprise me. Get the whole family in on the cover-up. Caroline was my age and she had a hand in it.”

GM: “God.”

“I’d still like to see your dad convicted in a court of law and sent to prison. Felony count of domestic violence and placement on a sex offender registry pretty much destroys your life forever.”

Celia: “He’d get off. He’d find a way. Or someone would let him off. Rich white guy? Pfft.”

GM: “They’ve gone down in the courts. It can be fucking hard, but they do. Al Capone.”

Celia: “Doesn’t need to go down in court to lose an election. Then what, he goes back to real estate?”

GM: “Well, forget real estate if he goes down in court. Maybe flipping burgers at O’Tolley’s.”

Celia: “Wouldn’t be the first in his family to leave office in disgrace.”

GM: “Oh, who else?”

Celia: “His dad.”

GM: “Didn’t know that. I guess most politics is dynastic though.”

The rest of the drive doesn’t take long. Roderick eventually says, “All right, we’re here. Just to be double safe though, maybe you should also turn into a cat again.”

Celia: “Great minds,” she says. She’d been planning the same. The change is quick, the trunk suddenly much more roomy now that there’s a cat inside rather than a lick. Her clothes shift with her this time, tail flicking behind her as she waits for him to let her out.

GM: It’s a little while longer until Roderick’s car parks. He opens the trunk and scoops her into his arms. They’re in a parking garage.

“Hey, puss,” he coos, scratching a finger along her chin.

Celia: The cat’s entire body vibrates when she purrs, rubbing the side of her face against his outstretched finger and hand. Her eyes close to mere slits, content to be petted and adored even in this form, especially by him. The rest of her curls in his arms.

If things ever get really bad maybe she can give up society and spend the rest of her unlife as his cat.

GM: He sets her down for a moment to close and lock the car, then picks her back up and scratches behind her arms.

“You need a name,” he remarks thoughtfully as he carries her to an elevator.

They’re seemingly alone at this hour. They take it up. He walks down a hall with her, unlocks the keyless lock to the door they stop at, and lets them in. The apartment is a clean and well-maintained space with a modern and relatively minimalist aesthetic. Grays, whites, and beiges predominate. Much of the wall space used for art seems to have gone to bookshelves instead. There’s a baseball pennant for the New Orleans Pelicans, showing two red pelicans sitting on a tilted bat, and a John F. Kennedy election poster. There’s also some framed degrees (Tulane University, Tulane Law) and family photos. One shows Roderick and his dad wearing suits outside a court building, the smiling older man’s hand resting on his son’s shoulder. Another one shows Roderick, his dad, and his sister out on a long beach that might be Grand Isle. A third one shows one of a much younger-looking Henry Garrison with a toddler-age boy, an elderly-looking man Celia doesn’t recognize, and a brown-haired woman with some resemblance to Roderick. They’re seated around a picnic in a park.

From the inside, the door also looks pretty heavy. Roderick sets Celia down and picks up an even heavier-looking steel bar without any mechanical or electronic components that he slides into place against the door with a dull clunk. It looks like it takes some effort for even him to pick up. A nearby wall monitor shows a view of the apartment’s immediate exterior, and several other points throughout the hallway. There’s a separate home alarm system panel further in.

Celia: The top of her head butts up against Roderick’s chin as he carries her into the elevator, shamelessly taking advantage of the ruse to lavish him with physical affection while she can. Anyone would just think they were a man with his new, extra cuddly cat. Even once they’re inside and her ears flick this way and that while her head spins to take it all in she stays contentedly curled in his arms.

He can’t have brought many people over if he publicly displays the photos of his family; she can’t imagine that he’d risk their safety and his cover if he regularly hosts.

It suits him though, this place. She doesn’t know what she had expected, but somehow this place both meets and exceeds her imaginings. It’s very… Roderick.

She winds herself around and between his legs once he sets her down, only darting away to watch him set the door. Then she’s back at it, batting at his shoes with her paws.

GM: “Someone’s committed to staying in character,” Roderick smirks, scratching her ears some more. “This is it, anyway. Haven sweet haven.”

Celia: She gives a final purr, though she knows she can’t stay in this form all night. Just long enough to enjoy the attention, then she’s off as quickly as her furry little feet can take her, ducking away from him to give herself room to reclaim her bipedal form. Back to swimming in that hoodie.

“Tight security,” she says, nodding toward the door and then the monitor. “I might have to copy you.” She’s been relying on multiple locations and staying off grid, but there’s no such thing as too cautious.

GM: “If someone’s really determined the most this will do is delay them. But that’s true of all security. If it delays them enough the alarms wake me up, and gets my renfields here in time, that’s what counts.”

“Best defense by far is no one knowing where to find you. But I’ve taken precautions there too.”

Celia: “Doesn’t look like you have many people over.” She looks at the photos again. She doesn’t have any up in Celia’s house, none in Jade’s private haven. “What about when you’re gone? Mobile alerts?”

GM: “There’s other places I can entertain if I want to. This is… my space.”

“And yeah, you guessed it.”

Then again, she still gets to see her family. Less need for other reminders.

He follows Celia’s gaze to the photos. His face falls a bit.

Celia: “People can tap into feeds like that. I mean. Pros and cons of having it. I’ve just seen it done, so… be careful.” There’s a beat. “Thank you for bringing me here.” It means a lot. More than she can put into words.

GM: “I know. The lock system isn’t connected to my phone, at least, so if someone were to hack the alarm it wouldn’t help them get in.”

“Like you say. Pros and cons to all security systems.”

“And you’re welcome.”

Celia: “Smart, though. Bases covered.”

GM: “Yeah. It’s less convenient to deal with multiple systems, but it’s not putting all your eggs in one basket.”

Celia: “And it’s nice to just have your own place, I bet. Where you can be you. Not whatever role you play for everyone else.” That’s why she hadn’t told anyone about her haven. It’s hers.

GM: He nods and sits down on the couch, having already hung up his coat and removed his shoes. “There’s always other places I can entertain. This is where I can just be me.”

“I’d normally offer a drink or some food at this point. But, you know.”

Celia: Celia follows his lead and removes her shoes before joining him on the couch, though she leaves the hoodie on. She curls her feet underneath her and turns to face him.

“Awkward, isn’t it, when you have guests? Would you like a spot of blood?” she asks in a very, very terrible posh English accent.

She’s not looking at his wrist. Really.

GM: He smiles, then looks at her questioningly.

“Well, actually, if you’re thirsty from healing…”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I can probably manage the rest of the way without it. Just didn’t want to risk anything with my mom right there. I don’t think I could forgive myself if I hurt her.”

“Plus I feel like you’ve already done enough for me tonight. Don’t need to be greedy.”

GM: “I’ve got juice to spare. You’re sure?”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment while her attention shifts to the bloody, gaping claw marks in her side. This far into her Requiem she’s become proficient at moving her blood around as she needs to, and she feels it respond to her will to pull everything back together. Within moments her body is healed, but the Beast… hungry. It took more out of her than she’s used to. Maybe it was the cold blood she’d forced down earlier, the rejection of her sire’s blood, the rejection of Roderick’s blood. Maybe it’s just simply emotional upheaval from everything that has happened this evening and last.

She looks back to his face. Bites her lip.

“If you’re offering,” she finally says. She’d rather not be in for a nasty surprise tomorrow evening when she wakes. Even now she’s wary, used to keeping her hunger at bay with frequent feedings. She could kick herself for rejecting him earlier. A shameful reminder of another way she’d messed up.

“Hungry,” she adds in warning. At least he’ll be prepared in case she loses it on him. “Maybe you should tie me down or something, so I don’t find a way to ruin this too.” Her voice is bitter.

GM: “We all ruin things, if we’re hungry enough,” Roderick says softly. “It’s not just you.”

Celia: Feels like it is, though. Like no matter what she does it’s the wrong thing, like everyone would just be happier if she hadn’t been born.

“Hard to imagine you ruining anything.”

GM: “I ruined your haven pretty bad.”

“Your face, the… last time.”

“And… again before that.”

Celia: That’s what she’s afraid of this time. That she’ll lose it on him, he’ll lose it on her, and this will be another night that ends in him beating her into unconsciousness.

“Maybe I deserved it for what I did.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head adamantly. “One definition of justice is for everyone to receive their due. What you did may have been a bad thing. But you didn’t deserve to get beaten almost to death for it.”

“The sentence was disproportionate to the crime, if we want to think about it in judicial terms. And disproportionate sentences are crimes of their own.”

“Also, if you asked your dad what he thought of a woman getting beaten into the ICU for cheating, he’d probably say that was a good thing. So that should be all the evidence you need that it’s a bad thing.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. They’ve had this conversation before. Earlier this evening. Prior to that, even. Every time they get together it comes back around to her cheating on him, him beating her. Every time her thoughts spin toward him they’re accompanied by the image of him rearing back to strike her before she loses consciousness, the way her face looked the next time she saw it in the mirror. She still wants to fall all over herself with apologies. Still wants to hear him say that he forgives her. But isn’t this, here… isn’t this forgiveness? He could have left her alone this evening. He could let her go hungry. He’s offered his haven, his blood… safety. He’s offered her safety.

“You can’t change the past,” she finally says. “I try to remember that when it threatens to drag me down and cause me to spiral. That I can’t change it. I regret things—that, specifically, more than anything—but I can’t take back what I did, and you can’t take back what you did, and it’s… it’s in the past. All we can do is learn from it and not let it hold us back. It matters, of course it matters, but it doesn’t need to define who we are.”

GM: “It doesn’t,” he agrees.

There’s a beat.

“I’m still sorry for hurting you. For beating you and for dumping you. You told me the truth then, and you told me about Dani and Savoy’s scheme now, when you didn’t have to.”

Celia: She opens her mouth, perhaps to make a flippant remark (“you dumped me? I thought we were together this whole time”), then closes it again. Her nails pull at a loose thread in the hoodie she wears. She doesn’t want to tell him that it’s okay, because it isn’t. Beating her after he’d asked her to be honest… that’s not okay. But she can give him something else, something that isn’t an empty platitude.

“I forgive you.”

GM: He opens his mouth. Looks like he might be thinking about what to say for a moment.

Then he scoots over to her side of the couch and hugs her. Her Beast growls at the contact. Celia can already catch herself sniffing out weak spots, thinking of the best way to sink her fangs into him so as to minimize his struggles.

But his arms are tight around her, and she can smell his shampoo and aftershave (though with his smooth cheeks, it’s more like never-shave), still the same brands his esthetician girlfriend recommended to him all those years ago.

Celia: The girl and the Beast struggle. It’s hungry. It wants out. It wants the blood that he promised earlier, the blood that she denied. But she wants him. Has wanted him for years. The arms tight around her keep her from pouncing on him to rip his throat open, giving her the time she needs to shove the Beast back down.

The girl wins.

It takes her a moment to respond to his touch the way she’s used to. Her shoulders are stiff… until they’re not. Until she melts into him, the tension leaving her body, clinging to him in a fierce, quiet desperation that speaks of how long she’s wanted him. She inhales his scent. Sandalwood, bitter orange, honey… green and metallic, but warm and spicy. Woody. It’s a scent that takes her right back to their earlier days together: watching him get ready for a date, shaving off a few day’s worth of stubble, lathering on aftershave to soothe his skin, smiling in the mirror at her while she dabs concealer beneath her eyes with the tip of her finger, both of them disheveled from another bout of lovemaking. She sees it so clearly that it hurts. Remembers what it was like when they were happy together, before she started trying to play games, before she thought to take on her dad. Before she cheated and lied.

She’s sorry, too. She’s sorry but she doesn’t think he can forgive her so she doesn’t say, because she’d tried to tell him earlier and he’d been mad about it instead and she doesn’t think she can hear him say that again, and even if he says that he forgives her it follows in the wake of her own forgiveness—doesn’t that mean it’s not real?

GM: His embrace isn’t stiff at first, so much as hesitant. But as Celia melts into him, that reticence melts away too. He can’t have seriously doubted how she might feel about him after the rest of this evening.

He doesn’t kiss her. Maybe that would be a bad idea with her Beast as close to the surface as it is, or maybe now just isn’t the moment. He just holds her. Lies against her. Sinks into her. Buries his face against her neck and the huge sweater it’s enveloped in.

“There’s no one else,” he says after a moment, his voice quiet.

“You’re the best thing in my life. You’ve always been. I don’t know what to do about Coco. About Dani. I don’t know who to trust. Except… except you.”

“I trust you.”

Celia: He shouldn’t.

He shouldn’t trust her.

She’ll get him into trouble. Ruin his unlife. Drag him down with her own selfish actions. It’s all she’s been thinking about, that she’s a wild, destructive force, that everyone around her is in danger, that one day they will all pay for every mistake she has ever made. What if they had gone onto the roof earlier and the sheriff had interrupted? What if he’d been caught because she’d asked him to drop her mom off, been dragged before the warden, word of his presence had gotten out? They’re on opposite sides of this war.

She doesn’t think it’s possible for her arms to tighten around him anymore than they have. She squeezes him with everything that she has. Her fingers run through his hair, down his neck, down his back. She knows exactly what she’d have done, who she’d have chosen in that situation.

There’s no one else.

You’re the best thing in my life.

His weight is heavy on her. Calming. It centers her, makes her focus on the here and now, not what might be. Her lips brush against his brow, his temple, feather-light. The words that come to mind fall flat; how can she capture everything inside of her, how can she express herself when everything she wants to say has been said a thousand times before? You complete me. I could stare down eternity if only you were there. At last she tries, voice made thick by withheld emotion.

“You are the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I’m never letting go again.”

GM: Maybe he shouldn’t trust her.

But she isn’t telling him so.

“And here I’d been about to offer you my wrist.”

He pulls back, just enough, to bare his neck.

Celia: His neck. He wants her to sink into his neck. He knows she’s hungry; why ask for trouble? Her fangs are long in her mouth, itching to bite down…

“Hold,” she tells him, moving her hands around to the front of him so she can slip her wrists into his grip. It isn’t fool-proof, but it’s something.

Celia waits until he has a firm grasp on her arms before she leans in again. Her lips press against the strong line of his jaw. Then slide lower, right above where she knows all that blood is waiting for her, calling her name. It’s a gentle series of kisses she gives him before the two points of her fangs sink into his exposed neck. She pulls back. Waits until the blood wells, cools, drips. Then feeds.

GM: The taste makes her want to cry, next to the swill she had earlier. It’s Brujah blood. Hot blood. Fiery blood. She can feel it lighting her up all the way to fingertips. It stokes a furnace in her. Fills her with their passion, their righteous anger, makes her want to tear off some asshole’s fucking head—or drink her lover dry. She can all but hear her Beast slavering in her ear. To drain every last drop of that hot, so-precious blood. To consume him. To take him into her completely. So they might never be parted.

But just like that, she squashes the impulse. Shoves the howing animal back in its cage. Rattles the bars.

She ruins enough things without its help.

Roderick stares down at her, his hands still pinning her wrists against the couch. The scent of his still-dripping blood hangs heavy in the air. There’s strange melange of affection and hunger in his eyes. His voice comes out thick.

“God, you’re so fucking adorable, under me in that giant hoodie…”

He bites his fangs down against his lip, drawing two points of blood, and presses his lips to hers.

Celia: Fire in her core. Arousal. It thrums through her, a need that she can’t put into words. Human, lick, a combination of both; fight, fuck, feed, that’s all it is for them. Wrong to ask him to fuck her, isn’t it? He doesn’t get off on that anymore. But she does, and there’s something so titillating about him pinning her down like the breathers they once were. She’d always liked it when he’d gotten a little rough.

He moves before she has the chance to demand it of him.

Fangs slice into her tongue, spilling her blood into her mouth, then into his when their lips meet.

GM: His lips meet hers hungrily. Tongues, fangs, and blood freely mingle. He withdraws his hands from her wrists, just briefly enough, to start hurriedly tugging off her clothes.

Celia: He doesn’t need to. She shreds them.

GM: His clothes come off almost as swiftly. He growls, pushes her off the couch, and throws himself on top of her. His hands pin her wrists far apart. His fangs dig into her left breast, then trace along its surface, leaving matching trails of blood. He bites and sucks around her nipples, which she can already feel stiffening, not like her purported sire’s eternally still ones.

Pervert, the older Toreador had said, and she’d not meant it as a compliment.

Celia: A stitch of cloth still clings to her back when she hits the floor with a hiss. She shoves up against him, straining to toss him off of her so that she can roll him over, but his teeth find her flesh instead and what little air remains in her lungs leaves her with a sigh, body stilling beneath him. She can smell her own arousal, molten liquid pooling between her thighs. Her head snaps forward to sink her fangs into whatever part of him she can reach.

Pervert, she agrees, and what delicious pleasure that brings her.

GM: Her fangs sink into his neck. She sucks rapturously. He gives a snarl, wraps an arm around her, and rolls to his side, hugging her close against his chest as they lie on their flank. His fangs pierce her neck. She drinks from him. He drinks from her. Their lives feel inextricably entwined as they take and give in equal measure, two existences becoming as one.

She’s almost lost in the sensation until she feels a firm, cock-like one filling the wet space between her thighs. He growls and thrusts, burying it deeper.

Celia: Words exist for this, but they do not come to mind. Bliss. Euphoria. Unity, if she were the poetic sort. She loses herself to him, blood and soul and… there, body, buried inside of her. A growl passes her lips, then a more human sound: a moan. Her nails dig into his back as he fills her to pull him closer, deeper; fangs flash, sinking into his shoulder, then disappear when the blood hits her tongue. She draws it forth. She presses against him, shifting to get him to the right spot. Beast and girl become one, taking their fill.

GM: Fill her they do. Time seems to disappear as the lovers know passion and perhaps even happiness in one another’s arms—until pain sears through Celia’s back and the unmistakable stench of burning flesh wafts up her nostrils. In an instant, the Beast bursts its chains. Another instant later, she’s huddled on the ground with her back against the wall. Early dawn sun, still tinged with twilight, bathes the floor where she lay.

Another second later, and it’s gone as Roderick draws the extra-thick curtains closed. Thin plumes of smoke waft from some unsightly-looking burns across his back.

“Fuck. Sorry. I’d meant to close those.”

“You were a little distracting.”

Celia: It’s the worst way to come down. Abrupt agony across her back, then nothing until she finds herself curled against the wall. Her eyes dart toward him, then the curtains, then back to him. The tight pull of freshly burned skin against her muscles makes her bare her teeth.

“Fuck, why are they even open?”

She hadn’t even realized how late—early?—it had gotten.

GM: “I like to look outside. We can see in the dark.”

“Amateur mistake though. Should’ve had them closed.” He looks her over, frowning in concern. “Are you okay?”

Celia: “I’ve been worse.” Been better, too, like a moment ago when they were mid-coitus. She rises slowly, straining to look over her shoulder at her own back to assess the damage. It’s a futile effort. “You’re hit,” she says instead, making a vague motion to his back.

GM: “I’ve been worse too. I think this is our cue to go to bed though. We can mend up there.”

Celia: Her jaw clenches at the idea of him being in a worse state than this. Not so much damage that he can’t come back from it, but the very gall that someone would have to hurt that which belongs to her. She reaches for him, her grip iron around his wrist, pulls him toward her so that the raw flesh of her back is pressed against the wall. It burns at the pressure. She doesn’t so much as hiss as she stares up into his eyes, into the face that should have been hers this whole time, that is hers now.

Hers.

She’ll kill anyone who thinks differently. Anyone who thinks to take him away.

Her arms snake around him, pulling his face down to meet hers, to press her lips against his. It’s brief but hard, less of a kiss than it is an assault against his mouth.

Mine.

Even her Beast roars its approval at this claiming, territorial, possessive thing that it is. Somewhere inside her mind the Beauty is laughing with eyes that smolder as green as her stolen name.

They have so much to discuss. She had not meant to spend it all with her fangs buried in his neck. But dawn calls to her, drawing her toward the sweet oblivion of daysleep.

Thoughts turn in her head. Ways forward. Plans, theories, more plans. Fallbacks. Moves and countermoves. And goals, always goals. Her family’s health and happiness. His safety. His approval.

She keeps one hand in his. The other she lifts to touch his cheek, the pads of her fingers soft and warm against his skin. She has never been as cold as the rest of their kind. Not outwardly.

“An eternity of nights with you will never be enough.”

“We must speak tomorrow before I depart. Wake me, please, if you rise before me so that we can discuss our plans. But now I’m exhausted. Take me to bed.”

Celia leans into him, resting her head against his chest. It’s comforting, being able to stand with him like this again. Peaceful. All of the rest of her problems might melt away if only she could stand here long enough.

“And… if I took too much juice from you and you wake up hungry and take it back or something happens to me… please don’t take me to your sire. She’s thrown a collar around my neck twice now, and I’d…” she trails off. Takes a breath she doesn’t need to steel herself, though it has long since ceased doing that as well. She lifts her head to look up at him, and when she continues it’s almost shyly. “I’d like to be able to do that with you, once… once everything is settled.” Her eyes dart away, then back to his face. She is sure that, were she human, her cheeks would burn. “So just… call Lebeaux or Randy or something, they’ll figure it out.”

GM: Roderick chuckles at Celia’s initial words. “You sound a bit like an elder there. Very well, my beloved, let us retire to daysleep’s cold slumber ere Sol’s eye rises over the heavens,” he replies in an exaggerated voice as he hefts her up in his arms, one around her back and the other under her knees.

“I’d like to do that too, though. Save the next night of… ‘unsafe sex’ for sometime special.”

“And I won’t let anything happen to you while you’re here with me. Promise,” he declares somberly, planting a kiss on her forehead.

“But you can text me Randy’s number if it’d make you feel safer.”

Celia: “I was practicing,” Celia declares airily, waving a hand and lifting her nose into the air, “for when I’m an elder and can tell the silly neonates that they must wait at least five ye—eee!”

The effect is somewhat lost when her words cut off into a squeal as he lifts her. She throws her arms around him, nuzzling his neck as he carries her through his haven to the bed.

“We should just elope,” she says with an affected sigh, “fuck this city and run away. But I will. Randy’s number, I mean.” She makes him stop so she can retrieve her phone and does just that, then motions for him to continue the ride to the bedroom.

GM: He chuckles at her squeal but does just that. He has her pick up his phone as well. He looks down at the drying red stains they’ve left over his couch and heaves a sigh.

“This is so much messier than breather sex. But at least it wasn’t over the carpet.”

Celia: “Blot, don’t scrub,” Celia says with a firm nod.

GM: “I’ll toss the cushions in the laundry. Tomorrow, though. Can’t interrupt your ride,” he smiles as he carries her across the apartment. It isn’t a huge space. The living/dining room is one combined area, with the kitchen separated by island. He carries her up to the bedroom and lets her open the door.

Celia: “Also…”

“Thanks, by the way. I know you’re not, um, into the… breather thing anymore. But that was… really something else.”

GM: “You’re welcome. It… actually didn’t feel as bad as I thought.”

Celia: “It’s because I’m so cute,” Celia tells him, smirking.

GM: “Ha. Yeah. You can still… make it up t’ me with a m’sage. Like ol’ times…”

Roderick’s words are starting to slur a bit. His grip under her feels a little unsteady. Walking herself, though, seems like the worst idea on earth. Her eyelids are so heavy.

Celia: The fatigue hits her all at once. She lets them close, gesturing vaguely toward the bed. He knows where it is. His place, after all. Still, it’s so far—five feet away—and he’s so comfortable… she nestles herself further against him, tucking her face into the crook between neck and shoulder.

“Sleep time,” she murmurs. “Lo’ you.”

GM: He waits for Celia get the door, which feels like a lot of work. So does closing it after they’re inside. Celia doesn’t really notice what the room looks like, beyond that no sun gets inside. Roderick tosses her onto the bed, which is at least a fun way to land, then hits the surface himself with a soft thump. He spoons himself behind her, wrapping his arms around her belly and pressing his face against the back of her head. Celia can still smell the partly-dried blood coating their naked skin.

“You’re so hot…” he murmurs, nuzzling her hair.

Celia: She’s aware enough to giggle at his words, but she doesn’t expend the effort to make herself flush as she usually might. She just presses back against him, content to lie still in his arms.

“Ver’ cute,” she agrees, making a movement with her head that might be a nod.

Sleep claims her quickly after that.


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Story Twelve, Celia XIII

“God, I want to trust someone! I need to trust someone!"
Roderick Durant


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

GM: “-they all fucking died,” finishes Roderick.

“All of them who were left. Every last fucking one. 23 people.”

“I know exactly how many, because I couldn’t do shit with a stake in my chest except lie on the ground and watch. And count.”

“I can’t even describe what that was like. Some of them tried to go out swinging. Tried.”

“They didn’t last long against the prince’s team of professional murderers. Donovan lopping off heads left and right. Meadows just… just literally ripping them apart. With McGinn, I could see the pure joy on his face as he swung his sword. I actually wondered, for a second, if the Sanctified had to offer those Invictus ‘auxiliaries’ anything in return for their help. I bet they didn’t. I bet McGinn was perfectly happy to murder duskborn for free.”

“Some of them just cowered and begged. Screamed they had families. Kids.”

“Probably wasn’t even a lie. Lot of them still do that.”

“Some of them tried to run, for all the good it did. Surrounded in a walled cemetery. Ghouls with riot police shields. Malveaux and Doriocourt using magic to hedge them in. The whole thing couldn’t have been more planned. It was planned, systemic slaughter. All they could do was die.”

“And the Anarchs. They all just stood there. They all just…” Roderick’s voice finally cracks, “they all just fucking watched.

Celia: Celia is quiet for a long moment as Roderick finishes his story. It’s the second time she’s heard it, but she doesn’t tell him that. The horror in this telling is fresh. Her own ghosts scream in some distant part of her mind.

Set up. The word echoes in her head. She’d thought it the first time she’d heard the tale and now, knowing what she does, having read that paper, she knows it’s true. Coco and Opal set them up. They knew the slaughter was coming and they’d stood aside and let it.

And now they’re planning to do it again.

She runs her hands up and down his back. None of her own thoughts here matter. Everything she thinks to say is platitudes. Empty. Lies. This is what her Requiem has come to. She can’t even tell him that she knows there are incoming raids without revealing she’d seen the paper.

“It’s awful. What they do to them. For an accident of Embrace. The wrong sire and you’re… you’re just fucked.”

GM: Roderick gives a bitter laugh.

“Danielle. She’s fucked.”

“It’s funny. They all say we Anarchs have a thin-blood problem. That there’s tons of them all holed up in Mid-City.”

“Well, there’s some. Almost every thin-blood present for that mass execution got mass executed, so who do the new ones hear about the Cypress Grove Massacre of 2011 from? Because you can bet we don’t tell them about it. We don’t like to talk about that night.”

“Only four of us had any balls. Four. Me. Max. Jonah. And Hez, who was half-crazy. His stunt got him exiled from the city. But I suppose half-crazy meant twice the balls.”

“Everyone else… some of them are ashamed. Say there’s nothing they could’ve done. Some of them say there was, and they regret not doing anything. And some of them clearly don’t give a fuck about thin-bloods if it means their asses on the line.”

“Sheriff still goes on sweeps through Mid-City, sometimes. We all know he means business. What thin-bloods we have, they don’t show up to rants. To votes. Oh no. They hide. We tell them they should do at least that much.”

Celia: “If you’re in contact with them, couldn’t you do a proxy vote? It’s not the same as being safe or accepted, but…”

GM: Roderick gives her a flat look.

“And how did thin-blood representation work out last time?”

“Someone tipped off the sheriff. I sure hadn’t planned on inviting him.”

“So public proxy votes for thin-bloods. How do you think that would go?”

Celia: He’s too smart to not realize it, right?

Is he being willfully ignorant?

Does he really have no idea?

“Whose idea was it to get them all together?”

GM: “I don’t remember. Lot of us had been talking about thin-bloods during recent rants.”

Celia: “To include them? I mean, I assume yes, but when it was brought up what was the general consensus? It sounds like some of the licks that evening weren’t happy.”

“It’s… a shame that Coco and Miss Opal weren’t there. Maybe they could have talked the sheriff down.”

GM: “Doubt it. He has a pretty long leash these nights, but for a slaughter on that scale, the order had to have come down from Vidal.”

“Though I guess it’s moot. ‘Thin-blood massacre’ seems like something Vidal or Donovan would both be happy with.”

Celia: “Their voices might have helped, though.”

GM: “What would the sheriff have done? Stood down and looked like a bitch to everyone?”

“Though who knows how it would’ve gone. Two elders might’ve really turned things around.”

Celia: They’re both just lying to each other now. He knows. He has to know. There’s no possible way that he doesn’t know. She’d made the connection in seconds; how has he missed it? Did his sire collar him tightly enough that he can’t even think ill of her? Do they wipe his mind after the meetings?

He calls her a liar, but here he is just spouting bullshit.

She nods, though, like he’s right.

“Danielle might be safer in the Quarter if the sheriff is running raids in Mid-City.”

GM: Roderick seems to sag under those words, running a hand through his hair.

“Fuck. I…. oh, fuck. I can’t believe she’s a fucking abortion!”

“The a-word. I’m a horrible ally. Oh well. Like any of them stood up to the Sanctified Gestapo.”

“She’s fucked. She’s fucked if she stays in Mid-City. Matter of time.”

Celia: “I can look out for her. Keep her contained here, so she doesn’t… wander somewhere she shouldn’t.”

GM: Roderick plants his face against his hands.

“Oh my go…. oh my god.”

“This. This is where it is. I have to go to him. He’s got me over a barrel.”

He gives another bitter laugh.

Celia: “What are you talking about? Who?”

GM: “Who the hell would I be talking about? Savoy!”

Celia: Ah. Well. He’s right. She doesn’t deny it. Savoy does have him over a barrel. Better than the alternative though, isn’t it? Dead sister.

She knows what that’s like.

Celia pulls back from him. Draws her knees into her chest, wraps her arms around her legs. She looks past his shoulder, as if the answer is written on her wall and all she has to do is search hard enough for it.

GM: Her wall remains tellingly blank.

Roderick runs a hand through his hair as red starting to brim around his eyes.

“Oh… my god, Celia, I… I can’t…”

He throws his arms around her and buries his face against her neck.

Celia: Oh. Well that’s… she’d be lying if she says she doesn’t want it. Doesn’t want him, here, like this, seeking comfort from her. Her body moves to support him, her arms around his broad shoulders, her mouth forming soothing, crooning noises. One hand runs through his hair, like her mom used to do when she was a child.

“Let it out,” she says quietly, “just let it out, sweetheart. I’ve got you.”

GM: “Oh, Celia, it’s…” he sobs, “it’s fucked… everything’s fucked… everything’s shit… no one’s who they say they are, you can’t, you can’t trust anyone…”

She feels her fangs lengthening in her mouth again at the smell of his leaking blood.

Because only vampires get boners over hurt people.

Celia: She didn’t want this for him.

She never wanted this life—unlife, whatever—for him. He doesn’t deserve it. He deserves so much more. Her heart—is that thing still working? It breaks for him. Again and again and again. Every word. Every bloody tear. Every halting space between syllables.

“I know. I know. It is. It’s fucked. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this.”

I’m sorry I broke us. I’m sorry you can’t trust me.

GM: He squeezes her in his arms. Crushingly hard. If she were alive, she might yell that he was hurting her, that she couldn’t breathe. But she’s not alive.

“I’ve done… been complicit in things,” he sobs. “Heard things. Known… known what’s really… I keep saying, I keep saying it’s worth it, it’s the least awful way forward, the only way, doing what I can, but I don’t… I don’t know… there’s no good guys…”

“Just… bad guys and worse guys…”

Celia: She doesn’t do so much as squirm in his arms. He can squeeze if he needs to. If it helps. She can give him that much. She keeps her grip tight around him, nails on his scalp, the back of his neck, his back. Up and down, long, slow strokes. Soothing.

She’s quiet while he works it out, while he spills his pain. Sometimes people need an ear more than they need someone telling them they understand.

GM: He keeps squeezing as he rubs his head against her neck.

“I just wanted to be the good guy! I just wanted to put the bad guys away! I wanted to do the right thing, and this… they… they’ve ruined my whole fucking family…!”

Celia: “We can do the right thing,” she murmurs. “I’ll help you get there. Anything you need.”

GM: There’s another choked laugh.

“There is no right thing! Savoy’s a con artist, used car salesman, and Coco’s a… I want her to be right, so fucking bad, but she’s… she’s not! There isn’t a right thing!”

“And Dani’s, she’s a monster too, an abortion half-monster that’s not even a real vampire!”

“My dad’s gonna die, alone, thinking both his kids are dead, and that’s the sanitized version!”

Celia: The Garrison line dies with him. There’s no more kids to have more children. No more lawyers in the family to continue to try to take down the Mafia. It’s over. Bad guys won. Three generations of Garrisons… and this is how it ends.

He’s squeezing so tightly that she can barely draw the breath she needs to form words.

“We have time. A whole bunch of time ahead of us. We can turn it around. Just because they’re not right doesn’t mean we can’t be. You’re a good person, Roderick. The best person that I know. If anyone can find a way to be a lick and still be humane, it’s you.”

GM: “How? How can I be a good person when, when nobody else is? When the only option is to go along with the sheriff, or die for nothing, or get staked and get special treatment and have everyone say you’re an elder’s pet?”

“Why do you even think that about me, that I’m good?”

Celia: “Because you stand up for what’s right even in the face of adversity. Because you were the first person who opened your mouth to the sheriff when he showed up. Because if you hadn’t been staked you’d have gone down swinging. Because prior to all that you were the one who had the backs of the thin-bloods that no one wanted anything to do with. Because when we met you didn’t make me feel stupid, you didn’t look down on me, you didn’t talk down to me, you never let my dad scare you, you went out of your way to help my family. Because even when you were mad at me you didn’t just leave me, and you could have. Because every time I’m in a moral dilemma I ask myself, ‘what would Stephen do?’ and I have my answer on what is right and what’s wrong.”

“You are not other people. You can’t judge yourself based on what the people around you do. You can only be you. The best you that you know how to be.”

“And it’s hard and it sucks and people suck and licks suck and everything is fucked, and despite all that you still have an existence to be part of, so you do your damndest to be the source.”

GM: He holds onto her for a while without saying anything. Stops squeezing.

“Celia, I want to trust you…”

Celia: She stills. Doesn’t even draw breath. Trusting her has nothing to do with anything she’d just said.

“But you don’t,” she says for him after a brief silence. She sounds… resigned.

GM: “No! I want to! I’m just… scared it could turn out like the last time…”

“God, I want to trust someone! I need to trust someone! We all do!”

Celia: Something flutters inside of her at his words. She squashes it before it can do more than that.

He shouldn’t trust her. She’s a self-serving, manipulative cunt. She knows it. One day her unlife will come crashing down around her and anything standing in the blast radius will be destroyed. She can’t even tell him the worst of it. The things she’s done.

She’ll just hurt him. Again.

“We do,” she tells him. “We do need someone. We’re all isolated, afraid to confide, and it just… it’s just the Beast with us then, our only companion, no wonder it draws us all down a dark path.”

Maybe he’s not squeezing her now but she’s squeezing him, clinging to him because she’s afraid that once this moment ends reality will set back in and everything will turn to shit again.

GM: “God, you’re right… just the Beast… I can feel it in me, pacing around, waiting… I swear, it gets stronger every year…”

“I’m still a virgin, but I have no idea… no idea how long I can keep that up…”

Celia: “As long as you want to. Indefinitely. I believe that about you.”

GM: “Coco says that’s admirable but I should expect to kill at some point, if only by accident. Our Beasts are too strong to resist forever.”

“It’s a matter of statistics. Forever, and all you need is to lose control at least once. Gets likelier with every year. Every night.”

Celia: “We talked once. About how you couldn’t stay in your family’s life because you lose control more easily. I’ve been worried about it, with my mom, Lucy, Emily. I’d never forgive myself if something happened to them. But I make sure that, when I see them, I’m not hungry. I keep my emotions under control as best I can. I have a business, I see people all the time… it’s… it’s difficult, you know, when I started it was like they all looked like snacks and I just wanted to rip into them. And yes, the Beast gets stronger with every year. But so does my control.”

“And so can yours.”

“And maybe… maybe Coco is right, that you should expect it to happen. And that’s awful. But it hasn’t happened yet. You can’t live in fear of it.”

“Be prepared, sure, but don’t… give yourself a panic attack over it or something.”

GM: “I guess you can’t. I guess all you can do is try to minimize the damage. That’s a really good policy, not ever see your family when you’re hungry.”

“Are you still a virgin?”

Celia: “Of course not. Don’t you remember that date? Batman?”

GM: “Ha ha. Other kind of virgin.”

Celia: “…no.”

GM: “How’d it happen?”

Celia: “It was ugly. And messy. And I lost control.”

She still remembers the shirt she’d been wearing. Green. Low cut. Clingy. The blood had spilled across the front of it and she’d looked like some sort of garish Christmas monster.

“He… I was on my own. One of the first times. He looked like my dad, and I just… Lucy had just been born, and… I just… I kept thinking, I have to keep her safe.”

GM: “Was he like your dad? A real monster?”

“Or did he just look like him?”

Celia: She’s quiet. Her weight shifts, the movement betraying her discomfort. She lifts her shoulders as much as she can with their arms still wrapped around each other, as if to shrug, and thinks better of it. She settles again.

“I don’t know,” she finally says. “I told myself he was. But I don’t… I don’t know, honestly, and it’s…” She hasn’t thought about it in a long time. She hadn’t felt anything after she’d ripped his throat out. She remembers that: staring down at this man who is vaguely Maxen-shaped with his warm blood splattered across her face and chest and feeling absolutely nothing.

“Probably not,” she says quietly.

GM: “Have you wanted to do anything about it?”

Celia: “We don’t normally dream, but I… I dreamed about that for a long time. That he was just… that he just looked like him, and I happened to be there, and it… wrong place, wrong time, and he’s dead now, and I’m not supposed to care, I’m supposed to… to just not… I told Veronica, after, I thought maybe she’d say something helpful, but she just sneered at me like she does.”

“So I just pushed it down. And tried not to think about it.”

GM: Roderick pulls away enough to look her in the eyes, but still holds on.

“You should care. What if that guy had a family he loved as much as you love yours?”

Celia: She can’t look at him. Her lids drop down over her eyes to shield herself from his judgment. She blinks back the same coppery-scented moisture that leaked earlier from Roderick’s eyes.

“He probably did. He probably did and I ruined it, and they never knew why he didn’t come home.”

“There’s no—there’s no guidebook, there’s no rules on what to do when you kill someone, it’s not like you just send flowers.”

GM: “I agree, there isn’t. I mean, there’s nothing you can do that’ll bring him back. But you can make things less painful for any survivors.”

Celia: “How?”

GM: “Funerals can be really stressful, not to mention expensive. Helping with those, directly or indirectly. Making sure his family has money. Helping them out, if they’re disadvantaged, or just to pursue their goals and dreams if they’re not. Finding anything else in their lives that needs fixing.”

Celia: “You don’t think that draws attention? A random person showing up and helping with bills and other stuff?”

GM: “Well, you have to be subtle about it. But there’s ways to do that.”

Celia: Celia wipes her cheek on her shoulder, as if the motion is at all a subtle way to wipe away the moisture trickling down from her eye.

“Yeah? What would you do?”

GM: Roderick thinks. “There’s a fair amount of things you can do legally. For instance, you could contrive an inheritance from a fictional deceased relative who lived far away, with a lawyer you know serving as executor of the estate. That’d seem like an uncanny coincidence if it happened right when he died, but if that was six years ago I don’t see anyone getting suspicious.”

Celia: The word inheritance reminds her of the other bomb that was dropped on her earlier in the evening.

“The sheriff killed my grandparents.”

GM: “Oh my god. Why?”

Celia: “All the money went to my dad. So he could run for… whatever, or move to Audubon, or… whatever.”

GM: “I’m so sorry. Were you close to them?”

Celia: “Before they died, yeah. They were always around. Then they just… weren’t.”

“I wasn’t allowed to tell my siblings why she left. He came into my room the morning after it happened and told me it was our secret, and… and I don’t even know if he really remembers what he did to her, or if it’s just part of his blooper reel. He used to… get weird, sometimes, and I guess… I guess there’s this part of me who just wanted my dad back, so I used to think that maybe Donovan had replaced him with someone else, or had mind controlled him into being like this, and…” she trails off.

“It doesn’t matter.”

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to get into… but just, why would he take my dad’s memories and not mine?”

A moment passes. She doesn’t really expect an answer from him on the subject of her family. She’s not even sure she wants to talk about it. Skates too close to the truth.

“Tell me about the inheritance thing. I might have a friend who’s a lawyer.”

GM: “Your dad’s memories of what happened to your mom? I thought he did remember all that,” says Roderick.

“But inheritance-wise, the idea is basically as I said. You have your lawyer friend show up, claiming to be the executor for the will of a deceased relative you invent a story and identity for. Then you hand over the money that’s part of the ‘inheritance.’”

Celia: She looks like she might have more to say on the subject of her family, but she doesn’t press it once they move to different topics.

“And you don’t get caught?”

GM: “Sure, that’s what you have a real lawyer do it for so that everything seems legit. But people probably aren’t going to look too closely at free money with no strings attached.”

Celia: “I’ll look into that. Thanks, Roderick.”

He is her implied lawyer friend, but she isn’t sure he got it. Or he’s pretending not to get it.

“What’s next for you? What do you want to do?”

GM: “Ugh. I was just starting to get in a better mood.”

“I know what’s next, but I’d honestly rather put it off.”

“Just… give me some good news. How’s your family doing?”

Celia: Good news? There is no good news. Not about her family. She’d just murdered her sister. But she doesn’t tell him that.

“I had dinner with them the other night. Emily brought Robby by. He’s… got some really nerdy hobbies, I don’t think I realized that when we first met. He’s sweet, though. Mom and I are already picking out wedding dresses for her. She discovered Pin-It and she sent me the board she’s been working on, it’s honestly kind of ridiculous how much time she’s already put into it. I’m happy for them, though. Might have finally convinced Mom to start dating again, sort of. Mostly it’s that I’m just going to surprise her with a date and see how that goes. She also, uh, tried to give me dating advice, which was… kind of funny.”

And awkward.

But mostly funny.

GM: “I guess there’s only so much useful advice you can give when you haven’t dated in ten-plus years.”

Celia: “It was a lot of just be honest and write down how you feel and give it to him in a letter.”

GM: Roderick frowns in puzzlement. “A letter?”

Celia: “She’s pretty old school. I imagine she was picturing floral stationary sprayed with perfume.”

GM: “Well, Flores, floral stationary. I guess you could do worse.”

Celia: “Clever.”

Celia rolls her eyes at him. She’s smiling, though, and she makes a noise that’s half a laugh.

“You’re as nerdy as Robby.”

She does not mention that her private notebook has roses all over the front of it.

GM: He smirks back. “Hey, you need to have some nerd in you to be a lawyer.”

Celia: “Anyway, don’t tell me that you never wrote a girl a love letter. Cute guy like you? Probably had all the babes.”

GM: “I wrote a letter, once, to a girl when I was in middle school. She’d moved away and I think she had a big crush on me, so she sent a letter.”

Celia: “Did you become pen pals?”

GM: “We sent a couple more, over the summer. I think she found a new guy to distract herself with when school started up.”

Celia: “Ouch. You ever do that thing where you slide a note into a girl’s locker?”

“Dear Girl, I like you. Please find attached contract to become my girlfriend. Sincerely, Future Lawyer Boy.” She mimics what she thinks his middle school voice would sound like. It ends up rather pompous.

GM: Roderick laughs. “Future Lawyer Boy is a pretty cruddy lawyer not to ask her to sign it in person. Less likely to read the fine print.”

Celia: “No, see, that’s how you get her. You put a bunch of crazy things there that she reads and gets indignant about, then she comes over all angry and you turn the argument around on her, then she falls for your way with words. Like a meet-cute. Kind of. Not really. Whatever, you get it.”

GM: “Sorry, meet-cute?”

Celia: “It’s a thing in romance books and movies. When the leading couple meets. And it’s… cute. Often they get off on the wrong foot. But like in a silly, charming kind of way.”

“It’s, uh, it’s in a lot of rom-coms.”

GM: “Yeah, not to sound like your dad, but that’s such a chick thing,” he smirks. “Guess I’m not surprised I didn’t know what it was.”

Celia: “Hey man, sometimes I let Randy pick on movie night, it’s not my fault he’s a closet romantic.”

GM: “You watch movies with your renfields?”

Celia: “Yes. Why, should I be more like my sire and torture them?”

GM: “No, it’s cute. Just honestly wasn’t something that occurred to me.”

Celia: “Oh. Yeah. We just kind of make a night of it. They get snacks and we pick a movie and it’s… Honestly it’s kind of nice, to just hang out like that. Randy picks a lot of rom coms or action flicks and Alana picks a lot of horror movies so she can pretend to be scared, but when she’s actually invested she has pretty good taste.”

GM: “That is cute. I might ask one of mine to do that.”

Celia: “You could come over with us sometime. If you want.”

GM: “I guess that’ll be easier if I’m in the Quarter more.”

There’s a bitter taste to the words.

Celia: “You don’t have to come to the Quarter. I’ll… deal with Savoy.”

GM: “He’s not going to let me keep Danielle there for free. I should at least have the balls to look him in the eye.”

Celia: “I doubt he’d ask you to relocate.”

GM: “Of course he wouldn’t. I’m not any use to him if I’m on the outs with Coco.”

Celia: Well at least she hadn’t had to tell him what Savoy wants.

“I think he might value discretion over the balls of looking him in the eye. I can pass along a missive. If I meet with him it’s normal. If you do people might talk.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “He won’t settle for that. I wouldn’t if I was in his position. Some things you have to do in person.”

“I’ll bet he’s great at setting up secret meetings with licks who aren’t supposed to be seeing him, anyway.”

“Why are you even on his team?” the Brujah asks. “It’s been two election cycles for your dad, since you were turned, and he’s still in power. Savoy obviously isn’t helping you get rid of him.”

Celia: She can’t tell him the truth. Not the real truth. And she’s so, so tired of lying to him. They all need someone to trust, like he said. But she doesn’t know if she trusts him. The secret isn’t hers to spill, and he’s already told Coco information about her that he should have kept to himself. If she opens her mouth here it’ll be around the rest of their society in no time, and then what? Then she’s got more trouble than the war between sire and grandsire that she’s already caught in the middle of. More trouble than a beautiful fledgling with extremely potent vitae in the middle of the Garden District. More trouble than ‘Celia’ being found out as undead.

“Roderick, please don’t meet with Savoy. I can tell you exactly what he’d offer you and Dani. You don’t need to get your hands dirty by meeting with him or being goaded into getting aggressive, then he does own you. Let me help you. I can do that much for you.”

“I’m used to dealing with him. I speak his language.”

GM: “Celia, are you even listening to me? There’s no way I’d agree to that if I was in Savoy’s position. And with Dani in the Quarter, I wouldn’t have to do. He holds the fucking cards!”

Celia: “I am listening to you. I get it. And I am telling you that he is a master manipulator. He will know exactly how much you want to keep her safe, exactly what buttons to push, and you will end up bent over even more than you think you are right now.”

GM: “Probably,” Roderick says bleakly.

Celia: “Then why would you give him that power?”

GM: “Because he’s not going to settle for less! He’ll want information on the Cabildo. The things they’re talking about. That’s not as useful to him secondhand through a messenger, and he knows it!”

Celia: “Why would I lie to him? If I were being charged with giving the information to him, why would I change it?”

GM: “Celia, you’re being… ugh. That’s not as useful, even if you were 100% honest, because he’d want to actually ask questions about the information, and that’s way more tedious if he has to do it through a messenger. Not to mention, he’s an elder, so I doubt he believes anyone is 100% honest to him.”

Celia: “I’m being what?” Her voice is sharp.

GM: He effects a sigh. “Sorry. I was being angry. Forget it.”

“I know you’re trying to help. I appreciate it.”

Celia: “You were going to call me stupid.”

GM: “You’re not stupid. I just lost my temper. This whole situation is completely fucked and there’s no way to make it better.”

Celia: “You want the truth, Roderick? The truth is that I’m going to lie to him about you. About us, and how I delivered this. The truth is that I’m going to spin this to keep your hands clean. The truth,” she spits the word like it’s a curse, “is that I’m going to let him think that I manipulated you into thinking he doesn’t know, instead of lying to you like he wanted me to do, so he can continue to be the magnanimous elder and I’m the lying, manipulative bitch, and at some point in the future when I really, really displease him he’s going to use it against me because, like Coco said, the truth comes out eventually, and I’ll be fucking damned thrice over if I’m going to let it drive another god-damned wedge between us.”

“I’m supposed to tell you that he doesn’t know she’s your sister. That it was all my idea. And if you go to him he’ll know that I told you. And I’m not because I’m tired of fucking lying to everyone and you deserve to know.”

GM: “What? He knows?” Roderick asks sharply.

“That’s why you called me, because Savoy told you to use Dani to bring me over?”

Celia: “No. I called you because I found out what happened to her and I was worried about both of you. I wouldn’t keep that from you.”

GM: “So how does he know about Dani? Did you tell him, or did he tell you?”

Celia: “His steward told me. I assume she told him.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “He couldn’t be assed to himself, for something as big as this? So, what, this was Preston’s idea to use Dani to bring me over?”

Celia: Celia makes a noise that might have once been a sigh.

“She gave me the photo. I imagine they talked about it. I’ve long thought she only speaks what he thinks, to be perfectly honest, so yes, I can safely say Savoy knows and that it was probably his idea.”

GM: “Maybe, but for Savoy not to even talk to you about any of this? That’s really fucking weird.”

Celia: “And I can also tell you that you meeting with him is not in your best interest, and I’m… I’m laying my heart open to you. That I am choosing you over an extremely powerful elder. That I am… am giving you this information, knowing it could get back to him, knowing that I will be the one to pay the price for it, and asking you to please—please—trust me.”

GM: “Wait. Wait.” Roderick holds up his hand. “Savoy isn’t like Vidal. He meets random licks off the street all the time. If he didn’t even talk to you about this, himself… there’s a big piece we’re missing. But I’m not sure what it means.”

“Is Preston trying to make some kind of play?”

Celia: “I doubt it. I told you, she only says what he already thinks.”

“Of course Savoy is behind this.”

GM: “I don’t know, she’s a Malkavian. There’s some part of her that’s 100% completely fucking nuts, you can’t ever forget.”

Celia: “She’s pretty sane for a member of her clan.”

GM: “Or she just looks that way.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

GM: “There’s no such thing as a sane Malkavian. Any more than there is a handsome Nosferatu or a Brujah without anger issues.”

Celia: “Yeah…” Her eyes dip once more toward the destroyed couch. She doesn’t physically move away from him. But it’s in her eyes: wariness. Ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble.

GM: He effects another sigh. “I’m not about to lose it. I’m just trying to piece out what the full picture is. It’s just really fucking weird Savoy wouldn’t even talk to you about me and Dani himself.”

“Some part of Preston is crazy, and I think that’s a mistake to assume everything which comes out of her mouth is something Savoy would say. She’s pretty new to the city, in relative terms. She was her own Kindred for 50 years before ever coming here.”

Celia: “Probably because he doesn’t trust me not to fuck it up, and I’m playing right into his hands, and it’s all a large game.”

GM: “But that doesn’t explain why he wouldn’t even see you. Has he… was this recent? Has he been out in public, since Preston told you about Dani?”

Celia: “He had a party last night.”

GM: “Okay, so I guess that rules out him being out of town. Or something crazy like torpor.” Roderick frowns. “There has to be something here! Why wouldn’t he talk to you abut this?”

Celia: “He wants to help you take down Corolla and Agnello.”

GM: “Preston said that too?”

Celia: “No, Savoy said that.”

GM: “What do you mean, he said that? thought you heard this all through Preston.”

Celia: “I heard about Dani from Preston, and about that from Savoy. Preston gave me the photo.”

GM: “At different times?”

Celia: “Stop. Stop giving me the third degree. I’m telling you what I know. I’m telling you that Savoy wants to help with those two and that Preston gave me the photo and the information on Dani. And I contacted you as soon as I knew about her. And yes, they probably fucking planned it, Roderick.”

GM: “Well I’m sorry if it seems like I’m grilling you, but given how completely and utterly fucked Dani and I might be-” he calms his voice, “I’m just trying to get as complete a handle on things as I can.”

Celia: “I’m trying to help you. I’m not… I don’t want to be your enemy here.”

GM: “I know. I’m just looking for any kind of handhold here, that Dani and I could still use.”

Celia: “I don’t want anything bad to happen to her, or you, or your dad, or anyone you care about. I’m not a… I’m not a monster. I’ll find a way to keep her safe.”

GM: “Okay.” He takes a needless breath. “I guess good thing I’d already assumed the worst. I had some kind of half-cocked idea to get Dani out of the city, but that’s even more of a crap shot if he already knows.”

Celia: “We still can. He’ll just… know that I told you. If you want to run…” she trails off for a moment, looking at her hands, at the wall, at anything but him. Finally she breathes in, sets her mouth in a grim line. “I can try to cover for you.”

GM: “Like I said, it’s probably a crap shot. I don’t know any licks outside the city that well. None I’d trust with Dani.”

Celia: “That Asian girl. With the fucked hands. She’s from Texas, isn’t she?”

GM: He thinks. “Yeah. I don’t really know her. She helped the thin-bloods all get butchered.”

Celia: “She what now? I thought she pulled Max to safety?”

GM: “Yeah. Instead of pulling the stake out. She was the first to cross over, behind Sanctified lines. After she did with Max, and Veronica and Pietro followed with Jonah, it was over. Everyone else deserted the thin-bloods.”

“If we’d stood our ground that would’ve been a fight even the sheriff wouldn’t have wanted. He wanted to scare us into just surrendering them up, without resistance.”

“And we did. Two dozen thin-bloods, all just… slaughtered. Just like that.”

“I’ll admit that’s one of the things Savoy has going for him, he doesn’t support a policy of active genocide.”

Celia: Celia sighs.

“She came to me about it, you know. Not like… that specifically, and I’m only telling you this because I’m trusting you not to let it out. She sees me for her hands. They’re fucked, like I said. Have you seen her without gloves? Not pretty. We’re working on reducing the scar tissue, but it’s slow going.”

“Sometimes people talk to me when I’m working on them. And she told me about that night after it happened.”

“That she’s… she’s really messed up over it, that she thought she was doing the right thing. Her sire, he’s… he’s a piece of work. She didn’t want to see the people she’d thrown in with, the Anarchs, all slaughtered, like he’s done. I don’t think she was thinking of it as abandoning the thin-bloods, just getting Max out after Veronica made her play. Anyone in the circle, right?”

“And then everyone else folded, because she made that choice. And I think she’s more messed up about it than she’s ever let on to anyone. And it’s why she doesn’t run with a krewe, because she’s ashamed.”

GM: “Well, I’m sorry for her. But I’m sorrier for the thin-bloods. Someone with a track record of folding under pressure isn’t someone I feel safe about leaving Dani with.”

“Though I guess… I mean, unless she’s leaving the city, it’s passing Dani along to any friends she has in Texas.”

Celia: “I just can’t imagine what kind of pain she’s in to unload to me when she doesn’t even know me.” Celia shakes her head. “We’re all so isolated in this existence, it’s… heartbreaking.”

GM: “Yeah. It is.” He gives a long look. Runs a hand through his hair.

“Look. I’ll… I’ll talk to her.”

“How long do you think I have, with Savoy?”

“Before he starts asking you how things went?”

Celia: “I…” Celia looks uncomfortable. “I didn’t tell him I was meeting with you tonight or anything, but I’m staying there now because Lebeaux told me to avoid ‘Celia’ places, and I’m honestly… kind of afraid of staying somewhere alone, so even though no one knows about this place…”

“I can try to put him off.”

GM: “You could stay with me today, if you wanted. I have a decent place.”

Celia: “With, ah, with Coco?”

GM: He effects a snort. “No. I’m not that much an elder’s pet.”

Celia: “D’you live with the others? Hez and Chris and them?”

GM: “I live by myself. Prefer the privacy.”

Celia: She nods. “Same. I mean, Andi and Tyrell are never in town anyway, but… still.”

“But yeah. I mean. If that’s okay with you.”

GM: “Oh?” He looks thoughtful. “I wonder if they could… no, maybe too risky with them in Savoy’s camp.”

Celia: “Roderick.” She takes his hand in hers. “Please, please, please. Don’t tell anyone. He’ll know I told you.”

GM: “Jesus Christ, of course I won’t! It’s Dani’s life, unlife, I’d be risking too. I’m not telling anyone more than they absolutely need to know. All Ayame does, if we even get that far, is that there’s someone I want to get to Houston. I’ll make up the reasons why.”

Celia: “Sorry. I wasn’t implying that you would, I just…” She’s scared, he can see it in her eyes.

GM: “I know.” He squeezes her hand back.

“I also want… to talk to Dani, before going forward with anything.”

Celia: “I’ll get in touch with her.”

GM: “Savoy’s watching her, isn’t he? That’s what I’d do.”

Celia: “Yes. To prevent a breach of the Masquerade, but…”

GM: “Yeah. Okay, so the moment that happens, we’re basically out of time, and he’s going to expect results from you.”

Roderick thinks. “Maybe it’s… better if I don’t talk with her. At least in the city.”

Celia: “Would she have a reason to distrust ‘Celia?’”

GM: “I don’t think so. You two seemed to get along okay, back when… before we got turned.”

Celia: “I just meant, like… after we, um, broke up. If you said anything negative that would make her not want to talk to me.”

GM: “Uh. Well…”

“You could tell her I’m not actually dead. That probably earns a lot of forgiveness.”

“Well, dead dead.”

Celia: “That bad, eh?”

She shouldn’t be surprised.

She isn’t, really.

GM: “I wasn’t trying to badmouth you. I was just… she saw how horrible I felt. What a total mess I was. And she obviously doesn’t know the full story.”

Celia: “It’s okay. Maybe she’ll follow me out of anger and I can get her alone.”

GM: “We just need to do this carefully. Depending how this goes… you’re going to look incompetent to Savoy at best, or traitorous if we mishandle everything.”

“I don’t know. Maybe that’s a long shot. I haven’t even talked to Ayame, maybe Texas isn’t an option.”

Roderick slaps his head.

“Oh, wait. I’m such an idiot.”

“Coco knows licks outside the city, too. I might be able to go to for help with this. Hell, she knows licks in Texas too.”

Celia: “For a thin-blood?”

GM: Roderick’s face sinks again. “That’d be…”

“Honestly, if Ayame can’t do anything either, I think it’d be… a gamble.”

“Look. Elders, they basically all hate thin-bloods. I mean, Savoy doesn’t pursue active genocide, but he treats them like shit. Relegates them to the worst parts of the Quarter. Crams them in like sardines.”

“Coco’s…”

“She doesn’t say anything hateful about them, I think because they’re so arm in arm with the Anarchs now. I mean, if you talk to her, you might even walk away thinking she’s all for duskborn equality.”

“But she’s just… I’m around her a lot. She’s cooler about them. Definitely cooler. In this really understated way you might not notice, if you didn’t know her as well as me. It’s the same way she gets when…

“Look, there’s this passage from A Tale of Two Cities, about this aristocrat whose carriage runs over a little boy and kills him. The father runs up, screaming and crying as he’s cradling the body, ‘You killed my boy! You killed my boy!’”

“The aristocrat doesn’t even care. He’s just annoyed his carriage got stopped and he’s been delayed from getting to where he’s going. The Third Estate, the common people, were like bugs to him.”

“I’ve talked about that passage with Coco. She says Dickens was better at writing about London than Paris. But she said he got that part completely, 100% right. Just the sheer contempt the nobles held for the common people, the utter disregard for their lives and dignity.”

“And she says the Revolution wasn’t the country going ‘crazy’ or violent revolutions being somehow specifically endemic to France. She says the amount of violence and terror and bloodshed during the Revolution was simply the natural human response to people being suffocated under such unbearable tyranny for so long and wanting payback.”

“She says that how it played out wasn’t perfect, but that it was superior to the Ancien Régime. That anything would’ve been superior to the Ancien Régime.”

“I’m getting a little off-track. She’s fascinating to listen to about this stuff. I mean, she saw all this history unfold during her lifetime.”

“But, my point was, when we were talking about that noble whose carriage ran over the little boy… she got this cool look in her eyes. It was really hitting home for her.”

“And… it’s the same look she sometimes gets, when thin-bloods come up.”

“This coolness. This faint, but almost instinctive disgust.”

Celia: “People revolt when they taste something better and are then forced to go back to what they knew before. If they never know any different, they don’t think to ask for something more. Like a battered woman who thinks she’s getting what she deserves. But a whole people who get that taste of something else, who for a moment it is better? That’s the boiling point. That’s what causes revolt. Historically speaking.”

“But… yeah, I mean, I can’t imagine that any elder is a fan of them, but if she doesn’t get out… the Quarter is safe, at least, and we can minimize the amount of people who know who she is, and get her some decent place to feed so she’s not struggling to just survive.”

GM: “I guess that battered woman example hits a little close to home.”

“Coco says it was a combination of financial crisis, famine, France having helped the American Revolution, and times simply changing while the Ancien Régime kept trying to live like it was still the Middle Ages. I’m sure she could list even more factors. Events that big don’t ever have simple causes.”

Celia: “She’s probably right about those first reasons. I’d need to brush up on my French history. I wasn’t there, of course, or in any of the other places where they revolt.”

GM: “I don’t know why she’d feel that way about thin-bloods, anyway. I don’t know what thin-bloods have done to her. I don’t know what they even could’ve done to her. I think they only really started popping up in the ’90s.”

Celia: “One of the first presidents said something to the effect of Americans needing to have a revolution every 8 or 12 years to make sure the government doesn’t become corrupt.”

GM: “Different age now, but I don’t know that he’s completely wrong.”

Celia: “Have you talked to her about why she dislikes them so much? Or why they all seem to?”

GM: “I sure have. Didn’t get anywhere.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“I could try with Savoy, maybe. See if it sheds some light on them. Maybe he’d be willing to talk to me about it. Or Lebeaux, he knows a lot about random stuff.”

GM: “Well, unless he likes you more than Coco likes me, I dunno how much you’re gonna get out of him. But I guess it couldn’t hurt.”

Celia: “Worst case scenario he tells me nothing and we’re back to where we are now.”

GM: “True. I mean, if I thought Coco wanted to help Dani, things could look a lot different.”

Celia: “Want me to call up the sheriff? See if he wants to explain? ‘Hey buddy so I heard you don’t like thin-bloods.’”

GM: “Ha ha. Maybe we should call up your dad and ask him why he beats women, too.”

Celia: “Oh, I found his stash of paraplegic porn actually.”

GM: “Wow, morbid.”

Celia: Celia thinks she’s funny.

GM: She once heard a ghoul somewhere say you should let other people tell you you’re funny.

Wise ghoul.

“But who the hell knows, maybe it even is a partly sexual thing.”

Celia: That ghoul sounds like she has a stick up her ass.

“Oh. So there’s this girl. Who is like… a hacker or something. And she thinks that all the politicians in the city are involved in a city-wide sex ring. And she told me my mom was a sex slave. And I was like… what?”

GM: “That’s pretty crazy-sounding, but so’s a lot of the Requiem.”

Celia: “I thought she was pretty crazy at the time.”

GM: “You think there is a sex ring?”

Celia: “Oh, I dunno, she also told me that wearing makeup makes me a sex addict and that Pangloss is putting chemicals in their products. It was real weird.”

GM: “Well, you probably know better than me about makeup, but I’ve heard some pretty disturbing stuff about those companies.”

Celia: “Like what?”

GM: “That they perform torturous experiments on animals as part of product development. There was another story I heard about a Pangloss plant spilling toxic chemicals in the local town’s water supply.”

“But, really, I guess that’s all par for course in corporate America.”

Celia: “A lot of companies test on animals. They say it’s safer than testing on humans, but they do some shady things. And even if a company doesn’t, there’s a chance their parent company does. Like in cosmetics, in order to sell in China, you have to do product testing on animals.”

“So all these companies say they’re ‘vegan’ or ‘cruelty-free’ but they sell in China so you know they’re full of shit.”

GM: “Geez. There’s a lot wrong in the U.S., but China can really be something else. They’re definitely the greater evil.”

Celia: “I mean it’s a huge market, but people just… lie about it, or use general ignorance. I mean most people don’t know that thing about China, but then you can say the same thing about anything, really.”

GM: “Yeah. The deeper you dig into anything, the more rot and corruption you find.”

“Just ask me about all the places the Mafia has its tentacles wrapped around. Or don’t, if you’d rather not think about the ways humans can be monsters just as awful as us.”

Celia: “I already know firsthand that humans can be monsters,” she says quietly, “but I’m happy to listen to you tell me about it.”

GM: “I know you know. I said spend time thinking about it.”

“Don’t you want to take down your dad, by the way? Like I said, he’s had two election cycles since you were turned.”

Celia: “He wants to see me. My dad. Logan told me.”

She blurts the words out in a rush, like she can’t contain them inside herself.

“Said that he’s ‘proud of me’ for what I did with my business.”

GM: Roderick gives that a look.

Celia: “I know.”

GM: “Your dad’s a despicable human being. He’s a worse monster than a lot of vampires. Sheriff’s the only one who immediately jumps to mind as worse.”

Celia: “He is. I know he is. I know. I hate him. Like. Just. So much. I hate him.”

“But when he said that… God, I just… I just want a dad sometimes. And it’s so stupid. And I know that. And I’m just trying to figure out how to leverage this.”

GM: “Count your blessings,” Roderick says quietly. “I’ve got a mom and dad, but… well. You’re lucky to have the family you do with Emily, Lucy, and your mom. Plus all those brothers and sisters, even if you aren’t as close to them.”

Celia: She winces. “Sorry. I… you’re right. Of course you’re right.”

GM: “Well, my mom also didn’t try to saw off my dad’s leg and regularly beat him bloody, so you have that going against you.”

Celia: “And yeah, Roderick, I do want to take him down, I’m just…”

She doesn’t want to go up against her sire. She doesn’t want him to have a reason to come after her. I won’t show leniency again, he’d said. If killing her is leniency, what isn’t?

GM: “Just what? Because of the sheriff?”

Celia: She nods.

GM: “I don’t have a good answer there. But I know Savoy hasn’t seemed to help.”

Celia: “I brought that up to him recently.”

GM: “I’d like to see how he took that.”

Celia: “Preston said something like of course he wants to take down his rival’s pawns, and he just kind of waved it off because it didn’t go well last time. And I just feel like I’m supposed to come up with and execute a plan on my own. Or something.”

GM: “At least with the Mafia, Coco’s said she’ll help me, but she won’t do it for me.”

Celia: “That’s what I meant, yeah. I haven’t pushed for it as hard as I could have, I guess that’s on me.”

GM: “Well, if you come up with a plan, I’d love to help too. Your dad’s as awful as any mob boss.”

Celia: “What do you plan with the Mafia? Can I help?”

GM: Roderick rubs his head. “It’s embarrassing to admit this, but I got… distracted.”

“That sounds so stupid, I know. But it’s just such a big endeavor and there’s always more Kindred things demanding attention.”

Celia: “No, I get it. That’s kind of… I mean, like you said, I haven’t moved against Maxen either.”

“Maybe we can make a plan together.”

GM: “I’d like that. Help each other destroy our respective monsters.”

Celia: Her thumb traces circles across the back of his hand.

“I think we’ll give them something to finally worry about.”

GM: He wraps an arm around her shoulder.

“Yeah.”

Celia: It’s natural to let her head fall onto his shoulder. To scoot closer to him so he doesn’t need to lean to put his arm around her. She should have had this. All this time, she should have had this. They should have had this. She won’t mess it up again. Even if they don’t do anything more than this—even if they never get together—she can be his friend, at least, or ally, or something.

Maybe that can be enough. Make up for all the wrongs she’s ever done. Help him take down his demons.

“I missed you,” she finally says. The words are halting, like she doesn’t trust him not to throw them back in her face, but she says them anyway. “So much.”

GM: They’re not the first time she’s said them.

He doesn’t answer, immediately, but holds her close. She can feel his heart beating. There’s warmth to his skin. It’s not real, she knows. It’s from the vitae circulating through his system. But it’s so easy to think of it as real, in the moment. She thought her kind were good at surviving without warmth.

Maybe they’re not any good at it. Maybe they just don’t have any choice, and that’s why everything has to be horrible.

It feels good, just to lean against her man, head on his shoulder, and feel his warm skin against hers.

Or whatever he now is.

“I’m sorry I got mad at you for telling the truth,” he says.

Outside, it’s starting to rain. Celia can hear the steady patter-patter against the windows.

Celia: She almost tells him that it’s fine.

She swallows the words instead. It isn’t fine. But it’s over, and they’re here now, and that’s what counts. That’s what has to count. Not years-old aches and pains.

“I shouldn’t have lied. It was wrong of me. Everything I did… it was wrong. I’m sorry.”

GM: “Coco said to me, once, that it’s unfair to say Kindred are creatures of the past.”

“Maybe we are, on some level.”

“But we’re also creatures of unlimited potential. Because we have forever. We don’t run out of time, at least naturally. We can always reinvent ourselves.”

“We can always be something else, something better, tomorrow.”

Celia: “That night, she and I talked. And I asked her if it was ridiculous to think that love exists between Kindred. If I’m searching for something, chasing something, that will never happen.”

GM: “What’d she say?”

Overhead, the rain falls and plunks.

Celia: “That it’s hard. Rare. The exception rather than the rule.”

“But that it can happen.”

GM: “That’s better than never. That’s hope.”

Celia: It’s not what she wants to hear. She nods, though, because she isn’t ready to push him, and he isn’t ready to be pushed.

GM: He looks up at the ceiling. Holds her close.

“Celia, I…”

He seems to waver for a moment, then says, “She was complicit. I’ve been complicit.”

“In what happened. That massacre.”

The words seem to leave him smaller. Hollow.

Celia: She nestles against him. She doesn’t breathe, doesn’t blink, doesn’t let the forced beat of her heart betray her. She just listens. Waits. When he pauses, she gives him a gentle prompting, voice hardly louder than the rain outside the window.

“How?”

GM: “She… god, Celia. I shouldn’t be talking about this. My dad said to me, when you tell secrets that aren’t yours, you’re telling anyone who hears them that you can’t be trusted.”

“But I can’t, I can’t keep this to myself. I can’t not… not confess.”

“So I’m an accomplice if I say nothing, and I’m untrustworthy if I do. Lose-lose either way.”

Celia: She lifts her head enough to touch a hand to his cheek, to meet his eyes. “I don’t think you’re untrustworthy because you unburden your conscience.”

GM: “But what about revealing things I’ve been trusted with, in confidence?”

“It’s the cornerstone of attorney-client privilege. What lets everyone get fair counsel and representation under the law.”

Celia: “I trust you. I trusted you back then, and I trust you now. If you hear something… if it’s better to talk about it than hold it in… even if it hurts, isn’t it better to let it go? You told me that, once. You’d rather know the truth. You don’t want the beautiful lies.”

She puts it into her voice. The pain she’d felt at betraying him all those years ago. The ache she’s carried since. Losing him. Telling him she’d trusted him all those years ago only for him to turn on her in a moment of rage. Telling her that he could forgive her and then beating her into a bloody, messy pulp instead. The fear she’d felt when she’d opened the door this evening—had to be fear, didn’t it? Asking—begging—him not to hit her. All those steps she’d taken to keep her home from getting ruined and he’d done it anyway, forcing her to hide from him. But here she is, on the couch with him, wrapped in his arms, close enough that a simple squeeze could immobilize her. Offering herself to him anyway, despite the things that he has done, despite what he could do.

It’s an old tactic. The old manipulation: to hit him where it hurts. To find his shame and play it up. And she knows what shames him. She leans into it. They’ve come this far. Gotten this much. Every word, every action this evening has been to wrap him further around her fingers, to bring him to this confession. The mask she wears for Roderick: trusting, naive, helpless. The Beauty to her Beast. And how well she plays that card, how well that mask covers up the lie within.

Trust, she tells him.

GM: He stares up at the ceiling. Listens to the rain. Maybe tries to listen to his conscience. Or just look for his conscience.

But Celia’s there to say:

That’s me.

“She knew it was coming.”

His voice is quiet.

“She and Opal.”

“That Vidal wanted to butcher as many thin-bloods in one place as he could. Because that’s how it works, with him. Change the system from within.”

“Well, you don’t get to do that without being part of the system. You want him to do something for you, you have to do something for him. Way of the world.”

Celia: She keeps her voice clear of judgment. Neutral. Like the face that she puts on for him—though she is tucked against him and he cannot see it anyway, her mask is on. No anger. No sadness. Nothing but compassion for the position that he’s in. Difficult, to stand by and watch them be slaughtered.

“Did you know?” she asks him.

GM: “Before it happened… no. God, no. I don’t know if I could’ve… if I could’ve just done nothing.”

“And she told me that. Why she didn’t tell me. That my spirit was admirable, that I was a good person, why she Embraced me, and all that.”

“But that I still had a lot to learn about how the world worked. About the way things really are, the invisible axis the world turns on.”

“She said it was horrible. Acknowledged it. Though I don’t know if she really meant that, or was just saying it for me. I’ve seen that look in her eyes, that they give her.”

“She said it was horrible, but that it was the only way forward for the Anarchs. That it would’ve happened with her or without her. That Vidal could’ve found someone else to turn coat, even if she hadn’t slipped him all the details of the meeting. That he probably already had found someone else to turn coat, just to be sure she was being honest with him. Hell, she said that’s what she’d have done if she were Vidal. To be totally sure that both her Anarch informants were being honest. Get verification from multiple sources.”

“She said Vidal would’ve sent the sheriff, scourge, and all the others to go wipe out the thin-bloods anyway. And even if there wasn’t a meeting, he’d have just done sweep after sweep through Mid-City to get as many as he could.”

“And I told her I didn’t accept that, that you can always do something. If the Nazis demand Jews, do you just turn them over? How does history judge the collaborators over the people who fought back and sacrificed their lives? How can anyone say they’d rather not be one of those heroes than a collaborator? Saying ‘it would’ve happened anyway’ is making excuses.”

Celia: “You weren’t complicit.” Her words are quiet but certain. “You weren’t complicit if you didn’t know. You stood up against them all. You’re not a collaborator.”

GM: “I… I’ll get to that.”

“She told me the comparison was bullshit, essentially. She said thin-bloods weren’t innocent Jews, they were vampires, they had blood on their hands just like us. She said the Camarilla weren’t the Nazis. That its existence and the vampiric population control it enforces and the Masquerade are wins for humanity. She said that the problems with the Camarilla and its leadership were eternal, not like a breather Hitler who’d just get old and die someday.”

“And she said the good we do can also be eternal, and that older Kindred who could effect real change couldn’t throw away their unlives irresponsibly. That they had to judge where they could do the most good where they could, otherwise they’d do no good at all.”

“There was… there was more to it. More reasons. More rationales. Maybe you can think of some of them. She’s convincing. Really convincing. There’s a reason the Anarchs all look up to her as a leader.”

“And I think she really does care about them, about the Anarch cause, not like some other elder who’s completely selfish. She really does want to make the world a better place and Kindred society more egalitarian.”

“I mean, how do you argue with that? With someone who’s really and truly convinced they’re doing the right thing?”

“But I guess that’s stupid, because who actually thinks they’re doing the wrong thing and does it anyway. Even Vidal probably thinks he’s doing the right thing.”

Celia: “Some people know. They know and don’t care because it’s easy or convenient.”

GM: “I think they’re a minority. I hope they’re a minority. Even mob bosses can think what they’re doing is right in their own twisted way. People’s capacity to rationalize and make excuses is pretty much unlimited.”

Celia: The people who know and don’t do anything differently aren’t usually the ones in charge. They’re the ones following orders. Like Roderick.

But she doesn’t say it. She just runs a hand down his back, squeezes the other. I’m here, that touch says.

GM: “She just said this is how it works, if you want to work with Vidal. It’s all in or all out with him. You can’t get something for nothing.”

“She says a bunch of neonates try that with elders. They flatter them and offer to be their ‘ear to the ground’ or some other bullshit. To make noise about supporting them but not really do anything more than hang around and expect patronage and support. She calls it ‘selling hot air.’”

“But that doesn’t work with Vidal, or any elder. You want something from them, you have to fucking pay your way.”

“So, she helped. For all those reasons and a whole bunch more. Skipped town when it happened. Would’ve eroded her and Opal’s authority with the Anarchs, wouldn’t it, if all they did was stand by and watch during the sheriff’s bloodbath?”

“Hell, the whole thing even enhanced their authority. Any Anarch can point to it and say, ‘look what happens when the big mama and big sister aren’t here to stick up for us!’”

“God, I just think how it would’ve played out. If she and Opal were there and didn’t just let the sheriff do what they did. They could’ve rallied everyone. Morale is such a huge determinant in how battles go, and Vidal didn’t fucking want a battle. He wanted to neuter us through fear. We already outnumbered the Sanctified, and to have two serious heavy hitters on our side…”

“I just think how it could’ve gone. I’ve poured over it. So many things that could’ve gone differently.”

“And… and you should’ve heard what it was like, at the next Cabildo meeting. The elders were fucking celebrating. All talking about how pleased they were with the sheriff, how neat and clean the whole slaughter was, how the Anarchs were all nice and cowed and reminded of their place. You should have just heard all the things they were saying. It was unbelievable.”

Celia: She’d been right. Opal and Coco, she’d been right. The paper confirmed it, and now her childe as well. She doesn’t pull away. He needs strength now, not gloating, not sneering. Gentle understanding to get him through the worst of it. Are there adequate words? She can’t think of any. She just looks at him, long and solemn, hurt in her eyes. For him. For carrying this burden for so long.

“You did everything you could. They would have killed you, too.”

GM: He closes his eyes for a moment.

“But I’ve kept quiet about it. I haven’t said, done, anything. I’m there for every meeting, taking notes, listening to them.”

“I don’t think Coco and Opal said aloud they helped it happen, because what does that gain them. But the other elders aren’t stupid. All of them are smart, duplicitous, cynical. I think they all know. Except maybe Hurst, but he’s not a real elder.”

“And they’re all 100% behind the continued sweeps and purges. That’s one of the big reasons they don’t do anything about Caitlin Meadows. Because sure, she’s a mad dog off her leash, but she still goes after as many thin-bloods as she can, and they’re all happy with that. Happy with how many she kills.”

“All of that’s going on. And they help. They volunteer intelligence, strategies, recommendations. They pass it on to Maldonato to pass down to the sheriff. It’s still going on.”

“And I’m complicit.”

Celia: It smolders in her mind. Satisfaction. That she’d been right. This whole time. People think she’s stupid—he, apparently, thinks she’s stupid—but she’s right. Always. When it comes to other people, she’s always right. She’s made mistakes, and those weigh heavily on her, but she’s not some dumb air-head, she’s not just an image-obsessed Toreador and social media influencer. Even mistakes have been spun into victories.

She’d been right about the Cabildo the first time around, too. When she’d said that he was keeping secrets that the city deserves to know. That night in the car—she’d been right, and he had tried to lie to her, but she had known. Had let him win the battle. He hadn’t trusted her then, and she wonders at this sudden trust he shows now, if he is more coy than he seems. A lawyer presenting a poisoned gift. Misinformation. She doesn’t think so. His concern for his sister is real. His surprise that night had been real. That night the horror had been too fresh, perhaps.

Already she thinks of how to spin this. How to protect her own assets—protect him, because even after all this time she aches for him—her own end game, while furthering those of whom she serves.

She doesn’t let it distract her from the boy in her arms. She draws him in, lets him lay his head upon her breast, presses her lips to his temple. Her fingers are feather-light, sliding through his hair, down his neck, his back. Long, slow, stroking movements. They are the same that she ends her tablework with, they calm the body and bring everything to a nice close. Kindred might not have that same physiological response, but Roderick surely has memories that this sort of touch evokes: skinned knees as a child, comfort after losing his grandfather, the months of practice she had gotten in on him before her Embrace. The body holds memories and she summons them now with her fingers and hands, taking him back to a better time. A more innocent time.

She is quiet for a moment. Lets her touch work on him. Lets him take comfort from it, if he does, or stew in his emotions. His guilt and shame and grief over his own action—or there lack of. It is not a judgmental, uncomfortable silence. It is a contemplative silence. I hear you, that silence says, I’m here for you, I’ll help you.

A beat. Two. Three. Long enough that he knows she thought about her next words, that she considered what he said and her own response rather than blurting out the first thing to come to mind, that she does not offer an empty platitude.

“I understand your pain, Roderick. I understand how you feel, and why you feel. But knowing about the sword… that does not mean you swung it. You cannot blame yourself for the actions of other people. Those who died at that first massacre, that is not on you. The order came down from Vidal. From the Camarilla at large. His minions carried it out. Others stood aside, or made a stand, or did what they thought was right even if it wasn’t.”

“You tried. You stood up. You were the vocal minority. Your Blood saved you, yes, and think of… think of how good that is now. What you can do, how you can change things. You said to me once how we need to learn from the past. That it informs our future, our present. So we take this, and we go forward. We can’t get anywhere in our unlives if we stare in the rear-view mirror, but it is there for a reason.”

Unless there’s more. Her voice does not betray her, but the question is there all the same. Unless there’s more you haven’t gotten to yet, unless you are an active participant and not a bystander.

The rain lashes against the windows. How well the night reflects her own moods, she thinks, that the heavens cry when she cannot, that they weep for her and the boy in her arms. Boy, because he was innocent once, though their kind no longer subscribes to such things. Lick, then. Kindred. Rain sent to echo her own sentiments. Rain to wash away the stains of their souls, perhaps. Or a darker omen yet. Had it rained the night of her Embrace? Within the arms of her sire nothing touched her, nothing but his lips at her throat, her mind inside of his. Safe, despite the horror she found lurking. Safe, despite her death at his hands. Their souls touched that night. More of her innocence drained away. She shed her mortal coils.

Is this evening, too, a turning stone for him? A dark, spiraling stair that will lead him down a path from which he can never return? She is the sire, then, sent to guide him down. Savoy compared her once to Aphrodite, but perhaps she is Charon, and this his river Styx.

GM: Roderick can’t sigh under her touch, at least not without forcing it. Some parts of the flesh stay dead after they die. But he looks relaxed. Content to close his eyes and lie there against her, perhaps remembering those same earlier times as Celia’s practiced fingers works her magic. Evening study sessions at his place with junk food, some with actual studying, and head for massages. It was a good trade.

For a while they just lie there as rainfall beats against the windows in dull, tearful plunks. Solitary rowers along their River Styx.

There’s worse analogies for the already dead.

“So, say we get out Danielle. Then… what? I just stay with Coco? Keep taking notes every meeting at the Cabildo nothing’s happening? Should I even be this worked up about duskborn when they’re still vampires?”

“There’s so much about Coco I respect, that I look up to. She’s done so much for me. I know I’ve wound up with as good a sire as any lick could ask for, in so many different ways.”

“I believe in her vision. I want to help it succeed.”

“But as much as I hate to admit it… Vidal is a greater evil than Savoy. He just is, in so many ways.”

“And I wonder if Coco made a huge mistake a hundred years ago, and the real reason she’s still with Vidal is that it’s too late to reverse course without destroying everything she’s built.”

“So if get out Dani… then what? What’s the right thing to do next?”

Celia: “I was going to ask you,” Celia says quietly, “why she stayed with him. After the massacre. After the trial. What keeps her there when… I know he’s not the ideal ruler, but to displace the prince… She has that sway, I think.”

GM: “What, overthrow the prince?”

Celia: “Or defect. Switch sides. I just… from everything you’ve told me, I don’t understand.”

GM: “She can’t overthrow Vidal. He’s too strong. And she doesn’t believe violent Kindred revolutions ultimately lead anywhere good, even if they succeed.”

“Savoy’s been trying to woo her for a long time, anyway. She says she doesn’t trust him. That with Vidal, you’re at least dealing with a known evil. A predictable evil. Because he’s guided by an actual ideology and follows it even when it’s politically inconvenient.”

Celia: “Do you think that’s all it is?”

GM: “She says if you really make an effort understand the Sanctified, don’t just dismiss their dogma as a bunch of fundamentalist bullshit, you can understand Vidal. And that in the long run, having a prince you can predict and plan around is the important thing. It’s what’s let her establish everything we have in Mid-City, and that really is a lot. Vidal used to just kill or exile Anarchs wherever he found them.”

“But with Savoy, she says he’s not motivated by anything besides political convenience. That he doesn’t give a shit about ideology or anything else, except what’s best for Savoy. And that’s always going to shift, depending on the current landscape.”

“I guess that makes sense enough, though it’s not impossible there could be more. She doesn’t tell me everything.”

“But right now, even if she were to defect, I think it might be too late. Because Veronica did first.”

“And no offense to your sire, but… I don’t think she has the Anarchs’ best interests at heart. Or really anyone’s besides her own.” A pause. “She raped you.”

Celia: Celia forces air through her nose. It might be a huff. Or a laugh.

“She looks out for herself,” she agrees. “But that doesn’t mean Coco can’t also switch.”

GM: “Yeah, and say she does, what kind of welcome do you think she’s going to get from Veronica, from Savoy, from the Anarchs who already have?”

Celia: “Veronica sneers at everyone. That’s nothing new. But if Savoy has been pursuing Coco… could be there’s something there to look into at least.”

Not that Coco is simply going to defect because of a sales pitch.

GM: “Yeah? Think about it some more. Veronica’s #1 among the Anarchs on Savoy’s side. Coco shows up, but she’s used to being #1 with Opal. Can you guess where that might go?”

“And then there’s Savoy. Coco will have less leverage over him. Less clout. She’s late to the party. Missed the chance to get in on the ground floor.”

Celia: “I know. Maybe you’re right. I just… it was just wishful thinking, I guess. That you and I…”

GM: “It’s just… big-shot Kindred like her, you can’t convert with just a sales pitch. Something needs to actually happen to shift the landscape for them.”

“Like Matheson using your sister as his, I guess sex slave. That’s what moved Veronica.”

Celia: Her mouth flattens into a line.

“Yeah,” she says coldly.

GM: He frowns. “Sorry, did I say something wrong?”

Celia: “No. That whole thing. That he got off. It’s bullshit.”

GM: “100%. He was guilty as fuck. Vidal just didn’t want to admit another blue blood did anything wrong.”

Celia: “He fucked with her, and then he… He fucked with her mind.”

GM: “Were you and Ryllie that close? I know you were on opposite sides.”

“I mean, I know Veronica’s cut her completely out.”

Celia: “We got along. Veronica made sure of it. Didn’t want her childer fighting or showing anything less than a unified front. Bad reflection on her, she said. And… yeah, I mean, I liked her. I would have been right there with you guys if things hadn’t… you know.”

“Even if we hadn’t been. No one deserves that.”

GM: Roderick looks surprised. “Huh. Didn’t expect that when she has such a shitty relationship with her sire and grandsire.”

“But… yeah. I’m sorry, too. But I don’t know if you could’ve done anything.”

Celia: “I’m not my sire, though. Not my father. Not my mother. She’s isolated a lot of people with her venom, but I try to not let that affect my relationships with them. It’s just burning bridges for no reason.”

“Honestly, I wonder if the prince let him off because he does the same thing.”

GM: “Of course he did. They all do. Donovan would’ve ashed me if it weren’t for my sire.”

Celia: “What?”

GM: “Don’t tell me you’re surprised. I mean, he said so.”

Celia: “That all of them…” She thinks they might be talking about different things.

GM: “All of them what?”

Celia: “I thought you meant all the elders use neonates like that. I was just kind of being catty and then you were like ‘they all do.’ But that isn’t what you meant.”

Is it?

Oh fuck. Is it?

GM: He might blink, if he were alive. “Oh. No, I didn’t mean that. I thought you meant just judge every neonate on who their sire is.”

“They couldn’t all do that, what Matheson did. Just… no way.”

Celia: “But… but him? The prince?” She’s afraid to say his name. Afraid to speak too loudly, even here, about something this blasphemous. Her snide, off-hand remark… it can’t possibly be… She swallows.

“You say ‘all’ like you think there are others.”

GM: “Somewhere, out there, absolutely. Of course there’s more. In New Orleans… I dunno.”

“I hope not.”

“If there are any, they’re better at hiding it than Matheson.”

Celia: “I kept thinking about doing something ridiculous. Like going to him and letting him do it to me so I could show them what he does, that it’s all true, that they’re covering for him.”

GM: “That’s way too dangerous,” Roderick says sharply. “Matheson knows Vidal can’t bail him out twice. He’d be on guard, he’d kill you if he thought for a moment, for a moment-”

Celia: “I know that.” His concern is touching, though.

GM: “Okay. I just don’t want that to happen to you. I see how fucked up Ryllie still is.”

Celia: Celia’s gaze softens. “Does she talk about it at all?”

GM: “Sure, for a while. She wouldn’t shut up about it. How great Matheson is, how completely innocent, how she wants to see him again so bad.”

Celia: “And now?”

GM: “I started going apeshit over it. That finally made her stop.”

Celia: “Oh.”

“Sometimes I think we need lick therapists or something. Go through shit like that.”

GM: “I hear there’s some who are Malks. Sounds safer just to go crazy by yourself.”

Celia: “Sometimes my clients treat me like a therapist. They just, like, unload. Divorce, fertility problems, nightmares, how much they hate their neighbors or mothers or bosses.” She shakes her head, smiles ruefully. “I should start charging them more.”

GM: “I remember. You told me all about how that’s a thing. I’m still a little amazed they say so much.”

“But I guess, what else do you do when you’re lying on a chair for hours around someone you never see anywhere else.”

“Do your family do that at all, when you’re working on them, or does it only really happen with people who are pure clients?”

Celia: “Both. Mom talks a lot when I work on her, Emily usually falls asleep. She needs it, though. Final year of med school and all. A lot of times it’s clients, but I see them so often it’s almost like we’re friends sometimes. Like I could tell you what they’re in school for and who is dating who and what their kids are up to, and I’ve been invited to a fair few events, and some of them get me birthday or Christmas presents.”

“If Piper and I trade she just talks my ear off the whole time. Really just depends on the person, I guess, if they’re more inclined to open up or not.” A brief pause. “We used to talk. Before you fell asleep. And drooled.” She sticks her tongue out at him.

Even that time he’d thought she was a stranger he’d talked.

“I think I still have my old table in the closet. If you want to relax and just take your mind off things for a bit.”

GM: “That’s sweet, with your clients. You can get to know people pretty intimately as a lawyer, but usually not in that same way.”

“And I did not drool!”

Celia: “Dude. You 100% did.”

GM: “Pics or it didn’t happen.”

Celia: “You snored, too.” Celia makes a chainsaw sound with her mouth, snorting in air.

GM: “I did not snore. I’m civilized.”

Celia: She laughs.

“All right. You’re right, actually.”

GM: “See? Law school was good for something,” he smirks.

“But as far as your table… that sounds great, but we also got side-tracked.” His face grows stiller as he pulls Celia closer. The rain’s steady patter fills the silence.

“Assuming everything with Dani goes off without a hitch… what do you think the right thing is for me to do, with Coco?”

“I didn’t want to… well, betray her, but I can’t accept or condone Vidal’s regime. It’s been getting worse and worse.”

Celia: It’s a sobering question. The laughter in her eyes dies, and her mouth pulls down at the corners. She tucks herself against him, head on his shoulder, arms around his neck, taking and offering what comfort she can from the closeness of their bodies. It’s not the same to some—a lot of licks don’t like being touched—but to her it’s as natural as anything else, and their history together… she hopes it’s helping him, too.

“It has been getting worse.” Even shielded from the worst of it, she knows how bad it’s getting. “If you want to make a change… it’s not betrayal, Roderick, not if she’s not doing the right thing. You can help so many people. Everyone in this city. All the thin-bloods. The Caitiff. Anyone who has ever been hunted down by Donovan or Meadows.”

“No one deserves to die because of an accident of Embrace. That’s like saying someone should be put down because they’re black. Or half black. Or Jewish.”

GM: Maybe it’s not a question of being touched or not. Just by who.

He shifts, running one arm along her neck and shoulders, hooks the other around her back.

“But it’s being a traitor. A Quisling. Stabbing her in the back, when she’s counting on me. Been so much to me.”

Celia: “It’s not. It’s doing the right thing in the face of adversity. It’s not like you’re going to literally stab her in the back, it’s not like she’s going to suffer or be overthrown or taken down from power.”

“Once things change… once things change we just, we adapt.”

GM: “Is it? I mean, Vidal’s going to konk out, soon. That’s going to change everything.” His brow furrows. “I think you have a really… a really rosy view of what the city’s going to look like, if you don’t think any licks are going to die. Or that Coco’s going to be immune, if she backs the losing side.”

“There are lots of organisms that die if they can’t adapt. We tend to forget that part of natural selection.”

Celia: “I don’t think no one’s going to die. I just… I think you’re being overly pessimistic about it, and you’re conflicted because you care about Coco, and you don’t want to hurt her. And that’s admirable. It really is. But just… you said yourself she made a mistake. And she’s helping them exterminate people. People like us. People like your sister.”

“If you’re worried about it getting back to her…” She lifts her hand momentarily, shoving it through the curls that crowd her face. “I told you that I will always, always have your back. That if you’re in trouble I’ll be there for you. And if you need a fall guy… fuck, Roderick, if you need a fall guy, what am I doing with my Requiem anyway?”

GM: “Look, I appreciate that, but… Celia, seriously, picture it!” Roderick exclaims. “We take the Traditions and Vidal’s peace for granted, but cities fall into civil war. It happens. There is no police force to keep all vampires playing nice with each other. The archons and justicars are too few to be everywhere at once. A lot of cities are on their own. It happened in Baton Rouge. Meeks didn’t just drive out Marcel, he killed a bunch of the old prince’s supporters too. It happened in Houston, when the Anarchs overthrew the Invictus and killed a bunch of them.”

“Coco says when that happens, even uninvolved licks take advantage of the violence to kill off rivals, settle old scores, or just get caught up in the bloodlust and lash out because it’s what everyone else is doing. A ‘Mardi Gras’ effect, where the whole city just goes crazy. And the winners usually don’t offer much quarter to the losers. They kill them to nip any future threats to their power in the bud. Or just to open up more domains and influence for themselves, because licks don’t ever get old and retire. There are a ton of licks who’ll have every reason to make a run at Coco. Your sire honestly being one of them.”

“Coco’s seen it happen, in Paris, where the bloodshed lasted for years. She was even there for it in Houston during Katrina. The fact we had that archon, North, show up last month should tell you how seriously licks are taking this.”

“I really don’t think you understand just how bad things could get.”

Celia: Maybe. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe her position as Savoy’s favorite grandchilde (she assumes) has kept her from the worst of it. Has left her free to pursue her various interests rather than getting into the thick and heavy of it. She struggled as a mortal, but here? No. She woke up on the lap of luxury here. She’s been privileged.

“Twenty-three people slaughtered in one night. Countless more dead at the sheriff’s hands, at Meadows’ hands, at Vidal’s hands, with all their sweeps and raids.”

She doesn’t need to say it. It’s the old conductor on a track problem: does he change course to the one he knows, or does he let hundreds be slaughtered in her stead?

GM: “Look, forget that right now! Celia, I need to hear you’re taking this seriously. That you have a plan in case things get that bad.”

“Because the primogen take it seriously. Especially recently, since the trial. They’ve talked about what they might do if things get to the point of open war.”

“And they say some of the heaviest fighting is likely to be in the Quarter. Because Savoy doesn’t actually hold a lot of physical territory, even if the Quarter is valuable real estate, and has crammed so many licks into the neighborhoods he does have.”

Celia: “…are you asking if I have a plan for me?”

GM: “Yes! If you know what you’re going to do if the worst happens, if the Quarter turns into a giant bloodbath!”

Celia: Oh.

Oh.

Somehow, she thought he wouldn’t give a fuck. That he doesn’t care.

She’s silent.

She doesn’t know what to say.

“I don’t have a detailed plan,” she finally admits.

GM: “Okay, well, you don’t need to feel bad about that. A lot of licks don’t. They just get swept up in the violence, or told to go fight by their elders. They’re also the ones who usually die.”

“So, with you, I don’t know how likely Savoy is to press-gang you into a war coterie. Because, well, I never got around to teaching you how to fight, and he might not think you can.”

“I should still do that. And you maybe shouldn’t tell him you know how, after I do.”

Celia: Would Savoy send her to die? Would he?

She doesn’t want to think it, but… it might be true. That they’d just send her off to fight as if she knows how. Neither one of them had cared that she’d almost died two days ago. She hasn’t even heard from her sire, and it was him she reached out to.

Is this why Savoy lets the thin-bloods and Caitiff into the Quarter? Because he’s planning for open war?

And she’s… as ignorant as her daddy used to say.

“Oh,” she says finally. Quietly. “Okay. I can… you’ll show me?”

GM: “Yes. I will. Obviously, it’s better if you don’t have to fight at all, but it could happen. Even if you’re doing your utmost to stay out.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to think about it. Doesn’t want to think about a horde of licks coming after her because of who she chose to back. Being torn apart in the streets. Staked and left for the sun. Heart ripped out. Soul cleaved from her body.

“I’m good at hiding,” she suggests, but even to her own ears the words sound… lame.

GM: “Okay, so if you want to hide out, that’s probably a good idea. There’s almost guaranteed to be fighting at the Evergreen.”

“Coco and most of the elders have secure bolt holes, around the city. Emergency havens no one else knows about, with provisions like blood, weapons, burner phones, survival gear. Plus food and toiletries for renfields. Places they can hide out if things turn ugly and their main hangouts get compromised. I don’t know where Coco’s is—better that way.”

“Some elders, I think, don’t have bolt holes, and just focus on making their main havens as secret, fortified, and well-stocked as possible.”

Celia: She cannot help but look around the room. This was supposed to be her secret haven. But Roderick knows. And her sire knows. And if they know—it’s possible to keep a secret, but only if the other two are dead.

She hadn’t thought about it. What it would mean if Vidal fell. Somehow, she’d thought she would be safe. It’s an error that could have cost her everything. Safe place. Supplies. She can start on that, at least. Perhaps more muscle to add to her retinue should, God forbid, Randy fall.

“You have a plan, right? For you?”

GM: “I guess you could say. I’ll be in one of those war coteries.”

Celia: Is her mouth always this dry?

“You can’t.”

GM: He shakes his head.

“Someone has to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. Licks fight other licks. They can’t all sit out.”

“Wouldn’t be much of a war if everyone holed up in their havens.”

Celia: “You can’t.” She says it again, as if it will change his mind, as if her insistence has any bearing here. Her arms tighten around him. He can’t. He’ll die. She can’t lose him. Not again. Not after last time. She’d barely survived it then, and here he is talking about marching off to war. Maybe she says it out loud, that she can’t lose him, maybe she gets the words out around the ache in her jaw that makes it so hard to talk, the pressure in the corners of her eyes, the searing agony in the middle of her chest that makes it hard to even bring the air into her lungs so she can form the words.

GM: Roderick holds her close, but only shakes his head.

“This is how it is, Celia. My sire’s done a lot for me. I’ve enjoyed what a lot of licks would call significant privilege. But that isn’t free. My sire helps me out, so I have to help her out. And if things get to the point of open war, that’s when she’ll need me most.”

“And it’s not just her. If I jumped ship to Savoy, you can bet he’d expect me to fight his enemies, because I know how to fight.”

“And it’s not like I’m being press-ganged. If I acquit myself well, I’ll get rewarded. Coco says there’s usually lots of spoils to go around after a war. Just like if I turn tail and run, my name’ll be mud.”

“But for what it’s worth, if, things get to the point of open fighting, Coco said she won’t be sending me out to die in her name. She’ll fight beside me the whole time.”

“She fights her own battles, not like Vidal and Savoy. They’ll probably just hole up in Perdido House or the Evergreen and let the city’s neonates die for them.”

Celia: “If. If you do. If you win. If you don’t die. If someone doesn’t take your head off.”

She’s seen him move. A blur. A fucking blur. How do you fight a blur? You don’t. You can’t. It’s just there and then it’s not. And he’s not the only monster out there, not the only one that Roderick would be going up against.

She was that fast once, and even she was no match.

GM: “If all that happens…?”

Celua: “You said it. If. If is a… it’s a terrible word, Roderick, it’s a terrible, terrible word. Two letters but it changes everything.”

“What if you do. Sure. But what if you don’t? What if you don’t acquit yourself well because you’re dead? Because someone got to you? And I’m just supposed to—supposed to be okay with that?”

GM: He gives her a squeeze. “Well, I hope you’d be pretty sad for me, at first. But I also hope you’d learn to be okay and move on. What’s the alternative?”

Celia: Hunt down the person who killed him and make them pay. Rip them apart. With hand and claw and fang.

GM: “Now, look. All of what I’m describing might not happen,” he says assuringly. “It isn’t guaranteed. None of the elders want there to be war, for a whole bunch of reasons. It could cost them everything and elders hate taking risks that big. War is the worst case scenario.”

“But it is a possible scenario. That might be why the archon showed up, and why the elders are all preparing for it, just in case. And why I want you to prepare for it too.”

Celia: “What do you use to fight? Do you have a weapon?”

GM: “Don’t need one. I’m better at super-speed than super-strength, all that baseball practice I guess, but these things are as lethal as any stabbing instrument close up.” He holds up one of his hands. “I’ve done a lot of training, with Coco and other Anarchs.”

“I’m also a decent shot. Guns without serious stopping power are mostly useless against licks, but you never know. Still good for picking off renfields. So I’ve got a few firearms too.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. She holds up her own hand, her skin soft and supple, her nails painted in whorls of white and gold and pink, crystals dotted across them. She shows him her hand… and then the change happens. Her cuticles split. The keratin of her nails hardens. Lengthens. Becomes as sharp as any scalpel. Thick claws spring from the tips of her fingers, like a cat who has decided to finally attack the hand that rubs it. Beautiful claws, an ombre of black to red, with pointed tips that can sink into anything.

She holds it out so he can see. So he can touch. Test the sharpness for himself, if he wants.

“I can show you how.”

“Maybe they’re not good for every situation. But if it gives you an edge…”

GM: “Whoa, neat trick. I didn’t know you’d picked up morphing.”

He runs his fingers along the claws, holds them up experimentally, then smirks.

“They’re even pretty.”

Celia: “Everything I do is pretty.”

GM: “It sure is. Looks like I can show you how to fight and you can show me how to sprout claws.”

He thinks.

“They’re something I could keep in reserve. Useful if I’m pinned or on the ground and can’t leverage my full strength. Or just pop out when I’m really close to someone. Or surprise someone with them in the middle of a fight, if I suddenly change modes of attack.”

“Coco says all warfare is based on deception, like the book says, and that’s just as true in hand-to-hand fights as anywhere else.”

Celia: She waits until he’s done with them to let them sink back into her flesh. They disappear as if they had never been there, and once more her neatly manicured nails are in place.

“They have all sorts of uses. No one expects them, not really. It’s an easy trick, but an advantageous one. Like you said, deception.”

GM: “I think they expect them if you’re a Gangrel. But who does from a Brujah or Toreador?”

Celia: “Exactly.” She pauses a moment. Her hands are on his arm suddenly, pulling it from around her shoulder to across her lap. She unfastens the cuffs of his button-down shirt and slides the fabric to his elbow. Her hands splay across his forearm, the tip of her pink at his wrist, thumb extended as far as it can go. Her other hand completes the line, thumb touching to thumb, and only once the second hand is set in position does she move the first, lining it up with the crook of his elbow. She mouths a number.

Too tall. Not by much, but by too much for her to do anything with right now. She shakes her head. She’ll make another. More money. She’ll have to give the Nosferatu something besides money, then. Or borrow from Savoy. It won’t come cheaply. Maybe Pietro…? She’ll talk to him.

GM: Roderick looks puzzled, but lets her work. “What’s this for?”

Celia: “Protection.”

GM: “Okay.”

“Speaking of. How you turned into a cat earlier, you should take advantage of that if you get a safehouse. There’s all sorts of hard to find and hard to reach places a cat can get that a human can’t.”

“It’s a good form to sleep in during the day, too. Harder to stake a cat.”

Celia: “Easier to rip their heads off, though.”

She’d thought about that when he’d come charging at her earlier. How easy it would be for him to rip her apart.

“But yes. It’s useful for getting away from things and getting into things.”

GM: “It’s always better to avoid fights you don’t need. Cat form helps there.”

Celia: “I can’t sleep like that,” she admits. “I have to turn back eventually.”

“I could learn, maybe. I’ve heard it’s possible. That there are some Gangrel out there who spend more time as animals.”

She already knows how to cloak her Beast, too. She’d be just another house cat.

GM: “There’s a lot that is. If nothing else though, you could set up a a sleeping area somewhere that’s impossible to get into as a human, but easier as a cat.”

Celia: It’s something she’s been thinking about for a while, anyway.

“Yes,” she agrees, “I’m going to look into that.”

GM: “If you get an emergency haven, try not to have your real name attached to it. Well, names. Celia or Jade.”

Celia: Celia gives him a wry smile.

“This place has no name attached to it. I had a tutor once. Taught me a lot about the internet. How easy it is to track things like that. He could do some pretty scary things from a smartphone or a laptop. I try to remember what he taught me when it comes to safety.”

GM: “Okay, good. I was thinking more from a legal angle.” He thinks. “Does anyone else know about this place?”

Celia: “Oh. Explain.”

GM: “I just mean that’s what I’d do, if I were looking for someone. Try to run down as many things legally attached to their name as I could. There’s a ton of stuff you can find out about people through public records that lawyers know to look through, but a lot of people don’t.”

Celia: “That’s pretty creepy, to be honest. But also smart.”

“People think tech and records and everything are great, that we’re not giving away privacy, and sure sometimes it’s just to sell to advertisers. But then you’ve got people who really know how to look. How to dig. And it’s… it’s scary, sometimes, what someone can find out about you.”

GM: “It’s not as creepy as technology, honestly. Lot of those records have been around for a pretty long time. They’re not even that Orwellian. It is necessary to keep track of, say, what buildings are owned by what people.”

Celia: “Maybe I’ll hire you to do some digging once this whole thing blows over. There’s some land I want to develop that I keep putting off.”

GM: “There’s a fair amount of overlap between legal work and investigative work. Law firms hire PIs for things all the time. I know a bunch of them.”

“What land is that?”

Celia: “It’s in the Quarter. Savoy gave me the domain and I haven’t done much with it. I keep thinking it could be… better.”

“I mean. If I still have it after this.”

GM: “Well, it’s impossible to say for sure when a war is going to happen, or if one is even going to happen at all. So I’d keep living your unlife.”

Celia: “I know that shmuck owns a lot of land but I never did any digging into what I have.”

“That chicken guy. T-shirt guy. You know who I mean.”

GM: “The T-Shirt Czar. Pavaghi.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “Yeah, my dad doesn’t like him. I don’t like him.”

Celia: “Randy knows one of the kids. Said he’s a ‘total fucking scumbag douche with more money than brains’ and also a pig fucker.” Celia shrugs.

GM: “Also a decent bet someone that powerful has a lick behind them. No idea who it might be for Pavaghi, though.”

Celia: “Ah. Right. Well, I’m not looking to make enemies. Just develop some land.”

GM: “So you want to find out who owns it? You could actually probably do that yourself with some time on Google.”

Celia: “But then I don’t get to spend time with you.”

GM: “Ah, true. Guess the lawyer better handle it.”

Celia: She smiles at him. It’s a pretty smile, like the rest of her, and when she looks at him like that—with her face open and earnest—it’s easy to see the genuine emotion behind her eyes. Their kind are cool. Their bodies, their attitudes. But Celia has always been the exception to that rule. She’s warm where others are cold. Fire to their ice. She lets him see it: the affection. The yearning. Everything that has come up over the course of their conversation, every emotion that bubbled and gurgled, that she thought was long gone, dead and buried. She shows him.

GM: He runs a hand along her face and smiles. It looks like he needs it. Their kind may not get wrinkles, but Celia can see the weight and worry and internal struggle hanging heavy under his eyes. It’s an older sort of worry than a 31-year-old should have, and all the more out of place on his boyish college student features.

But the corners of his eyes do lift up, as he smiles at her smile.

“God, you can be so cute. In this earnest, direct, ‘yes I am cute’ way. It’s sweet and wholesome and good, and something worth protecting, and even being Kindred doesn’t take it away.”

“I think you get it from your mom. She’s really sweet, too. There’s just absolutely none of your dad in your face when you smile like that. I wouldn’t even think you were related to him.”

Celia: Her undead nature prevents her from blushing at his words. Her cheeks no longer burn like they used to, not without her consciously sending the blood there. But her lashes flutter and she leans into his hand, parting her lips to say—

Something. Something that’s cut off when he says what he does, cut off by a laugh.

“I’d hope not. ‘Jade’ shouldn’t look like either one of them.”

GM: “Your face might be different, but it’s like Coco says. Truth comes out.”

Celia: “Well I’m glad you think I’m still cute, at least. Even if you went on to compare me to my dad. Which is, decidedly, not sexy.”

“I knew a girl in grade school who people used to say looked like her dad, but then she’d come back with ‘I don’t have a mustache!’”

GM: “Ha. I wasn’t trying to be sexy, though. Beauty’s more than that.”

“Anyone can be sexy. But that smile, that kind of sweetness and inner beauty you can see shining out of someone’s face, that takes more.”

“You can’t fake that. Even though everyone wants to, wants to bottle it up and sell it and market it, but they can’t. It’s genuine.”

“I guess I’m ‘clansplaining,’ though.” He chuckles. “You’re the beauty experts.”

Celia: He thinks she’s sweet? That her beauty is inside and not just on the surface? Maybe it’s because he doesn’t know what she’s done. The terrible, terrible—

No. She’s not going to go down that line of thought. She’s not going to ruin this moment.

“Sometimes,” she says after a moment, “people tell me I’m pretty, and I just kind of… I mean, you know, like it’s just something people say, mindless flattery. But when you say it…” she touches a hand to her chest. “I feel it. And it just… makes me feel like I could fly, or something.”

GM: “Well, that’s what words should do. Lift people up. Help them soar.”

“But they can only lift up something that’s already there, that could already fly.”

Celia: She can’t go further down this line of conversation. Not without making a fool of herself. Neither one of them are ready to take that leap yet, she thinks.

Her eyes dart toward the window, though. She nods toward it.

“Should we test it?”

GM: Roderick laughs. “I’m fast, but I can’t actually fly like some licks can. Just jump really far.”

Celia: “I heard there was a lick that jumped to the moon, once.” She raises her eyebrows at him.

“Can you jump that far?”

GM: “Only if I’m carrying your heart.”

A beat.

“Okay, that sounded smoother in my head. Not, like, literally.”

Celia: “I was, uh…” She starts laughing. She can’t help it. Not at him, though. With him. There’s a difference. “I was a little alarmed,” she manages.

GM: “But, seriously. I might not be able to hit the moon, but I could get pretty far, for you.”

Celia: Uncertainty flashes across her face. Just for a moment before it’s gone again, smoothed out in the wake of such a declaration. Her insides threaten to spill outward, like a can of soft drink that someone shook too hard. It bubbles and fizzes. Her hand touches his cheek.

She wants him.

But she’ll hurt him.

She knows it. It’s a certainty inside of her. He’ll get too close and he’ll get burned. She can’t be honest with him. Hasn’t been honest with him. Minuscule, tiny lies, but they tear at her. Her father. Her sire. Threaten to eat her from the inside out.

He’s too good for her. Even standing idly by while the Calbido makes their plans to slaughter thin-bloods and hide the existence of hunters—what is that compared to the decisive action she has taken?

Maybe he’s not too good for her. He can bring her back from the brink. Unbury the part of her she thought long dead. They can be there for each other. Isn’t that what matters?

But it’s so soon. So sudden. Unless he’s just been stuffing his feelings this whole time… has he been with no one else? Alone, all alone, in this vile city of sin and debauchery and corruption? He should not be half to weary as he is. And she can help. She can make it better. Can’t she? Without burning him?

It shouldn’t hurt this much. She doesn’t have to pretend around the other. He knows exactly who she is. She’d bared her soul to him, let him see the monster.

Celia tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. All these years she’s been holding out for someone who doesn’t want her. But he’s here for her now. He wants her. Doesn’t he? Isn’t that what he means? And her sire… he’ll never want her, not the way she wants him. She could be happy with Roderick. So happy. Even the thought of losing him makes her want to dissolve into a puddle of tears.

There’s uncertainty in her eyes when she looks to him. Hesitation. Longing.

She can be good. She can be better. If it means him, she can do better, can’t she? For him?

Yes, she thinks.

“Show me,” she says.

GM: “Oh, well, not right here,” he answers a little lamely. “There’s people around. Masquerade.”

Celia: Poor choice of words, Celia reflects. She hadn’t meant for him to show her that. Just the other thing, the implication behind his statements. It’s entirely possible she’s reading too much into it, though, and only hearing what she wants to hear. Her thumb runs across his cheek bone, as if she hadn’t thought about pouncing on him just now, as if she’s capable of keeping it in her pants. It’s not even that, though. She knows it, deep down. With other people it’s just sex, human or lick, just fucking. With him it’s… it’s more than that, she doesn’t even want to fuck him, not tonight, not like the licks do. She wants intimacy.

But if he wants to show off for her, who is she to stop him? Maybe he’ll even show her how to do it.

“It’s raining,” she points out. “We could sneak off somewhere. Probably not a lot of people out.” She wonders if Savoy has found a way to waterproof his rooftop garden, if his birds and butterflies stay dry. If he’s up there now, plotting, watching over the city. If the sheriff is out there on top of that skyscraper thinking the same thing. If he’s thinking about her. He’d have felt it if she died. Wouldn’t he? Savoy had felt her Embrace, it stands to reason they’d feel her death. Maybe he knows she can take care of herself. Knows she got out. That she’s safe.

Or maybe he doesn’t care.

She shouldn’t be thinking about it, though. It doesn’t matter. Their twisted romance is a one-way street, no matter how many times she’s played those scenes over in her mind. The hallway. Her Embrace. The roof.

“The roof.” She says this last bit aloud to him. “It’s higher than most of the buildings around here. Raining, dark, no lights up there. I mean, unless someone has some night-vision binoculars or something, knows where to look.”

Do they? Do those hunters’ friends—the bad ones—do they know? Do they do that? She can only assume they do, if even the Calbido is worried.

“Maybe we shouldn’t risk it, though.”

GM: “You’re right. Maybe we wouldn’t get spotted,” he grants. “It’s just the responsible adult thing not to. Or responsible elder thing.”

But he seems to be gauging her response.

Celia: “We’re hardly elders, though. I dunno about you but I was frozen forever at 19, which is barely an adult. They only say that 18 is an adult because way back when the people paying child support didn’t want to do it past then. And technically our brains continue developing until like 25. So really, Roddy, we’re both just children and we should act accordingly. Which includes dancing on the roof in the rain, even if we don’t get up to anything fancy like pretending to be Spiderman or The Flash.”

GM: “Yeah, well, Coco says adolescence is also a modern construct. Back in the old days, you were either a man or a child. Inheriting noble titles, going to war, or having kids at 15 was perfectly normal. Life was harder. People had to grow up faster.”

He smirks and scoops up Celia in his arms, hefting one under her knees and the other around her back. He carries her up to the rain-spattered window.

“But what does she know, right?”

Celia: She thinks, for a moment, that he’s going to turn her down and is prepared to pout at him. Then she’s in his arms, her own around his neck, a giggle pulled from her lips as he carries her across the room. She reaches out to tug back the drapes, thick and heavy to prevent them from moving in the middle of the day, and slides the window open. It’s an awkward movement with just the one hand, but she manages.

“Are we jumping? And by we I mean you.”

GM: “We sure are.” He looks out the open window. Some rain is already pattering against the windowsill. “Though actually, if we’re going to be on the roof, do you want to get some shoes?”

Celia: She forces her body to sigh, long and heavy, then points towards the closet.

GM: “Oh, of course. Can’t interrupt your ride.”

He carries her over to the door.

Celia: “You’re stuck with me forever, to be honest.” But she wiggles free of his grasp so she can open the door the smallest amount, just enough to let her slip inside the walk in closet. She seems to be trying to contain whatever it is inside from spilling out—probably a literal ton of dresses, skirts, and other assorted garments—but maybe he catches sight of something white inside before she yanks the door shut. There’s some rustling from within, then she’s back in a pair of heels that look like they’re made for dancing. She even pulled a long skirt on over her leggings that swishes when she walks. It’s a silly look, with her distressed band tee, but she pulls it off.

Celia holds her arms out to him.

“Ready.”

GM: “Cute look. Makes me feel way overdressed.”

Roderick pulls off his jacket, seems to think for a moment, then folds it up and sticks it inside the fridge.

“Probably being paranoid,” he says. “But there’s some stuff in there I don’t want anyone to get, and who’d think to look in the fridge first.”

Celia: Celia lifts her brows at him.

“You smuggling drugs and porn?”

Fridge is a decent hiding place though, she has to admit. She’s heard of people putting cash and credit cards in their freezers for the same reason.

GM: “Like that’d bother any of us. ‘Just’ some sensitive papers.”

Celia: “I was just gonna say if you need a naked girl to look at. Y’know.” There’s a pause. “Internet.”

She smirks.

GM: “Also the one in front of me,” he smirks back. “Who even uses porn magazines anymore, though?”

Celia: “Nobody. I was making an old man joke.”

“Randy told me that he once found porn on his brother’s laptop. Downloaded. And he was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m related to someone who doesn’t know how to stream.’”

“Also,” her gaze sweeps the apartment, “this place is pretty wrecked. If anyone broke in I bet they’d be like, we’re too late, boys.”

GM: “Hey, might not be that dumb. Some porn gets taken down. Some of it is taken from sites with a paid subscription uploaded to free sites. Or it just disappears for some other reason.”

Celia: “Spoken like a man who’s used to using his hand. The kine way still do it for you?”

GM: “You kidding? I haven’t looked at porn since before I was turned.”

Celia: “Mhm, mhm. I won’t tell.”

“Wait. Did you watch porn when we were together?”

GM: “Sometimes,” he answers a little defensively. “When you couldn’t come over and I was horny.”

Celia: “Oh. I’m not mad. I’m just curious.” Her grin is salacious. “What kind?”

GM: “Oh, uh, mostly pretty tame stuff, honestly. Lot of lesbian porn.”

Celia: “They seem more into it in lesbian porn.”

GM: “You think they do? I didn’t notice.”

Celia: “Did we ever… I mean, was there ever anything you wanted us to do that we didn’t?”

GM: “I don’t think so. My tastes were pretty vanilla.”

Celia: “Were?”

GM: “I suppose they still are. Like, I’m happy just to drink someone’s blood. I don’t need them to do any of the really kink shit you hear some licks are into.”

“Or the really sadistic shit. Like, your sire’s idea of a good time.”

Celia: She wonders whose blood he’s been drinking and decides it’s better not to ask.

“Ah, yeah, she’s… yeah.”

GM: “Yeah. Do you still… get off to it, the breather way?”

Celia: “Um.”

GM: “You told me earlier, remember? That just seems… so weird.”

Celia: Celia shrugs. She glances away from him. It is weird. She knows that. All of the rest of them don’t, but she’s still… something. Human enough, maybe, even though she hates that term. She is human. She’s just also a vampire. Becoming one doesn’t mean the other is null and void; it’s like a square is a rectangle and all that. She breathes, she has a heartbeat, she’s warm.

She’s a fucking weirdo.

“Yeah, I guess.”

GM: “Sorry. Didn’t mean to shame you for it. I mean, compared to the other shit licks can get up to, it’s harmless.”

Celia: Her eyes find her toes, visible despite the heels. Pink polish. One of her arms crosses her stomach to rub the other.

“That… that hunter…”

GM: “He… did he rape you?”

Celia: She doesn’t look at him. She lifts her shoulders in a motion that might be a shrug, though it’s a weak thing, barely a movement at all. Her hair falls in front of her face and she doesn’t make a move to shove it back.

GM: He hugs her. Holds her against his chest, runs a hand along her hair.

“I’m sorry. That’s so fucked up.”

Celia: “He just… I was tied down, and he… he like, he was choking me, which doesn’t… like it doesn’t do anything, but then he just kept… he just kept calling me his little vampire whore, and that he’d fuck me forever, and it was…”

GM: She feels the Brujah’s hands tighten.

“What happened to him, if you got out?”

Celia: “I… I killed him.”

The words are a whisper against his chest. Her head shakes back and forth, as if to deny that it happened, as if to say there was no other way. She didn’t have a choice. Her or them.

GM: He continues to hold her tight, running his hand up and down. “It was self-defense. Against a rapist who also probably wanted to kill you. Even under breather laws, that’s perfectly legal. If you’d emptied a gun into your dad’s head during any of the twisted things he did, I sure wouldn’t have blamed you.”

“God, and they say we’re the monsters. That’s just… so fucked up. It never even occurred to me a hunter might do something like that.”

Celia: “He kept saying that they were the nice hunters, while they… did all that. And they were going to give me to someone else.”

GM: Roderick looks curious. “Really? Who? I wonder if…”

Celia: “If what?”

GM: “There’s just been a lot of… talk about hunters lately.”

Celia: She pulls back enough to look up at him. The question is plain on her face.

GM: “There was a major attack on Vienna, a few months back. By hunters. There’s been reports from other cities, too.”

Celia: Is that why the archon had disappeared? She’d never gotten to show him how far she’d come with the face he’d told her to practice. Had he been killed?

“Why does nobody know? Why is this… why is this the first I’m hearing from someone about it?”

GM: “I guess it depends who you’re talking to. But so far it hasn’t really seemed to be a problem in New Orleans. Ocean away, right?”

“The Tremere seem to be trying to cover it up. Acting like everything is fine.”

Celia: "Why? What does that net them? Hunters are an everyone problem. “Not a faction problem, not a clan problem.”

GM: “My guess would be they don’t want to seem weak. I’m really not sure of the details.”

Celia: “That’s ridiculous!”

GM: “Well, that’s Kindred politics. The Tremere primogen, Steinhäuser…” He pauses. “Ah, I shouldn’t talk about it.”

“If you know any grayfaces, ask them about it. Seems like a way to really freak them out.”

Celia: “If you’re not going to tell me I doubt they will,” she huffs, pulling back to cross her arms. “Politics. Letting people die because they don’t know because of politics.”

GM: “Look, anything I know about hunters, I’d tell you. It was just about Steinhäuser herself, nothing to do with hunters.”

Celia: The words seem to deflate her.

“Okay,” she says quietly. The levity from moments ago is gone; she wishes she’d kept her mouth shut about the stupid hunter.

GM: He rubs her back.

“So what did that hunter say, about who he wanted to hand you off to? Any details?”

Celia: “No. I tried to press them for information and the girl kept saying that I shouldn’t hear it and he kept saying that it didn’t matter. And that they’re not ‘enemies,’ but she ‘doubts they’ll help.’”

GM: “Hm. That’s too bad. I was going to ask, if you thought this sounded serious enough, if you wanted to present what you have to the primogen.”

Celia: “To the… to Coco?”

GM: “To the Cabildo as a whole. But, might be moot. They don’t like having guest speakers unless it’s for something they think is really serious.”

Celia: Her almost dying isn’t even serious enough for her sire. She doubts the Calbido will give a fuck.

“Oh.”

GM: “I’m just wondering if this might tie into the increased hunter activity in other cities.”

Celia: Of course it does.

She just still needs to work the angle to figure what she can get out of it.

GM: “But they might’ve also just meant some other group of nastier hunters. Hunter attacks have always been a thing.”

“I’ll tell Coco about this, though.”

Celia: “I wish you wouldn’t. I don’t need people knowing I messed up enough to get picked up.”

GM: “Isn’t that what you were just criticizing the Tremere for, not sharing information because it makes them look bad?”

Celia: “The hunters that picked me up are dead. Both of them.”

GM: “Sure, you just said there were other hunters they seemed to be in contact with, and wanted to hand you over to.”

“Why even do that? Why not just ash you? Or if they were going to interrogate you, do that themselves?”

Celia: “And then what if she tells other people, and then it gets out that ‘Celia’ is a lick, and then they find my family?”

“They tried.” She snorts. “They failed. I hit them with star mode.”

GM: “Coco hasn’t told anyone you’re Celia. She calls you Jade.”

Celia: “Oh. Well that’s… I appreciate that.”

GM: “I’ve told her that your mom and Emily are good people, that I don’t want to see them hurt. And also that they were raising Lucy, who for two years I thought might have been my kid.”

“She doesn’t have any reason to go around blathering you’re Celia. All that does is endanger them.”

Celia: She’s quiet for a moment, taking that in. Thinking about what might have been. Finally, she says, “Thank you.”

Even if he hadn’t done it for her, she can appreciate what he’d done for her.

“I don’t even know what I’d do if they…” She shakes her head. “I don’t want to even think about something happening to them because of me.”

GM: “Do you have a plan for them, if that happens? How many other licks know you’re Celia?”

Celia: “Ah… not a lot. Savoy, Preston, Lebeaux. You and Coco. Veronica. Pietro. And… there’s a fledgling… I, um. Remember how I said, earlier, about trespassing?”

“I think the seneschal might,” she says after a moment, “since Veronica had to get permission and all.”

More people than she realized, and she hasn’t even named the sheriff yet.

GM: “That’s, uh, a fair few.”

“You might ask Veronica if the seneschal knows. I mean, usually, you don’t tell the prince what specific kine you want to Embrace, just that you want to take a childe.”

Celia: Except that Veronica probably did have to name her, since they’d needed to find out if she was spoken for by Donovan. Otherwise how do they even know that Celia is illegal?

GM: “Who’s the fledgling?”

Celia: Unless she isn’t. And Donovan did have permission, and Veronica was vague, and then… no, but she’d been presented as Veronica’s childe… but maybe Donovan just said he changed his mind.

It’s a whole new problem she hadn’t even considered. That maybe she’s not an accident.

“Uh, Caroline. We went to college together. Sort of. Malveaux-Devillers.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “Her? How does she know?”

Celia: “She… so my mom, right, she teaches dance, and I guess the Devillers hired her to teach their youngest at home. And she’s been real finicky since the shooting in August, one of her sisters was shot, Cécilia told me about it. So my mom was telling me and I thought I’d put together like a little gift basket for her of spa stuff, but then they invited me over, and I’m… pretty good at passing as a breather, you know, I can mask my Beast, so I figure why not, but then Caroline was there, and of course now I’m like why wouldn’t she be there if that’s her family, but I guess I thought since it was in the Garden District, like, why would she be, you know?”

GM: “Wait, you went to the Garden District? That’s Vidal’s personal territory!”

Celia: “Yeah, well, I was in Tulane a few nights ago too.”

“…wait, don’t tell anyone that. I wasn’t poaching. I swear.”

GM: “Jesus! Celia, poaching, trespassing, whatever, it’s like shoplifting. Do it once, you can probably get away with it, but the odds go up every time you do. Eventually they bust you.”

Celia: “Yeah, so, that’s how Caroline knows.”

GM: “Well, you think she was fooled, if you’re pretty good at passing?”

Celia: “Uhh… no.”

GM: “Maybe… you aren’t so good at passing.”

Celia: “Uh… well, so like, I thought she was going to mindscrew me so I… so I kind of… revealed myself so she didn’t.”

GM: “That’s… why would she be mindscrewing you, if you’re just a breather there for spa stuff?”

He shakes his head. “Okay, I guess it doesn’t matter. Ventrue being Ventrue.”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: He thinks. “Maybe you should get some dirt on her, to make sure she can’t use this against you.”

“Like, was she also in the Garden District without permission? Because Vidal wouldn’t give a rat’s ass if she just wanted to visit her family. It’s being a bad Sanctified, too. They aren’t supposed to have breather families.”

Celia: “I don’t know. I didn’t really ask. But… you’re right, maybe. I mean, my mom wanted to move there and I had to talk her out of it because Lebeaux told me I’d never get to see her if so.”

GM: “Uh, yeah, your mom living there would be a fucking horrible idea.”

Celia: “She told me… she told me that her family helped cover up the scandal with the tape. With my dad. That she helped.”

GM: “I wish I could say I was surprised. Your dad was her dad’s #2 man. I bet he would try to bury that.”

Celia: “I know. I guess I was just surprised she told me. Like she was confessing. Or something.”

GM: “Guilty conscience, maybe.”

Celia: “Maybe,” she says. “I’m supposed to do all the makeup and stuff for her sister’s wedding so I’m just trying to figure out how to swing that, or if I’m going to have to cancel. And I’m worried about my mom going into the Garden District so much, even though no one really has a reason to bother her. It just makes me wary.”

GM: “I’d just cancel. Why get any more involved?”

“And, yeah. That’s a problem when she works there. Though at least it’s during the day. I dunno what to do there unless you think you can get her to take another job somewhere else.”

Celia: “She’s still at McGehee. She just does this on the side.”

GM: “I figured she was. Imagine she wouldn’t want to quit, either.”

Celia: “Sometimes I wonder how I managed to make it to 19, being so ignorant about everything that really goes on. Trying to keep them all safe, it’s like… it’s like a juggling act, sometimes, and I’m just waiting to drop one of them.”

GM: “You’ve kept it up for seven years.”

By this time they’ve sat back down on the re-righted couch.

Celia: “I don’t have a plan for them, to answer your earlier question. I have no idea what to do with them.”

GM: “Well, ideally, let them live their lives. I mean in case other licks try to use them against you. Like, say, Caroline.”

“Actually, she’s probably your biggest danger there.”

Celia: “More than Donovan, you think?”

GM: “Wait, Donovan how?”

Celia: “I told you he owns my dad. What if he just… I dunno, goes after her. Finds out about… you know.”

Lucy.

GM: “He doesn’t have any reason to go after your mom. She hasn’t done anything to him. Lucy even less.”

“Though maybe if things hit the news. So keep them out, and don’t let your dad find out Lucy’s his. So long as the sheriff doesn’t know Celia’s a vampire, you’re probably safe.”

“It’s Caroline I’d be worried about. Because I think she’s desperate. She comes from two extremely privileged families and is used to being on top of the world, right?”

“But her sire’s a renegade hound executed for crimes against the prince, so she’s a sireless nobody. At the bottom of the heap. That has to grate anyone’s ego. She’s gotten in trouble with the Anarchs a couple times.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “A while back, she poached in Mid-City. There was a bunch of drama over that with the Eight-Nine-Six krewe. You had to have heard all that with Veronica, though, I won’t go over it. Personally, I think they were a bunch of meatheads who’d have probably jumped into bed with Savoy over the trial. There’s a reason Coco hasn’t really retaliated for her role in their deaths.”

“She’s also been an ass to Max and Jonah. That’s been talked about. She showed up to their bar this one time, sort of… apologizing without actually apologizing, for everything with Eight-Nine-Six earlier, and trying to sell them on some kind of business deal or get them to work for her or something.”

Celia: “…what?”

She can’t help the incredulous laughter.

GM: Roderick laughs with her. “Ventrue, right?”

Celia: “Honestly, I mostly can’t stand them. They think they own everything. And that they’re better than everyone.”

GM: “I can stand Chris, except when I can’t.”

Celia: “He seems like an ass.”

GM: “At least he’s our ass. But I’m not done.”

Cela: “Oh, go on.”

GM: “So, she shows up to Max’s and Jonah’s bar again. And, it’s over that whole thing with David Hansen. Who I hear you torries are always making fun of.”

Celia: “We are, indeed, a hive mind.” She rolls her eyes at him, then makes a motion for him to continue.

GM: “He’d gotten in some trouble and needed Max to come bail him out, but you’ve probably heard that whole story too already. Max did say Caroline tipped her off about David. So, credit where credit’s due there.”

“But she was an enormous bitch about it. Like, as soon as she had something Max wanted… she was just waltzing into the bar, talking down to Max like a fledgling, and said she wouldn’t even finish the conversation in the bar, because it was beneath her, and that Max needed to come schedule an audience at her haven, if she wanted to hear the rest.”

Celia: “…wow.”

GM: Roderick laughs.

“Yeah.”

Celia: Even now, Celia doesn’t pull that kind of bullshit.

“That’s… wow. I can’t even find words.”

GM: “She’s lucky Max didn’t just beat her senseless and throw her out on the curb.”

Celia: “She didn’t actually meet with her afterward, did she?”

GM: “Good god, no. She wasn’t going to take that shit.”

“Seriously, now that Veronica, Shep, and Pietro are in bed with Savoy, it’s Max, Jonah and Parker who are basically the #2s under Coco and Opal. They’re old hands. They’ve done a lot for the Movement, for decades.”

“If Coco and Opal got taken out, we’d look to them for leadership, and Max probably more than Jonah. Jonah’s a great guy, he just isn’t as much of a speaker and rabble-rouser as she is. Prefers to let her do the talking.”

“It says a lot, anyway, that even a months-old Ventrue would treat some of our senior people like dirty-faced greenfangs.”

Celia: “What about you?” Celia asks him. “I mean, not like… not now, but eventually.”

GM: “Oh, eventually, I hope so. I try to do a lot for the Movement, too. But I’ll freely admit I haven’t done as much as they have.”

Celia: “No, I know, I was just curious, I guess, about your future plans.”

GM: Some of the levity on his face seems to die. “Ah. Well. I guess that’ll depend on…”

Dani.

“Okay, I’d kind of prefer to just shit-talk a Ventrue for the time we have left,” he says, a little sourly.

Celia: “Does that mean we’re not going dancing? Because I can take your mind off things if you want to let me spin you around.”

GM: “I have to get ahold of Ayame. Just like you have to get ahold of Dani, and check on things with Savoy, and… everything else that’s going on in our unlives.”

Celia: “Tonight?”

GM: “Absolutely. You don’t have forever before Savoy asks if you’ve been working me.”

“But, Caroline. Last thing about her, because she’s actually relevant to you.”

“Like I’ve said, she’s from a background that’s as privileged as you can get in this city, and she’s basically lost it all with her Embrace. Had to start over from the bottom. That has to grate anyone’s ego.”

“And we see it with the Anarchs. She’s trying to… I guess make friends, but just can’t do it in a non-Ventrue way, because she sees us all as beneath her.”

“Credit to her, she did also solve a lot of Desirae Wells’ whole mystery. You probably heard about that too. And a little while back, she also found this abandoned Brujah fledgling she brought to Coco. I was there for that. Credit again. She wasn’t as big a bitch to Coco, I think, because primogen.”

“But she’s either done or tried to do a fair amount of stuff with the Anarchs. So, why?”

“I think her ego can’t handle being at the bottom of the Sanctified or the Invictus. She’d rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. That also might be why she’s wanted to do Anarchs favors and get us to owe her, rather than joining up with the Movement. We’re not as bad as the First or Second Estate, when it comes to how we treat newbies, but she’d still be the new kid. She couldn’t handle being that when she sees us as beneath her.”

“Oh yeah, actually, Isa Suarez went over to her haven once. I think Caroline wanted to do something for her too. Like I said, wants to do everyone favors.”

“But I think she’s desperate. There was that whole fight she got into with Caitlin Meadows. Any sane lick as young as her would’ve just ran. Isa’s renfield, who survived, said she attacked Meadows with a whole mob of other renfields. So, I guess kudos to her, if she’s tough enough not to just get torn apart. But that’s nuts. Why would she even get into a fight with Meadows like that? She couldn’t have thought she’d actually win.”

“Here’s what I think. I think she’s going crazy, going from so high to so low. That she’ll do absolutely anything to be on top again, whatever it costs her.”

“And… I think she might try to use your family against you. Because she’s hungry to seize absolutely any edge she can.”

Celia: Well, fuck.

GM: “But, I’ll admit I’ve never really talked with her, either. What was your take?”

Celia: “Needy. She made noise about seeing me again. Invited me to her haven, like she did all the others. But she seemed… I don’t know, I grew up with her, sort of, our dads and everything. One of the last nights I was alive she offered to teach me how to shoot, there was this whole thing with a gun on campus.”

She waves her hand. “Said she’s been stressed, really, that there’s always something new vying for her attention. Seemed to really care for her sisters, though. You should have seen it, I like… I went to touch the youngest one to do the makeup stuff and she was just… hovering. It was kind of weird, honestly.”

GM: “Huh. Maybe they’re what’s keeping her sane.”

“Scratch that. They have to be what’s keeping her sane.”

Roderick’s face isn’t without bitterness.

“I’d have given a lot, just to be able to hang out with Dani. And maybe I’d have gotten pretty protective too, especially with another lick around.”

Celia: “She didn’t know, at that point. But yeah.”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “Emily mentioned going to her party. A few months back. I was… it was not a good night for me. But I couldn’t talk her out of it.”

GM: “Oh? How’d that go?”

Celia: “Seemed fine. I checked her over after. She laughed at me and pushed me off and told me I was being silly. I just remember… college, you know, when she used to come home tired, or disappear for nights, and I just… it made me crazy, when I found out what was going on, what was actually going on, and how close I was to it, and it could have been me. And it’s not even that, like yeah that would have sucked, but it was happening to you and her and I just… I couldn’t do anything because I didn’t know.”

GM: “Ventrue are picky eaters. Maybe Emily doesn’t do it for her.”

Celia: “I just don’t want her around it at all. Ever.”

GM: Roderick nods. “Better safe than sorry.”

Celia: “I don’t want to think about someone losing control.”

GM: “What do you want to do about Caroline, though, if she tries to use your mom or Lucy against you?”

Celia: Kill her, obviously.

“I don’t know. I’m trying to think how she’d do it.”

GM: “I’m not sure how she would either, especially if she knows nothing about you. Celia is invisible to the city’s licks.”

“Actually, that’s probably the first thing I’d try to do, if I was her. Gather more information about you.”

Celia: “Too many people know. Fuck, Roderick. What am I going to do? She can find out, connect me back to Jade. I mean the identity I built is good but it’s not that good.”

GM: “The truth can always come out with enough digging. There isn’t a foolproof cover-up.”

He thinks.

“Okay, there’s maybe a couple things you can do.”

“If things get really bad, maybe a plan to get your family out of the city. Uproots their lives, but beats losing their lives.”

“I could also get closer to Caroline for you, if you think that’d help. She seems pretty eager to make friends with Anarchs.”

Celia: “What, like, seduce her?”

GM: “Uh, hadn’t been my first thought. Just to keep a better eye on her. Let her feel like she’s making inroads somewhere, and distract her from trying to do anything with you.”

Celia: “Maybe. I guess I just… if this is my mess, I don’t want you to get in the line of fire or anything. If something happened to you because you were doing something for me…” she squeezes his hand. Her grip isn’t nearly as strong enough as his, but right now she feels like she could crush a brick. “There’s just something off about her, and it worries me.”

GM: Roderick squeezes her hand back. “Relax. She and her renfields went up against Meadows, so I’m not going to say she’s a pushover, but I still like my odds against her one-on-one.”

Celia: “I’m, ah… she’s fast.”

GM: “So am I.”

Celia: “Faster than any fledgling has a right to be.”

GM: “Oh?”

Celia: “Yeah. It’s… remember how you said the sheriff was a blur? Like, ah, like that.”

GM: “Well, any lick with superspeed can seem like a blur around breathers. It does give them bad munchies, though, if they’re not as fast as the sheriff.”

Celia: “She’s fast enough to share it.”

GM: Roderick frowns. “You mean, make other people faster?”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “Huh. I’m… close to that, but I’ll admit I’m not that fast.”

“That’s a fairly advanced trick.”

Celia: “That’s what I mean. It’s just off.”

GM: Roderick’s frown deepens.

“So, I can think of two answers.”

“One, she’s just a natural at it. Sometimes licks really are that good at a discipline. Prodigies from a young age. Might even be giving her an ego trip.”

Celia: “And the second?”

GM: “Two, her sire’s actually someone like Maldonato or the prince.”

Roderick grins at his joke.

Celia: “…the… you think? With the Garden District?”

GM: “What? No, I was kidding.”

Celia: “What if it’s true, though?”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “She wouldn’t be trying to make friends with a bunch of Anarchs if she had a sire like mine. She’d have a cushy spot in their club.”

Celia: “Maybe.”

Celia has a cushy spot because of her grandsire, but she doesn’t point that out.

GM: “It might also be some other… I don’t know, supernatural thing. It’s a dark and scary world out there and I don’t understand everything about it. I don’t think any of us do.”

“But I’ll ask Coco about Caroline. Maybe she’ll have an idea.”

Celia: “I don’t want it to get back to her that I’m sniffing around. I’m not trying to make enemies.”

“But if you think Coco can help… I mean, I can talk to Savoy, see if he has an idea.”

GM: “It won’t get back to her. Coco isn’t a blabbermouth.”

“I don’t think Savoy would be willing to entertain random questions from you, even if he’s pretty approachable.”

“Just how it is with elders. You only get to hang out if you’re another elder or one of their kids.”

Celia: “Yeah.” She sighs. “I’ll handle it. I just… I’d prefer to keep this on the down low, I guess. I mean. What if she is someone important’s childe, then I’m boned.”

GM: “Yeah, but she’s not. She wouldn’t be out on the streets like she’s been.”

Celia: He’s not the one who tasted that super, super potent blood in her system, though.

“Okay, but what if she is? Like hypothetically.”

GM: “Well, if she is, she’s not out on the streets with other plebs.”

“But okay, you’re saying what if someone like Becky Lynne found out about your family.”

Celia: “Sure.”

GM: “That’s trickier. I’d make plans to get them out.”

Celia: “I don’t even know where I’d send them that’s safe. There’s licks everywhere. They’d need new identities, new jobs, new everything.”

GM: “Sure, but in another city they’re useless as leverage to licks who aren’t involved with New Orleans politics. They’re less attractive targets. That doesn’t make them 100% safe, but there’s no such thing as perfectly safe. Just more safe.”

Celia: “And now I’m like, ‘what if the rats know?’ Because someone told me once that they know everything, and then that’s even more people.”

GM: “That’s… usually a good assumption to make. They know a lot. They have ears everywhere. They’ve probably spied on your salon before.”

Celia: The thought fills her with disgust.

GM: “But as far as your family… Lucy doesn’t need a job, but I know doctors can move around a lot. Emily might have to move for her residency, anyway.”

She had brought that up.

“Dunno about your mom, though. I don’t know anything about the job market for dance teachers.”

Celia: “Probably not thriving.”

GM: Roderick pulls out his phone and taps into it.

“‘Overall employment of dancers and choreographers is projected to grow 6 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations,’” he reads. “Hm, that’s not teachers, though.”

“Losing her seniority at McGehee would be a hit. Too bad she still can’t actually dance, I imagine dancers move around a lot.”

Celia: “Even if she could, young woman’s game.”

She’s thought about it. Making her mom younger. Giving her eternal youth.

But that’s all it will ever be: a thought.

“I’ll figure it out. Maybe just send them with Emily when she moves.”

GM: “Getting them away from your dad couldn’t hurt, either.”

Roderick glances back at his phone.

“Whoa. I’ve loved… reconnecting, but the night doesn’t wait for anyone.”

Celia: So much for spending the day at his place.

She nods, though, because she gets it.

GM: “I can pick you up if you still want to stay at my haven today, but I have to run.”

Celia: “Yeah, that’s fine. I get it.” Celia might even manage to keep the disappointment out of her voice. “I should get back to the Evergreen anyway.”

GM: “Okay, is that a yes, or you feel safe staying somewhere else?”

Celia: Is it needy to tell him she’d like to stay with him? Probably. But he’d invited her.

“Yeah, if you don’t mind me staying with you tomorrow.”

GM: “All right. I’ll pick you up at 5 AM.”

Celia: “Perfect.” She smiles at him. “Roderick… be safe out there, yeah?”

GM: He pulls out his jacket from the fridge and slips it on, then his overcoat.

He gives her a hug. “I’ll do my best. And you, too.”

Celia: “Well, I mean, with luck it’s only going to be a few hours.” She doesn’t mean to cling to him, but maybe she does for a moment longer than she needs to, cheek pressed against his chest. “I’ll see you in a bit, then.”

She pulls back far enough to touch a hand to his cheek. Her heart swells. She can’t keep the smile from her face as she gazes up at him. Too soon. Too soon to tell him that he’d awoken everything inside of her that had once been there, everything she thought was dead. Soon, though.

They have forever, after all.


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Story Twelve, Caroline IX

“I am proud of the honor I have done my sire’s memory.”
Fatimah al-Lam’a


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline returns to Perdido House with Kâmil and Gisèlle after taking leave from her family. Congo spends some time showing Caroline different residential units and office spaces available in the skyscraper’s upper floors for her to consider for her assorted needs.

Like most skyscrapers, the ghoul explains, Perdido House has a large variety of commercial and residential tenants on its floors. Many tenants are related to Vidal’s and Maldonato’s business interests, though more of them are not. Even the two elders cannot possibly exert a controlling hand over all of the 40-story building’s inhabitants, nor do they wish to. It is better that other Kindred cannot be sure which of the building’s kine work for the prince and which do not.

Caroline: Caroline makes note of several office spaces and residential locations, asking a few probing questions about renovations. She seems far more interested in the former than the latter.

She takes note of and agrees with the wisdom of obsfucating exactly what is under their influence and what is free if it.

GM: “I am to believe higher floors are considered a status symbol among law firms,” Congo states. He shows Caroline some currently vacant sections of several 30-plus floors. They look much the same as any others she might expect to see in a downtown skyscraper. Renovations will be little trouble to arrange.

Caroline: “A departure from days of old, I’m told, in which higher towers were a form of banishment, a mark of your lack of importance and distance from the court,” Caroline smiles, strolling through an undeveloped space. She mentally draws floorplans as she goes.

GM: The ghoul smiles faintly back. “In olden times, a lord’s hall and hearth were the center of his power. In the era before Charlemagne, it was not uncommon for a lord’s family to sleep in the great hall alongside the servants. There was little privacy or comfort in these arrangements, but there was even less in a high tower.”

Caroline: “Funny how things change. And they don’t.”

GM: “Mankind has always yearned for the heavens. Only in recent years has he been able to make his abode there.”

Caroline: “Is that why my sire chose a skyscraper?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I would speculate your sire chooses it because it is what the lords of today’s era now choose, Miss Malveaux-Devillers. The skyscraper is the castle of the 21st century, and it is a poor lord without a castle.”

Caroline: “Touching the face of God is a fringe benefit.”

GM: “I believe your sire would frown upon such hubris, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, and perhaps state that the finite cannot touch the infinite. The prince himself holds little love for the American Quarter, as does my domitor. Both make their personal havens in the Garden and Lower Garden Districts, respectively.”

“But should business keep them overday, or should they believe their principle havens compromised, they maintain secondary havens in Perdido House.”

Caroline: And has he had much use for it of late? Caroline wonders.

“He’s possessed of many contradictions,” she observes. “Pride and humility.”

“Where do your tastes lie, Mr. Congo?”

GM: “I believe your sire to take great pride in his service to God, church, sect, and clan, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but little in himself as an individual.”

“I believe my experiences to have taught me humility, through which I hope to have been of greater service to my domitor. Pride may be a sin to all, but it is perhaps better-suited to take root in kings than chamberlains.”

Caroline: Caroline breaks from her mental map to flash him a smile over her shoulder. “Insightful, Mr. Congo, and appreciated. But I was more modestly asking about your tastes in the city.”

GM: “I also find much to appreciate in the Garden District, but my own tastes run closer to Faubourg Tremé. In another life, I might have made a home there.”

Congo also raises the matter of an office space for Caroline. As she has seen, Maldonato and Bishop Malveaux maintain offices in Perdido House wherein they meet with other Kindred and conduct many of their affairs. Prince Vidal, Sheriff Donovan, Primogen Hurst, Mother Doriocourt, and a number of other Sanctified and their ghouls also have offices in the building, some used more frequently than others. (Hound Wright rarely avails himself of his.)

Congo inquires whether Caroline has any preferences or specifications for her office space, or whether she would prefer to leave such to him.

Caroline: The Ventrue seems surprised by the suggestion, and admits that her initial inclination had been to make use of her office with the firm.

“I suppose that has the potential to cause some problems, though,” she admits.

GM: “They are likely not insurmountable problems, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but there is little reason to surmount them if we do not have to.”

Congo then tells her something else about her new office.

Caroline: “That explains why Perdido House has always felt so disorienting.” She flashes the ancient ghoul another smile.

“I imagine that must take a great deal of effort—I’d add to it as little as possible. A plain desk, a handful of comfortable chairs, and writing materials are all I require.”

GM: Congo smiles faintly back. “You have seen my domitor’s office, madam. Its contents, too, are subject to this security protocol.”

Caroline: “A being of greater refinement than I.” She runs her tongue across her fangs. “Perhaps in time my vanity or tastes shall grow. But not this night.”

GM: “Perhaps in time, madam,” the ghoul echoes.

Congo explains this aspect of Perdido House’s security in greater detail, as well as what Vidal and Maldonato have done conceal its existence from Kindred visitors to the skyscraper.

“This security protocol is unknown outside of your sire’s inner circle, which he now counts you among. Your sire expects it to remain unknown.”

Caroline: The Ventrue takes that revelation in and falls silent: not for the first time in the last few nights.

The system is far from infallible, but it does make assassination attempts or any type of assault require significantly more coordination. Attackers could easily forget or assume key details. It also makes any Kindred present for such an attack much more immediately and obviously complicit.

She knows Ferris would endorse even more comprehensive measures. She’s not certain he’s correct, given the prince’s power. The threat of the counter blow in response to any attack in Perdido House—one that could be carefully tailored—is a strength few mortal power brokers could ever wield so effectively.

As much as secrecy and unpredictability, accountability is important, especially for a ruler. To be the king of the jungle others must believe that you are, and there can be no doubt.

GM: She also recalls Ferris saying it seemed like a coin toss to him whether the prince or the ‘insurgency’ would come out on top.

But his mind is not her sire’s.

Caroline: “The prince’s secrets are my secrets.”

The words are plainly spoken, and belie the pride having been brought into that inner circle brings.

GM: “Very good, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” Congo replies.

“The next matter I would attend to is that of your haven within the building.”

“There are a variety of residential units available for such a purpose, not all of which are listed in the building schematics and directories. Havens located in non-residential areas may also be arranged.”

Caroline: “I need little in that regard, Mr. Congo,” Caroline replies. “A few concealed chambers within the firm’s floor may be the most expeditious.”

GM: “Expeditious, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but perhaps less secure than it might be. Were I an agent of our prince’s foes, and had I infiltrated Perdido House to assassinate the prince’s childe, I would begin my search for her haven in a mortal business connected to her.”

“Even if I did not expect to find that haven in Monument Law’s offices, I would still consider it worthwhile to search them while I was in the building.”

Caroline: “I was counting on it, Mr. Congo,” Caroline answers.

“On any given day I expect such an effort, even if successful in breaching the most heavily fortified building in the city, to achieve its goal no more than one day in three.”

GM: “I do not believe it probable that an infiltrator will breach the building and locate your haven within Monument Law’s offices, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, but no fortress is unassailable.”

“Yet if you share in this assessment, and still wish your haven located therein, I will make the necessary arrangements.”

Caroline: “A lion cannot fear the hyenas. Let them come if they dare,” she decides after a few moments of thought.

GM: Congo inclines his head. “It shall be as you wish, Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: When Maldonato is available, he receives Caroline in his office. Both of the ghouls are not instructed to leave. He inquires as to “Miss Baker’s present status” and states “very good” at the Ventrue’s answer before requesting,

“Please close your eyes, Miss Malveaux, and place your hand across my desk.”

Caroline: Caroline identifies several apartments and rooms that might serve her personal needs. Most are relatively severe affairs, and makes small talk as much as Congo will facilitate.

When she’s brought before Maldonato she’s in better spirits for it than when she arrived. The Ventrue seems relieved by the seneschal’s approval over the state of Jocelyn, and not just for his praise. Perhaps vindicated.

She does as the seneschal asks, feeling perhaps a little childish as she does so. Her left hand seeks out the ancient Moor’s desk.

GM: Caroline feels the seneschal’s hand take hers, then loses all sensation in her body. She does not feel the chair against her legs, her clothes against her skin, or even her hair against her head. There’s just nothing.

Caroline: The sensation demands she open her eyes, she look around, but she fights back the urge. Instead she remains still, quietly listening, not even her breathing to distract her. She listens for the sounds of the building, for gentle breaths of Kâmil and Gisèlle.

GM: The ghouls’ breathing and steady heartbeats are audible to her newly-keen senses.

“You may open your eyes, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: She does so.

GM: She sees two of herselves. The first Caroline is a translucent, ghostly copy of her own body. A silvery cord runs from its back into the second Caroline’s heart. Its eyes stare vacantly ahead, an empty house with no lights on.

Caroline: It’s not the first time she’s looked down on her corpse. The effect is no less disconcerting the second time.

GM: She looks across the desk and sees two copies of Maldonato. The first, corporeal entity shares the same vacant expression as her ‘other’ self. Its hand is still clasped around the ‘other’ Caroline’s. A silvery cord connects the seneschal’s second body, ghostly and translucent like hers, to his corporeal body.

“Kâmil, Gisèlle, you will guard our bodies until our return,” he states.

The two ghouls incline their heads.

Maldonato stretches out a ghostly hand to take Caroline’s. It feels solid to her, but there is no skin-like texture to it, merely a muted sensation of physical matter. Almost like condensed cloud.

“A long journey awaits us, Miss Malveaux. If you lose my hand while we are in transit, I cannot guarantee my ability to retrieve you. It may then be some time before your physical and spiritual selves are reunited.”

Caroline: “Then I shall not allow that to happen, seneschal,” Caroline replies.

A long journey where?

GM: The two rise from their feet and float through the office’s window. They float higher. A breathtaking view of glittering cityscape stretches out beneath them, and endless night sky above.

Caroline: If she had breath to be taken, it might do so, instead Caroline simply takes in the vista with unnatural acuity as they rise. The experience makes her almost giddy.

Flying. Actually flying. It’s a dream every child has. A smile sneaks its way onto her face.

She wonders how many nights the seneschal spends his doing this, floating the world. No doubt it is tempting any without existing agendas.

GM: “That man is richest whose pleasures are cheapest, so it is said,” Maldonato states as the city grows smaller beneath their translucent feet. The countless streams of cars and people resemble nothing so much as brightly lit ants, all scurrying about equally countless errands that seem of such minor consequence.

Caroline: “Let it never be said that a Requiem is without its pleasures,” Caroline agrees, hand in hand with him, watching the world fade away. “How many nights spent aloft on the winds, seneschal? I can think of poorer ways to spend them.”

GM: “Enough that the experience is long familiar to me, Miss Malveaux. Yet not so many that I no longer take pleasure from it.”

“Perhaps, should your proficiency at velocitas continue to grow, you may eventually experience the sensation of physical flight. For all the pleasure you might derive from our present vista’s sights and sounds, they do not compare with the caress of wind against one’s corporeal body, nor the smell of alpine air to a corporeal nose.”

Caroline: “I am gladdened to learn that there are some experiences even the weight of ages cannot rob of their splendor,” Caroline agrees. “And that may yet be eagerly anticipated.”

It’s not something she’s given much thought to, in truth. Though she might enjoy her heightened senses and the almost otherworldly grace she’s enjoyed since her Embrace, she counts few of the powers of the Blood as among those to be used for entertainment. They’ve always been means to an end.

GM: The pair’s surroundings dissolve into night sky. The clouds disappear too. Endless fields of stars and nebulae stretch in all directions. Stars and colors swirl about the pair, stretching on to infinity. Shapes seem to form in the distance, strange shapes that tug at something deep in Caroline’s soul, but Maldonato neither pauses nor speaks as the astral vistas dissolve past. The two Kindred feel like pebbles sinking through a vast cosmic ocean.

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Caroline: Caroline falls silent, struck by the majesty of the moment, simply drinking it in. For all of its attempts, even Kindred society has never made her feel so small.

Questions about where they are going die on her lips.

Silence is the only reasonable offering.

GM: Caroline is uncertain how much time passes. In vistas so alien, in a ‘body’ entirely bereft of sensation, it feels like they could remain in this place for a thousand years.

But eventually, color disappears from the stars. They’re so clear and bright, and the night sky so utterly black, when viewed beyond urban light pollution. Below, the familiar sight of cityscape stretches before her eyes:

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Caroline: Caroline holds tightly to the seneschal’s ‘hand’ for the trip. Even in its insubstantial form, it remains the most tangible thing.

She isn’t certain if she’s disappointed by the return to the familiar or disappointed, but it comes all the same. She starts to pick out landmarks. It may have been years since her last geography lesson, but there are few rivers as famous as the Nile. It helps her orient herself, and drives home just how fast and far they’ve traveled.

What incredible power. With the journey ending, it’s the practical that immediately comes to mind. The first thought is how mundane even her own powers seem in comparison. She can beguile minds, rewrite lives, make men into her puppets, and no mortal who has ever lived might stand before her with a blade. But this… this is something else. Something grander, not simply stronger. Powers that are so far beyond her own in scale as hers are to a kine.

It also immediately begs questions, but as before, she leaves them unspoken. She might have expected another city in the United States. Maybe even one in Europe. The Middle East had not entered her mind when they set off. Who or what are we here to see? Or is it some learning experience?

Their descent promises answers.

GM: Yet some answers are already hers.

When Caroline was an undergrad, she did a group project on Cairo for a history class. It wasn’t her first choice, but she was outvoted. Because it was a group project, she also did most of the work.

But if nothing else, the experience taught her a few things about Egypt’s capital. It taught her enough to recognize the landmark towards which her and Maldonato’s astral forms descend:

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Bab Zuweila was one of several gates built by the Fatimids in 1092 to mark the southern entrance to their walled city of Al-Qahira. Zuweila is the only one that remains standing to this night. During the Mamluke age, it became one of the city’s main sites of public gathering and, as such, likewise became the location for all public executions of note. Indeed, the gate was widely known as the forum for public and often graphic displays of power and dominion.

Bab Zuweila is featured in a major story from the 13th century. In 1260, the Mongol leader Hulagu Khan, grandson of Genghis Khan, conquered Damascus and rode into Egypt, flush with victory and dreams of further conquest. The Mongol Empire never lost a major battle in all its near-60-year history. Hulagu sent six messengers to the Mamluke sultan of Cairo, Saif ad-Din Qutuz, demanding his surrender. To stand against the Mongol tide was unthinkable.

Qutuz responded by killing the six envoys, “halving them at the waist,” and displaying their heads on Bab Zuweila. He then allied with a fellow Mamluk, Baibars (one of Egypt’s most famous later sultans), to defend Islam against the Mongol threat. Their combined forces marched to the Battle of Ain Jalut and won a resounding victory—the Stalingrad of its day. Caroline also compared Ain Jalut to Gettsyburg, but her professor said that was a poor comparison—the Confederacy could never have conquered the Union, only made the cost of war high enough to secure independence. Ain Jalut could have spelled a new era for Egypt under Mongol yoke if the battle had gone differently. But it didn’t. Ain Jalut was the first major defeat ever suffered by the Mongols suffered and effectively set their empire’s western border, confirming the Mamluks as the dominant force in the Middle East.

But no empire lasts forever. In 1517, the Ottoman Turks succeeded where the Mongols failed. Mamluke rule ended violently at Bab Zuweila when the Sultan Tuman Bey II was hanged three times from the gate’s vaulted ceiling (the rope snapped the first two times), and the heads of 500 slain Mamlukes were spiked along Bob Zuweila’s walls. Over 50,000 Egyptian civilians were butchered by the Ottomans during the city’s conquest, in addition to both sides’ military casualties.

Bab Zuweila has never thirsted for blood. Until the close of the 19th century, Bab Zuwayla was still being stubbornly barred shut every evening.

As Caroline’s and Maldonato’s astral forms approach the historied gate, she may wonder what manner of Cainite claims this blood-soaked butchery site for their own.

Caroline: She does, and with the fanciful hope that they never saw the finished product of that history project: she doubt’s they’d appreciate the way she framed the report alongside the barbarism of Islam and its cultural incompatibility with the West. The brutality of Christianity during the same period notwithstanding. It had been good politics, and pissed off the liberal member of her ‘group project’ (that contributed about as much as the average liberal to it) to have his name attached. The latter might have been worth it on its own.

Part of her wants to run her hand along the gate’s walls, this battered historical icon. Another part can’t help but note her companion—and her sire—might very well have seen as many nights as it has.

The part of her though that does things just to do them, for her own gratification, regardless of any consequences or even simply how it might appear to others is very small.

A memory comes drifting back. Introduce you to those Kindred we distrust least. She wonders how sparing her sire’s trust is if they must come this far.

GM: That part of her proves all the more impotent when the pair float straight towards one of the gate’s tall spires. Maldonato does not veer away from it. They simply pass insubstantially through. Caroline doesn’t feel anything.

She looks down. The city unfolds before her.



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Cairo is chaotic.

It’s unconditionally and utterly chaotic, noisy, hot, uncontrolled, polluted, disorganized, dirty, vibrant, colorful, and above all, alive.

Caroline’s initial impressions may be one of confusion, trying to sort out the jumble of energy and life that surges in Egypt’s capital. Like in most mega-cities, being combative is unavoidable and taking the micro-advantages over others seems to be common. Main streets are occupied with tense traffic and temper flaming motorists, yet within minutes one looks as if they can escape into a back street for a couple cups of tea or a bite to eat. Above all, the city feels like it never stops. It feels vigorous and animated well into the night. Cars go through the streets seemingly guided more by survival instinct and intuition than by traffic laws. The heavy traffic enhances the sense of chaos. Electric lights are everywhere. Caroline looks up and can barely see stars. Lights are on in homes, along market stands, along strings in alleyways, along strings set up by children. Light is everywhere. Electricity must be dirt cheap.

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Together with the enormous crowds, the city feels as tightly packed as a sardine can. There are almost no dark alleys. There is nowhere without people. Even the cemeteries are full of people with strung-up lights going about their business and chattering away in Arabic. There are some parallels to New Orleans, but where the Big Easy has a sense of lazy, Southern-drawl slowness that made it the perfect stage for Ignatius J. Relly to chew hot dogs and loudly pontificate his brand of French Quarter craziness to amused listeners, it feels as if Cairo would simply swallow him up and no one would pay the crazy man a second glance. The Mother of the World teems with the relentless energy of New York and the stubbornly thriving sense of life in the most densely-packed Third World slums.

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It’s enough to make even the dead feel alive.

Caroline: She isn’t sure what she expected—the project she did notwithstanding, but in many ways it reminds her of New Orleans on a larger scale.

GM: “What do you see, Miss Malveaux?” Maldonato inquires as the pair float past two dusky-skinned girls swishing around in white dresses. The oldest can’t be more than seven, but Caroline doesn’t see anyone who looks like parents nearby.

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The insubstantial pair go utterly ignored in their flight. Perhaps no one can see them.

Or perhaps no one cares enough to pay two souls out of countless millions a second glance.

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Caroline: The Ventrue startles when he finally speaks after the long silence, but the response comes quickly and easily to her lips.

“Life. Human life in all of its most dynamic vibrancy. The best and worst parts of the great cities of the world. Heritage and history not curated, but actively immersed in their lives. This city feels more alive, more teeming with energy, than anywhere I’ve ever been.”

“It’s not what I expected, seneschal.”

GM: “Some say expectations are akin to fine pottery. The more firmly one grasps them, the more likely they are to fissure.”

He releases her hand.

“Envision movement and you will find yourself in motion.”

Caroline: It takes a moment. More than two decades of life tell her that to move she needs to order her muscles into motion, to take a step. But this is not the first moment in his form she has experienced—they’ve flown across the world already.

She starts forward, taking the opportunity to peak down an alley echoing with the delighted shouts of children, before turning her gaze back to Maldonato.

“I thought I had seen the great cities of the world. I was wrong.”

“Has it changed much over time?”

GM:‘Mistress of broad provinces and fruitful lands, boundless in profusion of buildings, peerless in beauty and splendor, she shelters all you will of the learned and ignorant, the grave and the gay, the prudent and the foolish, the noble and the base… like the waves of the sea she surges with her throngs of folk… her youth is ever new despite the length of days. Her reigning star never shifts from the mansion of fortune.’

“Your simple question begets a complex answer, Miss Malveaux. It can be said that Cairo was founded on the paradox of change as a means of ensuring stability. Since the area’s first settlement, the city has undergone a process of continuous reinvention. On, Heliopolis, Babylon-in-Egypt, Al-Fustat, Al-Askar, Al-Qatai, Al-Qahira: she has worn many names and faces.”

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“Yet she is a city grown weary under the weight of her own years. The passing of ages has given her the time to witness her own rise and fall repeatedly, granting her the sad opportunity to see her radiance tarnished at the hands of her own children. For the unthinkable span of 24 centuries, she has been ruled by foreign conquerors, and never a native son or daughter of Egypt. This fact has played an undeniable role in the formation of the Cairene mindset, and the city’s inhabitants struggle nightly with this legacy.”

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Caroline: Reinvention. That makes sense. Maybe that’s what’s missing in New Orleans. Why it feels so different. There’s a life to the Crescent City, the chaotic and loud party, but on some level it cannot help but feel like the manic final cheer of a doomed man. Perhaps never more so than after Katrina.

GM: “But through all her many nights of blood and change, she has remained the brightest of beacons in a dark and shifting sand, a constant star in a sea of endless night. She may look older in the light, and her children may see more of chaos and hardship in these times, but they know that she yet remains the Mother of the World. And to them, regardless of her guise or appellation, the City Triumphant she has always been—and, by the grace of God, shall remain evermore.”

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Caroline: It sounds like a prayer. She’s heard worse.

He need not tell her that any rebirth comes with pain, she knows that better than most.

GM: “Yet there you have expressed another expectation that experience may soon fissure, Miss Malveaux. Come. Our destination awaits.”

Caroline: She falls in behind the ancient Moor.

GM: The two Kindred float through the city’s throngs until they stop before a Mamluke-era monument that looks as if it could be a mosque or palace.

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Caroline didn’t do her ‘group’ project specifically on the Qalawun complex, but one subject of Cairo-related research led to another. It was built in 1284—1285 as a hospital, law school, and mausoleum for Sultan al-Mansur Sayf al-Din Qalawun. This fact is remarkable considering the sheer size and scope of the total complex. The relatively short amount of time it took to construct the complex is in large part due to the slave-like labor the sultan commanded (much of it from Mongol prisoners of war captured at Ain Jalut). The Complex was considered one of the city’s most beautiful buildings at that time, and its interior contains the world’s second-most beautiful mausoleum after the considerably more famous Taj Mahal. The hospital continued to function until its demolition by the Ottomans in 1910. The complex is smaller than it used to be, but it is still one of Cairo’s more recognizable landmarks.

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The ground, on which the Qalawun funerary complex now stands, used to be home to a Fatimid palace. Many of the old palace’s halls were sold off, and there were people living in them until Sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad Ibn Qalawun bought the entire area in 1283. He had allegedly made a promise to God that he would build a hospital in Cairo similar to the one he was treated in while in Syria.

In addition to the Mongol prisoners who were forcefully employed, emir ‘Alam al-Din Sinjar al-Shaja‘I also called on called on regular workers throughout the city to assist with the project. In fact, he was so determined to acquire a large workforce that even people walking the streets were ordered to help. By the time the complex was completed, it was considered to be the most beautiful building in the entire region.

The Qalawun Complex underwent its first recorded restoration project during the reign of al-Nasir Muhammad, the sultan’s son. This took place in 1327 after a major earthquake caused significant damage to the complex’s minarets. Al-Nasir had the complex renovated and restored a number of times during his reign but it was only the restoration of the minarets that was recorded on the complex.

Later, in 1776, Abdul-Rahman Katkhuda also commissioned some renovation work to be carried out. This project included the building of a truly beautiful Ottoman-style sabil on the opposite side of the road.

Some historians believe that Qalawun never had any intention of using the mausoleum as a burial site. They argue that it was originally meant to serve as a mosque and a school.

The mausoleum’s dome was of great significance because it was symbolic of a new rise of Mamluk power. This later led to the dome being demolished by an Ottoman governor. In its place, a new Ottoman-style dome was built, only to be replaced again in 1908 by the Center for Reservation of Arab Monuments.

The madrasa at the Qalawun Complex is by no means as elaborate as the mausoleum, but it is still very impressive nonetheless. In its heyday, the madrasa was used for teaching all four legal schools that were recognized under Islamic law. The madrasa was also used for teaching other subjects as well, including medicine.

In contrast to the immersed history and heritage on the streets of Cairo, the Qalawun complex feels carefully curated. Caroline and her guide encounter no other souls throughout its vast halls—until they stop at a room with a glass-enclosed scale model of the complex.

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Caroline: Elysium? Palace? Elder’s domain? The Qalawun Complex could easily be all three. It’s also the first place in the city she’s seen that feels… different. Less frenetic. More refined.

GM: A woman supplicates herself upon the floor. She’s dressed in a flowing black silk tunic that looks cut from another era. Caroline hears no heartbeat from her chest. She does not turn to look at Maldonato or the Ventrue as she chants,

“Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.”

(“Allah is Greatest.”
“Allah is Greatest.”
“Allah is Greatest.”
“Allah is Greatest.”
)



GM: “Ashhadu al la ilaha illa-llah.
Ashhadu al la ilaha illa-Ilah.”

(“I bear witness that nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah.”)
(
“I bear witness that nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah.”
)

She turns to face her right.

“Hayya ’ala-s-sala,
Hayya ’ala-s-sala.”

(“Come to prayer.
Come to prayer.”
)

She turns to face her left.

“Hayya ’ala-l-falah,
Hayya ’ala-I-falah.”

(“Come to success.”
“Come to success.”
)

Caroline: It feels disrespectful to watch her at prayer. Caroline directs her eyes to the floor, listening in silence.

GM: “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar,
Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar.”

(“Allah is Greatest.”
“Allah is Greatest.”
)

“La illaha illa-llah.”

(“Nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah.”)

“Allahum-ma Rabba hadhihi-d-da ‘wati-t-tammati wa-s-salati-I-qa’imati ati Muhammada-ni-l wasilata wa-l-fadzilata waddarajata-rrati’ata wa-b’athhu maqqmam mahmudan-illadhi wa’adta-hu.”

(“O Allah! Lord of this perfect call and ever-living prayer, grant to Muhammad nearness and excellence and raise him to the position of glory which Thou hast promised him.”)

The woman’s prayer continues for some length. Maldonato waits patiently and does not speak, though his gaze remains fixed on her.

She raises up her hands in supplication.

“Astaghfiru-llaha Rabbi min kulli dhanbin wa’atubu ilai-hi.”

(“I seek the protection of Allah, my Lord, from every fault and turn to Him.”)

“Allahu-mma’ anta-s-Salamu wa min-ka-s-slamu, tabarakta Rabbana wa ta ‘alaita ya dha-l-jalali wa-l’-ikram.”

(“O Allah! Thou art the Author of peace, and from Thee comes peace; blessed art Thou, O Lord of Glory and Honour!”)

“La ilaha illa-llahu, wahda hu la sharika la-hu, la-hu-I-mulku wa I-hamdu wa huwa ‘ala kullishai’-in qadir; Allahu-mma la mani’a Ii-ma ’a’taita wa la mu’tiya Ii-ma mana’ta wa la yanfa’u dha-l-jaddi min-ka-I jaddu.”

(“Nothing deserves to be worshipped except Allah. He is One and has no associate; His is the kingdom and for Him is praise, and He has power over all things. O Allah! there is none who can withhold what Thou grantest, and there is none who can give what Thou withholdest, and greatness does not benefit any possessor of greatness as against Thee.”)

“Allahu la ilaha illa hua-al-Hayyu-l-Qayyum; Ia ta’khu-dhu-hu sinatun wa la naum; la-hu ma fis-samawati wa ma fi-I-ardz; man dha-lladhi yashfa’u ‘inda-hu illa bi idhni-hi; ya’lamu ma baina aidi-him wa ma khalfa-hum wa la yuhi-tuna bi-shai’im-min ‘ilmihi illa bi-ma sha’a; wasi’a kur-siyyu-hu-s-samawati wa-l-ardz wa la ya’udu-hu hifzu-huma wa huwa-l-’AIiyyu-I-Azim.”

(“Allah is He besides whom there is no God, the Ever-Living, the Self-Subsisting by whom all things subsist; slumber does not overtake Him nor sleep; whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth is His; who is he that can intercede with Him but by His permission? He knows what is before them and what is behind them and they cannot comprehend anything, out of His knowledge except what He pleases; His knowledge extends over the heavens and the earth, and the preservation of them both tires Him not and He is the most High, the Great.”)

At last, she turns and faces the two vampires.

Caroline: Caroline raises her gaze back to her as the prayer finishes.

GM: The woman is a figure of elegant bearing and stately majesty, with porcelain-pale skin, long raven hair, full lips, and white-irised eyes that shine like brightly polished stones under the moon. Some might call the woman’s face beautiful, but it is a regal rather than sensuous beauty, like that of an idealized queen. Dignity and pride radiate from her like twin suns. She wears no jewelry or ornamentation.

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Her gaze settles first upon Maldonato.

“Ysed qalbi ’an ’arak maratan ’ukhraa ya abn eami.”

(“It gladdens my heart to see you again, cousin.”)

Caroline: It’s almost painful to look at her. No—it is painful. There’s a nasty stab in her chest that she’s felt once before, though far less deeply.

Regal. Dignified. Powerful. And, it goes unsaid, ancient. Here is a queen who could sit beside her sire. Who not only could in bearing, but plausibly could in might. She’s someone Caroline can only hope to echo in centuries, and she makes the Ventrue feel small. That, in turn, makes her feel ugly.

Envy is ugly on anyone.

She pushes it away. Fights it with rational arguments. Maldonato has brought her to Cairo with purpose. This woman lives half a world away. She’s a Muslim. She’s not actually a threat to something Caroline already knows she can’t ever have anyway. She’s done nothing to wrong Caroline.

Logic helps. A bit.

GM: “Walia ’an ’arak ya fatimat,” Caroline’s guide replies. “Laqad madaa waqt tawil jiddaan mundh aijtimaeina al’akhir.”

(“And mine to see you, Fatimah. It has been too long since our last meeting.”)

The woman’s gaze turns to the Ventrue.

“Thuma hdha tafluha. Yuseaduni ’an ’araa ’anaha ajtazat alaikhtibar.”

(“Then this is his childe. I am pleased to see she has passed your test.”)

Caroline: Caroline is mindful that she has not been addressed by the elder. Still, the fact that she knew of Caroline is something—something that drives home the trust the seneschal has in this woman. A secret kept even from her sire, but shared here.

She supposes everyone needs someone to confide in, and some part of her is glad the seneschal has one still, even in his banishment.

GM: Maldonato’s own gaze returns to Caroline as he states in English,

“Miss Malveaux, may I introduce Fatimah al-Lam’a, primogen of Cairo’s Consultative Council, emira of the Banu al-Lam’a, and grandchilde to my grandsire. Your name and identity are already known to her.”

Fatimah offers the faintest inclination of her head.

“My congratulations upon your recent achievements, young one. Be welcome in Cairo and the Khitta al-Lam’a,” she replies in unaccented English.

Caroline: The Ventrue meets the other vampire’s eyes and places her right hand across her chest.

“Shukraan lakum walsalam ealaykum. ʾamīrah Fatimah al-Lam’a. Shukraan liaistiqbali.”

(“Thank you, and peace be upon you, Emira Fatimah al-Lam’a. Thank you for receiving me.”)

GM: Fatimah mirrors the motion over her heart and replies in the traditional, “Wa ʿalayki s-salāmu.”

(“And peace be upon you, too.”)

“Philip has spoken much of you, Miss Malveaux. He did not mention you were learned in our culture’s language and customs. I am pleased by this.”

Caroline: Philip. It’s like hearing your parents’ names spoken for the first time. She intellectually knows the seneschal’s name, but it’s something else to hear it.

The praise brings an irrational flush of pride alongside the buried envy. All the same, she’s just as happy with their swap to English.

“I was gifted with languages and my upbringing provided me many opportunities, Emira. I like to believe that I took full advantage of them. I find that many things are best experienced in their narrative tongue.”

GM: “Few things are not.” Fatimah turns. “Let us walk. I would share my haven’s splendors with you.”

The woman’s tone is not boastful, but neither is it modest. It feels so different from her sire’s unrelenting zeal or her mother’s modest yet pride-swollen words.

Caroline: “You honor me, Emira. What I had read of the Qalawun’s Complex’s history did not do justice to its majesty.” She falls in behind the elder.

GM: “Majesty was the complex’s birthright,” Fatimah states as they walk. “The pillars you see before you were repurposed from a pharaonic monument.”

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“Rejuvenation through continuous reinvention has ever been Cairo’s way,” Maldonato concurs.

The trio meet no one along their journey. For all the clamor of life outside the complex’s walls, all the millions of souls packed into every street and alley, the complex’s proud halls stand empty and silent. The silver cords stretching from Caroline’s and Maldonato’s hearts (somehow, to think of him as “the seneschal” in this place no longer feels apt) trail on for as far as her eye can see.

Caroline: The Ventrue is attentive to the elder as she leads them. “I imagine that tradition of reinvention must make the curration of the city’s Elysia challenging.”

GM: “All cities change with time,” answers Fatimah. “Mine has merely endured more changes than most. Yet my cousin has not brought you halfway across the world frivolously, and there are other matters I would speak of with you.”

“I am to understand it was by your hand that the Catharite faced the judgment she had long evaded.”

Caroline: Caroline gives an involuntary shiver at the memories the name dredges to the surface. The wet tearing of flesh, grinding blade on bones, and screams echoing in her ears. Her own screams.

“He spoke truly. My hand welded the blade that ended her existence, Emira, though it would not have been possible without him.”

“I knew little then, save of her wickedness. Of that I had learned plenty. I believed your cousin an angel braving the pits of Hell—for what else could her domain be—to strike down a demon.”

She pauses. “I suppose all things being equal, I was not so wrong as I might have been.”

GM: “Her appetites took her far from the lands of her birth. During the great uprising of progeny, she numbered among the Qābīlites who attacked Cairo’s elders. Though hers was not the hand that slew my sire, her actions facilitated his final death by emboldening others towards actions they might not otherwise have considered—filial piety and reverence for one’s ancestors are more ingrained in our culture than in yours. I am grateful for your part in righting an old wrong.”

Caroline: The reply gives Caroline pause for a moment, but only that.

“I am little surprised to hear she made enemies both near and far, but I would not deceive you, Emira: though I am gladdened her end has brought some measure of closure to an old wounds and that we are united by the satisfaction of it, I would have struck her down for many reasons all my own.”

“Striking her down was my last act in life. Had there been no Requiem to follow, I would have counted it no wasted life for that alone. That would have remained true even had I not spent an age in her care. The world is a better place in all ways for her destruction.”

Another pause. But then, this is a Kindred Maldonado has seen fit share secrets with enough, isn’t it? No doubt they have secrets, but few perhaps enough.

“That it gave a measure of peace to myself and others victim of her malice, and even that it unraveled a great plot of the seneschal and my sire’s foe only adds to the act, rather than defines it.”

GM: “I do not expect the hurts of a stranger half a world away had any bearing upon your actions that fateful night, Miss Malveaux. I am grateful for them nevertheless. The Catharite’s destruction has upset many things, some whose ripples touch even here, but I would be inclined to agree with your assessment. The world is a better place for the Catharite’s absence, even were I not inclined to believe she would have made a third attempt upon Philip’s unlife.”

Caroline: That’s interesting. It also further confirms her suspicion.

The Ventrue bows her head. “Then we are of a like mind, Emira, and you have added another piece to my puzzle. I did not believe my journey to the Dungeon and the seneschal’s harrowing of it to have occurred by chance. Nor all the events that preceded it.”

GM: “You are right to mistrust coincidence in the Jyhad, young one. My cousin has watched you for much of your mortal life. He has told me much of you. Though this is our first meeting, I have long felt as if I knew you well.”

Caroline: “I might only imagine what he might have said, Emira. When last he spoke candidly of me I was both humbled by his words and shamed by them. I suppose that is the best that any might feel before the eyes of those to whom their life is laid bare, both our triumphs and failures.”

GM: “Even the Holy Prophet, may peace be upon him, had to ask forgiveness for his sin. Your triumphs earned my cousin’s Embrace, but we are none of us without failings. His own pain him greatly, not least among them his betrayal of your sire’s trust.”

Fatimah speaks of Caroline’s guide as if he is not there. It is then that she notices he is not. She and the foreign elder walk alone through the mausoleum’s silent halls.

Caroline: “It is… a peculiar situation. To have been Embraced by one with the blood of another. Guided along a path by them, groomed by them. I was many nights into my Requiem before I had cause to speak to my sire.”

There’s a faint smile. “It’s almost as though he is my mother—at least among Kindred opposite my sire as father. He has been my sire in many ways.”

The smile fades. “It was difficult to see Prince Vidal’s reaction to my existence. How he treated your cousin, Emira.”

“A very hard man, even among us. I might hope for their future, but I fear the seneschal’s decision tore away what little trust he had left to give.”

GM: “Philip knew his choice would not pass without consequence. Though it pained his heart, he was prepared to accept that choice’s outcome. Great expectations rest upon your shoulders, childe.”

“I have counseled Philip, and he has concurred, that reconciliation is most probable when the burdens weighing upon your sire are finally lifted. When he sees that my cousin is still loyal, even when loyalty bears no fruits.”

“And when he sees the fruits born of Philip’s decision to grant you the Embrace. The betrayals and failures of your sire’s previous childer still wound him greatly.”

Caroline: “I do not fear the weight of those responsibilities or expectations, Emira.”

Perhaps a lie, but if so one she eagerly tells herself, and did all her life.

“For all of my short Requiem, failure has meant disgrace and death. In this, your cousin prepared me well for my sire’s scrutiny.”

“Throughout it, too, always have great odds stood against me. Greatness cannot come though only from succeeding when it is expected. I do not expect my sire will accept anything less.”

GM: “Nor will your city, Miss Malveaux. Your successes and failures will impact his covenant’s fortunes as well as his personal approval of you. But that fact is not new to you.”

“It may also be that no reconciliation is possible between your sire and my cousin,” Fatimah then states, returning to their prior topic. “I find it unlikely that Prince Vidal will forsake his responsibilities to his city, even should his rest last centuries. Philip has little taste for those same responsibilities and assumed them only for his love’s sake. For his love’s sake, he will rule as regent until you are of age. But it may then be Allah’s will that he simply move on.”

Fatimah’s glowing white eyes look pensive, but neither do her expressed thoughts feel like new ones to her.

“I would tell you something of my Istirja, you who are childe to my cousin in all save blood.”

Caroline recognizes ‘Istirja’ as a Muslim prayer for the dead: “Verily we belong to Allah, and verily to Him do we return.” The usage sounds similar to how she might reference her Requiem.

Caroline: A century. She’s seen well the powers a century of the blood might offer. She’s seen too those of Kindred with true time in the blood. The implication is clear: whether the seneschal’s plan succeeds or not, time alone will not give her the strength to weather what is to come. Whether it’s the implication the elder intends for her to draw is another matter entirely.

“I would welcome any wisdom your many years might provide a neonate, Emira,” Caroline entreats her.

GM: “I owe all that I am to my sire, King Sharif,” Fatimah begins. “For much of my mortal life, he watched me from afar and grew to care for me deeply. In olden times, sires Embraced progeny at younger ages than they do now. Life was briefer and kine were not permitted the luxury of an ‘adolescence’ between childhood and adulthood.”

Caroline: Caroline wonders passingly if the comment about luxury of adolescence is intended as a barb, but passes it off. Perhaps from another. Not from Fatimah. The elder has nothing to prove.

GM: “My Sharif allowed me to mature to the very old age of 32, so that I might experience life in all its richness and fullness before I joined him in everlasting night. Our clan is known for the harshness of our Embraces, but the night he took me as his bride numbers among the happiest of my unlife.”

“My Sharif did not desire a childe to mold to his will, but a lover and consort with whom he might share eternity. He had a dream that was to be medieval Cairo, and he wished to share every moment of that dream with an eternal love.”

Caroline: Her previous thought is swept away as Fatimah continues.

Lover and consort. It teases at things that can’t be. Things she has no reason to think of now, but can’t escape. Not now. Not ever. It’s always there, lingering at the edge of her consciousness like a dull ache. It doesn’t actively hurt unless she brushes against it, but she’s always mindful of it.

A sad smile slips onto her face as she nods along with Fatimah’s tale.

GM: “Sharif and I established ourselves in Cairo shortly after the city’s conquest by the Fatimids. Under my Sharif’s guidance, their general laid out a plan for a new, enclosed capitol city in the name of the Shi’a caliph. The city would be an exclusive enclave of walled palaces, parade grounds, and private gardens—a notion copied some years later by the Chinese in their construction of the Forbidden City. My Sharif’s aim was to turn Cairo into the center of Islamic learning, if not the center of the entire faith, where the devout could come to learn, pray and study in peace, free from the chaos of the outside world. The Fatimids built the world’s first university, Al-Azhar, as well as many other palaces, mosques, and bathhouses.”

“When the walled city and all its wonders were completed, the Fatimid caliph himself traveled to take up residence, leaving a viceroy behind in North Africa. When the caliph arrived, he renamed the city Al-Qahira, ‘the Triumphant,’ and Cairo was born. My Sharif could finally extend his open invitation to the Ashirra to come and partake of the greatest city in Islam. He welcomed all those who would pray inside the walls of Al-Qahira, and evicted those who would taint his vision of faith. He especially deplored the Followers of Set, who befouled all they touched with their selfish desires. My Sharif’s dream soon became a reality, as Suleiman ibn Abdullah himself—the first Qābīlite convert to Islam at the hands of the Holy Prophet, peace be upon him—deigned to make his haven within the city’s walls.”

“If you would know more of the Fatimids’ glories, you may find them in a history book. Even after Egypt was conquered twice again by the Ayyubids and Mamlukes, my sire raised me up as his queen. I knew happiness that few of Qābīl’s chilren were privileged to feel.”

Caroline: Where you start off is often a measure of where you begin.

Many thoughts skirt across Caroline’s mind. Not among them any self-pity.

GM: “When my Sharif granted me the right to take a childe of my own, for such has only recently been made the prerogative of princes, I made my choice carefully. After many years, I selected a young man of noble bearing whom I felt would be a credit to our clan and a worthy heir to King Sharif’s legacy.”

“I courted him over many years as my sire had done. I Embraced him when he was a man grown and had experienced mortal life in all its fullness. He was to be a gift to my Sharif. All that my sire gave to me, I would give unto another.”

“In doing so I committed a grave error, for I had Embraced too wisely and too well. My midnight assignations with my would-be progeny resulted in the one variable to which I was blind: he fell in love with me, as I had with my own sire.”

“I assumed my childe would grow accustomed to the reality of his situation. My heart had belonged to Sharif since before his grandfathers’ grandfathers were motes in their own grandfathers’ eyes.”

“He did not. As the years passed, he grew ever more jealous of his grandsire and desired me for his own.”

Caroline: Is it a cautionary tale? A worry the elder has, that she will tear down the seneschal for her want of the prince? But then, doesn’t a part of her want just that? The worst part of her?

Part of her is angry, hurt even, it wants to break down, to tearfully declare with indignation she never wanted this, the aching need for her sire’s presence always there, always pulling her. That he demanded it of her. That as with all things, she was given no choice. He bound her to him.

But she knows that however hesitant she was in that moment, part of her did want it. Always wanted it. Still wants it in the most perverse and vile way, the kind that makes her want to scrub her skin raw when she thinks about it even as it sets fire to her inside. This raw, disgusting need so poorly hidden in everything she does.

“Some things cannot be. Those that cannot accept them will bring only woe down on the world.”

That at least, she can accept. A year from now or a century, she knows whatever her weakness, her sire has none of it.

GM: “Some things cannot,” Fatimah concurs. “Yet great woes are rarely wrought by one individual’s hands alone.”

“When the Anarch Revolt crept into our city from Europe—spurred on by such rebels as the Catharite—Munther seized his chance. He rallied a pack of disillusioned neonates and struck at my Sharif at his manor in the old walled city. My sire fought valiantly and removed every attacker’s head save that of my childe’s. Yet in the end, he could not withstand their numbers. My Sharif lay dead.”

“His demise marked the end of an era in Cairo for the Muslim children of Qābīl. Mullah Suleiman quietly left the city not long thereafter. Lamenting in a final speech to the collected Ashirra, Suleiman remarked, ‘The glory of Cairo has well and truly gone.’”

“But what care did I then have for Cairo’s glories? My Sharif lay dead. I had never known such pain. All our years of happiness felt as if they were a dagger now plunged into my heart. Worse, it was I who had slain my love. In seeking to honor his legacy, I had sired the instrument of his destruction.”

“I wept and cursed Allah that He would inflict such misery upon me. I looked to the future and saw only an eternity of loneliness without my Sharif.”

“I did not believe I could carry such a burden. I wished nothing more than to greet the dawn.”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, Emira.”

Is that the right thing to say? How do you encompass the loss of centuries of love like that? The words feel paltry.

GM: “All-too inadequate words for one in the depths of such grief, childe, but they are no longer necessary. My Sharif perished long ago.”

“Time alone does not heal all wounds, but it may ameliorate many.”

Caroline: She hopes that’s true.

GM: “Philip comforted me during my grief. His words and presence were a balm upon my hurts.”

“I resolved that I would not greet the dawn, nor seek vengeance against my childe. I would remain true to my sire’s legacy of faith.”

Caroline: Caroline remains silent until it’s clear the elder has finished.

GM: “I continued to claim domain in Banu al-Lam’a as Sharif’s descendant. I opposed the Sabbat and cemented influence among both the Camarilla and Ashirra of Egypt. I have shepherded our khitta through tribulations that now fill history books. I lead the city’s Shi’a Ashirra in prayer and encourage them to maintain good relations with all other Ashirra. Ibn Ja’far, perhaps the most devout Sunni in Cairo, counts me among his closest allies. When Prince Bey instituted his Consultative Council, I stepped into the role on my clan’s behalf to their unanimous acclaim. I number among the most respected of our city’s elders and primogen.”

“My childe remains in Cairo too, now an elder in his own right and a leader among the Sabbat. Though our clan hunts all who name themselves antitribu, I am exempt by order of the Friends of the Night. I have many friends among my clanmates, both near and far. Violent action against me is not permitted without a proper ruling from the Courts of Blood—a highly unlikely occurrence. Although younger clanmates within the Sabbat eye my vitae hungrily, many others look to me for inspiration. I receive periodic correspondence from secret well-wishers the world over who support my independent stance.”

Caroline: All but confirmation of the truth of Smith’s words?

GM: “My childe has raised no hand in violence against me. I have spoken to his own childe and found him to be a man of honor. I have told him the story of his great-grandsire, and I believe that he, too, will raise no hand in violence against me, nor ever act against my interests. My grandchilde tells me that he has spread King Sharif’s story to his own childer, and they to their own progeny. Sharif’s name will not soon die on his descendants’ lips.”

“I am proud of what I have accomplished by remaining true to my beliefs. I am proud of the honor I have done my sire’s memory. I am proud to honor his memory even before the childe of a Ventrue prince from half a world away.”

Fatimah looks ahead of her.

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Caroline: Questions die on Caroline’s lips. So too does the search for meaning. There are many lessons to be found in the elder’s tale, but she’s no longer certain that was the purpose.

GM: Fatimah assumes her knees before a sarcophagus. She tenderly strokes her hands along its surface.

“Sharif’s bones lie here still. I gathered them from his palace. Here, in what many name the second greatest mausoleum in the world, I have made his eternal resting place.”

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Caroline: The image of the elder kneeling before her sire’s sarcophagus leaves Caroline lightheaded.

GM: Fatimah gazes away from Caroline and towards the sarcophagus as she speaks. If there is grief on her face, it is as faint as the features of a statue worn away by lifetime upon lifetime of sand.

“On occasion, I come here to sleep with my Sharif. I remember our nights together and my heart swells with love. I am old and will never again know such love as his.”

“Yet as I lie upon my sire’s resting place, I am reminded that my love is small. I am reminded that for all my power and accomplishments, I am as nothing before Allah.”

‘Indeed, to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth; He gives life and causes death. And you have not besides Allah any protector or any helper.’

Caroline: “You are, I think, everything my sire might wish me to be, Emira,” Caroline answers after a moment.

And she means it. Penitent. Pious. Devoted. Loyal. Accomplished. Mighty. The virtues of her sire.

“I look upon this scene now, though, and it terrifies me.”

And it does, for she sees here her own future. Bound by faith, serving a memory of a ghost even less tangible than the lifetimes Fatimah spent with her sire. Proud of words spoken by others more than deed. Chained to her sire for all eternity. His slave, whether he wakes in a century or never again.

Satisfied, even gladdened by that.

GM: Fatimah regally reassumes her feet and turns to face Caroline.

“It is well that you are afraid, childe.”

“To have gazed upon this scene when I was as new to the night as you would have seemed a fate worse than death.”

Caroline: Worse than death? No… perhaps not anymore. Not with her sisters, and her mother. She knows the price of her death.

But it makes this vision of her future no less terrible.

GM: “Perhaps there are loved ones whose losses you fear.”

Caroline: Uncertainties, fears, inadequacies nag at her. There are many things she might wish to confide, but the Ventrue bites her tongue.

GM: “I would counsel you to prepare yourself for that night.”

Caroline: “Klu ma sha’ allh,” Caroline answers after a moment.

(“All is as God wills it.”)

Including my fate.

GM: “Yet neither did I bring you here solely to caution you as to eternity’s pitilessness.”

“Your Istirja is your own, as my Istirja is my own. You have listened to my tale. You may take whatever lessons you choose to heed from it. I hope you have taken many. Instruction is a kinder teacher than experience.”

“The only lesson I would impress upon you now is that time humbles all save Allah. All your plans and loves and ambitions are as nothing before Him, and rarely will they unfold precisely as you wish them to. The only thing you may truly control over your Istirja is yourself: your own decisions, your own principles, and your own faith. Though your beliefs are not as mine, I would counsel you to look towards your Christ when times are trying. You may find that faith alone is all that remains to you.”

Caroline: Caroline pauses at that for a long moment.

“I am grateful for the tale of your Istirja, Emira. As you have come to know much of me through the words of Seneschal Maldonato, so too do I feel I have come to know much the same through your words. Too did I ask for wisdom, and there was much to be found.”

“I fear for your cousin, and am grateful he retains a confidant, great though the journey is to speak to her. I have known him as a man of great purpose and will, and too of faith, but this year has both cost and demanded much of him. I have cost and demanded much of him.”

“I believe that much of what God holds in His plan for me may echo your own Istirja. I spoke truly when I said it terrified me, but so too do I see there grace and purpose and will if that is the path laid out before me.

“Your cousin too calls to faith. My sire demands it. I cannot but heed the wisdom of my elders in that matter.”

But she knows too that in this, in part, the elder is wrong too. Her place as her sire’s childe in mirror of that as her father’s daughter cannot but be divine providence sufficient to give her certitude of faith, but it is not solitude of faith. No, never solitude.

Even here, a world away, she can feel it, that other thing that slides across the edge of her conscious mind at all times. That other bond to seven strings ink black and cloyingly sweet. The one that gave her no true fear when the seneschal warned that to lose his hand might cast her adrift. She has something else too, and she can always find her way home to it.

GM: “This past year has been trying for my cousin,” Fatimah concurs. “I know much of the pain he now feels. Though his spirit is not so wounded as your sire’s, and though he will not countenance to display weakness before you, the burdens upon his shoulders are great. He is like unto any man. Cut him and he will bleed.”

“My cousin killed you and abandoned you. Though he saved you from a fate more terrible than death, and placed your sire’s vitae upon your lips, he has also been the architect of much of your ignorance and suffering.”

“What feelings does this stir in you?”

Caroline: The bluntness of the question is a surprise, but it is not the first time she’s considered it. She also considers lying for a moment. But who else might she ever confess these feelings to?

“Conflicted ones, Emira. Those at war with each other even. I think they’ve always been so—whether it was respect and fear at my earliest meetings or despair and hope when he sentenced me to death but told me of my sire.”

She takes a short breath. Her voice is almost tender. “For his harrowing of hell for me, knowing it spelled his doom, I shall always love him.”

“For casting me into ignorance to suffer, for making me a pariah to my sire, for looming over me as executioner for all of my Requiem, I shall always hate him,” she continues, her voice grinding out with anger.

A pause. "More than anything else, I think I pity him. And… "

She shakes her head. “He has placed so many of his hopes and dreams and expectations upon me. He has been the most constant star in my Requiem, one that for much of it I tried to steer by. He intends to remain the brightest in the night for a century to come.”

She pauses, more for the thorniness of the topic than for uncertainty.

“I described him earlier as my mother among the Damned, in contrast to my sire. I suppose, in that way, it’s a relationship I am familiar with.”

“But that does not mean I know what we are to be to each other in the future. I mean him no ill, but I do not know if I can be all that he hopes for me to be.”

GM: “What makes you doubt this?” asks Fatimah.

Caroline: “I see doom on the path he has set before us.”

GM: “He has also forseen doom in your futures. Many dooms. Though he will strive to avert them, and to safeguard your sire’s kingdom through his slumber, success cannot be guaranteed.”

“Do you believe you will fail, or do you merely fear failure’s possibility?”

Caroline: “For all the evils I would lay against him, I believe the seneschal a better man than I, Emira. I think his foes will use his morality against him, to destroy him, in a way tempered now by my sire’s cold fury. I believe my abduction was only the first of such traps laid before him, to draw him to his doom.”

“His plans, as I have seen them, rely too much upon his strength while making too small an accounting of his weakness.”

GM: “I too believe my cousin to be an individual of good character, Miss Malveaux. Yet what you name a weakness I would consider a strength. A more pragmatic Qābīlite might have abandoned you to your fate in the Catharite’s realm and Embraced your cousin Adam, or perhaps another.”

“Would this have been to your sire’s greater benefit?”

Caroline: “Had he been slain the kingdom would have crumbled, Emira. Laid against that, my suffering and death matters little.”

She represses a shiver. It’s easier to say that than to think of it, to think of an eternity committed to the lowest levels of the Dungeon.

A nauseating flash of memory of a monster with black flesh and yellow teeth holding her bloody intestines in his hand as he sodomized her, gripping his cock through her guts as he fucked her with something inhumanly long and slithering, skitters across her mind. For a moment she can almost smell his fetid breath in her face, demanding she watch. She’d already begged for death so many times when the seneschal arrived. She wonders if madness might not have taken her. Wonders sometimes if it hasn’t anyway.

“I do not deny that his character is the best part of him, nor that it calls to righteousness. I only balance it against centuries of knowing the power to right wrongs and the vast responsibilities he carries.”

GM: “My cousin might have been slain, and the consequences for your sire’s house would have been calamitous. Yet who met their end within that fell pit?”

“One of Antoine Savoy’s most potent allies is now ash by your hand, and the consequences of that action are equally calamitous for your sire’s foes. The Catharite was a plague upon your sire’s house for centuries. She raised Pascual’s childe to his present stature. Her plots ran deep. There is no telling what future woes her actions may have spawned.”

“That triumph, as well as the triumph of your survival and Embrace, was achieved through what many would consider weakness.”

“There are many who believe I should have slain my childe for his murder of my sire. Such a thing was within my power to do.”

“Yet in sparing his Istirja, I have a grandchilde whose existence I consider a credit to my Sharif’s memory, and who will answer his grandsire’s call when she has need of aid. This too, I achieved through ‘weakness.’”

“Allah sees all we do. I have faith that He sees fit to reward righteous action. I have faith that when He does not, such action still serves His will.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip again. The bleeding edge between faith and folly, between chance and providence.

“A good is an end unto itself.”

GM: “That is my cousin’s conviction, as well as mine own. Our Istirjas have persisted. The Catharite’s has not.”

“Yet if faith in the Almighty is not sufficient to give you faith in my cousin, know the Qabilat al-Khayal are deservedly reputed for our ruthlessness. I know that you, too, have experienced this at my cousin’s hands. The spirit of your Embrace ran truer to our clan’s than your sire’s.”

Caroline: A grim smile.

GM: “I know, too, that he was prepared to end your Istirja with his own hands, even after the perils he braved to save you from the Catharite’s.”

“Some say ruthlessness and not shadow is our clan’s true deathright.”

Caroline: “Trust has long become a stranger to me, but your words give me comfort, Emira.”

GM: “I am pleased by this. Your comfort and prosperity is my cousin’s.”

Caroline: “I have felt as though I have been alone on an island or a boat at sea for many years: an existence in which all troubles were mine to resolve. I suspect it will take time to grow accustomed to it not being so.”

GM: “Time favors you in this, childe, as in many things.”

“You say you shall always love and hate my cousin for his actions towards you. Should you find it within yourself to forgive him for them, I believe such words would be a balm upon his spirit and ease the burdens he carries.”

Caroline: The horror of her first feeding. The shame of her first murder. The bone-deep humiliation of being forced to strip before onlookers. The snap of the whip in McGinn’s mansion. The bite of Kelford’s blade. The public shaming of Donovan’s ghouls. The back-breaking despair as her family disowned her, call after call of vitriol and hate. The existential terror for month after month of a death sentence hanging over her head. The look in Claire’s eyes as the darkness swallowed her forever. The fury of her sire at her very existence.

The child within her cannot help but lay the memories in comparison to the ‘wonderful’ night of Fatimah’s Embrace. Her centuries with her sire as her lover. What right does she have to ask Caroline to forgive, she who knows of Caroline’s suffering only as words?

“As you say, Emira, time may favor such a thing. For now I may serve him, learn from him, and even care for him, but forgiveness… "

Her voice cracks. "He destroyed me. Down to my last inch. He spared me from a fate worse than death to deliver unto me another I would have more surely faced death than accepted. It may yet be that I am reborn, that I might be more than the disowned daughter, disgraced heiress, damned soul, ruined neonate, and unwanted childe. Indeed, the time of changes may be at hand… "

“I wish I could give him that comfort. I see clearly the burdens he bears. They tear at my heart all the worse to hear that I might lift some of them, were I greater of spirit. But it would be a lie tonight. A better person might be capable of doing so… perhaps my cousin, who he favored for the Embrace. But for what little I may still be, I am too much my father’s daughter.”

GM: Fatimah’s placid face looks little surprised.

“Do you regret your Embrace, childe? Would you have preferred a natural death and that your cousin now be your sire’s childe?”

Caroline: “My Embrace has had scant opportunity to offer joy, and much to offer pain, Emira,” Caroline sidesteps.

“If it was to be my cousin or I, better I, for damnation was my due.” She looks down at her hands. “Better too in the eyes of God that I be a waking damned with some chance of redemption come judgement day, who might still serve his plan.”

“Selfishly, though, I spoke truthfully. Had I known all that would transpire from the moment of my embrace onward, I would have chosen death in that moment over ruin and shame.”

“Tonight it is more complicated. A year ago my death would have been a meaningless thing. Now my death would mean the death of hopes and dreams. The ruination of lives. The rise of darker forces.”

“It doesn’t matter what I regret, or what I would have wanted. I did not get to decide, and the consequences of that decision are not all clear to me even now. What matters if the here, the now, the decisions that were made and the consequences of them.”

“I will make the most of my Requiem. I will strive to climb to great heights. I will strike down the foes of my sire. I will seek happiness and joy where it may be found. And perhaps I shall look back on this conversation as one made in all the naivety of youth, with no inkling of what greatness is to come.”

“That is what matters. The rest are insidious thoughts that can only haunt and bring misery. What might have been cannot bring you joy, only what may yet be.”

GM: “Choice remains even to those who regret their Istirjas,” replies Fatimah. “They may greet the dawn. Or they may endure the night. But they must commit themselves wholly to one path or the other, lest their doubt poison all good works they touch.”

“I am pleased you have also reached this conclusion. Philip had long believed your feelings on your Istirja to be deeply divided.”

“I am saddened that you are unable to ease his pain in his time of need. I will pray that you find that strength.”

“I will pray that you find it soon. Events move swiftly around you both. Circumstance may not permit you to speak words you later wish to have spoken.”

Caroline: Those words are a dagger.

How many unspoken words does she count now that will forever remain such? Volumes.

“Death is easier than duty, Emira. All you must do is give up. But if the seneschal has spoken anything of me, it must be that giving up is not in my nature. I have never taken the easy path.”

GM: “He has spoken such of you, Miss Malveaux.” Fatimah’s glowing eyes stare into the distance. “He is soon to return, and there are plans for the future we would involve you in. But the minutes until then are our own. What would you speak with me of?”

Caroline: The answer to that question is obvious—it tugs at her attention during every waking moment.

“The seneschal spoke of you before my sire in passing, Emira. He spoke of your meetings past. I would beg, indulge me that tale or your appraisal of him in that time.”

GM: “I believe him a different Kindred then than my cousin has described him in recent years,” Fatimah replies. “Hot with rage for his slain sire and broodmates. But his was a fury born of righteousness rather than hate.”

“I found him chivalrous and honorable, as his culture reckoned such things. He offered to bring me my childe’s head for his murder of my sire. It deeply offended his sensibilities for a grandson to have slain his grandfather.”

“His devotion to Hardestadt’s vision ran equally deep. He believed to the core of his being that the Camarilla’s revival was necessary and just, at a time when many doubted this fact, and when even fewer shared the depth of his conviction. Time has proven that conviction to be correct.”

“I felt little of the hatred for my faith that Philip described him as harboring for the Vodouisants of your city.”

Caroline: Caroline listens with rapt attention. “He sounds hardly recognizable.”

GM: “Then perhaps he has changed more than my cousin’s tales led me to believe.”

Caroline: “The only passion I have seen in him has been rage… but my meetings with him have had little occasion than to provoke anything but rage from him.”

She pauses. “Undoubtedly you have seen many elders fall into torpor and rise from it, Emira. Have they managed to recapture their vigor?”

GM: “I would ask that question of you, Miss Malveaux. My cousin last entered the sleep of ages for a century. I, too, have slept when my blood grew thick and heavy, and I have spent more of my Istirja in slumber than he. Do you believe us vigorous?”

Caroline: “I do,” she answers.

“And in that I find hope.”

GM: “His rest is long overdue. Nastasio asked too much of him to assume a foreign city’s princedom. Others might have served.”

Caroline: “Others might have failed,” Caroline observes, a hint of pride in her voice.

GM: “You may be right, Miss Malveaux. Little purpose is served in ruminating over what may have been, in any case.”

Caroline: “And the seneschal? Has he always been as he is now?”

She smiles, almost shyly. “I apologize, Emira, if the topics seem trivial. They have dominated my Requiem to date, and will likely do so to come, but I feel I know them at times only as figures of mystery and fear.”

GM: “Time has changed him less than your sire,” Fatimah answers. “His own sire brought him to al-Qāhirah long ago, so that he might become acquainted with his kin throughout the greater Ashirra. He knew my sire, and I his. He was then a childe learning at his elders’ feet. Our early relationship was not one of equals.”

“My opinion of his character was favorable. He was quiet, courteous, and less eager to learn than quietly attentive. His mind was a fertile sponge for his elders’ wisdom.”

“His Embrace was an atypical one. As I have said, adolescence was a luxury not permitted to the kine in those nights. He was a man grown with children and grandchildren. He had seen much of life by the time of his death. He was older then than even I.”

Caroline: “I begin to sense a theme,” Caroline observes. “For my sire was not Embraced in his youth either.”

GM: "His sire Embraced many childer. Many were young. Some, by chance or providence, were older. "

Caroline: “But he did not. I know of only one. Nor your cousin, Emira,” Caroline observes.

GM: “I shall leave Philip to speak to you of your sire’s past,” Fatimah answers. “As to my cousin, he has Embraced but once, and regrets that choice to this night.”

Caroline: “You have given me more than I might have hoped, Emira,” Caroline answers gratefully.

Hope, of what may come.


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Story Twelve, Ayame I, Celia XII

“Here to their bosom mother earth, take back in peace what thou has given, and, all that is of heavenly birth, God in peace recall to heaven.”
Cypress Grove Cemetery motto


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia runs into one of her mother’s cats on her way out. The calico loudly hisses at the vampire, her tail going puffed like a beaver’s, before she flees deeper into the house over Diana’s futile (and after seven years, largely half-hearted) efforts to calm her down.

“I just don’t understand why Shadow and Victor don’t like you! They’re so sweet to everyone else!” Celia’s mom exclaims, shaking her head.

The two exchange a last hug before her Ryde arrives and drops her off at the border of the French Quarter.

The little-used haven looks much as it did the last time Celia was there. She has several hours. She could spend them doing productive things, or she could just sit there and fret.

Finally, at midnight, there’s a knock against the door.

Celia: Celia spends her time wisely. She doesn’t fidget like some nerve-struck high schooler while she waits for her guest to arrive. She is not so skittish as that anymore, not when her feelings for the visiting Brujah have long since cooled. Her collar snapped the night that he put his fist through her face. Now just an echo remains, a pale imitation of what once was or could have been.

First, her face. She seats herself before the vanity in her bathroom and gets to work. Her fingers sculpt flesh, muscle, and cartilage from Celia’s face to transform it into Jade’s. She is not Celia anymore. Not for Roderick. The differences between the two faces are enough to make them distinct, and once she begins to play with the powders, liquids, and mists atop the counter there is even more that separates them. Jade’s face is narrower than Celia’s, her cheekbones cut by contour, her nose slimmer. She starts with that base color, foundation blended all the way down to her neck to avoid the horrid line that some women just forget about—your face and your neck should not be different colors, dear—though she does not truly need this step. Her complexion is pristine all on its own. A pink blush is dabbed across her cheeks, blended upward, the amount so minuscule that it’s not even there in some light. Just a hint. A hint of color across her lids, gold—not the yellow gold she’d used for Caroline earlier this evening, but a metallic color that might even be bronze depending on how you look at it. Duochrome, they call this effect, and the pigment is loose. She applies it with a wet brush. A dark brown liner across her eyes that cuts upward to suggest a wing. Highlighter in the key spots. A mauve, dusky rose color on her lips. Matte. It’s in season.

The clothes next. She strips from the borrowed clothing and pulls on a new bra and panties. Pastel pink. He’ll never see them, but knowing what she wears beneath her clothing gives her a boost of confidence.

She pulls a dress over her head, smoothing it down her body with her palms. It clings to all the right places, accentuating her slim waist. The dress itself stops halfway to her knee. Low enough that it’s not whorish, high enough that it’s suggestive. It leaves her throat and shoulders bare.

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Her nails are seen to next, filed and painted and adorned with the crystals she has just for this purpose. Shades of carnation pink, gold, and white, carefully filed into points, though they lack the edge of true claws. Her sun ring is, as always, worn on one hand. On the other is a similar stone set in the shape of a flower, fire opal all around the diamond in the center.

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Once her personal aesthetic is seen to she sweeps her eyes across the location.

The apartment hasn’t changed much in the past few years. Celia is still the only one who uses it; there is no hint of human presence inside, thought it seems assuredly lived-in if the closet is anything to go by. Full back then—there had barely been room for the things he’d started to move in—it’s practically overflowing now with gowns and sundresses and more heels than a person could possibly wear in their lifetime.

Good thing Celia has plenty of them ahead of her.

The bed holds the same four wooden posts he’d tied her to the one night, though the bedding itself has been upgraded. Higher quality sheets: higher thread count, softer, more luxurious, whatever the marketing teams are pushing these days. Darker, too. She’d learned the hard way that getting so much blood out of sheets is nothing like trying to remove a stain from her panties because she’d been caught without a pad (no tampons in the Flores household—wouldn’t want to risk the cherry popping).

Maybe Roderick thinks it was him who taught her that. Or maybe she’s used this place as a fuck pad since their breakup. He knows her reputation: her sire’s childe in deed as well as blood. Heard from her own lips that she’d bagged the sheriff one of her first nights. Is it so hard to think that she’s been with the others the rumors claim? Plus, look how pretty she is. Hot piece of tail, isn’t she? Who wouldn’t want to sink their teeth in.

The furniture looks similar to what she’d had before, though if her guest has a keen enough eye for that kind of thing he might notice it’s not the same pieces. Even so, they’re wrapped in slip covers as if she’s afraid of unruly children or pets or frenzying Kindred who seek to destroy her face. There had been a rug in front of the couch last time he’d been here. He’d ruined it with the gore from his attack. She’s rolled up its replacement and slid it under the couch itself to reveal the hardwood floors beneath. Easier to clean blood out of polished and protected wood than it is to get it out of an expensive rug, isn’t it?

A DVD case rests on the surface of the coffee table near the flat screen, its cover blank.

By the time midnight rolls around everything is in its proper place. The knock on her door takes only a moment to answer. She pulls it open.

GM: It’s him.

He doesn’t look much changed for the past four years. At all changed, actually, but that’s eternal youth. 31 and physically 22. He’s dressed more formally than he was during their last meeting: gray jacket and pants, white undershirt, maroon necktie. Overcoat over the suit. Winter is on its way out, but it’s still an average 56 degrees during the often-raining nights. Same leather shoes he’d usually pair with more relaxed outfits, though.

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A moment passes, as though he’s thinking of what to say.

Finally: “How bad are things?”

Celia: Her eyes sweep his form. One-time boyfriend. One time paramour. Brief, but what a mark he left on her.

Does he remember the words they’d shared, how they’d promised to always be there for each other, how she’d told him that she wasn’t afraid of him that night at the park—that she trusted him—before his fists destroyed her?

Her visage lacks any of that internal discourse. She steps back to allow him in, then closes and locks the door behind him.

For a moment she is silent, weighing her words, his question. Will this be the norm, then, this stilted conversation, these long pauses? She can play that game.

“Bad,” she says finally.

GM: He nods and follows her in. His eyes briefly sweep the familiar surroundings. Perhaps he notices the change in furnishings, but it has been four years. He probably notices the slip covers over the furniture, though.

“I’m here,” he answers.

“What happened?”

Celia: What hasn’t happened? That’s the real question, isn’t it.

“Before we begin,” she says to him, “I’d like to set a ground rule. Don’t bring me to Primogen Duquette should the night go awry. The Evergreen was always more my scene.”

GM: There’s a flash of… something in his eyes. Maybe hurt.

“The Evergreen isn’t really mine either,” he answers.

There’s a pause for a moment as he seems to consider several things to say. He finally settles on,

“If that… happens. I can leave you here and call someone. One of your renfields. If they know about this place. Or drop you off at another address.”

Celia: Good. She’s glad it hurts. He should remember what he did to her. How he told her he could forgive her and then refused to do so. How he’d beaten her instead. The rage of his clan, sure, but he’d be lying if he said there wasn’t some vicious side of him that enjoyed terrorizing her, ripping apart her face, slamming his fists again and again into that pretty smile until it was nothing but a red ruin.

“The Evergreen,” she repeats.

After a brief moment of hesitation—how much would she have told him had they spent these past years together?—she adds, “I am staying there now until some matters have been cleared up. Taking me to another location is only asking for trouble.”

GM: “I can’t go to the Evergreen,” Roderick says. “I can call someone for you.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. He has known her too long for her to pull off the gemstone-named harpy-in-training whose mask she dons around everyone else. She drops the facade, lets him see the weariness and wariness beneath. No lines mar her expression, no bags settle beneath her eyes, but she shows him in the slight rounding of her shoulders, the lips that pull downward in one corner, the eyes whose blink lag behind their ordinarily swift movement.

She opens her mouth to say something as she steps toward the couch.

“Okay. You c—”

The heel of her shoe catches on an uneven spot of wood, a groove in the floor perhaps made by her own claws those many years ago. It snaps. The sudden loss of support makes her ankle buckle sideways.

She starts to fall.

GM: There’s a gray blur, and then he’s caught her, arms around her waist.

His gaze lingers for a moment before he remarks,

“Bad shoes.”

Celia: Even after all this time?

Always.

The line from the book echoes through her mind. Her body stops before she so much as grazes her knees across the floor. His arms around her, like they should have been all this time. Even in heels she has to look up at him.

“Bad shoes,” she agrees. Perhaps her voice is more faint than normal.

The moment lingers. Silence stretches between them. Closer than they’ve been in years. She thinks to make her heart hammer in her ribcage, to cause a flush to appear on her cheeks, but they’ve both been dead long enough to know that these are affected, forced gestures.

She touches a hand to his cheek instead. Her skin is warm against his cool flesh. His face looms in front of her, taking up her entire field of vision. Her eyes land on his lips, on the mouth that she knows so well.

She leans in.

Just as quickly she aborts the movement. She blinks twice, gaze dropping.

“Thank you.”

GM: With her gaze averted, Celia can’t make out the expression on her former paramour’s face. There’s another pause before he answers, “You’re welcome.”

He starts to help her to the couch, then seems to realize her shoe doesn’t have a flat underside even with the heel gone. He finally just picks her up for the remaining distance, short as it is, and deposits her on the couch.

Celia: She can’t help the laugh. It bubbles up inside of her and passes her lips before she can think to press them together to trap it inside. Inside, where he can’t hurt her. The sound transforms her face, brings light to her eyes. A moment of levity in a dark, tense life.

Once the fabric slip cover concealing the couch touches the backs of her legs she kicks off both of her heels, nudging them beneath the couch with her bare feet. She tucks her legs beneath her, smoothing her skirt down her thighs where it had ridden up in the excitement of the moment.

Her eyes find his. She pats the spot beside her.

GM: He takes off his coat, hangs it at the spot by the door, and sits down on the couch.

“Seems the crappy footwear was good for a laugh, at least.”

“I guess you could’ve used one right now.”

Celia: “It’s been… rough. I had a particularly awful day.”

Day, she says. Not night. She watches his face for any sign of… anything.

GM: “I guess that’s why I’m here,” he answers. His face doesn’t look like it’s done much laughing or smiling, but it is earnest and serious.

They did promise, after that second back-together bout of lovemaking. Perhaps it’ll count for something and perhaps it’ll count for nothing, but if nothing else, he is here.

“So, what happened?”

Celia: It’s not why he’s here, despite the fact that he—she stops her thoughts before she can go down that line. She’ll tell him in a minute, anyway.

“D’you know the punishment for being caught somewhere you’re not supposed to be?”

GM: “Sure. Usually a sip from the domain holder’s veins, though they can decide to go easier or harder. Cut and dry Second Tradition violation.”

Celia: Celia makes a vague gesture with her hand.

“Sure. For our kind.”

GM: “Okay, if you mean in the breather sense, trespassing has a scaling penalty. First count is a $100-500 fine, imprisonment up to 30 days, or both.”

“There’s all sorts of ways to make that go away, obviously.”

Celia: Her lips curl upward in amusement, though the motion doesn’t reach her eyes. Those are dead serious.

“Would I have called you about a $500 fine?”

GM: “By itself, probably not. If it was part of something bigger, maybe. You implied this wasn’t about lick-related trespassing.”

Celia: Celia folds her hands on her lap. She looks down at the rings on her fingers, the flower and sun. Spinning the band around and around her finger is an old, fidgety habit that tells him of her apprehension. She’d done it the night she’d confessed to cheating on him. She does it again now.

GM: “Unless you meant about a renfield being caught trespassing, in which case… well, sucks to be them. Largely up to the lick who caught them what happens.”

He looks at her ring and frowns faintly.

Celia: “I was picked up by a pair of hunters,” she says quietly.

GM: “I’m sorry. Glad you made it out.”

Celia: “Are you?”

GM: “Jesus Christ,” he mutters.

“Yeah, what you did really hurt, but I don’t wish you dead over it.”

Celia: “All I could think about,” she says to her lap, “while they had me tied and gagged and stabbed me with knives and held a lighter to my face, was that I’d die without ever actually doing anything, without fixing anything, and I had this stupid, absurd fantasy of y—someone swooping in and rescuing me, and when I got out, when I was finally safe again, I kept thinking about you.” She looks back up at him.

GM: Roderick doesn’t look completely sure what to say to that.

“That sounds horrible. What they did, that is. But I think your mom, Emily, Lucy, and your other brothers and sisters would disagree that you accomplished nothing of value with your life.”

Celia: He doesn’t know what to say because he doesn’t care. He still hates her. Silly to think that four years is long enough to let him forgive.

All this worrying for nothing. She’d wasted her Roderick card on Savoy’s missive.

She should have stuck with Jade.

She lets up on the gas. Lifts her shoulders in a shrug. Doesn’t say anything for a moment.

“Yeah.”

GM: “So what’s going on?” he asks. “Are you still in trouble from hunters, or is it something else?”

Celia: “Is it fucked if I say the hunters are the least of my troubles?”

An old ache throbs inside her chest. She wants to tell him. Wants to tell him everything. Wants to be able to tell him and trust that it will stay between them, that the rest of their society won’t find out.

She hates Savoy for making her do this.

“I mean. Celia might have to die. I guess that’s…” She trails off. He knows.

GM: He doesn’t say anything to that for a moment. She knows all-too well that he knows.

“I can’t say I’d recommend that, if you can avoid it.”

“So what’s going on?” he repeats.

Celia: Celia shifts in her seat, knees still bent but waist unhinging as if she is about to rise. She pauses halfway through the motion, catching his gaze. Her face is open. Earnest.

“I just wanted to get that out before I tell you this. All of that. Because I… I…”

GM: “Because you…?” he guides her along.

Celia: She bites her lip. Her eyes dart towards the floor where he had once thrown her. No bloodstains remain, but the wood itself is still gouged. She glances back at him, then at her lap, and finally looks up at him through a line of thick lashes.

“I…” she shakes her head. Makes a noise. “It doesn’t matter,” she finally murmurs.

She looks at him for a moment longer, as if wishing he just knew what she was thinking so that she doesn’t need to spell it out for him. How can he come here, make himself available, keep her from falling on her face, physically pick her up and carry her—hold her in his arms… and pretend it means nothing?

Maybe it does mean nothing. He’d probably do it for anyone. Maybe she’s reaching. Searching for something that isn’t there.

Maybe she killed it.

GM: It wouldn’t be the first time.

“All right, so what is it then?” he asks. “That you’ve been dancing around over. I presume it’s something bad. Probably also sensitive. But I can’t help if you don’t tell me what it is.”

Celia: “What I’ve been dancing around,” Celia says as she rises to her feet, “are my own feelings, things I won’t admit to myself, let alone you. I have… so much—there’s so much—”

She cuts herself off. It doesn’t matter. She hadn’t intended to say any of this to him; the words just spill out of her mouth of their own volition.

“My mom begged me to hit her tonight.” Her eyes flick once more toward the gouges in the ground. Maybe he doesn’t see it. Maybe he’s not watching her as closely as she’s watching him. Wary. Waiting for him to pounce.

“Begged me. She had a run-in with a stiff and it fucked with her head something fierce.” She looks devastated. She shakes her head again, a sharp motion that dislodges a few curls from her effortlessly messy up-do and lets them spill into her face.

GM: “Wow, that’s incredibly fucked,” he says. “To do that you’d… never mind. How is she now?”

Celia: “I don’t know. Her blooper reel… she’s fucked, Roderick, someone fucked with her, and they did it at a time that I couldn’t do anything back.”

She pauses. Takes a breath. “She seemed… fine when I left.” ‘Fine’ is generous. “I would kill to keep them safe. Her, Lucy, Emily—all of them. I’d kill for them.”

“Would you do anything less for yours?”

GM: He shakes his head. “If someone did that to my dad or Danielle… I’d kill them. End of story. So it couldn’t ever happen again. I can’t do a lot for my family, these days, but I could do that.”

“Your mom’s the sweetest lady, too. I don’t know why anyone would want to fuck with her head like that.”

“There isn’t any ‘good’ reason for it. Any lick who’d do that has to be a real monster anyway.”

Celia: “Because they needed to make a scene so she’d leave Maxen and he’d attack her, possibly get arrested, lose his seat.” Her voice is bitter. She doesn’t know if her theory is true, but after tonight… after tonight, she thinks she knows who did this to her.

GM: “So you think Savoy did that to your mom, or one of his people? That’s the problem?” Roderick asks, his eyebrows raising.

Celia: “No.” She paces. “If they did anything it was… too long ago to matter. It doesn’t matter. What happened years ago doesn’t matter. It can’t matter. I’m not mad at my grandmother for telling my mom to abort me, I can hardly be mad at them for taking action against a rival’s pawn.”

But she is.

She’s furious.

They broke her family.

She doesn’t know that it’s Savoy, but she suspects. Just like she now suspects who it was that handed her the gun and told her to kill the fucker when the story of his arrest was buried.

They lied to her.

And she can’t tell Roderick. She can’t tell anyone.

She pushes her rage down. Inside of her, where it can’t hurt anyone. Where it smolders like an ember in her gut. She can’t let him see it. She needs him to be on her side. Savoy’s side.

The rage doesn’t want to go away, though.

It’s a dark, twisted thought that she’s had. That the Kindred who offers her so much with one hand used the other to take a hammer to her family.

It comes howling to the surface. Fangs explode from between her lips. Maybe she howls, too, joins the Beast in its undulating chorus. Her claws come out, nailbeds splitting in their wake, blood dripping down her fingertips.

For a moment she’s a beast. A slavering, angry, mindless beast. The Beast.

It wants to destroy. Her arm lashes out, knocking a kitchen stool to the ground. Papers and trinkets go flying; she follows them down. Her claws rake across the ground, tearing gouges in the wood.

It isn’t the same as rending flesh. Flesh that she knows would part beneath her claws. Especially now, with that gift running through her system. She’d win. She’s sure of it. He’s on the couch. Waiting. Expectant. All she has to do is leap and tear and—

Stephen.

The girl’s voice in her head. Reminding her of what’s important. Reminding her of what needs to be done. The battle that she’s fighting isn’t with him; it’s with the rest of them. Tonight isn’t about her.

It’s gone as suddenly as it appears. Caged. Back to where it belongs, inside of her. Her knees hit the floor in its sudden disappearance, a puppet whose strings have been cut. Her palms strike the floor when she doubles over, fingers settling into the new grooves she’d just carved.

She stays down for a long moment. Enough to make sure that it is well and truly locked away.

Controlled breaths do nothing to calm or focus her. She isn’t human that these bullshit meditation techniques work. She takes them anyway. They make her feel human, and that’s what staves off the Beast. Ritual. Her ring spins on her finger. Claws and fangs retreat into her flesh and gums.

Her hair came undone with the action. It’s a wild, curling, tangled mess around her head. She shoves it back from her face when her spine straightens. Pulls her dress back down her thighs, though she stays on her knees, sitting on her heels. She wouldn’t want a recently-raging lick coming any closer. Still, she makes sure that her appearance is in check. That’s ritual, too. The curls don’t care. They bounce right back to where they were.

Her gaze seeks Roderick.

Tonight has been one mistake after another. Celia’s nerves are on edge, frayed by the close call with the hunters, her sister’s execution, trespassing in Vidal’s territory, Caroline, her mother…

It could be shame in her eyes as she looks at him. Frustration at her own self for being so emotional. Longing—wishing that she could just tell him. They were supposed to be friends. Allies. Partners. Lovers. Whatever he wants to call it, they were supposed to be it. Now she only has a ghost.

She’s been spiraling for nights. She hadn’t meant to lose control.

She’d beaten it back into submission, though. Not like him, when he’d beaten her instead of the Beast, when he’d pulverized her into a bloody pile of broken bones and torn ligaments and displaced tendons. She swallows whatever lump has lodged itself inside her throat, just like she’d swallowed the (possibly misplaced) anger at her grandsire.

At least she lost her cool here rather than in front of him.

“Are you—?” Okay, she might be asking, but the question seems silly. She hadn’t touched him. Still, she asks. The old ache colors her voice; she can’t keep it out. She stops trying.

GM: Roderick is squatting on his haunches next to her. He isn’t reaching out to touch her. Maybe because they’re not there anymore, or maybe because touching a lick on the verge of apeshit is an objectively terrible idea, no matter what feelings exist between them. She can hope it’s the latter.

“Yeah,” he answers. "You didn’t go apeshit on me. Your nails might be another story, but nothing you can’t mend. "

“Things are bad though, huh?”

Celia: Bad?

‘Bad’ is an understatement.

‘Bad’ makes her want to laugh.

She’s fourteen all over again and just found out her mom fucked someone else and she isn’t her dad’s kid.

She presses her lips together and nods. She hasn’t even gotten to the part she contacted him about. That’s the worst part. That she hasn’t even told him yet.

And now she’s afraid of losing control again and shattering whatever remains of the goodwill between them. Maybe, just for a minute, they can pretend.

She reaches for him.

GM: He doesn’t kiss her. But he lets her, shifting off his haunches to properly sit down.

Celia: Her body slides easily across the floor, scooching closer until her arms are around his neck and her face is pressed into the hollow between his shoulder and head and she’s, predictably, curled on his lap. It’s a familiar pose. An old pose.

Her eyes squeeze shut as she breathes him in. Wintergreen, tumeric, ginger—who had sold him this shampoo and why had they suggested it? Their kind don’t need to worry about thinning hair. It’s enough to make her exhale sharply through her nose, almost a laugh. The same kind of response she gives when she reads something funny on her Insta feed.

“Sorry,” she says to his neck, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—to…” To what? She hadn’t hurt him. Not tonight. “It’s harder to choke down a second time.” He knows that, of course; his clan is famous for their raging.

A warning, maybe.

Or a proposition.

GM: “Well, you didn’t go apeshit on me,” he repeats, rubbing her back. “Though I guess you could always say sorry to your floor, if you feel like getting more apologies out.”

It’s an intimate position Celia’s in with him, for someone just seeking comfort, but it’s far from the first come-on she’s made to her ex this evening.

“So, you said your mom ran into a lick recently. Who do you think it was, if it wasn’t Savoy?” he asks.

Celia: His haste to get back to the subject at hand tells her all she needs to know: there’s no leftover feelings here. None on his end. And maybe what she’s feeling is nothing. Not real. Just an old, familiar wanting, a desire to be close to someone she once trusted implicitly.

It’s a bitter thought, knowing that she ruined it.

“I know who it was.” The answer is given in a voice that lacks any inflection. Dull. As dead as the rest of her. “It was a fledgling. Some… girl I used to know. Lick now. She wasn’t trying to hurt my mom. I don’t think. It just… went downhill after that, my mom started freaking out, said she kept getting visions of Maxen taking away Lucy, nightmares from way back when.”

“My fault. Then. Now. Christ. I’m so fucking tired of paying for shit that I did when I was still a child. Nineteen. Fucking. Nineteen. Fucked everything up. Still paying. Years later.”

“Her. Isabel. My whole family. All of it. Logan—Logan is fucked, his whole head, he hit his girlfriend, just hit her, said she was nagging, now he wants to go overseas to blow people up. Just. Boom. Kill them all. I want to—to smack him, knock some sense into him or something. And then—then you, I messed up the only… the only good thing, I just—boom—blew it up. Self-destruction. Ruined. Everything. Just… just ruined.”

GM: Roderick’s face is sympathetic enough, for most of it.

But his hand falls when Celia brings up him.

Them.

“That wasn’t just you being 19,” he says evenly. “You also lied to me about it. I spent years thinking you’d cheated on me, which really fucking hurt, and dealing with that. Then we got back together when you said you hadn’t been cheating, and I tried to work past that, and all my guilt over cutting you out when I thought you didn’t deserve it. Then it turned out you actually had been cheating after all, and were lying about it, and were even lying about how you were cheating. And then I had to go through all of those emotions all over again, plus new ones, plus interest. And I bet that right now you’re wishing you had kept lying, because maybe if you had, we’d still be together. That wasn’t 19. I don’t feel like I can trust you not to always be lying to me about something.”

His next words are bitter.

But just as much, they’re simply hurt.

“Like any other lick.”

Celia: “I don’t.”

She pulls back far enough to look up at him, to meet his eyes.

“I don’t wish that I had kept lying. I hate it, I hate what happened, I hate that I did what I did, that I treated you like that, I hate it. What became of us. This. Yes. Yes, I wish we were still together, I do, I miss you, I want you, I thought I was over it and then there you were and it rekindled everything inside of me, but I don’t wish that I’d kept lying, I don’t want a relationship that’s built on lies.”

GM: He just looks at her. It doesn’t feel like he’s thinking of what to say. It feels like he already knows, and is just waiting to say it.

“I wish I could believe that,” he answers heavily.

“I really, really wish that I could.”

Celia: His words are a knife to the gut. It twists inside of her. She’s glad she doesn’t need to breathe; she doesn’t think she’d be able to swallow down any air past the numbness in her chest.

It’s a bubble waiting to pop, an ache she’ll never be rid of.

She did this.

Grief colors her world. Blue, gray, exactly like the dream she’d had. The tinkle of glass shattering reaches her ears and she knows that it’s her heart.

She did this.

Pressure in the back of her jaw, burning in the corners of her eyes. Might-have-beens flash before her vision, scenes of small houses with tiny fences and moonlit gardens, the two of them hand-in-hand, a white dress and champagne flutes of red, red wine.

She did this.

She broke him.

Them.

Her family.

Her mom.

Her sister.

Herself.

Her dad, too. Wishes gone awry.

She doesn’t wish for things anymore. But she wished for him. Maybe that’s why she can’t have him. Penance for twenty years ago. A seven-year-old’s blunder.

GM: It’s not too many more years until Lucy celebrates that same fateful birthday.

She should probably just tell her sister not to make any wishes, given how those have turned out for the Flores family.

“Is that the reason I’m here?” Roderick asks. “Because all that other stuff… hunters you escaped, lick who accidentally freaked out your mom, your brother and sister being fucked in the head by your dad… it’s all bad, and I’m sorry for it. I wish your family was whole and that hunters only went after licks who are unrepentant murderers. But is any of it an emergency you needed my help with?”

Celia: “No.” Hollow. “I wasn’t going to tell you any of that. But then I saw you, and it just… came out.”

GM: “Well, like I said, I’m sorry for it. You didn’t deserve to get tortured by hunters, and your mom should get to live her life in peace. It probably isn’t too late for your brothers and sisters, either, once they’re out of your dad’s house.”

Celia: “Not your problem.” Celia shrugs.

GM: “I guess it’s not. But they’re good people. If there’s something I can do for them, feel free to ask.”

Celia: She wishes he would stop. She doesn’t want his thoughts and prayers and half-hearted advice. She’s not his responsibility anymore. Her family isn’t his responsibility anymore. They’d both already made their plays, she’d lost, game over.

“Okay.” That, too, lacks inflection. As dull as the rest of her is vibrant.

GM: There’s an uncomfortable silence.

“So what did you bring me here for, then? You said it was something bad.”

Celia: Is it uncomfortable? She doesn’t notice. Maybe sitting on the floor on her ex’s lap is more uncomfortable than the silence. Maybe her thoughts are spiraling too hard for her to be aware of the silence.

Maybe she just doesn’t care anymore.

“I didn’t contact you for me. I did it for you. If you end up shooting the messenger, you can call Lebeaux to clean up what’s left of me.”

Maybe he’ll put her on the cross, too.

There’s no judgment in her voice, either. Just resignation. Weary and wary. Maybe she even hopes he’ll hit her. Hadn’t Daddy always said that a firm hand is just another form of affection?

GM: He frowns.

“What do you mean, you contacted me for me?”

Celia: “There’s been talk. Since the trial. That you’re… discontent.”

GM: “I’ve always been discontent with Vidal. He’s the lesser evil to Savoy.”

Celia: “Is he? Your personal feelings of the Mafia aside, is he really?”

GM: “Please tell me you aren’t shilling for Savoy here.”

Celia: “Yes, I wasted my one call Roderick for help card on a sales pitch. Buy in now for three easy payments of $19.99.”

GM: He glares. “It isn’t one, but it is for actually serious things.”

Celia: “It is,” she says quietly, all mirth gone from her face.

GM: “But okay, so you aren’t subbing for that ghoul of Pietro’s. So what is it?”

Celia: “It’s your sister.”

GM: He freezes.

“What?”

Celia: “Please don’t hit me.”

She’s already backing away, either for safety or to finally grab the phone she’d left on the counter earlier.

GM: He lets her go.

“I won’t,” he says shortly. “Now what is it about Danielle!?”

Celia: She rises to her feet, moving swiftly to pick up the new phone Alana had purchased for her. A few taps of her fingers as she returns to his side—in striking distance, he might note—unlocks the screen. She pulls up the photo of Danielle.

Wordlessly, she hands him the phone.

GM: He looks at it.

There’s a choked half-bestial howl as he turns and smashes its face against the wall, his fangs visibly distending.

Celia: At least the smashed face hadn’t been hers.

She flinches backwards, hands lifted in front of herself as if to ward him off should he look her way.

GM: He grabs the couch, hefts it up, and hurls it against the wall with a terrific crash.

Sounds of destruction go up as he mindlessly rips and tears cushions apart.

Celia: Celia watches the destruction across her apartment. She doesn’t stand in the way. She doesn’t get involved. She instead makes herself as small as possible, moving out of his path and into the tiny kitchenette.

Maybe there’s a cabinet she can duck into until he’s done.

GM: She opens one to check. Poorly-placed pots and pans come loudly crashing out. Roderick snarls at the noise, and then suddenly the furious Brujah is coming right at her.

Celia: Celia can’t help but wonder where the fuck the pots and pans came from, considering her undead status. Maybe they’d been here when she moved in and she’d forgotten about them. It’s not like she’s in her kitchen very often—it’d be just like her to shove them haphazardly inside and leave them there.

She has seconds before he smashes into her. She recognizes the rage in his eyes and wants no part of it. His “I won’t hit you” promise ends the moment the Beast takes over. Maybe if she’d stayed still…

It doesn’t matter. No time for regrets.

Celia’s body shifts. Hair sprouts from her skin, a cool steel gray that covers her from head to foot. Her muscles and bone compact, ears rising higher on her head into two tufted triangles, spine lengthening as bone shoots through her skin to form a tail. Brown eyes bleed into green. Nails sprout from the tips of her shrinking fingers, thumb retracting higher onto what is now a paw. Black pads have replaced her palms, and whiskers sprout from her face. Her nose sinks into her skin, lips disappearing as finely pointed teeth replace her own.

The transformation is instant.

Pic.jpg
A moment ago she was a girl. Now she’s a cat, darting into the open cupboard and pressing herself behind the pile of pots and pans, more nimble and dexterous in this form than she is in her own. She cuts through the “terrain” and into the next cupboard, glad for the lack of dividers.

The pink dress is left behind, formless with her sudden disappearance. It falls slowly to the ground. Another distraction for the raging Brujah.

GM: Metal bangs and crashes against tile floor. Fists slam against stove and counter. Sounds of destruction echo through the apartment as the cat-transformed Toreador hides.

It’s as she’s doing so that she observes some unfamiliar-looking papers in Roderick’s handwriting, lying on the kitchen floor. They must have fallen out during his rampage.

Celia: She waits until the sound of his warpath has taken him from the kitchen. Until he’s on the other side of the apartment. Then her paw flashes out, quick as that, and slides the papers toward her. She uses her teeth to pick them up and pull them into the cupboard with her, tucking the papers and herself away behind the junk inside the cabinet while his wild destruction continues.

Her eyes scan the page.

GM: It looks like a transcript written in shorthand. Individual lines all have a M, D, O, C, P, S, or H written in front of them:

M: Vienna catastrophe. Reports pouring in. Cities being systematically cleared. Hunters hunted.

S: Pyramid stands tall.

D: Matter of time before hits city.

C: Happening again. Sit on this.

P: Have warning. Can sit on it.

O: Will come out.

M: Conclave @ Prague to address.

H: Should send rep.

O: M logical but can’t spare.

Suggestions. P, H can go. D maybe.

P can’t go.

O: Sheriff?

M: Can’t spare.

_H: Gather names list. Submit @ next meeting?

Mo. suggestions. H compromise candidate. V wants Sanct._

_S: Gather names. Submit @ next meeting.

Vote_S: 3:3. M casts tie. Will submit @ next meeting.

C: Throw childer to Inq. pyres.

S: Worked last time.

D: Caused Anarch Revolt.

S: Countermeasures.

D: Won’t work.

P: Must have plan. Will hit city.

O: Baron + Savoy necessary on Cabildo.

S: Agreed.

M: Can’t happen.

O: Hobbles primogen.

_H: Vote?

_Vote_S:

yea: O, P, S

nay: D, C, H

3:3. M casts tie. Motion denied.

O: Would be denied anyway, nonbinding.

S: Will regret this when hits, can’t coordinate effectively. Savoy + Baron will pursue independent plans.

O: Know already if we do. Might be already.

M: Move on.

H: Prince Vitel? Host Black again?

D: Can’t hurt.

M: Are in touch.

P: Vidal?

M: Is informed.

D: Want here for this.

S: Vote request presence @ future meetings.

yea: D, O, P, S, C

nay: H

5:1

M: Will pass on.

P: Blacksites?

O: Haven’t seen any.

S: Houston?

P: House divided.

D: Will ask.

S: More thin-bloods good/bad, draw attn?

D: Don’t underestimate.

C: Don’t overestimate.

O: Don’t like.

P: Some merit.

H: Wait and see?

M: Prague year+ away.

M: More thin-bloods not happening.

M: Mid-City/Quarter still problem areas.

D: Anarchs angry.

C: Exterminate all. Infestation.

C: Prophecies very clear. Doom of us all.

H: Testament doesn’t mention.

S: Exterminate, only question sheriff or SI.

O: Always be more.

P: Keep numbers more manageable.

D: Are Masquerade risk as-is, ferment discontent.

S: Anarchs always turn on own.

H: Vidal plan?

M: More sweeps coming in Mid-City.

M: Advise to make selves scarce again or lose face w/ Anarchs.

D: Can only play card so many times.

O: Did when counted.

D: How big purge?

M: Big. Wants example made.

O: Always wants example now.

The sheet ends there.

Celia: Oh my god.

This is nothing like what she’d expected. Nothing like the note she had kept inside of herself before she could read it to Isabel. This is… this is huge.

She’d thought, maybe, it was some sort of love letter to her, but this…

Her thoughts swirl too quickly for her to try to pin down. She has to get to Savoy. She has to get to Savoy right now and she’s got a raging, hulking, maniac Brujah tearing apart her apartment.

She hunkers down. Her body stretches flat against the back of the cabinet where she hides. Her paw nudges the paper beneath the bottom of a frying pan. There’s no reason for him to look there, even if he notices it’s missing. Once he calms she can shove it inside herself, maybe, like she’d done before.

Now, though, she waits. Waits until his rage ends, until it’s safe to come out.

GM: “Celia?” his voice calls.

“I’m… in control again…”

Celia: Feline ears swivel toward the sound, trying to place it.

GM: From outside the kitchen.

Celia: Cautiously, slowly, the cat that was once a girl slinks from her hiding spot.

GM: Roderick’s leaning against the tipped-over couch. Red leaks from his eyes.

He looks up at the cat.

Celia: Awkward. She’d meant to shift back before he’d seen her.

Ah, well. Maybe he’ll be nicer if he can pet her. Maybe she can lick those tears away. Maybe the sight of her as a cat will distract him from… everything else. She pads toward him, tail flicking behind her, and stops just before she reaches him. She stares up at him with large green eyes. Green, like her name now. Like Veronica’s. Smoldering.

She takes stock of the damaged apartment. Small worry, but things will need replaced.

GM: It’s a wreck. He’s destroyed basically everything in the living room/kitchen area.

Roderick looks at the cat.

For a moment, it looks like he isn’t thinking of anything else.

“Why are you a cat.”

Celia: Is that a question? She can’t tell. It sounds more like an accusation than anything.

So much for belly rubs.

Her form shifts again. Hair recedes into her body. Her bones pop, growing back to their normal size, her muscles stretching with them. Nerves, blood, organs; it’s all there, rearranging inside of her as her frame shifts. Her ears slide back down her head, rounding out again, and her tail disappears back into her spine. Her fangs turn into teeth, except for those fangs, and her claws… her claws are still claws, even when she’s human, standing in front of him in her Jade skin with the rosy pink bra and panties that she’d sworn to herself he wouldn’t get to see. White lace dances across the top, some swirling pattern stitched across the sides.

She makes no move to cover herself, makes no sign that she’s embarrassed of her (lack of) clothing.

“Because,” she says simply, “you came after me, so I hid.”

Celia tucks a stray curl behind her ear. Her gaze moves to the closet. Did he ruin that, too?

She could say something about it. Be as petty to him as she is to everyone else. Make a snide comment about him not having the capacity now to do more than be destroy.

She doesn’t.

She doesn’t touch him, either. She wants to. Wants to pull him into her embrace, wipe the tears from his cheeks. Even after he’d come after her. Even now, with that look on his face.

GM: He might blink right now, if he were alive. But he isn’t and doesn’t.

“Oh. Sorry.”

The closet door looks like it got punched a few times, if the cracks in it are any indication, but it’s still closed.

Celia: That is the most half-assed apology that she has ever heard in her unlife.

GM: “I’ll… pay for this.”

He numbly looks towards the shattered phone.

Celia: “Okay.” She won’t fight him on that. She reaches out, as if to touch him, but thinks better of it. Her hand falls back to her side instead.

“I’m going to get dressed. Why don’t you… find a place to sit, and we’ll talk.”

GM: He looks around for a moment. Gets up. Moves back the battered couch with its torn-apart cushions.

When Celia gets get back from changing, he’s sitting on one of them, leaning forward, his face buried in his hands.

Celia: It only takes her a moment. She abandons the idea of putting the dress back on—she thinks he’d shredded it when he couldn’t find her—and selects a pair of leggings, a loose tee, neckline so large it slips off one shoulder Comfortable, casual, nothing even remotely form-hugging, nothing that could ever be considered sexy.

Unless that’s his shirt. Did he leave that here?

No, no, that’s the name of a band. He does listen to Love & Liars.

She seats herself next to him, legs drawn up beneath her body, turning to face him.

GM: “They got her,” he says hollowly.

Celia: “They did. I’m so sorry, Roderick.” She keeps her words quiet. Concern for him—for his family—colors her voice.

“It… it looked as if she’s been this way for a while. I don’t know how long. I contacted you as soon as I found out. But she hasn’t broken the Masquerade, she knows how to feed… someone taught her that much, at least.”

GM: He looks up.

“Where’d you get this? Where is she now?”

Celia: “That was at a club. In the Quarter. Beach on Bourbon.”

GM: He takes that in.

“How’d you even get a picture. We… make them turn out wrong.”

Celia: Oh.

Oh good.

She gets to explain that his sister is a thin-blood.

“We do. Except when we want them to turn out right. Could be that she knew the picture was being taken.” She’d thought that, initially. She hadn’t wanted to think that Danielle was a thin-blood. Having just been released from hunter captivity, her mind had jumped to all sorts of nefarious ‘bait’ plots.

“I don’t think that’s the case, though. No one wants to be caught feeding. I think… I think she might be a thin-blood.” She says it as delicately as she can. Still, there’s no good way to break that news.

GM: Horror blanches his face.

“What!?!”

Well, not blanches. It’s not as if he gets paler.

Celia: Hopefully there’s no more red, though.

Maybe that rage stays inside this time.

GM: “Danielle’s a fucking… abortion?!”

Celia: Oh. Uh. Well. That’s… certainly one way to put it.

Celia flinches at the word.

“It’s possible.”

“It’s also possible she knew she was on camera.”

GM: His face falls into his hands again.

“Oh. Oh my god. Oh, oh my god.”

Celia: “Can I…?” he can’t see her gesture, face in his hands as it is. She reaches out anyway, touching a hand to his shoulder, offering whatever comfort that might bring. If he doesn’t lash out at her she brings him in for a hug.

GM: He doesn’t lash out. Or shove her off. He doesn’t shake, either, like a living man might.

But the coppery aroma wafting up from between his hands is unmistakable. Celia can feel her fangs elongating in her mouth.

Celia: She can’t help it.

She’s not hungry, but she wants it anyway.

She’s quiet for a moment, as if to obscure the fact that she’s popping a boner, to keep it tucked neatly inside her mouth. She’d had a client pop a chub on the table; he’d made it more awkward by trying to conceal it, and when his face had turned red she’d told him, smiling, that it happens all the time.

It does.

It’s natural.

Her body’s natural, undead response.

She rubs a hand long his back, slow strokes meant to soothe.

She doesn’t tell him it will be okay.

It might not be and she doesn’t want to lie. Not to him. Not anymore.

She doesn’t know what to say, really. Honesty comes rare these days, and she doesn’t want to make promises that she doesn’t know she can keep. She doesn’t want to remind him of the faction war. Doesn’t want to linger on anything unpleasant.

Coward.

“She’s safe, Roderick,” she says finally, quietly. As safe as can be, anyway.

“I won’t let anything happen to her.”

GM: He slowly looks up, red messily splotched over his eyes.

“How… how do you know? Where is she now?”

Then, more quietly, “Who did this to her?”

There’s an undercurrent of menace to the question she hasn’t heard from her former boyfriend before.

Celia: “She’s being watched. To make sure she doesn’t draw attention. But I haven’t… I haven’t approached her yet, so I don’t know, I don’t know who did this.”

“I wanted to tell you before I tried to talk to her.”

GM: “I can’t believe it,” he says numbly. “They turned my baby sister into a fucking abortion.”

Celia: Celia makes sympathetic, soothing sounds as she rubs her hand along his back. “I’m sorry,” she says again, “I’m so sorry this happened to her.”

GM: “I can’t believe it,” he repeats. “You know what, I’m not even going to pretend. Fuck equality. Fuck them being ‘Duskborn.’ Fuck everything the Anarchs say. They make me sick, to my stomach, and I can’t think of a… of a worse thing to happen to her. To anyone.”

Celia: She’s quiet. She pulls him close to her, letting him feel the movement of her head nodding in agreement. She lets him get it out.

“It is. It’s awful. It’s…” she trails off. “I’m here for you. Whatever you need.”

GM: “Do you think we go to Hell when we die? Do you think they do?” he asks.

Celia: “The Sanctified think that we’re all Damned. That our whole purpose here is to serve God by scaring mortals onto the straight and narrow. Taking care of the flock, so to speak. It’s implied that we do, but…” Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need. “I’ll admit, I think most organized religion is kind of… I mean, cultures create religions because of things they’re afraid of. It tells us how to act, how to be. And their underworlds, their sins, their purgatory—it’s all based on their traditions.”

“We’ve adopted Catholicism pretty heavily in this city because of Vidal, but it’s true all around the world. Look at the kine. Ancient civilizations. Hell has evolved over time, like everything else, and so has what it takes to get there. You take places like Mesopotamia, Sumer, Akkad, three thousand years before the birth of Christ, and they’ve got stories of their underworld too. In Mesopotamia it was the City of the Dead. Or… well, City of Dust. A lot like the regular world, but very dreary. Darker. Like if you take a movie and watch it at a really low resolution. That’s what their version was. And in order to get there you had no control over it, none at all. There were only a handful of reasons you’d go to that underworld, and they were things like dying a violent, unavenged death, not being buried with proper rituals, not having your grave tended to properly. You literally have no control over that. So anthropologists think that it’s because of things they wanted to avoid at the time, like war. War is bad, ruins the people, they start saying that if graves aren’t tended to or deaths are violent there will be ghosts, they make their people not want to go to war.”

“There’s no individual, moral connection to where you end up.”

“Then you get into Ancient Egypt, and they rely heavily on the Nile in their civilization. It brings them life. Every year it would flood and if it floods too early or too late or not at all then it doesn’t water what it needs to and doesn’t deliver the nutrients to the soil, so their people starve. They’re obsessed with order. Look at how they mummified people: to stop the chaos of decay. Their afterlife had a whole song and dance you needed to do in order to get to it, all these gates and monsters, and then you meet the gods at the end and they weigh your heart and if you’re not perfectly balanced then they eat you. So Egypt was about some moral choices, but if you didn’t have the right ‘spells’ to fight the monsters and the right answers to the gods’ questions then you’re boned.”

“The Aenied has a whole excerpt about what happens in the underworld, and within its pages you get full-on torture scenes: do bad things and bad things happen to you. We start to get more into the personal narrative.”

“The afterlife… it’s a tool for control, really. We take what’s important. We make it sound important. Don’t do these things or you’ll go to the bad place.”

“But… that’s kine, I guess. I had a dream…” Celia trails off for a moment, gathering her thoughts. “I had a dream I was visited by a ghost recently. I don’t remember all of it, but he said that he’s in this place that’s kind of between worlds. An echo of worlds. Dark. Dreary. Like the underworld I mentioned a bit ago. Said that death row is a better bargain.”

“But he was human, and he became a ghost, so… maybe we don’t go to Hell. Maybe there is no Hell. Maybe there’s just nothing. We cease to exist. Maybe Hell is the absence of God. Maybe the Buddhists have it right and we just go into nothingness.”

“That’s all the afterlife is. That’s all any religion is. Searching for meaning. You have these communities of Kindred who are searching for a purpose—because that’s all we are, ever, searching for a purpose, for a reason to exist, for the answers about why the world is the way it is, why bad things happen, why people die… And maybe, all that time ago, it started innocuously enough, but even as early as Egypt you see people making money off of it. People would sell the ‘Book of the Dead’ scrolls that had the spells and answers you needed for the gates, you could even personalize them for more money, and they made these little statues that served you in the afterlife. Their whole culture was about maintaining things exactly as they were, someone said of course it means there’s work in the afterlife, but if you buy this statue it will serve you instead.”

“So now someone comes along and unites everyone in a religion, says that these are the rules now… it started with the kine, but we do it too. The canons are really, really similar to the Traditions. Rules to follow. But no one was there, so no one can really say for sure. It’s all just passed on orally. Even if a lick is old enough to claim to have been there, how much do they really remember? How much of it is something they make up because it suits their purpose?” They’d talked about this before, with the Ventrue and the Brujah and Carthage. Everyone tells their ideal story.

“As people, we create these stories of the afterlife because we’re afraid of something. As Kindred, we just… modify them. I mean, the Sanctified story about Longinus is… is kind of a direct rip-off of Zoroaster did thousands of years ago—”

She pauses. Maybe this isn’t what he’s looking for. She runs her fingers through her mess of curls, smiling sheepishly.

“Did that, uh, answer your question?”

GM: Roderick gives a mostly blank look as Celia talks.

“Look, the theology, sociohistoric context, fascinating. Any other time. Mostly I was just thinking about how likely Danielle is to get ashed and wondering what’ll happen to her.”

Celia: Right. Maybe she should have saved the history lesson. He’s the only person she ever opens up to about this kind of thing and now she knows why: no one ever really wants to hear it if it’s only tangentially related.

“I told you I wouldn’t let anything happen to her.”

GM: There’s a bitter laugh.

“What, you want to offer Meadows a manicure for her claws when she comes calling?”

Celia: I mean, would that work? Maybe she’ll try it if she ever runs into the scourge. ‘Hey babe, red would look good on you.’

“I’m not as useless as people seem to think I am, Roderick.”

Like you seem to think I am goes unsaid.

But it’s there. The judgment she feels coming off of him for her chosen profession. A long-ago fear, finally manifested.

GM: Roderick gives another bitter laugh.

“You weren’t there for it. 2011. I’ll never forget.”

Well, it’s true Celia wasn’t there personally.

But she knew someone who was.


Sunday night, 4 December 2011, AM

GM: “Here to their bosom mother earth, take back in peace what thou has given, and, all that is of heavenly birth, God in peace recall to heaven.”

So reads the motto crowning the entrance to Cypress Grove Cemetery. The cemetery, laid out with a 28-foot-wide central avenue flanked by narrower aisles, has a monumental entrance gate in the Egyptian Revival style, suggesting a triumphal passage from one world to the next. Although Mid-City’s cemeteries are not as well-known as some of the city’s other ones, most tourists are still impressed. Rows and rows of above-ground mausoleums stretch on for as far as the eye can see. Graves here could actually be sunk six feet without reaching water, Ayae heard somewhere, but the preference for above-ground tombs persisted. Old habits die hard.

Tombs are arranged in a grid formation with a broad, paved walkway, called Live Oak Avenue, forming a long, central, north-south axis from Canal Street to Banks Street. The walkway is flanked by narrower parallel and intersecting paths named after locally favored plants and trees, including myrtle and rose. Two live oaks stand on the eastern perimeter of the cemetery, their moss hanging low and grazing the tops of the graves below. Elaborate marble, granite, and cast-iron tombs populate the cemetery and serve as examples of memorial architecture. The cemetery’s irregularly shaped lot cuts diagonally across a city block, and is separated from St. Patrick Cemetery No. 1 to its east by a wall of “fours,” or stacked burial spaces.

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At the dead of night, it stands silent and abandoned. Everyone from the city, and any tourist who’s done their research, knows the cemeteries are not safe places to linger after dark.

Perhaps they think it’s because of gangs and criminals.

Oftentimes it even is.

But sometimes the gangs and criminals know to stay away, too.

Some of them know there are things in the city, that emerge after dark, with which you do not fuck.

There’s at least a dozen of them, silently stealing into the cemetery. Some bound over the walls in mighty leaps. Some climb up with a swiftness and sureness no mortal hand could match. Some descend on literal dark wings. Some stride through the front entrance as if they own the place, invisible to mortal sight. Pale-faced and cool-eyed predators, most of them young among their own kind, but all of them secure in their place as apex hunters among a world of prey.

Ayame: Criminals, vagabonds, ruffians… that’s what the kine call ‘em, but Ayame knows them for what they are: Anarchs. A whole lot of them, too. Gathered together in the cemetery precisely because the rumors say it isn’t safe. Less chance of an unsuspecting breather walking in on them like this.

That thing that goes bump in the night over in Cypress Grove? High chance it’s a lick. Maybe a few of them. Playing games, tearing each other’s throats out, pumping other people full of lead. Those’re the kind of games the Anarchs play. Nothing pretty.

Nothing sweet, not like the face she’s got: heart-shaped, pale skin, big eyes. Hazel. Somewhere between green and blue and gray. Mostly they’re gray. Stormy, like the fog at sea. It’s an enchanting face… or would be, if it ever moved. White marble, hardly any inflection. A mouth that’s made for long, solemn glances. Ayame doesn’t smile. Not with her mouth, not with her eyes. She makes other people smile though. Red smiles, right across their throat.

She doesn’t walk so much as slink, long strides in leather leggings made longer yet by the thigh-high boots. Rail-thin, all hard edges and angles, the kind of predator you don’t want to run into in a dark alley. Or maybe you do, until her lips part and you see those long, sharp, glinting fangs.

Maybe she chose the clothes because they’re black on black on black. They blend so nicely with the night, don’t they, some sort of urban camouflage that lets her slip in and out of the silver moonlight that breaks through the clouds. The sweater’s hood is pulled up over her hair, its form loose on her slight frame. Black gloves—biker gloves—complete the look.

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Near-silent footfalls see her through the rows of gravestones, the mausoleums, the little blocks of marble on the ground with their names and dates and whatever bullshit saying someone carved onto it because people think that it means something.

It doesn’t.

She’s killed enough people to know it doesn’t. They all die screaming.

Ayame is nothing more than a shadow that steals through the darkness as she takes the place she has carved out amongst her kind.

GM: It is not overlong before their gathered faces become plain to her:

Many of the shadowy figures dressed in leathers and studs, wifebeaters, and gang trappings. Some might say these licks play at being gangsters, but it might be more apt to say that gangsters play at being licks. Who’s better at sucking the lifeblood from a community?

Other attendees, though, are incongruently well-dressed for their present surroundings: Prada, Armani, other high-end fashion brands. Looks might not be able to kill, by themselves, but they can advertise. It’s the rare lick with money not stained by someone’s blood.

A few of the present vampires look downright pedestrian. Ordinary jeans and sweatshirts. Ordinary Johns and Janes, just out past their bedtimes. It’s getting to be an increasingly popular look as the 21st century rolls into its second decade. The wolf doesn’t want the sheep to know it’s there.

Veronica Alsten-Pirrie shows up with Pietro Silvestri, sneering and looking gorgeous doing it. The now krewe-less pair used to run in a coterie with some other Anarchs, Ayame’s heard, who didn’t survive Katrina. Now it’s just them. Immortality gets lonelier with every decade.

Two still beats one, though. Micheal Kelly’s krewe was also decimated down to just two licks, but his former krewemate Shep went off to found his own coterie. Had to have been some kind of dispute, though, because Coco’s older childe now stands alone.

Ed Zuric and Jack McCandles make up another duo. Two-fifths of the Armstrong Five who liked the Anarchs enough to join up.

The Kindred Liberation Front seems enormous next to those duos and solitary licks. The city’s oldest surviving Anarch krewe includes half a dozen Kindred: Jonah Freeman, Maxzille Babineaux, Dr. Petrowski, Laura Ravenwood, Eris D., Simon Jones. They lost people, too. Everyone did. Some clearly lost fewer.

Risen from Katrina’s ashes are the Night Axles. Isa Suarez, Marcio de la Cuz, and Bliss Jackson all follow the hulking Shep Jennings’ lead, though Ayame hears Bliss has been making noise about wanting to start her own krewe. The Brujah are not too good at being followers, sometimes.

The newest de facto krewe hasn’t even decided on a name yet. Roderick Durant, Christopher Guilbeau, Hezekiah Santana. Ironic to see the three golden sons, the first licks Embraced in the city post-Katrina, all go Anarch. Says a lot, if you ask the Anarchs. But so does Veronica’s childe Jade not doing the same.

The Twenty-Twenties are another new one. Gerald Abellard, Arzilla Boudon, Andy Philips. Two sewer rats and a Gangrel ugly enough to pass for one. Misery must love company there.

The Lost Angels, the last krewe, have gotten thoroughly lost after Katrina. They can’t show their faces in Mid-City after what went down during the storm, though Ayame hasn’t heard exactly what. Oh well. There’s few enough angels here anyway.

All told, the gathering comes out to around two dozen licks. Two dozen blood-drinkers standing around in a cemetery. Even if it feels like there’s still a lot of empty places, God help the tourist hapless enough to wander into this midnight lions’ den.

Ayame: Ayame stands apart, close to the krewe of “golden sons” but not so close that a casual observer would think she were one of their numbers. All three of them young yet, like her, but already shining above the trash and rats. She spares a nod toward Christopher. Ayame has carved herself a place here among these Anarchs, but she has made no overtures to claim membership within one of the assembled krewes. Apart, but not alone; though no one watches her back these nights neither have any painted a target upon it, and these are the people among whom she has made her home. Her cool gaze descends upon the others assembled, unflinching in the wake of their appraisal while her own mind does the mental calculations. A group of predators who jostle and claw their way to the top, and she as a dark ghost among them.

How quickly they would descend upon an intruder, though; she has seen it happen, a handful of licks around an unsuspecting mortal who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, torn to pieces before he could even wonder at the error.

She waits, as they do, a stone statue amidst the graves. Dead men meeting in the cemetery—now there’s a funny thought.

GM: But dead men are missing something without living people to visit them.

Ayame thought bringing lots of renfields to the rants was a no-no. But they slowly trickle in, as she stands so still. Men and women who don’t smell dead, who don’t sound dead, with hearts still audibly beating in their chests. They don’t invade the cemetery like the others do, scaling or leaping over the walls like they’re no more than bothersome speed bumps, or not even that. These less-dead people simply walk in through the front gates, fully visible to Ayame’s ears and eyes.

They don’t walk the same, either. They don’t stride in like they own the place, jungle cats among a jungle of prey. Their strides are slower and less certain. Many of them are dressed worse, too, in threadbare thrift store clothes. A few look like they’ve dressed up in their Sunday bests—not dressing to kill, like the sleek urban predators in their luxury brands, but dressing to look nice. But far more of them sport the ‘dressed like an ordinary breather’ look. Plain jeans, sweatshirts, jackets. Unremarkable and unthreatening.

Some of the Anarchs give low hisses at the first ones to arrive. Eye them like mountain lions around housecats. Sure, same diet. Same fur, same tails. But not the same league.

First there’s just a few. Alone among the mass of bigger, badder predators, and all-too vulnerable-feeling.

But then there’s a few more, and there’s half as many eyes on the initial ones.

And then a few more.

And then a few more.

And then a few more.

And eventually, there’s maybe as many ‘people’ with beating hearts as there are ones with still hearts.

Some of the predators are starting to look nervous.

Sure. You might be a match for one of them.

Two of them.

But this many?

Some whispers are audible around Ayame.

“Jesus.”

“I didn’t think there were this many.”

“Where’d they come from?”

“Who the fuck is actually siring all these abortions?”

There’s some glares among the new arrivals and hisses of, “Duskborn.”

Children of the dusk. Of neither the day nor the night. Caught between two worlds. Crushed under both.

Or perhaps until now.

Try to crush this many, and you just might get crushed too.

Ayame: Ayame isn’t one of those who overtly hisses or bares hateful fangs at the half-breed mongrels. The others echo her own sentiments well enough. Bad enough that Caitiff are running around, but these? They deserve whatever knife they get. Her weight shifts from foot to foot until she is closer to those neonates she’d eyed—the golden ones—than further apart. For all their differences they, at least, are legitimate childer.

Not this mess of nobodies.

GM: “You too good to stand next to us, fat-blood?” one of them growls at Ayame. She’s a dark-skinned woman with only a single visible fang when she opens her mouth. Her other canine is just as flat as the rest of her teeth.

There’s three others of her kind standing right next to her. All looking at Ayame too.

Ayame: “Making room,” Ayame shoots back at her.

GM: “Thoughtful,” answers the guy next to her. He’s a thin and gangly-looking man with two fangs, but they’re small and dull-looking things. Ayame has to wonder how easily they can draw blood. “You can try to shut us out. But there’ll always be more of us.”

Ayame: Maybe they all carry knives. She would, if she were made of the same garbage that these people—not licks, not Kindred, just people, and that’s pretty fucking generous—were.

She makes a gesture towards the space between her and the next krewe. The shining suns—sorry, golden sons—is a welcome presence at her back. Maybe they’ll prove that they were worth it if it comes to that.

They, at least, aren’t walking accidents.

GM: “It looks like there will,” answers one of the ‘golds.’ Roderick Durant. Coco’s childe. He’s one of the Kindred who’s dressed up in a professional-looking suit under his coat.

“But that’s why we’re all here tonight. We can either keep butting heads—nonproductively when there will, as you say, always be more of you—or find some way to coexist.”

Ayame: She’d heard that he was Ventrue, like the lick next to him. Must be the suit.

Ayame doesn’t smile. Her mouth isn’t made for it; she’s got the sort of lips that are made for pouting, and maybe kissing when she still drew breath. Now, though, she dips her chin as if she agrees with his words, her eyes still on the would-bes. Appraising.

“As he says, I am sure we will find common ground.”

They’re almost licks, anyway.

GM: “We’ll see,” answers the woman.

There’s a sharp whistle from another space in the roughly ring-shaped gathering that’s formed.

“All right, y’all, thanks fah comin’ ’ere tonight,” calls out Maxzille. She’s a caucasian woman in seemingly her early 20s with long blonde hair. She’s dressed in a camo-patterned jacket, blue jeans, a brown cowboy hat, and matching boots. A necklace with a silver peace sign and an ankh dangles from her neck.

“Big mama an’ big sistah ain’ here tonight, so looks like us kids are hostin’ all y’all first-timers.”

“And why aren’t they here?” calls one of the thin-bloods.

“They too good to share a cemetery with us?” asks another.

Rumblings go up from the crowd.

“Dey ain’ here ‘cuz dere’s a conclave up noahth in Atlanta,” answers Max. “One das’ aimed at addressin’ y’all Duskborn’s issues, ‘mong other things. Dey thought it was important for da Big Easy ta have a voice when a justicar’s makin’ noise ‘bout y’all, an’ Ah agree with ’em.”

“We do things heah in Mid-City by majority vote, fer those of y’all who ain’ familiar. One lick, one vote. Ah like havin’ two moah voices ta listen to much as da rest o’ y’all do, but missin’ two voices ain’ gonna slow us down too much.”

She looks around at the thin-bloods.

“And by mah count, we got a lot more dan two new voices ‘ere ta make up fer da missin’ ones.”

There’s some murmurings from the crowd.

“Order o’ business a lot o’ us want ta bring up tonaht’s pretty simple, Ah think. How we all gonna get along.”

“For dose of y’all who ain’ heard yet, dere’s word ferm on high, at da Venice conclave this year. Buncha princes, justicars, an’ assorted Camarilla bigwigs all say, time fer nightborn licks ta stop comin’ down so hard on da duskborn ones.”

“Is that what they said?” calls a thin-blood from the crowd. “I heard they told the princes ‘good job’ and gave them a slap on the back for ten years of genocide.”

“That wasn’t genocide-” scoffs another voice.

“The deliberate and systematic extermination of an entire group of people,” cuts in the thin-blood next to Ayame. “The institution of a political office in Camarilla cities solely responsible for carrying out duskborn killings. That sounds plenty like genocide to me.”

“It was genocide,” Roderick answers. Heads turn towards him. “Some licks here might deny it, but I won’t, and that’s why I’m here. Because the Camarilla’s period of sanctioned genocide is over and I want to help figure out what the future between nightborn and duskborn Kindred is going to look like.”

“And you’re right,” he says as someone else starts to interject, “the Camarilla didn’t say the genocide was over, or call it genocide, or apologize for it. They said the threat posed by duskborn Kindred was contained and called on princes to ‘direct their energies to the 21st century’s other challenges.’”

“It’s the same tactic as when they said ‘mission accomplished’ over the Red Question,” speaks up Jonah Freeman. He’s a thick-bearded black man in jeans and a leather jacket. A necklace with a tiny quartz heart pierced by a fingerbone dangles over his chest. “They realized the quote-unquote ‘problem’ was too big for them to deal with. That they couldn’t destroy every single text asking ‘why do you obey?’ that every single Anarch had. So rather than acknowledge they’d lost, they just said they won. That they were taking their toys and going home. When they say ‘this threat’s contained,’ they’re saying ’it’s too big for us to contain.’”

“Remember that?” guffaws Andy Philips. “Vidal said we’d be in soooo much trouble if we had any of the Red Question’s stuff! Well who here does?”

Ayame: “The difference,” Ayame cuts in with barely a look towards the rat-faced Philips, “is that the duskborn did not ask to be created this way, just as you did not ask to be black, you did not ask to be white, and I did not ask to be Asian. So if the genocide is over then let it be over. We can hem and haw all we want over definitions and unrelated instances of ‘justice,’ or we can learn from it, better ourselves, and find a way to coexist. Which I believe,” she glances at Max, “is the purpose of this evening.”

GM: “Is he black? I can’t tell past all the hair,” shoots Bliss Jackson.

There’s some snickers.

Ayame: No wonder they never get anything done.

GM: “Is she not a slut? I can’t tell past all the cleavage,” leers Gerald Abellard.

There’s some more laughs. Hardest from Andy.

“I’ll beat your fuckin’ ass, sewer rat!” Bliss shouts back, taking a step forward.

Ayame: Ayame hopes she does. The rats are hardly a step up from the abortions in their midst.

“Easy,” she says instead. They don’t need infighting with all these unknowns.

GM: Shep and her krewemates clamp hands over her shoulders.

Andy Philips flips his middle fingers.

Abellard mimes a handjob with his mouth open.

“Cut dat shit, y’all!” Max interjects with a pointed glare between the three. “Dis how we gonna conduct ahselves when da big mama an’ big sistah ah away? Sure proves dem eldahs righ’, don’ it, dat da Anarchs are just a buncha unruly kids good fah nothin’ but fightin’ an’ fuckin’? Too immature ta make deir own decisions, better leave dat ta da older an’ wiser heads?”

Bliss just glares.

“This sure fills me with a whole lot of faith,” comes one thin-blood’s voice.

“We’re all less than perfect,” answers Jonah Freeman. “Just like the Camarilla is a hell of a lot less than perfect. That’s the world. We’ve got a common oppressor and we can learn to coexist, like Ayame says, or else… what? What’s the alternative?”

Ayame: “Tear each other apart,” Ayame finishes for him, “like the others think we eventually will. Prove them right that we need a firm hand.” She lifts her shoulders in a shrug. “I do not know about the lot of you, but I am not interested in my Requiem being scripted for me by the ‘powers that be.’”

GM: “I think it’s problematic to phrase things like that,” interjects Laura Ravenwood, a gothic-looking and wavy-haired young woman in black and red silk. “We share a common oppressor, but the duskborn have it so much worse than we do. The Camarilla tried t-”

“-we can speak for ourselves, thanks,” interrupts the one-fanged thin-blood next to Ayame. “And we’ll thank any nightborn here not to speak for us about how bad we have it.”

“I’m not trying to speak for you. I’m Caitiff, I understand what it’s like to be-” replies Laura.

“-you don’t understand,” interrupts another thin-blood, an overweight black man in a navy sweatshirt.

“This isn’t productive,” speaks up Dr. Petrowski, a bookish-looking older man in glasses and a tweed jacket. “Can we simply acknowledge that-”

“Did you obtain tenure?” asks the thin-blood by Ayame.

Petrowski’s brow furrows. “What in the world does-”

“You were a professor at Tulane. Did you or did you not obtain tenure?”

“Yes, I obtained tenure. How di-”

“Because I remember your face from Tulane, though I’m sure you don’t remember mine. I was also a professor there. But I was an adjunct. I worked my ass off for years to be treated like barely more than a slave. I told a nightborn she shouldn’t speak for duskborn, because she hasn’t experienced our some level of oppression, and you’re telling everyone it’s nonproductive for me to correct her. It presumes a position of superiority to judge what is and is not productive, and makes talk of equality between us seem like a lie.”

Petrowski’s brow remains furrowed. “Miss, what in the world does my tenure have to do to with those points of contention?”

“Because you’re talking down to me from twice the position of privilege, and that pisses me off!” the thin-blood yells angrily.

There’s angry murmurs of agreement from the others.

Ayame: Annoyance shoots through her.

“We all have unique experiences and trials. There is no reason to turn this into a pissing contest about who has it worse and how the other side either does or does not understand. Trying to make other people see eye-to-eye with you is a futile waste of time, and while we say it is unlimited for us now, I can think of plenty of other things I would rather do than sit around and compare dick lengths.”

“We do not have to be friends. We do not have to even like each other. We only have to exist in the same space without resorting to squabbling.”

GM: “And what about when nightborn presume to tell us what is and isn’t productive for us to talk about?” asks another thin-blood, a black man with dreadlocks in a cotton zip jacket. “We ask to be treated as equals, nothing more or less. Is that a pipe dream?”

Veronica rolls her eyes as Pietro smirks.

Ayame: “I literally just agreed with you. Are you looking for an argument?”

GM: “You said we should stop comparing dick lengths about who has it worse,” answers the man. “Okay. I agree with that. Do you agree it was wrong for glasses guy over there to judge what is and isn’t productive for us to talk about, because it presumes nightborn are better than duskborn?”

Ayame: “I think this whole conversation is unproductive,” Ayame says flatly, “and we are all just looking to claw our way to the top and somehow be above someone else for whatever reasons we think we should be. We can all find a reason to hate each other and think we know best. But are all here for the same purpose, are we not? Survival, certainly, but beyond that we seek to thrive. So let us thrive.”

GM: “We are better than you,” says Christopher Guilbeau. “I’ll say the quiet part out loud.”

Shouts of outrage erupt from the thin-bloods.

Ayame: God damnit.

GM: The Ventrue’s voice booms over the yelling throngs like he’s speaking into a megaphone.

“We’re. Better. Than. You. Let that sink in. But guess what? Just because we’re better doesn’t mean you don’t have a place here. I think you’d all make great Anarchs. We’ll give you a better deal than the Camarilla ever will. I won’t lie to you about what that means, though. Anyone who says you’re equals is just telling you what you want to hear.”

Roderick slaps his palm over his forehead.

The shouts of outrage continue unabated. Some of them are coming from true-blooded Kindred.

“Stop! Talking!”

“That is such a Ventrue thing to say!”

“Take him down!”

“Fuck you!”

“Fuck you! He’s right! We are better!”

“Go back to China, you stupid chink!” someone yells at Ayame.

Ayame: “I’m from fucking Texas, you shit-for-brains.” She doesn’t even know who she’s talking to at this point. The voices of outrage are too many to keep up with. Her gaze cuts towards Max and Jonah, then Veronica and Pietro, as if one of them is going to step in and fucking do something in lieu of Opal and Coco.

It’s not even worth it to point out that she’s Korean, besides.

Morons.

GM: “No you’re not! You’re fucking Chinese, rice-for-brains!” shouts back Bliss Jackson.

“Ching chong chinagirl, go do math!” yells a white male thin-blood.

It looks like they’ve found something to agree on.

Ayame: Bully for them.

GM: Veronica and Pietro sneer and laugh to themselves at the uproar. It doesn’t look as if much action is going to come from either.

“Everyone, JUST BE QUIET!” Roderick shouts over the noise, or at least tries. When it doesn’t stop, Maxzille sticks two fingers in her mouth and gives a shrill, ear-piercingly loud whistle.

“All right, Y’ALL JUST COOL IT!”

“Chris here maht think he’s better’n some licks, an’ das’ his right ta buhlieve whatevuh da fuck he wants ta believe, but it sure ain’t what Ah believe. Who else ‘ere don’ buhlieve what Chris buhlieves?”

“I don’t believe what he believes,” says Jonah. “We’re all Bondye’s children.”

“I sure don’t,” says Roderick. “Believing nightborn are better than duskborn is the logical extension of the Camarilla’s belief system. It’s to buy in to elders’ rhetoric that someone’s generation counts for more than character. It’s to accept that someone’s worth as an individual is determined by an accident of death: by what sire happened to slit a wrist over their mouth, rather than how by how they’ve actually lived their Requiem. I thought we all agreed that was bullshit.”

Ayame: Smaller words, Durant, you’ve lost half of them.

Ayame crosses her arms. She gives a curt nod of assent.

“They keep us divided to keep us small. If we let it work, they win.”

GM: “There are no rules anywhere,” giggles Eris D, a green-haired girl in a leather jacket. “The goddess prevails. Curb your dogma. The enlightened take things lightly. Reality is the original Rorschach.”

“Fucking Malks,” someone ‘mutters.’

Most the true-blooded Anarchs take turns voicing similar sentiments. Some are more enthusiastic than others. Some give speeches. Others just nod. Christopher walks back on his words, a little, in a way that sounds like it’s being apologetic without actually apologizing. Veronica and Pietro make caustic remarks about their grandsire without saying a word on thin-bloods. Perhaps little surprise, when they’re the closest vampires to Caine out of any here.

Ayame: Her eyes follow the speakers, and once the Anarchs are done they settle on the single-fanged thin-blood next to her, and the dulled bite beside that one.

She is distinctly unsurprised when the exiled prince’s childe minces his words as hard as he does, or that the two older Toreador make vague noises while getting in a dig at Chastain. Their exemplary packages contain nothing but rot.

GM: “Okay, you’re all willing to pay at least lip service to equality. I’m not going to say that’s everything, but it’s a hell of a lot better than we’ve been getting from the Camarilla. It’s a start and it leaves me hopeful for the future. Maybe we all can get along,” answers the single-fanged thin-blood.

Murmurs of assent go up from the two or so dozen others.

“That brings us to the point of this meeting,” says the dull-fanged man next to her. “The Camarilla says its policy of genocide towards us is over. Okay. I’ll take that, even if they aren’t saying it openly. What do we want to do from here? Should we have a place among the Anarchs? If so, what would that look like?”

“To start off with, I’d say that should look the same as any nightborn’s place,” says Roderick. “Equal voting rights in all decisions that affect Mid-City. The same privilege we all enjoy. One Anarch, one vote.”

“Do we want to vote on that now?” asks Laura.

Support: “Hold up,” says the tattooed man in a minister’s garb. “I’m not sold that most of us actually want to do the right thing by our weaker cousins. If we were saints, most of us wouldn’t be here.”

He looks to the Duskborn professor who called out Petrowski. “May I know your name, ma’am?”

GM: “Patricia Stratton,” answers the single-fanged vampire.

Support: He inclines his head to the dead educator. His voice rises in volume as he talks, his tone firm and unapologetic but also devoid of cruelty, of spite.

“I don’t hate you, Patricia. I don’t think most Kindred hate the Duskborn, even if it is our nature to disdain them. That’s really what Christopher was saying, even if he said it like a blue blood. We’re stronger than you, and that’s why any resolution to treat you the same is just that, a promise that’s on us to keep. And if things were different, I would be honored to fight for you. But things aren’t different. We are rapists and killers. Thieves and adulterers. Whores and liars. Monsters, not men and women and children. Some of us recognize that, and others deny it. But we know it is true when we hide from the sun. You are not a proud woman fighting for the right to life. You are a proud monster fighting for the right to talk to other monsters, and even if you get it most of them will not treat you as equals except in these meetings. What would you use your power here for? What do you want, besides to see the next night? That is what will draw my vote or lose it. Everything else is just talk, and most of us don’t really come here for that.” Fangs flash. “I don’t.”

GM: Murmurs sound throughout the crowd of Anarchs. Some angry, especially from the thin-bloods. But some also agreeing.

“So you would judge our right to political representation on the basis of our moral worth as individuals,” Patricia answers. She gives a shrug. “That’s a fairer shake than the Camarilla gives us. Than many Anarchs give us.”

“To that I’ll say that we duskborn are better people than nightborn are. Or worse monsters, depending on how you look at it.”

“On average, at least.”

“Our Beasts are silent. We don’t lose control.”

Support: Hez raises an eyebrow. He hasn’t heard that.

The Brujah seems almost wistful, for a moment.

GM: “When we kill, it is always premeditated, and when we are sound of mind. We can continue to live among our friends and loved ones without recklessly endangering them.”

“I’ve never killed. I don’t ever plan to, except in self-defense. How many other nightborn here can say that? How can you judge my moral worth next to licks who’ve left behind trails of bodies, and find mine anything but superior?”

Shouted opinions go up from both sides.

“That’s bullshit! You duskborn go apeshit just like we do!”

“Who the fuck are you to say you’re better than us!?”

“I haven’t gone apeshit, not even once!”

“I’ve never killed!”

“I’m a virgin too!”

“Yeah, you and half the city, right?”

“I knew a duskborn who went apeshit! Saw it with my own eyes!”

“Yeah, it’s just harder for them!”

“They’re telling the truth! I’ve never seen one lose it, not like we do!”

“Bullshit bullshit bullshit!”

Ayame: “Anecdotes are not evidence. Further, why judge on morality at all? We don’t sneer at the lion who slaughters the lamb.”

Support: Hez smiles faintly at her. “We are monsters of conscience. I believe in a God, and I believe that if we have the capacity to feel guilt for our crimes, it is for a reason. But I only give sermons on Sundays.” His laugh is a battle-scarred, violently merry thing. “I know how I’m voting.”

GM: “Only because the lion lacks sufficient intelligence to judge the morality and consequences of its actions,” Patricia answers Ayame before turning to Hez. “If our political representation is decided on the basis of our demonstrated moral worth, I’d say you should get more votes than her, at least.”

“Say we do vote ta gave y’all equal votin’ rahts ta us nahtborn,” says Maxzille. “Dat it? Dere ain’ anythin’ else y’all think we oughta suss out?”

“Hunting territory,” says the overweight black man in the sweatshirt. “I don’t wanna starve. I’m sick of going hungry.”

“Yeah, you look like you’d hate going hungry!” jeers Andy Philips.

“You look like shit scraped off my shoe, sewer rat!” the thin-blood yells back.

“What, you make a habit of stepping in shit? Even we don’t do that…” leers Gerald Abellard.

“Can we please just stop taunting each other like middle schoolers?” Roderick glowers. “Feeding territory. That’s a legitimate issue to discuss.”

“One block per duskborn krewe,” declares Shep Jennings. “You don’t need as much as we do. You don’t get as much as we do.”

“One block’s ridiculous!” counters the dreadlocked thin-blood in the cotton jacket. “Who are any of you to presume how much juice we do and don’t use?”

“Yeah, nightborn are always coming after us! We have to mend up all the time!” shouts a thin-blood who looks barely old enough to be in high school.

Ayame: Ayame might say something here, but every time she opens her fucking mouth she gets shot down by both sides, so she doesn’t. She wonders if they realize how hypocritical the preacher sounds. How he’d called them all monsters—rapists and murderers and whores and liars—and then backtracked when she’d said maybe they shouldn’t judge each other for it.

Far be it from her to bring rhetoric to a former professor. No wonder she was an adjunct.

She simmers. She doesn’t speak. She lets the others have it out, another instance of devolving into a bullshit argument that is unproductive, but God forbid she fucking say that because, apparently, they all care about each other’s feelings now.

She waits for a minute. Silent. Until no one else points out what she thinks is fairly obvious.

“If you are throwing in with us, does it not stand to reason you should add that to the discussion? No random attacks between the nightborn and duskborn from either direction?”

There, bitch. Take your fucking morality and shove it up your asshole.

“The goal is to coexist with minimal conflict, is it not?”

GM: “Absolutely,” says Roderick. “Violence between Anarchs isn’t tolerated. That should fully extend towards duskborn.”

“I’m not naive enough to think there won’t be continued violence,” says Patricia. “Between duskborn. Between duskborn and Anarch nightborn. Between non-Anarch nightborn and Anarchs born during any time of day.”

“So yes, we’ll need to spend juice to heal injuries we sustain, the same as the rest of you do.”

“That’s one reason we should receive equal hunting territory.”

Ayame: “No one should go hungry. Perhaps territory by krewe size?”

GM: There’s grumblings from some of the true-blooded Kindred, but the thin-bloods vocally agree—“Same size as a nightborn krewe would get!”

Ayame: “I suppose it is another thing to vote on.”

GM: “Feel free not to vote if you don’t like doing it,” calls one thin-blood.

Ayame: Why, she wonders, is it always an argument when she is literally on their side? Her comment was only to the effect of, “add it to the ballot.”

These fucking people will get offended over a sideways look. Thin-blood? Try thin-skin.

She’d roll her eyes but she’s made the motion so many times this evening that she’s pretty sure she’s got muscle strain. Correcting them is a waste of breath, too.

GM: “So equal rep’sentation an’ equal territorah,” says Max. “What else y’all dink we oughta suss out?”

Ayame: Ayame’s shoulders lift in a shrug as her gaze sweeps the assembled licks. She’s got nothin’. Nothin’ that needs to be brought to light tonight.

Maybe whether or not any of this conversation matters if they’re missing the two regents, but she supposes that this is a test of their democracy.

GM: “There’s our future,” says another thin-blood, an older-looking black man who’s actually walking with a cane. “Supposin’ we join the Anarchs. Y’all give us equal representation and feeding territory. Okay. That’s a good deal. What happens after?”

“What do you mean, what happens after?” asks another thin-blood, a short white man with acne-splotched skin.

“What I mean, young man, is we’re still second-class citizens. Or I suppose third-class, next to the Caitiff. Mid-City ain’t the whole city, isn’t it? Prince still gonna treat us bad. So what are we gonna do about that?”

“The prince treats all Anarchs bad, grandpa,” leers Arzilla. “Welcome to the club.”

“Prince Vidal has shown he can be negotiated with and evolve with the times,” says Roderick. “We take the democratic rule we have over Mid-City for granted, but my sire, Miss Opal, and earlier Anarchs like Annie Pope had to fight tooth and nail to make those gains possible. Ditto for their Cabilo seats.”

“Yes, he’s an overbearing hardass, but he can be budged and positive change can be effected. I think that’s a worthwhile line of-”

“-yeah, with respect, stuff it,” interjects Christopher.

“You want to know how our Ventrue prince thinks? Well look further than yours truly, since like I bet you all remember, I’m a Ventrue too. And he’s not going to do shit for duskborn, Anarchs, or anyone besides the Sanctified, unless someone makes him.”

“Sure. He gave us Mid-City. Well, we Ventrue study our history, and it was close to worthless land when he did. Go ask the big mama and the big sister about that, sometime. Vidal only did that as a bribe to keep the Anarchs from falling in with Savoy.”

“He doesn’t give a shit about the Anarchs. He’d lop off all our heads if he thought it was more convenient.”

There’s angry murmurs of agreement from the crowd. Thin-blooded and true-blooded.

“So to our new duskborn pals, I say prepare to get shat on forever by the prince. The end.”

Ayame: Someone should start a slow clap for Chris. Not her, but someone. She waits a beat, then says,

“Perhaps it is time we all work toward a better future, then, unless we are content with our position. Push for more.”

GM: The crowd looks angrier at Chris’ words. But there is no slow clap. Most of them look like they agree with his conclusion.

“So how do you suggest we push for more? What’s the best way when he holds all the power?” asks Patricia.

Ayame: “If I am not mistaken,” Ayame’s eyes slide toward the primogen’s childe, “your sire does not believe in violence. She wants to work within the system, yes? So we work within the system. They expect us to be angry, violent. We can be angry. But violent? No. We show them a better way. Our numbers have doubled,” she gestures toward the thin-bloods that have joined them, “but our space remains the same. It is logical, is it not, for a territory that has expanded in numbers to expand in size? Else we risk a breach of the Masquerade simply by existing, simply by slaking our hunger.”

GM: “An apt assessment,” rings a low and powerful voice.

The crowd’s collective eyes turn towards its source.

Donovan strides into the cemetery, garbed in black with a sheathed blade at his hip. He’s flanked by Camilla Doriocourt and Father Malveaux, both pale-faced and pitiless, and several ghouls.

A heavy thump sounds as Alexander Wright vaults over the wall and lands on the grass, titanium bat in hand. Several more ghouls land after him.

One moment there’s empty air. The next, Caitlin Meadows’ snarling visage is visible. The nearest Anarchs flinch back.

A hawk soars over the other wall. It lands and shifts into a grim-faced Charlie Harrison.

More ghouls clamber after their master. Duke Elmhearst hits the ground with another thump and cocky smirk. A satisfied-looking Roxanne Gerlette, not wearing a skirt or dress for the first time Ayame can recall, brings up the rear with several more renfields.

All are armed.

Predatory hisses go up from the gathered Anarchs. Some draw weapons or sprout claws. Other look towards the nearest exits.

The thin-bloods, most of all, look terrified. But just as many of their faces set in anger.

Ayame: Her gaze snaps towards the sheriff and his assembled squad. Two tiny steps take her backwards, falling in beside Roderick, Christopher, and Hez. A primogen’s childe, a hound’s childe, and the childe of an exiled prince. Perhaps here, at least, there will be less attention, less ire, from those who have come. She is glad that she stilled her tongue before suggesting anything more.

GM: Two more birds land, shifting into the forms of Rocco Agnello and Joshua Pacuad. More ghouls file in through the cemetery’s front entrance.

Pierpont McGinn is the last to swagger in, along with Joseph Doyle and a larger contingent of ghouls than anyone’s except Donovan’s.

About a dozen Kindred. Two or three times as many ghouls.

Ayame: Hadn’t she just been thinking earlier about the man who’d been ripped apart by licks because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? Now she’s him. Wrong place. Wrong time. Her eyes search for a weak spot in the line of those assembled, desperately looking for any escape. The absence of Opal and Coco makes so much more sense. This is nothing short of an execution squad.

GM: Maxzille is the first of the Anarchs to speak. Her tone is faux-casual.

“Can’t say we were expectin’ guests. Y’all fellas-”

Donovan interrupts. The words are cool and emotionless, but roll over her voice like thunder.

“True-blooded Kindred who do not interfere will not be harmed.”

Ayame: They’re going to make us watch.

They’re going to make us watch them slaughter the thin-bloods.

They can’t win. There’s no chance. This isn’t a fight. It’s…

A message. To the thin-bloods. To the Anarchs who would treat with them. Ayame blinks back the horror. Brilliant. Despicable, but brilliant.

What nightborn would lay down their life for their lesser-bred cousins? None. None of them. Her nails dig into the leather covering her thighs. Don’t get involved. Don’t get involved and she’ll be fine. Don’t scream, don’t run, don’t speak, don’t even think too loudly. She doesn’t dare draw breath less they think that she, too, is one of them. A target to be annihilated.

GM: “They’re trying to divide us!” shouts Roderick. “Look at this! We’re the ones who outnumber them. We’ve got two dozen nightborn, two dozen duskborn, against a dozen nightborn and two dozen ren-”

Coco’s childe topples over as a stake plunges through his chest.

There’s a black blur, almost invisible against the night, and then his corpse is lying at Donovan’s feet.

“For his sire’s Blood, he shall be spared,” the sheriff impassively intones.

“I promise no such mercy to Kindred of lowlier stock.”

There’s a few angry looks at Roderick’s ‘privilege.’

But there’s a lot more scared ones.

Ayame: Her elbow is halfway towards Roderick when his form crumples. A warning, too late, to shut his mouth. She thinks to reach for him but he is gone before she can begin the motion, halfway across the cemetery in a pile at the feet of that cold, merciless thing.

She is still. Her eyes do not meet the sheriff’s, but stay on the form at his feet. A message indeed: Durant was the most vocal of those who stood with the duskborn. Without him, there is no hope of rallying together, no hope of unity. Without him, the wall that she had built around herself of important childer is down to two, and she is left exposed. An unimportant lick, no important name to drop to save her should she make the wrong move.

Not my fight, she thinks, over and over again, to prevent herself from doing something stupid.

They don’t stand a chance. Outnumbered or not, they don’t stand a chance. The sheriff or the scourge themselves could take out all two dozen duskborn without so much as a scratch.

GM: The execution squad marches closer, forming a wide circle around the smaller circle of Anarchs.

“Any Kindred who would be spared have ten seconds to relocate behind Sanctified lines,” Donovan continues coolly.

“Ten.”

“Y’all can do as y’all like, but Ah ain’t goin’ along with this,” declares Maxzille, crossing her arms.

Ayame: Ayame might not be the first to move. But perhaps she is the first to move towards Max. She doesn’t touch the other lick, but she stops to speak with her.

“Do not test him, Max,” she whispers, though she has no doubt the others can hear. She cannot say more. Cannot say what she is thinking: that this entire evening is a set-up. “There is more yet that you can do if you get out.”

GM: “Nine,” sounds the sheriff’s voice.

Ayame: Sanctioned, she mouths at the Toreador. She has to know. Has to suspect. There is nothing they can do. They will throw away their own eternity—and for what? To prove a point? There is no point to be proved. They are at Vidal’s mercy within this city. If he sends his hounds to do his bidding, they will do it, and gladly. Max will be just another slaughtered Anarch who died for nothing.

GM: The Toreador gives Ayame a sad, rueful look, seemingly between them.

“Dey don’t got da balls ta slaughter all o’ us!” Maxzille answers loudly. “Oh, no! Dey-”

“Eight,” sounds the sheriff.

“-know dat’ll drive all Anarchs, ever, right ta Savoy, make him a bonafide hero!”

Jonah stands next to his krewemate, arms wordlessly crossed.

“Seven,” sounds the sheriff.

The crowd is sweating. Many of the Anarchs’ eyes are cutting between Ayame, Max, the sheriff, and the thin-bloods. Some with fear. Some with guilt. Some who just don’t look like they want to be labeled the ‘first deserter.’ The thin-bloods are howling and drawing what paltry weapons they have.

“Think, y’all—dis ain’t cost-effective!” Max bellows. “Less y’all pussy out! Grow-”

“Six,” sounds the sheriff.

“-some balls, see if da prince really willin’ ta go dat far! Watcha bet Rod gonna be da sole Anarch not ta get ashed, huh!?”

Ayame sees it. Perhaps the only one to see it. Veronica starting towards Max from behind, violence in her smoldering eyes.

Ayame: She’s seen that look before. Of all of them, only Veronica and Pietro weren’t surprised at this reveal. Is she looking to make a move, then? Up her status by taking out the competition?

Ayame cuts in front of the green-eyed, gorgeous lick. Steps right up to her, not so much blocking her path as simply slowing her down.

“You can be a hero.” The words are barely a breath, an almost-silent plea from Ayame to Veronica. There doesn’t need to be more violence. They don’t all need to die. Veronica can drag the girl out and the others will follow. She has that much clout, at least, and the Anarchs will owe her for saving them all. She doesn’t need to say that; certainly Veronica realizes it.

GM: The Toreador smirks.

“Five,” sounds the sheriff.

Veronica’s gone, then she’s thrusting the stake into the air where Max was standing. The younger Toreador backflips away cat-quick, her sprouted claws slashing wet red lines across Veronica’s perfect face. The harpy snarls as another stake plunges into Max’s chest from behind. Pietro, smirking, stands over the fallen Anarch—and doesn’t seem to see it coming as Jonah barrels towards him like a speeding freight train.

Ayame: Ohfuck. Ayame is quick to dart out of the way of both claw and stake as Veronica, Max, and Pietro duke it out. She backpedals away from Jonah’s charging form. Her wrists flick and the steel inserts inside of her leather gloves are released, springing forward to become cat-like claws on her fingers.

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She drops into a crouch over Max’s form as Jonah flies past her. She’s not going to let the bitch die on a technicality. She slides her fingers under Max’s arms and starts to drag her out of the circle.

GM: Ayame has ample distraction. Pietro goes down hard under Jonah, whose blurring fists smash his face bloody. Veronica blurs away from Max and plunges her stake through the Brujah’s heart.

“Four,” sounds the sheriff.

Support: Hez doesn’t try to stand up to the sheriff. Doing so is foolish and probably pointless.

He does, however, derive some satisfaction from hooking a hand under Stratton’s arm while attention is occupied on the nightborn, and throwing her to an undisclosed location.

He locks eyes with his sire and coughs, looking abashed.

“Oops.”

GM: Stratton might start to say something. Yell something.

Then she’s barely audible as her thrown form hurls through the night sky.

Wright glowers.

When Ayame is the first Anarch to cross the Sanctified line with the Movement’s staked leader, a fatal crack seems to run through everyone else’s resolve. Christopher is the next Anarch to make a jog towards the Sanctified.

Veronica hefts Jonah’s corpse over her shoulder and blurs ahead of him, her slashed face already hale again.

“Don’t say I never did anything for you,” she calls back. She doesn’t look back.

Pietro is next.

After him, Andy—“I’m not dying for a bunch of abortions!”

“Fuck that!”

“Me neither!”

And just like that, the Movement deserts its thinner-blooded ‘comrades.’

Support: Hez stays where he is.

GM: All but one, at least.

Support: “Never should have Embraced a man with a conscience, Alex,” Hez murmurs.

GM: “Three,” sounds the sheriff.

Ayame: She had to. They would have slaughtered everyone. Everyone. She’s heard what sort of “mercy” the sheriff has: none.

Ayame drops Max as soon as she passes the line. Her eyes turn toward the sole remaining lick inside.

“Hez.”

Support: He shrugs, sad but resigned.

“Somebody needs to.”

GM: “Two,” sounds the sheriff.

“Get the fuck outta there, you dumb motherfucker!” yells his sire.

Support: Hez seizes two more and launches them in opposite directions. Let the sheriff work for his slaughter.

He looks his sire in the eye. “You knew what you were getting into, Al. I wish you saw what you looked like now.”

He steps in front of another Duskborn, and folds his arms.

“One,” he finishes.

GM: The first (or, at rather, second) thrown duskborn, the man with dreadlocks, doesn’t make it past Caitlin Meadows. The scourge soars into the air with a stupendous leap. There’s a manic scream that abruptly cuts off, and when the Gangrel lands, her face and claws are caked with blood. Shredded gore half-wrapped in clothing hits the grass after her with soft thumps.

The next duskborn, the elderly man, hurls through the sky with a startled yell that just as abruptly cuts off. Camilla Doriocourt fires a bolt of crackling lightning after the thin-blood, but all it hits is his metal cane. It thuds against the grass with a low sizzle.

Support: “Kinda like skeet shooting, I think,” Hez says helpfully. “Not everybody’s cut out for it.”

He never liked that bitch.

GM: The enraged and terrified thin-bloods, even as this all transpires, fall upon their treacherous ‘comrades.’ Or at least try to. Some of the pitiful half-vampires tackle a few of the true-bloods, only for their nightborn fellows to kick and shove them off as they scramble towards the Sanctified lines. A few thin-bloods with guns try to fire them, then look puzzled when bullets don’t come out.

But all that stops with Hez’s actions.

They swarm around him like moths to a flame, pushing and shoving and screaming to get as close as they can. They clamor about the Brujah like he is the messiah, weeping watery red fluid that resembles neither blood nor tears, but some wretched thing in between.

“Me! Me! Throw me!” “Please! Me! I have a daughter!” “Please, me! me!” “I have a son!” “A baby girl!” “Please! Please!” “I can pay you back!” “My grandma has no one-” “My family needs me-” “My wife’s pregnant-” “I have-”

Support: He saves as many as he can. He knows it will not be enough.

But it will be everything for them.

GM: He’s also forestalled by the stake that plunges into his heart from the dark-clad blur that speeds back behind Sanctified lines just as Donovan utters, “Zero.”

“It’s Wright, you stupid motherfucker,” the hound glares down at him, then picks back up his titanium bat.

The sheriff thrusts his sword forward.

As one, the prince’s executioners charge the encircled thin-bloods.

As one, two dozen raw and terrified screams go up from the huddled mass of half-vampires as the prince’s blades raise over them.

Then as one:

The blades fall.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XI
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Previous, by Ayame: Story Twelve, Ayame Prelude
Next, by Ayame: Story Twelve, Ayame II

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Next, by Celia: Story Twelve, Celia XIII

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Story Twelve, Celia XI

“There’s nothing in the past but more nightmares.”
Diana Flores


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Caroline lets Celia borrow her choice of clothes from any of her sisters. There’s plenty to pick from. By the time she’s dressed, the girls seem to have finished their dance lesson. They thank Celia for doing their faces and making them look so pretty. They all took lots of photos.

Simmone has to be reminded by Cécilia to say thanks. She’s starting to look anxious again. Her sister makes pleasantries before spiriting her upstairs.

The others head out to their cars. Diana closes the door behind Lucy as the six-year-old gets into the pink Beetle. She then turns, hugs Celia tightly, and gives a little sob into her daughter’s shoulder.

Celia: Celia explains away the wardrobe change as spilled wine and loose powder if anyone asks, and promises to get the clothes back to their rightful owner after a good wash. The clothes she’d left on the floor of the Devillers mansion are nothing but shredded tatters now; Caroline had said she’d take care of it, allowing Celia time to pack up and smile at the girls with their makeup and photos.

She’s a little taken aback by her mother’s sudden sob. She holds Diana close, rubbing a hand up and down her back.

“Everything okay, Momma?”

GM: Her mom hugs her tight.

“I… sweetie, I just had this… this just awful feeling…”

“Before the lesson… I don’t, I don’t know why, I love givin’ girls lessons…”

Celia: “An awful feeling?”

Does she mean the mind control bit Caroline had pulled? Had something else happened? Her gaze sharpens, sliding up and down her mother’s figure as if expecting to see some sort of physical marks.

GM: Celia’s eyes, all-too sharp despite the darkness, can make out nothing out of place.

“I did see…” Her mom’s voice lowers, “those girls Caroline and Autumn… I saw them being… affectionate. In a way like a man and a woman would be.”

“I guess that’s their choice… I’ll pray for them… the Devillers are a good family, they shouldn’t have to go through that…”

Celia: Oh. So it had been that. Celia is very, very grateful that Caroline had erased her from the memory; seeing her mother’s face crumple and listening to her now is like a shot to the gut. How bad would it have gotten between them if her mother hadn’t been made to forget her own transgressions?

“Well, Momma… it’s like with Landen, right? You don’t understand, but you don’t have to understand. It’s their life. I think it’s very thoughtful of you not to make a scene inside and to offer up your prayers, but we’re still in their driveway, and I know you love teaching Simmone. Let’s not do anything that will jeopardize that, hm? Caroline is old enough to make her own decisions.”

GM: Diana just shakes her head and hugs Celia tighter.

“I just felt so, so awful, sweetie… I… I can’t even…”

“I had to take a breather, before the lesson, and I just felt…”

Celia: “Maybe I can talk to her. It could have been a one-off. I’ll take her to church, she can… say some Hail Marys.” She’d said the same thing to Caroline when the lick had pinned her to the bed.

GM: “I think that I passed out, for a moment…” her mom shakily continues.

Celia: “Well, it’s all okay now. Your family is all fine. That’s something worth being happy about, right? And the lesson went well.”

GM: Celia’s mother bursts into tears and holds her for dear life.

“Sweetie… I saw… him! He was taking Lucy!”

Celia: “What.” The word comes hissing out from between tightly pursed lips.

GM: “I… I don’t know what it was… it was like I was… falling… and I saw him carrying her away, and she was screaming, and I couldn’t get to her…”

Celia: “That’s never going to happen. He will never touch her.”

What the fuck had Caroline done to her mom?

GM: Her mother steals a furtive glance at the car, as if to make sure Lucy is still there. The six-year-old looks like she’s nodding off.

“I hope you’re right…” she finally sniffs. “You, you have to be right. She’s the one, one child, who I haven’t…”

She doesn’t finish that thought.

Celia: “He doesn’t have any reason to come after her, Mom. She’s my daughter. There’s no contest there.” Celia holds her mom out at arm’s length to look into her eyes. “I promise you, Momma, she will not be taken away from you. I will never let that happen.”

She’ll kill him. That’s all there is to it. If he comes after Lucy she’ll kill him, consequences be damned.

GM: “I hope so, sweetie…” her mom answers.

“My leg’s actin’ up,” she sniffs, shifting her weight. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to drive right now. Would you mind givin’ me and Lucy a lift?”

“You and Emily could drive back here together, to pick up your car.”

Celia: “I can drive. That’s fine.” She doesn’t want to leave her car here and have to come back, but what choice does she have? Another trip into enemy territory.

GM: Celia’s mom finally pulls away after a last squeeze. She hands Celia the keys and takes several limping steps towards the Beetle, favoring her left leg.

Celia: Celia squeezes her mother’s hand on the way to the car. She’ll text Cécilia or Caroline to let them know she had to leave the car when she gets home, and… maybe one of them can drop it off. Maybe Randy can pick it up. Anyone but her. Coming back to this place… no. She’s had enough of the Garden District.

She starts the car to head back to her mother’s house.

GM: Her mom pulls out her Solaris and says she’s texting Cécilia about exactly that as her shorter-named daughter drives.

“She did give me a really big tip, for tonight, on top of the larger class fee… I guess there’s that,” Celia’s mom says with a shaky smile.

Cécilia had also insisted on paying Celia. She was here in a professional capacity, using her supplies and expertise.

Celia: “That’s wonderful, Momma. I’m glad we could make it work. The girls looked so pretty tonight.”

Celia had told Cécilia she’d put it towards the service for her wedding. She hadn’t felt right accepting the money when she’d ended up messing around with the woman’s sister.

Not that she had said the real reason.

GM: Cécilia had acquiesced to that. They could add it towards the bill.

“They did. You outdid yourself with Simmone, in particular,” her mom says with a less shaky smile. “You made her look just radiant. Like an angel.”

“You’re amazingly talented, sweetie. Beyond amazingly. You work magic with those hands of yours.”

Celia: Celia smiles at the compliment. She’s always happy to receive praise for her work; she only wishes she’d thought to take a photo of Caroline before they’d torn each other’s clothes off.

Next time, she promises herself.

“Simmone has wonderful coloring. I think Cécilia will end up in something similar for the wedding. She was very shy, just like you said. Clingy. They’re very protective of her.” Celia lifts a brow at her mother as they drive.

“I hope I didn’t scare her. I tried to keep her busy with something to do, all those people around…”

GM: “You were smart there,” her mom nods. “That’s always a good thing to do with the nervous kids. Give them something to be busy with. Better yet, feel important with.”

Celia: “Learned from the best.”

“Lesson go okay otherwise? The, ah… that vision you had, was it before you started?”

“When you walked in on them, I mean.”

GM: Her mom’s smile at Celia’s initial words dies.

“That was after, sweetie. After I walked in, that is. But before the lesson.”

Celia: Connected, maybe? But why? She hadn’t heard the blue bloods had that power to cause visions. More of a kook thing, isn’t it? A side effect from the memory lapse? Intentional? Unintentional? They’d talked about Maxen, hadn’t they? She and Caroline. Is it possible his name brought something up inside the house?

But, no, that doesn’t make any sense, and she hadn’t sensed any other licks there that could have messed with her mother like that. Who would want to mess with Diana, anyway? She’s… so sweet. So pure. Minus the fact that she doesn’t understand the gay spectrum, but she’d been married to Maxen for thirteen years, so Celia kind of gets it.

Maybe Caroline will know. She could ask. Not over the phone, though, when she sees her in person. Their next, ah, date. She hadn’t called it a date. But a scheduled time to get together is a date, isn’t it? Or a meeting. Who schedules a meeting during sex, though.

“Have you felt anything like that before while you were there? That’s just so… random, isn’t it?”

GM: “I… not that I can remember, sweetie… like I said, I might have fainted… and I have had bad dreams, every so often.” Her eyes briefly cut to the sleeping Lucy before she adds in a quiet voice, “Since the rape.”

Celia: Her brows pull together.

“Mom, are you seeing someone? For treating stress. Ah, PTSD, that kind of thing.”

“You’re supposed to see a therapist after… something like that.”

GM: “Oh, I just… never got around to it, I suppose. There was Lucy and the others and the lawsuit and buying the house, and all that.”

“It was seven years ago, anyway.”

Celia: “If you’re still having problems then you should see someone, Momma. I can look around for you if you like.”

GM: “Oh, I don’t have time to see a shrink, sweetie. I have Lucy to look after. I don’t trust anyone besides you and Emily to babysit, if I’m being honest, and you’re both so busy these days.”

Celia: “I’ll make time for it, Mom. This is important. You shouldn’t mess around with your mental health. We’ll find someone and if it doesn’t help then no problem, I won’t force you to go.”

GM: “Well, I don’t want you to cut back on your business for me, with it doing so well. I don’t have the bad dreams too often, these days, either. They were worse seven years ago.”

Celia: “You’re my mother,” Celia says shortly. “I will make time for you.”

She reaches out to take Diana’s hand in hers. “Did you have them… before? When you were with Dad?”

GM: Her mom gives her hand a squeeze back. “I… I suppose I did. I was just so scared, all the time, when we were together.”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia asks quietly, conscious of the girl sleeping in the back, “why didn’t you just leave him when it first got bad? The first time he hit you?”

GM: Her mom just gives her a sad smile.

“That never even occurred to me, sweetie. It just never even occurred.”

Celia: “You said he changed after he was elected. You never really went into detail… is that something you can talk about now?”

GM: Celia’s mother glances towards the sleeping Lucy in the back.

“Well, he… just got a lot colder. Less patient. Less kind. He didn’t really seem to care about all that much, except work. He got… testy.”

“I always thought it was maybe being Nathan Malveaux’s #2 man. Star quarterback, and all. He wasn’t really used to bein’ second-best.”

Celia: “He was young, though. He can’t just assume he’s going to get to the head of the pack that early in the game. That’s not how life works.”

GM: “I know. But I don’t think he liked it, still.”

Celia: “Did he ever give you a reason when he hit you? Like. When I was a kid it was over the makeup. Did he say anything..?”

GM: Celia’s mom falls quiet.

“Well… the first time was after his parents died.”

“That he hit me, that was.”

Celia: “…but why?”

“He was sad so he hit you?”

GM: “Honestly, things between them were… were very strained, after that birthday party.”

Celia: “I… sometimes feel like he was a different person, after that.”

“Like I think back to when we were young. He was happy. He played dress up with me. And then overnight… just changed.”

GM: “A lot in his life did change, sweetie. He became a legislator. His parents died. He inherited a lot of money. That’s a lot to deal with.”

Celia: “You ever feel like he used to just… suck all the warmth from the room? After his parents died?”

GM: “I don’t know about that, sweetie, just… there were some very, very bitter feelings, there. Between him and the rest of the family.”

“There’s a reason you never really saw all that much of your relatives, on his side.”

Celia: “Can you tell me what happened?”

GM: “His parents cut your uncles and aunt out of their will. They didn’t take it well. Inheritance is… it’s just so easy for bad blood to develop, when there’s disputes over money.”

“I have Emily written into my will, equal share of everything to what your brothers and sisters are getting, and I’m worried they might fight over it.”

Celia: “They might. People are strange about money. That’s why we set up the trust the way we did for Lucy. Sometimes it’s a timing thing, too… did they change it just before they died?”

GM: “I’m not completely sure there, sweetie. I don’t think they really talked about their estate plans, with your dad or his siblings, and it came as such a surprise.”

“Your uncle Jason in particular really wanted that money. He did not take it well.”

Celia: Celia can imagine. She’d also once really wanted money.

“You and Dad never really talked about it,” she prompts, waiting for the story.

GM: “So, I’m not 100% on what all the details were, myself. I’d only met your uncle a few times. He was pretty well off, I’d thought, like most of your dad’s family was. They weren’t the Malveauxes, but they were all pretty comfortable.”

“He’d moved out to Houston a while ago, I think to work for an energy company, or maybe it was a hospital. Or it might have been to start his own business. Like I said, I’m a lil’ fuzzy on the details.”

“But he was a bit of a spendthrift, or just never seemed to have that much luck with money, and had been counting on the inheritance to bail him out of a tight spot. Or I think he’d just planned to invest it in his business. Like I said, a lil’ fuzzy.”

“Learning your father was getting everything was a real burr in his saddle, anyway. They had some pretty heated conversations over the phone.”

Celia: “And then we just never saw any of them again. Because of money.”

“You and Dad didn’t tell us until way after they died… when did it actually happen?”

GM: “That was in… I think 1997? Your father used his inheritance to buy the house in Audubon. Plus some of the money from selling your grandparents’ home. That place did not come cheap.”

Celia: Hundreds of thousands of dollars… and two lives. The vague suspicion she’d had is cemented into place.

“Mom,” she asks after a moment, “what do you remember that night of the election?”

GM: Her mom is quiet for a moment.

“You mean… the Senate election?”

Celia: “Yes. 2003.”

GM: Her mom closes her eyes.

“More than I would like to.”

Celia: “Will you tell me?”

GM: “Sweetie, why… why do you want to know?” her mom quietly asks.

Celia: “I have dreams about it too, sometimes.”

GM: “There’s nothing I can tell you that will make those dreams go away, Celia. It was a dark night. Just such a… dark night.”

Celia: “I think I imagined parts of it. And… I’d like to know the truth. What you remember. What happened.”

GM: “Sweetie, why?” her mom asks uncomfortably. “You know the truth. What your… what your father did.”

She winces and reaches down to massage her leg.

Celia: “Because I wake up at night searching for a gun I do not have, that I do not remember holding. I have fragments of memories, a mix of truth and lies, the imagination and hurt of… of a teenager. Because I blame myself for not stopping him, Momma, and it’s almost thirteen years later. I want to know. So I can put it to rest.”

GM: Her mom looks up at her.

“Celia, you were fourteen. There was nothing you could have done against him. Absolutely nothing.”

Celia: “Then tell me.”

GM: “Sweetie, let’s… another night, please.”

She glances towards Lucy, then closes her eyes.

“Just… another night.”

Celia: “You said the same thing about Grandmother, you know. That you’d tell me. You never did.”

GM: “I’m sorry, about… your grandmother?”

Celia: “Why you’re fighting. That’s not my point. My point is you say you’re going to do things or tell me something and you don’t. I’m an adult, Mom. I don’t need to be protected anymore. I know what Dad is, I know he’s a terrible person. Not telling me just makes me ignorant, it doesn’t… save face, or whatever you think you’re doing.”

“You’re not the only one with nightmares about it. About both times. About what might have happened. I could have lost you. Forever.”

“And if we don’t talk about it, if you don’t see someone to get help, then he won.”

GM: “I will, sweetie. I will. Just… not now, please.”

Her mom’s face looks tired. And pained.

“Just not right now.”

Celia: “Later,” she agrees.

Celia doesn’t push her further. She squeezes her mother’s hand in reassurance. They’ll get through this.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia pulls in at the Flores home’s courtyard. Her mom opens the car door and hefts Lucy into her arms.

“Mommy…?” she yawns.

“Hey, little Goose,” Diana murmurs softly. “Let’s get you to bed.”

Celia: Celia offers to carry Lucy on the way into the house, asking if she should stick around to put the girl to bed.

GM: “Oh, we’d just love it if you did, sweetie,” her mom answers. Not quite beaming, after the unhappy words exchanged, but definitely with a brighter look. She passes off the child to Celia and looks a little relieved to be equally relieved of Lucy’s weight. She still favors her left leg as they head inside, letting the right one drag.

“Aw, fudge, Emily’s not here,” she ‘swears’ as she flips on the lights. “I forgot, she’s spending the night with Robby. I’ll text if she can come over for the car.”

Celia: Celia cradles her daughter against her hip, the girl’s legs around her waist, as she carries her inside. Her eyes scan the room immediately, reflexively, as she crosses the threshold.

“It’s okay, Mom. Let her spend her time with Robby. I can get home from here and get it in the morning.” She hefts Lucy higher on her hip. “Does she need a bath..?”

GM: “Okay, sweetie. If you’re sure. You’ll call a Ryde?” asks her mom.

“’M tired…” yawns Lucy.

“We’ll make it a quick bath, then, Goose,” says Diana, stroking the girl’s hair. “Can you do that for us? Your mommy Celia’s a real pro at this stuff. She’s the best bath-giver in the world!”

“Mmm. M’okay,” Lucy answers with another yawn.

Celia: Celia assures her mother that she will call a Ryde for the ride home. She takes Lucy into the bathroom to get the water running in the tub, setting the girl down on the sink so she can use a wipe to remove the makeup from her face while it fills.

“I heard you did wonderfully in class today, sweetie,” Celia says to her as she wipes away the colorful shadow around her eyes. “And you look so pretty. Did you have fun with your friends?”

GM: Diana excuses herself to the kitchen to “get somethin’ ready” while Celia takes Lucy to the bathroom. The close lights against the small room’s white ceramic seem so bright, and the night so vast and dark outside.

Lucy sits still on the sink as Celia wipes her face. She looks too sleepy to kick her feet.

“Mmm. Yeah. We did… positions.” Lucy holds out her arms like she’s holding a big bouquet of flowers. The five positions are the basic building blocks of all ballet moves. Celia’s mom has taught them to beginners countless times. The footwork is more important than the arms’ position, but that’s hard to do on a sink.

“I’d kinda done it all before, but Mommy says practice is good.”

Celia: “Mommy knows what she’s talking about,” Celia agrees. “She was very good when she was my age. Basics are important. Sometimes people want to jump into advanced moves because they look better, but that causes all sorts of problem down the line. I’ve seen a few athletes at work that injured themselves doing things like that.”

Celia touches a hand to Lucy’s cheek, tilting her face to get the smudge of color on her chin. How had it managed to get down there? Kids.

“How many bubbles tonight? Lots of bubbles? Fill the room with bubbles?”

GM: Lucy gives a short giggle and looks a bit more awake. “Yeah. Fill the room!”

Celia: Celia complies. She finds the bottle and pours it into the water as the tub fills. The bubbles begin to form over the surface of the water, thick and white, almost an opaque layer by the time Lucy is ready to get in. Celia helps remove the leotard and tights and sets the child in the tub.

It’s… weird, she thinks, giving Lucy a bath. She’d done it a fair few times when the girl was younger, but this is… something she should be doing with her own daughter, not her sister. She fills a cup with water and has Lucy tilt her head back so she can pour it over her head, using her hand to cover the girl’s eyes while she wets her hair.

“You gonna be a dancer like Momma when you grow up, Goose?”

GM: Then again, she probably didn’t expect to have a new sister when she was 19.

Or to pretend her sister is her daughter.

Or for her mom and best friend to be raising her sister.

The age of the nuclear family feels well and gone. It got cut apart with a hacksaw. Maybe it was always sick.

There’s also a pink tutu to take off. That’s Lucy’s favorite part of the costume.

“I wanna be a dancer an’ an astronaut!” says Lucy, closing her eyes under Celia’s hand. “So I can do dance moves in spaaaace.”

Celia: “Dance moves in space, huh? I bet we can get you a rocket ship and you can be the first person to dance on the moon. They’ll stream it for everyone on Earth to see. Think you could pull off a grand jeté up there?”

None of it is Lucy’s fault. She’s an innocent, like Celia had been before the day she’d wished for a pony. Lucy is getting to that age soon, too. Celia will make sure that her sister—daughter—doesn’t need to wish for anything. She can do that much for the family she broke.

Notes of papaya and almond milk hit her as she opens the bottle of shampoo. She lathers it between her fingers and works it into Lucy’s hair.

GM: “I hear someone bringin’ up ballet terms?” smiles Lucy’s and Celia’s mom as she steps in, closing the bathroom door behind her.

“Yeah! I wanna be an astronaut ballerina so I can do grand jetés in space,” declares Lucy. “Mommy asked me if I could do one and I could do an amaaaazing one.”

“I bet you could, Lucy-Goose!” Diana smiles back, rolling up her sleeves and kneeling down next to Celia as she helps rub shampoo in the girl’s blonde-brown hair.

“Why, you could leap across the whole spaceship, I bet!” she declares, waving her pointer and index fingers back and forth like a ballerina’s legs standing en pointe. She mimics them running across the surface of the bath, then leaping into the air as she raises her arm.

“Whooom! Look at her go! Lucy’s cleared the spaceship! Houston, we’ve got a ballerina entering orbit!”

The six-year-old giggles and claps her hands.

Celia: Despite the fact that she’s part of the family, Celia feels like some sort of intruder to this wholesome moment. She’s happy to let her mother help out, both by entertaining Lucy and with the actual bath. Celia laughs along with them as she rinses Lucy’s hair with a cup of clean water, then repeats the process with conditioner while her mother scrubs her back and belly and everything else.

GM: “Dancing in space would be an amazing thing, you know,” Diana explains to Lucy as they bathe her. She seems more than happy to have her beautician daughter around to help.

“That’s the whole point of en pointe, Lucy-Goose, to make the dancer look as light on her feet as possible. Like she’s floating through the air. But in space, everybody floats! You would have the most amazing ballet ever!”

They finish bathing Lucy relatively promptly despite all the bubbles. She’s up past her bedtime. Diana sings the ‘shimmy’ song as she wraps the towel around Lucy’s back, holds onto one end in each hand, and rapidly pulls it back and forth over the girl’s wet skin. Celia remembers it from her own childhood.

“Oh a shimmy-shimmy one and a shimmy-shimmy two! A shimmy-shimmy three and a shimmy-shimmy you! Who’s my little shimmy? Shoo, shoo, shimmy-shoo!”

Several encores follow. Celia is invited to give a rendition herself.

Celia: Celia doesn’t pass up the opportunity to sing the shimmy song and do the shimmy dance. By the time the two are done with Lucy she’s already dry, and Celia lets Diana help her with her teeth while Celia heads out of the bathroom to turn down her bed and get her PJs ready.

GM: They’re Frozen-themed. Lucy heard the song and couldn’t ‘let it go.’ Diana comes along after the girl’s teeth are brushed and asks if she wants a bedtime story, but Lucy seems pretty tired. Diana helps her say the Lord’s prayer (“…I pray the Lord my soul to keep…”) and lifts her into bed.

“Who’s our little Goose? Huh? Huh?” she asks as she tucks her daughter under the covers, leaning in to nuzzle the six-year-old’s nose. “You’re our little Goose. You are. You are!”

Celia: Celia helps her mother tuck Lucy in, pulling the covers right up under her chin once she’s done with prayers and in bed. She says one silently for the girl and her mother as well, just in case He is listening and answers her kind. She touches a hand to Lucy’s cheek and kisses her brow.

“Sleep tight, little Luce.” Like loose. Rhymes with goose.

GM: If someone up above is listening, He gives no response.

But that, at least, is no worse an answer than He’d give the girl and her mother.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: “Did you have dinner before the dance lesson, sweetie? Are you hungry?” Celia’s mom asks after she kisses Lucy goodnight and closes her bedroom door.

Celia: Celia follows her mother down the hall.

“I did, yes. Randy and I had dinner together while I was getting ready, and after the lesson started Caroline and I had a quick snack. It was nice to catch up with her.”

The memory of her still lingers on her tongue. A mistake, maybe, but a pleasant one for all that. She’ll need to… let Savoy know that Celia’s identity is no longer as secure as it once was. Revealing herself to Roderick had been a calculated risk; this is possibly just asking for trouble. There’s something off about her. She’s not just a fledgling, her blood is too thick for that. She’d disarmed Celia too handily in the bedroom, and that gift… she shouldn’t want to see her again, but she does, both for her own sake and the intrigue. Celia tells herself it’s the mystery, but she can’t deny her attraction.

Maybe Savoy knows more. Or her sire. She’d like to speak with him anyway.

She’ll need to look into it. For all that, though, her trip to the Garden District had been less disastrous than she’d thought. She’d given every excuse she could think of to get out of going there in the first place. She’d almost called to say she was sick tonight, but… well. She thought she’d been playing it safe with the aura manipulation, but this just makes her see that she’s been reckless. This is why she shouldn’t still be hanging with her family. It’s dangerous. For her, for them.

She wonders idly if Caroline has a claim on the Devillers family—why wouldn’t she if she’s one of them?—and if she’ll be able to continue her friendship with Cécilia. Some licks are sensitive about that kind of thing. It’ll be a shame to give her up—Cécilia is one of the few good ones—but the rules are different on this side of the grave.

She pulls out her phone to send a text to Cécilia, letting her know that she might have to pick up her car tomorrow if that’s okay. Her ride is with her boyfriend and she doesn’t want to interrupt.

Celia’s eyes return to her mother.

“I saw Logan the other day.”

GM: “Oh, good! Tell me about it,” her mom says as they head back to the kitchen. “Say, how about some milk and cookies? I’ve got a plate of your snickerdoodles warming up in the oven. That’s always the best way to reheat cookies, in the oven at low temperature. It’s almost as good as fresh-baked.”

Celia: “Ah, Momma, cookies sound great, but you know I’m watching my calories. Have to look good on camera when I do my videos. Adds ten pounds and all that.”

Celia takes a seat at the kitchen table. Maybe one of these days she’ll swallow the garbage sludge to make her mother happy, but tonight is not that night.

“I went to his dorm, figured it was easier than trying to get him on the phone. He seemed pretty broken up about it. Wanted to know how to get her back, but I convinced him she needs time.”

“I… don’t think he should be with her if he’s going to treat her like that, honestly.”

Celia privately thinks her brother shouldn’t be with anyone. Too much of a ticking time bomb. Too similar to their father. Better to find an outlet for his pent-up aggression before he dips back into the dating pool.

GM: Celia’s mom looks a little hurt as she turns down the cookies.

“Sweetie, you’re perfectly thin. If you exercise regularly and eat a good diet, one with lots of plants, it’s okay for you to have some sweets.”

Celia: Of course she’s managed to hurt her mother’s feelings.

“I’ve been a little lax about going to the gym, Momma. And, you know, prevention is easier than treatment and all that. Harder to get rid of wrinkles once they’re there.”

GM: “Well, everyone gets wrinkles sooner or later. I just feel like you’re really denying yourself, when it comes to food,” her mom says concernedly. “You barely touched your dinner when we had you and Randy over.”

Celia: Celia lets out her breath in a sigh.

“Mom, I wasn’t going to say anything yet, but… I have an audition. And you know how tiny those actresses are.”

GM: “Oh? I’m so glad for you, where at?” her mom smiles.

Celia: “Ah, Zodiac actually.” She doesn’t know if her mother is aware of whose studio that is. “There was an ad online for an open call, and I thought, well, why not.”

GM: Her mother’s face grows very still.

Celia: Celia recognizes that look. She is quiet for a moment, then finally says, “I doubt he’ll be there, Mom. Everything I’ve heard of him suggests he’d leave it to the little people to cast.”

GM: “I don’t know, sweetie,” her mom says slowly. “A lot of movie directors… they do things with their stars, or girls who want to be stars, that let’s just say they shouldn’t do.”

“I do not feel safe about you doing this.”

Celia: “You think I can’t keep it in my pants?”

GM: “You know as well as me, Celia, then men don’t always give women a choice there,” her mom says quietly.

“I do not feel safe about you doing this,” she repeats.

Celia: “I understand.” She doesn’t say she won’t go, though.

GM: “You’ve got a thriving business. One you love and which keeps you plenty busy. You don’t need to start at the bottom in a totally different field.”

Celia: “Right. Well. It probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway.”

“Dad told me once I was too stupid to memorize lines.”

GM: “Sweetie, you are not stupid!” her mom exclaims, reaching across the table to squeeze Celia’s hand. “That was a load of baloney. He said plenty baloney.”

“By my count, he’s never tried to steal Lucy because he thinks she’s your daughter, and that was all your idea. So who’s the stupid one there? You’re the one who’s pulled the wool over his eyes.”

Celia: “Yeah, well, I quit listening to what he said about me years ago.”

Except when Logan had told her he was proud. That had gotten through.

GM: “Good. I had to too, you know, when he told me I’d wasted my life on dance. I knew it was baloney but I still just could not get it out of my head, for a while.”

Celia: “He’s a hateful, spiteful man who ruins everything he touches and can’t stand to see anyone else happy if he isn’t the cause of it. He pulls other people down to make himself feel big instead of fixing his own flaws.”

GM: “Ain’t that the truth,” her mom agrees. “But enough about him. You’d brought up Logan. You think your two’s talk went well?”

Celia: “Ah, yeah, I think so. We’re going to look into getting him an outlet for his anger. I was thinking boxing.”

She’s thinking Fight Club, really, but she doesn’t think her mother will approve. Nor is she supposed to talk about it. First rule and all that.

Of being dead, not because of the book.

GM: “Oh, really? That is a good idea!” her mom exclaims. “He had to give up football, to keep up in the ROTC, but I don’t think they do anything that’s competitive in the way that he’s used to. Boxing sounds like a good idea. College football athletes are really under so much pressure and he just needs to, like you say, maybe have an outlet for his anger.”

“And oh, say—if you don’t want to go into acting, how about some cookies after all?” Celia’s mom smiles.

Celia: Celia shakes her head at the offer of cookies, glancing meaningfully at the clock.

“Not supposed to eat this late, anyhow. Bad for digestion and all that. I can take some home to Randy, though. He’s a bit of a fiend for them.”

“Anyway, yeah, I figured… y’know, if he’s gonna hit people, might as well be productive about it.”

And maybe getting knocked around by people who are bigger, stronger, and faster than him will make him realize it’s not an adequate way of dealing with his pent up frustration.

Christ, maybe the kid just needs to get laid.

Rough sex always gets rid of her pent up frustration. She smirks at the thought.

GM: Celia’s mom looks hurt by the twice-rejected offer of cookies.

“Would it be better if I made healthier recipes, sweetie? I get the feeling that Randy winds up eating most of the things I make you, these days. That’s perfectly okay for him to be a cookie fiend, but I want to cook for you, too!”

“There are low-fat, low-sugar desserts out there, it’s not any trouble.”

Celia: “Mom. I’m eating enough, I promise. Please stop making me feel guilty for my diet. It’s like reverse fat-shaming or something, and it’s… really starting to mess with my head. Health at every size and all that.”

GM: “Oh. I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to mess with your head,” her mom apologizes, looking a little shame-faced.

“I took some pain meds for my leg, while Lucy was in the bath. They can mess with mine a little, too.”

Celia: “Do you want me to work on it for you for a bit?”

GM: “Oh, could you? The meds have kicked in, but I won’t ever say no to those magic hands of yours.”

Celia: “Of course, Momma.” This much, at least, Celia can do for her. She retrieves the lotion from the bathroom and settles herself on the floor of the kitchen before her mother’s chair, pulling her skirt up over her leg so she can see the leg in question.

The scar tissue looks better. As if she’d ever doubted that it would. She wants to fix the whole thing so that her mother never has pain again, though. So that she doesn’t have to favor one of her legs or limp or take pain meds at night.

Celia’s hands are warm against her mother’s skin. She starts near the ankle, thumbs moving in the small divot of muscle available up front. She has her mother’s records from the hospital somewhere, she knows, but not from the first time. Maybe she should look into acquiring them, find out just how much damage her father had done to the woman. There’s a lot of tendons down here… but it’s higher, isn’t it, when it starts. Just spirals down her leg like a lot of injuries do.

Every time her mother tells her that her leg hurts Celia hates him all over again.

Her fingers glide up the muscles of the calf, gliding first to warm the tissue, then kneading and stretching as needed. Her whole leg will be seen to before she’s done, but Celia starts with the calf. Always work towards the heart.

“Mom,” she says after a minute, “what, exactly, did he cut through? I know you don’t like talking about it, but it will help with the treatment.”

GM: Celia’s mom suggests they go out to the living room. More comfortable to do this on the couch, or the carpeted floor. She leans back and sighs as Celia starts her work. The Toreador might not be a dedicated massage therapist like Emily, but she knows what she’s doing, and certainly knows a lot more than most estheticians.

“He… got through to the bone, sweetie,” her mom says uncomfortably. “Quads, hamstrings, adductors, TBD, and the shaft of the femur.”

“It’s funny. We always got told how big a deal hamstring injuries were. What a… female dog they could be to heal, on account of the poor blood supply, and all that. I always did so many exercises to strengthen my hamstrings at the end of range. Kept the glutes workin’ too. ‘If they’re lazy, something else will have to pick up the slack,’ I once had an instructor who said. I suppose it didn’t really matter in the end, did it?”

Celia: Just like her mom to neuter her language in front of her grown daughter. Celia almost laughs at the expression, but she’s focused on her work, on the way the muscles move beneath the skin.

She could fix this, she thinks. Or someone could. Maybe Jon, if he was still in town. It’s too bad she couldn’t persuade him to part with some of his knowledge before he left. Better if she gets a medical report. Maybe Emily can sneak her into an X-Ray or something.

“Of course it mattered, Mom. I loved seeing you perform when I was a kid. And you’ve been able to teach that same lesson to young students; isn’t that what life is all about? Passing on knowledge?”

GM: “You’re right, of course, sweetie,” her mom says as she works. “It did matter. I loved knowin’ you and your brothers and sisters were out there in the audience. Those were some of the happiest moments of my life, getting to see and think of you the whole time I was on the stage.”

“It felt like I was dancing just for you, sometimes.”

Celia’s mother smiles at the memory, though the look isn’t without sadness too.

Celia: Celia doesn’t know how they treated her mother in the hospital. She can only assume that they were wise enough to suture the muscle back together to fix the laceration; it had to have been deep to cut all the way to the femur itself. Strongest bone in the body, but apparently unable to stand up to Maxen Flores. She wonders if he’s proud of that.

At least, she thinks, he didn’t cut through the entirety of the bone itself. Just shredded everything around it to make sure that his then-wife would never dance again.

What kind of monster does that to a person?

She has no doubt that he would have cut all the way through if Celia hadn’t been home, that her mother would be wearing some sort of prosthetic instead of compression tights and longer skirts. Soon she won’t have to do that; she’ll be able to show off her clean, scar-free legs. They’ll be as beautiful as the rest of her. And if Jon doesn’t get back in time to help, well, she has other places she can go to learn how to fix the bones.

She isn’t sure she needs to, though. She might be able to help her mother with what she already does know. Tendons, ligaments, muscle: it’s all the same to her.

Her hands glide over her mother’s knee to the site of the injury, using the flat of her hand to spread the pressure out over a larger surface. Even healthy quads are prone to sensitivity. There’s no digging with her thumbs here, though she uses the heel of her hand to feel her way through the layers of tissue to find what lies beneath.

Scar tissue. Lots and lots of scar tissue. It extends deeper than the dermal surface that she’d treated, all the way through the tracks the hacksaw had made on its way into her body. Monster, she thinks again, fingers and palm working cross-fiber to begin to break it up.

“Dancing was my favorite part of childhood, Momma. Wouldn’t have been the same without you there, showing me how.”

GM: Celia’s mom sighs again and closes her eyes as her daughter works up and down the muscle. They both know she’s in a pro’s hands.

Any brute can destroy. It takes an artist to heal.

“You were such a great student to show, sweetie. I know Isabel always teased you with that ‘robot dancer’ nickname, but you put your heart and soul into it. Just all your heart and soul. I’ve taught a lot of graceful girls, but very few who gave their all to it like you did.”

“It’s teaching you and your sisters that made me decide that’s what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, actually. Teach. Seein’ how much fun you had, and how much joy I felt getting to witness that.”

She gives a faint chuckle. “It’s not like former dancers have too many other careers, anyway… I didn’t tell you about Naomi, did I, and how her job search went?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t feel like a robot dancer right now. Her legs are long and lean and limber; she could dance circles around any prima.

“You didn’t. Where has she ended up?”

She works while her mother talks, kneading and stretching the muscles beneath her fingers. Did it not risk breaking the Masquerade she would test her theory about fixing it now, but the pain… no, better to have her mother come into the spa where she can use a local anesthetic. Fix it slowly, rather than all at once.

The lesson in patience has held up.

GM: Naomi is one of Diana’s friends from her days at the production company, Celia knows. After Diana retired, she took over as principal dancer. That was back in 2003.

“Oh, actually, I don’t think I even told you she retired, did I? Finally happened.”

“Well, she was 31 then and she’s 44 now. Ballet is a young woman’s game.”

“Or at least one who’s taken really good care of her body. And no matter how much you try, it just puts so much stress on your body.”

Celia: “What happened to Naomi?” Celia prompts.

GM: “Well, at practice, she was doing the usual warm up, tendu, demi-plié, no problem. But when she started on pirouettes, she slipped and pulled her hamstring.”

“She kept dancing anyway.”

“Isn’t her fault, that’s just what dancers are encouraged to do.”

Celia: “That… why? You should always listen to your body.”

GM: “The ballet goes on, sweetie. All dancers hurt. There is enormous pressure just to suck it up and keep dancing.”

“If they stopped practice for every ache and boo-boo, there wouldn’t be any more shows.”

Celia: “If the dancers don’t take care of their bodies there’ll be no more dancers.”

Maybe that’s not true. Always someone to replace them, isn’t there?

“I hope you’re not pushing that nonsense on your students.”

GM: “Oh, of course not, sweetie!” her mom exclaims, almost startled. “It is a completely different world at a production company than it is in a kids’ classroom.”

“But that’s the way it’s been for 400 years, at those. It’s like football. All the ladies there get hurt and soldier on. If you fall behind, there’s always someone else to take your place. It can be very competitive. Not in the same way as football, but… there’s a bit of a masochist in every ballerina.”

“You’re goin’ to hurt for your art. There’s just no way around it.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t hurt for her art. Other people do. She doesn’t think this is something she can share, though, so she just nods as her mother talks, continuing to work the scar tissue.

No wonder the world is so fucked. Everyone thinks they should bleed for their art. Art isn’t pain; it’s the source, maybe, but once you find that source you just tap into it when you need the inspiration. You don’t cut deeper with every stroke of your brush or pen or twirl because it makes you somehow better.

“Where did she end up after retirement?”

GM: “Well, let me get to that. Like I said, I don’t blame her for still dancing. It’s ballet’s fault, not hers, that she was expected to soldier on.”

“But, later, she discovered she had a labral tear in her hip. So, surgery for that. And she had to take a while off. So she fell behind and got out of practice.”

“When she finally came back to dance, Mr. Guarini let her for a bit, then took her aside and said, his words, ‘I want you to look your best on stage, and I don’t think this makes you look your best.’”

“You would not believe how devastated she was. She cried to me for hours.”

Celia: Harsh.

“I can imagine.”

GM: “They have a saying that every dancer dies twice. Once when they put her in the ground, once when she leaves the stage.”

“Anyway, she went to a workshop for former dancers findin’ new careers—I wish I could’ve gone with her, but I had Lucy to look after. And they had suggestions for things like gardener or dog walker or interior decorator, and general advice for startin’ a career after 40, and she just felt like the whole thing was so useless she wanted to cry again.”

“I mean, dog walker! Can you imagine that?”

Celia: “I imagine they pitched real estate agent, too, among the other useless things.”

GM: “You know, I think she did mention that.”

Celia: Celia smirks.

GM: “Anyway, I… called up Mr. Guarini and gave him a bit of an earful.”

Celia: “Oh?” Now there’s a surprise, mousy Diana giving a piece of her mind to someone. “How’d that go over?”

GM: “He gave her a little more time to stay on, at the company. But he said he couldn’t turn back the clock. Her time was simply up.”

“I did put her in touch with the studio I teach during summers, though. They’re giving her an interview and I’m sure she’ll get a job. You don’t need any degrees or teaching certificates, like I needed at McGehee, all you need at a dance studio is experience.”

Celia: “That’s amazing, Momma. That you called him and that you helped her out like that. I’m sure she’s real happy to have a friend like you lookin’ out for her.”

GM: “It was the least I could do, sweetie. I stayed at her place, after… after I got out of the hospital. The first time. When I didn’t have money or a job or clothes or anything.”

Celia: “Well, you’re lucky to have each other. Like me and Em.”

“And I’m proud of you, you know. For calling Mr. Guarini.”

“Natalie, you know my receptionist? She’s having some trouble with her family over being a dancer. Sometimes I think about callin’ them up, too.”

GM: “Oh, yes, of course I know Natalie! Her grandfather is your grandmother’s brother, whatever that makes her. Your… third cousin? Second cousin three times removed?”

“But oh, is she? You should! Being a dancer is a wonderful thing, if your heart is set on it, and a family’s support… just really makes all the difference.”

“Shame on them if they’re givin’ her a hard time for it.”

Celia: “I think she feels like there’s an employee/boss line she can’t cross, but I let her know I’d be happy to help out how I could. She’s got a video posted, you know, and it’s… pretty amazing, honestly.”

“Family pressure makes sense, knowing where she came from.”

GM: “You’ll have to send me a link to it. She should follow her dreams, if that’s what her heart’s set on, she really should.”

Celia: “You could always talk to her, you know. She’s your relative, too.”

GM: “I could,” her mom says in a hedging tone. “But she was always pretty close to Prudence, I don’t want to intrude.”

Celia: “It’s not intruding to tell someone to go after what their heart wants.” Celia’s eyes stay on her mother’s leg. The muscles relax beneath her touch, but none of the work is as deep as she needs it to be to see any lasting changes. “Maybe it’s time we mend that fence, though.”

“Anyway, Aunt Prudence wouldn’t know a good thing if it bit her in the ass, so.”

“She was, ah, aptly named.”

GM: “Eh heh. Well. Natalie never did have a mother, I’m just glad some people were there for her.”

Celia: Celia hums her assent. She’s finished doing the work that she can on her mother’s leg to make it feel better for the moment, stripped what muscles she could and eased what sore spots she found with the soft touch of well-practiced hands. She tells her mother that the IT band is a little tight and asks if she’d mind if she unrolls it next time she’s in the spa.

“Sometimes,” she explains, “the pain comes from the point of origin of the, ah, injury, and sometimes it’s muscles compensating. I have a… colleague in town who might know more about your injury and if there’s anything we can do for a more long term solution. I don’t want to get your hopes up, but you’d be amenable, yes?”

GM: “Oh of course you can unroll it, sweetie, you’re the pro. Whatever you think best.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her mom.

“We’ll get you back to how it was, Momma. Promise.”

GM: Her mom blinks as if just comprehending the words.

“You mean… all the way, sweetie? That could… that could happen?”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia hedges. “Maybe. It’s… It would take a few treatments, I think, and might be painful, but it’s a new… he kind of combined the Feldenkrais Method with myofascial release, and I guess there’s a little shiatsu thrown in.”

GM: Celia’s mother starts crying.

Again.

Celia: Celia pauses what she’s doing to scoot closer to her mother, bringing her into her arms.

GM: “Oh… sweetie,” her mom gets out, “that’d be just… just…”

“This thing with Naomi… seein’ her finally retire, at two years older than me…”

“I still practice, every day,” she sniffs, dabbing her eyes. “I eat well, I stay in shape, I haven’t put anywhere near as much strain on my body as… as someone my age, still doin’ shows. I had another friend who was still doing grand jetés with fractures in seven bones, God knows I’ve not done anything like that in… years. And it… it’s felt like I could still dance, if it weren’t for the stupid leg, and now seeing Naomi retire, like I’m reaching my second expiration date…”

Celia: Celia had once had a conversation with Mel that involved the idea of her mother as a ghoul. And despite Mel’s insistence that Diana would be a perfect candidate—already used to serving—Celia had only been tempted when she’d seen her mother lain out in the hospital bed.

Now, though, she thinks on it again. She could give her mother a second chance at her dream. Not have to hide who she is around her. No longer hurt her feelings about the cooking. Give her an unrealistically aged body, like she’d given Alana. Her mother’s age but she looks twenty.

Tempting.

But no. That’s crossing a line, isn’t it? The same line she won’t cross to turn on the charm, even when her mom is being obstinate.

“I’ll find out for you, Momma,” Celia says to her, running a hand up and down her back, “and if it’s within my power, of course I’ll make it happen.”


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

GM: Celia’s mom asks if she’d like to stay the night. She can sleep in Emily’s room and borrow clothes, and they and Lucy can have breakfast as a family before Celia goes off to work. Diana is disappointed when her daughter turns her down, but still sends her off with several tupperware containers of snickerdoodles and apple kale lemon dressing salad (“that last should be pretty healthy, at least?”).

“By the way, sweetie,” she asks as Celia gets ready to leave, “did your brother have any news about Isabel?”

“I know she talks to him, sometimes… and I worry for her, off in Sudan.”

Celia: Celia stills at the name, though perhaps not noticeably so.

“He said she’s been busy lately, that she might have met someone at their camp. But nothing concrete, no. I told him of our stilted letters and he suggested an alternative, but it’s only been a night.”

“I can find out more for you, Momma.”

GM: “I’d like that.” Her mom looks sad. “I’ve tried so many times to get in touch with her, but… you know how that’s gone.”

“I’m glad she’s met somebody. I hope they’re happy.”

Celia: “She still hasn’t gotten back to you?”

GM: “It’s been seven years, sweetie.” Her mom just gives that same sad look. “I don’t think it’s goin’ to be anytime soon.”

Celia: “Isabel never was the same, after… that night.”

GM: “She wasn’t. Those just… just unspeakable things, being said about her and your father.”

Celia: Celia eyes her mother. Does she truly believe that Maxen hadn’t touched their daughter?

GM: “Your father hurt us all. But there was never, ever, any abuse of that kind.”

“In his way, he was, is, fairly principled.”

Celia: “…Mom… you… you know that’s not true, right?”

“What do you mean, principled? He… hurt all of us.”

GM: “I know, sweetie,” her mom says heavily. “Lord knows that I… that I know.”

“But there was never sexual abuse, with you and your brothers and sisters. Ever.”

Celia: Celia isn’t quite sure what to say to that.

“What, ah… what do you remember from that night, Mom?”

It rolls off of her, then. The thing she said she’d never do: she charms her mother. The mention of the vision, the lack of memory… it nags at Celia. Just this one time, she tells herself. Just this one time, to see if Diana is only telling a rehearsed lie, or if someone saw to it that she truly doesn’t remember what happened. She sends the impression of a confidant.

I’ll keep your secrets, that feeling says, you can trust me.

GM: Her mother’s eyes swim for a moment, then quaver.

“Hit me, Celia,” she whispers. “I deserve it.”

Celia: What the fuck.

“Mom?” she asks.

GM: “I deserve it,” the enthralled woman gushes, the unspoken words tumbling out under the Toreador’s spell. She starts to cry again. “I was such a bad mother to your sister.”

Celia: Celia does not move to strike her mother. She gathers Diana into her arms instead, stroking her hands up and down her back.

“Tell me, Momma. What’s going on inside your head?”

GM: “It was… her name! Her name that got dragged through, through the mud, instead of mine! She can’t ever come back here, have a life here! Oh, Celia, just hit me!” the enthralled and freshly-weeping kine begs.

Celia: “Mom. Stop it. It’s not your fault. Pull yourself together.”

“Did you beg Daddy to hit you too?”

GM: “Yes,” her mother nods and gushes on, “yes I did, I was a bad wife, so many times.”

Celia: “You asked him to hit you?” Celia clarifies.

GM: “Ye… yes. He liked when I did that, he said it… gave him hope, showed him much how I wanted to fix things, too.”

Her mother sniffs and dabs her eyes. “Oh, he was horrible to you, to us, but I… I miss him so much, sometimes…”

Celia: Her stomach turns over. If her Beast weren’t such a selfish, hoarding bastard she might spew her last meal all over this poor woman. This poor, fucked in the head woman.

“Tell me everything,” she says instead. “Tell me how it started.”

GM: “Sometimes I pick up the phone, and I dial his number,” the enspelled kine gushes on, “all but the last digit, and the only thing that stops me is… is Lucy…”

“Oh, Celia, it’s wrong, to keep a daughter from her daddy… it’s all my fault, we can’t be a family…”

Celia: “He’d hurt her, Mom. Like he hurt us. That would be your fault, if you told him.”

She will not let him get his hands on Lucy.

GM: “I know, sweetie! Damned if I do, damned if I don’t… we have to stay away… it’s my fault…”

Celia: “Why do you keep saying it’s your fault? What did you do, Momma?”

GM: “I was unfaithful! You’re not his child! And I lied, I lied you were! He was a good man and I built our family off a lie!” her mom cries.

“I took advantage of him, and I wasn’t ever grateful, all he sacrificed, all he gave up, so I could have you, so I could still dance, so I…”

Celia: “You were raped, Mom. Before you and Dad were ever together.”

“What happened when he found out?”

GM: “He… oh, Celia… when he found out, that I’d been… been with a black man…. he lost it… just lost it…”

She sweeps a hand over her leg. Her bad leg.

Celia: “Tell me the whole story,” Celia presses, “everything you remember, and I’ll give you what you’re asking for.”

GM: “It… I don’t know how it…” her mom gestures. “It was after the party, the victory party, we went home early…”

“He just asked me, if I’d, if I’d ‘lain with a nigger,’ and I…. I was so happy for him… I couldn’t lie to him, direct like that, I just couldn’t…”

Celia: There’s a stone in her gut, she’s sure of it. The weight of it presses on her.

“Does he know I’m not his?” she asks.

GM: The enthralled woman shakes her head over and over. “He’d, he’d have killed me… killed you…”

Celia: He tried.

“After you told him, what happened then?”

GM: “He called me a…” her mom sniffs, “a… lady of the evening…”

Celia: “He attacked you,” Celia prompts. “Tell me about that.”

GM: “He’s, he’s right, when we last saw each other, he called me a… used up old… lady of the evening, said no one would want me, he’s right… I was an awful wife, a worse mother, and I’m not even good enough for my daughter to eat my own food! I can’t even do that right!” Celia’s mom cries.

“Oh, sweetie, just tell me what’s wrong with it! You have to eat somewhere, just tell me what I need to do right!”

Celia: “We’re talking about Daddy right now, Mom. Focus on that.”

GM: “Sweetie, please just tell me! I just want to feed my baby!” the enspelled kine sniffles.

Celia: “Less carbs,” she lies. “I’m doing a combination of intermittent fasting and keto.”

GM: “O-Okay, low carbs, lots of fat, I can do that for you,” her mom nods fervently.

Celia: “Tell me about that night, Mom, so we can heal together. What happened after the saw?”

GM: Her mom winces and starts rubbing her leg. “I… I don’t know, sweetie, I blacked out… from the pain….”

Celia: Something like shame shoots through her. She shouldn’t be doing this to her mother. She doesn’t remember anything; they’d seen to that, the licks responsible for it. His name flits through her mind too quickly for her to grasp onto, afraid that if she touches it he’ll somehow feel her anger.

He’d fucked with her mom.

The one thing she’d asked him not to do and he’d done it anyway, the bastard. How big is her own blooper reel? How many memories had he stolen from her through the years? How many times had he visited her and taken from her and left her none the wiser?

She holds her mother close, whispering that it’s okay, that she didn’t do anything wrong, that she loves her.

As soon as she leaves here she’s going to find him. Demand the answers he’s denied from her for so long.

GM: Celia’s mother looks mortified as the Toreador’s spell over recedes. As she realizes the things she just said aloud to her daughter.

Her face starts to glow red as she gets out, “Celia, you have to understand… the meds can make me say some very, very strange things…”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says slowly, “why did he confront you, years later, about Ron?”

GM: “Sweetie, I am so—so—sorry,” her mom answers in an equally slow, shamefaced tone. “You should not have heard me say those things.”

“They aren’t true. Any of them.”

“I’ll stop taking meds when you’re over. Around Lucy. I’ll stop taking them altogether. I should not fill your ears with those things.”

Celia: “Goddamnit, Mom, stop lying to me! I was there!”

“You think I didn’t see what he did to you? Didn’t find the blood? You crashed into me falling down the stairs and now you’re lying to protect him.”

“What kind of message do you think that sends to Lucy? To me? To the rest of them?”

“Logan hit his girlfriend because he grew up in a household where abuse was normalized. Do you think that’s okay? Really?”

“Lying about it isn’t going to change what happened. Ron raped you years ago. Fourteen years prior to whatever set off Daddy that night. So tell me instead of lying to me.”

GM: Celia’s mom scrunches her eyes and holds up her hands.

“I don’t know, sweetie! I don’t know! Your dad… was having a fine time at the party, he just got in a funny mood after… he went and talked with that lady wh…”

Celia: “What lady?”

GM:STOP IT, CELIA!” Diana suddenly yells, clamping her hands over her ears. “It HURTS! The past is the past, I just want to raise your sister in peace! It HURTS how you keep bringing this up! Please, just… STOP!”

Celia: Her jaw tightens, teeth clenching together.

Hadn’t her mother been through enough? Years of beatings, raped by two different men, memories… memories destroyed. She doesn’t deserve to suffer further.

And yet…

And yet Celia’s been lied to her entire life. By these humans. By the licks. By everyone. She is so goddamned tired of being left in the dark and this woman has answers.

Is it worth it, though? Breaking her mother’s already damaged psyche for her own… curiosity?

The charm lays dormant inside of her. She doesn’t need something supernatural to sway her mother to her will; it’s a line she shouldn’t have crossed in the first place. Celia holds her mother close, rubbing her back, her shoulder, just holding her while she cries and twists and yells that it hurts.

“It’s okay, Mom,” she murmurs, “just let it out. You’ve been holding onto it for so long. Let it go. Scream if you have to. It’s okay.”

“You’re okay,” she continues, voice soft. “No one is going to hurt you anymore. I’m here for you. I hear you.”

GM: “I don’t want to scream!” Celia’s mom exclaims as her daughter holds her. The woman’s eyes are red and tired. “I just want to have you over without someone crying and feeling awful, is that too much to ask!? The drinking, the bringing up awful memories, just STOP! Stop bringing pain into my house, into Lucy’s house!”

Celia: Shame curls in her gut, sits there like a lead weight. She’d done this. Caused her momma this pain. Broken apart her family all those years ago; Daddy wouldn’t have shaken the monster’s hand if he hadn’t seen her disappointment that day. Every time she tries to fix it things just get worse.

Mel had warned her, hadn’t she? Told her there is no place for Kindred among the kine. They all have to fake their deaths eventually. They’re not healers; to pretend to be is an affront to their true nature. Despite the cute videos online of “unlikely animal couples,” a tigress cannot be friends with a hare. And her mother is a hare. A skittish, docile thing that loves with her whole broken heart.

Between the hunters and the (beautiful) fiasco in the Garden District, Celia’s time might be up. More pain for the woman to bury her child, but at least then it’s over.

“I’m sorry, Momma. You’re right. I was trying to help. I heard if you let yourself recall memories and release the emotions with them it is like a weight being lifted off, but of course you’re right.”

Celia pulls away from her mom.

“I’m going to head out. Let you get some rest. We’ll talk soon.”

Celia can let it go for tonight, at least.

GM: Diana swiftly gets up and trails after Celia, laying a hand on her daughter’s shoulder. There’s regret on her face, even if her previous words seem heartfelt.

“Celia, I love you. I’ll always love you. You know that, right?”

Celia’s mom hugs her.

“I love having you over. I loved having you help give Lucy her bath, and put her bed. You’re so good with her. Let’s just… let’s just do more of that, okay, and leave the past where it is?”

Celia: “I know, Mom. I know you love me, and I love you. I’m just… so tired of the lies and secrets between us. My whole life I thought I was Maxen’s child, only to find out I’m not. Then to hear that the fight wasn’t even about that…” Celia turns her face away, shoulders shaking as if holding in tears. Artificial movements, synthetic breaking of her voice when next she speaks. “Th-they say if you don’t learn from the past you’ll re-repeat it, Momma, and you had that vision and now I’m sc-scared that I d-don’t know enough to keep her safe.”

GM: Celia’s mom rubs her shoulders. “Sweetie, it wasn’t a vision. It was a nightmare.”

“There’s nothing in the past but more nightmares.”

“That’s why I named your sister Lucy. Because it means ‘born at dawn.’”

She gives a faint, somewhat forced chuckle. “Plus it was a really cute name.”

Celia: “It is a cute name, Momma.” Celia lets the woman think the words are a comfort. It had been worth a shot, at least. She wipes at nonexistent tears, smiling gently as she pulls back. “I love you. You know that, right? Even though it’s been… tough, recently, I love you. I’ll try to stop bringing in the drama.”

GM: “I know. I know.” Diana squeezes Celia again and rubs her cheek against her daughter’s. “I love you too, sweetie. You’re the light of my life. I’m so proud of everything you’ve done with the salon.”

“I’ll make something keto, too, for when you’re next over.”

Celia: Proud. Like Maxen is. For all the lies she’s built. Would that any of the licks she looks up to were proud, too. Proud of her for anything besides her face. Her pretty face. That can’t be all she’s good for, but it’s all they ever see. It chafes at her. Toreador. Barbie. I don’t think a Toreador like you would understand.

She pushes it down, lets it smolder in her gut. It’s not who she is. Just what they see. That’s what she wants, isn’t it?

“Thanks, Momma. I’d like that. I’ll get out of your hair. Get some rest. We’ll talk soon.”

Celia gives her mom a final squeeze. She’s done enough damage for one night. Time to retire, to cease the lies of being human. Back to the monsters she goes.


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Story Twelve, Caroline VIII, Celia X

“Break a bird’s wing and you might someday release it to fly again. But for us? They broke our wings too young, too often. Now there’s nothing left for us but the cage.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers


Wednesday afternoon, 9 March 2016

GM: After Caroline has finished seeing to her varied affairs for the night, there is no further word from her sire. Kâmil advises that Caroline return to Perdido House to spend the day: he is not certain if the Giani Building is secure given the recent car bomb found in the garage. More assassination attempts may be forthcoming. Roger Ferris agrees with this latter assessment, but remains slow to recommend Perdido House as a haven. Its security might be par none, but there are so many other Kindred with access to the building. The ex-CIA agent does not trust what he cannot control.

Another option, however, just as readily presents itself in the Walter Robinson House. It’s about an hour before sunrise when a sleepy-looping Cécilia clad in slippers and a sleeping robe has Caroline over to talk about the night’s events “in person” and readily suggests she spend the day. After all, she’ll be able to stay awake and use the time productively, even if she can’t venture beyond the house. And where security is concerned, Caroline’s sister replies,

“Maman has put much of herself into this place. There is power here, even if she isn’t present—or perhaps better said, if her body isn’t present. Any night-folk who know what this place is would not invade it casually. And if she absolutely has to, if something truly dangerous follows you here, she can still rouse herself. It’s just likely to be her last act with that body.”

The day passes. Caroline’s younger sisters are getting cabin fever from being cooped up in the house, even spacious as it is, but Cécilia says that “should be over with soon. Maman says she’s found ‘another means’ to create a body.” The two spend much of their time in Cécilia’s home office getting work done as the sun passes overhead.

“By the way, I rescheduled Simmone’s dance lesson for this evening,” Cécilia says after hanging up on a phone call. “I’ve been in touch with Autumn, who said she’s bringing over her younger sister, and Simmone’s teacher said she could bring over her granddaughter, who’s six. She also had the idea to invite her daughter, who runs a salon/spa in the Quarter. She’s actually a friend of mine, Celia Flores. You might know her through your dads. Anyway, Mrs. Flores suggested that Celia could bring over a mini spa kit to pamper the girls and do their faces before the lesson. I thought that sounded like a really good way to add some variety to Simmone’s routine and get her socializing with people outside of the family. Would you like to stick around for any of it?”

Caroline: The Flores name sends a shiver of memory down Caroline’s spine. Not an especially pleasant one, but she smooths it out alongside the rest of Cécilia’s news.

Celia Flores, running a spa. Well, there could have been a worse fate for the daughter who cried wolf. Even when the wolf was real. She didn’t believe for a moment the denials over the tapes that came out. She knew too much about the ‘evidence’ created to discredit them.

“I’m glad Autumn was able to make it work,” she tells her sister. “I met Celia years ago, and again a few years later at Tulane, but we didn’t keep in touch. She seemed…”

There’s a momentary pause. ‘Nice enough’ doesn’t really seem to fit with the girl that asked her to teach her how to shoot. Presumably her own father.

“…pleasant. And I think you’re right that breaking the routine a bit and introducing new people will be good for Simmone.”

GM: “I’m glad you think so. Celia and I went to McGehee together. She was one of the only people who wasn’t talking behind my back, after that whole business with Elliot.”

“We’ve kept in touch since then. It’s a really nice spa that she has. I’m going to get my hair and makeup done there for the wedding.”

Caroline: “Of course I’ll stay to watch.” Her Requiem is increasingly crowded by competing demands, but for her sisters she’ll find time. Especially with her mother so exhausted. She’ll always find a way to make time. Like today. Her gratitude for the ability to fill the daily hours with her sisters is beyond measure.

GM: “Great,” smiles Cécilia. “I always felt so bad for Celia and her family. They went through so much.”

“I’m sure you know all about that scandal back in 2009. It was completely real. She came to me for help and I tried to place the family in a women’s shelter.”

“They ended up not needing that, and I guess things turned out okay for them. But I still feel like there’s more I could have done.”

Caroline: The bottom falls out of Caroline’s stomach. But she doesn’t lie to her sister. Hasn’t, and won’t start now.

She nods. “I know.”

She hadn’t looked up the videos. Hadn’t wanted to. The descriptions were bad terrible enough.

“My father had a role in covering up the whole thing.” A beat. “I helped.”

GM: Cécilia squeezes Caroline’s hand. “You were just in college. It was going to happen, with or without you.”

“I’m sure you’ve felt bad about that. But there’s nothing you could have done. You just wanted to be a good daughter to your father.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a bitter laugh. “Mostly without, to hear my father speak of it. He was bitterly disappointed with my ‘failures’ there. Looking back… that incident really changed a lot of things for me. Might have been the moment that I moved from beneficiary of the family’s wickedness to active participant.”

She looks at her sister. “We all make our choices. I don’t know that they’re wrong. If I hadn’t gone down that route a lot of things would have been different. A lot of them for the worse. At the end of the night I have a place, a purpose, and a family. I can’t say it didn’t work out for me, or that I wouldn’t do it again. It sounds like she landed on her feet though, and I’m happy for that too.”

GM: Cécilia nods. “She’s running her own business. She and her mom are raising her daughter together. While I’m sure they’d have preferred some kind of justice for their father and ex, their lives seem pretty comfortable.”

Caroline: “She has a daughter?”

That’s something Caroline hadn’t heard. Or maybe hadn’t wanted to. She does some math.

“She isn’t from…”

GM: “I’m not sure who the father is. He didn’t seem in the picture and it didn’t feel polite to ask.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Or any business, really.”

GM: Cécilia said the girl was six. That means Celia would’ve been around 20 when she had the baby.

“I think she’s mostly being raised by Celia’s mother. I can’t imagine it would’ve been easy to start a salon business with a baby to also take care of.”

“That’s how it seemed, anyways. When I told Mrs. Flores we wanted some other children around for the dance lesson, she brought up her granddaughter, and said that it would be convenient not to have to arrange childcare.”

Caroline: Her thoughts linger on Celia’s child. Maxen raped his daughters. Caroline knows it’s true. The thought of carrying her father’s rape baby to term brings repulsively conflicted thoughts to Caroline’s mind.

She hadn’t wanted to sleep with her father, not really, but Freud had not completely missed the mark with the Electra complex. She’d always wanted his approval, his attention, at almost any cost. It isn’t so difficult to imagine a twisted world in which a more predatory version of her father could do something like that. In which she, being young, could have gone along with such a depraved act.

Still, she hadn’t wanted to sleep with her father. The thought of it is nauseating.

Her sire, on the other hand… her sire, so much like her father in his grim distance, weighty responsibilities, and dire expectations. Her sire, who she most certainly does wish would sink his fangs into her throat, who she wants to hold her, to take her utterly… who she’d kill to stir from his grim throne to some kind of passion. The mental image of him, his marble-like skin against her own, his vice-like grip upon her flesh, rises with little provocation so readily… she still remembers the taste of his vitae when he presented his wrist to her, the fire that flowed into her. The same fire that had given rise to her Requiem, had filled and created her…

She releases Cécilia’s hand, realizing how tightly she was holding it, and runs her tongue across her fangs.

There’s no use in daydreaming about that, no matter how it might haunt her thoughts.

GM: Her sister seems to study her. She doesn’t ask if Caroline is okay. They seem past that. It seems like she already knows.

She doesn’t ask Caroline to let go of her hand, either. She just waits for a moment, then says, “You’re everything he could ask for in a childe.”

“I don’t know him, or how much he’s like your father, but I do know you. If he doesn’t think of you as everything he could have hoped for, then no childe could possibly make him happy.”

“And… Maman tells me there’s nothing improper about it, for sires to have romantic relationships with their childer. She says that not all of them choose to do so, but that it isn’t taboo, like it is between parents and children.”

“I don’t know if you want to act on those feelings, but they’re nothing to be ashamed about.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles as Cécilia parses her way through her thoughts. She sets a shaking hand down on the desk in front of her and waits a moment until it goes still.

She knows it’s the bond. Intellectually, at least. Knows that it’s inescapable. She’s less clear where it starts and where it ends—can she really lie and claim she wouldn’t have been attracted to her sire without it—but she ‘knows’ it’s twisting her thoughts.

Whoever said knowing was half the battle though was dead wrong. There is no battle, not any more than the shore can battle the beating of the waves. It just withstands it. And so does she. The quivering hand finally goes still.

“He accepted me. That’s more than I could have hoped for. More than I think anyone else could have achieved. The rest is…” She rolls her eyes, mostly in frustration. “Unavoidable. He wouldn’t lower himself like that.” No matter how much she might want it.

The heiress shakes her head, blonde hair spilling out.

“Maybe I just need to find someone to… work out that frustration with.” She amends halfway through with a knowing look. “Later.”

GM: “Later,” Cécilia agrees. “But not too much later. You might have forever, but it’s bad to deny yourself.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs again, more genuinely this time. “Oh, don’t worry about that. I expect to work out this problem sooner rather than ‘too much’ later.”

GM: “Oh? Have someone in mind?” Cécilia asks, smiling.

Caroline: The Ventrue smirks. “The first non-repulsive or overtly hostile lick within arm’s reach?”

GM: Cécilia laughs. “I suppose there’s something to be said for-”

Her phone buzzes.

“Oh, they’re here. Let’s let them in.”


Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016

GM: Celia heads across the house with Caroline to answer the front door. The Ventrue thinks she’s met Simmone’s dance teacher at a few long-ago political functions. She’s a 40-something woman who wears her age well, with a toned figure, vibrant complexion (perhaps little surprise given her daughter’s skincare business), and chin-length sandy blonde hair in a bob cut. She has especially great lashes. She wears a floral-printed ’60s-style shift dress with pink ballet flats.

Mrs_Flores.jpg
The girl who must be Celia’s daughter is a slightly thin six-year-old with thick eyeglasses who shares her grandmother’s fair skin and blonde-ish hair. She’s dressed in a cream-colored dress with a yellow cake skirt that doesn’t look too little kid-ish around the older children.

Lucy.jpg
“Mrs. Flores, thanks for coming by on such short notice,” Cécilia smiles as she hugs the older woman.

“Oh, it’s nothing! I’m just glad to have Simmone still dancing, with how graceful your whole family is,” Celia’s mom smiles back as she returns the hug. “And you really can call me Diana, you graduated McGehee a while ago now.”

“Habit,” Cécilia remarks. “And this must be Lucy,” she says as she crouches down to the six-year-old’s eye level.

“That’s right,” Mrs. Flores says as she touches the child’s back. “Lucy, this is Cécilia, that very talented former student I told you about. Can you say hi?”

“Hi,” returns the six-year-old.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Lucy,” Cécilia says, shaking the girl’s hand. “I bet you love having a grandma who can give you dance lessons.”

“Yeah, it’s nice,” Lucy smiles.

“And this is my sister Caroline,” Cécilia says, rising to introduce the Ventrue. “I think you two might have met before?”

“I think so! It’s been a while, but Nathaniel Malveaux’s daughter, right?” Mrs. Flores remarks.

Caroline can imagine the kine woman’s instinctive nervousness around her, without the effort of will to send blood pumping through her turgid veins. Celia’s mother probably would not want to hug. But she puts on a smile and spreads her arms for the corpse that is not a corpse.

Caroline: Caroline can’t imagine any of her kine relatives would want to approach her, much less the near stranger. She knows what she looks like these nights. What’s left of her soul. Not that it matters to her sisters. Just another reason only a fool would label them as kine.

Keeping the blood moving is costly. Traitors and the requirements of her station make it a painful expense. But she’d rather not terrify her sister’s teacher, much Autumn’s sister or Celia’s daughter. God knows Celia has enough reasons to fear Caroline. So she pays the price, hides the corpse that she has become behind the blood of her latest victim—if not still warm than certainly still very much fresh.

“Years ago,” Caroline agrees, looking at the older woman. She looks less like a victim than she’d perhaps feared. Feels less fragile than she’d expected in the brief hug.

“Not the least among the things I’ve been called,” she flashes a dazzling smile. “We’re so happy you could bring along this little lady,” she gestures to Lucy.

She doesn’t know what she expected a child born of incestuous rape to look like. Less normal, perhaps. Less innocent.

GM: Then again, she hardly looks the part of a dozens-time undead murderer either.

“Me too,” Celia’s mom replies. “Lucy’s always happy to make new friends, and it sure makes childcare a breeze to just bring her along.”

“You have another daughter in med school who lives at home, right?” Cécilia asks.

“Yes, so she can’t babysit too much these days. You would not believe how hard they work those students.”

Caroline: “I was in Tulane’s pre-med pipeline before I sold my soul to become an attorney,” Caroline answers. “You might be surprised at what I’d believe.”

GM: “You’re really tall,” Lucy remarks to Caroline.

Her grandmother laughs and pats her head somewhat chidingly. “And you’re really short, little lady. We come in all sizes.”

Caroline: She squats gracefully, balancing on her heeled toes in a way she doesn’t think she’d ever have been able to manage in life. “And you’re very observant, young lady.” With the heels she’s well over six feet.

“How old are you?” Caroline asks, trying to bury herself in the mundane moment.

GM: “I’m six an’ a couple months,” says Lucy. “My birthday’s in January.”

“What’s an attorney?”

“It’s another name for lawyer, sweetie,” Mrs. Flores answers. “That’s what David is studying to be.”

Caroline: “An attorney is someone that helps people with a lot of boring law stuff,” Caroline answers very seriously. “We write things for people, go to court for them, and help them when they’re accused of breaking the law.” And sometimes when they actually do so as well.

Perhaps more than sometimes.

GM: “Oh,” says Lucy. “That doesn’t sound boring.”

“Trust the expert,” Cécilia smiles. “But they make the world go round in so many ways.”

Lucy doesn’t look sure what to say to that, but remarks, “I have aunts and uncles and mommies who do everything, I have so many. My mommy Celia makes people pretty, my mommy Emily’s a doctor, my uncle David’s a lawyer, my aunt Sophia’s a, I dunno, my uncle Logan’s in the Army, and my aunt Isabel’s in Africa.”

Caroline: “That’s a lot of aunts and uncles to help take care of you,” Caroline observes. “You must feel pretty fortunate.”

Africa. Right. She supposes there are worse cover stories.

GM: “It seems like it’s a bit until the others get here. Would we all like to sit down, or maybe start the lesson?” Cécilia asks.

“Better if they all start the first one together,” says Mrs. Flores. “Dependin’ on how regular a thing this is going to be.”

Caroline: “Can we get you settled in, then?” Caroline asks. “Something to drink?”

GM: “Oh, yes please. Sweet tea for us both, if you have it,” says Mrs. Flores.

“All right. Why don’t I go wake Simmone, actually, she was napping. Caroline, I’m sure you can manage some tea?”

A fib. She’s been clinging to Abélia’s body all day except for food and bathroom breaks.

Caroline: A state of affairs that Caroline has not been especially pleased with, but while one of the most important to her, it was also one of the less immediately pressing.

“Of course.” She leads the Floreses to the kitchen and fishes out a pair of glasses—one a plastic one with a lid held over from a time when Simmone was substantially younger.

GM: Cécilia was just glad they didn’t need to use a pot for the bathroom breaks.

Caroline: “So, Mrs. Flores, it sounds like you’ve raised quite the brood. Lawyer, military, Africa? And, of course,” she looks at Lucy, “one of the city’s most renowned beauticians.”

GM: “Look at my nails!” says Lucy, holding them out. They’re alternating blue and pink with sparkly polish.

Caroline: Caroline examines the proffered hand with only slightly exaggerated delight. “That’s very colorful. Did your mom do that?”

There’s another word she might use if Lucy was a little older: garish. But a six-year-old should be allowed at least some fun. The rest of the world will intrude soon enough.

GM: “Landen did,” the six-year-old says.

“He’s a cosmetologist at my daughter’s spa,” the dance teacher fills in.

“They,” says Lucy.

“Ah, that’s right. It’s a pronoun thing. I’m too old to wrap my head around it.” Mrs. Flores chuckles and makes a twirling motion around her ear.

She pulls Lucy onto her lap as she sits down. “Anyways, that’s very kind of you to say, Caroline! I sure am proud of them all.”

Caroline: ‘They’ do seem to have proliferated.

GM: “David’s in law school, technically, and Logan’s in the ROTC. Isabel’s in Sudan doing missionary work.”

Caroline: “All well on their way then. Fortunate that Celia provided you with a new one to dote on. I wonder if that’s half of why the family is so enamored with Cécilia and Luke’s marriage. I know my mother would have awful empty nester’s if she didn’t have a child on her hip.” She frowns. “Sudan is a dangerous choice, though. Do you ever worry about Isabel?”

GM: Mrs. Flores chuckles. “When you have that many kids, just one can feel like an empty nest of its own. But also a vacation.”

“And oh yes, I do worry about her. Like you say, it’s a very dangerous country! But she thinks it’s worth it to bring Jesus to people who need Him.”

Caroline: “I suppose we all have to follow our callings,” Caroline replies. “Is she at least in touch? I can’t imagine it’s easy from half a world away.”

GM: Isabel left town after those videos circulated. Maxen might still be in office, but there are scandals a man’s reputation can weather that a woman’s simply can’t.

“You’re right, it’s not. She stays in touch, though. My husband got her a satellite phone as a parting gift, and my kids say there’s some app you can use to save on international call rates. She and Logan talk a lot.”

Caroline: Interesting.

GM: “He’s hoping he might get stationed at one of the bases in Africa. There have been a lot of those since what is it called, Africa Command, started up. But it’s obviously a shot in the dark where the military sends its servicemen.”

“That would just tickle me pink, though, if they could get to see each other regularly off in Africa.”

Caroline: “The world can be a lot smaller than one might think in that way,” Caroline half-agrees.

“Still, it sounds like they’re all on their way. What was that book, ‘Oh the place’s you’ll go’?”

GM: Mrs. Flores laughs. “That’s the one. You’re talkin’ to a schoolteacher. I know it cover to cover.”

Caroline: “I loved that book as a child,” Caroline smiles, then turns to Lucy. “Do you know which one we’re talking about?”

GM: “That’s the one with the guy on the disc thing?” says Lucy.

“That’s right, Lucy-Goose! He’s looking out across all the places he might go.”

Caroline: “We all come home eventually though,” Caroline piggy-backs.

GM: Mrs. Flores nods. “It’s a wonderful thing to have some real roots. It is just such a blessing to still have most of my kids right here in the city. And for you to have both your families right by, too!”

“So Logan and Isabel are gonna come back?” asks Lucy.

“They sure are!” her grandma answers. “It’s good for them to go out and see the world, but they know where home is.”

Caroline: “Oh, we scatter well enough as well. Ivy Leagues and Washington and France, but we always come back together. Family is what matters,” Caroline agrees.

At least, on her mother’s side. The kine on her father’s are a thorny issue in many ways.

She’s glad she’s not the only Sanctified to feel the same way, if Mrs. Flores’ comments on her daughter are to be believed.

GM: “It sure is,” Mrs. Flores echoes. “It’s so sweet how your sister is always at home like this, helping your mom take care of the younger ones. You just cannot do it without help once you have enough rugrats.”

“How Cécilia is always home, that is,” the dance teacher clarifies with a laugh. “I suppose ‘your sister’ isn’t very specific, with six.”

Caroline: “We all chip in, in various ways, but Cécilia is definitely the most mothering of the group. I think it comes with being the oldest.”

GM: “Yes, it does. Just the way of things. The oldest get a preview of what it’s like to be a mom or dad, the youngest get to be babies forever.”

Caroline: “And the middle children look for ways to stand out against either end?”

GM: “The middle children, I think, also have more freedom,” Mrs. Flores says thoughtfully. “Fewer people tellin’ them what they need to be, I suppose.”

“Oh, say! I wouldn’t normally bring up politics, bad manners and all, but I think it’ll be safe here. I just want to say I voted for your dad in the 2012 election,” the dance teacher smiles. “I’d have voted for him in the primary this year, too, if he’d made it to our state.”

Caroline ‘heard’ about how her father dropped out after New Hampshire. From the public speech he gave, that she’d viewed online like any other voter. Nobody in the family even told her that Dad was suspending his presidential campaign.

Oh well. They hadn’t asked her to get involved with it, either.

Caroline: Hadn’t talked to her at all, in fact. Not since the last time they berated her. Insulted her. Threatened her. Hurt her.

You’d think, she reflects, that would make it easier to be out in the cold. But it doesn’t. They cut her off. Severed her, like a gangrenous limb. Or perhaps more accurately like a hangnail or stray hair for all the pain it seemed to cause them.

Her whole life trying to be the perfect daughter. Her whole life trying to please her father, to be worth his time and effort, and he threw her away without so much as a phone call.

Westley fucking murdered people and got better treatment.

She could scream against the injustice of it, and cry out in pain at how all of her hopes and dreams were not only destroyed, but savagely ground underfoot by her family, but neither of those things would do any good. Neither would make her feel better. She cried her tears for the Malveauxes months ago.

This, here, now, however…

She has a better family. Sisters instead of brothers. A mother instead of a father. Acceptance instead of chastisement. Solidarity instead of secrets. Pride instead of expectations. Love instead of the mad, burning hate she saw in her uncle’s eyes the night they cut her out.

And there’s her sire. Her sire, in place of her father. A figure of power, a dark god among the damned. For all the secrets and fear there, between them, there’s yet a hope of what is to come. The possibility of a place she might have never occupied in life for her father, and renewed purpose.

She puts on a smile, buries the pain in those thoughts. “That’s very kind of you to say. The field this year was, I think, just a little too crowded. There are worse things for the party though than to have too much talent.”

GM: “I’m glad your sire said the family is yours again, at least,” Cécilia had said earlier when the topic came up. “I’m sure that doesn’t magically fix everything, and I completely understand if what they put you through still really hurts. But if there’s anything I or Maman or any other others can do to help with them, just let us know.”

“And social attitudes are shifting, too. Opposition to gay rights is getting to be an increasingly unpopular position that conservative politicians are relieved to foist off to the courts, I think. So that could make sorting things out with your dad’s family easier, a few years down the line, if right now turns out not to be a good time.”

Mrs. Flores nods. “There’s definitely no shortage of candidates to still choose between! I hope he’ll run again in the next primary, though, he’ll still have my vote. At least eating all those corn dogs in Iowa helped him build his national brand.”

“Who’s he? Who’s eating corn dogs?” asks Lucy.

“Nathaniel Malveaux, sweetie,” Mrs. Flores answers the child on her lap. “He’s our senator. His job is to go to Washington D.C., that pretty city where the White House is, and write laws for us. Laws that help keep everybody safe and happy.”

“Mommy Emily says he’s a… corp-ir-ite shill,” says Lucy, slowly pronouncing the word.

“Divided household,” the dance teacher says to Caroline with a half-apologetic laugh. “You want to tell this future voter why she might want to support your daddy?”

Caroline: Yours again, Cécilia had said. She supposes they are hers, but she’s not certain they’ll ever be hers the way she once wished. The dreams of holding to the family, of pretending to be one of them, of keeping her place as the perfect daughter, seem as childish as those of a girl dreaming of Disney princesses. To take them for her own had required she break them, or maybe break her, and whatever shifting social mores might be, she doesn’t think what she broke will ever set right.

She isn’t even sure she wants it to be. The Devillers have shown her what family can be, have filled that hole she spent her whole life trying to shove so many hopes into. And her sire… what does her father offer next to him? It’s his blood, much more than her father’s, that runs in her veins now. What he offers is true power and purpose. It makes the kingdom among kine she imagined she might inherit seem one made of glass and sand in comparison—an illusion of power in a world whose truth she was blind to.

Sorting things out… there are things to sort out. How her dominion of the family will be executed, how she will make them a worthy domain, and herself worthy of the domain she has been given over them. She fears that will involve more pain yet to come, and until that is resolved it may be easier as they are now. And years down the line… years down the line, how will she explain the same face, even as everyone ages? Living among the kine cannot but be a temporary thing for the damned. Some day, one not so far off, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers will have to disappear.

Her gaze rests in the now on Mrs. Flores, and the easy answers lie on her lips. Lies she’s told a thousand times, some of which she might even believe. Lies she can’t tell, at least not to the smiling woman before her. Mrs. Flores, whose abuse the family covered up. Whose abuse she helped cover up. This woman who went through a very personal hell because it was politically convenient, but is still here smiling, buying the lies, selling what she’s been sold to her granddaughter.

“Maybe someday,” she says, forcing a smile into place, “but not tonight. I know better than to jump in the middle of a family feud.”

GM: It’s all-too easy to imagine Claire’s response to that. It might be something along the lines of,

My god, Caroline, you can’t even sell the family brand to a willing audience? To an honest-to-goodness party legislator’s grandchild and ex-wife? Optics matter. Campaign season is never over, just less busy. You need to act like there are journalists everywhere if you don’t want to be caught with your pants down someday. And, of course, actually promote your father around potential voters. Can’t you even do that bare minimum for us?

Mrs. Flores smiles apologetically.

“I’m sorry you had to hear that, even secondhand. Emily’s very opinionated about these things—but my daughter Celia isn’t, don’t worry, politics won’t come up around her once she’s here.”

“Mommy Celia makes people pretty,” Lucy chimes.

“That she does, Lucy-Goose! Super pretty!” Mrs. Flores tells her granddaughter, bopping her nose, then looks back up at Caroline. “I know your daddy’s worked so hard to get where he is, and has done so much for the people of our state. Really so much.”

“I don’t know if you remember this, you’d have been in maybe grade school, but your daddy took you and your family to see a Nutcracker show I was in once. And after the cast had all taken our bows, he showed up with my husband to congratulate us all—by name. We all look identical in tutus and with our faces made up, so that isn’t exactly easy! And he was just so warm and had such specific praise for each girl. I doubt he was a ballet enthusiast, but that told me he was the sort of man who gave his all to something. That when he was there in that theater, he was there, just 100%.”

“And some of times when I saw him afterwards, at functions with my husband, he’d bring up that show or others I’d been in, ask really thoughtful questions about them, and just make me feel like I was the center of his world. I think it’s important for us not to lose sight of that human element, even if we disagree over policy.”

“He sounds nice,” says Lucy.

“He sure is, little Luce! Just such a nice man,” the dance teacher smiles at Caroline. “Like I said, he’ll have my vote no matter what office he’s running for.”

Caroline: “I’m certain he’ll be happy to hear it.” Caroline forces another smile into place. “So much of politics is reaching out to individuals, and I’m sure he’d be pleased to hear that he made such an impression on you. I know how hard he works at it.”

GM: “I bet he does! I know how busy that kept my husband, and I’m sure it’s a whole ‘nother league at the federal level like your dad’s now at.”

“Are we gonna have sweet tea?” asks Lucy.

There’s a knock from the front door.

“Oh, looks like Steph or Celia are here!” says Mrs. Flores.

Caroline: Caroline leaves the pitcher on the table. “Please, help yourself. I’ll bring them.”

The heiress’ heels click across the kitchen as she departs.

GM: It’s Autumn. She’s there with a younger girl around 10 years of age. She has neck-length brown hair, brown eyes, and a slightly large nose and thick eyebrows. Caroline’s newly-sharp eyesight can make out a dental retainer in her mouth. She’s dressed in blue jeans and a lighter top with a panda bear on it.

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“Hey, Caroline. This is Stef,” she says, introducing the girl.

Caroline: “Autumn, I’m glad you both could make it.” Caroline greets her ghoul as though the other woman isn’t her blood-addicted slave.

GM: “Hi,” says Stef with a shy smile.

“Your house is really nice.”

Caroline: “Why thank you, Stef, I think so too,” Caroline answers, silently assessing the girl. She’s a good fit for what she has planned for Simmone. “Why don’t you come in? I was just chatting with Mrs. Flores and her granddaughter.”

GM: Autumn closes the door behind them as they step in. Stef wipes her shoes on the welcome mat again. She looks more than a little nervous in the palatial surroundings. As if afraid she might accidentally break something priceless.

Caroline: The undead monster lays a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder. “The house wouldn’t be 150 years old if it was that fragile,” she smiles. “Come on, you must be parched, I know it’s warm out there.”

GM: “Okay. I, I guess not,” Stef smiles back.

Caroline: “Have you ever danced before?” Caroline asks as they walk.

GM: “Uh, not really…” the ten-year-old answers.

Autumn frowns a bit, as if just realizing the kid who already has a dance instructor, and that dance instructor’s live-in granddaughter, probably have a lot more experience than Stef.

“It’s okay,” she tells her sister. “You can probably start with beginner stuff. Gotta start somewhere.”

Caroline: “Mrs. Flores said specifically she wanted to wait until everyone got here to get started, so everyone could begin in the same place,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Oh, that’s good,” says Stef.

As they reach the living room, Mrs. Flores and her granddaughter have already poured glasses. Lucy seems to have found one of the family cats, Mr. Shah, and is avidly running her hands through the Persian’s fluffy white fur. He proves a good icebreaker for Stef, who sits down next to Lucy to pet the feline as people make introductions.

Autumn and Mrs. Flores seem to already passingly know each other: Autumn mentions that she actually got to attend McGehee for her high school years thanks a scholarship her synagogue set up (“education’s really important to us”), though she never took Ballroom Dance. The dance teacher makes a mostly joking-seeming “tsk-tsk” at that.

Caroline: “McGehee is the best,” Caroline laughs.

“Well,” she amends, “at least in New Orleans.”

GM: “I hope you had a good dance teacher where you went,” says Mrs. Flores. “Your whole family’s just so graceful! It’d be like defacing a painting not to have y’all take dance.”

Caroline: “My interests took me in another direction,” Caroline answers with a hint of a grin. “But don’t worry, I still had good teachers.”

GM: “Oh, what’s it you do, ma’am?” asks Stef as she rubs Mr. Shah’s belly. “Autumn says she knows you from work.”

Caroline: “Well, that’s another story,” Caroline replies. “But I was very interested in fencing when I was younger. It wasn’t quite a dance… but it also was, in its own way.”

GM: “Oh, it very much is,” Mrs. Flores nods. “Historically, ballet emerged in Italy during the late Renaissance as a dance interpretation of fencing. There’s actually some really old fencing illustrations that look like the duelists are assuming ballet positions, all the way down to the turned-out feet. Go back far enough and the saber isn’t too removed from the tutu.”

Caroline: “In another life you might have been a fencer?” Caroline asks with a hint of mischief.

GM: Diana laughs. “Oh, I prefer to let the men do that sort of thing! Maybe in another life I’d have been a courtier’s wife, with one of those funny little cone-shaped hats.”

Celia: There’s another knock on the door.

Caroline: The heiress rolls her eyes. “You all couldn’t have planned this. I’ll be right back. Please, help yourself.”

Her heels echo on the hardwood floors, announcing both her departure and approach to the door.

Celia: A decidedly not nervous Celia Flores stands on the other side with her fingers wrapped around the handle of a silver box. It looks like some sort of bulky, hard-cased roller luggage, though with what Caroline knows of her purpose here that is, probably, not the case. The girl looks much the same as she remembers from that fateful night in college, though she’s aged. Aged well, to look at her; there’s not a sign of premature wrinkles, graying hair, or the ever-present hyperpigmentation or leftover scarring from the poor skin that took her in her youth. She looks positively radiant. Then again, she’s not yet thirty, perhaps they all look radiant at this age.

She has kept it casual this evening: slacks, blouse, flats that are reminiscent of pointe shoes, natural makeup. Nothing to draw attention from the little girls whose faces she will be polishing and painting before their lesson.

She has a pleasant smile on her face, though her eyes widen minutely when she sees who it is that answers the door.

“Why, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, I did not expect to see you here.”

Caroline: The heiress eyes the case for a moment, but turns her attention from it quickly to the kine before her.

“There’s nowhere I’d rather be, Miss Flores,” she laughs lightly.

So that’s how it is?

Celia: “Here I thought Momma had brought me in to pamper the little ladies.”

Caroline: “Please, come in.” She steps inside and gestures for the other woman to join her. “It’s been a long time. Years, I think.”

Celia: Celia’s eyes sweep the blonde. She’s a little one herself, next to Caroline in her heels. She does step inside, though, and lifts the case into her arms rather than roll it along.

“Too long,” she agrees. “How’s life been treating you?”

Caroline: Laughter dances behind Caroline’s eyes. She wonders how she must look to the radiant, living girl before her, but she knows the answer: like hell.

“Oh, you know,” she answers. “Life seemed easier in college. These days it seems like there’s always ten things pawing for my time.”

Celia: Celia’s lips part, giving voice to the laughter that Caroline didn’t utter. She does know. That pawing she mentions is more like clawing, scraping, the thing inside of her reacting to the presence of the one in Caroline. She is suddenly glad for the lessons given to her by her sire’s cousin to keep her own scent from spilling out and wonders whose toes she is stepping on by being here.

“I completely understand. Always feel like I’m being pulled in seventeen different directions.”

Not that college was any better.

“Emily, you might remember my roommate from…” she trails off, “well, anyway, she mentioned you left the pre-med program?”

Caroline: “Well, in part,” Caroline answers. “I finished pre-med, but decided to sell out for law instead of medicine in post-grad.”

“I don’t know that anyone I was in the program with will ever forgive me, but when I look at my old classmates beating their head against the wall in med school or residency… well. It wasn’t the right way forward for me.”

Celia: “I’ll be honest, I think you made the right decision. The stories she tells me about everything she gets up to in residency, the sleepless nights… that’s entirely too much for a person. But, hey, can’t complain about having a doctor in the family.”

“I’m glad you found something that works better for you. I had a… hm. Ex-boyfriend, I suppose, who went to law school.”

Caroline: “Oh? Anyone I’d know?” Caroline asks.

Celia: “He was a few years older than us, but you might know his dad if you’re in the field? Garrison.”

“He, ah… he passed away. A few years ago.”

Caroline: “Henry Garrison?” She winces. “I’m sorry to hear that. It seems like everyone has at least some tragedy in their lives.”

Like your dead sister.

Celia: “Thank you. Sorry to bring up such dark things, sometimes my mind just… well, you know.” She waves, a vague gesture. “Hopefully that’s the last of the tragedies for me.” She forces the air from her lungs in a sigh, then gives Caroline a small smile. “And hopefully none for you.”

Caroline: There’s a twitch there at the end of the comment. Please, set your dead boyfriend against the tragedy of my life.

“Are those the goods?” she asks, gesturing to the silver case in Celia’s hands as she closes the door behind her.

Celia: Thank god for small mercies. Even without the Beast roaring in her ears she’d be off-balance here; she’s thankful they’ve moved onto safer topics. Her fingers tap against the side of the case.

“They are! I wasn’t sure how many girls to expect, and you know at that age there’s not really a lot of skin concerns, so I just… brought a little bit of everything. Are you sticking around for a bit? Maybe you could join..?”

“Not,” she adds hastily, “that you need anything. You’re gorgeous, of course.”

Oh boy. She abruptly shuts her mouth.

Caroline: Caroline’s laughter is light and fluttering, girded in a smile.

“Should I take that as a professional opinion? To hear Cécilia talk, there’s not anyone else in the city she’d let do her makeup and skincare for the wedding.”

Celia: Celia beams at her, nerves swept aside. “I am beyond thrilled that she asked me to do her up for the wedding. Cécilia was one of my closest friends in high school, and to be able to do this for her… I’m honored. Truly. She will make the most beautiful bride. Did you get roped into helping them plan?”

Caroline: “Oh, there wasn’t very much roping involved,” Caroline answers. “I can think of painfully few things that could keep me away from my sister’s wedding—most of them very painful. Still, like always, she’s trying to make everything as easy on everyone around her as possible. I swear she had half of it planned out before he popped the question.”

Celia: “Don’t we all?” Celia laughs.

She tries not to think about the wedding she’ll never have.

Caroline: “I don’t know how you find the time. I don’t have a daughter and I still don’t seem to have enough hours in the day.”

Don’t we all? Did she? The only man she ever consider marrying with any seriousness was Neil, and that scared her more than it excited her. Scared her enough that she went and ruined everything.

Caroline runs a hand through her pale blonde hair, so much like that of her sisters.

“I should take better care of myself, though, for her. I couldn’t live with myself if I ruined her wedding photos.”

Celia: Celia’s lightness immediately dies with Caroline’s remark, replaced by something sharper, more assessing. She sets down the box and takes a step closer.

“May I?”

Her hand is lifted, as if to touch.

Caroline: “Of course, far be it for me to reject professional help.”

She wonders faintly if Autumn would mind doing her makeup moving forward. To make her look a little less dead. It seems more the type of thing she’d have experience with, and might even enjoy.

Celia: Celia closes the gap between them. The height difference is staggering, with her in flats and Caroline in heels, but Celia was a dancer for a number of years, and old habits die hard. She rises to the tips of her toes in her flats, balancing as easily on them as she had in her youth. It doesn’t close the gap, but it narrows it, and her eyes scan Caroline’s face as if looking through a microscope.

“As far as finding time, Momma has been a godsend with the childcare,” Celia tells her. Her lips barely move as she speaks. “There’s the three of us raising her, so it’s been easier.”

Caroline: Perhaps it was a bad idea. She wonders what the woman will see in her dead face.

Celia: Her touch is light on Caroline’s chin. She slides her fingers up, over her jaw, and then sweep back around across her cheekbone. She seems to be looking beyond the skin more than at it, though after a moment of intense scrutiny—and a longer moment of the wild scratching and snarling inside of her—she drops back.

Caroline: The Beast doesn’t like being touched, but Celia’s touch is light. It beats the hugs most kine insist on.

Celia: “You have good bone structure. Good base. Skin… needs some hydration.”

That is a tactful way of saying ‘dead,’ she thinks, though of course Celia isn’t supposed to know that.

“I could get a routine together for you, if you like.”

That’s something she’d offer to someone who isn’t a corpse, isn’t it? So normal.

“But as far as ruining wedding photos, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. A little color here, some black in the waterline to darken there…” She shakes her head as if to cut off the train of thought before she ventures too far down it. “Like I said, Caroline, gorgeous.”

Caroline: Caroline lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. At least she won’t have to mind-rape the other girl to explain away that something is dreadfully wrong with her.

She taps a finger on her lower lip and wonders if such a regimen would do any good. It might, she considers, though she’d have to tailor it for things that help day of, vice over time. It’s not so different than her sire shaving every morning. Image is important.

Celia: She’s seen that look before. She’s spoken to others, like the two of them, about what can still be effective after death and what can’t. She supposes she could offer the services of Jade, though that seems… dangerous. She smiles politely all the same.

Caroline: “I may very well take you up on that,” she agrees after a moment. “As long as my mistreatment of such a regimen wouldn’t offend your professional sensibilities.”

Celia: “I expect my clients to lie to me. It’s like telling the dentist that yes, of course you’re flossing.” Celia winks at her.

“I can show you some things after the little ones are done, or, if you’d prefer a different atmosphere, I can bring you in to the spa. Do a full service, really get into it.”

Caroline: In the French Quarter. That seems like it’ll end well. For some reason, she doesn’t expect the same warm welcome she’s received in the past.

“We can talk during their lesson, if that works for you?”

Celia: That went over about as well as she expected. She wonders if Cécilia is going to have her do everything here, if Caroline is in the wedding. She’ll need to figure out the logistics of that.

“That works beautifully for me. Anything I don’t have with me I can have sent over. Are you living here now? I remember you said you had an apartment near Tulane last we spoke.” Years and years and years ago.

Caroline: “Oh, I spend the night sometimes, but I have an apartment near the French Quarter. I like remaining grounded with my family, but there are certain things that I don’t feel the need to share with my little sisters—or my mother—if you know what I mean.” Caroline offers her own wink.

Her eyes sweep the shorter woman up and down. “And I’m sure you do.”

Celia: Did she just…?

Celia averts her eyes, a small smile pulling at her lips. It brings to mind a certain awkward family dinner where she had felt the need to share with her mother and Emily. She had, thankfully, been forgiven for her less-than-stellar showing that evening. When she looks back at Caroline her smile is nothing short of wicked.

“You’d win that bet.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue over her teeth. “Well, I guess I can take some comfort in not being the only daughter that didn’t keep her purity ring.”

Celia: “My own wasn’t proof enough?” She nods her head toward where she can hear Lucy’s laughter echoing through the house. “Pretty sure I had it on the night she was conceived. You’re in good company.”

Caroline: That conjures an wretched image for Caroline, of Maxen fucking his purity ring-wearing daughter, but she pushes past it. She picked the topic.

“Well, I mean, it happened once before, so I’d rather not assume.”

Celia: She is ignorant of the vision that plays for Caroline; her own features her mother bending, naked, to clean up what dripped out of her the night her father kidnapped and raped her. Someone’s hand in hers, telling her to breathe. Three toes on the soft carpet.

“I imagine the two of us get up to all sorts of things that would make our mothers’ heads spin.”

Caroline: You have no idea, Caroline thinks.

“Better to leave some mystery,” she agrees instead.

Celia: “Speaking of mothers, perhaps I should set up to get the little ones going before mine comes looking for me. Do you know where the best spot for that is? I don’t want to be in the way of their dancing.”

GM: Speak of the devil and she’ll appear.

Celia’s mother rounds the hall. “Hi, sweetie! I’m so glad you could make it!” she exclaims, pulling her daughter into a squeeze.

Caroline observes it all. The way Mrs. Flores’ face lights up when she sees Celia. How tight her initiated hug is. How long it lasts. How widely the dance teacher smiles. How she closes her eyes for just a moment. She looks as if seeing her daughter brings her genuine happiness. Like it actively, immediately makes her day better.

Even in her new family’s house, it’s hard not to think back to Claire. Her first mother. Her stepmother. Whatever.

All those years of stiff embraces and clipped words.

Or just as often, no embraces and sharp telling-offs.

Or bitter arguments and just not seeing each other.

Celia: Celia has to set the case down again to let her mother wrap her up in her embrace. Her smile is warm, face as open as the arms she spreads for the older woman before enveloping her in a hug. There’s nothing forced in her smile.

“I wouldn’t miss it, Momma. We were just coming to see you. Caroline and I got caught up swapping stories. Where’s my baby Goose?”

GM: “She’s in the living room with the other girl, Stephanie, and her sister Autumn. They found some kitties to play with,” Celia’s mom smiles back as she pulls away. “I’ve got your products bag with me, by the way, but looks like you came pretty well-equipped.”

Celia: Kitties. Cats. Of course there have to be animals. She wonders if they’ll respond as negatively to the thing inside of her as her mother’s two cats had. Her smile dims marginally.

“Why don’t I set up elsewhere so I don’t interrupt them. Is that where you’re giving the lesson?”

GM: “I usually give Simmone her lesson in one of the sitting rooms,” Celia’s mom answers. “I figured we could have you pretty the girls up first, so they can feel glamorous while they’re dancing. Though it’ll mostly be going over the five positions for tonight’s lesson, on account of Stef bein’ a beginner.”

Celia: What, house this big doesn’t have its own dance studio? She hasn’t been here since she was a teen, but she thinks she remembers the way to the kitchen. She says she can set up there, if that’s amenable, or one of the other sitting rooms. Out of the way.

Caroline: “The kitchen works fine,” Caroline answers.

She doesn’t linger on the sight of Celia and her mother. Doesn’t dwell on Claire. What she has is better.

Celia: “Perfect.”


Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016

Celia: Celia heads that way, case clutched in her hands, and sets up at the kitchen island. There’s something about sitting on the big stools that makes little kids feel like adults. She opens the case on the counter. Inside is a treasure of cosmetics and bottles of serums, ointments, and cleansers. Foundation ranging from ivory to ebony sits in tiny little bottles, blushes made of powder and cream, pencil and liquid liners. And the palettes. The eyeshadow palettes are what little girls live for: sparkles, rainbow, glitter. Every color imaginable, set in little pink carboard boxes with their tiny pans of multicolored pigments.

Celia pulls out a black bag that unfolds into what looks to be a toolbelt, which she fastens around her waist. Its pockets are filled with brushes of varying shapes and styles, tweezers, two tiny spritz bottles of clear liquid and one of blue. They’re all labeled in neat writing: water, alcohol, Barbicide. There’s a small mirror, too, so the girls can look themselves over when it’s all done.

It only takes a moment to get everything in order.

“Who’s first, then?”

Caroline: “Can I get you something to drink while you work?” the towering blonde asks as Celia sets up.

Celia: Nothing you have here.

“Oh no, thank you so much though.”

GM: There’s plenty for her to drink here.

But it probably wouldn’t be polite.

Cécilia and Simmone look to have come downstairs, while Caroline and Cécilia talked. It also looks like everyone finally got around to the sweet tea. Cécilia remains the same pale-skinned, high-cheekboned, and willowy-figured vision of beauty who she last worked on. She’s wearing a pale blue skirt and white blouse.

Cecilia.jpg
The 10-year-old sitting next to her (close enough by, in fact, to touch) looks like a miniature version of the woman, down to the same milky skin, pale long blonde hair, and clear blue eyes. She’s wearing a belted white knee-length dress that suits her complexion well. Compared to most preteens, there’s no awkwardness, no acne, no nothing: she’s like a swan that skipped its ugly duckling phase and is simply a miniature swan. Her hair is a little mussed, though, and her eyes are a little puffy. She’d look prettier, too, if she was smiling. She needs Celia’s careful hand.

Simmone_Devillers.jpg
Then there’s Caroline. That marble, statuesque icon, so tall in her heels. Her aristocratic bearing, lovely angles, flawless skin, and haughty eyes, rides the edge between elegance and allure, remaining refined enough to avoid the overtly sexuality of many beautiful women. Those eyes take hold next, lovely and precious diamonds, and just as cold as the stones they resemble. While there may be light within them, there is no real life: the light is a reflection off of them rather than a projection from within. They’re eyes Celia could spend a decade staring into for all their facets, and it would not be a lost decade. There is, however, so much else to see there, if she can look past the window dressing and break free of that gaze.

Caroline.jpg
They’re all so fucking pretty.

So, so pretty.

Celia can imagine them under her hands. She could take their beauty and make them goddesses. There is so, so much to work with here. It seems almost offensive to have the plainer-looking Stef girl and her sister in the same room. It’s like hanging an amateur’s painting next to a Van Gough. It’s just in bad taste. Her mom’s and sister’s faces are tolerable, at least, when she worked on them, but it’s still a simply inferior grade of material.

But Celia doesn’t need to imagine something else.

She would very, very much like to have a drink here.

And it’s fucking obvious who should be first.

Celia: It isn’t fair.

How can mere mortals be this beautiful? How can Lucy, Stef, and Diana stand here in the room with these four goddesses—yes, Celia herself is a goddess, though not with this mask on—and even call themselves the same species? They are perfection. Divine. Sculpted marble beauties that put all others to shame. Could Veronica even hold a candle to this?

No. No she couldn’t.

Celia had said it to Caroline earlier when the woman’s jaw was clutched in her hand, when she was staring into the eyes of the monster beneath that exquisite bone structure: gorgeous. It is a wonder she was not caught then, like a fly in the bear’s honey. She sees now that the matching trio of them only serves to amplify what is already there. She cannot ignore it. She does not want to ignore it.

She wants it. Wants them. Wants their skin, their faces, their silken hair. Wants to touch and caress and lick and feed. Her Beast, that monster, wants this beauty. All of them.

Her heart would stutter if it were not so carefully controlled by the blood pumping through her body. A smile splits her face a second too late as she stares, transfixed, at the girls. She has finally been given a reason to live, and it’s here in this kitchen with her.

Smooth steps take her to Cécilia’s side in an instant, arms outstretched to bring her old friend in for a hug.

“Oh, Cécilia,” she says in a voice that’s more purr than not, “you are simply ravishing.”

GM: “Thank you, Celia,” Caroline’s sister smiles as she returns the hug. “I can’t wait to see how you’ll make me look for the big day.”

“Or I suppose ‘big night.’ We’re having it in the evening.”

Celia: “You will be the most breathtaking woman to have ever walked the world, I promise you that.”

That’s the advantage of having one of them in the family already, isn’t it? Celia doesn’t need to worry about the schedule. Caroline will do it for her.

She pulls the girl close during their embrace, nestling her face against the crook of her neck for a very, very brief moment. She can hear the pulse beating away beneath her skin. Fractions of an inch away. It would be so easy to just…

She wrenches control of her mind back from the Beast. Soon. Soon she’ll have this one, she thinks, and the other as well, and they’ll be a pile of beauty together. But there are others here, watching, and Caroline’s presence complicates things considerably. She pulls away with a final smile, then looks to the miniature version of Cécilia. No less beautiful. Like a little porcelain doll. Celia crouches in front of her, eyes level with the child. Her smile is warm.

“You must be Simmone. You were so little last time I was here.”

She’ll grow up to put her other sisters to shame, Celia is sure of it.

Sure of it because she can ensure it, she thinks. She can sculpt the child. Start young and it’s less work. They grow into their features. How stunning would she be if Celia were to get her hands on her now?

The thought causes her to reach out, stroking her fingers through the girl’s hair. So soft. So luxurious.

“Do you want to go first, Simmone, or should I do your friends so you can hang with your sisters?”

Get them out of the kitchen that much quicker.

Leave her alone with these treats.

GM: Simmone stiffens and looks a little apprehensive as Celia starts touching her hair.

“Okay, you can do them,” she says.

Celia: Celia’s eyes soften. Her mother’s words come back to her: the child is afraid of everything. She has fits and seizures. The shooting.

She’ll need to be gentle with this one. Coax her like she would a stray, offer treats and rewards for opening up. But, oh, what a rose she would be if tended by the right hand.

Celia reaches into her belt to pull out a pink bottle with a black squirt cap on it. She offers it to the child, very serious.

“Can you be in charge of the Fix Plus for me? It has a very important job at the end of makeup application: just a spritz over your whole face and it melds all the layers together. Think you can handle that, little fawn?”

Fawn. Someone had called her that once, hadn’t they? Innocent, like a doe. Not so innocent now, she reflects, but she keeps her thoughts contained within the charming smile.

GM: Simmone looks at the bottle for a moment, then reaches out to take it.

“D’accord. Okay.”

“Can we bring back the kitties?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Sorry, Goose,” Celia says to her child, “can’t have the cats playing in the makeup. Clients with allergies. But I can do your face first so you can get back to playing with them, how’s that?”

She doesn’t so much as wait for a response before scooping the girl up to put her on the stool.

GM: “Oh. Is it not okay to have them in the room?” asks Stef.

Caroline: Caroline watches the exchange from across the island, beside Autumn.

Celia: “Prefer not. Dander and hair get everywhere. I’ll make it quick though.” She smiles at the other girl. It isn’t quite as wide as the one she’d used for the Devillers sisters. She doesn’t shine like the sun, as they do.

“Then you can dance and play with the kitties to your heart’s content.”

While I play with another sort of kitty. Celia’s gaze flicks towards Caroline.

GM: “Yeah, cats probably a bad idea,” Autumn echoes.

After all, she hasn’t seen them around her domitor.

Celia: That decided, Celia gets to work.

She doesn’t tut over the way her daughter looks, but her eyes don’t shine for the child as they do for the sisters. It’s not her fault, she can’t help but think, she didn’t ask to be born plain. And she is. Plain. Celia’s beauty had somehow skipped this generation. She’s cute enough, for a kid, but there’s a little too much of him in her for her to ever say the girl is anything but normal.

She tries not to dwell on it.

She asks Lucy and Stef what colors they’d prefer and gets to work with her brushes and paints. They don’t need foundation or concealer—no one at that age does—so she doesn’t bother with it. Instead she gives them loud, sparkly looks, the kind of thing she enjoyed when she was a child that no sane adult would ever wear, going bigger and more glamourous at their urging.

She is an artist, and they her canvasses. Ordinary canvasses. Not the pristine, flawless kind she’s itching to get her hands on. Still, it doesn’t take long before the girls are done, each with a scented lip balm of their own to take with them for touch ups, and her eyes once more turn towards the ladies of the house.

“Children like color,” she says, almost bashfully, as her eyes find Cécilia and then Caroline.

GM: Lucy is cuter than Stef, at least. Her features have more attractive proportions. There’s also the fact she’s younger. Lucy squeals with delight and Stef smiles by the time Celia is finished.

Caroline: The Ventrue gathers up one of the cats and carries it out of the room at Celia’s direction, enlisting Autumn to hep with the second, then settles in to watch the artist work.

GM: Her mother, Autumn, and Cécilia all applaud the Toreador’s handiwork.

“Children and adults,” Cécilia agrees. “They look simply perfect, Celia.”

“Yes, they look just gorgeous, sweetie! Ready to knock ’em dead!” her mom smiles.

“Yeah, lots of color,” says Autumn.

Celia: Celia might flush under the praise of her longer-named friend. It’s hard to tell beneath the layers of foundation, concealer, and contour. Perhaps her cheeks are always that rosy. Her eyes shoot towards Caroline’s face as well, as if seeking similar praise.

“Simmone’s turn.” She turns to regard the girl, offering another one of those smiles. She’d let her spray the Fix Plus onto Stef and Lucy and she’s hoping that it at least calmed the child enough to let her touch her.

GM: Simmone seems to enjoy spraying on the Fix and feeling like part of the process. Cécilia looks pleased as she lifts her younger sister up onto the stool.

Caroline: “How’d you first get into doing cosmetics?” Caroline ask Celia as she works.

Celia: “I think I saw one of those pretend kits at the mall when my mother took me. I was very little.” Celia leans in to look over Simmone’s face. Her touch is whisper-light against the fair skin. “I asked Momma if she’d buy it for me and she did, and since then I’ve been… a bit mad for it, really. Poor skin in my youth, spent a long time correcting it. Not like you, Simmone, yours is pristine. A little angel all our own, aren’t you?”

“What do you think, Caroline? Blue, for her eyes? Purple would bring it out as well, though she’s so fair it might look mottled…” Brown would be a good color to bring out the blue, Celia knows. Tans and golds. It would make her eyes sparkle. But neutrals are not colors that kids generally enjoy. There’s no color there. No life. No vibrancy.

GM: “Celia loved to do face painting when she was little,” her mom confirms, smiling. “That, what, $10 kit was the best investment of our lives.”

Caroline: “Something you did together as mother and daughter?” Caroline asks. “Or, I suppose, mother and daughters. You’re fortunate enough to have a sister too.”

She turns her head as Celia works on Simmone. “What about a silver? It might work well with her hair, give her an ethereal look.”

GM: Simmone seems to think, then nods.

“Good choice,” says Cécilia. “The best makeup complements what’s already there.”

“Yep. We definitely got a lot of mileage out of that kit,” Celia’s mom answers. “Still do, too! These days, of course, Celia’s the one who does all the face painting. Leavin’ it to the pro and all. She pretties me up at least once a week. I won’t ever set foot inside another spa or salon in my life.”

“I’m not gonna either!” exclaims Lucy.

“Celia’s gonna do alllll my hair and face stuff, forever!”

Caroline: That could have been me. The thought runs through her mind, watching the mother and daughter interact. A normal life—even with the twisted beginnings. There’s a hint of jealousy that she’ll never have a child of her own.

Celia: Silver. Silver can work. Silver is second to gold but Celia can make it shine.

Her work begins. The world fades out around her. She nods at opportune moments, as if listening to the chatter of the children, but her attention is focused on the task in front of her.

Silver.

It starts with primer swiped across the girl’s lids with a gentle touch. She lets it sit while she dabs a spot of color on her cheeks and blends it out in a deft hand. Then white across the lids. Pure white, no pigment, no mixing or muddying of colors. Base coat, to blend, to make anything she puts on top of it that much more striking. Her hands reach without her eyes even moving from the girl’s face for the small black palette, the only one of the bunch that hadn’t been opened yet. It sits innocuously in her belt, and when she opens it up it’s easy to see why: this is no kiddy palette, no face paint, no chalky hues from drug store counters. It’s high end. Buttery. So pigmented that Celia only needs a tiny amount on the end of a wet brush to sweep across Simmone’s eyes. She selects another blush for blending, buffing the silver out until where it begins and the white ends are intertwined like a pair of lovers. There is no separating these two. Then a darker silver, graphite even, for the outer corners. A small triangle of color, buffed and blended until her eyes shine.

She isn’t done.

She uses a pencil to line the girl’s brows, a powder to fill them in. Not dark, but darker. Liquid color between each lash to darken the line above her eye. Rosy cheeks. A tinted balm on her lips: MLBB. My lips but better. The same Celia uses for herself, though this one shimmers.

She stares, once she is done. The girl has gone from child to ethereal being. She is no porcelain doll. She is fine china, a delicate nymph, innocence incarnate.

She is an angel, and Celia created her.

Caroline: Caroline watches Celia work over her youngest sister, watches the almost frantic energy with which she paints and draws and sculpts. Mostly though she watches Simmone’s reaction.

Watches to see how the withdrawn pre-teen handles a stranger’s touch. To make sure she enjoys it. When she sees her tense the heiress takes a seat next to her, one cool hand resting on her sister’s leg reassuringly. She’s safe here. There are no monsters here that can hurt her.

The only monster in the room is Caroline, and she could never harm her sister.

GM: Simmone is tense the moment Celia starts working on her. Cécilia lays a hand on their sister’s shoulder. Many of the others, at least, don’t seem to notice: Stef and Autumn have their phones out as the esthetician works. Lucy and Mrs. Flores both watch the whole process, though, the latter with glowing and all-too evident pride.

After all, she is creating art.

It’s liberating to have such a quality canvas to work with. There’s only so pretty she can make flawed mortals, after all, before the Masquerade comes apart at the seems: before they become like unto butterflies emerged from ugly cocoons, and people gasp over how such a jaw-dropping transformation could even happen. Kenya had to be reborn as Alana to become as pretty as Celia made her. The stupid, ugly kine tie her hands.

But sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes she can work her art to heart’s content, painting and pampering already perfect flesh to make it divine. Like she did for Veronica, who might have tasked her with improving perfection as a cruel joke, only to have her dead breath stolen away when Celia did exactly that. Simmone looks radiant. Immaculate. Cherubic. Pristine.

Flawless.

Applause goes up from Lucy, Celia’s mother, and Cécilia as she finishes, which Autumn and Stef join in as they come up. The Toreador is showered with compliments, not the least of which are Simmone’s, whose earlier tension seems to evaporate like steam out of a sauna as she stares, entranced, at Celia’s work.

“Je ressemble à un ange!” she exclaims to her sisters. “Hou la la, comment a-t-elle fait ça?”

“That means she’s very happy and impressed,” Cécilia smiles at her former schoolmate. “Would you like to take pictures for your Instagram? I know you have a pretty large following.”

Caroline: “La magie prend de nombreuses formes ma chère. Mais cela aide lorsque vous êtes déjà magique,” Caroline answers, admiring Celia’s work, but more than anything taking in Simmone’s obvious joy.

GM: “Oh, that’s an excellent idea. We should definitely keep some pictures!” Celia’s mom chimes in.

Celia: The French goes over her head, though Celia recognizes the word “angel” at least. She cannot help but preen under their praise. Her clan might think that art is brushes on paper canvas or music fluttering through the air, but Celia knows the truth: true art is that which touches and transforms the souls of people, and Simmone has blossomed beneath her attention. Celia touches and the girl blooms.

She is all pleased and happy smiles for her hostesses, her mother, the others. A photo is a brilliant idea. She pulls a new phone from her pocket and unlocks it with a tap of her finger on the print scanner, then lines up Simmone for a shot.

“Ready?”

Photo taken, her eyes turn toward the two elder Devillers girls as the phone disappears back into her pocket. Her gaze smolders, locking in on Caroline.

“Your turn.”

Caroline: “Are you ready to get started with the girls, Mrs. Flores?” Caroline asks, breaking her gaze from Simmone.

GM: “I think so! They all look like stars, it’d feel almost criminal not to dance and strut their stuff at this point,” Celia’s mom smiles.

Simmone’s hand shoots around Caroline’s.

Caroline: The monster’s hand is there waiting.

“Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas chérie?” she asks softly.

GM: “Je te veux ou Maman,” she entreats. “Ou Cécilia.”

Caroline: “Bien sûr le plus cher. L’un de nous sera là avec vous tout le temps,” Caroline answers gently.

Will you take the first bit? she sends to Cécilia.

GM: Of course. I think it’s better if we don’t have too many people crowding the lesson, anyways.

Simmone’s hand relaxes.

The other women and children politely don’t comment.

Caroline: Caroline lets Cécilia lead the girls to their lesson.

GM: “All right, y’all, we’re gonna start today’s lesson with positions, which are ways you hold your body,” Mrs. Flores explains as she and Cécilia head off with the children. “Basic ballet moves all start or end in one of five positions, or a slight tweak of them, so…”


Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016

Celia: Alone at last. Or… well. She looks over at Autumn.

GM: Autumn remains behind with her mistress.

Celia: Her lips press together. She wonders if this chit is as devoted to her mistress as Alana is to Celia. She doesn’t mean to conjure up the images, but there they are in her head.

GM: Who cares about a stupid sister next to her domitor? She’s not anywhere nearly as pretty.

Celia: Her very presence dims the room. It’s an assault to Celia’s senses. She’d have to overhaul the girl completely if she wanted to make her better, a full face lift.

Too much work. Celia turns her back to the ghoul to get the eyesore out of her line of vision.

GM: “Hey, Cécilia was right. I think I’ve seen your MeVid channel,” says Autumn.

“I got some good makeup tips from it.”

Celia: “Oh?” That gets her attention. She doesn’t turn away from Caroline, but her lips pull up in a smile. “I’m happy to hear that. I spent a lot of time learning how to edit the videos to get everything just right. More of a full-time job than the hobby people make it out to be.”

Caroline: “It makes a difference,” Caroline agrees. “I can’t stand the trashy half-baked videos most people put out.”

“The ones that are actually professionally done sparkle like diamonds in the sand.”

GM: “Yeah, it definitely is a full-time job,” Autumn agrees. “Lot of people who hire full-time assistants for it.”

Celia: Her eyes sparkle like diamonds at the compliment. She doesn’t know if Caroline has ever seen her videos or followed her Insta, but she’ll take what she can get from this golden-haired queen.

“I was considering the same,” she admits, “bringing someone on before it wears me out.”

“Beauty is a full time gig,” she says with a long sigh. “Though you don’t seem to have to worry about that, Caroline. God, I’d kill for that bone structure.”

GM: “That’s not a bad idea if you want to keep growing your brand online,” the ghoul agrees again.

Caroline: “Bringing in an assistant was the best thing I ever did,” Caroline laughs. “There just aren’t enough hours in the day. I don’t know what I would do without her.”

She laughs lightly at the compliment, running a hand across her check and down under her chin. “We all have our crosses.”

Celia: “Hardly a burden,” Celia disagrees, “unless you’re fending off people with a bat.” Some use for that outside apartment, hm? “Perhaps I’ll see what my salon manager can whip up. But you…”

She doesn’t ask permission this time, not verbally. There’s just a gentle lift of her brows as her hands close in, the pad of her thumb soft against the Kindred’s jawline.

“If Simmone is silver, I’d drape you in gold. Put you on the pedestal where you belong.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue over her teeth, her Beast half recoiling at the touch even as Celia’s words wash over her, stroking her ego.

It’s a shame Celia isn’t in college still. That she lives in the Quarter. That she already has so many ghouls. The compliments agree with her.

“Where I belong? Do you always lavish these kinds of compliments on your clients?” She seems amused, but pleasantly so.

Celia: “None of them look half so good as you, Caroline.”

She’s emboldened by the touch. She takes a step closer. Her hand slides around to the back of Caroline’s head, fingers running through her hair. How had she never noticed this dazzling beauty during all those years at political events? Eternity stretches before them now. No time like the present to make up for all those lost years.

GM: Autumn studies her phone.

Caroline: She shouldn’t let the kine get this close. Not when it’s so obvious that she’s not alive. When her body is so cool.

“Not until after they leave your salon, I’m sure.” She studies the other woman, her eyes dancing with interest. Is Celia really coming on to her?

Celia: She makes no comment to the coolness of her body, the papery feeling of her skin, the fact that Caroline is nothing but a walking corpse animated by whatever dark sorcery keeps them all from the grave. Celia’s heartbeat is clearly audible, her skin warm where she touches the taller girl. Her nerves flutter, though she does not shy away.

“Not even then.” Celia leans in. It’s an invasion of personal space, though the movement itself is slow enough to give her time to back away should she choose. Her Beast is tense with anticipation. Fight, fuck, feed, that’s all it knows. All it wants. And Caroline is in its sight.

Her eyes ask for the permission her lips don’t give voice to.

Caroline: Oscar Wilde once observed everything was about sex, except sex.

Caroline never would have entertained a same-sex relationship in life. In death her tastes shifted, expanded and narrowed both. Sex was about blood, and her tastes were specific.

Celia’s blood doesn’t suffice. It’s still blood, but she knows it’s far from the satisfying fair she wants. It doesn’t stir her Beast’s interest in a more than passing way—like a shark watching a minnow swim by—not worth the effort.

But sex isn’t about sex, as Oscar Wilde observed. It’s about power. And Celia’s attraction makes her feel very powerful.

What’s the worst that could happen?

She leans back into the shorter woman, the hints of points forming on her fangs even as their chests brush against each other. She drops her voice. “And you like beautiful things. Live for beautiful things?”

Celia: Celia finds herself nodding to the question. She does live for beautiful things. Beautiful things are what brought her here, to this place; they’re what made her life go so far off track in the first place. The beautiful goddess on the staircase. The beautiful monster under her sister’s bed. And now, here, this exquisite creature as well. What had she ever been nervous about?

“You’re not just beautiful, Caroline,” the words leave her in a whisper, “you’re so much more than that. Alluring. Divine. Enchanting.”

As if realizing the truth of those words, her gaze drops from Caroline’s eyes to her lips. She wants her. Needs her. Purveyor of beauty, isn’t that what she had said once?

Caroline: She hopes Autumn is taking notes from this exquisite mortal. Divine. Maybe she can find room for Celia in her retinue after all.

She leans in further, their bodies pressing against each other, her lips beside the shorter woman’s ear as she whispers, “You have no idea.”

Her lips move down, gently brushing their way down the side of Celia’s neck. Not quite kisses.

Celia: Maybe she says something. Maybe there’s a noise she makes, something encouraging. Something happy, Veronica would say. It could be Caroline’s touch that sends the shiver down her spine, or it could be the closeness to the corpse. Who’s to say?

GM: The kitchen door opens as Celia’s mom walks in. “Oh excuse me, have y’all seen my pho…”

She shuts up the moment she sees the two kissing women.

Caroline: The Ventrue breaks off, without shame, slowly but deliberately disentangling herself from Celia.

Celia: The moment is immediately ruined when Diana’s voice cuts through the fog in her mind. Her head snaps in her mother’s direction. She looks down at Caroline, then back at her mother.

Maybe the floor will open and swallow her.

GM: Her mother’s hands go to her mouth.

Celia: Fuck.

Caroline: Troublesome…

Celia: It isn’t what it looks like? They were… gossiping? With Caroline’s lips on her throat? That’s plausible, right? Secrets are better when they’re whispered.

GM: Her mom’s mouth opens behind her hands.

Nothing comes out.

Caroline: “Mrs. Flores,” Caroline says as her gaze sweeps the room languidly, “I do believe that might be your phone on the end of the counter.”

She hopes Autumn was wise enough to make herself scarce.

GM: Caroline doesn’t see her ghoul nearby.

Celia: “Um. You… ah, phone? Did you… pocket..?” the words die as Caroline speaks for them.

GM: “…yes. Yes, I suppose it must…” Celia’s mom finally manages.

She crosses the room. She picks up the phone.

Celia: Maybe she should step away from the source of all this.

She should probably step away.

She does so. Slides around the counter to put it between the two of them. She doesn’t manage to meet her mother’s eye.

This is worse, she thinks, than the family dinner when she was rolling on ecstasy.

GM: Maybe her mom is looking at her. Maybe she’s not. But her footsteps sound. She makes it most of the way back towards the kitchen door before she turns around and looks between the two. Her hand re-covers her mouth.

She looks as if she’s about to cry.

Caroline: Fuck.

Caroline isn’t particularly attached to the obviously closeted Celia’s relationship with her mother, but it simply won’t do to have Mrs. Flores this upset when she goes back to the lesson with her sister.

GM: “Celia, baby… I’ll always love you… but this is not a healthy choice,” she whispers in a pained voice, slowly shaking her head.

Celia: She thinks about calling out to her mother. Thinks about what will happen if she doesn’t, if Diana causes some sort of something with the Devillers’ youngest daughter. Someone had told her about the monster who lived here putting a girl in a wheelchair for a stolen diary. She doesn’t want to imagine what will happen if her mother causes a problem.

“Mom, I… can explain..?”

“Is your lesson over?”

GM: “God will judge you, Celia.”

Tears start to trickle down her mother’s face.

“I will always, always love you. But God will judge you.”

Celia: “Momma. I didn’t… we didn’t…” Celia gestures between herself and Caroline.

She doesn’t know what to say. ‘It isn’t what it looks like,’ ’we’re both dead,’ ‘Kindred don’t see gender’ doesn’t seem like it will go over well.

Caroline: The Ventrue watches the exchange. It’s bittersweet, seeing another family with their own problems. Reassuring in some ways.

The Germans, she knows, have a word for what she’s feeling: schadenfreude. Pleasure from someone else’s misfortune.

GM: Celia’s mother is full-on crying now.

“Don’t do this to yourself, Celia. I love you. Please, please don’t do this.”

Caroline: The Ventrue reaches out through the midnight-black thread tying her to her family.

Please keep the girls occupied for a few minutes, Caroline sends to her sister. There’s a… small hiccup here.

GM: All right. I’d ask if I could help, but it sounds like that’s how.

Celia: Irritation surges through Celia. How dare she? She, who let a black man defile her. She, who carried two rape babies to term. She, who lived in squalor rather than stand up to the abusive piece of shit she catered to for twelve years. She dares judge Celia?

Her movements are quick and precise as she begins to pack up her belongings.

“It seems I’m overstaying. I’ll get out of your hair, Caroline. Please ask your sister her forgiveness for not saying goodbye personally.”

Caroline: Suddenly it’s there, in the room with the three of them. Overpowering. Overwhelming. Inescapable. A monster stalking among the kine. It pulls at their awareness, tears at their inhibition’s, wears at their objections.

Her gaze rolls to Mrs. Flores, meeting the older woman’s gaze even as it is drawn to her like a moth to the flame. “I must have missed something, Mrs. Flores.”

GM: Celia’s mother instantly looks towards her, mouth caught open in mid-response to her daughter.

Celia: It hits her. The wave that Caroline—for it can only be Caroline—sends out. Her knees threaten to buckle. Not from any desire to please, but from fear. Her mother is so fragile. So breakable. She knows what their kind can do. Her eyes are drawn toward the blonde almost against her will.

Caroline: “I’m not certain what you think you came in on,” she begins, reaching out with her will to smooth over the older woman’s perceptions and working her control into her mind.

She’s had more than enough practice to know that the best lies are the ones that someone won’t strain against. That have something in common with the truth. A twisting of feelings and perceptions instead of a complete overwriting of it. Move the pieces around.

“But Celia had nothing to do with the kiss you saw Autumn and I sharing when you came in. She was in the restroom and only just got back.”

GM: Mrs. Flores closes her mouth with a glazed look to her eyes.

Her features slowly calm.

Celia: Her eyes close. She’s next. She’s next, she’s next, she’s next. She has to be next. There’s no way Caroline can explain what she just did to her mother. She thinks Celia is like them, the kine, the ordinary folk. To not worm her way into her mind now would be a slipup. At best, her mind is wiped of this display. At worst, everything else is found out.

She could run. She should run. Back to the Quarter. Back to safety.

Leave her mother here with these monsters. Her daughter, too.

She is a terrible, terrible person.

She looks down at the bags. They don’t seem as important now.

Caroline: “You should go back to the lesson,” Caroline tells the dance teacher suggestively.

Celia: If she finishes packing and heads to the door will anyone notice? Maybe she can use the cover of her mother’s exit to bolt.

And be chased down outside. All those guns. She’d seen them on the way in.

The last of her tools are zipped inside the bag.

GM: Mrs. Flores blinks slowly as the impression sinks in.

But the esthetician can’t help but note.

Her face is messed up from the crying.

Celia: She doesn’t look at Caroline. She can’t look at Caroline.

“Momma,” Celia calls out. “You’ve smudged, a little. Why don’t I fix that for you before you go back.”

GM: “…oh. Okay, sweetie,” her mother answers slowly.

“Yes. Yes, please.”

She keeps her gaze fixed on Celia, but her eyes still seem to slide towards Caroline.

Celia: There’s nothing pleasant about this get-together now. She should have left the moment she’d seen Caroline at the door. Her mind races: excuses to leave, rationalizing what she’d seen Caroline do, something that will keep the Ventrue out of her mind. Her very presence is calling to Celia, even while she does her damndest to ignore it.

Fixing her mother’s makeup is quick work. She wipes away the black lines of mascara and smudged liner and fixes the tear tracks and puffy under eyes with concealer. She doesn’t say anything while she works, aware that Caroline is right there and probably listening. A fresh coat of waterproof mascara finishes the job. It takes less than two minutes.

“Call me when you get home, Momma, okay?” Celia kisses her cheek. Some assurance, at least, that the woman will make it out of this.

GM: Celia’s mom hugs her back. Her hugs are normally very tight and long, but there’s an almost…

It feels like the hugs she gave when she was in the hospital.

“Oh, but wait, sweetie,” she manages with an utterly at odds and almost fake-feeling smile, “I baked you some snickerdoodles, to take home… they’re in my bag.”

Caroline can’t recall Claire ever baking cookies for her.

Caroline: The Ventrue watches patiently as Celia tends to her mother’s makeup. Wonders what must be going through the kine’s mind. She’s smart enough not to make a scene at least, so Caroline will give her some props. On the other hand, the fun of the moment is gone, sucked away. It’s her own fault. It always is.

The heiress let her amusements get in the way of her family, in the way of her duties, and it ended badly. Like it always does. Stupid. Unbecoming.

She should have known better. Did know better.

Celia: “Why don’t we go get them, Momma? I’m on my way out. I can’t wait to dive into the snickerdoodles.”

There’s no good way out of this. Will Caroline make a scene if Celia bolts? Of course she will; she’d shown that she is already willing to force her way into the minds around her. Isn’t this how it had gone last time, too? I’m fast.

Not fast enough.

“It’ll just be—”

Caroline: “Perhaps you should wait a moment, Celia. You can grab them on the way out later as the lesson wraps up,” Caroline interjects, her presence still oppressive in the room. “There’s a few things we still need to talk about.”

GM: “Ah. All right. You can grab ‘em when we’re done, sweetie,” Celia’s mother demurs.

Celia: Oh.

Well.

That decides that.

“Of course.”

GM: “Thanks for fixin’ my makeup, sweetie. You make me look flawless as always,” her mom offers with a weak chuckle.

“I should… get to the lesson.”

She sees herself out with a final, half-averted glance back towards Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline waits for the elder Flores to depart the room and gestures to the high stools on the opposite end of the island from her. “Please.”

She moves around the kitchen, fishes a pair of long-stemmed wine glasses from a cabinet, and a bottle of white from the refrigerator. She deftly pops the cork and pours for each of them.

Celia: Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need that does nothing for her. She watches her mother disappear out the door. She doesn’t quite meet Caroline’s eye, though she moves around the island to the offered stool. She hovers rather than sit, eyes still downcast. How long can she stare at these countertops?

Caroline: She slides one of the glasses across the island to Celia and sighs, the overwhelming presence receding to just her radiant one.

“She doesn’t know?” she asks at last, swirling the wine in the glass.

Celia: Doesn’t know that she’s dead? That she sold out her family? That she regularly visits with a monster?

No, that can’t be what she’s asking. Celia has done nothing to arouse her suspicions. She focuses on the glass. Caroline wouldn’t be offering wine if she knew. It hits her, then.

She thinks I’m gay.

She seizes the excuse, shaking her head as she sinks finally onto the stool. This, at least, is safe. She wipes at nonexistent tears to keep her hands busy.

“No,” she says. “She… none of them do.”

Caroline: The heiress nods. “I can see why. She didn’t seem to take that very well.”

She takes a sip of her wine.

“That’s hard. Lying to family members about who you are.”

GM: At least she still said she’d love Celia.

Dad still hasn’t so much as called.

Celia: “I never wanted to hurt her, but what she wants… it’s just not me,” Celia says. There’s a hint of a flush on her cheeks. She looks so young, despite the fact that they are the same age. So uncertain. “Sorry, I… it’s not worth getting upset about, right? She’s just old fashioned.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I think it’s perfectly worth getting upset over. Getting rejected for who you are by people that you love is never easy.”

“Trust me, I know.”

Celia: She does know, doesn’t she? For all that she’s done and been, Celia hasn’t really had to face that issue just yet. Carefully concocted lies have let her avoid the worst of it. She sniffs, staring down at her wine glass.

“I shouldn’t have been so forward, it was…” she can’t say the word. “Silly. I don’t even… I barely know you.” She gestures vaguely toward where Caroline sits across from her.

Caroline: “What’s that phrase? It takes two?” Caroline answers.

Celia: “Something about a tango,” Celia supplies.

Caroline: “Another woman I think said two, ‘to make a thing go right.’” Caroline smiles weakly.

Celia: “Was that a woman? I’d always assumed it was a very high-pitched male. Like, ah, Michael Jackson as a child.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs more genuinely. “More well-known for the remake, but the original was Lyn Collins.”

“But that’s neither here nor there. So, are you just going to keep things hidden forever? That part of yourself?”

Celia: “I was planning on it. I have a… cover.”

She thinks of Randy. She thinks, too, of this entire persona that she wears, and the one she didn’t don tonight. How different they are.

“I mean… you know what it’s like, you said, it’s… it’s not worth it, right? There would be too much fallout.”

Caroline: A nod. “There can be. My father hasn’t spoken to me since he found out. Mind you, it wasn’t in the best of ways, and he had other considerations.”

Celia: “I wish my father wouldn’t speak to me. Or send my brother to speak with me. Or play his mind games. Trade you,” she offers.

Caroline: Caroline pauses, then seemingly decides to go ahead. “Is she his?”

Celia: Anything she was about to say is abruptly cut off. Her entire body shudders at the question, face closing off. For a long moment, she doesn’t speak. Anything she says here can have far-reaching consequences. For herself. For her daughter. For her mother.

She shakes her head, emphatic. “No. No, of course not.”

Perhaps it’s telling, how her eyes don’t meet Caroline’s. How long the pause was. How eager she seems to assure Caroline that Lucy is, in fact, not Maxen’s daughter.

Caroline: Caroline falls silent.

“I’m sorry,” she says at last.

“For everything you went through with him. For everything your mother went through. For everything your sister went through.”

She sets down her glass.

“I’m sorry.”

Celia: “I can hardly lay the blame at your feet. You didn’t turn him into what he is. You didn’t do anything worth apologizing for.” She trails a finger around the stem of her glass. She still hasn’t looked up. “But… thank you.”

Caroline: “My father had a part. In covering it all up. I’m sure you must know. Many people played a part in covering up his excesses. Many people benefited from them, from the holds they gave others over him.”

“I had a part in it. I benefited from it.”

“If nothing else, I knew about it and did nothing.”

Celia: Her words are met by silence.

This is not the conversation she had expected to have.

How long had she blamed herself? How long had she thought that it was her fault, all of it, every decision she had ever made, starting with that one dangerous idea that she could stand up to her father? Choosing Emily over her mother. Emmett over Stephen. Monsters over men in uniforms. And then him, the man in the shadows, the voice in her dreams. Him above it all. Untouchable on the pedestal where she has placed him. No one else comes close. But here, now, Caroline offers the words of an apology for a long ago crime. Celia had known that he couldn’t do it himself, but to hear the girl so blatantly admit what she did, what her father did.

Her response, when it comes, is a hollow laugh.

“You warned me. That day in school. Entire teams, you said, tens of thousands of dollars. How many others? How many others sat idly by while that man terrorized my family? How many people benefit from the corruption at the heart of our party?”

She shakes her head.

“Don’t tell me. It doesn’t matter. If you want to make amends, Caroline, truly make amends, give back whatever it is you benefited. Start a fund. A shelter. A scholarship. Something. Just give it back. That bastard does not deserve to win.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head. “That’s the logic everyone uses.”

“That it’ll be better on the other side, that you can do more in the future. That you can make up for it. But you never really make up for it. You just keep falling further and further into darkness until it swallows you up. One day you look up and you can’t tell who the monsters are because you’ve become one.”

Celia: “So we do nothing? Let the darkness win? Become the monsters willingly?”

GM: Dad always said the Democrats were just as bad.

Or worse.

Hypocrites.

Caroline: “I don’t know what you should do,” Caroline answers. “I won’t pretend to tell you how you should live your life. We all have to make our own choices.”

She gestures between them. “This is mine. Well, one of them.”

Celia: “Apologizing for long ago transgressions over wine?”

Pretend that makes it all okay.

Caroline: She shrugs. “People matter more to me than principles.”

Celia: “And yet you crush them on command.”

Caroline: “Depends on the people,” Caroline admits. “A stranger? Absolutely. Perhaps more than ever.”

She takes another sip of her wine. “I’m sorry, this must be very uncomfortable for you. Honestly… well. It’s as selfish as anything.”

“I don’t get very many opportunities to talk with other people that understand what it’s like. Hiding who you are. Issues with fathers. Family problems in general.”

“It’s not easy wearing a mask.”

Celia: She almost laughs. How well she knows that feeling. Perhaps, if Caroline had stayed in the Quarter, they might have been something like friends. If such a thing can even exist in their society.

“Truer words have not been spoken.” Does she want forgiveness? She will not have it from Celia. “Wear it too long and you don’t know what’s real anymore.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It has to come off eventually, or you start to become the person you’re pretending to be.”

GM: Are things all right, Caroline? Mrs. Flores feels a little off.

Caroline: She walked in when Celia and I were being very…. friendly with each other.

GM: Oh, I see. I would ask that you not feed on the Floreses, if it’s not any trouble. Celia is a friend and her mom has taught us for years and years.

Caroline: She came onto me, Caroline answers defensively.

GM: She did? That’s strange. There’s puzzlement, but not doubt.

Caroline: Her mother was unpleasantly surprised. I thought it better for everyone if she remembered something a little less… personal.

GM: There’s some feeling of apprehension across the bond. Caroline remembers Celia not wanting to tamper with her fiancé’s mind either.

I’ll admit that makes me uncomfortable. If this is who Celia is, I think that might be best left between her and her mother how they deal with it.

Caroline: Maybe, Caroline sends. But I keep enough secrets of my own that I can respect someone else’s.

She doesn’t add that she won’t let her own lack of self-control cause a scene at an event for her youngest sister. Cécilia can read her well enough to read between the lines.

I was gentle.

GM: Okay. Do you think this is going to be an issue in the future, so far as Celia?

Caroline: Not with me, comes Caroline’s clipped response.

GM: I’m sorry, I meant from her. Caroline feels the apology as much as she hears it.

I’m okay if you and she are interested in each other in that way, too. But Celia shouldn’t act on it while she’s here in a professional capacity.

Though maybe that could have been more clear to her. I don’t think it was established that we were paying her. Her mom had just suggested that she come along.

We do pay Mrs. Flores for the lessons, so things are pretty professional between us.

Caroline: Call it a moment of weakness, Caroline answers. I shouldn’t have let it come that far.

GM: You’ve wanted to find someone after Jocelyn. You deserve to find someone, too.

Celia: “Indeed. Sometimes I wonder who I am anymore.”

Now seems like a good time to go. While Caroline is… distracted? Something is making those wheels turn inside her head (her pretty head, Celia still thinks), and Celia would prefer to not be her focus. Too much rides on keeping this identity secret and she’s been careless enough with it, especially considering the location. Vidal’s personal territory. What was she thinking coming here? Hadn’t she pressed her luck enough by venturing into Tulane? Perhaps some good will come of this: she can use the interaction as an excuse to never, ever come back.

She rises.

“For what it’s worth, Caroline, I would have very much liked for this to happen.” Celia gestures between the two of them. She sounds sincere. “There are just too many complications were we both to remove our masks.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a fluttering laugh. “You have no idea how right you are.”

Her expression turns contemplative. “You haven’t asked what I did to your mother.”

Celia: Shit.

“I assume, as a senator’s former wife, she understood the implicit threat in… making a public scene, and that your words reminded her of the proper decorum.”

Caroline: “If it was that easy, my life would be far less complicated,” Caroline answers.

“Your secret is safe, at least one more night, from her.”

Celia: She’s going to cause a scene. This fledgling is going to cause a scene and reveal things she shouldn’t, and it puts Celia at risk. She studies the granite countertop. She tries to keep the wariness from her voice.

“Then you have my thanks.”

Caroline: The Ventrue looks at Celia’s case. “It would have been better if you’d finished, but I can fake something with what Cécilia has on hand. I hope you’ll forgive me for a passable job with your name on it.”

Celia: “The… makeup?” Her brows draw together. “You want me to finish your look.”

Or she wants an excuse for Celia to stick around. That shouldn’t exhilarate her as much as it does. She tells herself the feeling fluttering through her is from being found out in this area, not the quiet promise behind the other’s words.

Or it’s a threat, and Caroline thinks she can quietly dispose of her. Ha.

Caroline: Caroline taps her fingers on the counter. “If you’re willing, that would be best.” It’s the little details that mess with people’s memories, that unravel the entire tapestry.

Celia: She is willing. That’s the worst part, isn’t it, that she knows staying inside of the Garden District is nothing but trouble, but… her mom is here. Lucy is here. She can’t just leave them, not when the only other witnesses to their presence tonight are a ghoul and Caroline’s sisters. And it’s… Caroline. Months old. She’d been intimidated by the blonde when they were mere mortals, but this? Here? She should be at home here. She’s been at it far longer. She’s faced down bigger, scarier things than Caroline Malveaux-Devillers and survived to talk about it.

What’s the worst that could happen?

“I can stay.”

Her jaw moves as she considers her words. Finally, she asks, “Are you going to hypnotize me as well?”

“I’ve seen those shows, you know. On Webflix. Power of suggestion and all that.”

Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline admits without shame. “It’s better if your memories and hers match.”

Celia: She could remove her eyes. Keep her from ever using that particular ability again. It would be a simple touch to get it right, and her hands will already be near her face. How many people will she need to mow down to get to the door once Caroline starts screaming? Let it happen, maybe. She’s played that role before. It will protect her secrets, at least. ‘Celia’ would be safe.

“I remember walking in on you kissing Autumn,” she says slowly. “I was on my way back from the restroom.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue the point with her. There’s no value in it. She could reassure her, tell her that she’s not going to go digging in her mind, but she doesn’t think those things would have been terribly reassuring to her.

Caroline considers eavesdropping on the woman’s thoughts, but she’s already hurt her enough, will already violate her privacy enough.

“We can be quick, if this is making you uncomfortable. Well… more uncomfortable.”

Celia: “What if I don’t want to forget you?”

Caroline: “It was better that your mother walked in,” Caroline answers.

Celia: What will she be giving up? Almost kissing Caroline? That’s not so bad, is it? She has other beautiful monsters to occupy her thoughts at night. Her hands move on the countertop, unrolling the makeup bag. The products are waiting within.

“Because you don’t find me suitable, or because you do?”

Caroline: Her eyes linger on the kine. God, it feels good to be desired. But Caroline has already basked in that glow once, and flying so close to the sun has left her more than pink.

“Both?” Caroline answers after a moment. “It would be a beautiful disaster, but it would still be a disaster.”

Just like Jocelyn.

Celia: “I’m more durable than you might think. The scandal with my father saw to that.”

He had told her it had made her strong, the years of abuse. She suspects he just didn’t care enough to make it stop.

“Perhaps that alarms you. The children of abusers often grow up to abuse others, don’t they?” She lifts her chin, though her eyes remain on the products before her. “I wouldn’t hurt you.”

Caroline: “Rather the opposite, I suspect,” Caroline replies.

She’s persistent.

Celia: “You’re worth the risk.”

Caroline: “Am I? You were alone with me for five minutes and we reduced your mother to tears.” The wavering that was present at first is falling away.

Celia: “You forget I’ve known you most of my life. All those years with our dads at events. Do you think tonight was the first time I’ve had these thoughts? You’re brilliant. Captivating. Enchanting. More than that… this,” Celia gestures between the two of them, “you get it. You know. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not around you because you know what it’s like with our families.”

“Even if I have to give up the rest of it… I wouldn’t want to give up that connection.”

“Would you, now that you’ve found it?”

Caroline: Years? Caroline wonders what it’s like to carry a torch like that. She supposes she’ll find out.

“You don’t have to pretend around me, Celia. Won’t have to,” Caroline answers.

But that’s a lie, isn’t it? She’s still wearing a mask here. And a mask under that one.

Celia was right. You wear a mask so long, you forget what’s underneath.

Celia: The island is the only thing separating the two of them. That, and the lies they’ve both told, a mountain of them that separates the two: alive. Normal. Two girls from fucked-up families trying to make it in this world. Would it be easier if she were to just admit the truth of things, or would that result in being dragged before the proverbial throne to be dealt with as an interloper? Even Caroline’s offer—won’t have to worry about pretending—doesn’t set her at ease. She wishes that it did. That she could take off the mask, the one under that, the one under that. That her brain would cease compartmentalizing everything she looked at into two categories: threat vs non-threat. Get the upper hand. Survive. Fight, fuck, feed. That’s all the Beast wants.

Celia would be set at ease though, wouldn’t she? If she were truly the human she pretends to be now.

She forces herself to breathe. To keep up appearances. She picks up a brush, a bottle of liquid pigment, and slides around the counter. Within reach. Right into the arms of the waiting monster. As if this is nothing more than chatter at the salon. As if her dead heart isn’t beating in time to her thoughts, pitter-patter inside her chest. Liar, liar.

She pumps the top of the bottle onto the back of her hand and dips the brush into the foundation. She hesitates, not yet touching it to her skin. Her eyes finally meet Caroline’s.

“Can I confess, then?”

Caroline: The island is too wide to reach across easily, so she comes around.

Not too close, but not so far away.

She tilts her head. “There are worse things you could do,” Caroline answers, settling into another of the stools, her eyes on Celia.

Celia: That response draws a smirk from Celia.

“I can think of plenty worse things.” Actually confessing, for one. “I’m afraid that if I told you the truth you wouldn’t like me very much.”

Caroline: That draws a smirk of its own. Oh yes, what darkness do you hide Celia? She’s certain the other woman can scarily imagine the darkness inside Caroline.

“Taking the words out of my mouth now?” Caroline asks, her blue eyes amused.

Celia: “You’ve got me,” Celia grins, “I’m hoping to trick you into confessing something devious. Is it working?”

She looks down at the brush in her hand. She reaches for a bottle instead, pumping a small amount onto her fingers, and with a raised brow closes the distance between them. The gel is cool to the touch and smells faintly of oranges. Celia applies it to Caroline’s face with a light touch. Moisturizer. It won’t do much in the long term for dead skin, but it’ll allow everything else to go on that much smoother. She had said she’d set Caroline up with a routine.

Caroline: “Devious?” Caroline doesn’t shake her head while Celia works, but she’d like to. Her eyes are distant, looking past Celia as she continues, “Necessary, mostly. Turning a blind eye to your father was hardly my gravest sin. I wanted to play the game, wanted to be part of the club. They played hard.”

“You made the right choice, getting away from it.”

Celia: Celia is quiet a moment, eyes focusing on what she does, on the color she mixes on the back of her hand to match Caroline’s complexion. Brush back in hand, she makes the first swipe across the Ventrue’s jawline. Then another, just above it. And all around her face, dipping back into the puddle of color whenever the bristles run dry.

“That night at Tulane,” Celia says, finally, “when you stopped that girl from calling the police. Did you know, even then, that it was my father who did that to me?” The broken arm. The bloody dress.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “Not then. But I did when you came back in the morning. Or at least suspected.”

Celia: Something like grief clenches inside her. People had known and done nothing.

“When I was twelve he took my makeup away from me. He told me that boys would look at me differently, like it was my fault. My mom, though, she had stockpiles of concealer that she smuggled in before the divorce. I thought, at the time, she was just indulging her daughter. Now I know what he was doing to her. To Isabel. To Sophia, and the boys.”

She paints a picture with her words alongside the one she paints on Caroline’s face, blended and buffed and polished until there’s no telling where her skin ends and the makeup begins. Truth and lies, who can tell the difference?

“Getting out was the best choice.”

“He wants to meet her. Lucy. His ‘granddaughter.’ My brother told me when we spoke last.”

This, at least, is not a poison-filled lie. This is something she hasn’t brought up with Emily or her mother, hasn’t had the courage to. But Caroline’s family, to hear her tell, is just as broken. Maybe she knows the proper course.

Caroline: “You don’t owe him anything,” Caroline answers softly.

What pathetic advice, coming from her. Caroline, who spent her whole life trying to please her father. Who’s spent her Requiem trying to impress her sire.

“Unless you want something from him.”

Celia: “For a long time I just wanted his death. To make him suffer. To take away everything he loved and watch it burn. To ruin him, so he’d be cast out.”

Caroline had told her that. Create enough scandal and his own party would turn their backs on him. She’d even managed to do it.

“And now Logan… Logan says that he’s proud of me. That he’s impressed by what I’ve created with the spa. That he misses me.”

What she’d give to hear those words about him.

“How can you want someone so much when they’re the one who destroyed you?”

Caroline: “When you associate love with abuse long enough, abuse feels like love.”

She knows the feeling too well.

“Childhood trauma is like any other childhood injury—if you don’t fix it when you’re young, it stays with you forever. Like a bone never reset.”

“Break a bird’s wing and you might someday release it to fly again. But for us? They broke our wings too young, too often. Now there’s nothing left for us but the cage.”

Celia: “I read a poem once about a girl whose mother offered her a sugar cube. She put it in her mouth and crunched down, and it was salt. That is what abuse is: knowing you are going to get salt, but still hoping for sugar for nineteen years.”

“Your wings, too, Caroline?” Spoken more softly than before, though no pity in her voice. Just gentle understanding.

Caroline: “We are what we are,” Caroline answers. “I won’t pretend we had the same experience. Just the same outcome.”

Well, almost the same. Celia’s still breathing. Has her daughter.

“If you need his approval… after everything… well.” She smiles, but it’s not a happy smile. “Who am I to blame you?”

After all, she always has…

Celia: She had maybe expected a story from Caroline. Something to bring them closer, to bridge the distance between them. Two girls from the same background, and here they are on opposite sides of a war that began long before either of them were ever conceived. Perhaps Celia does her a disservice by withholding the full truth.

But her comment, wings, gives life to the Toreador’s hands. They are not a blur, but each motion that she makes now is precise. It starts with the eyes. She had said, earlier, that neutrals would not do for children. But Caroline is not a child; Caroline is a woman grown, a woman died, a predator in her place. If Caroline’s family took her wings then Celia will give them back to her.

She begins. White across the lid, then bronze, then gold with warm undertones, no yellow to detract. Darker brown—the color of the bare branches in the dead of winter—in the corners, then beneath the eyes. Smudged, blended, turned up toward the brow’s tail. No black; black will wash her out. Black is too severe, too angry. This Caroline is not angry. This Caroline is a sculpted goddess who has waited long years to be acknowledged, who will destroy everything in her path and do it with a smile, who will fight, tooth and nail, to take what is hers. She is severe, but she will not look severe. She will look alive. She will look as she should were her heart to beat in truth, not this pale echo.

A pot of taupe pomade fills in her brows, tiny little strokes that mimic the growth of her hairs. Bronzer, where the sun should touch but never will. Contour at the sides of her chin, the hollows of her cheeks. Celia sculpts her face as easily with powder as she would with her own fingers. Less permanent, no less striking. Blush along the cheekbones to lift her face. Then the highlight: cupid’s bow, beneath the tail of her brows, the bridge of her nose, a light dusting just above the blush.

Blend. Blend, blend, blend. Blend until it is smooth. Until each color fades into the next. Until there is no telling death from life, truth from lies, love from abuse.

And the wings. They start at the corners of her eyes and lift up, a clean line of dark pigment sharp enough to cut a man.

She finishes with color on the dead girl’s lips, swipes it on with a deft flick of her brush.

She had promised to drape her in gold, and so she has. Her eyes sparkle out from her face, given light and life by the powders and creams Celia set upon her. Some women apply makeup, dresses, or accessories and think they are wearing it, when the truth is it is wearing them. Celia does not make that mistake. She has taken every perfection of Caroline’s and amplified it tenfold. It is Caroline on steroids. Caroline on the pedestal Celia promised. Caroline, golden queen.

She holds out the mirror and her breath, waiting.

Caroline: Caroline waits as the other woman (what a joke, she’s not a woman anymore) falls into silence in her work. She’s seen the look in Celia’s eyes before. The focus. An artist at work. It’s something she can admire.

She wonders for a moment if she’s said something wrong, and then perhaps if that’s for the best. There’s no future with a kine. Cannot be any future with a kine. Even if she weren’t the childe of the prince.

So she waits, the shorter woman’s firm but gentle hands on her face, her delicate brushes. She thinks the last time she had an experience like this was before her prom. It just always seemed…. indulgent. And it is. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy it.

She worries for a moment that Celia is caking on too much, going over the top, but doesn’t interrupt. She waits, until she sees the finished product.

For a moment she doesn’t recognize herself. She’s grown accustomed to seeing the same face every night in the mirror, but darker. More monstrous. Changing for the worse, but not changing at all.

This face is someone else’s. It’s not the face of the haughty heiress she was in life. It’s not the face of the naïve fledgling. It’s not the face Caroline, who has scrapped and clawed and fought her way to her teetering, precarious position on such a high ledge.

And yet… it is her face. It’s fierce and regal. It’s refined and sharp. It’s the face of an empress, not an heiress. Of a goddess, not a warrior. The face of who she wants to be. Of who she’s always wanted to be in the eyes of everyone.

It’s a face she wants to see in the mirror every night.

She holds the mirror in a death grip.

She explores a smile and likes the look of it, before finally lowing the mirror to look at Celia once more.

“It’s breathtaking,” she finally admits to Celia.

Celia: She recognizes that look. Veronica had worn the same the night she’d tasked Celia with the impossible: improve perfection. She had done it then. She has done it again now.

Her smile spills across her face, unrestrained, to lift the corners of her eyes in something that might be true joy.

“It’s you.” Celia reaches forward to touch her finger to where Caroline’s heart should beat. “What’s in here.”

Caroline: Caroline knows that’s not quite true. That what’s inside her is the pitch black of bubbling tar, blackness that might one day swallow the stars. But the sentiment matters. That someone sees her as more than what she is.

She’s silent for a long moment.

Then, “Thank you.”

Celia: It’s an easy transition for her hand to move from heart to the back of her neck, the same position that got them into trouble earlier. The stool is sturdy enough for two, and Celia has always liked laps. She slides onto Caroline’s without a word of warning. As if she belongs.

“You’re welcome.”

Caroline: Celia can feel the tension in Caroline as she makes contact, feel the steel enter her spine, the stiffness of a corpse.

This is a bad idea, but the kine is so soft, so eager.

She promised herself she wouldn’t succumb, but look at how the kine looks at her. Look what she’s done for her.

Caroline bites her lower lip, the fangs too obvious. One hand circles the other kine’s back, rests on her hip.

She doesn’t remove her.

She told Cécilia she wouldn’t do this. Told her this wouldn’t be a problem.

“This is a bad idea,” she breathes in Celia’s ear.

Celia: “It is,” Celia agrees, though she doesn’t make a move to displace herself. She settles in instead, one arm around Caroline’s shoulders, the other lifting to stroke the back of her hand across her cheek.

“Someone could walk in at any moment and see me draped over a beautiful Kindred and wonder why they aren’t so lucky.”

Caroline: Caroline’s dead heart skips a beat, but she doesn’t immediately react.

Ghoul? She could see it, a Toreador as enamored with Celia’s talents as Caroline is. They’re famous for abandoning their ghouls when the next thing comes along, too. It would explain her lack of shock, how hard she came on when she knew what Caroline was.

She can see it. She’s certainly put on a hell of an audition if she’s looking for a new domitor.

But no ghoul has ever been quite so comfortable around a strange lick before, have they?

The fangs are out now. Her other hand reaches up under Celia’s arm to stroke her neck, to caress her throat.

“What a wicked game you’ve played…. how long have you known?”

Celia: Her eyes close at the touch, breath stuttering to a halt before it begins again. A better reaction than she could have hoped for. Caroline either has exceptional control, or Celia’s lack of predatory smell has kept her Beast in check.

“I didn’t mean to deceive you. You opened the door and I panicked,” she admits.

Caroline: Several possibilities flow through her mind. That the timing on this is too coincidental, but are dismissed just as quickly. Cécilia has been planning for some time. This was no impromptu opportunity. The margins on inserting a dagger into her family here are too small.

She turns her senses to the girl in her arms more fully, more fiercely. Sends the Beast sniffing about. She has to know.

And just like that the illusion falls to pieces. Or, perhaps, she tears it to pieces. The woman might be fooled, but the Beast recognizes its own. She doesn’t have a harmless kine in her arms, but another predator. Another monster.

An oh-so alluring one.

If the woman was conflicted about what to do, the Beast is not. It knows what to do when it sees another predator: its list is short. The decision is easy.

This lovely thing that wanted her kiss so. That flattered it, that tempted it. It gets what it wants.

Caroline’s arms tense around Celia, no longer caressing, instead controlling. Establishing what the Beast always wants: control.

Her fingers tighten around the other vampire’s throat even as she traces a fang down Celia’s back, hard. Hard enough to part skin with its razor sharpness, to set the room alive with a smell far sweeter than Caroline had previously imagined.

“And all this?” she hisses, pausing to lick lightly at the flowing vitae. “Was this foreplay for you?”

Celia: She knows the moment the jig is up. It’s there in the way Caroline’s arms tighten around her, the sudden stiffness that wasn’t there moments ago. Celia goes absolutely, perfectly still, even while her Beast rages inside of her. It’s mindless, it wants out, but Celia has survived this long by keeping it tightly lidded. Still, when her skin splits she lets its growl be heard.

“You told me not to pretend with you.” Her voice is husky, fangs long in her mouth.

Caroline: “I meant it,” Caroline answers with a hint of iron, her fingers digging into Celia even as she runs her tongue along the length of the wound she’s opened, lapping up the slow-flowing vitae. Those fingers dig into the other vampire’s throat, into her hip, around to her inner thigh. Almost clawing at her.

“Did you?”

Celia: Her body shifts at Caroline’s touch, thighs parting beneath her steel fingers to drape herself more fully across the blonde. Pliant. Willing. The tension leaves her shoulders, head tilting—if it can—to let her get at what she wants. The noise she makes might be a whine; she wants to play, too.

“Every word.”

Caroline: The Beast wants to throw her down, to take her violently on the island. To discover if she’s as willing as she seems. She fights it.

Something nagging at the back of her mind. Her sisters are here. Celia’s mother. Her daughter. People could walk in.

The should stop. Every word.

There’s a flash. They’re in another room. A door slams shut behind them. She shoves Celia off her, down—she’s falling—but she lands on something soft. A bed. The fangs in Caroline’s mouth loom.

“Show me,” she hisses as she falls on the dark-haired beauty.

Celia: Falling. She remembers the sensation of falling. The world going out from beneath her. The rush of wind, her dress floating, strong arms around her. This bed is softer than the water that shattered her. Softer than the rooftop.

Show me. Another way of saying ‘prove it.’ A challenge from this goddess that towers over her.

She loves a challenge.

Quick as a tabby, she’s out from underneath Caroline, clawing and hissing and springing onto her to sink her teeth into any available skin. Clothing rips beneath her hands, hangs in tatters from her frame. She’d learned the art of Kindred fucking from Veronica, mistress of pain, but Celia had never liked the pain. She’d liked the control. The power. Been drawn to it, ensnared by it. The Beast recognizes it, respects it, wants it.

Wants Caroline.

She comes on like a storm.

Caroline: She finds Caroline waiting. Caroline, who has never not been in control with another Kindred. But just as obviously inexperienced. Instinctual.

Are they fighting? Are they fucking? More the former. She writhes under Celia’s kiss and heedlessly sinks her fangs into her whenever she wants.

Inner arm. Wrist. Inner thigh. She drinks like she’s dying of thirst from the source. She pulls hard on Celia’s hair to bare her throat and triumphantly penetrates her. Conquers her.

She offered herself up, and Caroline can’t resist. Doesn’t want to resist. But like all good worshipers she’s rewarded in turn. A wrist. A thigh. An inner arm. Finally, the Ventrue bares her slender pale throat, pulling Celia to her breast and nuzzling her against herself.

Celia: Fighting, fucking, pain, pleasure: it all blurs together once the fangs come out, a chorus of snarls, growls, and hissing their constant companion in the otherwise silent room. They are two beasts set upon each other, woe to all in their wake. Caroline wants to be worshiped? Celia will be her priestess and offering both.

When it’s over she’s covered in the typical bite and claw marks, her body stained red with blood. Hers, Caroline’s, it doesn’t matter; she’d ended up on her back, not a match in a brawl even against this fledgling. Some part of her nurses her wounded pride, but most of her rides the high. Her Beast is sated, glutted on blood and sex and not holding back with someone as durable as she. Now, curled on her side with an arm and leg draped over the blonde, her entire body vibrates with the purr rumbling up from her chest. Her lips move against Caroline’s throat, tongue lazily lapping at the flow of vitae dripping from an open cut beneath her jaw.

Caroline: The Ventrue isn’t even left panting at the end, like she might have been as a mortal. She just lays there, as still as the corpse she is. There’s actually something peaceful in not having to breathe.

“That was…. fun,” she finally murmurs contentedly.

I might have lied when I said it wasn’t going to be a problem.

Celia: Celia nestles closer to her partner, worming her way beneath the blonde’s arm to settle against her more fully. For all that their Beasts don’t play well together, Celia is more hands on than most. Her lips haven’t stopped their movement against the slender, pale throat of Caroline, even now.

“Fun,” she agrees, nipping at her ear. She trails a hand down her body. “I suppose we missed the dancing.”

GM: Is there something I or the others can do?

Caroline: It’s a little late for that. There’s a mixture of amusement and shame in the response. You should know, your friend is dead.

“Oh? Were you disappointed?” Caroline asks.

Celia: “Not at all. I’d miss a thousand dance recitals if it lead me here.”

Caroline: Caroline purrs in amusement. It’s easier to stay in the moment than to think of the future.

GM: There’s a flash of horror.

Oh—Caroline! You could be in danger, she has a very large social media following!

Caroline: “Wicked, but I suppose we are wicked things.”

She seems to manage it well enough, all things being equal.

Celia: “Is it wicked to lavish you with admiration?”

GM: Mana… ah.

That was a mean prank.

There’s amusement, though, in the tone.

Caroline: It’s so rare that I get to see something fluster you.

Caroline laughs, lightly running her hand down Celia’s back. “Never. My Requiem would be easier if everyone did.”

Celia: “Tell me who withholds their affection and I shall cut them down to size,” Celia says, smirking.

GM: Ha. I suppose so. It’s no wonder Yvette looks up to you so much. That would have made her laugh.

Celia is Kindred, though? I suppose we all have our secrets.

She’s likely affiliated with Savoy, to have her salon in the Quarter. I wonder why she’d come all the way out here? This is the prince’s territory.

Caroline: We all do unreasonable things for family, Caroline answers. I wouldn’t hesitate to tear into the Quarter for any of you, and if she’s just one of the many associated with him, coming here would be far less risky.

“You’re going to fight my battles for me?” Caroline smirks. Toreador. Definitely Toreador.

GM: Of course. And I for you. But I’m not sure it makes sense, for just Lucy’s dance lesson. She might be here for something to do with you.

Caroline: As if she couldn’t taste it on her tongue.

Celia: “Do you need me to?” Celia glances between herself and the taller, more defined Kindred against whom she is curled. She touches a fingertip to the muscles in her arms, as if to prove her point. “I think you don’t, not on that front. But wars are fought with more than swords, aren’t they?”

Caroline: Caroline had been fast. Very fast.

“Are you going to go singing my praises?” she muses.

Celia: “I’m more physically artistic than musically inclined.” She splays her fingers out across Caroline’s stomach, as if to remind her. “Would you like me to choreograph a ballet for you?”

Caroline: “That sounds like a great deal of work. We had our own dance here.” She looks around and almost giggles. “And we made a mess.”

The timing does beg certain questions, Caroline agrees. But there are easier places to hurt me than here.

“I need to clean up before Cécilia breaks herself away.”

GM: That’s true. But when your getting hurt could be on the line, I don’t want to make any assumptions.

Celia: Celia lifts her head to appraise the room. Clothing scraps are strewn across the floor and the comforter upon which they lie is smeared in blood. She drops her head and nuzzles up against Caroline after a moment.

Then the dismissal. She tries not to pout.

“Do you think they heard us?”

GM: I don’t want to hurt Celia. She is my friend. But you’re my sister. I don’t think it would be a good idea for her to leave until we know more about her.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline answers. There’s a look of musement. “But not for your lack of trying. Are you sure you’re not a singer?” She runs her tongue across the Toreador’s chest, still smeared with their mixed vitae.

Celia: “My preferred medium is people.” She shifts, flat on her back, stomach and throat exposed to the Kindred above her. Her eyes dance in amusement. “But I confess, sometimes I sing in the shower.”

Caroline: A smile spreads across Caroline’s blood-streaked face. “You confess? Am I your priest?”

She rolls over to straddle the smaller Toreador and leans over her, tracing her tongue up to the exposed throat once more.

Celia: “I thought I was worshiping you here.” Her back arches, head tilting back so she can lean into the touch.

Caroline: I don’t know that will be necessary.

“Oh, but I like the confession game,” Caroline moans, raking her teeth across Celia’s skin again.

Celia: Her breath leaves her shivering body in a hiss. “Will you make me pay penance if I confess my sins? A Hail Mary for each time I coveted something I could not have?”

Caroline: “I think we can come up with more appropriate uses of your tongue than a Hail Mary,” Caroline answers.

Celia: “Then I confess, Caroline, to wanting you. Here, like this. Atop, beside, beneath; it makes no difference to me.” Celia reaches for her, touch light against the Ventrue’s cheek. “I wanted you and I knew it was a bad idea, as you said. Does that make me a sinner?”

Caroline: If only it were that simple. But she knows it’s not. Knows they’re both still wearing masks.

“Yes,” Caroline answers between nibbles on her neck. “Is that why you came here?”

Celia: Celia squirms. Her hands fall back above her head, ready to be pinned by this creature above her. She makes a motion with her head that might be a shake, though she doesn’t move so much as to dislodge Caroline’s lips at her throat.

“I didn’t know you’d be here,” she says honestly. Her breath comes in short pants. Caroline can hear the flutter of her heartbeat. “I came for my family, and because your sister asked it of me. I could not think of a way to refuse that would not betray what I am. But for all those alarm bells ringing in my head, I could not stay away once I saw you.”

“I’d have left and been sorry for it, but you asked me to stay. How could I refuse?”

Celia: “Do you remember,” she asks, “when I came into Tulane with that weapon, and you were standing at the desk? And I thought, this is it, I’m going to be ruined. But you worked your charm in a way I could not. You had steel in your spine and voice, even then. I thought that I could hide behind tears and weakness and stupidity, and it worked for a time. But you? You cut through the weaker people as if they were naught but cobwebs. We speak of masks and, I confess, I donned yours. I borrowed your strength, your clarity, your poise and stature. One part Caroline, I think, each time I play that role.”

Caroline: She’s either well and truly enamored with Caroline or is a well-practiced liar. Maybe both.

Who is Caroline kidding? Celia is from an even more fucked up home than she is. Of course she’s a good liar. The best lies are the ones the other person wants to be true.

Does she even care if Celia is lying? Does it matter here? She’s enjoyed herself. Enjoyed the Toreador’s company. Even if reality calls.

She nips a last time at her throat, takes a long pull from her, then laps the wound closed.

“You can have that piece of me,” she says at last. “Take it. My gift to you, Celia.”

Celia: There’s nothing pretend in the noise that builds in the back of her throat as Caroline sinks her teeth in, the way she writhes beneath the blonde’s lips until they’re pulled away and her body collapses back onto the bed, limp. She gazes up at Caroline with wide eyes, biting her lower lip.

“Is this goodbye?” she finally asks.

Caroline: “Is it?” Caroline rises. Looks around. The only piece of her clothing that might be salvageable are her heels.

She turns her gaze back to Celia. “You’re welcome to join me in the shower. After that….” She bites her lower lip. “I may be going out tonight, but I’m not going anywhere, so that’s very much up to you.”

The blonde runs a hair through her bloodstained hair. “Do you want to see me again?”

Celia: “Yes.” The answer is immediate.

“To both,” she clarifies. Celia isn’t ashamed of liking who she likes. She’d enjoy a shower with this beauty, another reason to stay close to her, to nip and touch and play and bite. She needs a shower as well, covered in blood as she is, though that is not her most pressing concern at the moment.

“Can I? See you again?” She doesn’t put into words what they both must be thinking.

Caroline: “Not here,” Caroline answers. “This was reckless. By both of us.” She runs her tongue across her fangs. “But I have a place of my own.”

Is there anything good that can come of this? Probably not.

But Celia is intriguing. It’s like looking into a carnival mirror, another warped version of herself. And there are still so many lies and secrets between them. It’s a challenge. And Caroline can’t turn down a challenge.

Celia: Celia’s face betrays her: uncertainty, though not regret. “I… I didn’t mean to cause problems for you, Caroline. I mean that. Here, or elsewhere. It was reckless, and I’m sorry for my part in that. I wouldn’t have come if I wasn’t assured of their safety. My family, and yours. I would never hurt your sisters.”

She pushes up off the bed, still small beneath the blonde but not laid out before her. Her arms encircle Caroline’s waist, hands flat against her back.

“I would like to see you again. Your place, if… if that’s safe. Edge of the Quarter?”

Caroline: “The Giani Building,” Caroline answers, one hand stroking Celia’s hair. “Right across Canal Street.”

Celia: Her eyes close. She turns her face into the touch. Her lips brush against Caroline’s wrist.

“It’s a date.”

Caroline: “I’ll give you my number, before we go. And my assistant’s number. If you have a ghoul they can set it up.”

What the hell is she doing? Celia is the enemy in more than one ways. But she doesn’t feel like the enemy.

Celia: Another trip into Vidal’s territory. Another chance at being snatched by his goons.

Caroline is worth it.

Her smile lights up her face. “Then I suppose we should get into the shower before you sisters come knocking and we give them a fright.”

Caroline: Caroline leads her off by the hand.


Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016

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Caroline: The water is almost scaldingly hot. Hot enough to make Caroline feel alive, to put heat under her skin for a little while. It’s also spacious enough for two. Especially two willing to get a little more intimate.

It runs pink coming off them.

Celia: Heat seeps into her muscles. It makes her pliant and indulgent, and though the space is larger than the norm, especially considering Celia’s petite frame, she uses it as an excuse to stay curled against the blonde, body slick with whatever luxury products they keep inside this mansion. Her hands work it into a lather, gliding and stroking and kneading the length of Caroline’s body.

It’s a shame, she thinks, that each of them left enough blood on their bodies to swirl down the drain. A shame too that Caroline’s face is not permanently altered beneath the cosmetics, that the powders and creams will be washed away with the rest of the evidence of their tryst. Maybe one night Celia will offer to make that look as eternal as the Kindred herself.

One night, but not tonight. Tonight she has spilled enough secrets, and her ability to sculpt flesh need not be something she offer on a silver platter to every monster who tops her. And what a surprise that was, to go head to head with a months-old fledgling and still end up on her back. Fast, strong; she wonders what other secrets Caroline is hiding.

Caroline: Caroline seems to enjoy Celia’s touch, enjoy the attention, and simply lets the Toreador work her over. It’s as close to surrender as Celia’s seen since they started. Her expression shifts from contented to troubled as the water runs off them, shifts from pink to clear.

It’s tugging. It’s always tugging, but more so with the heat of the moment gone. There’s too much time for her to think, to worry.

Celia: Celia has not gotten where she is in life, and in her Requiem, by being ignorant to the moods of others. Even if she could not read Caroline’s face she would be able to feel it in her body: the tension in her muscles beneath Celia’s fingers, the resistance that she meets. Nothing like knots or nodules, just energy in the muscles that makes them stiff. She doesn’t pull away, instead resting her chin on Caroline’s chest and peering up at her through the spray of water.

“You seem agitated.” Not quite a question, though the curiosity is there in her voice, the silent promise to listen.

Caroline: “Every night of my Requiem,” Caroline answers lightly.

“And you’re not?” she asks skeptically.

Celia: “Every night? No. Some nights more than others. Some nights I am so agitated that I cannot stand it, that I want to rip my claws into my brain and chest to find this Beast that seeks to control us all and see if I can tear it out.”

“Other nights I’m content to enjoy a fuck and a shower and let my troubles swirl down the drain… until such time that they are rudely awakened by the fact that I haven’t brought a spare change of clothes.” Celia gives the blonde a rueful smile.

Caroline: God, she’s either a fantastic liar or…

She isn’t sure what else. But she does know Celia’s a talented liar.

She laughs, a hand sweeping over Celia’s hip as though taking her measure. “House full of girls, I’m sure we can find something you’ll like.”

“Or I could make you leave in nothing…”

Celia: “There’s a cruel joke. My mother’s distress is what got us into this; imagine if she were to see me streaking across the lawn.”

Caroline: “Would you have just walked out, if she hadn’t come in? Left me blissfully unaware of you?” Caroline asks.

Celia: Yes. That’s the safer option, isn’t it? Don’t let anyone else know what she is. Keep everything safe.

“I meant what I said when I was going to leave, you know. That I wanted to, but it would cause problems.” She doesn’t need to mention whose territory they are in, or the fact that she lives in the French Quarter.

“It doesn’t… need to cause problems. I didn’t think you’d be here. Not that…” not that saying so sounds any better. “I just came to make my mom happy. And see Lucy dance. Her recitals are during the day, I never get a chance. Not that kids their age are graceful, but…”

GM: She’s probably missed most of the lesson by now.

Caroline: She’d like to believe that. But the timing… and other things… would it be easier or harder to believe though, if those other things weren’t true? Is she really that sure?

“So you would have just vanished out of my life and left me none the wiser?” Caroline answers, seemingly disappointed.

Celia: A frown mars her face. The water is no longer welcoming, beating down as it is upon her. She doesn’t know what the lick wants her to say.

“Caroline… this, with us,” she gestures between them, hand grazing the underside of her breast as she makes the motion, “it’s… God, no, who could walk away from you? It’s not possible.”

Caroline: “Are you sure?” The shower is spacious, but Caroline looms close enough that their dead flesh touches. Threatening or intimate? There’s no heat in her voice.

“It seems like you want to. Want this to be a one-off instead of recurring event.”

She leans in, nuzzles her lips against Celia’s throat, and whispers, “I could live with that, but don’t lead me on.”

Celia: Teeth at her throat. Teeth. At her throat. Hiding just behind the tiny bit of flesh that contains them. Predators don’t nuzzle their prey, and Celia isn’t prey. Out of her element in this domain, certainly, but not some rabbit in the forest.

Rather than pull away she only tilts her head, exposing more of her throat to fangs that lurk inside Caroline’s mouth. Celia’s hand travels the length of her body, coming to a rest at her hips. She gives a squeeze.

“I could have left once we’d finished in the bedroom,” Celia reminds her, “and I told you that I’d like to see you again.”

Caroline: “So did I,” Caroline whispers.

“But words are easy, and there are a dozen good reasons you could disappear. So let me show you.”

The Ventrue’s fangs dip into that gracefully extended neck, and her kiss finds Celia as she takes long, fevered pulls from the Toreador. Directly from the Toreador.

Celia: It’s not the same as in the bedroom. There’s no mad scrabble for power, no biting, hissing, or scratching. Celia’s lips split the moment the two pin pricks of fang cut into her skin and she makes a noise that is entirely human; the breath leaves her lungs in an arduous sigh. Her eyes close, head tilting forward to rest against Caroline’s body as she drinks. She moves her hands up her body in gentle strokes.

This. This more than anything is what she’s searching for in her Requiem. Intimacy. It had been easy to resist the call of her blood in the bedroom, but she knows the reason for the deliberate biting and drinking. Show me, Caroline had said.

Her body responds to the challenge, fangs extending in her mouth until all she need do is sink in. A crime to do so, a crime not to. The echoes of exclusive resonate through her mind. So, too, does the image of her head rolling across the floor if she’s caught here.

She doesn’t see another way out. She sinks her teeth in and drinks directly from the source.

Caroline: Caroline writhes against Celia. This is so much better than the scrambling, fighting, clawing blood-drawing fucking that is Kindred sex. No asserting power, just locked in each other’s kiss. Not that this can happen without that first. Without their Beasts knowing the terms between each other.

She remembers the last time. Remembers every time. The raw shiver of need it brought on. The kiss is better than mortal sex ever was, it sets her entire body on fire, could take away her breath, if she still had it. Here in the shower, with the hot water, with both of their bodies warm to the touch, she can almost pretend they’re alive.

It’s all she can do to stay latched onto Celia in turn. To create this perfect system. Give and take in equal measure, not a drop wasted.

Her hands roam the other Kindred even as she grinds herself against her, wants to be inside her, to have her inside of herself, to be as close as she possibly can.

She doesn’t know how long it goes on. Doesn’t care. In the kiss she doesn’t have any worries. When it finally breaks it’s like being born, being thrust out into a harsh world, to sever such intimacy.

She doesn’t want it to end, but it has to. She leaves Celia with something, though. A gift for this moment.

She looks down into the Toreador’s eyes. “Thank you.”

Celia: She’d been unsure. Hesitant. But locked in Caroline’s embrace, both of them experiencing the ebb and flow of shared blood, it dissipates, dissolving into nothing. She rides the wave of red, the bliss that comes with the viscous platelets across her palate. Rich, thick; unexpected, but so much better than she could have imagined.

Maybe it’s the collar snapping into place around her neck, or… there, the burning, as it travels through her body. Not like last time. Last time she was human and it took her by surprise. This time it’s a gentle, rolling warmth from Caroline to Celia. She could lose herself here forever and still be content. She’s still enraptured by the blonde even as the kiss fades away into nothing.

She doesn’t want to go. She presses closer, lips moving across her flesh, reveling in this new… gift. Wings beat inside her chest. She wants to dance. To run. To make it last forever.

They have forever, and already a promise to see each other again. Celia presses a final kiss against Caroline. No teeth, just lips, like the humans they once were.

“Thank you.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia IX
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XI

Previous, by Caroline: Story Twelve, Caroline VII, Emmett VI
Next, by Caroline: Story Twelve, Caroline IX

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Next, by Celia: Story Twelve, Celia XI

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Story Twelve, Emmett VIII

“We’re only monsters if we choose to be, Em.”
Cécilia Devillers


Date ?

GM: Emmett returns to Sami’s suite at the Ritz-Carlton. There are more glowing figures in the lobby and fewer inside their rooms, but the ruined and dilapidated structure otherwise appears much as it did last time.

The others are not there, but Sami’s hourglass is still in place. Sand slowly trickles down from the upper chamber. Presumably the others will be back when it runs out, if he cares to wait.

If something hasn’t happened to them.

Emmett: He tries to judge how much time he has left to wander. He can think of places he could be, in the meantime.

GM: There’s more sand in the upper than lower chamber.

Emmett: Ah, excellent. He can afford to get mentally raped twice over with that kind of surplus, and still have time to brood after.

Instead he pops out the wings and takes flight, searching for a lick.

He starts near Kione’s place and starts flying in wider and wider circumference around it. Smart money is that Astride keeps his bed close.

GM: Miserable, soul-numbing rain weeps over Em’s exposed form. Ominous shapes seem to lurk in the clouds above and it does not feel safe to linger. Em soars through the cheerless gray skies for what feels like hours. It’s easy to search, though, from a birds-eye view when walls and roofs are transparent. He eventually espies the vampire’s slumbering form not in any building, but cocooned deep beneath a destitute-looking patch of earth in the Seventh Ward.

The site nearby looks like a gang hangout.

Emmett: “Huh,” Em says, paying more attention first to the site than to the bizarre accommodations performed by the vampire to have somebody, or more likely several somebodies, bury him every night. Em can’t imagine it being particularly comfortable, either, and it confuses him why any lick that could be as comfortably situated as Sami or Caroline or Celia appeared to be would choose to live under the dirt.

He notes the address, ponders for a moment the last time he saw somebody from around here. Em might never have gotten anything done in a long, long life of misadventures, but he had made a lot of friends.

He just had a way of losing them, too.

GM: As Em recalls, Henri Astride runs a collection racket in the Seventh Ward and the poorer areas of the Quarter, though that’s a generous way of describing them. They don’t have a name. They’re a crude bunch of dog pack-minded thugs who employ equally crude methods to extort money from businesses and individuals too terrified to stand up to them. Their ‘protection’ is not always consistent, but most everyone on the streets is terrified of ‘the Haitian’ and knows he is not to be crossed. He’ll kill you for so much as looking at him funny. Em thinks he might have done time with one of the Haitian’s crew in OPP, though the faces of psychotic brutes like these tend to blur together.

Emmett: He weighs his options for a moment, then focuses on Astride and tries to dip a toe into his dreams.

After a few minutes of frustration that are better left undescribed, it occurs to him to literally dip a toe into the other dead man’s head, at which point he falls right in.

GM: Astride is quite far beneath the earth. Em sinks in. It feels right, like a breath of fresh air after all day cooped up in a non-circulating room.

The same cannot be said for the vampire’s dreams.

Corpses are strewn everywhere in charred, smoking piles. Some are fresh. Some are desiccated. There are mountains of them. The stench makes Em want to gag.

Red is everywhere. Oceans of blood, submerging all. Astride lazily floats through the current with a content and fanged smile upon his face.

He casually reaches out and rips open a passing swimmer’s throat. The man gurgles pathetically as terrified screams echo from all around. The vampire doesn’t so much as open his eyes, but his smile widens.

Kione’s body is among one of the submerged corpse piles, too. It looks the same as all the others. Astride still smiles as he floats past it, but that’s all he does.

The smile finally dies, though, as a face emerges from the red sea: a bald and ebon-skinned man whose eyes gleam like polished ivory. They suck in the light, but reflect none. All is taken by him. All is consumed. He smiles through the flowing blood, displaying two so-sharp fangs. It is a dead smile that does not reach his eyes. His distant manner reminds Emmett of a prince: authoritative, self-assured, regal. He radiates an air of nobility that feels altogether distinct from the Malveauxes or Devillers. Some part of the deceased conman wants to bow and pay obeisance. Emmett can feel the vampire’s fear, even within his dream.

That is, until the ebon man pins a felt patch upon Astride’s chest like a medal. Em feels the vampire’s unbeating heart swell with pride.

Emmett: Same bogeyman that haunts Sami’s dreams, Em notes. Curious. If only he had a name to go along with the face, or a place to find him, it might actually be worth his while.

But what’s this? A role model, too. Somebody he wants to impress. And that patch… something in the vague recesses of his mind opens wide. Where did he learn so much about a Haitian revolutionary group that named themselves after bogeymen but operated more like the Gestapo? Em’s not sure, but he knows what he knows. Maybe he even paid attention in history class without meaning to; sometimes he doesn’t notice himself learning things. He considers such invasions of information to be grave failings on his part.

Em, formless and invisible, takes his leave. The corpse-stench of the dream makes his corpus’s nose itch.

Next, he heads to the place his cousin told him about. It shouldn’t be far, if the info’s good.


Date ?

GM: Em was as impacted by Katrina as any middle- to upper-middle class white boy was likely to be.

Got out of town when the mandatory evac order was issued. Stayed in a hotel for a while. His family’s house in Carrollton suffered minimal flood and wind damage. Life was hectic for a while, and Katrina was the only thing people talked about at the dinner—Dad was furious over Tulane’s President McGregor was firing tenured faculty, killing Newcomb College’s quasi-independency, and chartering that helicopter flight to Houston on the university’s dime. There was a lot to be angry about. All before the actual federal incompetence, the civil rights violations at Camp Greyhound, the disproportionate impact upon low-income communities of color, the…

There was a lot to be angry about in the Delacroix household. Righteous anger against the injustices of the world.

But for the most part, things weren’t too bad for Em. Sure, they had to boil water before drinking it. Fresh meat and produce was at a premium. There were curfews, school closures, and inconveniences aplenty.

But, as Phil and Tanya always told her m, he wasn’t going hungry. He hadn’t lost his home, his famy, or his life. He was still on track to live himself a good life.

“You’ve got a lot to be thankful for, boy,” Dad said.

But it wasn’t that hard to imagine the people who didn’t. Em saw the pictures of the Ninth Ward. The houses flooded up to their attics. The elderly couples who’d died of heat and deprivation inside of those. Phil and Tanya had helped rescue people stranded in their own houses. They brought back stories.

“You’ve got a lot to be thankful for, boy,” Dad said.

Emmett: He did, didn’t he? But it was still exhausting. Still depressing. And more than anything, still frustrating to be told over and over how lucky he was not to be poor or black or dead.

Especially now that he’s dead.

GM: But he might still be lucky.

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As Em’s spectral wings propel him through the air, he sees the 9th Ward looks exactly like it did in the photos a decade ago. Houses look like little tiles. The floodwaters reach all the way to their rooftops.

They’re pitch-black waters, roiling and seething under the relentless rain. Trees are dead and barren. Skeletons and rotted corpses lie face-down on the roofs, some clasped in one another’s embrace. The smell of rot and mildew hits his nose even from so high above.

Celia’s provided address looks like it’ll be as wet as any of the others in the Ward.

Emmett: Yuck. But he doesn’t think he can drown. He dives lower, looking for street signs and addresses. When he finds the right one, he plunges in through the roof, holding his breath anyways.

GM: Finding that address takes some time. Em’s sight does not penetrate the water like so much smoke and illusion. Sounds issue from it. Moans. Whines. Feverish babbling. Death rattles.

“Help us…”

“Please…”

“Somebody…”

“Anybody…”

Emmett: He’s wary, after what happened with Lamarck. He ignores the voices, for now, and tries to illuminate the darkness under the water with the lights of his own illusions—warm, orange flames that shed illumination.

GM: The voices’ feeble cries grow steadily fainter as Em leaves them behind.

Good on you, Em! Let’s look out for #1!

The illusory flames seem to help, a bit. Enough to make out numbers painted over underwater doors. Some of them are no longer even numbers at all, but swastikas, Klan crosses, and other obscene symbols, or just unrecognizable smudges.

The water isn’t still underneath its already roiling surface, either. Bizarrely, it appears vastly more furious underwater. Em spots snapped-off street signs, tree branches, assorted debris, and even cars flying to and fro. It looks like a hurricane raging under there.

After what feels like hours of searching, Em reaches Celia’s provided address. Like its neighbors, the house is flooded all the way up to its roof.

“Ah, loo—ngh! What we have here!” exclaims a harrowed but cheerful-sounding voice from below. “Two fr—ngh! Enfants! Not even reaped! Th—s is a good d—s work, n—ow isn’t it?”

Emmett: Ah, Reapers. Things are so much less scary when you know the proper name for them.

…no, no they aren’t. But still, at least he knew the name.

Hmmm.

He extinguishes the phantom-light and ducks his head under the surface, making sure to hold his breath first.

GM: Em sticks his head under the water and feels air. Down becomes up. Up becomes down. He looks up and sees night sky in all directions, but the stars are cold and distant, and disturbingly out of alignment. Rain pours down over his face as a screaming hurricane smashes past.

Emmett: Alley-oop. Swapping gravitational axes is much less daunting when you have wings. Em even puts a little spin and flip on it until he sees the hurricane. His wings beat furiously against the howling winds as he flings himself past the watery cyclone’s path, rain soaking through his corpus. That was close.

Careful not to make too much noise, he creeps up on the voice, trying to suss out how many slavers he’s up against.

Otherwise, he won’t know how much to exaggerate their numbers when he tells the story later.

GM: As Em flies towards the upside-down house, his surroundings shift. The night sky turns on its axis. The upside-down house becomes a sideways house. The ill-kept lawn grows into a forest. Blades of dead, shriveled grass shoots towards the night sky like hurled spears. Blackened vegetation explodes everywhere until Em can barely see the stars. He bobs and weaves and shoulders past the shoots in his path to observe out the translucent house.

There’s several ashen-hued figures. There’s a man and a woman, floating in place with tranquil expressions past their cauls.

The other two are Dr. Brown and his rotted friend.

Emmett: Oh, joy. Familiar faces. Brown must be responsible for a wide bout of territory.

GM: “Good corpi here! Barely damaged!” he exclaims, digging a steel collar out from his coat pocket.

“Let’s get you two out of your cauls, why don’t we…”

Emmett: He’ll have to find a way to get the good doctor alone at some point. But for now, he’ll settle for these two.

Their tender operation is suddenly interrupted by a faint, but definite noise. A terrible noise. A noise Em knows scares dead men, because it’s stayed with him, ever since it chased him in the hospital.

Faint, at first. Then louder.

Something wicked this way comes, doctor.

GM: “Hr… tht…” gurgles the drowned woman through bloated lips.

Dr. Brown holds a hand to his ear. It’s hard to make out much past the sound of the rapidly growing vegetation. He frowns as the house tilts 90 degrees again, sending him and the woman running up the walls.

“Ah, fudge. Shades!” he ‘curses.’

“Shd… fght…”

“Discretion is the better part of valor, my dear. You fight if you want to. I’m leaving them with enough not to complain over.”

Emmett: Fudge? Goddamn, this man is dead and he doesn’t swear?

GM: He grabs the falling female enfant and dives through the still-rotating house’s wall.

The woman stares for a moment, then dives after him, leaving the male one behind.

In the distance, the still-growing blades of shriveled grass stab through the stars. Fire races along their already blackened husks as smoke fills Em’s nostrils.

Emmett: Well, you win some, you lose some, you don’t get collared by ghostly rapist slavers.

He flaps his way into the house once the coast is clear, examining the man’s face before he tries something he hasn’t before—willing himself into the dreams of the slumbering wraith.

GM: The smell of smoke and burning vegetation draws steadily closer before it and Em’s surroundings dissolve.

He’s in the same shitty house again. The man, a brown-haired and brown-eyed Caucasian in his 30s or 40s, is fucking a shrieking vampire with beautiful features who’s had her arms and legs gorily sawed off. Corpses litter the floor around the bed.

Emmett: He glances at the vampire’s face.

GM: The screaming creature is still perfectly pulchritudinous, a divine goddess; Em can imagine her otherworldly looks being compared to Aphrodite herself. She is in full glamour: hair, makeup, nails, clothing. Every inch of her is painted, sculpted perfection, from the shade of her foundation to the wing of her eyeliner to the fresh-looking coat of polish on her nails. Her polish does not chip. Her mascara does not run. Her lipstick does not smudge. Even after the mtulation she’s suffered, everything remains in its place.

Her hair is dark and often worn loosely curled or piled atop her head in the latest fashion, her bulging dark eyes framed by long lashes, smoked out shadow, and impeccable liquid liner. Her waist is trim, even with her legs gone. Her cheekbones are high, her nose aquiline; all of these features are enhanced by the easy way Em can still picture a smile taking to her fury- and agony-sculpted face.

Even as she is, it is easy for Em to imagine her gathering people around her like moths to a flame. Poise, grace, a gentle curving of her lips when she smiles: Em can picture it all past her screams. Some jealous, petty mortals surely must whisper that she has had work done. But that’s the key to good work, isn’t it? When it’s bad it’s obvious, when it’s good you cannot tell. And Em cannot tell what, exactly, has happened to make her into this exquisite creature.

Jade.jpg
She’d be flawless—if it weren’t for the screaming man fucking and mutilating her.

The man tenses and pumps faster and faster, screaming obscenities at the howling vampire as he blows his load, filling her dead cunt with his seed. He sticks a heavy gun into her mouth and pulls the trigger. Her flawless features explode into messy shards of bone, blood, and gore.

Emmett: Yikes. And I’ve had some bad sex dreams.

Em clears his throat as he wafts into the dream, wearing a suit he could never afford in life. “I’m sorry to interrupt. It seems like you’ve got a lot going on. I can just watch, if you’re into that, but I think I’d feel overdressed.”

GM: The man looks up from the ruined corpse with a haunted expression. Looks towards Em, who the bed now faces.

“It’s not enough,” he slowly mouths as he pulls out his cock. “It’s never enough.”

He gathers up the corpse and cradles it in his arms. A tear leaks down his face as he strokes his hands through the gore-streaked hair.

Emmett: “Not enough for what?” Em produces two cigarettes from his breast pocket, lights one, and offers the other to his new compatriot.

“You’re dead, by the way. Good time to start.”

GM: The man runs through the air where the destroyed vampire’s head used to be, as if stroking her cheek. “Brianna. Brianna, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

But the telltale smell of smoke from the cigarette proves prescient.

It’s a whiff at first, then overpoweringly strong. Burning pain sears through Em as his surroundings dissolve in a haze of smoke and heat. He’s back in the house. The fire he saw start outside, and smelled inside, has finally reached inside.

Tongues of flame lick at his blackening corpus, which is melting before his eyes like hot wax. Smoke billows everywhere. The cauled enfant’s face remains still and oblivious to the raging inferno.

Emmett: “Shit. Shit shit shit.”

Damn his stick arms. Regardless, he tries to haul the cauled enfant out of the burning house and past the ‘water’ barrier, if it’s still even water. He simultaneously mends his corpus, willing the burns’ pain away with some of those happy feels he remembers getting from Jenna.

GM: It’s not a moment too soon as the roaring inferno consumes the house. Em can feel heat blistering against his broads as he desperately flaps and kicks through the sprawling undergrowth. More than blistering. Gasper’s laughter rings in his head as the flames race about him.

He doesn’t even see the water barrier. One moment, there’s just more undergrowth, the next he’s ‘falling’ out of the waters’ surface at a 90 degree angle, and it’s rising up to meet his face as residual flames race along his crisped and blackened corpus. The cauled and motionless enfant ‘falls’ into the water with a splash.

Emmett: “You bastard. You better hope you’re more fun to talk to than it is to see you get gnashed to bits by Abélia.”

Still, after willing his corpus better, (again), he takes care to help the enfant into this fresh hell. He sinks his hands past the newborn wraith’s caul and tries to do… whatever exactly it was he did last time.

GM: It’s similar to last time. Em can hear something through the caul like the pulsating of a heartbeat, but it doesn’t seem to come from the other wraith’s chest. He thinks he can hear voices again, too. A babble too faint and indistinct to make out the words of, but the tone is angrier.

Em hurts, again. There’s grief and rage, horror and exhaustion, enough of it to sink him like a stone into the surreal ‘waters’ he and his charge float through.

He’s suffocating. He can’t breathe. He can’t see. He’s being torn apart. There’s pain, everywhere—

But he can see, and he is being torn apart. It’s an elderly black woman. She’s thin and emaciated, like a walking skeleton, clad in a rotted flower-printed dress. She smells horrible, like a corpse left to rot and bloat in a hot attic for days. She has no eyes. Pinpricks of black fire burn from her empty sockets. Tiny flames run downwards rather than upwards, like a crying girl wearing cheap mascara.

And she’s eating Em, arms wrapped around him like a lover as she sinks her teeth into his corpus with mindless, ravening hunger.

Wow Em, look at you! Always a hit with the ladies!

Emmett: Why can’t things ever be simple? Em can’t fight his way out—he dazzles her instead, sends a thing made of shadow and spite to distract her so he can slip her grasp.

He has come too far. He will strangle infants and sell their shades into slavery before he dies to this thing, one more time a victim.

He whirls away from her, evading instead of engaging , his winds adding great advantage to the endeavor.

A desperate, foolish plan occurs to him, even as his corpus aches where her mindless gluttony takes her.

“Hey, pretty,” he snarls at the ugly spirit. “If you catch me, I’ll let you kiss me.”

Sparks fly from around him, making him impossible to miss.

Then he dances with her.

She isn’t as graceful as Celia, true, but she makes up for it in her eagerness. He taunts and encourages her at every turn, not tiring himself about by trying to evade her in the long run but instead cutting it close, flapping around her like a too-courageous fly. He sets off firecrackers next to her ears and summons dung-flavored smoke to jibe her on, coaxing her forward.

He lets her chase him, and chase him, and chase him.

He lets her chase him to the monster’s mouth.

GM: The blackfire-eyed crone shrieks hideously as the phantasmal shadows assail her, stagnant floodwater leaking like drool from her rotted mouth. She drops Em with a splash to flail and gnash at the darkness.

When it dissolves like so much smoke and the winged wraith flaps away, she swims after him, still shrieking as black tongues of fire drip from her eyes. The enfant slowly recedes, becoming just another piece of storm-tossed detritus.

She swims. Once her shoe-less and half-rotted feet hit dry land, she runs.

The 9th Ward’s flooded post-apocalypse gives way to the burnt and blackened ruins of the French Quarter, then the bombed-out shells of the CBD’s high-rises. He finally passes the rotted husks of the Garden District’s once-grand old homes, surrounded by those hungrily grasping, claw-like protrusions that are live oaks on the Shroud’s other side.

Em notices something else, too, as he runs. The sky is pitch dark again. Moonless and starless. Cheerless gray has given way to black void. He does not want to look at the sky. He feels like he could fall upwards, forever, if he were to stare overlong into that yawning emptiness.

The woman is implacable. Her bare, rotted, water-soaked feet pound over over discard needles in the 9th Ward with a gruesome crunch. Specks of black blood follow her as she runs. She doesn’t let. She doesn’t shut. She screams the entire time, this warbling moan. Em sees nothing in her eyes but that same black fire.

Maybe she’s hungry. Maybe she’s thirsty. Maybe she’s just angry.

But she looks empty. Staring into that slow-burning black fire makes Em think of those days when he did nothing except lie in bed in his apartment, too depressed to shower or shave or eat.

To depressed to do anything but rot, and wonder if this was all there was.

He knows what it is to feel empty.

Then they’re at the gates of a too-familiar house.

And just like that, ravenous tendrils of living darkness burst from the front doors. The ghastly shade disappears under them like a fly into a spider’s cocoon. Her shrieks die. The tendrils retreat. The doors slam shut.

Em thinks of venus flytraps, and painful emptiness left forever unfilled.

Ha. That never gets old.

Emmett: It might after the tenth time.

He coughs and bows to the house. “Do you hunger yet more, madam? How many might I bring you to show my dedication completely?”

GM: Pseudopods of inky, dripping darkness continue to slowly caress the enveloped, snow-white house. Faint screams issue from within.

Yeah, speaking as someone who also gets stronger whenever you do that, I’d want more than two.

Emmett: Good to know, wise one. Thank you for your advice.

“Then you shall have more, madame. All I can provide…”

Em walks inside, his corpus sallow and colorless. He needs to slumber next to a loved one.

He only knows one who might have him.

“Would your daughter see me?” he asks, pitiful and helpless. He has nowhere else to go.

GM: The rows of skulls lining the ground ripple beneath Em’s feet as he approaches the house. A wave of inky darkness streaks towards him. He’s flung beyond its gate and hits the pavement with a crack. The horrid spiderweb, tentacles, pseudopods, whatever it or they is, squeezes tightly over the house’s front door.

Em may be small and pitiful.

But the house’s owner is vast and pitiless.

Aww. Poor Em! You were thinking of asking for a new family, weren’t you, for our ’heart’s desire?’ If Caroline could get adopted, why not us, right?

But Maman sees through us just like good old Uncle Ron, I bet. Sees how everything we touch turns to shit.

You’ll never be good enough for her. For Cécilia. You’re just… the help.

Emmett: You’re probably right.

He straightens up, brushes cobwebs from arms. When he’s this low on juice, he can’t muster any dreams with color in them. Only manifestations of his own malaise.

Better, then, not to think on it. Not to dwell. Let the Shadow yammer.

He will simply do what he has always been best at, and act.


Date ?

Emmett: He prowls the hospice where Clarice died. Not many happy memories here, but there are lots of dying people. Maybe there’s one or two ghosts, too.

GM: Em makes it several steps away from the house.

I’ve got a better idea.

Yawning blackness screams around Em as he plummets through the void in endless free-fall.

He lands on the grass in a familiar setting. He’ll always remember this place.

Giacona Manse.

Emmett: It’s useless to argue, so he doesn’t.

I forgot how pretty this place was.

GM: The gang’s all there. Showerz. Cash Money. Jermaine. Dino.

The gang. There for the gangbang. That’s almost funny.

Emmett: And the victim?

GM: Her chin’s in his hand. Her eyes stare blankly past his. He remembers that look. He remembers what he remembered upon seeing that look. “Looking but not listening,” as his dad called it. Completely checked out. Wanting to just turn off her brain and stop processing. Wanting to just hit a fast forward button, acknowledge the lost minutes of her life, and then never think about them again.

“You gonna fuck her now or what?” scoffs Showerz.

Em feels the weight of another gaze on him, too. But it’s not hers, this time. It’s Abélia’s. A knowing smile traces the raven-haired woman’s lips as she runs a hand through Simmone’s hair, who’s seated upon her lap. She holds a hand to her mouth and giggles, her eyes not leaving the scene with Sami and the five men.

Emmett: Here he is again, dressed for a date with his bolo tie and his “I’m a bad, bad man” suit and his ego and his shitty snapping cell phone.

There she is, the girl who made him hurt when he was at his most dangerous.

And there’s the monster he blamed for pushing him here.

He holds Sami’s chin, for a moment. Then he says, “No. I’m not. It’s played out, rape. Bit beneath me at this point, to be straight.”

He turns to the others.

“I don’t think I’m better than any of you. I just think y’all don’t know how ugly we are. I’m not hurting her. The novelty’s all gone.”

GM: “Speak for yourself, I’m one handsome motherfucker,” smirks Showerz.

Emmett: “Why do we let this guy hang out with us? Isn’t he into shitting on people? That seems like something we should make more fun of him for.”

“Or Dino, for being a fucking pussy who got killed shooting a porno.”

“Which, I guess, is more just a Mafia thing. Wasn’t there a guy on The Sopranos named Pussy? Maybe he was just friends with Dino.”

GM: Dino’s snarling face turns black with anger. He cocks his fist, then he collapses in a heap as Cash Money empties a bullet into his brain. Blood, brains, and bone splatter over Em’s feet as his ears ring. The others yell and clamp their ears.

Showerz gapes at the corpse. “What the—fuck, man!?”

“He’s right,” says Jermaine. “We should make fun of you.”

Emmett: “Oh, and the cop,” Em goes on, rolling with it. “Don’t get me started on Detective Disco, over here.”

“You’re ’80s like a used needle full of AIDS, Ricky.”

GM: Jermaine throws a punch, catching Showerz in the throat. The man gags and collapses.

Cash Money hungrily descends on him, ripping off his clothes.

“What the FUCK man!?” he wails.

Emmett: “Which I don’t actually mind. It’s kind of the funniest thing about you, except that you wouldn’t be anything but a life insurance hawk if you hadn’t been your uncle’s favorite nephew to fondle. Which I guess is less funny than it is pathetic. Maybe that’s why you make me want to puke instead of laugh.”

GM: Cash Money punches Showerz in the throat. He flips the man over and bares his ass to Em, even sticking his fingers up the man’s hole to spread it extra wide as he screams.

Jermaine, though, just hands Em a gun.

“You keep it this time.”

“The prick or the bullet, cuz.”

Emmett: “I… have never been great at subtext. Who are you asking me to shoot?”

GM: “Me,” he says.

“We’re all monsters.”

“And you’ve got a better cousin now.”

Emmett: “Oh. I never really processed how I felt about killing you, you know. It wasn’t actually…I mean, it was personal. But it wasn’t about you, J. If we ever meet again. I hope you get that.”

He points the gun at Jermaine.

Then he tosses it over the palatial manse’s wall.

GM: “Figured you’d do that,” says Jermaine.

“Means you can’t stop this.”

He turns and throws a punch into Sami’s mouth, sending bloody teeth flying. He punches her again, and there’s a crunch that leaves his fist red.

He wraps his hands around her throat and squeezes. She chokes and sputters, weakly clawing at his fingers as her face turns blue.

Emmett: “But I can do this.”

He holds up his phone. It’s dialing. A real 2007 phone, there’s no picture saved in the contact. Just a name.

Just RON in capital letters.

“Speed dial,” he explains. “He actually picks up most of the time when I call, you know. Let me ask you, Jermaine. Your dad and I, we were tighter than you two ever were. But I bet you didn’t ever want him to know what you were capable of. You can stop him from hearing. Or you can kill her. But I bet you can’t do both.”

He holds the ringing phone just out of reach, tantalizing.

Em always had a knack for keep-away.

GM: “Nope. But I can do one, then the other.”

He lets go of Sami, then tackles Em for the phone.

Emmett: He keeps it away for as long as he can, ducking and evading the bigger man-boy’s grasps, and doing all he can to keep their eyes on him, the clown, the dancing idiot.

Sami’s smart enough to run when she’s given an opportunity. He knows that from too much experience.

GM: And Em does lead his increasingly swearing and frustrated cousin on a merry chase. Jermaine can’t catch up. Em didn’t put actual effort into many things, but track was one of them.

Sami runs, too. She always did look out for #1.

But Cash Money, with his long beanpole legs, not to mention a groin area that hasn’t been gangraped by four men, easily catches up to the fleeing teenager. The puffy-lipped, content-as-a-cumstain smirk he flashes Em is all-too familiar as he wraps his hands around Sami’s neck and squeezes. Throttles the life out of her as she gags and flails.

“Shit you can do, Em. Face the facts,” Jermaine says as he stops jogging.

“Guess you’ve got a nice head start though. We’ll come for you after we’ve put the bitch out of her misery.”

Emmett: A lead they aren’t expecting him to sacrifice for no fucking reason. When he comes at them from behind, screaming that he’s taking one of them with him, there’s no accounting for it. Nor for the look on his too-wide eyes, the calcified defiance of a dead man. The words coming from his throat cannot be called screams; they are too ferocious, too willing to bear any torment, too spiteful of any humiliation.

Em has died already. He has lost to his Shadow already.

He’s not scared of his own mistakes anymore.

He runs at them, and he needs no gun to look like a monster. He knows he is one.

GM: Em’s a scrawny, thin-wristed little thing. Stines said that about him. That he basically was a girl already, a “helpless fuckable little girl,” just without the pussy and tits.

But his dad once said that bullies (“whether schoolkids or politicians and corporations”) don’t care if you’re bigger than them. Just whether you’ll give them enough fight to feel some hurt.

Cash Money reacts like any bully faced with the prospect of actual hurt does.

He turns and runs.

“Are you fucking kidding me,” snarls Jermaine.

“Guess I’ll beat the shit of you myse-”

He’s cut off as Sami sticks a leg in his path, tripping him.

She gives a manic, raw-throated screams and falls on the larger man with the same animalistic fury she destroyed Dino’s manhood with in the real version.

Emmett: He watches, much the same.

Dino and Showerz dead. Cash Money fled.

And Jermaine?

Jermaine’s death isn’t much prettier in this world.

He turns and regards the watching mother and her daughter.

“I do learn from my mistakes. I just have to make them a few times.”

GM: “That’s all it takes, sometimes,” says Cécilia, lifting Simmone off her lap. Green eyes regard him thoughtfully.

“We’re only monsters if we choose to be, Em. The right thing isn’t always hard to see. Maybe we’ll talk again.”

“Let’s burn this place,” snarls Sami, her clawed hands coated up to their elbows in blood. She splashes gasoline from a can all over the house’s walls.

Emmett: He burns it with her. This time, though, he lets himself play with the tommy guns.

He does have some regrets, after all.

GM: Rat-a-tat-tat, they go in his head.

The place goes up in flames. Sami doesn’t try to run outside before tossing the match, and somehow, Em doesn’t feel the need to either as they hold hands. The inferno roars around them, but Em’s heart is calm. He feels so light. He’s floating. The flames are warm and bright. There’s a shining white light. He floats towards it…


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Story Twelve, Celia IX

“Here you are in front of me and there isn’t any time left.”
Celia Flores


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Jade spends some time seated on her grandsire’s lap. He strokes her cheek, pets her hair, and murmurs sweet nothings in her ear. Such sweet-sounding nothings they are, too: like verbal cotton candy soaked in honey, air-light and gooey with sugar.

“Sir, you had a remaining order of business to discuss with Miss Kalani,” states Preston.

“Ah yes, that’s right, Nat,” replies Savoy as he gives Jade’s head a conciliatory pat. “Always a shame when business can’t be combined with pleasure… but the past doesn’t ever rest easy in the Quarter, does it? Tonight, my dear, there is another we ghost might summon from the past to build our glorious future!”

Celia: All too soon the petting and fondling comes to an end. Preston’s words cut through the barely concealed temptation of sinking her teeth into her grandsire like a bucket of ice water. She tucks her fangs away and begins to disentangle hrrself without a sound, disappointment curling quietly in her gut. One night, she thinks. One night she’ll get him alone so they can consummate the desire she has harbored for years. Better, maybe, that it isn’t tonight in the wake of such hedonism that took place below.

Jade is not an afterthought.

Jade presses a final “kiss” to his cheek before she withdraws from his lap, smoothing her dress down her legs as she reclaims her chair.

“Which ghost is that, Lord Savoy?”

GM: Savoy motions to Preston. The Malkavian taps against her tablet, then turns it around so Jade can see the image filling the screen. It’s of a young woman sinking her fangs into a blissed-out-looking man in a dark club setting.

The woman’s features are indistinct, but not indistinct enough to hide the fact that she’s Danielle Garrison.

Stephen’s sister.

Celia: Oh no.

“Garrison,” she volunteers. She can’t take her gaze away from the slightly blurry photo. Dani. He couldn’t have wanted this for her. She wouldn’t. Does he know? No, he can’t; he’d have swooped in already, wouldn’t he?

“What information do we have on her?” Jade finally asks.

GM: The photo isn’t blurry. It’s dark, but it’s distinct enough to make out the vampire’s face.

“Let’s start with this,” Savoy chuckles, tapping the tablet’s screen. “The picture came out rather nicely, didn’t it, for a Kindred who didn’t know she was being photographed?”

Celia: “It did,” Jade allows. She doesn’t want to focus on what it means, doesn’t want to think the word, but it’s there in the back of her head: thin-blood. Dani the thin-blood. Not even a real vampire, just a pretend, a fucked up, not-as-good undead thing. Christ. She wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Not even the cunt locked up downstairs. It’s the worst of both worlds. Her brother is the childe of the primogen and Dani got stuck like… this. She remembers that family dinner, the way Dani had shrugged and stammered about not knowing what she wanted to do with her life, how she’d seemed like she was used to walking in her brother’s shadow. Even in death she hadn’t been made his equal. It’s a crippling blow. Or will be. To both of them. Jade wants to sigh, wants to press her fingers against the bridge of her nose to stave off a nonexistent headache. She just stares, at a loss.

She sits back in her seat, eying him over the tablet. She’d asked what they knew because she’d assumed that they were sending her after the girl. Perhaps she’d overestimated her worth. Why send her when anyone else would do?

GM: “I’d like you to take this picture to Roderick, my dear,” says Savoy. “I’m certain he’ll be very upset to discover that Danielle is now Kindred, and a thin-blooded Kindred, no less.”

“I’d like you to ask him how safe he expects she’s going to be in Mid-City.”

Celia: “Of course, grandsire.” Another ghost indeed. Will he shoot the messenger, she wonders, or just beat her into another bloody pile? She doesn’t bother to tell Savoy that she hasn’t spoken to Roderick since the night they terminated their relationship. Jokes on her for even thinking about him this evening; it’s like his very name drew this to her.

“May I ask… how long ago this was taken?”

GM: “Yesternight,” answers Preston.

“I’d like you to offer Roderick his sister’s protection in the Quarter, as well our aid in taking down Hound Agnello and Will Carolla,” continues Savoy. “So much the better we’d already planned on removing the former! That, on top of Mr. Durant’s discontent over the trial’s outcome, and his general dissatisfaction with Vidal’s rule, should be just enough to do it.”

“In return, I’d like him to stay where he is and to supply me with information on his sire’s and the Cabildo’s activities.”

“And of course,” smiles the French Quarter lord, “you’ll get to have him back.”

“Better you don’t give away that my people took this picture. In fact, if you can manage it so that Roderick feels Danielle is receiving my protection without my knowing who she is, even better. This should be all your idea—and Danielle your two’s secret.”

Celia: “It will be done as you say, Lord Savoy.” Already her thoughts are moving towards how to spin this. What to say to him. “Madam Preston, when you have a moment I will need a copy of that photo, as well as where it was taken. Roderick will want to know if anyone has, ah, claimed her, and what else we—I—know about her state. He’s very thorough.”

She pauses a moment, then asks, “did you already take her into custody, or shall I track her down as well?”

GM: “Oh, no!” Savoy chuckles. “We wouldn’t want Roderick to feel as if we’re strong-arming him, now would we? No, Danielle is off in the wild. We have her under surveillance, just in case there’s any need to mend up the Masquerade. But she seems as if she’s been Kindred for a little while, now. Knows how to feed, hasn’t left any messes behind. It’s to be completely up to Mr. Durant how he handles his sister and approaches me. I’m sure that between your two’s brains, he’ll realize the best option.”

“Miss Garrison remains unclaimed by any Kindred,” states Preston. “We have yet to verify her sire’s identity. Doubtless, there are few sires who would wish to claim such a feeble-blooded wretch for themselves.” She gives the photo a cursory glance. “The photograph was taken at the Beach on Bourbon nightclub. She is either ignorant or uncaring of Lord Savoy’s territorial boundaries.”

“Mr. Durant doesn’t need to worry about his sister being punished for her ignorance. Or pushed to the ghetto.” Savoy chuckles. “Isn’t that what the thin-bloods call their slice of the Quarter, Nat? ‘The ghetto?’”

“It is, sir. Among other less flattering sobriquets.”

“Well, he needn’t worry about her winding up there! We can do much better for a Kindred providing a service as valuable as Mr. Durant’s, if Miss Kalani can persuade him to see things our way.” He smiles at her. “Another word of advice, my dear, though I’m sure it’s already occurred to you—don’t be so crass as to bring up spying on the Cabildo directly. He’s a smart boy. He knows what he has to offer.”

Celia: Her smile is wry.

“Yes, sir. Of course. Thank you, Madam Preston.”

Word games with Roderick. How fun. Perhaps this time he will stick to his tongue instead of his fists.

Her smile fades after a brief moment. She’d asked him, years ago, to join her here. He’d made a comment about not approving of Savoy’s business dealings. The Mafia. He has to know. Why else offer Corolla and Agnello?

She doesn’t want to ask what the situation will be should she fail. She is sure that Danielle will go the way of Roxanne, and the blame will be at her feet for it.

Best not fail, then.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade wastes no time after leaving Savoy and Preston to get to work. It isn’t so late that she fears the sun rising before her plans are set, though she knows she has a tricky evening ahead of her with the ghouls Savoy had loaned her and the facial reconstruction she will need to do. That plus drilling into them what they need to know to pass for the two for the meeting… It’ll take a while.

She pulls out her phone for the second (fifth?) time this evening, scrolling through the contacts until she once more lands upon his name. Roderick Durant. She’d avoided him since that night he’d told her with his fists that they were over. Not completely, of course—they’d shared looks at Elysium—but neither one of them had broached the subject or sought to mend the bridge.

She’s glad that she hadn’t thrown the bar crawl party. Glad she hadn’t been so petty as to flaunt her domain in his face. Glad she hadn’t thrown herself at Gui any more than usual as a cheap ploy to get back at him. Except tonight, when she’d finally given in and let the Mobster share her with Pietro.

There goes that blossoming romance. “You’ll get to have him back.” She tries to ignore the way her dead heart leaps at the thought.

Celia struggles with whether or not she should call or text for a moment. Finally, she settles on a text; it’ll let him get back to her at his own pace, and she can work in the meantime. In case he’s busy. Or a dick. Or any other—her mind ceases its spiraling before it can go too far down that path.

She types and deletes at least a dozen messages before settling on something simple:

Hey… I really need to talk to you. HMU ASAP.

GM: For all the thought and anxiousness behind Celia’s simple text, there is no immediate response.

Could be he’s busy.

Celia: Busy. Ignoring her. Sure, sure.

Why would he want to talk to the ex that he beat the shit out of, right?

Not that she’s staring at her phone or anything. She’s busy collecting the two ghouls that Savoy set aside for her and locating the bodies of the hunters.

Because she’s got other things going on in her unlife. Obviously. Like finding out if Pete cracked the other phone and if there’s anything she needs to let the ghouls know.

It’s all just a distraction from the lack of sound and vibration coming from her phone.

GM: Pete has not cracked the other phone, though only because he doesn’t have it yet. When Celia turns it over, he traces his hand over the screen and then taps in a PIN.

“You can give Tantal his makeover while I look through this,” the Tremere says. “Make sure you modify his vocal cords, too.”

Celia: Celia tries not to stare at Pete as he unlocks the phone with what appears to be a simple handwave. She thought she’d done something impressive to get into the other, and here he is just outdoing her with a gesture.

She’s glad she didn’t make it sound like getting into the pattern-protected phone was hard.

GM: The large-framed ghoul shows Jade off to a walk-in freezer on the Evergreen’s third floor called the Red Room. The French Quarter lord’s revels can get out of hand, sometimes. Other times there are kine he specifically wants dead. This is where the corpses all go, or at least get temporarily stored. Jade recognizes the bodies of the two hunters she slew.

Celia: She’s glad, too, that Tantal is the relative height of the hunter she’d killed. She still doesn’t know how to modify bone, so switching his height would be tricky. She has him lay out and starts her work, beginning with the face. She warns him that it’s painful and waits for his acknowledgement before she starts to sculpt his flesh. Her fingers dive into his skin: his jaw lengthens, nose cracks as she twists it into a new position, lips thin to resemble those of the fiercely scowling man who’d held her down and fucked her.

Vampire slut echoes through her mind, but she pays the words no heed. She’s been called worse.

She coaxes hair from the ghoul’s head and colors it appropriately, using her fingers to lengthen and thicken the strands, curling them gently to mimic the coiffed waves of the boy. Then deeper changes: muscular changes. She doesn’t cut him open, but she does press more firmly against his chest, his arms, his legs, putting everything in its proper place, with occasional rests to let the ghoul catch his breath. A brief respite before she’s back at it again, poking and prodding and chiseling. Her attention is focused mostly on the face; the body need only be approximate, but the face… that’s where it needs to be perfect.

GM: Tantal lays his coat underneath his head as he lies down and lets Jade get to work. The ghoul is a big guy. Well-muscled. Bigger than the hunter, actually. “I’ll wear loose clothes,” he says in a distinctly high-pitched voice, as if noting that fact.

“I’ll try not to scream like a bitch then, ma’am,” he replies to her warning as he lies still. He might or might not be joking. He doesn’t scream, but his jaw clenches and a vein bulges along his neck as the Toreador agonizingly twists and re-shapes skin and muscle like it’s silly putty. The bald ghoul has no hair at all, so Jade has to transpose it from the hunter’s corpse. She supposes that’s faster and results in a perfect likeness anyway.

Big, bald, white guy. He could actually pass for a crude Maxen, in the same way Randy passes for a crude Em.

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“Guess I’m lucky you didn’t need to change my eye color, ma’am,” the deeper-voiced ghoul and now-hunter lookalike pants out with a grimace when Jade is done. He’s at least not sweating much in the cold storage room.

Celia: The fat comes off of him in droves. Pounds of it. Buckets of it. From his legs, his stomach, his face, even the back of his head. The hunter wasn’t something special to look at, but at least he wasn’t this hulking monstrosity. She leaves the muscles that she can lest she physically take his strength from him while she carves. The excess goes into a fresh garbage bag. Crude, but effective, and it’ll be waiting for him when he comes back. If he wants it back. She doesn’t know why anyone would want to weigh that much, but she supposes it’s not really her call. Not her body. Not her ghoul.

She’d had him talk to her while she worked the vocal chords to get the voice right, and by the time she’s done it’s a very close rendition of the man in the house.

“Eye changes are worse than most,” Jade agrees as she checks him over. “You have to know the anatomy perfectly, and in the middle your subjects go blind.” ‘Subjects,’ she says, not ‘victims.’ As if they’d asked for it. She touches a hand to his shoulder when everything is set.

“Do not leave the Evergreen except to go to this meeting. There’s a possibility that others are looking for the man with this face, and I’d prefer not to take chances with you. Stay where it’s safe, Tantal. Clear?”

Not that she thinks he had paid any heed to her desperate message. She tries to give him the benefit of the doubt; she’s been locked in the Evergreen since she woke up. Maybe it hadn’t even worked.

Still, doesn’t he have a phone? A way to communicate outside of face to face interaction? She knows some of the old ones can beam thoughts straight into your head. Is she not worthy enough to check in on?

No, a small voice tells her, just like she isn’t worth a text.

She wants to throw her phone across the room.

She doesn’t. She’s not a child.

She quizzes Tantal on the things she’d told him instead, the behaviors she’d picked up during her brief time with the hunters. Reminds him of his new name and the fake name as well.

GM: Tantal stares at the wet, fat-filled trash bag.

“I like my body, ma’am,” he says in his new and deeper voice. “But when it looks like… that. Don’t know I want it back.”

He nods in response to her statement on leaving the Evergreen.

“Warden’s briefed me. I’ll stay put. Catch up on the game.”

He answers her assorted questions until her phone gives a heartbeat-skipping buzz.

What’s going on?

Celia: Jade follows his line of sight to the bag full of fat. It is distinctly unappealing; she doesn’t relish splitting his skin back open to stuff it inside. It’ll liquidize at room temp, too, so she has to do the service in the cold storage room again. Doesn’t much bother her—reminds her of someone, really—but she’d watched him shiver the whole way through. Maybe she’ll have someone pick up some anesthetic so he’s only cold instead of cold and in pain.

“If everything goes well tomorrow maybe we can sculpt a new body for you.” She doesn’t make any promises, but it’s no skin off her back if the ghoul wants to look different. Could sculpt him to be more muscular if he wants, instead of all that fat…

Her planning is interrupted by the chime and buzzing in her pocket. She glances at the text.

She hates texts, she decides. How are you supposed to determine what someone else is feeling through text? How do you know if that’s a polite “what’s going on” or an angry “what’s going on” or an I miss you and I’m sorry I beat you up again “what’s going on?”

Probably not that last one. He’s had ample opportunity to say that to her if it were the case. Years of opportunities. He knows where to find her.

She ignores it for a minute. Makes him wait.

“Good. Glad to hear. Any questions?”

“Make sure you’re, ah, full up when you go in.” Jade taps a perfectly manicured nail against her wrist. She thinks she might like the big guy, doesn’t want to see him end up on the wrong end of anything. Her fault, too, she’d have no doubt. She touches a hand to his shoulder in the excuse of checking her work one more time.

“Please be careful, Tantal. They’re supposedly… dangerous.” And his domitor might never forgive her if something goes wrong. So much for glorious future.

It’s pretty spectacular, she thinks as she does look him over. Good likeness. She still has that job to do for the archon, the face that’s seared into her mind, but she thinks that she’s gotten really, really good at recreating faces rather than drawing on her own imagination.

“Shall we find the warden, then?”

The phone is burning a hole in her pocket. She doesn’t know what to say. Something coded, obviously. But not a lie. He has a thing about lies.

As if I’m not about to lie and manipulate him when we meet.

Where is she even supposed to meet him? Not here. Not there. Her place? Could tell Pete to check on her after a set amount of time if she doesn’t show up again, just in case Roderick thinks this is the kind of thing to smack her around over. Maybe she should have Randy teach her how to throw the right hook like he’d offered. He can show her and Logan both.

She nods. Yes. She’ll finally learn. Not that it helps her tonight.

She still needs to put him back together. He’d been sleeping when she left, but she doubts he’s going to complain overmuch if she takes the opportunity to give him back what she had taken. And she’s awake. That’s what matters. Be more firm, her kind are fond of saying. Maybe a firmer hand will keep him from doing dumb things in the future. Like drinking sewer water.

Moron.

For the second time this evening her nails lengthen, filing into tapered points with edges as sharp as any scalpel. A quick flick of her wrist has the skin of the hunter’s backside splitting open before her. She peels it back with one hand, using the razor edge of one claw to scrape away the fascia and fat from the gluteal muscles beneath. Like the white, pulpy part of an orange; she flicks it aside as she goes, the stringy stuff landing on the dead man’s back. Another slice of her nails severs the tendons connecting the glutes to the ilium, then the sacrum and coccyx. She’s careful there, makes sure to leave all the connective tissue behind. She hadn’t actually taken that much from Randy, just a handful, but she’ll take more than she needs from here to avoid an unnecessary trip back.

She finds another bag to slide the muscle into and pinches the hunter’s flesh closed. His butt sags without it, like a woman who’s never done a squat a day in her life.

The entire process doesn’t take longer than a few moments, and she finally looks back to Tantal.

“If he’s amenable, and if you’d like your size back without the extraneous adipose tissue, I could graft some of these muscles onto you. Fun experiment, see if it affects your strength at all.” She lifts her brows.

GM: “Wouldn’t say no to more muscle, ma’am,” the still-shivering Tantal answers after they exit the Red Room. He still looks pretty beefy, with the fat suctioned away, but Jade supposes there aren’t many security-type ghoul who wouldn’t want to be even larger and stronger.

“I like being my size. But thinking of you sticking that bag of fat back inside me makes me want to lose my dinner.”

He shakes his head at her question on questions.

“I’ll ask the warden for a hit, ma’am. In case things go sour.”

Celia: “No reason to put it back in if it’s no difference to him, then. Like an instant bypass surgery combined with years in the gym.”

Maybe she should graft some muscles onto herself before she faces the Brujah again.

Christ, this is going to go poorly, she’s sure of it.

Still, she pulls out her phone while they walk, pausing to dig a piece of sinew out from under her nail before she starts typing.

Batman v Superman. Got an early copy. ;)

She’d thought about saying trouble or urgent or family, but she hadn’t wanted to alarm him. Or leave a trail. He’ll just have to trust that she isn’t breaking four years of silence for no reason. He knows her enough to know that it’s code, doesn’t he? He’s smart enough to figure it out.

GM: Your place midnight tomorrow? comes her ex’s answering text.

Celia: That had been surprisingly easy. Maybe he wants to see her. Or maybe he thinks she actually has the movie. Should she get the movie? She can probably find it by tomorrow. Lots of places out there to do so.

Let’s watch this while I twist your arm.

Cool. Cool cool.

Perfect.

…but what is she going to wear?


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Pete says it’s fine if Celia replaces Tantal’s former fat with added muscle bulk when she sees him next.

“You won’t need to give the other renfield a makeover. He knows some shadow dancing.”

Celia: Celia nods in answer to his statement. She fidgets for a moment. No matter how long she’s known the guy she always feels like she’s done something wrong when she sees him, as if her mere existence is one giant fuckup and he’s been sent to admonish her for it. Does he know what Savoy wants her to do?

She doesn’t bring it up yet.

“Find anything useful on the other phone?”

GM: Pete nods. “Some other targets they were planning on going after. Mid-City Anarchs.”

Celia: Stephen.

“Roderick?”

“I’m supposed to see him tomorrow,” she adds, “so if he’s dead that kind of…ruins that.”

GM: “I said ‘planning.’ Future tense.”

“Those two’s plans count for about as much as an empty blood bag now.”

Celia: “Lord Savoy has plans for him,” Celia says, “if his identity has been compromised it’s the kind of thing I need to know before I waste my time bringing him to heel.”

GM: “Roderick wasn’t one of them.”

Celia: Thank god.

“Thank you, Warden.” There’s a pause while she fidgets. Then, “is, ah, Celia safe, or is that still being… looked into?”

She’s stalling. It’s fairly obvious to anyone who knows her.

GM: “Being looked into. I take it from the stalling that you and Lord Savoy talked about your sister.”

Celia: She forces the air out from her lungs in a sound that might be a sigh if she wasn’t dead. She nods. Picks at a loose thread in the seat of her chair. Finally, she looks back up at him, and when she speaks her voice is quiet. She has no doubt Savoy will know everything she says here.

“He wants me to be the one to lay her out.”

GM: Pete gives that a long look.

“I can’t imagine him insisting if you didn’t want to do it.”

Celia: What can she say? That his favor is worth more than her sister’s life?

“I owe him a lot.”

GM: “Well, you’re hardly paying him back. It isn’t skilled work. Anyone could do it.”

Celia: Is that meant to make her feel better? She sinks lower in her seat.

“Felt like it was important to him that I… prove myself, or something.”

GM: “Prove what?”

Celia: She fixes him with a look. He has to know what happened last time. Why their stunt with Maxen didn’t work out.

How does she ask him if he’s going to think less of her if she does do it? There isn’t a real way to win here, and she’s afraid that even having this conversation means she isn’t sure.

But she is sure, isn’t she? Savoy has asked her to kill others in the past and she’s done it without batting an eye. Why would this be any different?

Because part of her thinks it’s a test as to her true loyalties. As if she’d ever pick her sister over him. But she’d picked her father once, hadn’t she? That’s what it looks like to him. Only she hadn’t picked her father, she’d picked her sire, and that makes all the difference.

It’s going to get back to Savoy that she came to his warden. He’s going to think she’s weak. Unable to put her family behind her. Then what? He’s magnanimous for an elder, she’ll give him that, but he’s an elder all the same. If he weren’t her grandsire he wouldn’t give her the time of night, she’s sure.

Snake in the grass, Donovan had said, but isn’t Donovan the same? Another would-be prince using her to his own gain.

“I should talk to her,” she finally says, “one last time. Sister to sister. Like you said.” She pauses. Waits for him to say… something. Absolve her of this guilt, maybe, or offer to show her to the room, or offer to take it off her hands, or something.

Maybe she shouldn’t have come to him.

But she doesn’t know where she’s supposed to lay out Isabel. If there’s a spot for it. Or if it means just take her head off. Or… what. She hadn’t wanted to ask. Preston has a way of making it seem like she should know these things already. As if she’s killed another lick before.

Pete doesn’t see the way they look at her. Like she’s useless. Vapid. God, how good had it felt when they’d praised her for her work with the hunters? And now her stomach is all in knots again, worried it won’t work out, worried she’d been captured for nothing, worried one or both of the ghouls are going to die and it’ll be her fault, all her fault, and how can she say that to Pete? How can she tell him that she feels like she doesn’t belong, that every time he looks at her she thinks he’s judging her, that no matter how much time passes she’ll always hear her dad’s voice in her head calling her stupid, and her sire’s voice inside her head saying advantageous byproduct, and Roderick’s voice inside her head calling her a whore?

She knows what they think of her, with her Instagram feed and her salon. She’s not ignorant. There’s a reason she buries herself in her work.

But it hurts.

Maybe she should just cut out her heart like her sire did. Cut off the rest of her family. Refuse to feel. He doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that people talk a bunch of shit about him, though it’s never in his hearing.

She wants him, she realizes. Not Pete. Not Roderick. Not Savoy. Her sire. He won’t care that she has to kill her sister. He won’t judge her for it. He’ll probably tell her it’s the right move.

Right?

It doesn’t matter. Savoy asked her to do the thing. She’s going to do the thing.

She knows what she wants from Pete and it isn’t going to happen. Coming here was a waste of both their time.

GM: Pete fixes Celia back with a look.

“You know, I think you do what you do, most of the time, because someone else is saying you ought to do it.”

“Or you think that’s what they want you to do.”

“Would your mom have kept her toes if I hadn’t been there to browbeat you?”

“You don’t seem to be hurting too much for money these days. That sure would’ve been a shame if she’d lost them for absolutely nothing in the end.”

Celia: “I was going to get the money for it. I wouldn’t have just left her crippled.” Not fair that he brings that up now. She’d been a newborn. She was still adjusting.

GM: “Go be who you are, Celia. I’m not going to stop you.”

“She’s ash anyway, after all.”

“It’s definitely not like making her old man rape her was.”

Celia: Celia rises to her feet. Her knees threaten to give way beneath her, and the knuckles where she grips the back of the chair she’d been perched on are white.

“Yes, Warden Lebeaux,” she says to the floor, “thank you.” Her body jerks in what might be an aborted curtsey before she sees herself out.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Jade has to get Tantal to unlock the interrogation room’s door for her, but true to Pete’s words, her sister hasn’t gone anywhere. She’s exactly where the Toreador last left her.

Celia: She had thought of this moment for years. Roxanne—Isabel—helpless in front of her. All the nasty things that she would say. All the terrible, cruel, petty, mean things on her mind. How her sister was a disappointment. How she was a slut. How she would never be anything other than the failure that she is.

But now that it’s happened, now that Isabel is here in front of her, the words don’t come.

It’s over. This is Jade’s moment of victory. Her triumphant conquest over Celia’s long-hated sister. She reaches for those feelings, that chest-pounding, heart-thumping joy, satisfaction, relief.

There’s nothing.

Nothing inside of her.

She is empty.

Numb.

Where there should have been the sweet taste of the win there is only ash in her mouth, lifeless and dull and as gray as the rest of the world around her.

Her heart is hollow. Her feet are leaden. Every step she takes is an eternity down a hallway that stretches and stretches in front of her, lengthening no matter how her feet eat up the ground.

Until she’s in front of Isabel and can see the damage that she has done to her sister. Here because of her.

She hadn’t been lying to Logan when she’d told him that she had written Isabel letters. They had always come during her darker periods, when she’d felt as if nothing would ever be bright again, when her eyes had threatened to leak and her jaw would not cease its trembling and no one in the entire world would have been able to take away the ache inside of her. They were written on her bleakest nights, empty promises that never once were kept, hatred and vitriol and filthy accusations. All of them fed to a candle that took her words away.

Except for one.

One of them she keeps close to her heart. One of them isn’t anger. One of them isn’t inferno personified, destroying everything that it touches.

Her nails lengthen. She touches the tip of her index finger to the flesh above her sternum, just next to her left breast, and draws it down. Her skin splits in its wake and she makes a noise that’s halfway between a hiss and a sigh. She peels back her own skin and fat and muscle to find the tiny piece of paper tucked inside.

She pulls it out. Seventy-something percent of the human body is made up of water, but Jade isn’t human. She’s Kindred. There is no water inside of her body, no spit, no tears. Everything she has is blood. It is blood that covers this tiny slip of paper, blood that smears the letters on the page. Like the blood that’s on her hands. For all that, it’s still legible, her slanted, flowery script written in dark ink.

She reads it to her sister.

Dear Isabel,

I remember when we were children we used to lie in our beds and make wishes on the glow-in-the-dark stars plastered to our ceiling. You wanted to be an astronaut, you said, or a zookeeper, or race dog sleds in Alaska. I wanted to be a teacher or a writer or a concert pianist, and we said we’d always stand by each other.

I remember when we used to play dress up, you’d let me put sparkly pink eyeshadow on your face, and we’d take turns being the princess or the knight. We didn’t know then that Dad was the dragon we needed to defeat.

I remember when we first moved into the big house and you and I would sneak into each other’s beds at night and read those old books about mermaids and talking lions and witches who were good instead of evil. I remember the night I lost my makeup you smuggled me in a tinted lip balm. It was the only color I wore for years.

I remember when it changed.

I remember when we learned that monsters are real.

I remember the fear of growing up in that house, what it was like to walk on eggshells around Dad, how any moment we expected him to snap. I remember the boys crying, I remember Sophia crying, and I remember us crying when we were sure that no one else was looking.

Strong, they call us, to survive that kind of life. We were children. We didn’t need to be strong. We needed to be safe.

I have made countless mistakes these past years. I lit the flame beneath your feet rather than rescue you like I was supposed to. I let one incident of teenage emotions put a knife between us that will never come free.

I’d always thought that there would be time to mend it. That you and I could be sisters again. That I could apologize for all of my mistakes…

Celia looks up from her wet paper.

“But here you are, Zee. Here you are in front of me and there isn’t any time left.”

GM: Roxanne growls, at first, when she hears the door open. Lips pull back to reveal fangs. Perhaps it’s Peter Lebeaux come back to pump her for more info. Or Jade to spew more venom.

From the way her jaw falls open, though, her sister was probably the last person on earth she was expecting.

She’s silent as Celia reads her letter. Perhaps giving the Toreador time to finish. Perhaps incredulous over the words she’s hearing. Perhaps trying to think of a way out.

Celia: Celia is silent when she finishes. For long moments she waits for her sister to say something. Anything.

They’re just two girls from the same broken home, on opposite sides of a war that started long before they were ever born. Isabel hadn’t chosen this. Celia did, sort of, and in her choosing had damned her sister.

GM: Isabel finally starts to talk.

“Look. You hate me. I get it. I’ve had a long time to piece together what happened that night. You made him him rape me because you found out I tattled over Mom.”

“Dad was out of jail less than 24 hours after getting arrested. It didn’t even make the headlines. There was no way Mom was going to keep us. Just no way. And this was going to make him madder than he’d ever been. I was terrified of what he was going to do. To me. To David, Sophia, Logan. You.”

“So I told him where to find us. I’m not proud of that. I wanted to get away. But that wasn’t happening. It was either get on his good side or wait until he got us back anyway, and did God knows what.”

“I was the good girl. That was how I survived, okay? I didn’t have Mom. I didn’t have you. All I had was Dad. The others were too young. So I tried to make him happy. And every minute was like walking on eggshells. I couldn’t ever let the mask down. Ever.”

“But it didn’t work. He never looked at me the same way again, after that night, even after Donovan edited his memories. He didn’t hit me, because that might hurt the baby. He kept me locked in my room 24 hours a day. He installed bars on the windows. There was a slot on the door, for Luana to slide in meals. I had to piss and shit in a pot, and slide it out for her. If I didn’t use it right before she showed up, the whole room would smell like piss and shit, until he knocked down the wall between my bedroom and the bathroom, and sealed up its door.”

“He even got a treadmill so I could exercise. I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in that room. It was like being in a max security person. I never got to talk to anyone. I couldn’t use a computer. I couldn’t even look out the window. He kept the shades bolted to the wall, and had the bars installed over them, so the neighbors couldn’t see anything was weird. All I could do was sit in bed, re-read the same books over and over and over, talk to the baby in my tummy, and go crazy.”

“I went crazy. Sometimes I’d scream and tear things up or bang the walls. He’d tie me down to the bed and leave me there for 24 hours, without food, without the piss pot, until I could tell him I was calm again. And then he’d take away a book, or a stuffed animal, or some other object. And that was even worse than not getting to eat, because every time that room got emptier I’d go even crazier.”

“I tried to go on a hunger strike, once, and he force-fed me. Then he installed a sieve on the toilet, so I couldn’t try to dump meals in there. I guess Luana had to pick up the poop. He eventually got rid of that and just installed a lock on the bathroom door, and I could only use it twice a day, after my plate was empty. Luana would unlock it from the other side.”

“That lasted nine months. When my water broke, he let me out. He brought me to the hospital, and the doctors all thought I was crazy because I was laughing and babbling and running my hands over everything, because I’d finally gotten out of that room. I kept trying to get up from the bed, so the nurses tied me down, and when I wouldn’t shut up they stuck a gag in my mouth. So I had a gag and cuffs on the entire time I was in labor. I couldn’t even hold him, when he came out. They didn’t even let me see him. They just took him away. Then they gave me a bunch of drugs, and when I woke up I was back in my room again, tied down to the bed.”

“And I wanted to die.”

Isabel gives a broken laugh from the St. Andrew’s cross.

“Look. You want revenge on me, for what I did. Dad got it. He already got it for you. He already fucking got it for you.

Celia: Celia had never gone back for her. She’d gone back for Mom. For Emily. For Stephen. Christ, she’d gone back for Em. But not once for Isabel. Hadn’t even checked up on her. Oh, sure, she could lie, tell herself that it wasn’t safe to go back to find out what happened, that she was afraid of what Donovan might do. And maybe there’s some truth to that.

But deep down, she knows.

She knows she didn’t go back because she didn’t care. Because she was angry. Because she wanted Isabel to hurt as much as Celia was already hurting.

That’s the joke then, isn’t it, that they were both already hurting and trying so hard to stay strong and cling to their pride that they didn’t let the other one in after that night when Isabel had found out what sort of justice Maxen doles out to people who defy his rules. Spanked until bloody.

Some small, unseen part of her had thought about fixing Isabel’s toe, too. Had wondered if they’d doctored her memories. But, no, why would they have? Why would he have? She was nothing. Is nothing. She’s not the prize race horse. Just the… byproduct.

Nausea swells within her. It’s an alien feeling to the Beast. Purely human. It starts in her stomach, a clenching of jaw and gut, but nothing comes up. The Beast clings to its closely guarded resource like Celia had clung to every semblance of safety she could find when she was still alive.

“It wasn’t supposed to be you,” she says after a moment. Her voice doesn’t tremble or crack, but it’s soft. So soft. Like if she speaks too loudly her sister will crumble away with the wind from her breath.

“That night, it wasn’t supposed to be you. It was supposed to be me. Maxen hurting me. Raping me. Getting it on film to distribute. Then I saw what he had done to Mom, and I remembered your text, and I saw the way you offered to help him. And I wanted to burn the entire world down.”

She’d let the hatred fill her until she was nothing but a vengeful spirit doling out her own justice, Maxen-style. Take what they love.

GM: Her restrained and blindfolded sister is silent for another moment.

“It’s why he Embraced me,” Isabel says. “Good Christian girls don’t get pregnant by their dads.”

“It was the only way out of that room. So I said yes, I did it, yes, I’d seduced him.”

Celia: It takes her a moment to realize that the Embrace was meant to be a punishment. Isabel had always been more into the faith than Celia; even as a lick she’d apparently been… fanatical.

“How did he know about it? Your sire. If you were trapped in your room.”

GM: “He’s close to Donovan. It came up between them. When he was looking for a childe.”

“He wanted someone who deserved it and wasn’t attached to their kine life.”

Celia: “Why didn’t he take your memories?”

GM: “I don’t understand.”

Celia: “You said he changed Dad’s. Donovan. Why would he let you keep yours if he took Dad’s?”

GM: A broken laugh.

“Because I was never going to leave that room alive.”

“I think he fed on me while I was there. Why not, right?”

Celia: “Do you remember that birthday party when Dad’s dad interrupted? And later that night you and I snuck downstairs? You woke me up because the light was on.”

GM: “I… think so?”

Celia: “You were young. Six, maybe.” Does it matter? “I saw him for the first time that night. Shaking hands with Dad. Making a deal. Everything went to shit after that.”

GM: “That’s what we do. We’re damned.”

“Though you’re only half.”

Celia: “Sure. But I guess my question is… if you knew that he was behind all of this, why would you stay on that side?”

GM: “The same reason I stayed on Dad’s side. Safer not to cross them. Him. And at least they let me out of the room.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment.

“They told me you want to turn me.”

GM: “I was panicked. I was furious. I was hurting. I was saying anything.”

“Meadows killed Evan.”

Her voice breaks. “I never even had a boyfriend when I was alive. He was my only one.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I… know what it’s like to lose someone. D’you know why…?”

GM: There’s another broken laugh. “Because she’s fucking insane and she kills licks for absolutely no reason. Who even knows what goes through her head.”

“And now my whole krewe’s dead. All dead.”

Celia: “If they let you out, what would you do?”

GM: “My friends are all dead. I don’t… don’t even know.”

“Maybe leave the city and start over.”

Celia: “You wouldn’t be able to come back. Ever. No contact with Dad or Logan or any of them. Is that what you want?” Freedom. Complete freedom from her mortal and Kindred lives. A new beginning.

GM: “I haven’t spoken with any of them since I was turned. That’s the Eighth Canon of the Catechism.”

Celia: Celia nods, even though her sister cannot see.

Jade can get her out of the city. She knows people. Knows people here and other places. Get her into Texas, at least; Emerson does runs there all the time. From there Isabel will be on her own. She’s pretty sure Alana kept the purse of that co-ed she’d killed. Could change her face. Make up for being the one to ruin her life by giving her a new one.

“I’ll speak to Lord Savoy.” Celia takes a step toward the door. “I’m sorry, Zee, for what happened between us. For not being there for you. I wasn’t a good sister to you, but I can… I can do this much, at least.”

GM: “Lord Savoy won’t listen to a renfield. That’s just how it is. Talk to someone… someone lower down.”

“But, do that. Get me out of here, and we’ll be even.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t tell her the truth, even now. She just nods. Says okay, that she will, and closes the door behind her.

Long moments pass. Not nearly long enough for Celia to have made good on her promise before the door opens again. Footsteps across the threshold. The door closes. They don’t come any closer.

Silence for a moment. Then,

“Saw your sister crying in the hallway.” Jade’s voice.

“Seemed to think if she let you out of here you’d just leave and not bother any of us again.”

She steps forward, circling around to where Roxanne’s back is displayed. Her eyes move across Roxanne’s destroyed body. She reaches out, her hands warm against the Ventrue’s skin. She’s mindful of the open wounds, mindful of the scrapes and cuts and other hurts beside. There isn’t a lot of area for her to work on, not really, not with Roxanne as beat up as she is, not with her body vertical instead of horizontal. But what there is safe to use she touches. Her fingers splay across her back, pressing against her skin. It’s a soothing gesture, meant to calm, and maybe if Roxanne weren’t strapped to a cross about to die she’d enjoy it.

She’s always been good with her hands.

Letting go of Roxanne is a big risk. Even asking Savoy to let her go is a risk. So Jade needs to know the truth. The impression leaks out of her: trustworthy. It’s a subtle thing, combined with the touch, and even though Jade had previously belittled and goaded her, what’s not to trust? She’d been angry at the attack on her girl, that’s all, surely Roxanne understands anger; we’re all friends here. Why would she be touching her if they weren’t friends?

And it feels so good, too. So soothing, so soft. Deep enough to touch the muscles she’d hurt in her fight against Meadows. Deep enough to assuage some of that pain from being held on a cross for hours.

It takes some time. Long minutes of work. Jade’s consciousness projects forward, though she doesn’t enter the other lick’s mind. No, it isn’t her mind she’s reading; she’s not some telepath to break into people’s thoughts when reading their bodies will do just as well.

It’s an energy that passes between them. A feeling of relaxation that takes Roxanne from this room and puts her at ease. Jade can feel her hands working over Roxanne’s back, but her mind delves deeper. Into that waiting sea of energy. Into the spinning disks of light inside of her. She can see, even from this distance, that they are out of order; they spin lopsided or not at all, their flow halted by the world around her.

Jade can fix it.

She starts at the base. The root chakra, base of the spine. Muladhara. Like all things in their life, its color is red. Red for blood. Red for life. Red for survival. All hierarchies put survival at the very bottom. Food, air, water; those are all base needs. So it is that Roxanne’s body—all of their bodies—start with the need of survival. Without this falling into alignment the rest of them will suffer, too. And this one is just a lump of brown clay, a log of fire that has been charred beyond recognition.

Jade doesn’t touch it physically, but mentally she sends the signal that makes it start spinning again. Your needs are being met, she tells it, you are safe. Meadows cannot harm you here. Warmth flows from her hands to set the newly rounded sphere to spinning again.

She moves on. The lower abdomen, the sacral chakra. Svadhistana. Orange follows red, though this one too is nothing but a dying ember. It is the home of wanting. Sensuality, sexuality… but pleasure, too. Desire. On humans it’s simple things, but with Kindred it encompasses both man and Beast. Passions, dreams, cravings—it touches on them all.

Jade sends her energy spinning along it. The color starts to shift from burnt sepia to something brighter. But not full, not yet. Jade doesn’t know what her sister desires. That’s what she’s here to find out. Blood is the expected answer. It’s always blood. But beyond the blood there is more, and that’s what Jade searches for. She sends her name—her real name—spinning along those pathways. Celia. Family. Loyalty. Something to meditate on while Jade moves higher.

Higher, into the solar plexus. Manipura. Yellow. This is fire, truly, the resolve and determination to get what you want, to set your sight on something and go for it. Roxanne does not lack color here. This is no disk inside of her, no sodden lump of nothing; this one burns brightly. Jade does not need to meddle here.

Higher still, into the heart. Anahata. Green. Love and compassion. Healthy relationships. This is air, but Kindred do not need air to survive. This chakra does not spin. It is a bleak, black disk. Her heart is solidified calcium. There is nothing here.

Except… except maybe there could be. Jade was named for the color of a goddess’ eyes, and what do these goddesses do if not bring life back to dead things? She sends a pulse along it. Thump, it says, a half-hearted thing. Her mind rips through her options—her family, her dead lover—and settles on the God she professes to serve. Love comes in all forms. Jade lets her know. Damned, certainly, but a wolf sent to guard and thin the flock. Another pulse. Thump-thump.

It sets itself to spinning. Slow, sluggish, but movement all the same.

It is enough. She moves on.

Her energy and focus drift higher, from the heart flowing up into the throat. Vishuddha. Blue, but what a blackened blue this is, its color filled with oily slicks of the lies and deceits that are all around them. Jade presses deeper into that circle of light, letting it surround her, letting the blackness fade away until she finds the shining thing within. The sliver of truth that Roxanne—Isabel—wants to speak. Deep inside, where no one can see it, it’s spinning and shining. Jade wants to let it out. The snaking tendrils of falsehoods become brambles around the rose garden, and Jade blasts them away with a thought. There can be no release if you are wrapped within your lies.

Higher still, into the third eye. Ajna. Indigo. Inner thoughts, intuition. It’s a murkier place up here; man and Beast struggle for dominion. But Beasts belong in a cage, don’t they, when they are not serving their purpose. Jade makes it happen. The mental image of a lion inside a zoo—they’d been to this zoo, doesn’t her sister remember? It’s so familiar. The lion cannot hurt her behind its bars. Let the man free.

And finally the crown chakra. Sahasrara. Violet, but a dead and withered thing. Spiritual connection, peace, union, bliss… Jade can fix this one too. She burrows inside, connects their energy together, lets Isabel see and feel the light coming from her.

Outside their bodies, they are just two girls inside a room, one tied to a cross, the other rubbing her back.

Inside it is more. So much more.

It is from inside this place, where all has finally been righted, that Jade finally speaks to Celia’s sister.

“What did you hope to accomplish by going to see your sister in the Quarter?”

GM: Roxanne snarls at Jade’s initial touch, but the sound soon dies as the Toreador’s practiced hands work her magic.

She works her ways up along each chakra like a flute. Emily had thought it was a load of “alternative medicine not-even-pseudoscience mystic bullshit” when the topic of chakras came up between them. But Emily also isn’t a vampire, so her perspective on the world might be somewhat more limited.

Jade is, and hers isn’t. Strung up on a cross isn’t the same as laid out flat on the table, but it’s a change of pace, and in some ways even helps the Toreador spatially conceptualize the flow of energy from low to high. Vampires may be dead creatures, but they’re animated by energy, the same as object or entity that engages in sustained activity. Jade intimately knows that energy’s ebbs and flows.

More than knows. Directs. She can see almost see the shifting colors as glowing lights as the wounded Ventrue moans with equal parts pleasure and relief under Jade’s expert touch. It’s such a tempting message that the Toreador’s hands have to say. You are safe. You can let down the walls. You can just relax.

It’s her craft. Her calling. To make people just relax.

Star mode helps a lot, too.

When Roxanne speaks, her voice is tranquil, monotone, and far away, as though coming from the depths of a luxuriously soft bed.

“I wanted to Embrace her.”

“I needed to rebuild my krewe. I’d failed them. I’d shown Prince Vidal I was a failure.”

“I was angry at her, too, for what she did to me. Meadows made me feel so helpless. I wanted to be in control. I wanted to make someone else suffer.”

“She deserved to suffer for what she did to me. She destroyed Dad’s love for me. She crippled me. I still can’t walk right from that toe I’m missing.”

The words are spoken without anger or pain. They’re in that same calm and tranquil place Jade’s hands have taken her.

“She is a bad person who deserves to be damned. But she can still serve God’s will.”

“She would have gone to Hell when she died if I hadn’t Embraced her. She’d still go to Hell, if I had. But she could do something good.”

“And I was lonely. My krewe were all dead or traitors. They were my friends.”

“I could have a childe. She could have a sire. She could see everything she’d done wrong in her life, and make it right again in her Requiem, with my help. We could be a family again.”

“I could get revenge on her at the same time as I fixed everything between us. I’d have my cake and eat it too. I couldn’t not do it.”

The words all come in that same calm and peaceful monotone.

Celia: Jade’s hands continue to work over Roxanne’s back as she speaks. Now that the energy has been restored, now that everything is in balance, her focus is on the touch. The play of muscle beneath the skin, the soft and hard tissue that she finds underneath, the little nodules of pain that she can press on to take away.

She does it all while the Ventrue tells her of her plan to Embrace her sister. Sweet revenge, wouldn’t it be, to take Celia from her mortal life and make her pay for everything that she has done. Damn her to the same fate. And what a terrible fate that would be—the illicit childe of a nobody.

Only Celia is already dead. She’s already paid the price for betraying her family, the sheriff had seen to that. This is just another example, another thing she has to do to make up for all the bad she’s done: put her sister down.

She created the mess, now it’s time to clean it up.

Her next question takes a moment to form.

Jade doesn’t need to know what Roxanne’s plan is if she gets out. She isn’t getting out. There is no freedom for her. It had all just been another game, another web of lies. A chance for a sister to come clean before her death, but Roxanne had tried to manipulate her instead, to play on the human sympathy that no longer exists within Jade. Some small part of her wants to ask about Celia’s family, too. What Dad thinks happened that night. But it doesn’t really matter, does it?

She asks something different instead. A long shot, considering Roxanne’s status—or there lack of—in Kindred society.

“The prince,” she says, purposefully vague to encompass anything her sister might know, “his allies, their plans.”

GM: “He is as God,” Roxanne replies tranquilly.

‘The Lord lays his hand upon my heart and I know the last gift I am to give.
To my childe I entrust the keeping of the lance that had begun my enlightenment O those many nights ago.
I know that it is now his blessing and his burden, and I praise the Lord for these things.’


“He meant Prince Vidal. Only Prince Vidal. Prince Vidal has been touched by God.”

“He is not Ventrue. He is not Kindred. Not to us.”

‘You shall honor the Dark Prophet and give thanks for the perfection of his sinfulness and the miracle of his transformation. Say to the Lord: My God, all praise is due to you for the miracle of transformation that you bestowed upon the centurion. Blessed are we who know the truth of divinity in the world because of the blood of the Christ that gave the centurion sight and life! May we ever walk in his ways and follow his example, by your power and will. Amen.’

Celia: Yikes.

“And what does Prince Vidal have in store for those who would move against him?”

GM: “Annihilation.”

Celia: No shit, Roxy.

“Do you know of his plans to stymie these would-be usurpers?”

GM:‘Do not let yourself be lulled into complacency by faith in the Purpose and the teachings of the Dark Prophet. For serving the Purpose cannot be accomplished by mere mouthing of doctrines and groveling to one’s betters. No, God’s Purpose is a burden and a charge, and he who claims to exemplify Damnation without effort or proper works is not in communion with the faithful.’

“Prince Vidal is not Kindred to them or us. They cannot withstand him. For he is of the Blood of Longinus, not the Blood of Caine.”

“Do you understand?”

“The Second Generation walks among us in the Final Nights. He walks among us.”

“I do not fear for him. I fear only my own failure and inadequacy before him.”

Celia: Jade says nothing to this. She steps closer. One hand continues to massage Roxanne, kneading and stroking her muscles. She keeps her in that mental state, only half-aware of her surroundings. Kinder this way. Merciful. She can give Celia’s sister this much, at least.

The other hand snakes around Roxanne’s body, pressing between it and the cross. Her fingers don’t grow claws; they don’t need to, not when the tips of them serve just as well at getting inside the body.

She had never learned how to do the bone work. The archon had disappeared before their supposed lesson. She cannot simply move the bones that stand in her way, that encircle the organ she seeks like a protective pen. But she knows the body’s anatomy, knows the path that she needs to take. Maybe it will give Roxanne some solace that, in the end, she died like Jesus. Nailed to a cross. Blade cutting into his side. Only the blade is not a blade, just a hand, snaking its way up under the ribcage from beneath the sternum, diving past the dermis to the tissue, fat, and muscle within. There’s no thump-thump to give away the heart’s position within this body, but Jade doesn’t need it. She knows what she’s looking for. Deep inside the chest cavity, her fingers close around the dead organ that hasn’t worked in years.

She leans in to press a final kiss against Roxanne’s cheek.

“The Lord be with you,” she whispers.

She pulls the heart free.

GM: Jade’s nailed hand swims through the thick fibrous pericardium like butter. She feels the inert and lifeless heart around her palm. An unlife literally in her hands.

Then, just like that, she wrenches it out.

The heart rots and blackens before her eyes. A smell like rotten eggs fills the Toreador’s nostrils as Roxanne’s eyes bulge, then turn gray as the whites dry out. Her muscles stiffen against Jade’s arms. Nutrient-filled blisters appear over her pale skin, along with an unsightly dull sheen. The Ventrue’s skin sags over her body like a too-large coat as her mouth falls open. A blackening tongue lolls out. The seemingly days-old corpse limply sags in the cuffs of the St. Andrew’s cross as death catches up with Roxanne in an instant.

Finally getting her like the monster a younger sister once asked Celia to check under the bed for.

Celia: Jade fades away as soon as Roxanne is dead, leaving Celia staring at the remnants of Isabel’s life. Torn and bloody, from all the people who had stood against her, who had hurt her, who had abused her. Evidence of their mistreatment on her skin. Evidence of Isabel’s own misdeeds on her flesh: in the tongue blackened by her lies, in the heart rotten by her sin.

Only the sulfurous stench of decay remains, a mockery of what she might have been. What they might have been had their feet trod different paths.

Celia searches inside of herself again for the for the guilt or shame or grief… and finds it curiously absent.

Her heart is gone. If she were to reach into her own chest to find it she’d come out empty-handed. A