Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Story Twelve, Celia VIII

“Make the game more fun. Isn’t that what we all want?”
Pietro Silvestri


Tuesday night, 8 March 2016, PM

Celia: It’s vanity, perhaps, that makes the Toreador pause on her way to the party. Pete’s words echo inside her mind—do something nice for your family—and she thinks of the younger brother that she had left at Tulane. A party, she’d promised him, a new job of sorts. But this isn’t the type of party he’d fare well at, and Jade is not yet willing to throw her brother to the wolves.

Mind on him, and remembering the photos that had been taken of her at Tulane, Jade opens the Instagram app on her phone to scroll through her feed. She double taps a few posts, leaves a comment on a few of the pictures she’d been tagged in from her admirers on campus, and finally navigates to her own page. Her most recent post stares up at her. Randy had been cooking something in the small apartment kitchen where Celia “lives,” and she’d taken the opportunity to snap a photo of the two of them with his creation in the background. No matter that she doesn’t eat; it sends the message she wants it to send, that she does eat, that she and Randy are a perfectly happy couple, that they do cute things together.

She makes a sound and reaches into the clutch purse Alana had foisted off on her, pulling free a tube of lipstick. The program she uses to upload photos is set for the rest of the month, but there’s no reason not to add another now while she has a moment. She wants to feel normal after her interaction with the hunters, Isabel, and that… dream.

Jade snaps a few photos with her phone, first of the tube of lipstick itself, then with her nails, then a glamour shot of it on her lips. She makes sure that the branded TF is easily seen.

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New Tom Ford shade! she types in the caption. Wes! Perfectly centered between plum and scarlet; not really a Spring shade but we’ve got a few weeks to go before I have to bring out the pastels.

“Vampy” is the word that comes to mind when she views the shade, but she doesn’t use that on her page.

Swatches soon! She presses the post button after adding a smattering of hashtags.

GM: It’s not overlong before comments on her screen start to appear.

Omg super cute you lady are beautiful love the pics

Gorgeous

Si nos costaba quitarnos lade nosotros imaginate esa AJAJAJAJA

Name of the song

Amazinggg :DDD

All that pretty makeup and she can’t even smile lol typical

Echas mucho produ

10!!!

To whoever is reading this, I hope you have a wonderful day and remember you are loved :)

What? What is this? And the song? Lol everything is so what??

So pretty! :D

Randy always seemed a little out of his element when striking Instagram-worthy domestic pictures with his domitor. Alana loved the idea of more people being able to admire how beautiful Celia is, but was a little slow to learn how to ‘get with it’ herself. It’s one of the few areas where Jade can tell the seemingly 20-something ghoul is actually her mother’s age.

Celia: It’s hard to still be upset when almost a dozen comments roll in within moments. She clicks the heart next to the positive ones and ignores the negative comment about smiling—if only you knew what kind of day I had, she wants to say but doesn’t—then types out a few generic omg thanks ;) responses to the particularly complimentary.

She has no idea what song they’re talking about. People are weird.

She flips back to the photo of Randy. How fake is his smile here? Is he tired of their “life” together? It shouldn’t bother her, really, but it does. She’s going to need to up the ante with him soon. They’ve been “together” for six years now; it’s a wonder Diana hasn’t started asking about grandbabies already.

Really, though, the licks like her who don’t take advantage of the internet adoration are missing out. Nothing like a handful of new followers to boost her mood.

GM: Randy feels a little out of place in the domestic setting, but his smile is completely sincere. He loves his “babe” more than anything. Including his car, if he’s to be believed.

He probably is tired of not having had sex, though.

Or at least hungrily anticipating that promised night.

Hungry probably more so than tired.

Celia’s mom might not be asking about grandbabies, but only because they spent her last spa session talking about marriage. Diana might not have had her last kid within the bounds of wedlock, but it does at least remain a cherished ideal.

Celia: How, though, is she supposed to make it special for him if she’s spent the past six years denying him? Boy’s hand is probably about to revolt.

She should just have that stupid fake wedding she and her ex had talked about all those years ago.

No, no. Marrying a ghoul is just… pathetic. Her lip curls at the thought.

If there was ever a time to call him, now is it, chimes a traitorous little voice in her head. She shoves the thought aside and returns to her phone.

GM: Her comments have gotten a few likes in response. The pictures themselves have gotten a few more, including a comment from Emily’s Instagram username:

Always flawless!

Celia: She really is, isn’t she?

Pristine. Her complexion was the first thing she’d fixed when she’d learned how to manipulate the skin. She’d gotten rid of all the acne bumps and pustules that had plagued her since puberty. Smoothed out her face to reflect the glowing goddess within. Tapered her chin, taken off a small amount of lip, narrowed her nose. Her face is heart shaped rather than the oval she grew up with. Wider eyes, too. Brighter. Longer lashes.

No one looking at her now would ever think she was the same twelve-year-old with globbed-on concealer or homemade lemon juice and baking soda remedies. She hadn’t made radical changes, just turned her face into its ideal version. Gorgeous. Glowing. Glamorous.

Perfection incarnate. Flawless.


Tuesday night, 8 March 2016, PM

GM: “Look, stew over this and you’ll feel worse, since there’s squat you can do about him right now. Go do something nice for your family. You’ve got a mom, a grandma, and a gaggle of brothers and sisters.”

“You’ll feel better. With that many relatives I’m sure you can think of something.”

Maybe Celia could.

But right now it’s hard to think about anything except bacchanalia.

As Jade arrives downstairs in the Evergreen’s main lounge, she enters a world transformed. Everything that is red. Strategically placed LED lights shine from the ceiling, bathing her skin crimson. Gauzy red curtains divide the lounge area into sections. Red cushions are strewn about everywhere. Many of them are large enough to be more akin to mattresses, and stacked high into walls and corridors. The once-spacious lounge feels cramped and confined now, like it’s been turned into a maze built from pillows: a child’s dream fort. Roses and rose petals litter the floor. The scent of that same flour hangs heavy in the air along while a jazz band plays from the lounge’s main stage. All of the band members are comely. All of them are naked except for crisscrossing red leather straps that do more to emphasize their charms than conceal them.

Antoine Savoy reclines on a seat in front of the musicians with an easy grin. Mélissaire smiles by his side. Assorted Kindred are gathered about, including Veronica, Pietro, Harlequin, Shep Jennings, Reynaldo Gui, Arthur Duchamps, Laura Melton, Laura Ravenwood, Emerson Newhouse Hearst, Elias Tremaine, Corey and Zofia (of the High Rollers), Edith Flannagan, several other Kindred Jade doesn’t immediately recognize, and many more ghouls.

“…but you aren’t hear to listen to me talk. You’re here for a good time! Well, we’ll just see if my people can oblige,” the French Quarter lord grins.

“Mr. Gui, if you’ll kindly do the honors?”

“On your marks,” smirks the Ventrue.

“Get set…”

He raises his hands.

“Go!”

Clap.

Suddenly, it hits Jade’s nose. Makes her fangs go sharp and stiff in her mouth. Blood. A panoply of mortals materialize, seemingly from thin air. All of them are dressed in the same revealing red leather garb as the musicians, with the addition of some strategically placed gauzy silk. Jade’s eyes are immediately drawn to the glistening red cuts along their arms and legs before a thick cloud of scarlet fog fills the air, obscuring the Toreador’s sight. Bare footsteps smack against floor as voices scream and cry.

Heavier footsteps immediately thump after then as excited snarls and growls fill the air. Bodies shove and jostle against Jade’s, making her Beast snarl dangerously.

The hunt is on.

And so is the party.

Celia: Red everywhere. Red roses, red lighting, red pillows, red curtains, red leather. Crimson, claret, carmine, scarlet, ruby, garnet. A dozen various ways to refer to the same sanguine hue. The color of life, isn’t it, for all that the ancient Egyptians thought that it was green. Red flows through the veins of all creatures. It’s what makes their hearts beat, what nourishes their muscles to make them contract and expand, what delivers the much-needed oxygen to the brain.

More than all of that, though, it’s what feeds the Beast. The snarling, snapping, yowling thing inside of each of then. You can do anything with Blood, someone had once told her.

Jade’s Beast comes howling to the surface when faced with such delicious, bountiful fare. Not hungry, though, just greedy; Jade gives it a mental pat and it settles down at her promise to sate its voracious hunger. She imagines it as a green-eyed tiger sitting on its haunches, tail flicking back and forth while it licks its chops and waits to feast.

So much red, and before the night is through there will be more yet. On her. In her.

First, though, she has to catch it.

The thick haze of smoke obscures her vision, but she does not need to see to hunt. The band’s music flutters through her veins as she moves, guided by the smell of blood, the sound of hysterical breathing, the pitter-patter of human feet against the floor.

Different sorts of predators hunt in different ways. Bears, she knows, are opportunistic: they’ll take whatever comes their way, the first thing that they come across. Felines are focused predators: they pick a target and they stalk it until they can take it down. So, too, does Jade operate; she picks her mark from among the scents of blood that hit her nose and stalks after the panicked footfalls that take it across the room, always just a step behind. She hisses and growls when it thinks to turn back into the fray. When it tries to duck away she reaches out to shove it back, listening to its shriek. Only when she smells the saline leaking from its eyes does she finally pounce.

GM: Jade’s Beast finds someone. She doesn’t know who. All she smells is their blood—and their fear. She tackles their struggling, sweating, all-but naked body onto a cushion before she’s rudely bulled aside. Another vampire sinks his fangs into the kine and drinks ravenously. His arms are bound behind his back with a black armbinder, and his muscular body is otherwise naked except for a dog collar and leash. He’s missing his cock and balls. There’s just a scabbed-over mass of scar tissue where it used to be.

The effectively armless vampire is a thoroughly messy drinker. He snaps his jaws several times over the screaming figure’s thick thighs and stomach (female, as she also lacks a cock) and spills blood all over his chin when he feeds. He doesn’t care. He gulps down blood by the mouthful, clearly trying to take as much as he can, as fast as he can, before his leash’s holder gives the tether a sharp yank.

“That’s all you get, bitch. Don’t you even think about your owner?”

Celia: But she does know who. That missing cock and balls can only belong on one lick; she and Veronica have discussed how she’d like Jade to smooth him over so he can’t grow it back anymore. Coco’s other childe.

The name of the Brujah primogen, even in her head, floods her with irritation. Both of her childer are incapable of not causing problems. Jade’s claws come out, thick talons that itch to rake down his back at the affront, but she resists the impulse. Her lips curl in amusement instead when he is rudely yanked away. Let Veronica keep his leftovers, then; there’s other prey to be found.

Jade slips away in pursuit of another vessel.

GM: Jade’s purported sire steps through the smoke. She’s dressed tonight in a black leather bra and thong that resemble a porcupine’s quills: the surface is almost totally covered in silver-colored metal spikes. Some gauzy strips of silk drift around her hips. Her thigh-high leather boots are dotted with spikes too around the shoe proper, and have single long silver spikes for the heels. They must be murder on any floor, but Jade doubts the other Toreador cares.

She falls on the struggling, yelling kine and drinks her fill.

They had discussed removing Micheal’s cock for good. Veronica had said the idea was “very tempting” for Jade to give him an actual vagina. One that he could wake up to every night and know this was eternity.

On the other hand, “It’d mean I can’t listen to him scream anymore when I rip it off.”

Celia: Far be it from her to deny her sire the screams she so desires. She had suggested, though, that Veronica could keep his cock and balls as a little souvenir if she wanted, and fuck him with it if he ever truly displeased her.

GM: Leaving the harpy and her bitch to their feast, Jade sprints off deeper into the scarlet maze. She can hear the sounds of thumping footsteps, hammering hearts, and alternately terrified screams and wantful moans amidst the feasting. The smell of blood hangs everywhere, an aphrodisiac driving her Beast on in its hunt. There’s a flash of skin, through the smoke. Dark skin. Jade tackles the warm body down onto a cushion, leans in to bite—and feels her fangs sink into cushion.

Mere feet away, Pietro drinks from a blissfully moaning dark-skinned vessel underneath him.

He always has preferred the taste of stolen things.

Celia: Claws sink into the cushion beneath her, shredding through it. The sound of ripping fabric does little to assuage her. Dark thoughts swirl through her mind, things she’d like to do to the thief for stealing from her. She reins it in. She could join him, she thinks, it isn’t like they haven’t shared before, then swiftly escalate from feeding to fucking. Smack him around for stealing and call it foreplay. Tempting.

She edges nearer.

GM: The vessel, another girl, gasps with ecstasy from underneath Pietro. His hands lithely knead and massage the tips of her nipples as he feeds from her neck.

Celia: She remembers those hands. The way he’d touched her like that before, that night they’d met in the bar. Chase and Cici on the kitchen counter. Again, later, in her mom’s temporary house when he and the green-eyed goddess had shared her. If it were possible for her to do so she’d salivate at the thought. As it is a shudder runs down the length of her spine. Her own nipples stiffen beneath the black dress. She kneels on the floor and sinks her fangs into the girl’s thigh.

It’s not like she’s here for the kine, anyway.

GM: Pervert, he’d probably say if he could see her nipples. They aren’t nearly so dead as his flaccid cock.

But he looks busy.

The girl’s blood is sour with fear and sweet with lust. Sweet and sour, like teriyaki. The sour is bold and strong: this fear is for her own life, that most primal of all fears. It must have been induced quickly. It’s a good sour and a classic flavor of fear, though Jade has heard from Kindred who prefer the taste of slow-building dread or even specific phobias. The blood’s sweetness, though also strong, is cheap, unsubtle, and rather too strong, like someone poured sugar all over teriyaki. The girl’s lust is entirely due to the kiss rather than any natural arousal she’s feeling. There’s a faint undertaste of a more subtle, better sweetness, though: there’s a reason Pietro is massaging her nipples. It’s the same reason he fucked Cici over the counter. Real lust always tastes better.

Celia: Easy to tear something down when you don’t understand it.

She almost feels sorry for them, the licks who had to give up the pleasure of sex because they died. Sure, sure, they can talk all they want about how it’s all about the blood now, but Jade knows the truth: they’re jealous. Their cocks and cunts don’t work, so they can’t begin to fathom the double ecstasy of blood and sex at the same time.

She drinks from the girl. She doesn’t take much. She’d never been one for Asian dishes, and the forced, syrupy sweetness of the blood reminds her too much of the hunter who’d fucked her earlier. Something burnt to the taste, too, but that’s what happens when you go black, isn’t it?

Jade takes her fill and slides away. She’ll throttle Pietro later. Right now she wants her own writhing, gasping mortal to play with.

GM: She sprints deeper into the maze, the red LED lights bathing her skin crimson. Raucous jazz plays in the background, egging her on even if the heady traces of blood in the air weren’t already doing so.

But unclaimed vessels appear at a premium. She spots Edith Flannagan on the cushions having her way with another moaning black girl (that makes 3/3 vessels thus far who were black girls). The Caitiff seems like a less thoughtful lover than Pietro, though, and isn’t bothering with any nipples. She’s simply buried her face in the girl’s neck and gotten to work.

Celia: Silly to only bring enough vessels for a few, isn’t it? It’s just here that they’re at a premium. Jade moves deeper into the maze. She knows what she would do if she were a mortal here; she’d find a quiet, out of the way place to hide and bunker down until it was over. Breathe slowly. Burrow under a pile of cushions. Nothing to do about the heartbeat or the blood, maybe, but someone might fall for it. She slows her steps, listening for the sound that will give them away.

GM: The heartbeats and fresh blood are the giveaways. The kine might think they’re safe, might think they can hide, but they’re not and they can’t. Jade hears the telltale thump-thumping and smells the coppery tang of blood wafting from just behind one of the ‘wall’ cushions.

The blood smells like blood.

But the thump-thumps sound like two sets.

Celia: Silly mortals, fabric will never be enough to keep the monsters from finding you. That whole ‘blanket over the head’ trick only works when you’re a child.

She’s intrigued, though, that she managed to find not one, but two hiding vessels. Everyone who had stolen from her or bullied her out of the way is missing out with their easy catch. So much better to come across them like this when they think they’re safe. She can already taste it.

Jade finds the gap in the “wall.” She slides through it to join them.

GM: She sees a man and a woman dressed in the same skimpy attire as the event’s other vessels. Both look in their 20s and, once again, are black. She can smell their fear off the sweat dripping down their backs. They are pressed flat to the building’s actual wall as they hide behind the mattress-like cushions. It’d be a good hiding spot, if not for the fact that any Kindred would find it laughably easy to smell or hear them.

They freeze like deer in headlights when they see Jade.

Celia: Jade flashes a smile.

Then she hits them with it: that thing that makes people adore her. The thing that oozes out of her in waves. Sensuality. Sexuality. Power. She’s so pretty, isn’t she? Wouldn’t they like to play with her? She extends a hand.

GM: The man slowly takes Jade’s hand with an awestruck expression.

“Please help us…” the woman whispers, her eyes wide.

Celia: “I will,” Jade tells the woman. She pulls herself close to the man who has taken her hand as the words leave her lips. She will help. She’ll help them feel good. Really good. So good it’ll leave them aching for more even as the blood drains from their body. She knows; she’s been there before.

She lets the man put his arms around her. She likes that. Likes it in a way the rest of her kind don’t. Her mouth presses against his bared chest, his neck. His pulse flutters beneath his skin, dances against her lips. So easy to just bite down and take what she wants. To just… sink her teeth in. But the taste of that other woman lingers on her tongue; sweet and sour, adrenaline and lust. She’s looking for something… better.

She turns in his arms, her shapely body brushing up against his. A little wiggle of hips, what’s not to like? Jade is pretty. Really pretty. Her dress is so suggestive, too, so short. It’s just a sex party, isn’t it? He can touch. He should touch. Doesn’t he want to touch? She’s so… alluring, so human. She’s even warm. Can’t he feel her heart?

Her eyes find the woman’s. She extends a hand, taking hold of her wrist, pulls her close. His arms around Jade. Jade’s arms around her. A little chain of affection hidden behind the cushions.

“It’ll be okay,” Jade whispers. One hand slides through her hair, the other tilts her chin back. Jade trails kisses from her temple to her cheek to her lips. “No one can see,” she murmurs against the woman’s mouth, “it’s safe back here. So clever, hiding like that.” She kisses the woman’s neck then has her spin, her back to Jade, one arm around her stomach. Her fingers travel lightly over her body, brushing against the sensitive skin beneath her breasts, trailing in ever-smaller circles around her nipples. She doesn’t touch them, not yet, just suggests that she might by the way her hands move.

“Just stay quiet,” she breathes into the shell of her ear, “it’s only us three back here.” Safe.

GM: Jade’s second wave of supernal charm washes over the still-anxious pair like an irresistible tide.

The effect is immediate. The man is more direct in his affections, like men so often are, and eagerly kneads Jade’s breasts from behind her. She spots the faintest surprise on his face when he feels the bare skin of her underboob, thanks to the dress’ risque cut (she supposes the kine man can’t appreciate it in the dark, even if she wasn’t facing away). It’s a pleasant surprise. His hands work around the dress, feeling for the fabric’s edges to pull aside. He pulls Jade away from the girl so he can suck her breasts, his tongue hungrily flecking over the stiffened nipples.

The woman whimpers with pleasure at Jade’s delicate, teasing touch. The Toreador can already smell how aroused she is. Irritation briefly flashes across her face as the man takes Jade’s magical fingers away, but the expression doesn’t last long before she gets to her knees and plants her face between Jade’s legs. Alana didn’t include any underwear with the dress. The woman slowly kisses and licks the skin around the Toreador’s crotch, mimicking Jade’s teasing touch as she draws steadily closer to the other woman’s clit.

Celia: Now this is the sort of treatment she came for. Not to be tossed aside and stolen from. This adoration, this worship… yes, Jade can get behind this. Or… well, between it, as it were.

Her nails lengthen, sharpen, and shred the dress. She’ll find another. She doesn’t want to be bothered by the material, doesn’t need it to get in the way. The black fabric flutters to the ground, landing in a heap beside the woman on her knees. Just as she likes it. Her head tilts back, nails disappearing back into her fingers so she can run the soft digits through the woman’s hair. She makes encouraging noises as the woman’s tongue finally finds the spot she wants.

GM: The woman’s kisses trace Jade’s pubic lips. Her tongue ducks in and out of the Toreador’s womanhood, sampling her juices, before her licks and kisses finally arrive at Jade’s little nub. She seems like she could pleasure the other woman’s sweetest spot for a while, but the man seems to get tired of sucking Jade’s breasts. He kneels behind her, his tongue flecking in and out her asshole to get it as wet as he can, before she abruptly feels his cock filling her rear hole. He wraps his arms around her chest, holding her tight as he humps her ass.

Celia: There’s no pain. Not like last time someone had tried this move on her, when she’d been bent over his lap so he could deliver nineteen (twenty-three) smacks to her ass before he had shoved himself roughly inside. No warning. No prep. No, her current partner is more considerate, using his tongue and saliva as a lubricant to ease his way inside so that when he begins to fuck her it brings the enjoyment, the pleasure, that it’s meant to.

Jade can’t help the noises that she makes. Low, primal, purring and hissing and growling by turn, nothing more than a cat in heat caught between these two creatures that give her everything she’s ever wanted. She comes apart in their arms. Undone. Shiver, shuddering, climax after climax that (if she were mortal) would leave her breathless and gasping and panting for more. But Jade isn’t mortal. She doesn’t need air. She just cries out, again and again, as they take her to the edge and over.

Only when the fourth—fifth?—rips through her does she lift the woman from between her legs, press a kiss against her lips to taste herself—and oh, what a mess she made down her chin and chest, her dark skin glistening under the red light with evidence of Jade’s pleasure. She pushes her back against the wall, converging on her with all the hunger of her kind, teasing her with hand and mouth to bring her toward her own release. The man moves with her, humping away, and Jade finally sinks her teeth into the dusky little minx.

GM: The woman’s blood is sweet. So sweet. It’s full of lust. There’s a faint artificial tinge to it, the kind star mode usually leaves, but it’s only faint. It’s leagues beyond the vessel Pietro fed on. The woman’s arousal is real. It’s the difference between sugar dumped over teriyaki and a fruit plucked at natural sweet ripeness. Jade can taste the lust. Drink it into herself. Even as the man continues to busy himself in her ass, she feels like she’s swallowing a second orgasm down her throat. It’s a peak that lasts for as long as she drinks. Why would she ever want to stop?

Celia: It’s always worth getting them in the mood.

Jade drinks. The woman writhes beneath her as soon as she begins to slurp at the red deluge that drips from her neck. Jade’s lips fasten around it, the taste sweet on her tongue. Intoxicating. How easy it would be to drain the life from this vessel, to take all of her delightful self into Jade’s body, to extract every last drop, to feed the Beast inside of her so that it is nothing but a sated, lazy thing curled in her chest.

But… no, she will not be the reason her grandsire has a mess to clean up. And besides, there are others who might enjoy the true taste of rapture that Jade has coaxed out of these two fine specimens. It does not take long for her to hit her limit. She licks the woman’s neck to close the bloody holes and nibbles at her ear. All the while the man is buried inside of her, thrusting, thrusting, thrusting—until she twists, leaving him humping the air with his erect cock, a look of confusion on his face at the sudden loss of Jade’s offered promise. Still aroused, still needy and wanting, Jade wraps her hand around his length to help keep him in the mood.

But only a moment. She does not let him finish. She slows her stroking, leaning up to press her lips against his ear.

“Come with me,” she murmurs, “come with me and let me show you off, let me show them how lovely you are, let me show them your magnificent form, your strength, your grace; come with me so I can give you the release you so crave, so I can return tenfold the joy you’ve brought me.”

She moves his arms so that they are around her once more. She even lets him rub against her as she turns to the woman, pulling her close as well, to whisper the same sort of encouragement in her ear.

GM: The woman moans and shudders as Jade withdraws. Her eyes take a moment to focus. More than a few moments.

“They’ll… they’ll kill us…” she whispers.

But it’s such a weak-sounding defense against Jade’s strong and seductive words. It isn’t like the poetry and prose that spills from her perfect lips. It’s just whining. It’s small.

It’s also belied by the color flushing the woman’s cheeks and the wetness between her legs.

Some flies try to resist the spider.

The man, though, just nods raptly, his breath coming short and fast as Jade strokes his cock.

“Yeah… sounds… good…”

Celia: Jade strokes a hand down the woman’s cheek. She leans in again, lips against her neck, nuzzling this woman with as much affection as she knows how to give. It’s more than enough for most people. Two fingers slip inside of her, coaxing her closer toward the promised release.

“They won’t,” Jade murmurs, “I’ll be right there with you.”

Flush with their blood, it’s almost easy to see her as human herself. She’s certainly warm enough, breathes just like them, has a pulse. Her hand slides free, fingers taking the woman’s wrist once more, giving her a gentle tug. She takes the man by the other hand and works her way toward the slit in the cushions she’d entered through to find a worthy recipient.

GM: The woman must be most people.

She moans softly under Jade’s fingers, then just nods her head and takes the Toreador’s hand.

Celia: Vessels in hand, Jade stalks from their hiding place. She keeps a tight grip on both of them, leading them through the maze of cushions, pillows, and… well, that feels like a dead body there, or at least an unconscious one. Jade guides them well away from it so they do not lose their nerve. Every few steps she pauses to press a kiss against one or the other, teases them with mouth or fingers to keep their libido aflame.

Thick fog still obscures the Evergreen, but Jade had not needed her eyes to find these two, and she does not rely on them now. She searches with her other senses, uses the Beast to track down those like her, listens for the sound of jazz to guide her back to the main room where she assumes most of the guests had halted after they’d found their easy prey.

GM: She finds Veronica in one of the ‘chambers’ by the main area ramming the spiked heel of her shoe up Micheal’s asshole. His arms flop around uselessly in the armbinder as he howls and thrashes, but Shep Jennings still pins him to the floor by his waist and neck. He doesn’t even get to lie on a cushion. The other two Kindred both laugh.

“Scream like a bitch and get treated like a bitch, is that so hard to grasp?” sneers the harpy.

She jerks her foot around. Blood trickles down the Brujah’s exposed crack as he screams into the floor.

Jade remembers how much Paul liked it when she bled from there. He wouldn’t even use lube when he did it up her butt.

“Whores like you exist to be used, Celia. Your comfort doesn’t matter,” he’d said.

He liked it when she screamed. When she cried.

Celia: The sight of it doesn’t make her sick—she doesn’t have that sort of gag reflex anymore. But she isn’t interested in lingering. It’s ultimately possible that Veronica and Shep will kill these mortals, and while she certainly isn’t opposed to that (it’s not like she knows them), she has no interest in handing them over to Veronica to be used like… like the Brujah. She can’t even think his name. He’s only ever called “bitch” anymore.

Jade shoves the memories of Paul from her mind. She isn’t his whore anymore. She was never his. It was someone else, the other girl. She won’t let the thought of him bring her to her knees. Or think about how he’d put her on her knees. Bent over. Taking it like—

She tugs the mortals along before they can catch a glimpse.

GM: “Oh my god, what’s that—someone’s screaming,” the woman pales as Jade pulls her away from the smoke-enshrouded scene.

Celia: Jade pulls her close, presses her lips against the woman’s throat, runs her hand in little circles across her wrist. Calm, soothing gestures.

“He broke the rules,” Jade tells her, “you’re okay, sweetheart.”

It’s why they’re moving away from the screaming.

GM: The woman’s eyes swim under Jade’s supernal mien. She looks like she might want to say something, then just nods along.

“Can we… can we help him?”

Celia: Better this way. Better she says nothing and just follow along. Jade tugs her closer, though; she doesn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, doesn’t want someone to snatch her up. She’d said they wouldn’t kill her. She’d promised. Arm around her waist instead of her hand, fingers stroking her hips in long, slow gestures. It’s okay, those fingers tell her.

She pauses at the question.

GM: “C’mon, let’s go! So we can have… tenfold joy,” says the man, his tongue clumsily moving over Jade’s earlier words as his eyes shine.

Celia: Jade had wondered that same thing. If there is a way to help the Brujah. Distract his mistress with a new playtoy, maybe, but she doesn’t think that’s going to net her a positive outcome in the long run. She’s not interested in alienating Veronica or Shep when she’s frequently around both; the former as her “sire” and one of the harpies, the latter because she occasionally runs with his krewe.

“Not tonight,” Jade tells her, pulling her along. Pulling them both along, the eager and the uneager alike.

GM: And after all, Micheal’s own sire hasn’t lifted a finger to help him. Roderick had admitted he and his elder brother-in-blood were never that close. “He called me Coco’s pet a few times and we just never hit off. And it made me think of your relationship with your parents, actually, insofar blood can mean a lot… but it doesn’t always.”

“Like a lot of things, it’s what we make of it.”

Celia: Like her relationship with her own sire. Blood could mean something. It could mean everything.

And it does. To her.

Just not to him.

Not that she’d been able to share that with Roderick. She’d just nodded her head, made some vague comments about being close to Veronia and Pietro both (that’s blood too), and had let him change the subject.

She looks for another of her kind, whispering words of encouragement to the boy and the woman she has with her.

GM: Exiting the “pillow fort,” she finds an orgy unfolding in the center of the Evergreen. Kindred lovers alternately ravish or lounge about with their vessels over increasingly wet-looking cushions as the band plays on. Throaty moans, wantful cries, and the odd shriek of pain provide an accompanying soundtrack to the jazz. The LED lights bathe everything scarlet. The twin perfumes of roses and vitae hang heavy in the air. Crimson bacchanalia reigns.

Celia: It’s enough to make her fangs lengthen in her mouth again. She wants to dive into the pile of bodies in the middle of the room, to demand the attention she’s entitled to as the most stunning, most alluring, most beautiful Kindred in the city. She can simply start in a corner and fuck her way to the middle if she’s so inclined.

Her eyes dart toward the stage, where her grandsire sat with Mel at the beginning of the party. If she fails to find him she looks toward the writhing bodies instead, searching for one of her preferred partners.

GM: There’s Pietro, with his tongue between a moaning girl’s legs. Priming her for the real action. Reynaldo Gui, finally choosing pleasure over business, has another girl’s legs over his shoulders as he pleasures her with his fingers. He must not be willing to expend the precious blood to get his member hard. Harlequin isn’t unusual for the fact he remains fully clothed (the Kindred guests range across the spectrum in their states of undress), but even his mask is still on. Jade isn’t sure how he’s feeding, but the vessel he’s with, a comely young man, seems to be enjoying himself if the sounds he’s making are any indication. Many of the other regulars to Savoy’s court are present, locked in the throes of passion with mortal vessels or one another. The mass of bodies heaves and shudders with pleasure.

Celia: The hypocrisy is staggering.

Gui and Pietro both using tongue or fingers on their vessels to get them in the mood so that their blood is flavored the right way. It’s like adding salt or pepper to a dish; it’s a necessary part of feeding, and they (almost) all do it. Why, then, do they look down on her for enjoying the process? Why gripe and grouse about it if it’s simply a fact of (un)life now?

Christ. No wonder licks are so fucking miserable.

She’d been looking forward to smacking Pietro around. Has been fantasizing about Gui since their first flirtatious exchange. It’s been years of foreplay now and not once have they sealed the deal, despite what rumor claims. She can’t help but think of what she really wants. Who she really wants. It’s a poor host who leaves his own party, she muses. No sign of Preston, either (not that she expected her at an orgy), and Lebeaux is otherwise occupied. That last one is a real shame, too. She’s pretty sure she could show him a good time if he ever let his hair down.

No, the licks she wants to fuck aren’t here. Who does that leave? The masked harpy, Flannagan, The Rollers, that street magician, a handful of nobodies…

She could snag one of those unfamiliar faces maybe, make a new friend. Make a handful of new friends. She’s never minded being shared, has she?

But, there. A welcome sight. Adrieux and Melton on adjacent cushions.

Jade’s heels click against the floor as she strides toward them. It’s all she wears now, her dress long since shredded, and she keeps a hand on either human she has claimed as her own. She flops onto the pillows between the two licks and pulls both mortals down with her, the male to her side and the woman on her lap.

“My two favorite wolves, and me with an extra to share.”

GM: Roxy rolls over from her partner, a spent-looking black man with closed eyes whose breath comes in low gasps. The first of the two Gangrel is naked except for her panties. The pupils of her eyes don’t dilate so much as narrow, until they’re slit like an alligator’s, as she smiles at Jade’s man.

“Look at this one! He’s in the mood, I can smell it on him…” she murmurs, sniffing deeply of his hair.

The man just grins and squeezes her breasts, seemingly uncaring of the Gangrel’s eyes.

“Yeah, you bet I’m in the mood…”

Laura, a short blonde with wavy hair, giggles and runs a hand along the cheek of Jade’s woman. Her own partner is a caucasian woman who looks just as spent as Roxy’s.

“This one smells all shy…” She giggles and stares at the woman’s crotch. “But wet, too…”

Celia: Her eyes move to the boy, amusement at his antics curling up the corners of her lips. She wonders how many men have lost a hand for attempting the same thing with Roxy. Jade leans in to whisper to him, asking if he wants her friend to show him a good time. She nudges him toward the Gangrel.

“She’s very shy,” Jade confirms to Laura, attention drawn back to the squirming woman on her lap, “but so sweet, and so eager to please. Aren’t you, darling?” Jade nuzzles the back of the woman’s neck. Her lips pull back from her teeth, fangs exposed, and she trails them down the black flesh. A pair of tiny slits appear in the wake of those sharp points. Blood wells in the rivets of her flesh and Jade laps at it with her tongue. Her hands slide down her body, coaxing her thighs apart with a gentle touch. She makes a motion at Laura with her hand, a gesture for her to take her fill. She’s sharing, after all.

GM: The man hardly needs Jade’s encouragement to start pulling at Roxy’s underwear. The Gangrel, though, looks rather less interested in having a cock inside her than Jade. The man’s hand falls away as her fangs sink into his neck. He gasps and moans against his partner as she wraps her arms around him, grinding herself against his body. Someone seems to be enjoying the flavor Jade worked so hard to cultivate.

The woman perhaps starts to answer, but under the vampire’s kiss and teasing touch, all she replies with is a soft moan. Laura giggles again.

“Don’t worry, little thing, I’ll treat you nice…”

She slides her fingers up the woman’s pussy and bites down over her breast. To an onlooker, it might just look like she’s sucking the nipple, but Jade can smell the scent of flowing blood. The woman closes her eyes and gasps with pleasure, her other nipple immediately stiff.

Celia: Everyone looks less interested in having a cock inside of them than Jade.

They’re missing out, really, but she doesn’t blame them for it. Their skin and nerves are dead. They don’t get the same sort of pleasure from it that she does, the moisture pooling between their legs, the flutter in their stomach. She’s so much more alive than them that it hurts.

She’s happy to reap the rewards, though. The sweet flavor of the blood on her tongue from her vessels, none of that fake, corn syrup taste that comes from star mode or the Kiss itself.

She’s an artist. A pleasure artist. A beauty artist. So unappreciated by those who simply fail to understand. Like someone who eats instant ramen or hot pockets. Or someone who uses boxed broth rather than learning to make their own.

Not her problem, really.

She watches her two vessels feed the Gangrel. Her own nipples are hard from where the woman writhes on her lap beneath Laura’s kiss, and it isn’t long before the Toreador wants more than the blood of the mortal. She shifts the moaning girl aside and nuzzles her cheek against Laura’s, running a fang along the blonde’s shoulder in an almost-kiss.

She waits only seconds before her fangs penetrate the Gangrel’s skin, drawing the blood she seeks forth. She lets it cool before she laps it up from the surface of her skin, feeding on her while she feeds from the writhing, moaning mortal.

GM: The sensation there swiftly draws the other vampire’s attention. Laura breaks off from the girl to bite the skin above Jade’s breasts. She peppers the Toreador with one tear and puncture wound after another, giving the blood from each one time to cool. When she’s finished her initial handiwork, Jade’s chest is smeared red. The Gangrel happily falls on it, licking and sucking the surface clean like a bloody canvas.

She only gets too for so long, though, before Roxy yanks back her hair and throws her clanmate off. She buries her own face against Jade’s chest, nuzzling her nose against the wet skin as her tongue methodically laps up every bit of red.

Laura growls, fangs fully on display, and kicks Roxy hard in the ribs. The shorter-haired Gangrel hits a cushion as the blonde tries to get back to Jade’s tits. Roxy yanks her away by her leg. The two snarling Gangrel look about to fight.

Celia: It’s a fight that doesn’t need to happen, though. Jade is happy to be shared. Enjoys it, even, after her introduction to their society so long ago. Sharing is just another way of showing affection.

Jade’s lips pull past her own fangs, and she bites into her wrist. Offers it to Roxy, then falls upon the blonde, biting and licking and suckling at her chest. She yanks Roxy in after a moment, trails her fangs across her cheek in what passes for a kiss in their society, then sinks her fangs into the Gangrel’s shoulder. She drinks, lapping at the blood after it has a moment to cool, then shifts her attention to the blonde to do the same. The Toreador tops them both while they let her, alternating her attention between the two.

GM: At Jade’s benedictious offering, the quarreling Gangrel cease her feud. They fall on her, sucking her wrists, biting her arms, raking claws along her chest. In short order, Jade is tenderly running her hands through their hair as both outlanders bury their faces against her breasts. Their tongues lap at the blood cooling over each tit like tamed hounds.

The man tries to get back into the action a few times, but the Gangrel impatiently kick him away. He slakes his lusts on the woman instead, pumping and thrusting into her from beside Jade.

She tries to push him off and get closer to the three vampires, but he makes an annoyed sound and holds her down against the cushions as he fills her.

Celia: And tamed hounds they are. Nothing but little beasties that need someone like Jade to keep them in line. She’s happy to be their keeper, their benefactor, their master. At least for this moment of bliss, at least.

She writhes beneath them, just another lick caught up in the ecstasy of the kiss, happy to be fed upon by twin mouths at her breasts. She bites them each in turn, drinking her fill from the wolves at her teat, happy to be shared between the pair. They bite, lick, suck, snarl, and Jade gives as good as she gets. Their cushion is wet with blood by the time she and the wolves have slaked their lusts. Jade is content to stretch out on her back while they continue to nuzzle her breasts, though the moment is ruined when the mortals at her side catch her attention.

The woman said no.

She doesn’t want him, she wants Jade, or Laura, or Roxandra, and he isn’t listening.

It’s an ugly word she can’t help but think. Jade has been there before. Has been held down against her will, forcibly penetrated, taken, like she gets no say in the matter.

Jade only has to twist to yank the man off of her, snarling in his face to cow him.

The bitch is hers.

GM: Maybe it was Jade’s glamor earlier. Maybe he just really didn’t notice, amidst the red fog and hazy lighting. But with the vampire’s LED-painted face howling in his face, fangs fully distended, the man gives a yelp and starts to go limp in his cock.

“What the fuck…!”

Roxy sniffs deeply of his hair. “Oh, he’ll taste different… scare him a lot, or a little…?”

The woman scrambles away as Jade pulls the man off. Laura pushes her onto another cushion, pulls the struggling kine’s legs open, and busies her mouth between them.

“Relax, just relax, let me get you back in the mood…”

Celia: She waits only a moment to make sure that the woman is well in hand, spread open in front of Laura with the lick’s head buried between her thighs, before her attention returns to the man. Presumptuous, unworthy piece of trash.

“A lot,” she says to Roxy, “really get that dread-induced fear going.” She trails the tips of her nails down his chest, her lips curved up in a saccharine smile that does nothing to warm her eyes. Her fingers wrap around his swiftly softening cock, and she leans in to whisper in his ear.

“Put it where it isn’t invited again and I’ll remove it for you.”

GM: The man just stares at Jade’s mouth, then her hands.

He swiftly nods.

It’s harder to make out under the red lights, but his face seems to have distinctly less color.

Celia: She pats his cheek, then gives him a squeeze.

“There’s a good boy.”

She got what she came for, anyway.

Jade gives a little wave to Laura as she turns away—not that she sees it with her head buried in the woman’s snatch as it is—and slides close to Roxy to nuzzle her cheek. She tells the Gangrel she’ll see her later, to enjoy the boy, and melts into the crowd to find another playmate.

The cowboy, perhaps, or the thief. Maybe the host himself if he’s decided to rejoin his own party.

GM: She finds Pietro deeper in the maze of cushions. He’s abandoned his mortal toy for Reynaldo Gui. The two half-naked vampires are locked in one another’s sanguine embrace as they growl, kiss, and tear at one another’s blood-painted skin. There’s also a third set of seemingly extraneous pants on the ground next to them.

Celia: Or both.

Both is good.

Both is great, even. Jade sandwiched between Pietro and Reynaldo? She’ll take it. She’s already fantasizing about it. She stops to enjoy the sight. Some part of her wonders who the third set of pants belongs to, but the curiosity is driven from her at a growl and fresh spray of blood from one of her two marks. Jade stalks forward to join them.

GM: There isn’t much talking. Or, actually, any talking. They see she’s already naked. They pull her in. Pietro isn’t a new lover for Jade: she’s fucked him as a breather, as a renfield, and as a lick. She’s not sure how many more ways (or at least states of being) there are to have fucked him. But familiar doesn’t mean bad. She’s not sure she’s been with anyone as fast, besides her sire, and he wasn’t as inventive. The older Toreador’s tongue feels like it’s everywhere at once across her body, and so is he: licking blood from her nose, from her ears, from her underbreasts, from her thighs, from her asscrack, from her armpits: Pietro usually isn’t as interested in the neck or the wrist. “You can’t steal where they’re expecting you.” He bends and twists her like a pretzel to get at all the good places.

It’s hard not to miss his feather-light fingers. He could give her sex organs such pleasure with those. But he’s made the same “pervert” comments as Veronica.

Reynaldo, meanwhile, is a new lover. He feels direct and forceful, yet also vain and preening: the stylized image of a mobster. He 69s with Jade, inviting her to lap blood off his cock (even limp as that is) while he drinks from her inner thigh and Pietro drinks from her ass. When they’re done there, he sinks his fangs into her neck and laps the blood from there as he humps and grinds against her ass. He hoists one of her legs into the air, rips and bites the flesh along her ankle, and laps up the blood flowing down her knee like champagne running down the sides of a bottle. The taste of the Ventrue’s blood makes Jade think of wads of cash stacked in smoke-filled rooms, while scantily clad girls massage thick-muscled guys with tommy guns. It’s a similar flavor to Pietro’s: the enormous ego (though what Ventrue lacks one of those?), the preening vanity, the belief that money makes a man irresistible to women.

It’s a good thing she and Roderick aren’t an item anymore, to be letting this mobster fuck her.

Celia: This is what she came for. Not the gentle caresses of her ghouls, not the flesh ripping of Veronica, but this. Being used, manipulated, bent, twisted, fucked. Pervert, they call her, and she is. She gets off on it just as much as her Beast does, maybe even more so. Pietro won’t put his fingers where she wants them but nothing stops her from using either one of them to relieve the ache, and when it hits her she bites and drinks deeply from one and then the other.

Pietro is an old, familiar taste. The sort of thing she longs for after a hard night, that she can sink into and enjoy. He’s the only one who has kept her attention for the past seven years, the one she keeps returning to. But the Ventrue is new, exciting, fresh. Power, money, danger. She drinks it all down and goes back for more, taking a sick sort of pleasure in finally giving in to something that she considered taboo for so long. Giving herself to a Mafia man. It makes this threesome that much more enjoyable.

A thief, a mobster, and a whore.

It’s a perfect pairing.

GM: An unholy trinity.

Eventually, the trio lies spent and exhausted and painted in one another’s blood (what they haven’t licked off), the cushions wet and coppery-smelling beneath them.

“My name’s Reynaldo, by the way,” the Ventrue quips.

Pietro smirks.

His eyes roam over Jade’s form.

Celia: Jade makes sure that she winds up in the middle of their pile when all is said and done, a lick on either side. Her head rests lazily against Gui’s shoulder, though when she catches Pietro’s eye she lifts her brows.

GM: “I’m admiring the view. What else do you think?”

Celia: “All sorts of wicked things, darling.”

GM: “I don’t doubt you are,” Reynaldo smirks.

“Someone’s missing her clothes. I’m sure Alan would be happy to sell you something,” remarks Pietro.

“Alan’s always happy to sell things,” says Reynaldo.

“True,” replies Pietro.

Celia: “Why would I deny others the sight?”

GM: “All good things come to an end, lush, unless you were planning on showing the whole Quarter your charms,” says Reynaldo, running his hand along her sides.

“Though I suppose you might not stand out that much, next to some of the street people.”

Celia: “This is art, Reynaldo.” Jade entwines her fingers through his, turning to look back at him.

GM: “Oh, she’ll always stand out,” says Pietro, his stroking hands joining the Ventrue’s.

Celia: Jade smirks at the pair of them. She will always stand out. A cut above the rest, isn’t she?

Celia: She takes a moment to preen, to simply soak in the adoration of these two, nestles herself further against Gui while he and Pietro take their sweet time admiring her body.

“Whose pants did you steal, Pietro?” Her eyes flick toward the discarded clothing.

GM: The other Toreador laughs.

“I guess someone knows me.”

“Shep Jennings’.”

Celia: Jade forces a sigh. So much for running into a pantsless Savoy.

GM: “Jealous?” smirks Reynaldo.

“Hardly. Veronica’s the biggest slut I know. But anyone who wants to fuck my cousin should expect some of their things to go missing.”

Celia: “How,” she asks, “did you even get them off of him? Was it a smash and grab? Or were you in and out before he even noticed?”

GM: “Please. Any idiot with two hands can do a smash and grab.”

Celia: “You do turn thievery into an art form.”

“Easy to steal something when its owner is distracted playing master to the cockless wonder, though.” She touches a hand to Pietro’s cheek.

GM: Pietro laughs. “Veronica wants to give him a real vagina, soon. Thinks the novelty of just ripping off his cock is wearing off.”

Reynaldo gives a laugh too. “I’m still amused how fast Kelly’s rep sank. Like a stone.”

“I remember when I first showed up to this city. Everyone was saying what a badass Micheal Kelly was and not to fuck with him. I guess that’s what you call a paper tiger.”

Celia: “Mmm, your cousin had her heel halfway up his ass last I saw. Par for the course, isn’t it? He simply bends over and takes it.”

GM: “She and Savoy have mindfucked him so many times I’m not sure how much mind is even left in there to fuck.” Pietro.

“Bending over and taking it seems par for course, with him.” Reynaldo. “We all might’ve gone on believing he was a badass forever if the Boggs hadn’t burned down his bar. And stuck all their pricks up his ass, of course.”

Celia: “Salt in the wound, isn’t it. Doubt he was even worth the blood.”

GM: “I’m just wondering how he fooled everyone so long. Licks were saying he fought in World War II.”

“He disappeared for a while in the ’40s,” Pietro shrugs.

“You think he faked it?” muses Reynaldo.

“I think that’d have taken too much thinking for him to pull off,” smirks Pietro.

“He probably just got torpored and lied about where he’d been.”

Celia: “His broodmate told me he didn’t know how to spell his own name until a handful of years ago.”

GM: “I can believe that,” says Reynaldo. “Fewer people who knew how to read, when he was breathing. Especially potato eaters. Might have just never learned.”

“I’d be more surprised if he learned how after so long.” Pietro. “But he wouldn’t be alone there. I’m pretty sure Rocco and Meadows don’t know how to read.”

Celia: “You say that like it’s some sort of surprise,” Jade drawls, though her smile takes the sting from her words. She drums her fingers along where Reynaldo’s hand rests on her hip. “Personally I’m impressed by your restraint in moving against him.” She turns her head to regard the Ventrue, one brow lifting.

GM: “I don’t need to move against him, lush,” Reynaldo smirks. “He’ll self-destruct all on his own. You were there for that Elysium, weren’t you?”

Celia: “That means the timing is perfect, sweetheart.”

GM: “I’ve known hotheads like him. Only a matter of time before he does something even more stupid.”

“Could be he’ll win back Vidal’s favor,” Pietro muses. “Though I suppose it’s easier to spiral down than climb up.”

Celia: “Mmm,” Jade says. It’s less of a word than a sound. A musing. An invitation to set their sights higher and kick a man while he’s down.

Like the greedy, backstabbing, self-serving bastards that they all are.

The opportunity is ripe and all that.

GM: They don’t hesitate.

“You hang with Becky Lynne sometimes, don’t you? Are those stories true about the ‘neonate party’ he had?” smirks Reynaldo.

Celia: “Telling, isn’t it, that it’s all he could get.”

GM: “Or all he thought he could handle,” smirks Pietro.

Celia: “All he can handle, no thinking involved.”

GM: “Rarely is with him, if that Elysium’s any indication.” Pietro.

“Wonder if Marcel’s been muscling in on his casino.” Reynaldo.

“He’d probably rip the ‘prince’ a new one if he thought so.” Pietro. “He might be stupid as Kelly, but that one’s even crazier than his sire.”

“Stupid gets itself killed, sooner or later.” Reynaldo. “Crazy just means more collateral damage along the way.”

Celia: “We should really save them the hassle of infighting and just liberate it from him.”

GM: “You got a bone to pick with Rocco, beautiful?” Reynaldo asks, amused.

Celia: “Can’t a lick just want to do something nice for her favorite cowboy?”

GM: “I don’t think you’re a nice girl,” the Ventrue smirks.

“Or lick.”

Celia: “What can I say, Reynaldo, one bout with you and I’m ready to mend my wicked ways.”

GM: “That doesn’t add up. I’m not a nice guy either.”

The Ventrue chuckles.

“I’m not opposed to moving against Rocco, beautiful. He’s bleeding and we all smell the blood in the water. But what’s your interest?”

Celia: Jade takes the opportunity to spin over within the loose circle of his arms, propping her chin up on her hand. She uses the other to pull Pietro closer at her back, keeping the three of them together in an unbroken line of flesh with her at its center, then traces small circles down the Ventrue’s chest and stomach while she considers her words.

“I don’t have a vendetta against him, personally. But I want what he has.”

“And in the game of families, isn’t he your rival?” Her smile turns sharp. “That’s enough for me to want to be the knife in the dark.”

GM: “It’s nothing personal. Just a bigger slice of the pie for me if he no longer gets a piece.” The Ventrue smiles at her delicate touch. “So you want in on the casino business, huh?”

Celia: “I’ve always had a thing for Hold ’Em.”

GM: “You don’t need a casino for that.” He smirks and holds one of her breasts.

Celia: Jade flicks her tongue across her lips.

“No, but I want one. And you want one. And Pietro is interested because we’d be stealing it right out from under their noses, aren’t you, doll?”

GM: “Pietro is getting bored by all the talk about Rocco and casinos,” says the Toreador. “You steal things. People, sometimes. But any lick can ‘steal’ another’s domain.”

Celia: That must be why he’s done so much of it.

GM: “So steal a thing or a person that’ll steal the domain,” says Reynaldo.

“Like what?” Pietro.

“Rocco’s a hothead. Steal something to make him lose his shit again.” Reynaldo. “Do something stupid.”

“Like what?” repeats Pietro.

Celia: “That girl of his. The gloomy one.”

GM: “Bella.”

Celia: Jade waves a hand.

GM: “He’d go apeshit if he lost her,” smirks Reynaldo.

“Pretty old renfield, isn’t she?”

Celia: “That’s what I’ve heard.”

GM: “Yeah. Older than me.” Pietro.

Celia: “Didn’t she belong to Lord Savoy’s sire?”

GM: “Yep.”

“I heard she’s a casquette girl.” Reynaldo.

“That’s bullshit.” Pietro.

Celia: “Value in her, all the same. Plus, darling, think of the bragging rights. Steal her right out from under the outlaw. He thought she was safe. That he’d stolen her. Thinks himself a thief, doesn’t he.”

Jade twists to look at her older clanmate.

“Can’t let them think they’ve won, can we?”

GM: “Didn’t hear he stole her.” Reynaldo.

“He did. From Lord Savoy.” Pietro.

He considers Jade with an amused air.

“All right. I’ll make her go poof. But there’s something you can do for me.”

Celia: “You know I’m game.”

GM: “You ever hear of the Julia Street Panthère?”

Celia: “No.”

GM: “It’s an urban legend.”

Celia: “Enlighten me.”

GM: “A ghost along Julia Street. He has never been seen by any living man, but all the art curators laugh nervously at his name, for only a ghost could steal and replace their precious paintings with the subtlety and stealth that he does. There’s not a security system that can keep him out, nor or a guard that can hear his footfalls. Surely, he can only be a ghost, for no living man could be capable of such impossible burglaries.”

“He’s also me. I’m offended you haven’t heard of him.”

Celia: “I was about to say he sounds familiar.”

“Better, isn’t it, that the masses haven’t heard of you though? Leaves them that much more susceptible to your games.”

GM: “Oh, but they have heard of me.”

“Most of them think I’m just that. An urban legend. A ghost.”

“But there’s this one cop who believes with all his heart and soul that I’m real.”

“His friends laugh at him for it, but he doesn’t care. He’s got a giant hard-on for me that’ll only go away when the Panthère is behind bars.”

Celia: “And you want him… taken out? Disabused of his notion that you’re real?”

GM: Pietro laughs.

“My god, no!”

“He’s the most fun I’ve had in years.”

“I actually have to watch my step around him. Be a little more careful.”

Celia: “You do love a challenge.”

GM: “He stops things from being too easy.”

“And you can always say, ‘why not steal things from licks,’ but he’s a fresh challenge. A different challenge.”

“So if you’re both giving each other hard-ons, what do you want Jade here for?” asks Reynaldo.

“Well, he’s single,” says Pietro. “Every night when he goes to bed, there’s only one person in that bed.”

Celia: “You… want to reward him for a job well done?”

GM: “Hmm. Maybe I should,” the other Toreador muses.

“But no, I want you to fuck with him.”

Celia: “Break his heart?” She smiles at the thought.

GM: He laughs again. “Ah, it’s always a pleasure to work with a professional. Break his heart. Well, why not.”

“I want to add some more spice to our game. Maybe see how well he can still challenge me with a girl like you to distract him.”

Celia: “So you think,” Jade muses, “that he won’t be as on the ball if he’s getting his dick wet.”

GM: “If he is, I’ll be impressed. And maybe then I’d like you to reward him.”

Celia: “You’re making him choose between his long-hated foe and his new woman.”

GM: “Or just how well he can still focus with his dick buried between your thighs.”

Celia: “No one can focus with their dick buried between my thighs, darling. He won’t know which way is up.”

GM: Pietro smirks. “You could also ruin his life a little, if you think that’d be too hard. I don’t need to say there’s all sorts of ways a girl can do that.”

Celia: “Give me his name, Pietro, and he’ll be on his knees in no time.”

GM: “Vinny Cardona.”

“He’s a slim guy. Looks Italian. 30s.”

Celia: “Isn’t he part of a family?” Jade glances at Gui. The last name sounds familiar.

GM: “He is,” says Gui.

“But he’s a cop. Upright sort.”

Celia: As if there’s such a thing.

GM: “I don’t care what happens to him.”

Celia: She looks back to Pietro.

“Done.”

GM: “And you know, if you really don’t think he stands a chance, maybe don’t bring your A-game,” the older Toreador says thoughtfully.

Celia: “Your family?” Jade asks Gui.

GM: He shakes his head.

“Like I’ve said. He’s impressed me,” says Pietro.

Celia: “So distract him, but don’t ruin him.”

GM: “Ruin him if you want to. Just not irreparably. If he does well, he might have a future as my ghoul.”

Celia: Jade gives him a nod. She understands.

GM: “Test him. Challenge him. Make the game more fun.” He smirks. “Isn’t that what we all want?”

Celia: Jade twists again, back to Gui. She leans in, lips pulled back from her mouth to expose the fangs that she trails down Pietro’s cheek. She nips at his lips, then finally pulls back.

“It’ll be done as you say, Mister Thief.”

GM: “I knew I could count on you,” he purrs, his own fangs distending as he traces a feather-light finger across Jade’s back.

“Tell me when you’re finished with him. And Bella’s as good as gone.”

Celia: Jade smiles at the Toreador. A clash of fangs on skin seals the deal between the pair of them. Business and pleasure mix well, regardless of what Gui had once told her. Only when it’s over between the two of them does she turn to regard the mobster once more.

“Once she’s gone and our friend loses his shit, be ready to take the rest of it.”

GM: Gui’s fangs distend at the sight, but he doesn’t attempt to join in. Perhaps taking his own advice.

“So Pietro here steals Bella. Rocco goes crazy. But if you want a piece of the action with the casino, beautiful, what’ll you be doing?”

Celia: Jade doesn’t bare her fangs at him, though she thinks about it. Presumptuous fuck. She’s the reason Pietro is involved in the first place.

She touches a hand to his cheek, then trails it down his throat and back to his chest. She presses herself closer against the Ventrue, head on his chest with Pietro’s arm around her from behind.

She’s quiet for a moment while she considers the options.

“That depends,” she says finally, “on how hostile our takeover will be.”

“More importantly, Reynaldo… what will you be doing?”

“Because, as you’ve seen,” she flashes a smile at him, “I’m rather flexible.”

GM: “I bet you are,” he smirks. “What I do is get Agnello’s crew working for me, once he’s taken out. I can let them keep their old jobs, instead of you having to fight and kill them all. I know how to run Agnello’s crew. I know how to run his casino.”

“So what’ll you do?”

Celia: “That doesn’t quite answer the question of the takeover itself. To get his crew you need to take him out of the picture.” She eyes him, up and down, perfectly blatant about it.

She finally meets his gaze with an arched brow, though she does smile at him.

GM: The Ventrue shrugs. “Could take out a hit on him, but he’s old and tough. Easier if loses his shit in Elysium again. The prince can’t let him off the hook twice. Banished or ash makes no difference, so long as he’s out of the picture.”

Celia: “The first few weeks and months will be rough with the prince breathing down our necks, I imagine. Trying to get the territory back. Sheriff dispatched to take care of the interlopers…”

Jade lifts one shoulder in what might be a shrug.

“I can handle him.”

GM: Gui raises an eyebrow.

“You? The sheriff?”

Celia: “Haven’t you heard? My pussy is magic.”

GM: “Is your pussy hot enough to melt that block of ice?”

Celia: Jade shrugs again.

“Is it your neck on the block if not?”

“You seem to think you’ll just slide in and they’ll bow to you.”

GM: “Guess not. Whatever, then. Rocco out of the picture still a net gain for me.”

“As to that, if it were easy, anyone could do it.”

Celia: “That’s why I brought you in, silly.”

Jade rubs her face against his chest, nuzzles his neck. Makes him feel needed, wanted, desired.

GM: He strokes her hair.

“It sure is. So don’t worry about Rocco’s people. Once he’s out, I can take over Harrah’s fast. I guess it’ll be on you to see if we hold it.”

Celia: “I can hold the sheriff,” she reminds him. “If Meadows comes calling that’s another story. She doesn’t seem as interested in my feminine wiles.”

GM: “We’ll deal with that.”

Celia: “I want the Blackmatch.”

GM: “The capo?”

Celia: “Mhm.”

GM: “Why not, I guess. Blackmatch will be out of his old crew if you want him as your renfield.”

Celia: “Then I suppose we have a deal, don’t we.”

GM: “Few things last.”

Celia: Jade sighs at him.

“Shall I bite you, Reynaldo, to show you how serious I am?”

GM: “First, Rocco going apeshit. Like I said, easiest way to take him out is if he loses control again in Elysium. I can provoke him, but that’d feel like a surer thing with you and your sire lending a hand too. Also stop the prince from putting Rocco’s loss all on one lick’s shoulders.”

“Oh, she’d love to help there,” Pietro smirks.

Celia: “My sire has no lost love for him. I imagine she’ll play ball.”

GM: “I truthfully don’t give a shit about Harrah’s one way or another,” says Pietro, “but if you two want to take it over, you could do worse than to talk with Lord Savoy. I’m sure he’d be happy to help a couple licks extend his territory south.”

Celia: “Planned on it,” Jade says to Pietro. “I was hoping those were his pants you’d found and that he’s naked somewhere further in the maze.”

GM: “Oh, he most surely is.”

Celia: Jade sits up.

“Is he? Surely the two of you don’t mind if I bring this to him, then.”

GM: “Go ahead,” says Reynaldo.

Pietro smirks knowingly. “If you can find him.”

Celia: Jade rolls until she has straddled the Venture, taking his wrists in her hands to pin above his head. She applies very little pressure; he could break free if he wanted to with a thought.

“We’ll discuss further, sweetheart, but until then…” She lifts a wrist to her mouth and sinks her fangs into it, offering it to Gui. If he drinks, she does the same to him.

GM: “All right, lush.”

He takes a draught. Lets her take one from him.

Sealed in red.

“You’ve got yourself a deal.”


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: After the party is over, Mélissaire tells Jade that her grandsire can see her in an hour. She’s free to spend that time as she wills before Savoy receives her at his usual spot at the rooftop garden. Preston is also there.

“It’s never anything less than a delight to see you, my dear, but tonight it’s no small relief as well!” he exclaims after kissing her hand. “Warden Lebeaux filled me in on events with those hunters.”

“The gall of those kine! I’d promise revenge, normally, but from what he tells me you’ve handily seen to that already.”

Celia: Jade doesn’t know where Alana found the dress. It isn’t the flouncy thing that she’d wanted to wear for Savoy, that she’d been planning for days since the original summons came. Nor is it the type of gown she’d wear to Elysium. This is entirely its own thing, a dark, slinky thing that frames her body and hugs her curves, that shows her long, lean legs with every step that she takes through the waist-high slits on the side. Cuffs around her wrist keep the open-topped sleeves in place. The opal sun ring is ever present on her finger.

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As always, Jade dips into a curtsy when she greets her grandsire, batting her lashes at him as he presses a kiss upon her fingers. She smiles for him, then turns to offer Preston her acknowledgment as well.

“Madam Preston, good evening.” Her eyes flit back toward her grandsire. She does not adopt the more familiar pose of perched on his lap as she would were they alone; decorum, her respect for him, and various other warning bells trigger in her mind and keep her at a more formal distance. Would that the steward were not here, though; she’d have liked a moment to be more familiar with the Kindred sitting across from her.

“Please accept my sincerest apologies for missing our meeting last evening, Lord Savoy. Were it not for my untimely adventure I would not have been absent.” She takes the offered chair, inclining her head at his words. “Yes, grandsire, Warden Lebeaux and I have discussed our options regarding their meeting tomorrow.” She doesn’t take credit for cracking the phone and finding out about it. Nor does she presume to ask him for use of a ghoul; Lebeaux said he would handle it, and once this meeting is over she will see to the ghouls in question to twist their features into the proper shape.

GM: “Miss Kalani,” the Malkavian greets with a loo up from her tablet.

Savoy makes a dismissive motion. “The only people who need apologize for your absence last night are the hunters, my dear, and their corpses make better apologies than anything that might come from their lips. They have been growing troublesome, of late.”

Celia: “The warden has implied that I should expect more of that in the future.” She looks between them, the question clear despite her lack of vocal inflection. “The, ah, hunters suggested… something big is coming, though I daresay he has already told you of that as well.”

“I was, unfortunately, unable to obtain more information from the pair that took me, though if we manage to take one alive then I have no doubt they will sing.”

GM: “The Tremere would know that better than any of us,” Savoy smiles at Jade’s second statement. “Fortunately, more intelligence on local hunter activities might be about to fall into our laps. Warden Lebeaux tells me we have you to thank for that.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head in deference, as if to wave off her part in all of this, though she cannot help the satisfied smile that crosses her lips.

“Yes, Lord Savoy. I… am pleased that I was able to turn an unfortunate situation into this opportunity. I was able to crack one of the phones, and the other shouldn’t prove difficult once I find the proper resources.” A pause. There’s no harm in giving credit where credit is due. “Your Mélissaire proved a valuable asset after I neutralized the subjects, and mine helped gather part of the information on location.”

“He told me that he would speak to you about borrowing one of yours to send tomorrow. Has he had that opportunity? I will make myself available after this meeting to transform them appropriately.”

GM: “Excellent,” Savoy smiles. “You can go over the details of all that with him, and hand over the phones too. He can get into the second one while you work.”

“Sir, you had two orders of business to discuss with Miss Kalani,” says Preston.

“Ah yes, that’s right, Nat.” The French Quarter lord’s expression turns sober. “The first one was regarding your sister, Jade. I can’t imagine this has been at all easy for you. What course of action would you recommend, where she’s concerned?”

Celia: Send her to the hunters.

The thought is as immediate as it is snide, though Jade bites her tongue rather than blurt it out. Her jaw clenches, fingers digging into her thighs for just a moment.

“If I may be blunt, my lord?” She waits for his nod before continuing. “Warden Lebeaux mentioned rehabilitation. I wonder if that is even possible given her mental state. If we are loathe to cross the Traditions and bring wrath down upon us,” and here she smiles at Savoy, as if the prince can touch them within the Quarter, “then the only rehabilitation I see possible is to start her with a fresh canvas and a new face. It’s… possible, yes. But…”

Is she a terrible sister? A truly terrible sister?

“Her mind broke long before her Embrace. The fact that she still harbors so much hatred towards me makes me hesitant to release her.”

She meets his eye directly. Her thoughts spill outward, unrestrained. She’s long thought that he could simply look into her head to see her thoughts, though she has never so blatantly tested her theory.

She came after me. Without some degree of safety or anonymity I am loathe to allow her the possibility of doing so again. Following in the wake of the hunters I would not risk further complications until that is resolved.

GM: “It’s a dilemma indeed, my dear,” Savoy muses. “Like yourself, I’m not inclined to allow a neonate loyal to Vidal to simply wander back into his camp. His loss is our gain! But she is your sister, too. Better for everyone, if we could simply convert her to our side and way of thinking.”

“The Storyville Krewe are known for their fanatical loyalty to Vidal, sir, even were Miss Gerlette’s mental state less precarious,” states Preston. “Simplest just to execute her if we cannot utilize her.”

Celia: At least she hadn’t had to be the one to say it.

She should feel something. Guilt, maybe. Or shame. Or… loss. Loss for the sister she’d once held so dear. Loss for what could have been. But life—unlife—isn’t built on could have beens. It’s built on actions. And ever since Isabel took their father’s side in the war between parents, they’ve been on opposite sides.

Some part of her knows that her sister’s decision was survival. Maxen ruled with an iron fist. Better to be on his side and loyal than opposed and crushed, isn’t it?

She blinks back whatever emotion that might bring forth.

“She has a son,” she says finally, “whose father is my father, and hers. Should we seek to make a move against Maxen, we could use him. Prove that the allegations lobbied against him years ago were true.” Pete had told her to avoid anything to do with her father. But in this her hands will be clean. It was only her idea.

An idea that has, no doubt, already occurred to Lord Savoy.

“If you still wish to take him away from your childe,” she adds.

She’ll need to keep herself away from the sheriff until the deed is done, lest he draw the thought from her mind with his… affection.

So timely, that affection. Only when he needs something, or suspects something. Never just for her.

GM: “There is little reason Lord Savoy should not wish to deprive the prince’s bloc of a useful pawn. Whether that end result merits the effort and resources expended is another matter,” states Preston.

Celia: Jade chokes back the flush of shame at the steward’s words. Her fault that their first effort didn’t work. She doesn’t voice it; she’s sure that Savoy knows exactly how their plan came to light.

He’d have killed her if not. He plays games with her—the heights, the fall—but he’d have killed her if she hadn’t spilled. She knows it. It’s the only thing that kept her… animated, if not alive.

GM: “As it always does, Nat,” replies Savoy. “A child, though! That’s some evidence that’s rather hard to deny.”

“I can’t say that removing Maxen from his position is an immediate priority of mine, given the prior returns on our investment—such as it was. But the child could be a useful thing to hold in reserve.”

Celia: It’s an effort not to flinch. She nods instead.

GM: “What of yourself, my dear?” the French Quarter lord asks Celia. “What does Isabel mean to you, beyond simply her strategic value? Nat here has made her opinion plain, but I couldn’t bear to see any sadness cross a face as radiant as yours, if any sisterly bonds of affection yet remain.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a long minute. Her thoughts turn inward, searching for the feelings that the idea of her sister’s death brings up. She thinks back to the memories they made as children: playing dress-up with mommy’s old clothes, homework help at the kitchen table, making wishes on the glow-in-the-dark stars fixated to their ceiling. They should have had a relationship to explore further. They should have been sisters in life and unlife, both cursed to an eternity of… this. Fast friends and allies; they could have leaned on each other when everyone else fed them poisoned lies.

But their relationship ended the night her sire had stolen into her house to take her father’s soul. He had taken everything from her: her dad, her sister, her life. And now her sister in truth, for without his actions Jade would not be where she is, and without his actions Celia would not have needed to rescue their mother, and Maxen would have never been a monster she’d needed to defeat, and Isabel… Isabel would not be Roxanne. They would be Celia and Isabel. The Flores girls.

Not this. Not these monsters that wear human faces.

She should feel something. Affection, even if it is a pale echo of what it means to be sisters. Grief, maybe, or rage, or… something. Something beyond the mental fog that plagues her now.

But there’s nothing, and that hurts her all the more. She is numb. Empty. Something is broken inside of her. Has been broken these long years.

Does he know, and that is why he puts the question to her?

“Warden Lebeaux has reminded me that there is a war going on,” Jade says finally, quietly. “It would be remiss to not push our advantage when it falls so neatly into our lap.”

There it is, finally. It starts in her stomach. Churning. Roiling. Snakes its way up her throat, where its fingers threaten to choke her on her own words.

Guilt.

She imagines her mother’s face at the news that her daughter is dead. No, not news; Diana will never know the truth. Celia will never tell her. Isabel will simply disappear. Her conversations will peter out into nothing. There will be no closure for her family.

Another knife in their gut. Thank you, Celia, for your service.

Do something nice for your family. His words echo inside her mind. They eat at her. She should have told him. Should have told him the thoughts that came to mind: the nicest thing she can do for them is to disappear.

GM: Savoy takes Celia’s hand in his and stares meaningfully into her eyes.

“You’re as steadfast and loyal a descendant as any Kindred could ask for, my dear. I’m just sorry Isabel wasn’t as good a sister to you as you’ve been a grandchilde to me,” he says softly.

“I’m sorry for what could have been between you and wasn’t.”

“I’m sorry for what she took away.”

Celia: She doesn’t clutch his hand. But she wraps her fingers around his and holds on for as long as he lets her while her heart breaks. Another piece of her soul neatly portioned off for the thing inside of her to consume. Another black mark.

Jade can’t tell him that Isabel didn’t do anything wrong. That it was her, Celia, who caused all the problems. I slapped her once and she ruined my life. They’d made their choices. Two girls trying to survive in a fucked-up world.

Jade is just better at it.

“Thank you,” she murmurs at last, “you have long been the balm to all of my wounds.”

GM: “If it would bring you pleasure, Miss Kalani, there is little reason you could not lay out Miss Gerlette to the sun yourself,” states Preston.

Celia: “Thank you, Madam Preston.” Her eyes find the steward’s face. Her voice stays soft, and she rubs her thumb along the back of Savoy’s hand in small, soothing strokes. The repetitive motion seems to bring her some measure of comfort.

“If that is the wish of yourself and Lord Savoy, then I will perform. Perhaps the act will bring about… closure.”

GM: “If you’d like to do the deed yourself, my dear, she’s all yours,” Savoy answers. “If you’d sooner not stain your hands, someone else will take care of it.”

Celia: “It is no small task to be asked to slay a sister,” Jade says to him, “no matter how frequently she and I quarreled, or how large the gap between us, there is history there. But these past years…” she shakes her head. “Since my Embrace I have endeavored to put the sentiments of the kine behind me. She is not my family.” Her eyes meet his. “You are. I will do this thing, and in doing so release the lot of them from where they hold harbor inside my chest.”

“And it… it means much to me,” she continues shyly, dropping her eyes to the table and then back to his face as if uncertain if she should speak the words, “that you would take my personal concerns into consideration in regards to her fate. Thank you, grandsire. Truly, I was blessed that you chose to retrieve me, and to receive your guidance and that of Madam Preston and Warden Lebeaux in these and other matters these past years.”

GM: The French Quarter lord smiles at Jade’s words, evidently pleased.

“I’ve often found good things to beget more of the same, my dear. It’s easy to be concerned for a grandchilde who’s been as loyal, clever, and faithful as you’ve been.” He chuckles to himself. “I haven’t had a peek at Nat’s notes, but I’d hazard they say Celia Flores has returned her investment a hundred times over!”

He lifts Jade’s chin to meet his eyes.

“Let’s bury the past, then, if that’s what you’d choose to do. Let’s bury it deep, so that it might haunt us no more. Fabien, some glasses of the good wine, if you’d be so kind!”

Jade didn’t see the ghoul. But the red-filled crystal glasses are suddenly right there on the table as Savoy lifts one into the air and clinks it against Jade’s.

“A toast—to the glorious future that awaits!”

Celia: Jade sincerely hopes that Preston’s notes do indeed say she has been worth her investment. A smile draws itself across her lips at Savoy’s praise, causing the corners of her eyes to crinkle genuine pleasure. She is happy that he is happy; happy to serve, happy to be useful. She’s flush with it, eyes alight, smile radiant.

Jade lifts her glass with him, echoing his toast to a glorious future, and drinks.

GM: The other two vampires drain their glasses.

Celia: Jade follows suit. The blood dances across her tongue, a sweet reminder of the power her grandsire commands. She sets her glass down upon the table once she has swallowed the sweet red, and the look that she levels upon the Lord of the French Quarter is no less predatory than the one she had given the kine at his party.

“There is another matter, grandsire, that I would bring before you.”

GM: He gestures grandly for Jade to proceed as he sets down his glass..

Celia: Jade smiles prettily for him.

“Harrah’s,” she says after she has cleared her mouth of the taste of the blood he provided for her. She mimics their movements, setting her empty glass on the table. She folds her hands on her lap.

“I seek to bring it under your rule by removing Agnello from the game. Silvestri, Gui, and I have come to an arrangement, though I would be remiss to try such a thing without consulting someone as knowledgeable as yourself, grandsire.” She dips her head.

She tells him, briefly, of their plans.

GM: He makes a sound of approval after Preston is finished asking questions.

“I’m very pleased with your initiative, my dear! I suppose this rather removes the need to take out Hound Agnello by another means,” the French Quarter lord chuckles. “If you three, or I suppose two, can take Harrah’s, I can tell the rest of my people that the domain’s borders are moving south. You’ll have to live with vagrants like Flannagan nearby, but they’ll be bodies between you and whoever Vidal sends to regain the territory. Perhaps I’ll talk with Mr. Gui about involving the rest of his krewe, too.”

“I wonder if we also might take this moment to lure Prince Guilbeau to our side. What do you think?”

Celia: “I’ve long thought that Mr. Guilbeau could be swayed to your side, grandsire, though I only hesitate due to the fact that I have not gotten to know him.” There’s a pause while Jade considers. “I could arrange a meeting, sir, and get a better read on him. There’s talk of throwing his name into the ring for prince once Prince Vidal enters torpor, but…” Jade trails off.

“Is he more interested in Baton Rouge or New Orleans? I could find out.”

“Should he desire to stay within the city, I imagine he will be clever enough to sense the shifting sands despite his clan’s ties to our current ruler.”

GM: “Oh, he wants his old city back. But I don’t see any realistic path to that happening.”

“Prince Meeks is too entrenched. Their covenant won’t pit one Invictus prince against another. While Mr. Guilbeau’s clan has bigger fish to fry in the city here.”

“He strikes me as a long shot for prince here, too. There’s not much he brings to the table that Regent McGinn and Primogen Poincare also don’t.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head. “I had only hoped to consider all the options. I believe, then, that we can sway him. He wants his own city back. Should we promise aid… well, does it matter how realistic it is versus the enticement of such a thing? We’ve all heard the story of what happened there. Who, I ask, is truly logical in the face of vengeance?”

“Thought I admit that you know his type better than I.”

GM: “They most certainly are. But you’re not in this just for a handsome ghoul, I imagine,” Savoy chuckles. “What sort of role do you want to play in the new management of Harrah’s, my dear?”

Celia: She’d wondered how Gui had bought that line.

“Are you familiar with Hold ‘Em, grandsire? When I was a child, still a breather, I had an uncle who taught me how to play. All sorts of games of chance, dice and coins and numbers, but that was what we kept coming back to. Cards. House always wins in gambling, you see, but in the poker room the players are in charge. You might get a bad beat and think your opponent lucked out on the flop, or caught the nuts on the river, but if you’re the one still throwing chips in it’s because you failed to read the board or your opponents properly.”

Jade leans forward in her chair.

“You’ve given me the time to study the opponents and the board, and I’ve slow rolled my way into the persona I’ve established.”

“As far as management…” Jade drums her fingers across the armrest of the metal chair. “People have this sort of idea of players, you know, about how tight-lipped they are while at the table. They say the same sort of thing about clients on my table. Truth is, when you’re naked and when you’re gambling, that’s when you’re the most honest.”

GM: “Hardly, Miss Kalani. Gambling is built on lying,” states Preston. “Lying to one’s fellow players and lying to oneself.”

Celia: “Certainly, Madam Preston. We lie about what’s in our hands. We lie when we throw the chips into the pot. We lie when we limp in with pocket aces. But the true nature of a man?” Jade cuts a look her way. “That’s what comes out.”

“My uncle, the gambling one, he used to travel all over the states to play. He told me that most of the stories he’d collected weren’t fit for my ears, but you’d be surprised what people talk about at the table. Employees don’t exist to the players; they’re just there to sling cards, run drinks, or rub the stiff muscles in their back and neck after they’ve been playing for hours. Mistresses. Bookies. Who was dealing what. Interesting little tidbits.”

GM: Savoy chuckles. “I believe I see where this is going. You’d like to provide spa services to the players?”

Celia: “‘A Touch of Luck.’”

GM: “And a very modest-seeming piece of the action to want in on. Very good, my dear! Always let the Ventrue think they’re holding the prize and leaving you the scraps.”

Celia: “You mentioned the exiled prince before. Were you looking for a way to bring him over with this particular piece?”

GM: “I do see an opportunity here,” the French Quarter lord smiles, drumming his fingers. “Something more tangible than just future aid he might think I could always never follow through on.”

“To ask him to betray his clan and prince in the present in return for aid that may take years or decades to realize in the future is an exceedingly poor bargain,” Preston concurs. “The Ventrue believe in nothing if not solidarity.”

“Oh, we both know Ventrue solidarity only goes so far, Nat,” winks Savoy. “Everyone has their price.”

“I’m not opposed to installing a Prince Guilbeau in Baton Rouge who’d owe his throne to me,” muses the Toreador. “But I do agree promises of future aid go down much more sweetly when there’s some present aid, too! ‘Half payment up front, half on completion’ is always my favorite way to do business.”

“We have considered him among our shortlist of potential regents for the CBD, sir. Even if assisting a praxis seizure in a foreign city looks to promise insufficient returns relative to the initial investment, domain over the CBD will put him in a better position to orchestrate his own eventual return to power.”

“Yes, that is a nicely more tangible thing to potentially offer him, Nat. But it’s not quite immediate, either. I’d like to offer him something more immediate in Harrah’s. How much is it worth, next to the Alystra?”

“The Alystra is valued at approximately $150 million, sir. Harrah’s $790 million.”

Savoy smiles at Jade. “A related lesson for you, my dear. It’s a common myth that we ‘control’ institutions. Harrah’s, for instance, is owned by a corporation headquartered in Las Vegas worth… how much, Nat?”

“$25 billion, sir. Harrah’s is one of many properties to its name. The age of the individually or family-owned Vegas casino is long over.”

“Too true,” Savoy chuckles. “Ownership of Harrah’s has gone back and forth over the years between various companies and parent companies and private equity funds with headquarters all over the country. I doubt that Agnello has any stake in them.”

“Or that a half-literate Mafia thug is even capable of understanding the movements of corporate capital on that level,” states Preston.

Celia: Jade quite likes Preston when her barbs are directed at other people.

GM: “Perhaps so,” Savoy chuckles. “Rather than truly ‘controlling’ Harrah’s, I suspect Rocco simply skims the cream off the milk. Is that how it is, Nat?”

“Even less so, sir. As best our sources have been able to gather, Agnello has no ghouls among the staff at Harrah’s, nor any personal financial stake in the casino. Vidal simply recognizes the domain as his, and Agnello has the freedom to do as he wishes there. The Mafia has a crew with an interest in the casino that, as you say, ‘skims off the top.’ It is from those mobsters that Hound Agnello skims off the top himself.”

“Mr. Guilbeau owns the Alystra through a fabricated mortal identity and is intimately involved in its daily affairs. Agnello, however, is uninvolved in Harrah’s actual management, beyond supporting the Mafia crew which skims off its profits. He simply feeds there. If he were to disappear tomorrow, the casino would carry on without him.”

Celia: “A firmer, more tangible hold on Harrah’s, then?”

GM: “To an extent, my dear,” says Savoy. “Unless the good prince has a spare $790 million lying around, he can’t own the casino in full. It’s simply too big. As Nat says, it’s corporations rather than people which own major casinos these days.”

“But that’s a good thing for us. Harrah’s is a very big pie.”

“Mr. Gui would like to take over the Mafia crew skimming from its profits. So much the better for us! I’m sure he can run a Mafia crew better than you or I could, and there’s all sorts of useful things a gang of toughs happy to commit illegal acts can do for a casino’s ‘owners.’”

“But there’s simply no way Mr. Gui can run the entire casino by himself, either. I’m certain he grasps this. He hasn’t attacked anyone in Elysium lately, so he seems more aware of his own limits than Hound Agnello does.”

Celia: “He seemed more interested in the taking than the holding when I spoke to him earlier this evening,” Jade agrees. “He does have a krewe… the High Rollers, isn’t it? Runs a den in the Quarter. I imagine if Mr. Gui is in we can bring them in as well, but as you say, big pie to share. Even split a handful of ways it’s still a large slice for our soon-to-be friend.”

GM: Savoy smiles widely.

“Exactly, my dear. A very large pie.”

“Rather than ask Mr. Guilbeau anything so drastic as ‘support Lord Savoy against your prince,’ we simply offer to remove Hound Agnello—clearing the way for him to petition Prince Vidal to take over Harrah’s. He’s perfectly suited to manage another casino, after all. In return for our help, Mr. Guilbeau cuts you and the High Rollers in on the action. It’s a more than large enough pie for everyone.”

“And… if they keep their presences in the casino circumspect, with the whole domain nominally belonging to Mr. Guilbeau, Vidal will have no cause to dispatch your sire to violently expel you and the Rollers. We instead establish a beachhead inside the CBD, unknown to the prince, ready to use when and if the city’s temperature turns… warmer.”

Celia: Jade smiles. “It’s a very neatly tied bow, sir.” She had planned on a different front to present to keep her sire from lopping heads, but that would have had too many moving parts, too many unknowns. She wonders, not for the first time, if Savoy’s chosen medium is the adroit art of scheming.

“There’s one more opportunity that this presents.”

“I can’t imagine that Agnello will keep his position as hound once all is said and done.”

GM: The French Quarter lord smiles back. “Annabelle is like a sister to him. A broodmate. I can’t think of a surer way to arouse his ire.”

“They were both ghouls to my sire at the same time, you know.”

Celia: Jade dips her head. “I had hoped to return her to her rightful place, should you want her.”

GM: “How would you return her, Miss Kalani, when Mr. Silvestri will be the one to ‘steal’ her?” Preston inquires critically.

Celia: “Mister Silvestri lives for the chase, Madam Preston. He is much like his cousin in that regard, and we see how she flits through partners. Put something bigger, better, shinier in front of him.” Disparaging words, but her voice is fond. She does so enjoy the thief.

GM: “Which causes you to believe he will simply give up a century-old ghoul for free,” the Malkavian states flatly.

Savoy chuckles. “Ladies, ladies. You pursue different roads to the same destination! I’ll richly reward any Kindred who returns my sire’s property to me—be that Mr. Silvestri or our own Miss Kalani.”

Celia: Savoy cuts her off before she can tell Preston that of course she doesn’t think Pietro will give up the ghoul for free. She’s not an idiot, despite what the Malkavian may think in that addled brain of hers.

She offers Preston a smile instead, inclining her head at her grandsire’s words.

“As he says, Madam Preston. I do value your pragmatism, I just also believe there is a way to ensure she winds up with Lord Savoy.”

GM: “So much the better for us all! Annabelle would make a lovely fixture here in the Evergreen, don’t you think?”

Celia: She’s not even being sarcastic.

GM: “Lovely indeed, sir,” Preston repeats dryly.

“I think she and Mélissaire would get along famously,” the French Quarter lord smiles.

“Oh, and two other things, my dear,” he says to Jade. “If we want to cut the rest of the Rollers in on Harrah’s, you and Mr. Gui might ask for their assistance in… any other components to this plot, really, where you think they might be useful. It’s only fair they should do some work if they want to share in the reward!”

Celia: “Of course, sir.”

GM: “If you want an additional in with Mr. Guilbeau, you also might try approaching his newest lover first. Josua Cambridge. By all accounts, he’s an extremely lustful creature.” The elder Toreador chuckles. “And one worth lusting after, himself!”

Celia: She’s heard of him. Almost as many notches in his belt as Veronica claims.

GM: “It’s really too bad Mr. Guilbeau got to him first. His temperament is well-suited to the Quarter.”

“But maybe not too bad, if he’s able to be of use here.”

Celia: “Is Mr. Guilbeau the possessive sort, or do you think the usual in would work?”

GM: “Mr. Guilbeau cycles through lovers like Mardi Gras krewes through plastic beads. I think he might be aroused to hear his latest plaything was intimate with someone else.”

Celia: And they call her a whore.

“Speaking of intimacy…” Jade drums her fingers against her thigh.

“There was a guest at your party that isn’t who they claim to be.”

GM: “If that never happened in the Quarter, it wouldn’t be the Quarter,” Savoy grins. “And which ostensible guest was this?”

Celia: Jade answers his grin with one of her own. He’s right, of course, but she wouldn’t be bringing it up if it were something as innocent as that.

“Miss Melton. The Gangrel.”

GM: “Ah, that lovely blonde thing! I suppose rumors of her death haven’t been exaggerated after all, have they, Nat?”

“It is still possible they have been, sir, although the presence of an impostor makes her continued survival less probable.”

“I suppose it does. Ah, well. If you see any more of ‘Melton’ around, you can assume the new one is operating with my sanction,” replies Savoy.

Celia: She hadn’t expected such clarity from him. She nods, eyes dipping to the roof below her feet before she looks up again.

“Yes, grandsire.” There’s a pause, then, “If she’s shadow dancing and needs a more permanent solution, I’d be happy to assist.”

GM: “I’ll be sure to let her know. But I suppose we’ll need to bring her up for a talk, first, to see if she wants to work for me! This Saturday should be a good time, if she’s back at the Evergreen. Would you enjoy helping to lure her somewhere private?”

Celia: “I always enjoy being pursued.”

GM: “Splendid,” the French Quarter lord beams. He pats his lap for Jade to come take a seat and runs an appreciative hand through her hair.

“I’m very pleased with you tonight, my dear. I can hardly wait to see what the coming nights have in store.”

Celia: Lord Savoy certainly knows the way to her heart, dead though it may be. She takes the offered seat upon his lap without hesitation, her smile positively radiant; she could outshine the moon this evening, she’s sure. Her eyes shine with adoration for the Lord of the French Quarter. With Preston sitting at the table Jade doesn’t let herself become overly familiar with him, doesn’t try to continue that speaking of intimacy comment she’d made earlier by taking it in his direction, but she does curl herself against him, nuzzles his chest and neck and cheek with her own. Wordless affection and gratitude and joy. She’s happy to help.

This is her favorite place in the world: on the lap of a powerful man.


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Story Twelve, Ayame Prelude

Wednesday morning, 11 November 2009, AM

Ayame: Triangles appear everywhere in nature. Pyramids, mountains, even trees—maybe they’re not perfect triangles, but they’re triangles all the same. It’s a solid unit: wider at the base, narrower at the top. The base gives the triangle its foundation. Strong. Spread out.

Many.

There’s only room for one at the top, right? The higher you go the narrower it gets until there’s just one person perched at the pinnacle. The man in charge. President, CEO, king.

Or prince, if you’re a lick.

Orders, like shit, flow downhill. It starts at the top. The prince shits on the people below him, those people shit on the people below them, those people smear that brown shit all over the people below them, too. Everyone is trying to climb the pyramid to get to that top spot, or at least to a spot where they’re not being shit on by quite as many people. Their eyes are all skyward. Heaven-bound. Climbing, hand over fist, to reach the top. A top they’ll never get to. Try to move above your station and there’s always someone there willing to cut you back down to size.

Some people get halfway up and they freeze. They look back to see how far they’ve come and they don’t want to fall. Falling from here means starting over, after all; why would anyone want to go back to being the base?

Some ancient civilizations put their slaves on the bottom rung, no better than the animals they fed from. Licks do it, too. Any lick worth their salt will tell you that their ghouls—their renfields—are below even the kine. Below the literal animals from which they feed. Nothing. Disposable. Expendable.

Problem is, you’ve got so many of them down there at the bottom, and some have been around longer than the licks that raise a hand against them. So they keep ‘em bound with the blood, like a pimp who gets his hookers hooked on heroin. Anything for a fix, right? Sure, she’ll lay on her back, suck a few dicks, let her pimp beat her black and blue—so long as she gets that next hit she doesn’t give much of a fuck. And that hit they get is better than the purest, cleanest heroin, better than all the coke some drug-addled alley-dweller could shove up his nose, better than the oldest, finest cognac from a glass snifter. When that blood hits their tongue… well, there isn’t much they wouldn’t do for it, let’s just leave it at that.

All this to say that the ghouls, the revenants, the thralls, whatever you want to call them, they’re all just junkies of varying loyalty, and once that collar is snapped into place there isn’t much they wouldn’t do for their domitor. So all those numbers at the bottom of the pyramid? The licks keep ‘em there with blood.

Nice to know there’s always someone beneath you, right?

Ghouls got their own pyramids, though. Their own hierarchy. You know what’s worse than being collared by a lick? Being at the bottom of the ghoul pile. No one gives a fuck what happens to the best ghouls; imagine how much less they care when it’s a literal nobody.

So ghouls scrape and claw and fight their way to the top, too. Only sometimes it don’t matter if you’re good as a ghoul because your domitor is a fucking nobody, and if you’re the property of a nobody then you’re a nobody too. Whatever name you’re trying to make for yourself doesn’t mean shit if your domitor gets their head lopped off for violating whatever bullshit rules, maybe lookin’ at someone the wrong way, ‘cause chances are pretty solid that you’re going to be next. Even if they don’t mean to hurt you—rare, by the way—they might just lose their temper. Give in to that Beast inside of them.

“Sorry, babe,” they say, “I didn’t mean to hurt you, really. It was the Beast.” Domestic assault on steroids.

Us ghouls? We take it.

Like the bitch in the white nightie who tells the nurse she fell down the stairs. Ran into the wall. Cut herself shaving. Burned herself on a hot pan.

That last one is even true—they just don’t mention it was their domitor who held them there, screaming, while their flesh sizzled and bubbled and the smell of searing meat hit their nose and, worst of all, it just makes them fucking hungry for something.

Yeah, I know all about that.

There’s a reason I don’t go anywhere without these fucking gloves. You think you got scars? You think someone Embraced you when you weren’t ready? How about the mangled skin on my palms, the nerve endings that were shot after a few seconds of exposure, that gave in and fucking died rather than continue to send that message of agony to my brain. Told I couldn’t mend it, couldn’t use an ointment, and every night he’d peel back the skin and pop the blisters and let that fluid run down my arms instead of fix it. All those wasted white blood cells. Flesh doesn’t come back from that kind of abuse. Fingers don’t bend right. Sense of touch is vague at best. But the way it looks… that might be worst of all. Pink. Shiny. Hairless. Thick fibrous waves of tissue where it should be smooth skin. Like a wave that’s constantly cresting.

Learned my lesson, though, didn’t I?

Never forgot to call him “sir” again.


Monday night, 5 April 2010, PM

Ayame: You hear about that prison break in 2010? Two of ‘em, but I mean the second one. April 5th. Reynosa. Wikipedia says “a convoy of ten trucks packed with gunmen entered the prison grounds without resistance, broke into the cells, and liberated thirteen ‘extremely dangerous’ inmates.” Extremely dangerous. In quotes like that. That’s their code word for what came out of that prison: thirteen licks. Maybe the guys on the ground didn’t know it. Maybe whatever douchebag reported didn’t know. Maybe the guy who edited the Wiki article couldn’t tell his head from his ass, he just wants to load up on Cheeto’s and Mtn. Dew while he builds his editing cred so he can finally put up that fake conspiracy theory that’s been years in the making before it’s torn down within a few hours by the constant vigilance of the rest of the editors, goody-fucking-two-shoes that they are.

Probably a good thing no one knows they’re real. Can’t even handle black versus white, imagine trying to deal with a whole new species. All those people who think aliens coming down to earth will be peaceful are just as delusional as every flat-earther.

Regardless. Those ten trucks, all those guys in the back, they knew what they were coming for. And so, apparently, did the prison guards, or at least some of them. So did the warden. The overseer. Whoever it was. Problem with throwing a lick in jail is that at some point they’re gonna find a window and the sun is gonna ash them. But Reynosa? Oh no. There’s no sun there. The whole compound is nothing but a front. All the good shit is beneath the ground. Those cells down there don’t feel the heat of the sun, don’t catch a breeze. Nothing but metal and more metal. Steel cuffs. Steel doors. Individual cells, sound proof, little torture chambers set up nice and pretty for any lick that’s dumb enough to get caught by the people running the place.

You know why there was no pushback, no resistance to the convoy? Wikipedia won’t tell you, but the guards were already dead. All of them. We’re not amateurs. We got our guys on the inside months ago. This plot isn’t something that someone pulled out of their ass. Got our guys hired in, took on kitchen jobs and cleaning jobs and patrol jobs, and when the time was right they moved real quietly through the whole complex and slit all the throats of the people who weren’t on our side.

You ever see a lick feed from a dead body?

I guess when you’re hungry enough you’ll eat anything.

So there we were, my little team and I, sent in to retrieve these ten licks. One by one we took the stakes out of their chests and told them what we were about, who sent us, all that garbage. Had the blood waiting to stave off any hunger. Some of ‘em didn’t wake, so those we just carried back to let the boss sort out.

Except that last guy.

Might’ve been older than the rest. Might’ve heard shit he wasn’t supposed to. Who knows. He asks where we’re gonna put the bodies of the old ones.

That’s what he called them: old ones. Like he wasn’t some ancient dust-ready, half-rotting corpse himself. Team looks at me, I look at them.

“Show me,” I tell him. So he does. He fucking shows me. Takes me down another level like he knows the layout of this place, like he isn’t just guessing. Brought a snack with him, a severed arm that he sucked from like it was a juice box, and I guess it is to them. Left it withered behind him when we hit the stairs. Two flights. Three. Four.

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“How deep does this place go?”

But he just looks at me. I can see his eyes in the dark. Red. Glowing. He can see just as well down here as I can under the noon-day sun, and there I am, shining the flashlight on the end of my gun around so I don’t trip over a fucking rock or something. But there’s no rocks down here. Just smooth concrete. And more security gates than I’ve seen in my life. Row after row after row of them, all set with their own key cards, their own pin codes, easily defend-able from the outside. This lick I’m with, though, he just waves his hand and they all unlock for him, and I wonder sometimes how humans are so fucking stupid. I see the glint of his teeth in the edge of my light, as if he’s inside my head, but when I look over at him he’s working on the last of the gates. A little more effort on his end if the furrowed brows are anything to go by.

Then he’s reaching for me, reaching past the gun to wrap his long, spindly fingers around my arm, and I know better than to pull away from him even though I want to press my back into the wall or bring the gun to bare. I’m still instead, even when he yanks me almost off my feet, even when I see those fangs distend past his lips, when his face, lit from below by that light so I can see him for the monster he is, comes towards me.

When his mouth comes towards me.

Then two pinpricks of pain in my shoulder, daggers sliding into my skin, and by the time the sound of slurping hits me I’m rolling on the best molly in the world. Bliss. Pure bliss. Nothing matters, not my dead hands, not that I’m seven stories deep in some crazy bunker, not this thing in front of me that’s slowly draining my life force, and I wonder why he brought me all the way down here to do it when he coulda just drained me up top, and maybe I make a sound, maybe I ask him that very question, because then it’s his tongue on my neck and he’s letting go, pulling back, and he’s smiling at me in a way I should recognize but my head’s a little fuzzy, so it makes sense when he tells me that he just needed a hit to get past this last barrier, that he’d rather do it now instead of after just in case he can’t control himself, and he gives my head a little pat.

Like a dog.

I lean against the wall when he opens that final gate, then we’re at the end of a hallway with a handful of steel doors, but he knows exactly which ones to open because the three that he picks all have bodies inside of them. Old, old bodies. Corpses. With little stakes sticking out of their hearts. Two men and a woman, all of them with marble white skin that looks like it might be even thinner than paper, but I don’t test that theory by trying to touch them. Mostly I think I might have been brought down here as some sort of offering to get them to wake up and I wonder how far my blood will actually go to fill the three of them, but the thought doesn’t bother me as much as it maybe should.

Until my companion pulls the stake from the lick all the way at the end. Then it bothers me. It bothers me a lot because the thing that sits up on the table isn’t like any lick I’ve seen before, and before I can do so much as part my lips to scream he’s off the table and coming right at me.

Only it’s not me he’s after.

It’s the lick that brought me down here, the guy that thought he was safe. The old one grabs him right by the shoulder, slams him bodily against the wall, and rips out his throat in a spray of blood that splatters all over me, the floor, the stone table. He drinks. He drinks, and drinks, and drinks, and I watch the little guy struggle and fight and scream, and maybe I drop that gun and back into a corner and make myself as small as possible, but the light’s enough to watch the color bleed from his prey, transferring from one body to the other, and there’s finally just a wet gurgle and… and maybe a flash of light, something silvery that slides out of his neck and into the waiting maw of the old one, then the lick who brought me down here is nothing but a pile of ash.

Now it’s another pair of red eyes that are looking at me, taking me in where I’m huddled behind the table as if that will keep me safe from him, and all I’m thinking is of course I die down here, and he reaches for me. To grab me, I think, but he just holds his hand there in front of my face, and I realize that he wants me to take it.

So I do.


Saturday night, 10 April 2010, PM

Ayame: Angel.

Maybe that was his name when he was still alive. “Angel,” soft G, the way the Mexicans say it. Like how they say “Hey-Seuss” for Jesus. Or how the name “Maria,” in English, is a long R sound like you’d get in “rat,” and in Spanish you tap your tongue against the roof of your mouth to make that hard R and cut it off before it rolls too much.

But when he came up out of that tomb and took his place at the head of the organization that was the only name I ever knew him by. Angel. Maybe the “Jesus” from the example would have been a better moniker, rose from the dead and all, and maybe he caught me thinking that once because he drilled it into me that his name is Angel. Sir Angel. Master Angel. Lord Angel. Not Arch Angel—he’d caught me thinking that, too, and it had been another lesson in titles.

When I say “drilled it into me,” I mean that in a literal sense. A power tool. Screws. He told me to sit still while he did it, while he lifted my skirt to find that inner spot on my thigh, the soft, sensitive skin that no one touches. Had me spread my legs over the sides of the chair so he could access the white flesh, clamp my fingers around the edge of the seat. Don’t move, he told me, so I didn’t. Even when the tip of the screw bit into my flesh. Even when I felt it go deeper, so much deeper, past the layers of fat and muscle and slide right into my femur, when blood pooled and dripped out of me and onto the wooden seat, and the lick that he made watch—my domitor—used his tongue to lap it up later, after Angel finished.

Those orders they give you, when they put you under the Imperius (Sorry J.K.), they don’t care how much it hurts. They hold you still no matter what your body really wants to do, especially when it’s someone as old as him issuing the command. His order was a knife to my brain, cutting through what I thought to do and replacing it with his will. I was just a puppet. So even though I screamed, even though my entire body started trembling from the searing agony of a literal screw being carved into my fucking leg, even though I knew I’d eventually black out from the pain, I held still. At least there wasn’t the smell of burning flesh this time, right?

Thirteen screws in my leg to make the “A.”

He asked me, when he was finished with the first letter, if I would ever make the mistake again. He said he had more screws if I felt like I needed another lesson. And I told him—I told him if he wanted me to remember he should finish the job so that I never forget, because what else am I supposed to say in that situation? Beg him not to hurt me? Maybe he’d have liked that.

But he liked my willingness to suffer, too. Said it spoke to fire inside of me. So he put that fire outside of me. Carved his name with a red hot iron across my thigh, right over those screws he’d drilled into me.

And then he let me drink.

I heard some licks say once that they remember every sip of blood they’ve ever taken. That we’ve got a resonance, a unique taste, and if they taste the blood of other licks they can tell you all sorts of facts about them. My human tongue is hardly as advanced as all that, but I can tell you this: he didn’t taste like anyone I’d had before, and when that first drop hit my lips I knew that this was something different, something special. Thick. Heady. Just a drop, just a taste, and it was enough to have me hooked. That collar my domitor put on me? Snapped. Like it was nothing.

Maybe that’s on account of the head that rolled across the floor, though. Right before it crumbled into ash.


Tuesday night, 13 April 2010, PM

Ayame: It’s like this: a childe is the weakest point in the armor of a more important monster. You know who said that? Yeah, me neither, but it’s a real fuckin’ thing. You got all these old ones who are super important, lots of power, blood so thick that mortals don’t do it anymore, prince of the city, king of the gang—whatever the fuck they are, and then they decide to Embrace someone. And that someone is just a little baby neonate. Doesn’t know enough about the life to know what’s right and what’s wrong. And if they show any sort of affection or deference to that childe—if they’re even capable of such things, the twisted fucks—then everyone knows where to hit.

You hear all these stories about people being Embraced by accident, and sure maybe that’s a real thing out with the wild ones in the middle of fuckin’ Mexico, but up here we’re a more civilized people. Don’t just take people all willy-nilly like that. Especially those Sanctified licks, there’s a whole song and dance they do, and woe be to you if you got a fuckin’ sire who wants you to prove yourself and jump through the god damned hoops because you didn’t say enough “Hail Marys” when you were still breathin’.

Maybe that’s just another punishment for calling him Jesus that one time.

Huh.

Anyway, it’s like this.

There’s a church. The lick who wants to bring his childe into the fold approaches said childe, says something like “join me or I’ll kill you,” and the would-be childe just kinda goggles at them, all wide-eyed, and maybe some stupid ones opt for death, I’ve heard that happens sometimes, but mostly we just kind of nod and smile and go along with it because really what the fuck else are we supposed to say?

“Sorry dude immortality doesn’t sound fun.”

Right.

Lotta times they take a normal breather, the kind of innocent fucks that don’t actually know what’s going on, got no experience with this sort of stuff. Somethin’ about the bond of a ghoul and not a good childe and blah blah blah. But for every rule there’s an exception—like how when two vowels go walkin’ the first one does the talkin’ but then you got words like neighbor and friend that just toss up two middle fingers toward that rule—and I guess I was this year’s exception or whatever, because Angel sat me down and said, “you’ve got a choice to make.”

And the choice wasn’t whether I wanted to live or not. It was how I wanted to die.

Ordinarily, see, they just drain you. Lick it all up, take all that warmth inside of you into themselves. Only Angel ain’t into that kind of thing because he didn’t wanna do it that way, or maybe he just liked the idea of making me choose how he was going to murder me so he could see what sort of twisted shit I’d come up with—like that time he made me light the barrel of oil on fire after he stuffed someone inside who’d pissed him off—but when you’re faced with that choice it’s like…

Like what do you say to that?

Is there a pleasant way to die? After all the shit I’ve seen in this life I don’t really think there is, at least not with these people.


Friday night, 16 April 2010, PM

Ayame: A lotta people wonder how they’re gonna die. Keeps ‘em up at night, thinkin’ about how they’ll go, what sort of circumstances is gonna take ‘em outta this life, what’s waiting on the other side. Most people say they wanna go quietly, in their sleep, glass a wine, maybe during sex, who knows.

Look at all the people who kill themselves with somethin’ simple and painless, like an overdose. Or quick, like a gun. No one wants to lay there in agony. No one wants to lose their mind. Like all those old people you see just kind of takin’ up space, sometimes you think somethin’ like “yeah I hope I never get so old that I’ve got to shit in a bag or can’t remember my grandkids.”

Or licks. Right. So there’s only a few ways to kill a lick, and anything involving fire is pretty damn painful—did I tell you about that time they put that guy in a box and shoved him into one of those crematorium ovens? The howling was unreal. You get to be a lick and you think maybe if you gotta die you want your head taken clean off because fuck burning.

Fuck burning.

I’ll just say that again, really hammer it in: fuck. burning.

So when Angel summons me and he says, “how do you want to die?” I think maybe it’s some sort of weird test, and I tell him I might like to be ripped apart by his own hands, and he just kind of looks at me and then it hits me that he’s actually asking me, and then there’s a little bit of panic, right, because what the fuck did I do that he’s going to kill me for that another punishment won’t suffice, and then I start thinking about all the shit I didn’t get to do, and maybe I think about my family a little bit, and the kids I can’t have now, and the books I won’t write and the places I won’t get to see.

But really what I’m thinking about is that he’s going to have to replace me and what if he doesn’t find someone good enough to do so? What if his next servant girl doesn’t do things the right way, or doesn’t know her way around a smart phone, or won’t sit still so he can write his name in her flesh, and won’t light the fire for the burning oil barrels when people piss him off? How’s he gonna get on without that, right?

But I can’t say anything like this to him because you just don’t question a lick like Angel. You just don’t. So I tell him I’m not sure and ask if I could have a little bit of time to think about it, and he says that I got until Friday and it’s already Tuesday now and I only got three days and nights to get all my affairs in order.

There’s a lot of ways to die. Most of ‘em involve the same sort of things, you know. Killing the brain. Stopping the heart. Brings up a whole question of if you’re dead once your heart stops or if you’re dead once your brain stops, but in three days time I don’t really think I’ve got enough time to find out because I’m busy looking into all the other ways that I can die and trying to figure out if there’s any way to salvage this situation or not. And there’s probably not, since once Angel makes up his mind about somethin’ there isn’t much swaying it, so mostly… mostly I’m just trying to think of a good way to die.

Lotta people who do the suicide thing look for a way to make it painless, right. But I think Angel is lookin’ for a show. And these fucks got a thing for blood, so maybe I could just bleed myself out. Or I could let someone choke me. Or let the guy with those big fuckin’ tigers of his feed me to his pets. You ever hear that call recording of that girl being eaten alive by a bear? Yeah, I bet being eaten by a tiger will be pretty similar. Maybe I can strap on some armor and a sword and can go down gladiator style, but then I think maybe that lick will be mad if I hurt one of his pets.

And, absurdly, I just keep thinking about the little picture on my drivers license that says I’m an organ donor, and that’s what I just keep coming back to.

So on Thursday I tell him I’ve decided, and on Friday he sends these three ladies he says are going to be my “handmaidens” and they’re going to make me ready for it. If I weren’t about to die I might have even enjoyed their attention, little like a spa day with all the primping and waxing and exfoliating, and I guess he took me seriously because I’m reminded of all those surgeons who have to shave their patients before they operate. I mostly wonder if they’re going to give me anesthesia, but of course they won’t. Eventually these girls put me in a white shift and I get a little flower crown because I asked for it—listen I’ve kind of always wanted to wear one and I figured if I’m gonna die I might as well die in style—and they take me to the cathedral.

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Because why not go out in the place that closest to God, I guess.

The altar has been cleared off, for me I suspect, and I kind of hate that I’m right when these handmaidens take me up the stairs to stand in front of the altar. Room isn’t as full as it has been for an open mass so I suppose it’s just some small ceremony that Angel has gathered people together for, and there’s a guy in a priest outfit that I assume is going to read me my last rites. And that’s… well that’s kind of nice, I guess.

So there’s some stuff that the priest says, but I’ll be honest I’m not really listening because, y’know, I’m about to die. Some words about sacrifice, honoring God, that kind of stuff. It must be pretty moving because all of a sudden I’ve got tears running down my cheeks and the church is pretty cold and drafty because I’m shivering, but I don’t make a sound. I won’t go out screaming, that’s what my rule is, I won’t scream no matter what they do to me, and that thought’s pretty comforting at least because a lot of the anxiety and fear about dying just kind of seep out of me. I chose this. I’m in charge.

Then it’s time.

I climb onto the altar after the priest anoints my brow in the sign of the cross and I lay back, staring up at the ceiling as if I’m not about to die, like this is just a game.

But it’s not a game.

Angel’s there, standing over me, his hands on my shoulders. And he’s cold. So cold. A shiver runs down my spine when I meet his eyes because they don’t hold anything resembling mercy or pity or anything soft, and I’m reminded of the day we met in that tomb when the lick pulled the stake from him, and I think how fitting it is that I was there for his beginning and he’ll be here for my end and maybe… maybe he’ll slide a stake into me too, when he’s done with the rest of it, and that’ll be what takes my life.

And all of a sudden I’m wishing that I’d asked him to drain me instead because then, at least, I’d be part of him, and as far as dying goes the Kiss is pretty mild. And when I think that word—Kiss, capital K—I can’t help but look at his lips and wonder what it would be like to kiss him, if his mouth is as cold as the rest of him is now, and I know I’m not supposed to but I sit up on that table and I reach for him.

I do it.

I kiss him.

Right on the mouth.

His lips are softer than they should be. I don’t get fancy with it, I don’t try to slip my tongue into his mouth or anything crazy, just a long, lingering kiss that takes the breath from my body so that when I pull away I can’t even form words—not that I can even think of what I would say if I could—and so I just lie back down real quietly and keep my eyes on him as he lifts the knife.

And when the blade comes down I can’t help but think that I’m glad it’s him, even if it hurts, even if the fire starts at the point of insertion and spreads through the rest of me and I open my mouth maybe to scream but I keep that down inside of me, the pain buried so deep that no one will ever be able to find it again, and there’s just this sense of freedom, like this life of slavery down at the bottom of the pyramid is over, like my soul maybe finally has wings or something, and I just look into his eyes and as the edges of my vision start to go black I whisper his name.

“Angel.”


Date ?

Ayame: People say that death changes you. They mean that when someone else dies the people who are left behind are irrevocably altered by the experience of losing a loved one. The trauma of losing someone who meant the world to you. The anger at their selfishness if they took their own life. The grief of a long, drawn out battle with some disease while you sat idly by while they wasted away in a hospital bed, more tube than human. The hole in your life they left behind—it changes you. That’s what they mean.

I guess none of the experts ever head of the undead, though, ‘cause I tell you what—good luck lookin’ for a fuckin’ therapist to talk to about being a blood sucking monster, our bodies twisted by whatever mystical properties of the blood that keep us animated when we are, by all rights, nothing but corpses.

How do you even start that conversation? “Say, Doc, you got a prescription for this kind of shit?”

There’s no pearly gates waiting for us on the other side. Even if our souls were to pass on now apparently we’re just gonna fuckin’ burn for all eternity for a choice that often had nothing to do with us, and what kind of old world bullshit is that? “Thanks for playing. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.”

Hell ain’t some physical place. It ain’t some metaphysical place. Hell is here. Now. Earth. Demons in Hell? Ha. They’re the people who turned you into what you are. They’re the people who turned me into what I am. They’re the people who ask you how you want to fuckin’ die and then give it to you just like that, and when it’s all said and done with they go, “BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE. Billy Fuckin’ Mays here with another exciting product from Eternal Damnation.”

I don’t remember my time between worlds. That’s what people always ask, isn’t it, if I saw the white light or my withered old grandmother or if I saw the face of God and the truth is no—there’s none of that. No out of body experience. No learning the secrets of the universe. Nothing but drowning in a sea of darkness until the ritual that twisted my blood brings me back into my body, until that heady red fount hits my lips, my tongue, so much sweeter now than it ever was when I was mortal.

And his arms are around me. Angel’s. Holding me flush against him, cradling my body with his, and maybe I might think it’s sweet but I am busy lapping at the wrist he holds to my mouth because I know that I never want it to end. Never. And he’s making these noises at me, these encouraging noises, telling me to drink up, that I need my strength, that I have such a ways to go yet, and I’m thinking why would I ever leave this, but then honestly it kind of all flies out the window when two little points of pain hit my neck. Because I know it’s his teeth at my throat. I know that the ecstasy that’s flowing through me is him, that the burning in my loins and the tightening of my nipples is some remnants of what came over from human me—it’ll fade quickly, that’s what he says—but right now all I can think about is how much I want him, and how with him feeding from me and me feeding from him it’s pretty much the most exquisite experience you can imagine.

Whatever you’re thinking? Yeah. Double it. Triple it. You could hundred times it and it still ain’t enough, because I’m literally in the arms of an angel.

My Angel.

Then—

Something inside me. Snarling. Rampaging. It comes roaring to the surface. Pain like you couldn’t imagine, like you wouldn’t believe. Burning? Oh no, this is worse than burning. This is worse than fire, worse than screws in my leg, worse than the smell of my own flesh sizzling. This is standing on the surface of the sun. This is a hundred, thousand, million knives in every available surface of my body. This is being flayed alive. Gutted. Torn apart by hands that don’t care how much I scream because we’re all just monsters here, fighting to survive.

Tight arms around me. Yelling. Someone screaming. Pressure in my chest. Gnashing fangs. Chanting. Fire in my back, my belly, my wrists, my thighs.

Nirvana.

The complete annihilation of the self.


Date ?

Ayame: I wake to the sound of chanting.

I think I might be in a dream because this is not the place I died, and I can hear Angel’s voice beyond the murky fog that obscures the stone altar upon which my body lies. I cannot see beyond it. Just a world of gray mist. No stars twinkle above, no moon illuminates the sky and ground. Nothing. I call out for Angel and my voice is not my own: a strangled cry leaves my throat. A moment of silence and then a guttural howl is torn from me, racing up from my withered lungs to sound its displeasure to the world. Drums sound in the distance. They beat in time with what might have once been my heart. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

I am in white. White gown, white sandals, and atop my head a crown of white flowers, the same that I died in. My fingers brush against the petals of the lilies and they shake free of the vine, shrunken and decayed by the time they hit my lap.

I have no time to wonder at this before the haze parts. The form that steps toward me is like no man or Kindred I have ever seen. Black robes obscure his form, hide whatever horror has come to welcome me to this new Hell that is my existence. The robes do not billow with his steps, there is no wind that lifts them in some affectation of drama, and yet I am chilled to my very core. His face is shrouded in shadows that even my new vision will not penetrate, but even so I can see his eyes. Yellow eyes, slitted like a cats.

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Power radiates from him. It ensnares me in its grasp. I seek to swing my legs from the altar, to drop to my knees and worship this dark god as he should so be worshiped, but my body does not obey my commands. I look down to see chains that bind me fast to the altar, steel cuffs around my wrists and ankles, and even as I take notice of them I hear the hiss of steel on stone. The chains retract, pulling my limbs taut until I am flat on my back, my chest rising and falling as I take breaths I do not need. The drums that have become my heartbeat echo the spiraling sentiments inside of me. I am stuck. I strain against the bindings until my wrists ache with the effort, every moment stretching on into infinity. His slow, unhurried steps draw him near, all the while those drums increasing their tempo, their sound thrumming through my veins until it is my own body that keeps the rhythm, the trembling of my limbs and thus the chains a melodic chime accompanying the percussion.

A presence floods my mind.

All at once the sounds of my belabored breathing, the faint chanting in the background, the whisper of steel on stone and muscle against bone wink out of existence. Fingers comb through the soft folds of my brain, a tantalizing touch that I both feel and don’t. Caught as I am—physically, mentally, emotionally—I do not resist his perusal. I know that, should he choose it, he could crush me, that with a mere thought I, too, would be gone from this place, that indeed my very body, my soul, my essence—whatever it is that makes me me —would vanish. I would become another Damned soul caught in the mist. Formless.

Words form inside my head. His voice, both old and young, rasping and dulcet, echoing and infinitesimal.

You are not the usual sacrifice.

I do not need to speak for him to pull the answer from me, the resounding No that dwells within my very bones.

His fingers probe deeper into the abyss inside my mind. Physical sensations fade away. Only he and I remain in the universe. I see what he sees: the memories of long-ago, the suggestions of what might have been. I see my sire’s face. Smell the charred remains of flesh set to boil. Writhe in agony and ecstasy upon an altar that is a crude facsimile of what I lay on now.

You are not a sacrifice. His laughter reverberates through my body, forcing it to twitch and dance to his tone. Your master sends a fledgling to treat with the gods. Tell me, little baby Cainite, did he tell you what waits for you beyond the fog?

Ignorance stills my tongue.

It will destroy you. Go back to the land of the unliving. Your kind has no place in this realm.

My lips part. My mouth forms the words, though not a whisper of breath passes from me.

I am strong, he hears me say.

You are nothing.

He stands before me. His gaze travels from my eyes to my chest, where inside my ribcage my heart remembers how it feels to beat. Blood pumps through my body, spurred along with every pulse. My lungs fill, drawing in the wet air around us; they spasm on the exhale and a cloud of dust expels from within.

You are a puppet with a hand inside of you. Another pulls your strings. Would you like me to pull your strings, little Cainite? Shall I show you how to dance?

Bones crack beneath the pressure of his hands upon my chest. My sternum shatters at his touch. A skeletal finger cuts a blazing line of white fire from throat to groin. He need only flick my ribs and one by one they splinter and crack, spine bowing in half. A touch on my brow lays me out again, panting, and then his hand is inside of me.

Shall I show you your heart, child? He rips it from my chest. My screams do not make it past my throat. The muscle is tiny in his hands, throbbing away as if it has not realized that it is dead, that it is no longer a part of me. His jaws gape open, rows and rows and rows of teeth inside of his mouth that can’t possibly be real, and yet…

And yet when he bites down it rattles me to my core. My psyche splits, rent and torn. Someone far away screams as sanguine drops drip from his masticating jaw. Blood oozes from my open chest cavity. I watch my heart continue to beat inside his mouth and hear his laughter in my head.

Severed.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. The drums that sound again make mockery of my lost heart. The mist swirls around us and the dark god fades into its depths as chanting touches my ears.

Hands pull me from the table. I am wet. I can smell blood, my blood, and look down to see that the front of my white shift is saturated. Nothing beats inside my chest. The monster who takes me into his arms is familiar, but there are mountains and trenches between us when once there was nothing. His eyes take me in, mouth descending towards the blood on my chest, and when he tastes it he knows. His echoing howl is twisted in dismay, grief… and rage. Rage that makes his entire body tremble. Rage that crushes my arms where he grips me. Rage that sends fangs plunging into my shoulder, claws into my sides. My Angel has become a nightmare.

Smoke wafts toward us. Burning wood. Embers. I see the reflection of the fire in his eyes and it halts whatever madness has taken hold of him, rooting him to the spot for the instant it takes me to break free. My Beast shoulders me aside and takes the reins, fleeing into the night.

Somewhere in the distance sounds cold laughter and the beating of the drums.


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Story Twelve, Celia VII

“Easier for things to turn to shit than to turn around.”
Peter Lebeaux


Tuesday evening, 8 March 2016

GM: Jade wakes up. She’s in a comfortable silk-sheeted bed. Alana is curled up next to her, wearing nothing except for a leather harness and collar, the one from earlier. Its leash is wrapped in Jade’s hand.

“Good evening, mistress,” the ghoul purrs, planting a soft kiss on her lips.

Support: Randy’s there, too. He’s more fully clothed, but seems equally excited to see her. “Nice to see you, babe.”

Celia: Jade’s only response is to roll onto her side, her hands moving immediately to pin Alana’s wrists to the bed above her head. Her thighs part, knees on either side of the girl’s hips, and her lips press down against Alana’s.

There’s a pause when she hears Randy’s voice. She lifts her head to look at him. Her gaze is… intense.

“Both of my pets in one bed,” she muses. “What’s a mistress to do.”

There are pressing needs, she knows. Things she should be doing. Information she should be looking into.

But this is a wonderful way to wake.

Support: “Well, I could think of a few things,” Randy says. “Like, ah.” He fidgets on his one good asscheek.

GM: Alana moans wantfully and struggles a bit under Jade’s grasp, but not enough to break free. Helpless. The Toreador can already see how wet her underwear-less ghoul is.

Celia: Needy, needy, needy.

Jade’s mouth opens, fangs out. She sinks them into the girl beneath her, sucking and nipping at her while she draws the blood forth. Her hands travel down her body, squeezing, pinching, stroking. Her fingers slip inside of the girl, curling upward. When she draws them out they’re slick.

She doesn’t take much from Alana. Enough to do the work she needs to do with her. She licks the holes closed when she’s done. She ties the leash to the headboard, keeping Alana still, while she turns to face Randy.

“What happened after I fell asleep?”

Her fingers slide back inside Alana. She keeps her eyes on Randy, though. Makes him watch while she fingerfucks the prone girl.

GM: Alana makes happy noises as her cheeks flush. Loud and wantful. She squirms and tugs against the leash, smiling widely as the collar chokes her and its bell goes ding-a-ling-a-ling.

Her motions definitely seem more sluggish than normal, though, and her ‘happy noises’ have an almost slurred quality to them. Her mistress was very hungry.

Celia: Her attention drifts back to the girl after a moment. She focuses on what she’s doing, on bringing the girl the release she so desperately wants. She recognizes that sign: she took too much. The ghoul will be out of it for most of the night.

GM: Of course, she could always feed her toy again. Alana loves that probably just as much as the sex.

Celia: Why not both? She pierces her own tongue and presses her mouth once more against the girl.

GM: Alana meets Jade’s kiss hungrily, lapping up every last red drop. The rush of blood gives her all-too evident vigor as she throatily gasps and moans, straining against the leash so that her tongue may explore her domitor’s mouth.

Celia: Her world narrows to the girl beneath her. The sounds, the taste, the feel. She gives until Alana is flushed once more, until the color returns to her cheeks and the bell is not the only thing chiming. When she pulls her mouth away to nuzzle at the girl’s neck she settles heavily against her, rolling to the side to pull her into her arms. She pats the spot at her back, an invitation for Randy to join their pile.

“Tell me what happened yesterday,” she says again.

GM: Alana snuggles up at her mistress’ side, planting gentle nips along the Toreador’s neck while continuing to finger herself. Randy eagerly piles on, spooning against Jade with an all-too tactile bulge in his crotch as he delivers his report.

Savoy’s people showed up, Mélissaire among them. They’ve brought Jade back to the Evergreen.

They’ve brought the hunters’ bodies back with them, which are currently on ice. Alana asked that they be turned over to Jade, and the other ghouls were happy to outsource body disposal to someone else.

Celia: She asks if they were able to find anything useful in the house or the belongings after she’d passed out. She rises once the report has been given and scans the room with her eyes, looking for appropriate clothing. None of it will compare to the positively flouncy dress she’d prepared for her original meeting with Savoy—that’s the real tragedy of last night, she thinks—but there is bound to be something suitable. She glances down at the writhing ghoul.

“Did you secure a meeting for me with Lord Savoy for this evening?”

GM: The pair answer that they did find something. While the hunters seemed to go out of their way to avoid carrying around identifying items in their apparent safehouse, there was a giveaway in the sleeping bag. Bryan Clayton was written over the name in faded print. This doesn’t match the ID he had in his wallet, which was for a Jeremy Chapman. Randy thinks the name on the sleeping bag is the real one. It’s the sort of thing you might honestly forget about.

Jade also finds that Alana has primmed and pampered her as she lay sleeping. She smells like she’s been bathed and had Sycomore perfume applied. Her nails are painted a fresh red. When she looks into the mirror on her phone, she sees Alana has also done her hair and makeup: after all, the Kindred don’t move, perspire, or do anything besides go back to being dead when they’re asleep, so there’s no risk of any cosmetics getting smudged or any clothes rumpled. Jade has been dressed in a tight-fitting, mid-thigh black dress with a very suggestive horizontal cut across the chest, a gold pair of sandal stilettos, and matching jewelry.



“Yes… mistress…” Alana whimpers as she strokes her clit, still tugging against the leash. “It’s for… later tonight… full schedule… Warden Lebeaux is… seeing you first…”

“I hope you like… how I’ve done you up…”

There’s also something more modest set out by the bed. Alana explains through her ‘happy noises’ that it’s there if she wants to meet with the detective or do other “work instead of play things” in less suggestive attire.

If she wants to play, though, there’s always a party at the Evergreen. Clementine said Veronica might be stopping by.

Alana seems to grow less aroused, though, as she sniffs how Clementine mocked her for her missing ear. The older ghoul was very, very cruel.

She stole it, too. Dropped it down a public toilet. Forced Alana to madly scramble to pull it out, mid-flush, before it was sucked away.

Celia: Jade takes a moment to soak in her appearance in the phone’s camera. She presses her lips together and blows a kiss at her reflection, fluttering her lashes. There’s nothing subtle about the look that Alana painted on her. She is positively ravishing. She doesn’t seem to be paying attention to the girl’s words until she tuts at Alana for responding so poorly to the teasing.

“’Lana, Clementine has done nothing of note for her mistress. Her claim to fame is putting other people down to make herself superior because she has no other talents besides the tongue in her mouth. You stopped a hunter attack.”

“She’s jealous she’s not nearly as pretty as you are, pet.”

GM: Alana smiles past a few sniffles. “You’re right, mistress. Like always.”

“Could we reattach my ear, mistress? I want to look pretty for you. You could take me out like this, on the leash and all fours, to show everyone at the Evergreen how much you own me.”

“I wouldn’t say no to getting something else reattached, babe,” says Randy, massaging Jade’s shoulders. “God, you’re so hot.”

Celia: After last night, there’s nothing she would enjoy more than being able to stay in bed all evening with the pair of them. But there’s work to be done. So much work. Lebeaux, Savoy… others whose names she dare not even think here less someone be listening in.

Another night. Another night when she does not have pressing concerns, she will find a bed large enough for the three of them, bring a handful of toys, and bar clothing from the room.

Just not tonight.

Her hand slips over Randy’s and she gives a gentle tug to bring him around the front of her.

“Fetch the ear, pet,” she says to the girl. “I’ll need material for you, Randy. What do you think, the man who fucked me? I could take his cock off and smooth it over your rear. Then that part of you will have been inside me, at least.”

“I could always give it to the monkey,” she muses. She wonders if the Nos would see it as the joke she intends, a smoothing of hurt feelings, or if he’d find some way to take offense.

GM: “Babe, it was your family’s house… someone woulda noticed…” Randy protests. “That earns me a… muscle graft from the girl, doesn’t it?”

“Thank you, mistress,” Alana exclaims with relief. She quickly slides off the bed, only for the leash to yank taut. She makes a little choking sound as her back hits the bed frame, hands reflexively flying to her neck.

Randy looks like he finds it more than a little hot.

“You’ll need to let me off my lead, mistress,” the ghoul smiles sheepishly from the floor, batting her lashes up at Jade as she rubs the collar.

Celia: She hides her smirk behind a hand and reaches out to do just that, allowing the girl free. She waves a hand at her to get on with it, hands returning to Randy.

“I suppose you found the information,” she allows. Her fingers twine through his hair, pulling his neck to the side. Her lips brush across his skin. She bites, puncturing his neck with her fangs.

GM: “Oh… ohh, that’s… good…” Randy moans, his erect cock bulging through his jeans. His hands hungrily fondle Jade’s breasts, but the ecstasy of her kiss leaves him weak, like it leaves any of the kine weak.

“Vroom… fuckin’… vroom!”

Alana scampers off on all fours, the leash trailing after her. She returns shortly later, around when Jade has taken her fill, with an ice-filled plastic bag clamped between her teeth. She rises to her knees to proffer it like a dog with a fetched stick in its mouth.

Celia: One night, she thinks, he’ll get what he actually wants. One night, maybe when Alana messes up, she’ll let him actually have her and they’ll make the other girl watch. Jade doesn’t mind his hands on her. Not after almost losing him to illness, not after the panic she’d woken up in during the day, surrounded by enemies, wishing he was there to protect her. She even laughs around a mouthful of blood at his expected noises. Her tongue seals the wound when she’s done and she shifts him slightly, moving so that he is behind rather than in front of her. It’s an open invitation for his hands.

GM: Randy moans needfully as Jade’s fangs withdraw. The disappointment in his voice is all-too apparent. He rubs against her longingly as they spoon, his no longer limp hands hungrily squeezing and kneading her breasts as he plants kisses along her neck.

Celia: She reaches for the bag, taking a moment to pat Alana on the head and murmur that she’s such a good girl. Then she’s in work mode, pulling the ear out of the bag and off ice to search for any sign of decay that needs fixed before it’s reattached.

“How many people saw you without it?” she asks idly. “Any hearing impairment?”

GM: Alana glows at the praise, but sits still as Jade works. The timely ice seems to have preserved the ear fairly well, much like it did with her own mother’s toes.

But unlike that time, Alana doesn’t have to undergo surgery. Her domitor can do it all right here.

“Mélissaire and Savoy’s people did, mistress,” Alana answers as she kneels still. “And Clementine. Only other ghouls. I called in sick at Flawless: there just wasn’t any way to explain that. Piper and Landen were annoyed over how it took me until past noon to call, but they and the others showed up to work anyway, even when their boss no-showed. Paying and treating them like real employees really keeps them loyal.”

“I can still hear, mostly, but it’s harder to tell where sounds are coming from. I could hear the jazz downstairs, but I couldn’t tell you where the speakers were.”

Celia: “Whose ghouls?” Jade asks as she works. She’s glad for the fact that Emily is in med school; she’d borrowed a few books on anatomy as she was studying how best to use her ability to sculpt flesh, and it gives her the edge she needs now to make sure that everything is in order. Luckily for Alana it had only been an ear. The stirrup bone is internal, and aside from the muscle attachment to the temporal, there isn’t much the ear does besides literally serve as a dish to catch and direct sound. All of the rest happens inside. She’s pleased to see that even the canal itself didn’t sustain any damage.

GM: “Lord Savoy’s, mistress. Also Warden Lebeaux’s. Mélissaire showed up with backup, when it sounded to her like there’d been hunters.”

“It’s possible I could’ve regrown the ear on my own,” Alana adds assuringly. “We can do that. I tried to, I held the ear to my head and made the blood mend, but it just didn’t take.”

Celia: “I am simply making sure that you can accompany me to this party with your ear attached, and that no one who does not already know what gifts I possess will learn of them. You, my dear,” she kisses her nose, “did very well. Last night. Today. This evening.”

The last of the flesh is melded together. It’s seamless. Can’t even tell the ear was taken off. She checks to make sure that it is even with the other, that her ghoul is once more the flawless being that she created.

“It’s okay, pet. You did what you could. If you continue to have hearing problems, tell me immediately.”

GM: Alana’s eyes wetly shine as the ear comes back on. She climbs back atop the bed and nuzzles her face against Jade’s stomach, perhaps in substitute for the Toreador’s breasts with Randy’s hands still occupied there.

“Yes, mistress,” she whispers, rubbing her head back and forth. “Thank you. I love you so much. I’m so thankful you’re letting me stay your flawless, happy toy forever.”

Celia: Jade takes the moment she has to soak up the adoration of these two mortals. She doesn’t know how real it is, or if their minds are simply twisted by the perversion of her blood. Maybe she doesn’t want to know. Doesn’t care. It’s enough that they feel the pale echo of affection brought on by the addiction and the bond, isn’t it?

As always, she has more to do, and relaxing in a pile of hedonism with these two is not on that list. She tells the pair of them to sit tight, exchanges her dress for the more casual and conservative outfit, and leaves the room.

Warden Lebeaux is waiting.

GM: The outfit is a simple blouse and knee-length skirt. Alana and Randy both protest, though, that Lebeaux isn’t here right now. He’s an ‘early riser’ for one of the Damned and Jade has slept later than usual. He’s off doing his own things. They have to call him. Which they do.

But until then, the pile of hedonism calls too.


Tuesday evening, 8 March 2016

GM: Shortly later, Celia heads to one of the Evergreen’s upstairs rooms to see Pete. In contrast to the priceless decor, raucous crowds, and ever-playing jazz on the first story, the sitting room where the pair meet is quiet and intimate. It’s decorated with a few pictures and other amenities that call to mind the court of the Sun King, but for the most part, its sensibilities seem grounded in the present.

So does the Tremere. He looks like he’s aged since his first meeting with Celia. That’s also because of his continued meetings with Celia. He’s asked her to make him just a little bit older, every year. Some thinning and graying to his hair, some wrinkles to his face. His ‘annual touch-up.’ Better for the Masquerade. Will let him stay a police officer for longer.

He’d only given a flat look when she’d asked him, perhaps facetiously, whether that was so he could date her mom.

Tonight he’s dressed (like usual) in a gray trenchcoat, rumpled white shirt, and loose-hanging tie as he greets her with a simple, “Celia. Seems you had a busy day.”

Celia: In her defense, she’d also told him that if he wanted to date her mom she could take away the wrinkles and the graying hair so he had a shot at wooing the younger woman. Not in so many words, of course. She’d kept him as attractive as she could within the parameters he’d set for her.

Celia dips her head in deference to the detective as she enters the room, taking the offered chair across from him. She is glad for the toned down clothing; though it wouldn’t be unusual for one of the rose clan to show up to a meeting like this in a getup like that, there’s still some propriety to be observed with this particular Kindred. She tucks her feet beneath the chair and places her hands on her lap.

“Good evening, Warden Lebeaux. Indeed I did. It was most unfortunate; I shall have to apologize profusely to Lord Savoy for missing our meeting.”

GM: Lebeaux had also told her the approximate age he’d wanted to appear. By 2016, it’s early 40s. The same age group as her mom, in fact.

He’d also crushed the Toreador’s soul when he’d told her he hadn’t wanted to look especially attractive. “Attractive people stand out. Attractive cops all the more so. For the most part, we don’t age well. Bad diet. Bad work hours. Bad company. It’s a stressful job. Make it show on my face.”

So Celia did the best she could within the parameters he’d set.

Celia: He’s so difficult. She’d gotten her mom a cop calendar that year for her birthday instead. Emily had thought it was hilarious.

GM: Emily had had a good laugh over it. Diana had enjoyed the cop calendar, remarking playfully how much she “liked a man in uniform.” That led to Emily wondering if they should set her up with a police officer, military guy, or firefighter. “I mean, they tend to be old-fashioned, like her. More jerks to weed out, though.”

Celia: They’d decided on mailman, in the end. Handle with care and all that.

GM: She’d also demurred on the subject when asked about it. Teenagers in the house still. “Maybe later, when it’s just Lucy.” Always “maybe later.”

Celia: Logan is out of the house now. Maybe she’ll bring it up to Pete again.

GM: “You can still call me Pete,” the Kindred cop waves off. “I’m not that much older than you.”

“And Savoy’s still a reasonable lick, so far as apologizing. You didn’t choose to get jumped by hunters.”

Celia: Celia flashes a smile at him. She likes it when he gets riled up about the Warden thing. Maybe she should court him instead.

“Should I assume that’s why you asked to see me, Pete? So I can tell you what happened?”

GM: “Yep. I’ve interviewed your ghouls already, but they obviously weren’t there for it all.”

Celia: She gives him the rundown of the evening. Grabbed at the spa—how did they even get in?—and waking up tied to the bed. The questions. The misinformation she’d given them about how some of their abilities work, just in case she happened to die. The “others” they kept mentioning. She hadn’t been able to find out about the others, she tells him, but she repeats what they said about them. The identification they’d found, including the name inside the bag, plus the name “Brooke” that the male had shouted when the girl had died. The location of the house, too, in case that helps any.

“I kept the bodies. I know you have a… thing you can do sometimes.” She waves vaguely, indicating his magic at large.

“They were trying to get into my phone.” She doesn’t know if it’s relevant or not, but it reminds her that she has theirs. She tells him that, too.

GM: Pete patiently listens to Celia’s rundown of events, nodding every so often and interjecting with the occasional question of his own.

“There are things I can do with blood samples,” Pete says. “I’ve already taken two. Their phones though could potentially be more informative. They probably knew that about yours, too.”

Celia: “I’ll be sure to get them to you.” Celia is happy to pass the task off. For as much time as she spent with her former tutor, she still doesn’t think she’s as savvy as he is with the technology.

GM: “All they have to do is look at your call history to see who you’re calling, at what times, and for how long. Could tell them quite a lot.”

Celia: “I didn’t let them in. They didn’t get access.”

GM: “Good. Me getting access to theirs is exactly what they wouldn’t have wanted. Seems these people were being relatively careful to hide their identities while on the hunt.”

“Your ghouls also lied to me about not having the phones, though I’ve let them hold on to those until you and I could talk. I appreciate you being more forthcoming than they were.”

Celia: “That… seems like a ridiculous thing to lie about.” Celia can’t fathom why they would. To give her credit for cracking them, maybe? She doesn’t want anything to do with it. She’d prefer to stay as far away from future hunters as she can.

She pauses, hesitant. He has been something like a mentor to her these past few years, has shown her more kindness than almost any of the others. If anyone knows what to do about this situation and can guide her toward the best outcome, she reasons that it’s him.

“They saw my face. Celia’s face. Were inside my business.”

GM: “Well, ghouls aren’t always rational. Kindred either, for that matter.”

“And yes, they were. That’s what will be so informative about their phones. To see whether they told someone else, or whether that secret died with them.”

“But I’d cautiously say to be optimistic. From what you and Alana said, they avoided giving away directly identifying information over their phones.”

“The police are in Vidal’s pocket, after all. You’d be amazed how many ways even local departments have to listen in on your conversations. It isn’t just the NSA these days.”

Celia: “There’s a terrifying thought.”

“Perhaps I’ll have my girl make some calls during the day from my phone. Send her out in public with my face.” She doesn’t phrase it as a question, there’s no lilt at the end of the sentence, but she lifts her brows at him all the same.

GM: “It’s a terrifying reality,” Pete responds to her first statement. “Technologies like StingRay let us fool your phone into thinking we’re a cell phone tower. We can listen in to your conversations in real time. We can watch you type your text message. View your photos, calendars, notebooks. It’s all fair game. We don’t even need to get a warrant.”

Celia: She gives him a flat look.

“How do I prevent that?”

GM: “You can’t,” Pete answers. “If law enforcement really wants in to your phone, we have lots of ways we can get in.”

“But you’re on to something when you bring up prevention, because that’s always better than a cure.”

“The most obvious prevention is to never say or text anything that would break the Masquerade or personally screw you over. Communicate through euphemism. That’s the bare minimum any lick who still wants to use a phone should do.”

“There’s also simply not drawing scrutiny in the first place. Your idea to actually send someone out in the day with Celia’s face is a great idea.”

Celia: She’s glad he thinks so. She wasn’t sure if it would work, if they’d already shared her identity. She’s not ready to burn it just yet, but if she has to. Still, it’s something she should have been doing all along. She has a whole social media platform she can use to let the world know she’s still “alive.”

“Will you let me know what you find on the phones?”

GM: “I will. Until then, I recommend you avoid Celia Flores’ usual hangouts, just to be on the safe side. It shouldn’t be too long.”

Celia: “How long?” She has someone waiting for her there. She can’t just leave her.

GM: “It depends what I find on their phones. How much time it takes me to run the leads down.”

“I’ve been to Flawless already, though. So were my ghouls, during the day.”

Celia: “Find anything? To worry about?”

GM: “Besides your tied up and nine-tenths-dead sister,” Pete deadpans, “there were some informative clues as to the hunters’ MO.”

“She’s been moved to the Evergreen.”

Celia: For a moment she isn’t sure what to say. She sucks in air she doesn’t need, lets it out slowly. Presses her fingers to the bridge of her nose, as if to stave off a headache she doesn’t feel. All habits leftover from her time as a breather.

He speaks before she can ask.

“She’s okay, then.”

She sounds relieved.

GM: Pete gives her a look.

“Not by a long shot, from the state she was in.”

Celia: “I didn’t… that wasn’t me.”

“I was trying to fix her without her losing it on me.”

“This whole mess is because I was trying to find someone to bleed for her.”

GM: “The hunters notably didn’t take her. My guess would be she played dead.”

“We’re pretty good at that, without a pulse.”

Celia: “Smart.”

“Is she… what happened to her here?”

GM: “Smart, or just desperate. A blue blood like her had to have been really hurting, hungry, or both, not to even try to mind control them.”

He frowns. “Don’t know if that fits her character, though. Could be the hunters just overlooked her and she never got the chance.”

“As far as what happened, I haven’t interviewed her yet.”

Celia: “But I mean, where is she? Is she… was she fixed? Is she up? Moving around?”

GM: Pete gives her a look.

Celia: She doesn’t know what that look is supposed to mean, but she isn’t sure she likes it.

GM: “She has 12-inch piece of wood buried in her chest. I should hope the reasons are apparent.”

Celia: She looks down at her hands. She should have known that. They wouldn’t take chances.

“Right.”

“Does everyone know she’s here?” Savoy. Preston.

GM: “There’s a war going on out there while you’re not on Instagram, Miss Kalani. A mostly cold war, but a war all the same. She doesn’t exactly play for the same team as we do.”

Celia: “I was trying to find out why she showed up at my door like that when they grabbed me.” The use of her name like that—formal, the sort of thing they never do with each other—almost makes her flinch. The room is suddenly colder than it was a moment ago.

GM: “I’ve informed Lord Savoy. I don’t know who else he may have chosen to inform.”

“I’m of several minds on your sister, personally. She may not play for the same side as we do, but that isn’t a crime that merits punishment, in and of itself. But until I was able to talk to either of you, it wasn’t apparent what she was doing in your spa and why she was in the state that she was.”

“If she was the one attack to you there, though, she has violated the Second Tradition.”

Celia: It’s an easy out. Say she was attacked. Let them deal with her. She had attacked. Came at her like she meant to rip Celia apart, hadn’t she?

Her lips press together. She shakes her head.

“She showed up in that condition. She was staked before she could cause a problem.”

GM: “Mm-hmm. Didn’t even try to feed on anyone, after risking that trip into the heart of Savoy’s territory?”

“It’s in your grandsire’s hands, in any case. I’m going to interview her, but he’ll decide what happens to her.”

Celia: “She’s my sister, Pete. Or… or she was, anyway, I don’t even know what we are now.”

GM: “I understand,” the detective replies. “But you should also understand that you two have done things which many siblings might reasonably never forgive each other for. All before the matter of your Embraces, or the fact you’ve chosen to cast in your lots on opposite sides of a conflict.”

“Much like with your mom, I might hope for the best but still prepare for the worst.”

Celia: She lifts her face from her hands at his words.

“D’you mean you’re finally taking her out?”

GM: “I don’t think your sister’s actions warrant being ‘taken out’, Celia, or that I should be the Kindred who does that. I’m a cop, not an executioner.”

Celia: They both know that isn’t what she meant. She gives him a look for a change.

GM: The Kindred cop heaves a deliberate sigh.

“It’s been close to seven years since you were turned.”

“You know what we are. All of what we are. Why in God’s name would you want one of us close to your mother and baby sister in that way?”

Celia: “You’re breaking my heart, Pete. You can make it up to me, though. Let me come with you when you talk to Roxanne.”

Celia doesn’t bother to point out that she sees her mom and sister all the time and there haven’t been any issues.

She’ll win him over eventually.

GM: “Okay. You can come along for that. But wake up,” Pete says gruffly. “Forget the fantasy. Your mom and I are a terrible idea.”

Celia: “Of course, warden.”

GM: “It’s been seven years. Don’t tell me she hasn’t found a real man by now.”

Celia: “She says she’s not interested.” Celia lifts one of her shoulders in a helpless sort of ‘what can you do’ shrug. “I think she’s lonely and afraid of being hurt.”

GM: “Well, that’s too bad for her. Because this is it. One life. All you get, unless someone turns you into a monster. It’s a waste to spend it alone.”

Celia: “Aren’t you spending it alone? Seems like a good solution for both of you.”

GM: “Longinus in fucking lingerie, kid,” Pete says with another deliberate sigh, then traces the sign of the lance at the minor blasphemy.

“Okay. I don’t know how well this is going to sink in with a Toreador, but I’ll try.”

“First, everything else aside, I’m nocturnal, just like you. I’m betting it’s already been a balancing act to explain why you’re never around during the day. As an adult child who doesn’t live with her mother or stay in contact as frequent as a significant other.”

“That’s damn hard to explain in any meaningful relationship why you’re not around, ever, during sunup.”

Celia: “Retinol.”

GM: “And when she tells that sad story to her girlfriends? There are so many licks who think they’re so clever with their ‘xeroderma pigmentosum’ explanation, except for how they’ve not been the only ones to come up with it. It’s bad for the Masquerade.”

Celia: Celia crosses her arms. She looks away from him.

“I know. I know, Pete. I’m not ignorant to the challenges we face. I know my time with her is limited, too, that soon I won’t be able to see either one of them again. It’s dangerous. Like you said. For them. For me. For the Masquerade.”

“She lost two kids to this. I just want to see her happy before Celia has to disappear.”

GM: “Yes. And introducing another vampire into her life? Danger doubles, at least.”

Pete’s voice softens. “I know you want her to be happy. I’m flattered you think I could make her happy. And if I wasn’t Kindred, it’s entirely possible I might take the two of you up on your offer. But I am Kindred. And there are men out there, good and decent men, who don’t pose anywhere nearly as much danger to your family’s lives as I do.”

Celia: “She thought Maxen was a good and decent man when she met him.”

GM: “Sometimes our judgment sucks like a crack whore.”

Celia: She tries to huff. It turns into a laugh instead.

GM: Pete allows himself a faint smile.

“But your dad was a while ago. I’m guessing your two’s judgment doesn’t suck nearly as hard, these days.”

Celia: “Maybe,” she allows. She’s done some questionable things lately. “I won’t bother you about it again.”

For a month.


Tuesday evening, 8 March 2016

GM: For all the Evergreen’s image of genteel hospitality, and for all the laughter and music that may waft up from the first floor, there is a room where the kid gloves come off. Every elder has a room like this one. It’s cell-like and utterly bare save for a variety of heavy steel restraints and related ‘tools.’ Roxanne is staked and bolted to a St. Andrew’s Cross that’s free-standing in the center of the room, the better to keep its occupant’s back exposed.

Pete waves off Jade’s offer to resculpt his face. Her sister is blindfolded.

He removes the stake. Roxanne’s fangs gnash as she screams and howls, futilely tugging against the steel restraints.

“Hello, Miss Gerlette,” he says. “You’ve been apprehended for intrusion within Lord Savoy’s parish. We have some questions. Answer them honestly, and things will go better for you.”

“Mr. Savoy,” Roxanne spits.

“Okay, he’s Mr. Savoy. Doesn’t matter to me what you call him.”

“You look like you could use a drink,” the Tremere continues. “Play ball and you’ll get some drinks. Sound like a fair deal?”

“I’m not telling you anything,” Roxanne hisses. “I’ll never betray the prince to a usurper.”

“My questions are about you, actually, not the prince. What were you doing at Flawless?”

Silence.

“Sounds to me like that has nothing to do with Vidal, unless you were there on his orders.”

“No,” says Roxanne.

“Okay. So you showed up to your sister’s spa, starving and out your mind and three-quarters of the way to final death. What were you hoping to accomplish?”

He continues, “It’s pretty deep in Mr. Savoy’s territory. Either you went there with a specific purpose that was worth the risks, or you were already in the area and it was simply convenient.”

He pauses for a moment.

“Like, say, to feed on the sister who’s on not so good terms with the rest of your family.”

Roxanne is very still at the word ‘sister.’

“Yes, Miss Flores, we know who you are. Obviously you didn’t show up at Flawless completely by accident.”

“Though it also raises the question why you’d do this now,” Pete muses. “If you just wanted to feed on your sister, you could’ve done that anytime she left the Quarter. Bunch of possible ways to lure her out. So either something’s changed in your personal life, to send you after her now, or she was convenient because you were already in the Quarter on unrelated business.”

Roxanne remains silent.

“My bet would be #2,” says Pete. “Obviously you were in a pretty bad state. Going this deep into the Quarter is a risk. You showing up at Flawless feels spontaneous rather than premeditated. You were already in or near the Quarter and it was convenient.”

He pauses.

“You look thirsty. Obviously, you were in a fight with somebody. A personal fight, rather than one under Vidal’s orders. So while you’re hanging there, being thirsty, I’d ask yourself whether this fight is going to become a matter of public knowledge. Whether there was collateral damage, or other licks ashed, that’s going to result in it getting talked about at Elysium. And us knowing anyway, and you being thirsty for nothing.”

“Actually,” he muses, “less than nothing. If any other licks go suspiciously missing around now, you’re the prime suspect.”

Celia: “She’s been missing for a while now. Funny how no one has come looking.” Jade’s words, Jade’s voice.

It’s entirely too similar to her daytime ordeal with the hunters. She tries not to think about it.

“Family thinks she’s overseas. Lick thinks they finished the job.” Dark amusement drips from her tongue. The threat is there; wasn’t Isabel always the smart one? She can figure it out.

GM: “I didn’t ash any Kindred,” Roxanne growls.

“So the other side did, then,” says Pete. “That’d be consistent with how you seem to have lost the fight. If you won, you could’ve taken a drink from the loser, then ashed them.”

Celia: “Brings us back to why you came after your sister. Figured you’d poach in the Quarter, no one would know?”

GM: “Fuck you,” the Ventrue spits.

Celia: “Don’t tell me it was sisterly love that brought you there.”

GM: “Fights with Gangrel can be nasty affairs. So who did the other side ash, that you’re innocent of? Because it sounds to me like this is going to come out, and it’d benefit you if the truth did.”

Pete bites his wrist and holds the bleeding, coppery-smelling font close.

“In more ways than one.”

Roxanne howls and snaps at the offered wrist with distended canines, only for the Tremere to pull it away. She howls and roars and strains. Pete waits for the frenzy to subside, then holds the wrist close again.

“It… was Caitlin Meadows,” Roxanne relents. “She killed Wyatt Jenkins.”

Pete lets her drink.

She sucks vitae ravenously, but he doesn’t let her feed for long. The Ventrue’s despair is plain as the wrist withdraws.

Celia: As interesting as it is to learn of the death of another by the scourge, she doesn’t know Wyatt on a personal level. Just rumors that he has a penchant for making off with mortals and that he’s one of her sister’s krewe. She can imagine a number of reasons Meadows would have to murder him.

No, her curiosity is more intimate in nature. Why Roxanne was in the Quarter to begin with. What brought her to Flawless. Whether or not she knows that her sister is among the Damned, though she finds a clever way to word this to protect the secret if not. If she admits to being there for a nefarious purpose, she asks why: what did Jade do to her that makes her hatred this intense?

She supposes she’s curious about the coterie’s feud with Meadows as well, and she tacks that on, more to keep abreast of current and political situations than any personal investment.

GM: Roxanne says that Meadows killed her lover, Evan Bourelle. The Storyvilles wanted revenge on her.

Pete asks why they think Meadows is to blame. Roxanne answers that Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, another blue blood who “works for me,” dug up the information.

Pete asks why they were stupid enough to go after the scourge, and how they could have possibly expected to win.

Roxanne says nothing, then screams obscenities as she gnashes her fangs, madly trying to throw herself upon the Tremere detective.

Pete lets Jade take over the questioning.

Roxanne screams and raves what a “filthy whore” her sister is, and how she “deserves it, deserves every last bit of it! IT’S HER FAULT! IT’S ALL HER FAULT!”

“So you were going to kill her, is that it?”

“HA! Ha ha ha HA HAH HAAAA!” Roxanne shrieks.

“I was gonna TURN her! Yes! I’ll say it out loud! HA! Why! The! Fuck! NOT!?!”

“I WAS GONNA MAKE MY SISTER A VAMPIRE!”

She throws herself in the direction of Jade’s voice, laughing hysterically as the metal cuffs dig into her bruised flesh.

Celia: “Why?” The only question she can get out around the lump in her throat. The only thing she can think to ask.

GM: “’Cause she made ME one!” Roxanne spits. “She can see what it’s LIKE!”

“Ha ha hahaHAHAHAHAH!”

Celia: “Your sister had nothing to do with your Embrace.”

GM: “She’s sooooo stupid! She’s a dog walking on its hind legs! She’s a college dropout! She’s so fucking STUPID!”

Celia: “So you’d want to spend eternity with her?” The sneer is audible.

GM: Roxanne giggles.

Celia: “That means your death as well, you imbecile. Are you so eager to meet your lover again?”

GM: “She’s so fucking stupid! Dropout dropout dropout dropout!”

“She was a dance major too! Ha! How can you flunk a dance class?! Ha ahahaHAHAHAGH-!”

Celia: The stake slides neatly back into her body.

GM: She cuts off as the wood sinks into her heart. Her mouth is still silently laughing.

Celia: She should feel something. Disgust. Anger. Guilt, maybe, or pity for the girl who used to be her sister. She sinks into herself to find it. She reaches, but nothing’s there.

Her heart is empty.

Numb eyes turn to regard Pete. Her lips haven’t even flattened into the thin line of disappointment; there’s nothing on her face but a flat, blank affectation.

“She violated the Second Tradition. She would have violated the Third. She is a breach waiting to happen.”

GM: “Sure seems like it,” says Pete. “Evan and her friends must have meant a lot if they turned her this way.”

He heads outside the room with Celia and closes the door behind them.

“It’s soundproof. You know her better than I do.”

Celia: Celia’s laugh is as hollow as the rest of her.

“She was like this before she was turned,” she says to him once the door is shut.

GM: “Do you think they caused this, or…?” he starts, then trails off.

“Like this in what sense?”

Celia: “Unhinged.”

GM: “Abuse can do that. You had your mom as an anchor. Doesn’t sound like she had much of anyone.”

Celia: “She had Daddy. That’s all she needed.”

GM: “What she thought she needed. The results rather speak for themselves.”

Celia: “There’s nothing to be done about that now. She’s a danger to our society.”

GM: “I’m curious if she could be rehabilitated and perhaps converted. Seems like she’s hit rock bottom. Fat lot that Vidal has done for her.”

Celia: “She is a ticking time bomb, Pete. You can’t rehabilitate that. The first chance she has to get out she will, and she’ll be coming after me.”

GM: “Might be you’re right. Always easier for things to turn to shit than to turn around.”

“I’m going to question her some more before Lord Savoy gets back. Have you had enough?”

Celia: “What’s left to find out?”

GM: “I haven’t heard her full version of events. You never know what little details of interest may come up. But I’m not sure you need to see any more of her in this state.”

Celia: “I will not let it be said that the thing in there chased me from the room.”

GM: “By my count driving a stake into someone’s chest is rather the opposite of being chased.”

Celia: “I’d love to know what other issues in her life she blames me for.”

GM: “Her blame isn’t completely without basis. That tape’s circulation destroyed her mortal life. She’d be fair to blame me for that too, though.”

Celia: “I know what I did to her.”

GM: “We all have a breaking point. Everyone can snap.”

“In any case. I’m going back to question her. If Lord Savoy decides she can’t be rehabilitated, I can ask him to give you two a last moment.”

Celia: “I have a question. Before you go. For you.”

GM: “What’s that?”

Celia: “I was looking into an addition at the spa.” The change in subject is clear: she has completely written off her sister. The deranged maniac in the next room is nothing to her. “One of the Nos mentioned something about a spell to keep out water for a room under sea level. Is that something you can do?”

GM: “It is,” says Pete. “Storage space?”

He doesn’t press the matter of her sister further.

Celia: “Yes.” Technically.

GM: “Okay. Tell me when it’s ready.”

Celia: Her face becomes no more animated as they talk about this than it had been in the room. Her tight jaw is the only indication that she is less than fine.

She nods.

“I’m going to wait for Lord Savoy.” Her eyes flick toward the door, then back to him. Maybe he sees the way her lower lip trembles for a fraction of a second before she presses her tongue to the roof of her mouth to stop it. Maybe he dismisses it as a trick of the light.

Maybe he knows what’s going on inside her head.

She blinks at him. “I’ll be upstairs.”

GM: Pete just looks at her for a bit.

“Okay,” he repeats simply. “Two last things before you go.”

“Well, three. The roof isn’t accessible when he’s not here. Party’s on the first floor. Probably be a while before he’s back on the roof.”

Celia: Maybe she’d been hoping someone would steal her from the roof. Or shove her off it.

GM: “But there’s a guy I know, if you’re still looking to set someone up with your mom.”

Celia: “Yeah?”

GM: “He’s single. Retired cop. Current P.I. My former partner.”

“He’s… a lot of things. But he’s a decent guy. Doesn’t have any family or kids of his own.”

Celia: “He’s not like us?” She has to check.

GM: “He’s a renfield. Independent. No domitor. Stays out of politics.”

Celia: “You trust him?”

GM: “He keeps a lot of secrets. I never knew he was on the blood until after my Embrace.”

A pause.

“I trust him where it counts. He was one of the guys I got to stand watch outside your mom’s hospital room, back when that went down.”

“You might not remember him. She probably doesn’t.”

Celia: It’s enough for her. She nods again. She might even smile, though it’s brief.

“I’ll see if I can talk her into a date. I could change your face, you know, if you wanted to come with me. Double up. Or observe from afar. Like a stakeout.”

Definitely smiling now.

GM: “I trust you can look after your mom. And I more than trust that a gorgeous Toreador can find a double date all on her own,” Pete says dryly.

“His office is 5666 Canal Street, if you want to meet him yourself.”

Celia: “Breaking my heart, Pete. Your friend got a name?”

GM: “Lou Fontaine.”

Celia: She nods and tucks that name away for future research. She’s never heard of him, but she hasn’t heard of a lot of ghouls, so that doesn’t surprise her. The Internet can tell her more.

“And the third thing?”

GM: “Watch your back.”

Celia: She waits. There has to be more than that.

GM: “There’s been a number of disappearances in recent months. Inside and outside the Quarter. Uptick in reported hunter encounters. For whatever reason, seems like they’ve been busier lately.”

“So watch your back. And watch what you say over phones.”

Celia: “Thanks, Pete.” She touches his arm. “I know you think…” She shakes her head. It doesn’t matter. “Thanks. I’ve always appreciated you.”

He’d called her gorgeous, so she knows he appreciates her too. She doesn’t tell him he slipped, though.


Tuesday evening, 8 March 2016

GM: Celia finds a text waiting on her phone from Emily as she returns to the accommodations with her ghouls.

Mom told me what’s up with Randy. Sorry what he’s putting you through.

Celia: Jade should calm down before she goes to the party. She should find a way to take the edge off. A bout with one of her ghouls, maybe, but they’re so fragile. She wants someone more sturdy to rake her claws down. Someone like Roderick, who she never minded putting her on her back.

But he won’t come here. Won’t respond to a text. They’d had no contact since that night in her haven. She knows it. Knows that asking is a waste of her time. That she shouldn’t even be thinking of him right now. He won’t come running because she had a bad day; their long ago promise to always be there for each other is nothing but an empty gesture that neither has broached since.

Maybe Gui is downstairs. She knows Veronica is. She could always see if she brought the thief around. Her two favorite Toreador, always good for a laugh. Or a fuck. Abellard’s words come back to her at the thought—spend as much time on your back as you do looking in a mirror—and then Pete’s snide comment about the Toreador, too. Her lip curls.

She scrolls to the text from Emily. Is nothing in this family secret?

Thanks, Em. We’re working on it. Mom gave me some good advice. Hey, speaking of, I might have a friend to set her up with. She includes the cat emoji with the star eyes.

GM: Oh awesome! Who’s the guy?

Celia: Former cop, ha!

GM: Well she said she liked a guy in uniform.

Or at least formerly in uniform lol

Celia: What kind of cute things you think they’re gonna do? Minigolf?

GM: Maybe dancing actually? Something inside Mom’s comfort zone that she knows she’s good at.

Celia: Oh yeah you’re right, that’s a good idea. Bet I can convince her to get a new dress, too.

This is gonna be fun.

GM: Yeah I bet you can she likes shopping.

She does. It’s her one ‘guilty pleasure’ besides the spa visits. After so long shopping at thrift stores following the divorce, she’s enjoyed being able to afford nice clothes.

I’ll try and see if I can watch Lucy that evening. Med school is just so brutal.

Celia: Almost over though.

GM: Residency pretty brutal too. But yeah. Finally get to introduce myself as doctor.

Celia: Dr. Em.

You gonna make Robby take your last name?

Mister and Doctor Rosure.

GM: Haha. Not thinking any further ahead than surviving med school right now. I knew it was intense but it’s just been beyond crazy this last year.

Celia: Anything I can help with?

GM: Eh it’s been a good crazy too. Think I’ve found a mentor with one of the doctors.

Celia: Nice! What do they have you doing?

Wait is this like a Grey’s Anatomy mentor??? ;)

He cute tho? Lolol

GM: Hahaha NO she’s a woman and has as many kids as Mom anyway

Ok that was kinda sexist of me having kids doesn’t mean you want sex less

Celia: You’ve got a terrible role model in that department.

I don’t think she appreciated those passion parties

GM: Ugh don’t we know it

Hahahaha

I still can’t believe you gave her vibrators for Christmas

Celia: The woman needs an orgasm before she dies.

GM: Like I thought the lingerie was already risque

Yeah I’d bet real money she’s never had one

Celia: Soon she’ll be old and dried out.

GM: ;(

Celia: And it’ll be bottles of lube.

GM: I don’t get how someone can have more kids than fingers on their right hand and never have an orgasm.

Celia: Religion: not even once.

GM: But yknow I kinda feel like virginity is a state of mind as much as it actually is whether you’ve had sex

Celia: That is the weirdest thing you’ve ever said to me.

I’ll let my dad know I’m still pure.

GM: I’m just saying it seems utterly bizarre someone can have as many kids as her and still never orgasm or barely even know what a vibrator is. It’s incongruent. It’s like she’s still a virgin mentally even if she isn’t one physically

I guess that’s religion and being a Republican tho

Celia: Did I ever tell you about that kid who told me he was still a virgin because he didn’t get off? Like he didn’t enjoy sex so he just didn’t count it.

GM: Yeah you did. Feel like your dad would still count any sex you had even if it was bad sex. Yay double standards

Celia: I spoke to Logan the other day. He said Dad is ‘proud of me.’

GM: Fuck him and fuck what he’s proud of

Celia: Pretty much.

GM: If Logan was even telling the truth

Your dad thinks I’m a ‘mongrel’ tho I know that’s true

Celia: Oh yeah he mentioned you two chatted. And that he hung up. :/

GM: Hitting your girlfriend is not okay. Not gonna tiptoe around it.

Celia: I told him the same. Can’t believe he did that.

GM: I used to think him and the others splitting time with Mom and Maxen was a good compromise. Except it’s like getting your bones broken, letting them heal, then breaking them again, ad infitum, and trusting the ER doctor to fix you up every time because they’re such a good doctor, then getting mad you’re always in pain

When the answer is to stop breaking your bones and not always needing a fucking doctor. Prevention always better than cure

Maxen is completely toxic. He’s breaking their bones as fast as Mom can fix them

And no matter how well she does it’s always gonna hurt and there’ll be cumulative long term damage

I don’t know what else we coulda realistically done at the time but letting him stay in their lives was horrible for them

Celia: Nothing we could have done. But they’re out now. They’re all at college. I’ll see if I can find David a job or different internship, I’m working with Logan, and Soph is… well, you know.

The less they see him the better now.

GM: I’m just so fucking thankful he never got his hands on Lucy. Genius idea what you did there.

I love that kid so much. She’s growing up right.

Mom there to be sweet, us to toughen her up.

I kinda wonder if that’s why Mom isn’t dating. If she thinks we have a great thing going and doesn’t want to jinx it bringing someone else in

Celia: Eh. Maybe. It’s not like bringing someone into the picture is going to have Lucy calling him “dad” though.

We’ll talk to her and see how it goes I guess. I don’t think she NEEDS someone to be fulfilled, but I’d like to see her get back out there again.

Healthier role model for the kids when they are with her.

GM: Agreed. Think you were right ~7 years ago tho. Someone older w/ grown kids or w/o kids is best

Celia: Well if this guy is a retired cop he’s older. Friend told me he’s got no kids. Think it’s perfect.

GM: Can also say from personal experience it’s never too late to start thinking of someone as a parent

Celia: Awww you’re right.

GM: :)

Yeah retired guy sounds great

Celia: I’ll hook it up.

Celia closes out of the message with Emily. She’s no less wound than she was when it started; it had done little to take the edge off, only reminded her that she, too, needs someone in her life. Unlife. Whatever.

For all that she hasn’t been around him in years, Roderick Durant sure has been on her mind lately. She scrolls through her phone to stare at his name in her contacts list.

She’d left him alone. All this time. Hadn’t gone back to the Anarchs. Hadn’t pushed her way in. Hadn’t called or texted or seen those games of his for herself. Was that why the Nossies were so rude to her? She recalls he was “in” with them. Maybe it was payback for… what, breaking his heart when she was 19 and still alive? That’s a stretch. They’re just dicks. A society of raging dicks, that’s what Lebeaux had once said.

She makes a noise. Might be disgust. For the months after she’d spent almost every night at her haven, the one she’d taken him to. Pretending to paint, to practice her face in the mirror, writing, reading, waiting. Waiting for him to show up. Waiting for her sire to show up. Waiting on boys.

Well, she’s done waiting. She doesn’t need either one of them. She’s going to go fuck Veronica or Gui or Pietro or maybe all three, throw in Lord Savoy himself for good measure. Maybe she’ll give that twat Preston a tumble, see if the bitch ever unwinds and lets her hair down. No, that’s unkind of her; Preston had seen to it that Jade knew what she needed to in order to get by with the older licks, and once she’d gotten it down they hadn’t had any issues.

She sets her phone down and changes into the dress Alana had brought for her. Short, tight, black: it checks all the right boxes.

GM: Alana is more than happy to help her into it. The ghoul is still naked except for the leather harness’ crisscrossing black straps.

“You can’t seduce Pete if you always show up in such boring clothes, mistress,” she purrs as she helps her domitor dress.

Celia: “What makes you think I want to seduce Pete?” Jade asks, amused, as if she hadn’t just been thinking the same.

GM: “Why wouldn’t you want to?” Alana only laughs.

Celia: Because he’s the only lick around whose good opinion means as much to me or maybe even more than my sire’s.

Jade just offers the ghoul a coy smile.

“I’ll take it under consideration. Did you happen to find out if Madam Alsten-Pirrie brought her lover?”

GM: “Not for sure, mistress, but last I heard they haven’t been fighting. It seems pretty likely he’ll be by if she is.”

She strokes Jade’s exposed underbreast. “I just love the cut of this dress. Pete and Pietro would too, I bet.”

Celia: Even when they’re not fighting they’re fighting. Jade can’t help but smile at her ghoul’s persistence. She is not seducing Pete. The poor lick will have whiplash if she bounces from trying to set him up with her mother to trying to claim him for herself.

“I have a task for you, starting tomorrow. New phones. Three of them. I’m also going to need you to use mine during the day to keep up appearances. This… fiasco with the hunters has shown me just how delicate our little ruse is.”

She touches a hand to Alana’s cheek, trailing a thumb across her lips.

“How would you like to be me for a week? Put in some appearances.”

GM: “I’d like to do anything you’d like, mistress,” Alana smiles at her touch. She kneels and rubs her head against the Toreador’s leg like an affectionate dog.

“Different phones. Actually being around during the day. You’re so smart.”

Celia: “You know you’ll have to act like Celia if you take this role.” Jade looks down at the ghoul. Even she isn’t that submissive. She runs her fingers through Alana’s hair. “We’ll practice later, pet. Stay here with Randy; poor boy looks so forlorn over his missing cheek. Be a good girl and I’ll come get you shortly.”

GM: Alana rubs her head against Jade’s leg again, closing her eyes. “Yes, mistress. I won’t let you down.”

Randy is konked out on the bed. It’s easy to overlook that her servants are diurnal by nature.

Celia: Poor boy. She’ll fix him soon, she promises herself. As soon as she can get back into the spa and collect the necessary materials. What a waste of a trip to the sewers; it irritates her again just thinking about it.

“The warden told me that you and Randy hid the phones from him, ’Lana. Where are they?”

GM: At least she has the materials. Two mostly fresh bodies.

Alana looks marginally alarmed that the Tremere saw through her.

“Under the mattress, mistress. I thought you might want to look at them first.”

Celia: “I do,” Jade confirms, moving toward the bed. “Very clever of you. You’re not in trouble, sweet, don’t look so shaken. He didn’t accuse you of lying, only mentioned he thought it odd they didn’t have any.”

She lifts the corner of the mattress to find the phones and pulls them out. She could just hand them over to Pete, she knows, but… last time she’d handed him evidence he’d refused to tell her what it was he’d found, and she’d almost died for these stupid phones. She isn’t going to take the chance that they leave her in the dark again.

Make yourself useful, they’d said to her.

So she will.

She presses the button in the bottom center of the screen to wake the phones up. Enter PIN, greets her from one, while the other displays a 3×3 grid of dots for her to trace over. This one, at least, will be easier to get into than trying to hack a PIN-protected phone.

If only they took a print, she thinks mournfully. It’d be so easy to nip down to the cooler and take off a finger to get inside instead of trying to guess a PIN or draw a pattern. How many combinations of four digit numbers are there? Ah, yes, thousands.

Jade doesn’t have time to try thousands of PINs. Nor is she willing to hand these phones over to the warden without doing a cursory search of them herself. His earlier words come back to her: while you’re busy on Instagram there’s a war going on around you. Fuck you too, Pete, for thinking she’s so busy with her page that she doesn’t understand what’s at stake for the rest of their kind. She had been captured. Kidnapped from her business. Not by someone older, stronger, and wiser than her. Not for venturing into Tulane without permission. No, she’d been abducted from a place that is supposed to be safe. Supposed to be hers. Kidnapped, missed her meeting, stabbed, body parts cut off, fucked by that piece of shit.

Fuck them if they think their phones are going to hide further secrets from her. Fuck Pete if he thinks she’s handing these over without getting into them on her own. Every snide comment anyone has ever made about her—pretty but stupid, spend as much time on your back as you do looking into your mirror—comes back to her. She’d killed two hunters. Not only that, she’d given them misinformation; if they had spread the word it’s full of lies, sending them running after someone else’s dogs.

She pulls at the thing inside of her. The monster that has taken over. Lets it come sniffing to the surface on a tightly held leash. She controls it, not the other way around. Seek, she tells it, and it does, drawing her eyes to the residue on the screen.

Residue left behind by the oils in human fingers. Pattern-protected phones are less secure than their PIN-protected counterparts. Unless the hunters had wiped them off recently—and it doesn’t look like they had, filthy as the screen is—the pattern will still be there. Seared into the phone.

Light, she thinks, taking the phone to the floor lamp in the corner of the room to view the smudges left behind.

She’d heard once that to protect your phone with a pattern is just asking for trouble, and now she sees why: under the light it’s easy to distinguish the prints left behind from human hands. They’re clustered toward the bottom of the screen, where the virtual keyboard usually hangs out and people spend most of their time. But there, in the center of the screen, is the information she’s looking for: a clear pattern that had been traced over and over and over again. Stupid design, really, to have the unlock so much higher than the rest of the keyboard, but she supposes there are flaws in every design.

Except hers. Celia and Jade are both flawless.

She winks at her reflection in the black surface of the phone before she traces her finger across the pattern, following the tracks left behind by the hunter.

GM: Flawless in visage.

Flawless in deed.

The Beast’s eyes make out what Jade’s can’t. The phone’s screen looks like it was smudged, perhaps by one of the hunters’ hands, perhaps by Alana’s. But there’s still enough of an oil-based residue under the light for Jade to re-trace the pattern. Her own fingers leave no residue behind. She supposes that makes pattern unlocks more secure for Kindred than kine. Just another perk to being dead.

The Solaris comes open with a light click.

Celia: Something like pride flares up inside of her as the phone opens. She makes a note of the pattern for future use, though perhaps she’ll just change it to a PIN code. Her fingers flick across the touch screen, swiping from right to left to take stock of the apps on the phone, looking for anything… unusual. Not that she expects to find something as obvious as “Hunter Info—Please Click Here,” but some people are less than intelligent. Case in point: this phone’s lock screen.

She can only assume that if the hunter was stupid enough to use a pattern she is stupid enough to leave other clues as to their identity lying around. Jade navigates to the settings and turns off the location data, then begins a methodical search: text messages, call logs, internet browser, photos, any other messaging apps she has on her phone, social media, banking. Anything that will give Jade a clue as to who this girl is or who she’s working with.

GM: The phone’s contents may at once be more and less than Jade may have hoped.

There are no banking apps, but there is an Instagram app that’s open to Celia Flores’ thousands-followed page. That’s it, so far as social media. The recent browser history consists of searches for Celia Flores. There are some pictures taken of Flawless and the license plate of Celia’s car. There’s also a text message which says that “we’ve picked up groceries” and asks where and when would be best to drop them off. The nameless contact replies with an address in Bridge City along with “1 PM tmrw.”

Celia: She checks the time stamp from the messages.

As an avid user of Instagram, Jade knows that in order to use the app on the phone there has to be an account created and summarily logged into. She presses the icon down in the lower right hand of the Insta feed’s screen to take her to the girl’s account to see what she can find.

If there’s nothing on the account, at least she had to register with an email address. She can check that, too, while she’s in the phone. See if there’s any incoming or outgoing emails that the girl forgot to delete.

If not, well, she’s at least got something. An address and a phone number.

Is it weird that she’s flattered they knew who she was?

GM: The account looks like a dummy one created with a dummy email.

However, a backup email address exists for the dummy email in the event of a lockout: brooke.sadler839@gmail.com.

GM: Alana rubs her head against Jade’s knee again.

“You’re so smart, mistress, getting into their phone like that.”

Celia: Perfect. Jade finds a piece of paper and jots it all down. There’s more she could look into, she supposes: date of creation for the dummy account and if it followed anyone else, perhaps as a way to mark targets; recent browser searches; the address itself in Bridge City (also who the fuck even lives in that cesspit across the river?).

It’s enough for now. Pete might be pleased she’d managed to get into the phone for him, at least. Pat on the head forthcoming, like she does for Alana when the girl rubs against her.

The memory of that sugar-laced blood is thick on her tongue. Artificial. Like Alana’s affection for her, she supposes, and the thought… well. She doesn’t dwell.

“You did well today, ’Lana,” she tells the girl. “I’m proud of you. Even in pain you didn’t betray your mistress.” Her nails lightly scratch across the surface of Alana’s scalp.

GM: Alana glows under the praise, like always.

“Beauty takes pain, mistress. So does anything worthwhile.”

Celia: “The night before last I woke up to the strap-on again,” she says at length. “Is that what you wish from me? To take you in truth?”

GM: She leans in to her domitor’s touch.

“I’d love nothing more, mistress,” she purrs. “Besides going to the party with you, for everyone to see how you own me.”

Celia: “You know what they do to your kind at these parties,” Jade says fondly, stroking her hand down the ghoul’s cheek. She sets the phone aside and pulls Alana onto her lap. “Prettiest girl at the party,” she whispers in her ear, “do you want them all to use you like I do?”

GM: Alana nuzzles her domitor’s breasts.

“Whatever makes you happy, mistress. I just want them to see I’m yours.”

Celia: “What I want, pet, is to take the cock from the would-be hunter and fashion it to myself so I can fuck you.”

“Then we’d both have been fucked by the same cock; what’s more special than that?”

GM: “I can’t think of anything, mistress,” Alana beams.

Celia: “But we can’t do that tonight,” Jade says, tilting Alana’s face towards hers, “so I’ll save that thought for later. We’ll make an evening of it, when we’ve both recovered from this ordeal. Tonight, then, I’ll bring you down, and we’ll play mum about the escapades with the hunters, and I’ll let them play with you. As you wish. A reward, for services rendered.”

GM: “Thank you, mistress,” the ghoul smiles. “And can I say how how amazing an actress you were, back with those hunters. You were so fragile and innocent I almost believed it too.”

Celia: Jade is not immune to praise, even if it comes from one she’s so handily collared. A smile spills across her face, radiant.

“Often these licks think that aggression is the only way, that a display of strength or brute force will get them out of everything. Sometimes a more delicate touch is needed to survive an ordeal. You disarm them by playing human.” She presses her lips to Alana’s throat. The flutter of the girl’s heartbeat is there, right beneath the surface. She wants to drink… but, oh, she’s already done so; she won’t leave the ghoul weak before her appearance at the party. Let the others have their fill of this beauty. She settles for nipping at her neck instead, teasing with lips and teeth.

“People reveal who they truly are when you play at being stupid.”

“I think, perhaps, I’ll try out for a movie soon. I’d like to grow my brand beyond the online crowd, and… I had a dream…” Jade shakes her head. The details don’t matter to the girl on her lap. She won’t tell her of the dream. “Get me a meeting with the man from Zodiac, won’t you, pet?”

GM: “Yes, mistress,” Alana nods, even as she presses her own lips to the leaning-in Jade’s head in turn.

“And you’re right, like always. There are so many guys who look at me and think ‘airhead,’ just because you made me beautiful. But it can be useful for them to think that.”

Celia: “Always use the tools you’re given. You’re much more cunning than an airhead.” Jade trails her lips higher along Alana’s neck. Her teeth don’t split the skin despite her desire. “Silly them if they underestimate us because of how we look.”

Her hands traverse Alana’s chest, pinching and pulling at her nipples so that she makes the sound Jade enjoys so much. Happy noises.

GM: The ghoul obliges with all-too evident happiness. Soft little gasp-like moans. Her nipples stiffen under her domitor’s touch, and Jade can tell how wet she is, too.

Celia: “You’re dripping, pet,” Jade whispers in her ear.

GM: “I can’t help it, mistress, with how hot you are,” Alana breathes back.

Celia: Her fingers slide inside the girl, curling upward to find that spot inside of her that makes her shudder. Her thumb traces circles around her clit.

“I can’t wait to show you off,” she tells her, “everyone is going to know you belong to me, they’re all going to want a taste… you make your mistress so proud, pet. Such a good girl.”

GM: The ghoul’s moans deepen as she breathes heavier, her breasts rising and falling.

“Yes… mistress… I’m your property… your happy toy…”

Celia: It crosses her mind to tease the girl. To draw it out, make her mourn the loss of the fingers dancing inside of her. Leave her begging and panting for more. Jade likes it when she begs.

She doesn’t, though. She presses that spot with the pads of her fingers until her ghoul is well and truly spent, until she can feel the walls of her pussy clamping down around her fingers; she keeps them moving even then, prolonging the pleasure for her favorite toy.

GM: Her toy squeals. Her toy moans. Deep and throaty. In short order, she’s a goopy, wet, orgasming, and finally spent mess on Jade’s lap, her cheeks flush with color. She tenderly rubs the back of her head against Jade’s neck as she half-whispers, half-pants,

“I… love you… mistress…”

Celia: Jade beams at her pet. Such a good little toy. She tells her so, that she’s a good girl, that there’s all this and more waiting for her down at the party, that she deserves every pleasure imaginable for her actions today. She strokes her hands up and down Alana’s body fondly, once more nipping at her neck. She breathes it into her ear, “Your mistress loves you too,” the half-lie dripping from her well-practiced tongue. Loves her like a toy. Like a favored pet.

She wouldn’t hurt her toy by telling her the full truth. Let her believe the beautiful lie. It’s sweeter that way.


Tuesday evening, 8 March 2016

GM: Jade passes some more time playing with her ghouls until the party is due to start. Alana begs to come with her domitor when Jade considers leaving the spent ghoul behind.

“Please, mistress. I love it when everyone can see how you own me.”

Celia: Jade nuzzles the girl’s cheek with her own. “I didn’t even get to tell you that I stopped at Hustler Hollywood on the way home from campus to pick us up new toys. Don’t you want your collared debut to be with all the things that mark you as mine?”

GM: The ghoul’s eyes shine.

“Oh, yes, mistress! I’d love to wear whatever you’ve picked out for me.”

Celia: “Then we’ll make a spectacle of it. The great unveiling. Do you up in all your glory, put little roses in your hair… oh, ‘Lana, it’ll be divine. Let’s not spoil it by letting them see you without.”

GM: “Oh, yes, mistress!” the ghoul purrs, rubbing her head against Jade’s breasts. “That does sound divine. I can’t wait to see what you’ve picked out for me. I’ll wait. Good things come to those who wait.”

“I had another idea…” she murmurs, rubbing her head lower against Jade’s stomach. “You could give yourself a cock, and make yourself bleed through it, when you want to give me juice. So it’d be like you cuming inside my mouth. Like a real blowjob.”

She rubs her face along Jade’s groin next, planting kisses over the Toreador’s crotch.

“It’d be an honor to suck you off like that, mistress.”

Celia: Jade runs her hands through the ghoul’s hair.

“I love that idea, ‘Lana. I’ll need to do some research to make sure I get the tubing right, but once we try it one time we can keep it going, and I’ve got plenty of material to work with now.”

What a thought. And Jade had always mused that she was the depraved one.

GM: Alana tilts her head enough so that Jade can see her beam.

“You could also give Randy his juice that way, too,” she suggests with an amused purr.

Celia: Jade had considered that.

“Come now, pet, the boy has it bad enough. He doesn’t get nearly the attention from me that you do.”

GM: “It’s an honor to suck you off, mistress. He needs to think of it like that. He needs to accept that any attention from our mistress is a gift.”

“It’s his business if he wants to go around sucking other people’s cocks, but if he really loved you, he’d be happy to suck yours.”

Celia: “Do you suck off other people, ’Lana?”

GM: She rubs her head against Jade’s crotch again. “Never, mistress. My body belongs to you. I don’t get to decide what other people do with it. That’d be like stealing, to let someone else fuck it without your permission.”

Celia: Jade pats her head affectionately. That’s a good girl.

“If Randy fails me again maybe I’ll have you show him how it’s done, then.”

GM: “Oh, I’d be happy to show him, mistress,” Alana purrs. “It’d be a real bonding moment, for us to take turns sucking you off.”

She looks up with a delighted expression.

“You could even give yourself two cocks, so we both could, at once! Like how moms with more than one baby sometimes nurse both.”

Celia: “I wish you would bond with him,” Jade says with an affected sigh. “You know I hate it when you two squabble.”

GM: “I’d love to bond with him, mistress. I can’t think of a better way than by helping you get off together.”

“You’re not like other licks, you’ve said. You can still enjoy it.”

Celia: “Maybe I’ll have him fuck me while I fuck you, then. You think he deserves it? Seven years and I’ve told him no every time.”

GM: “I don’t think he deserves to put his cock inside you, mistress. That would take something truly outstanding. But for good behavior, he should get to take your cock inside him.”

“He deserves to be fucked by you, not for you to be fucked by him.”

Celia: How amusing. She’d offered to let Randy fuck her the other night and he’d turned her down, then refused to listen to her in the rat’s territory. Maybe he’ll find a way to make it up to her. If not, Alana’s suggestion bears some consideration.

Jade tousles her hair.

“Keep an eye on him for me while I’m downstairs. Let me know if he wakes up and does anything particularly silly.”

Support: He stirs slightly in his sleep, as if to promise that he probably will.

Celia: Jade inclines her head toward Randy, as if to say ‘see?’

She makes to stand, moving Alana off of her, the phones she’d lifted from the hunters in her grip.

“I need to see the warden before I can enjoy my evening. Sit tight, pretty. And get some rest. You’ve a big day tomorrow.”

GM: Alana nods from the floor and nuzzles Jade’s knee. “Yes, mistress. Thank you for making the next party so special for us.”

Celia: A final smile for both her toys sees her from the room.


Tuesday night, 8 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jade doesn’t know how long she was occupied with her ghouls and the phones that are now clutched in her hand. Long enough for the party to start, but she hadn’t been paying particular attention to the minutes themselves. She looks for Pete first in the room in which they’d interrogated Roxanne and, failing that, his office.

GM: Sound is inaudible through the door where Roxanne is being interrogated, though Pete’s ghoul Eric is standing outside. The large, bald man asks if Jade wants to see “the boss” in his distinctly high voice, then knocks on the door. Pete reappears.

“Miss Kalani?”

Celia: Jade waits until the door closes behind him to speak.

“Sorry to interrupt, Warden Lebeaux. I have the phones for you from the two who grabbed me and additional information. Is now a good time?”

GM: “My conversational partner isn’t going anywhere.”

Celia: Of course not. She’s bound to a piece of bondage gear.

“I managed to get into one of the phones. I didn’t bother with the other, not without the proper tools. Have a name for both of them. A contact number for these ‘others.’ And… a, ah, meeting time and location. To hand me off. For tomorrow.”

GM: “Oh, really?” Lebeaux looks thoughtful. “Might be a chance to find out a lot more from these people.”

Celia: “I had the same thought.”

GM: “You could disguise us as those two pretty well.” He frowns. “Though probably at day. Ghouls, then.”

Celia: “1:00PM,” Jade confirms. “But… yeah. I thought a ghoul or two. Maybe some others to bring them in, if needed. And if they need a body, I could come up with something.”

Jade’s eyes don’t quite flit toward the door.

GM: The Tremere looks at her, then motions for Eric to leave. The ghoul does so.

“You want to hand your sister off to hunters?”

Celia: She almost says yes. She also almost says no. In the end she shakes her head.

“I meant one of their bodies. Altered. It’s dead, but… y’know.” Jade shrugs. “Shove a stake in it and they… might not know.”

GM: “They might not. Could also stick a bug inside it. But they’ll know they’ve been had, if these people aren’t rubes. Show up empty-handed and we might be able to stretch this out.” He thinks. “Granted, might not be able to anyway, depending on what they want. If their only interest is more staked licks, might as well get as much mileage out of a bug as we can.”

Celia: “Bug the stake itself, might keep it to use in the future.”

GM: “Smart. Make it a high quality one. They could toss the corpse, but stake less likely. And likely to be somewhere we’d want to snoop in the future.”

Celia: Jade nods. “Do you have a pair in mind to send? I’ll need some time to get them ready for tomorrow. And a body for the lick.”

This time her eyes do flick past him toward the door. “Anything, ah, interesting?”

GM: Pete’s initial response dies at Jade’s question.

There’s a… troubled, is perhaps one way to put it, look to his eyes.

“There’s no delicate way to put this. And maybe better you hear it from my lips than hers.”

“You’re an aunt.”

Celia: “…oh.”

“Wha…? Um.” She’s thrown. It’s obvious in the way she stumbles over her words. She opens and closes her mouth twice, then, “…my dad’s?”

GM: Pete looks as if he’s weighing his words for a moment, then just settles on,

“Yeah.”

Celia: Her fault.

Her fault.

Her fault.

The world pulls away from her until all she can see is Isabel tied to the bed, Maxen violating his daughter, her broken smile when he finishes.

She sways on her feet. Shakes her head. Swallows against the lump in her throat, but it doesn’t go anywhere.

“Um.” Celia blinks large eyes at him. “Where… where is it? The kid? Who has it?”

“I mean. Does he…?”

How many lives had she ruined?

GM: “Him,” says Pete. “It was a boy.”

Celia: A boy. A little Maxen.

Was he proud when the kid was born?

Another son. Seven kids. Seventh son. Isn’t there some sort of magic in that?

She thinks she asks Pete that same thing, forms the words without conscious decision.

GM: But does it count as a son or grandson?

Celia: Both.

Obviously.

GM: “Well, in Romanian folklore, a seventh son is destined to become a vampire,” says Pete.

Celia: “Oh, well, his mom and aunt beat him to it.”

“Does Maxen have the kid? I… assume he knows it’s his?”

GM: “The folklore varies by country,” he continues, as if to temporarily take Celia’s mind off things. “Sometimes it has to be a seventh son with no daughters in between. Sometimes it’s the seventh son of a seventh son. People had larger families in agrarian societies than they do now, so that wasn’t as rare it might sound.”

“The kid’s name is Ethan. He lives with his aunt Mary. She and her husband couldn’t conceive.”

Celia: Aunt Mary. Celia hasn’t seen Aunt Mary since her grandparents died. Some… weird family drama that set Maxen against everyone else, Celia was too young to remember.

“Do they know?”

GM: “Your sister said she doesn’t know if they do.”

Celia: “Two women in the same night and they both end up pregnant.” What are the fucking odds?

GM: “Well, that’s what can happen when you don’t use a rubber.”

Celia: “Is that why she blames me for her being that?” Celia points at the door.

GM: “You’d have to ask her that yourself. I didn’t.”

Celia: Celia reaches for the door.

GM: Roxanne’s inside. Still blindfolded, bolted up, and otherwise as her sister left her. It’s not as if their limbs get tired, so Celia supposes it’s less inhumane.

Celia: For a moment all Celia does is stare at her bound sister. How is it possible that it has come to this? That two sisters grow so far apart that they’re each willing to kill the other. How is it possible to hate someone so much when they share the same blood?

Family isn’t blood. The words echo inside her mind. Family is choice.

Isabel had made her choices. So had Celia. They’re not Isabel and Celia Flores anymore; they’re Roxanne and Jade, two broken girls from the same broken home.

She’d tried to protect her that night. Eighth birthday. Had sent her back up the stairs to hide under the covers like a good big sister should, had faced the monster on her own. Protector, right? Only that had died the moment their dad sold his soul to it. They’d both been marked that night.

She pulls the door shut behind her with a look at Pete. She needs a moment, the look says. A moment alone for the two broken girls.

GM: He just nods.

Celia: Once the door is closed her eyes seek the face of her sister. Her body is still mangled. Hungry, then. Has to be, or she’d fix all of this. Pete’s given her a bit, she’s sure, enough to keep her talking.

Jade strides forward.

“Heard Maxen knocked you up before you died.”

GM: Her face looks bad, still, past the blindfold. Flesh sliced down to the bone. Gangrel can fuck you up something fierce.

“What the hell is it to you!?”

Celia: “The girl you tried to kill belongs to me. I’m familiar with her story. What happened in that house.”

“Seems to me you’d be mad at the prick who set you against each other rather than her.”

GM: “Ohh, you’re Jade, is that right? Well it’s such an honor!”

“If you were a real Sanctified, you’d turn her right now!”

Celia: “Why?”

GM: Roxanne giggles.

“That’s my big sis! Guess she pulled one over even on you, huh?”

Celia: “Does it hurt knowing that your dad loved her more than you? ‘Lady of the house,’ wasn’t she? After your mom bailed. Didn’t love you anymore. Wow, that probably hurt. And then your dad picked your whore sister over you, huh? She was always prettier than you, wasn’t she. No wonder Maxen loved her most.”

GM: Roxanne screams and throws herself at Jade, the cuffs digging into her wrists as her fangs gnash.

Celia: “Oof. No wonder you carried the baby to term. Thought he might love you if you gave him a son?”

“Too bad he shunted it off to his sister. Shame, that’s what that is.”

GM: “You have no idea! No! Fucking! Idea!” Roxanne froths, tugging against the cuffs.

Celia: “I think I have some idea. Celia told me enough.”

GM: “She told you SHIT!”

Celia: “Oh?” Jade laughs. “I imagine you have a different version of events? Paint yourself as the hero, yeah?”

GM: “She’ll do to you! What she did to HIM! What she did to me! Just WAIT!”

Celia: “What am I waiting for, Roxanne? What did your whore sister do?”

GM: “Gimme a drink, if you really care!”

Celia: Jade laughs again. “I can make her hurt, you know. She’s disappointed me lately; give me a reason. Just one.”

GM: “Oh, just you WAIT! You don’t know what a snake that bitch can be!”

“I slapped her! Once! And she destroyed my whole life! Her fucking SISTER!”

Celia: Jade forces the air from her lungs in a sigh, long and heavy.

“I’m sure the two of you would have made up if you hadn’t died. The fact that you’re holding onto it when you’ve been given this new unlife is… kind of pathetic, really.”

GM: “Yeah? She’s my REAL sire!”

Celia: “She’s mortal,” Jade says flatly.

GM: “And that was a metaphor, stupid! You think she can’t fuck up your whole Requiem, that she won’t stab you in the back when you really need her, you just WAIT!”

Celia: If Jade weren’t Celia she might even be convinced.

“Your sob story is starting to bore me, Roxanne.”

Her nails shift while the Ventrue talks. They lengthen beyond the tip of her fingers, tapering into fine points. An ombre of maroon to black; Jade doesn’t do anything that isn’t pretty. Their sides are razor sharp.

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She touches the back of one to Roxanne’s cheek.

“Scourge really fucked you up, didn’t she?”

GM: Roxanne’s fangs, already partly distended, just out all the way at Jade’s touch. A low hiss sounds from the Ventrue’s mouth.

Celia: Jade trails those cruelly pointed nails down the lick’s cheek and over her jaw, then to the soft skin of her throat. She doesn’t press hard enough to break the skin. Not yet.

“Your daddy, though. That’s an interesting angle. Still love your daddy, Roxanne? Even after he put a baby in you and made you carry it to term… then gave it away?”

GM: Roxanne clenches her jaw at the contact.

“As if a Toreador slut hasn’t put worse things inside herself.”

Celia: “That’s a yes.” Roxanne can probably hear the smirk in her voice.

“Do you think he’d stick it in me if I cut off your face and wore it over my own?”

The tips of her nails press against the underside of Roxanne’s jaw, as if she means to carve her now.

“Maybe I can give it to your sister, instead. See if your daddy’ll give your son a cousin. Or… sibling?”

“Or maybe,” she breathes into the Ventrue’s ear, “I’ll go carve up your son into tiny little pieces. Then you can forget about what a slut you were, spreading your legs for your daddy.”

“I saw the sex tape, by the way. Titillating.”

GM: The Ventrue gives another low hiss, though whether at the contact, the skin-digging words, or both is unclear.

“Too much of a coward to even say that to my face. Feel safe with your blindfold on?”

Celia: “Oh no,” Jade says, deadpan, “the bound Ventrue calls me a coward because she thinks it’ll make me take off her blindfold.” She makes a noise. Might be a huff, might be a laugh. “You really are as stupid as your sister says. No wonder your daddy doesn’t love you.”

“You know that your brother is one of my clients? He told me all about how proud your daddy is of your sister. Gushed about it.”

GM: “How typical of a Toreador to only look at the surface of something,” Roxanne sneers. “I’m still nine-tenths dead and probably in the middle of the Evergreen, you idiot. And while I don’t doubt I could crush a mind as stupid and vapid as yours like a beer can, with only you as my thrall I doubt it would even help.”

Celia: “You presume that I give enough of a fuck about you to give you whatever prestige you’re looking for by removing your blindfold. You’re sub-Kindred, Roxanne. Sub-human, even. I think the Nos’ pet ape ranks higher than you. You don’t deserve to look at me. You’re a whore, Roxie. Just your daddy’s little slut.”

“I was going to ask you for the passcode to your phone so I could let them know you said goodbye after we ash you, but I guess watching your family wonder what happened to you will be more amusing. Just another little cunt that couldn’t hack it after daddy went balls deep inside of her.”

“Though… I guess to wonder they’d have to care.”

GM: Frenzied howls tear from the restrained Ventrue’s mouth as she mindlessly throws herself at Jade, slavering and gnashing her fangs.

Celia: Ah, sweet victory. Jade’s smirk doesn’t quite reach her eyes as she turns away from the slavering sight of her sister. She opens the door and steps outside, yanking it shut behind her with a final click.

Her sister is dead. She’d died long before her Embrace, back in college when Celia had made their father beat her bloody. Something had snapped inside of her that there’s no coming back from.

Whatever victory she thinks she’s won, it rings hollow.

GM: Pete glowers at Celia upon seeing the smirk.

“Had a touching moment between sisters, I take it?”

Celia: Celia stares back at him. She tries to keep her face as neutral as she can make it, but she’s never been able to lie to Pete. She shakes her head.

“No.” Her voice is soft. The bitch that had gone into the room hadn’t come back out.

GM: “Well, thank you so much. I’m sure she’ll be just as cooperative now as I’d managed to make her before you walked in.”

Celia: A dozen snarky and self-deprecating comments flit through her head, but she bites her tongue rather than say any of them to him. She’d only be saying them to save face, and he… he’s right. She wilts. Like the weed she is, choking the life out of everyone around her.

She wants to tell him but she doesn’t think he cares. Society of raging dicks, right?

She offers an apology to the floor. It’s all she has now: shame and regret. She’d broken her sister. Rather than mend the bridge she’d torched it. And she’d let Pete down.

Why is that cut the deepest?

Maybe it would have been better if she’d let the stupid hunters keep her.

Celia has no idea why Alana thinks she’d want to chase after the warden. He’s like an older, more grizzled version of Roderick: just too… beyond her. Too morally good. The satisfaction she’d gotten from riling up her sister had faded as soon as she’d left from the room, turning to poison in her mouth. She doesn’t even think she’d felt anything in the moment, either.

Empty. She’s just… empty. As broken as her sister, only she hides it behind pretty dresses and makeup and multiple lovers. Debauchery and sin. As if that fills the gaping hole in her chest where her dad and sister used to be.

“I’m sorry,” she says again. “If you still want me to fix up the ghouls for tomorrow I can. I’ll be…” Celia gestures vaguely. It doesn’t really matter where she is. No one cares.

GM: She can hear it. In her dad’s voice.

Stupid.

Celia: Pete hasn’t said anything, though, and that silence is… oppressive. Worse than her dad’s voice inside her head. Worse than her sister’s screams. Worse than her mother sobbing. That weighty silence is killer.

She chances a glance up at him.

GM: “At least one I want is your grandsire’s, so I’ll have to talk with him.”

At Celia’s look, Pete effects a sigh.

“Odds are good Savoy isn’t going to let her leave the Evergreen. If that happens, might be she and Celia should have a face to face. If your mom hasn’t started hating your sister since we last spoke, maybe you should take a leaf out of her book. Last I checked you weren’t the one who got maimed, beaten, and raped as a result of Isabel’s choices.”

Celia: No, it was the other way around. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? That Celia is to blame for everything. Not fixing things with her sister. Not sheltering her from Maxen’s impossible standards. Abandoning her mom the night she needed her. Taking out her anger on her dad on the sister she’d already failed.

And then giving them up. All of them. For someone who doesn’t give a fuck about her. Who probably never will.

Fuckup.

Her lower lip trembles as she looks at the detective. She tries to stop it by clenching her teeth together, flattening her tongue against the roof of her mouth, but then the burning starts in the corners of her eyes and the back of her throat. She turns away, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes.

“I hate him. I hate him so much, Pete.” Her dad. Her sire. Herself, too.

Pete’s the wrong person to fall apart in front of. They all are, really. There was someone once, but she ruined that too.

GM: “I hear you. He’s done a lot to earn your hate,” Pete replies.

With her gaze averted, Celia can’t see what the look on his face might be.

“Look, stew over this and you’ll feel worse, since there’s squat you can do about him right now. Go do something nice for your family. You’ve got a mom, a grandma, and a gaggle of brothers and sisters. With that many relatives I’m sure you can think of something. You’ll feel better.”

“Probably best you avoid anything to do with your dad.”

Celia: Her shoulders don’t shake. She doesn’t need to breathe so there’s no hiccupping sobs or snot or spasming diaphragm. Just the faint smell of blood as it leaks from the corners of her eyes. She wipes at her face and her hands come away red.

It would be easier if she didn’t respect him as much as she does. Easier to just continue to be a shitty person, forget the consequences, mess up everyone around her and call it a night.

But she does respect him. She craves his approval as much or more than she has ever craved her dad’s. As much or more than she has ever craved her sire’s.

“Good job, kid,” she wants to hear him say just once in that gruff voice of his. Or have a conversation that doesn’t devolve into judgment. Christ, she’d take a pat on the back at this point.

Even now it’s like… like pity. It tastes of failure.

But Pete doesn’t want to hear about the misery and gut-wrenching guilt. They’ve all got ghosts. When she finally turns to look back at him she’s wiped the worst of it from her face. She nods. Tries to smile, even. It’s a faltering, broken thing. Like the rest of her.

“You’re right.”

Can’t tell him that every time she tries to do something nice she manages to mess that up, too.


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Story Twelve, Celia VI, Emmett VII

“You know how you feel utterly alone, sometimes, like nobody else can ever understand why you are the way you are?”
Emmett Delacroix


Date ?

Emmett: Emmett soars.

Above him, the sky yawns, the color of nothing. Below, the ruined city lays broken, the deathless things within reduced to specks and inaudible whispers. He likes it that way. His wings bear him higher, higher.

Soon New Orleans is so far below him as to render the ruins invisible, the destruction mundane. Up here, nobody can disturb him.

Higher, higher. He wonders if there’s such a thing as space, in the Shadowlands. Do ghosts burn in the atmosphere? Perhaps the planets, too, are hollowed-out husks of themselves, lifeless and remote in the Skinlands only to be even more dreary on the other side of the grave.

Eventually, he stops. His wings flutter and keep him airborne, but other than that, he surrounds himself with void.

He might howl, but then he’d have to hear himself.

At last, he is as a dead man ought to be.

Alone.

But of course, soon he becomes bored. He conjures shapes to amuse himself, shadows and soft sound effects to accompany his low, ghostly theater.

Sandman, the dead fortune-teller called him.

And how did that old song go?

Somewhere, a sweet voice croons, almost more of its own volition rather than his.

“Mister Sandman, bring me a dream…”

What was that Caroline had said? “The sun’s been up for hours.”

His thoughts turn to Sami. His lover. His rapist. His victim.

The vampire.

His thoughts turn to her, and he wonders if vampires dream.

GM: The Shadowlands’ ashen skies are as gray as Em’s mood on those “worst days of my life” that he told Yvette about. The days that were just miserable and consisted of binging on Webflix, eating junk food, and lacking energy to so much as dress or shower. The days that were too miserable to even make for good stories.

That’s how gray the sky is.

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Fat and miserable hail-like tears weep down over him. They’re cold. They hurt where they hit him.

It doesn’t even smell pure or fresh up here. It smells like mildew and rot. It smells like the entire world is decaying and he can’t escape it even up here. Bolts of lightning sporadically lance past in the distance. They don’t flash through the sky so much as burn through it, incinerating the clouds in their path and leaving only cheerless gray void behind.

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream
Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen
Give him the word that I’m not a rover
Then tell him that his lonesome nights are over
Sandman, I’m so alone
Don’t have nobody to call my own
Please turn on your magic beam
Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream


Yet as Em ponders his question, the sky shifts. The rain intensifies. Becomes sheets rather than droplets, thick enough to swim rather than fly in.

It has color, too. Muted color, not as bright as he’d expect it to be. But the coppery aroma is overpowering.

What else, he supposes, would vampires dream about?

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Sami is there, too. She’s naked and lazily floating through the sanguine waters, mouth open to drink everything in her path. Half-imagined faces and images sporadically form and dissolve, but none last for long. There is only the eternal flow of blood. Sami’s face is pretty still, but her fangs are too large for her mouth, and her features have a hard and predatory cast, like a jungle cat that just happens to occupy a human body.

Emmett: This is new.

But not unwelcome. A splash of color does him good, even if it is red.

He admires her form, but they’re both dead and all the fun is taken from it. Instead, he eyes the images that form like rapids in the rivers of blood.

GM: Emmett sees 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: His better nature, perhaps, with how easily he fights it off.

He can taste Sami’s fear of the bald vampire in the tinge it adds to the coppery stench.

A useful face to scare her with. It would go well with a name, but baby steps.

GM: The next figure is beautiful. She appears in the flower of late adolescence, and has delicate features, soft sun-blonde hair that falls slightly past her shoulders, and deep brown eyes. She smiles at Em, which together with her slight build and short-feeling height, give her a harmless appearance—the sort of girl who couldn’t intimidate a grade schooler.

Until her fangs poke out, at least.

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Emmett: She looks like Cécilia, but for the eyes. Maybe that accounts for the secondhand envy that turns Em’s dead stomach as he looks at her.

Sami always was a jealous creature.

Inspiration takes him. He stares at the object of Sami’s bitterness, and conjures from the blood a scene he remembers: the hallways of McGehee, but formed from blood and viscera. It isn’t perfect, of course, but it feels like the place; here a corner of the classroom where she raped him, there a stretch of cheerful lockers made macabre by their new, crimson composition. Sami finds herself walking among schoolgirls made of angular contrasts, positive and o-negative, their faces indistinct yet a patchwork of features Em vaguely recalls from those many hours of auditions. They whisper incessantly as they part before her, giggling and scheming.

At the other end of the sanguine hallway is her rival, her features alone cast in haughty, disdainful relief.

She smirks at the vampire.

Whispers something to the indistinct girl next to her.

“Look!” her sycophant titters. “Sami’s naked in school!”

And she is, isn’t she? The hallway of phantom schoolgirls bursts with laughter, fluttering and merciless.

GM: The result, given the rest of the dream’s tenor, is perhaps predictable.

Sami goes berserk.

She leaps—no, pounces—at the Celia not-quite-lookalike like a panther and tackles her to the ground. There’s not an instant of hesitation as she rips open the blonde’s throat and ravenously drinks. The girl’s shrieks gorily cut off.

Emmett: The assembled not-schoolgirls’ laughter become higher and crueler.

“Look how sharp her fangs are! What a silly, beastly whore!”

And Sami hated that word.

She had told him that, once. She’d never told anybody else.

GM: The vampire looks up from her kill with a bestial howl of rage. Another schoolgirl dies just as gorily as Sami crashes into her, madly ripping and tearing.

Emmett: He looks, and smiles.

Be fun to mess with her some more, right?

Well, too bad.

He takes his leave.

GM: I’d think long and hard there.

Are you suuure?

Emmett: Not at all. If you have something interesting in mind, I might hear you. Or you can be unreasonable and we can fight again. I like my odds, you know. Have to win sometime. And now I know it tires you out. He studies his nails. So kind of a win/win, you ask me.

GM: Ah, but here’s the thing, Em.

You’ve made me so, so, so fucking strong, with all your dumb mistakes, I can fight you all day. I’m the fattest, happiest Shadow in all the Shadowlands.

And you know what else?

Every time you bring Maman a soul like you did there? I get even stronger.

So you wanna fight me, happy to oblige.

If I lose, whatever. It’s no loss.

But I win? You’re that much closer to being mine.

Emmett: But it is a loss, isn’t it? Forever’s a long time. The more I make you pay for fun, all the better. That’s what Cici was saying back there. War of attrition.

Huh. I really am smarter when you aren’t a part of me.

You want to play with her? I’ll arm wrestle you for it.

GM: Nah, you go ahead. We can leave her.

I’ll just take over when we see your little casper pals again. See what kind of trouble I can really cause.

Or maybe something more subtle around Cécilia than cum over her face.

If you’re so sure that whole ‘war of attrition’ favors you more than me.

Emmett: He lets it pass without comment.

Except to snicker.

I got all the subtle between us, cutie.


Date ?

Emmett: He leaves the dream almost without noticing that he is. Back to the storm, and the void.

He thinks for a minute. Though he can’t see it, the sun is out.

Which means every bloodsucker in the city sleeps, except the one he knows isn’t. Or maybe vamps don’t really mind staying up, after all.

And maybe the person he’s thinking of he’s figured all wrong.

But probably not.

Celia: The world does not change around him.

Perhaps he expects it to. A significant display of power should come with at least a change of scenery. A spark. An exploding star. Something, anything, that tells him he did it right. That there’s a bloodthirsty vampire in this dream with him. Everything he knows of her comes to mind: the blood at her spa, the fallen soul, the conversations they’d had about monsters.

Maybe he remembers her tapping her teeth that one time when she had tried to say it without saying it, after the night she’d called him up crying about bodies on the floor.

There is nothing.

Clouds float around him. Thick clouds that obscure the ground from his vision. Gray, dreary. He floats in one and out another. The water droplets inside the cloud freeze behind him, crimson in his wake. He can smell it: blood. It isn’t nearly as thick as Sami’s dream, just a twinge that tickles his nose, a spot of color in an otherwise achromatic land.

He floats.

Perhaps he is wrong.

Perhaps Celia is no more a vampire than he.

Then…

There. Something floating in the distance. Dark as the night around it. Darker, even, a spot of black; it sucks in the light around it, a black hole that nothing can escape. It would blend into the sky if not for the fluttering at the edges of its silhouette, silver from the light of the moon. Far off stars twinkle in the night above them.

What monster dreams of starry nights?

The fluttering fabric catches his eye, beckoning him closer. A dress, a gauzy thing of tulle that dances with every movement the floating thing makes. The girl to whom it belongs is draped in the dark thing’s arms, body bowed with one arm beneath her knees and the other at her back. Her feet are bare, head bent back, throat exposed. The dress is torn across her chest.

The thing has the vague form of a man, though his figures are blurry, indistinct. The shadows shift around him. And in his arms the girl Em is looking for.

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Dark curls spill across her throat, float through the air behind her as their bodies drift along an unfelt breeze. The thing is at her neck, slurping. Red stains its mouth, her body; droplets of blood fall to the earth below, freezing before they ever hit the ground.

The thing stops drinking to whisper something in her ear.

“You’re safe now, baby girl.”

Emmett: And then it’s him, carrying her.

“Hey, Cici. It’s been a minute.”

Celia: Her eyes snap open at the sound of his voice. The dark figure is gone, another dream whisked away, and in his place…

“Emmett.” His name comes out as a whisper. She lifts a hand to touch his cheek.

Emmett: “Yeah,” he says, hollowly. “Look at you, huh?”

She touches his cheek. It’s a jolt when her fingers don’t go through his flesh.

“I went to your spa, earlier. But you weren’t there.”

Celia: Her fingers slide into his hair, eyes alight. Maybe it’s the moon. Or maybe she’s genuinely thrilled to see him.

“I thought they killed you.”

Emmett: “They did,” he says. “It’s not so bad once you get used to it. But you know that, anyway.”

He’s quiet, for a minute.

“You never visited.”

Celia: “I came. In the hospital. My grandmother told me you had been arrested, but you were…” Her eyes slide down him, as if looking for his legs. “I didn’t know how to fix you.”

GM: Her grandmother told him she sentenced him to death, too.

He made his own bed. He dug his own grave. He knew full well what not to do, and still did it anyway.

Emmett: He wiggles one foot. “Dying fixes a lot of things, turns out.”

They float there, for a while. Him carrying her.

“Would you like to go somewhere else? I can redecorate.”

Celia: The world is never as nice as it is in her dreams.

“We never got to explore the upstairs.”

Years ago. The date that wasn’t a date above his favorite restaurant. The memory of absinthe and rum dance across her tongue, like the two of them had twirled around the ballroom.

Emmett: “That’s true,” he says, and he twirls her neatly to her feet. He couldn’t pull it off in real life, but this is a dream.

When she lands, twirling under his arm, they’re on the same floor they danced over so many years ago. She’s dressed in the same clothes as then, too.



He leads her in a dance across the empty ballroom, the lights of the Quarter night outside the windows.

“I missed you,” he whispers in her ear. “Even when I didn’t know I was missing you.”

Celia: It’s all the same, though somehow more surreal than it had been in the flesh, and her arm is whole; it no longer dangles, broken and bound by a splint, and the steps she takes with him are not hindered by the smarting flesh of her backside. It’s a perfect replication. Mirror image, but better.

Even knowing who he is—the word cousin echoes through her mind—doesn’t make her maintain proper decorum. She holds herself close to him as they spin across the floor.

In her dreams she isn’t a monster; his whisper sends shivers down her spine.

“This was my last happy memory,” she tells him.

Emmett: “Well, now it doesn’t have to be. I can visit you tomorrow, if you like. And the day after. We can do whatever we want, in dreamland. I think that’s sort of my specialty.”

He spins her, and is content to dance in silence for a while; or near-silence. Soft music plays, swells with their movements.

“They made you a vampire,” he says, seconds or hours later, with her arms around his neck and his chin grazing her nose. “The night everything went to shit.”

“Is it silly that I’m jealous?”

Celia: She’s quiet as they dance, her eyes on him. His legs. His face. The eyes that she had found in someone else; she’d whisked him away rather than let go again.

She doesn’t deny his claim. When she smiles she shows teeth; an echo of a long ago smile, one where she had tried to tell him despite the warning of death.

“They killed us both,” she sighs, “but you stayed dead. I don’t want you to be dead.” Her lip trembles. She looks away. “We were supposed to be friends. Partners.”

Emmett: “I stayed dead,” he agrees. “But I’m here now.” His lips graze her forehead, and his fingers run through her hair. “We can be those things now. I was actually hoping that you would still want to be.”

They’re in his apartment, suddenly, splayed out on that too-small couch, limbs tangled.

“Do you want to be friends, cousin? Something else?”

His hand traces her thigh, slides under her dress.

“We’re alone, now. Me a ghost, you a lick. Nobody to judge.”

Celia: It’s a familiar scene. His couch, close together, his hands sliding up her thigh. The material parts before him. Something tells her this is wrong—cousins— but she doesn’t think she cares. Are they really still cousins if they’re both dead? She has imagined more heinous things than sleeping with her dead (ghost?) cousin.

This is how that night should have ended. Not with blood.

She remembers the rejection. It’s an old ache inside her chest. A blame for which she’d never pointed fingers. One moment of what she’d thought was happiness and then the soul-crushing rejection that had led to her entire world crumbling around her. Does he mean it now, or is he just playing games again?

Her fingers hook through his shirt, pulling him closer. Her lips find his neck, breath cool against the shell of his ear. She whispers that she missed him, then asks him what he wants.

Emmett: “To tell you,” her cousin says, as he waves away her clothing as if dismissing smoke. “I know what you did. The night we fucked.”

She’s naked, suddenly, in his arms. Pressed against him. It’s her dream, but his movie.

“I know you did to me what you did to Maxen.”

He doesn’t, actually.

But he’s pretty sure. And her face will tell him.

Celia: This isn’t the way the night is supposed to go. She’s naked but there’s nothing intimate about it; she’s exposed, vulnerable, looking up at him with eyes widened by surprise… and hurt.

“I didn’t.”

She doesn’t want this anymore. She moves to pull away, covering herself: an arm across her chest, a hand between her legs.

Emmett: He looks at her.

His face falls.

“I’m sorry. I must have been mistaken.”

The dream is still.

“I was going to say, that…”

“Well. I guess it doesn’t matter now.”

“I’m sorry I ruined your life, Celia. I ruined my own, too.”

“I’m sorry for scaring you. I thought… but it doesn’t matter. I was going to say, I’ve done bad things. Worse things, than that. And I know how much it hurts. The regret.”

“I’ll go. If you’d like.”

Go somewhere and rot, probably.

He stands, and she sees him as he is. The dead man, with the dead arm. The empty eyes. The dark wings.

“I’m sorry I… I’m sorry.”

Celia: His words keep her glued to the couch. She averts her gaze, but she doesn’t try to flee. Not like she had that night, when running made everything worse.

She listens. To his apologies, to his fragmented sentences, to the emotion beneath them.

To the boy that she raped just to prove she could.

“We were both broken,” Celia finally says to him. “You were just transparent about it, while I clung to some vague idea of pretend.”

Emmett: “But you broke because of me,” he said. “Should never have turned you down. I wanted you but didn’t want you to hate me. I should have kept you with me, that night. I’m sorry,” he says again, uselessly.

“Let me make it better.”

Celia: “You can’t put me back together, Em. Life doesn’t work that way. Once you crumple a flower it stays crumpled.”

Emmett: “But I can kiss it better.”

He reaches for her. Pulls her close, slowly.

“We can pick up the pieces.”

Celia: Flowers don’t have pieces, she almost tells him, just petals and stems and sometimes thorns, and when you pull them apart they die.

She’s wary. He’d been the catalyst before, there’s no denying the hand that he’d had in her fate. But she’d made choices, too. She can’t blame him for everything that had happened. She’s stiff, but doesn’t pull away.

“Why?” she finally asks. “Why me? Why now?”

Emmett: “Because you’re the only family I have left that wants me around,” he says, hating himself for not being able to think of a lie.

Celia: Not for her, then. For his own reasons.

No one ever wants Celia for herself.

The disappointment is clear on her face.

“Oh,” is all she says.

Emmett: “And that I trust.”

“And… might trust me.”

“And because I was telling the truth when I said I missed you, even though I couldn’t remember exactly why, beyond that you treated me like a real person when nobody else would.”

Celia: “What do you mean, you don’t remember why?”

Emmett: “I do now, but they… did things. To my head. To make me forget what we did. What I saw on the tape. What happened to you. I was a mess when I got out. I couldn’t keep what happened straight in my head.”

Celia: “They do that,” she says. They. Not we. “They’ve done it to me.”

She quits fighting against him. If he wants to pull her close again she doesn’t move to stop him, though her arms and hands remain firmly where they are against her naked body.

Emmett: “I should have known,” he says, and as he wraps an arm around her her body is draped in a blanket, protected, soft.

“You know how you feel utterly alone, sometimes, like nobody else can ever understand why you are the way you are?”

He lifts her chin to stare into her eyes. “We don’t need to feel that way anymore.”

Celia: She does know. She hates being alone. There’s no one to talk to about things, no one she can trust, no one she can turn to that won’t seek to use it against her.

She pulls the blanket tighter around her shoulders, sinking into it.

“Isolation is devastating to the human psyche.” She’d read that somewhere once, and she’s often wondered if their self-imposed isolation is what makes licks so awful to each other.

“You told me, once, that I could come back to you. But then you disappeared.” They both had.

Emmett: “Only for a time. When I could come back… well, I’m here now. And so are you.”

He squeezes her shoulder, to reassure her of his presence.

Celia: The gesture does what it’s meant to. Less wary, Celia curls against him, a position that might have become familiar had things not panned out this way.

“Are you back for good?”

Emmett: “If I have anything to say about it. I’m still pretty new to this.”

“This dream stuff, too. Can you imagine doing this all the time? We could have so much fun, and nobody would be able to touch us while we dream together.”

The couch doesn’t move, but the world around them swirls like wet paint that takes on new shapes and colors. A star-filled night on a ship manned by pirates in cute outfits, bright rags and scarves.

A castle with soaring turrets, a bayou creaking with the noises of insects.

The sun. Warmth on her skin.

He laughs, delighted. “We can go anywhere.”

Celia: The sudden appearance of the sun makes the thing within her chest snarl. Its claws scrape and grind against her insides, yowling its displeasure. She feels it rise up inside of her and pushes it back down with as much of her focus as she can spare; outwardly she doesn’t so much as flinch, though she does pull the blanket up over her head and tucks herself further into Emmett’s body. As if his slight form will shield her from the rays.

“Mermaids,” she says, “underwater.” Underwater, where the sun can only penetrate so far.

Emmett: ”Under the sea!” chirps a certain trademarked cartoon crab, and the sun’s rays are suddenly replaced by the faint feeling of water against her skin. They aren’t soaked, though, even though when she looks up she sees the titular mermaid of this particular movie zooming overhead in response to the dance number.

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“Don’t tell anyone,” Em says, dead serious, “but this was always my favorite Disney movie.”

Celia: Celia’s hair can’t escape the blanket to float around her head the way it should beneath the water, but that doesn’t stop the smile that spreads across her face at the sight of the crab, mermaid, and fish swimming just in front of them. She thinks she hears them singing, but that might just be a trick.

“It had catchy songs,” Celia agrees, “though when I was a kid that scene when the witch got big always scared me. I also,” she confesses to him, leaning in to whisper in his ear, “cried when the dad lion died.”

“Do you think mermaids are real?”

Emmett: But it isn’t a trick.

Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from meeee…

“They can be real when I’m with you,” he says.

Celia: She can make them real too, she knows. She’s thought about it. Going to the ocean and giving herself a tail.

“My dad took us all to the pool once. We played hookie. Iz and I were real young, maybe… I was six? Seven. And she and David and I pretended to be mermaids in the deep end, kicking our legs like flippers.”

“There’s a documentary about them. Mermaids, I mean. About their evolution and how they’re real. It’s not… I mean in the credits it says it’s fake, but sometimes it’s nice to pretend.”

Emmett: “Yes, it is,” he says, and they sit there watching the mermaids for a while.

“We can spend every dream like this.”

Celia: “Pretending? Or together?”

Emmett: “Both. And who’s pretending? There are mermaids there. Look, I can make them wave.”

Celia: “But they’re not real.”

“Are you real, Em, or is this one of those trauma dreams?”

Emmett: “I’m really dead, and I really miss our talks. Does it feel traumatic?”

Celia: That isn’t what she’d been referring to, but she supposes she shouldn’t admit to her (ghost?) cousin that she’s just killed a handful of people.

“It was never traumatic with you, Em. You always had a happy place in my memories. Even when things were… not good.”

Emmett: “That’s good. I always wanted you to be happy. Are you, now?”

The mermaids dance and sing as he hugs her close. They might not be real, but they might as well be.

“You can talk to them, if you want,” Em says. “We don’t just have to watch.”

Celia: Happiness. There’s a loaded question if there ever was one. She’s killed countless people. Taken a boy from his life because his eyes remind her of her dead cousin. Alienated the only lick who knew enough about her to love her anyway.

Christ, that’s the problem isn’t it. That she expects there’s anything real to be found in this society of selfish, self-serving licks who do anything and everything they can to get ahead. They laugh at her because she hasn’t been sucked into their bullshit game of fucking over everyone she can just for kicks and spends her time being adored instead.

How can she tell him that? How can she tell him that they broke her the night she died and she’s been trying to hold herself together and cover up her scars with concealer and false lashes ever since?

She extends a hand toward the mermaid, touching her fingers to her fish tail as the red head swims by.

“I have a daughter,” she says finally, as if that is an answer.

“She’s happy.” That’s what’s supposed to matter to moms, isn’t it? She wouldn’t know. Her womb is as dead as the rest of her.

“Where did you go, when you left?”

Emmett: “You mean when I died.”

The mermaid giggles at her touch and swims above them, fish-end dangling.

Celia: Maybe. She’d meant when he’d disappeared for years. She won’t admit to stalking him, though, or watching his apartment.

“Yes,” she says instead.

Emmett: “There’s a place that overlaps with the real world. It’s grayer and full of ghosts and quite boring. It’s called the Shadowlands.” He shrugs. “It’s where I live now, I guess.”

Celia: “That sounds… awful.”

Ghosts are real. Everyone says the Quarter is haunted, but somehow she’d never thought about it.

“No Heaven or Hell, then? Bible lied to us.”

Emmett: “Yeah, but you knew that already. And this place is kind of like Hell, if you squint.”

“Funny thing, though? It beats Death Row.”

Celia: “That’s… bleak.” Her grandmother had sentenced him. It weighs on her. That and being unable to visit. Barred from seeing him before they put him down. Just legless, in the hospital. Broken.

“What do you get up to over there?”

Emmett: “It’s a bleak world, Cici. And mostly, I… plan. I do things I’m not so proud of and try to get revenge on the people that did me wrong. Take care of the people I should have taken care of better. Like you, I guess, though you’ve done all right for yourself.”

He’s quiet for moment there.

“Can you help me?”

Celia: Has she? She’s glad he thinks so. She’s always hated disappointing people she cares about.

“How?”

Emmett: “Your father. And my uncle.”

Celia: “Ron.” She’s never spoken about him to anyone else. Just Em. “What… what do you want me to do?”

Emmett: “Get close to him, if you can bear it. Maybe tell him you’re his daughter. He’s… he’s not a good guy, but after Jermaine, he went weird about being a dad. You might be able to get him invested in you. I have some relatives he might need to look after, some movies I might want him to publish. I might need to slide into his dreams, too. But it’d be helpful to have… somebody like you… in the Skinlands, too. Who can handle him.”

He squeezes her hand. “You don’t have to. I understand.”

Celia: “I haven’t approached him for twenty-seven years. He doesn’t know I exist.” The lie comes easily. They always do. “Do you… know the best way to bring that up around him? The best way to handle him?”

Emmett: Em considers for a moment.

“You’ll want to be patient, accommodating,” he tells her. “He has a whole procedure for testing people claiming to be his kids. He’ll have you take a swab in front of him, probably be pretty cold at first. But he’ll be grateful if you seem to understand that. He’s one jaded motherfucker, Ron. Showing him you get why is half the battle.”

Celia: “He raped my mom,” Celia says flatly. “I don’t suppose he’ll offer any sort of apology for that. She was sixteen. Sixteen.”

She exhales in a sigh, pushing the air between her lips.

“Should I go out for a movie, then, or approach him directly?”

Emmett: “Maybe he will, maybe not,” Em says. “But it’ll mean as much either way. If you don’t seem to hold it against him, he’ll be intrigued, I think. And approach him directly, for sure. Maybe say you want to collaborate. You’ve got all the social media stuff going on, right?”

Celia: “I’ve got a pretty large following,” Celia admits, “and… honestly, I love my mom, but I wouldn’t exist if not for him, so.”

“I suppose if he did want to collab he’d get a nation-wide audience instead of the locals. I’ve been putting off talking to him for years.”

Emmett: “Well, there’s another way to get his attention.”

“You can mention me.”

Celia: “Oh?”

“I know he’s your uncle, but… what, specifically, would you want me to mention about you?”

Emmett: “That you’re how you know you’re his kid. Because we were cousins, and I told you.”

Celia: “Doesn’t he… not like you?”

Emmett: “Not at all. Which is why you can bond with him over what a piece of shit I was.”

“I would keep my name out of it at first. Use it to grab his attention if he starts trying to roll you over.”

Celia: “What’s your plan? Use him or ruin him?”

Emmett: “Use him. My grudge can wait. And anyways, he kind of had a point. I killed his son.”

Celia: “Because, Em…” She turns to him, touching a hand to his cheek. “He was nothing but a squirt of cum in my momma’s cunt. You’re my family. My friend. And if you tell me, I can help. Will help.”

Emmett: “I know, Celia.” He touches her hand. “I’m trying to play a lot of hands right now. Things are difficult.”

Celia: “Em. I’ve been in your corner. Always. You don’t have to pretend with me.”

She doesn’t tell him the worst of it: that she was head over heels for him all those years ago. That if she hadn’t found out she was his cousin everything would have been completely different.

Emmett: He sighs. “There was a dead girl in your salon. Her ghost, anyways. You make a lot of ghosts?”

Celia: His question about the girl makes her pause. She draws back into herself, removing her hand from him.

“I… do what I have to,” she hedges, unsure of what answer he’s looking for. She doesn’t quite meet his gaze. Doesn’t admit to killing her.

“I do what she tells me,” she finally says, falling back on the familiar lie.

Emmett: “So do I. I’m not pretending. There’s a deal I made. Souls for power. If you kill people, I can—”

He frowns. “She?”

Celia: “Kill people?” she asks at the same time.

Emmett: “Who’s she? You have somebody you need to listen to?”

Celia: “I…” she hesitates. “You called me a vampire, but I’m… I’m not. But… what do you mean, deal for power?”

Emmett: He frowns. “Why are you sleeping during the day?”

Celia: “Tell me about your deal,” she presses, “and I’ll tell you about… me.”

Emmett: He hesitates. “I… okay. But I’m confused.”

“I made a deal with a… thing. That eats ghosts. And living things. And if I give it enough to eat, it’ll grant me my heart’s desire.” He shrugs. “Who knows if she’s telling the truth. But it’s all I have, right now. Perks of being a family friend.”

Celia: “What’s your heart’s desire, Em?”

Emmett: “Don’t know, yet.”

“I guess I’ll think about it when I get there.”

Celia: “Because I…” she pauses, flushing. In dreams she’s as human as any breather, and the pink in her cheeks is testament to that.

Emmett: “What?”

He runs a thumb across her cheek. “What’s wrong?”

Celia: “I went to your grave, you know. After you died. Because I couldn’t visit you while you waited for the needle.” Her eyes are downcast, but when she looks up at him he can see the sincerity there. “I thought about… ways to help. To bring you back. To… to get you a body that you could inhabit.”

Her eyes close momentarily, a long blink or staving off her emotions. She can’t tell him what she felt for him those nights they were together. But a new body, one that isn’t bound to him in blood? That wouldn’t be unnatural.

“I didn’t know that ghosts were real.” Keep up the lie. “And everything I’d heard was fiction. Hearsay.”

GM: It wasn’t much of a grave. White concrete cross identical to thousands of others, all spaced exactly 3×9 feet away from each other. DOC number, name, birth date and death date. Even the dead inmates at Angola still wear uniforms.

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‘Marble’ proved a little high an expectation too.

Celia: She doesn’t need to tell him that, though.

She had gone regardless. And left roses.

Not that it matters.

Who checks the graves of dead people, really.

“I thought, maybe… maybe your heart’s desire is to come back.”

Emmett: “I don’t know if that’s in the cards.”

Celia: Her heart sinks. Maybe it’s always been broken.

“Oh.”

“Ghosts, though. You want me to kill people.”

Emmett: “But that doesn’t mean I can’t become something… better. Stronger.”

“Something that can be with you.”

“And…I don’t know. Not if you aren’t…Not if that’s something you aren’t doing anyways. I thought you were a vampire.”

Celia: She wants to believe him. But he’d turned her down twice now.

“D’you mean that? That you… that you want to be with me?”

“Even if we’re… y’know.”

Emmett: He answers her with a kiss.

A proper one, too. Years pass, and they pass too quickly. Her mouth tastes like smoke and absinthe. When his lips break from hers, they hover close, still, so she can feel his words on her lips as he speaks them.

“Shit, Celia. I’m dead. Who cares, anymore? I’m here. You’re here. It’s just us, in your dreams. Why can’t we do what we please?”

Celia: Oh. Oh. It’s… everything she’s been thinking about for years now. What it might have been like if he hadn’t turned her down. His tongue curled around hers, his hands on her waist, her hips, everything.

She doesn’t mean to come apart at the seams, but she does, and he’s there to keep her from drifting too far. She’s breathless by the time it’s over, pressed close against him. Cousin, but more than that, isn’t he? Hadn’t he always been? Hadn’t she always denied what she felt for him, years later, tried to ignore the pull because it wasn’t right, wasn’t proper, but they’re both dead now, what does it matter?

Celia is curled against him before it’s over, perched on his lap with her arms around his neck, and when he finally pulls away he can hear the disappointment in her sigh.

“I kill people,” she finally asks, “and this… this is…?” she trails off. How can she admit it to him, even if he’d guessed?

Emmett: “It’s okay,” he tells her, seeing how she struggles. “It’s just us, and the mermaids. Or wherever else you want to be.”

A crab skittles around them, still whistling faintly.

Celia: She doesn’t need to finish her thought. She doesn’t know what she is asking anyway. Confirmation? A promise? Why label it? A ghost and a vampire wake up in a dream.

“If every dead person becomes a ghost, then there’s two of them you can take from the Ninth Ward.” She gives him the address.

“I killed them,” she says shortly. No further clarification, no justification as to why.

Maybe that’s what she’s been looking for. Someone to whom she doesn’t need to explain her actions. Someone just as messed up as she is.

Emmett: “Okay,” he says quietly. “That’s…helpful, actually. Thanks.” He squeezes her shoulder. “So if you’re not a vampire…what happened to you, Celia?”

Celia: There’s the flaw in all the lies she’s told: he was there that night. He’d seen her disappear from the apartment. Had seen what was on the tape; had he been the one to edit it, to scrub her voice from the footage they’d given to the detective? He’d had that movie thing going, once.

Lie, a voice inside her head says. Protect what she’s built. But it’s Em. He’d always helped her, had plotted with her how to take out Maxen, had come running when she’d called that night with the monsters.

She’d already told him she’d killed two people. He hadn’t even asked why. If they’d deserved it. Volunteered to do more for him, as if knowing that he were there to collect the souls of the dead made killing them for parts worth it. Their blood will nourish her, their souls someone else.

She bites her lip. Looks away from him. She’d already lied to him. Last time she’d come clean after something like this it hadn’t ended well.

“They call them licks,” she says, as if that explains it. “Or Kindred, I guess. ‘Vampire’ is apparently offensive.” The corners of her lips curl upward in amusement.

“But even licks don’t eat souls,” Celia says after a moment, “what other sort of monster are you indebted to?”

Emmett: He sighs, and the room sighs with him. Mermaids shudder, coral shifts.

“The one I told you about, long ago. Abélia Devillers.”

Celia: “You told me she isn’t human,” Celia recalls, “but if she isn’t human and she isn’t Kindred… what else is out there?”

Emmett: Em shrugs. “We have forever to name them. I’m not too caught up in it.”

He strokes her hair. “Mermaids are a bit old, now. Do you want to be puppies? Astronauts? I could take us to the moon, if you like. Then everybody in the world would wonder why the sky was so beautiful tonight.”

Celia: Trouble, she had told him once, and it crosses her mind again now. She flushes at both word and touch.

“I would like to see the moon,” Celia says to him, “and galaxies more distant than that. Or the rings of Saturn, or Neptune’s cloudy skies. Alien landscapes. Anything that isn’t New Orleans. You can do it all, Em?”

Emmett: “All.”

The couch spins, hangs suspended in space, with the light of the moon turning their faces white. There’s no sun in this galaxy, but the stars more than compensate. They glitter in a matrix of nothing, a grid of jewels without flaw.

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Just like her.

“All the things you can dream of,” he tells her. “Every time you fall asleep. Forever.”

The world is a blue-green ball the size of her head. In real life, she knows she could never see it turn, but in her dreams, it tilts and lists on its axis like a gentle mobile.

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He’s kissing her, again, but not just on her lips. On her neck, her ear. Her thighs, her womanhood, her toes and fingers. Ten tongues press themselves to her, twenty lips send goosebumps down her flesh.

“We can do anything together. If you’ll dream with me.”

Celia: For a moment the stars are all she can see, shining brightly in the distance. They light her face, her hair, her eyes. Eyes full of wonder, adoration… and there, burning in their depths as his mouth and phantom tongues descend, desire. The answer that she gives him is wordless: a parting of lips, a soft sigh, a complete surrender. Her to him, him to her; does it matter? They’re the same. Together they can be whole.

The stars in her eyes shift until he is all she can see. Yes, of course, of course she’ll have him. She’ll dream with him every night. Forever.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Caroline VII, Emmett VI
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Story Twelve, Caroline VII, Emmett VI

“I don’t know what I want. Except that I probably won’t get it.”
Emmett Delacroix


Date ?

GM: So… I bet if anyone could help with that whole ‘souls’ thing, it’s our dear vampire girlfriend.

Emmett: Maybe. But the less she knows about what we’re up to, the better. I think it’s time we visited somebody else, anyways. Somebody I mostly forgot, until I died.

GM: Dunno, what the fuck do we have to keep secret from her?

She already knows Abélia is something spooky.

Emmett: We don’t want her to know we’re consorting with another monster to protect us of she turns on us. Which, you might have noticed, remains a very likely possibility once she decides it’s more useful to sell us than keep us running errands.

GM: Except then we couldn’t say we need her.

She pretends to be all smart and practical, like Roberts.

But she’s really more like us.

When has she ever been able to resist gloating?

Emmett: Right, that works in the short term, but the whole point of going to Abélia was to avoid actually needing her. And the first step towards getting her to realize she needs us.

GM: Oh. True.

Like, Cécilia. We get in her pants, Sami’ll be jealous.

I bet she still hates Cici over high school. Would she really let go of a grudge?

Cici though has probably forgiven her for everything. That’d piss her off so much.

Emmett: Great minds, huh? Yeah, so I’m thinking, we find a way to destabilize her current setup, lose her a few friends—especially that ghost-seeing bitch—and then once we have Cici’s Maman treating us nice, we swoop in to help her. You know, the classic. That way she ends up owing us, not the other way around. But we have to do it smart, or she’ll figure it out.

Seems like a smart way to do it might be to find Astride again, and eventually let him know he’s being followed, except maybe we tell him the Ouija bitch sent us after him, so he takes her out. Then we warn Sami he’s coming after her and help her fuck him up to score some points with her.

We need to find out Sami’s friends and enemies. That way we can start playing with her.

Bit difficult, though, if she’s making it harder for us to pop in on her in the shower.

…which, to be fair, I actually was planning on doing.

GM: Yeah. Well, there’s oggling Cici. She has her own place.

Em had looked it up.

Totally not stalker-ish behavior.

Emmett: Only once!

Or a few times.

GM: Huh. You know, I just realized that’d be our first time seeing her naked.

That’s just… morally wrong.

Like, for real naked, instead of that freaky dream.

Emmett: Yeah, it’s a real tragedy. Probably the real reason we’re still around.

Okay, well, since her place is on the way back to the hotel, no reason not to head there. I need juice, though. Especially if I’m going to heal the booboos. So, since we’re getting along so well, you want to tell me how to score some so we can stop going in circles, and maybe we can fuck around to have some fun with her? Otherwise I’m just going to have to sleep next to her and see if I feel better after, and that’s… less fun.

C’mon, think how fun it’ll be. More juice means more ways to fuck with people, too.

GM: Ha ha, I’m you, dipshit, fuck you.

That’s what we call ‘giving someone a fat lot of nothing.’

Let’s go ahead and sleep with Cici. I don’t mind.

Emmett: You’re me. So why don’t you want me to be able to do any of the things we both find fun? Or at least tell me what you need me to do for you to share.

GM: Okay, kill Dad’s mutts.

Emmett: Sweet. Tell me how to score some juice so we can heal first. Can’t exactly do it while I’m bleeding from fifty gazillion cuts, can I? It’ll just be pathetic.

GM: Oh hey, looks like we still have ADHD.

I’m not giving you shit until I get what I want.

Emmett: Dude, you get that I can’t lie to you, so you know I’m telling the truth when I say that I just want to heal first so I don’t have a harder time doing the thing you want, right?

GM: I don’t fucking care. You don’t get any more freebies from me.

You want to know how get more juice, go kill Phil’s dogs. Or do something else that I get off to.

Emmett: All right, never mind. I guess we’ll both be unhappy.

He wanders toward Cécilia’s place, bleeding to spite himself.

GM: You being unhappy makes me happy, genius.

Emmett: You’re adorable.

GM: Located steps away from St. Louis Cathedral, the Upper Pontalba building is one of the more (though still one of many) historically and architecturally significant structures in New Orleans, even if few enough non-natives who see it in photographs know its name. Often referred to as the “oldest apartment building in the U.S.”, the residential apartments command a coveted view overlooking Jackson Square. Tenants can watch all of the fortune-tellers, psychics, artists, street performers, drag queens, tourists, homeless, gutter punks, crazies, and all of the Vieux Carre’s usual cast of characters from the leisure of their iron-terraced verandas. Rent to dwell in the cultural heart of the Crescent City is likely far from cheap.

The lower floors are a shopping and dining concourse, including such destinations as the New Orleans School of Cooking (known for their freshly-made pralines and hand-made cypress roux spoons), clothing stores that sell the usual fare plus wedding dresses (is Celia going to get hers there, or somewhere else?), several gift and souvenir shops, and a handful of restaurants, including a Creole-Cajun cafe, an oyster house, coffee shop, and fudgery. Residents of the second-story apartments would appear to have little need to ever leave the building. They can see all of the French Quarter they like from just out their window.

Here in the Shadowlands, the potted geraniums are dead and wilted. The falling-apart, rotted building looks like it’s been abandoned for years. The food in the shops is spoiled and alit with noxiously buzzing clouds of flies. The clothes in the broken-windowed shops are soiled, ragged, and covered in dust. The hour seems late, or perhaps early, as few glowing figures are visible amidst the apartments.

Em walks through the upstairs units like they’re made of smoke. He sees people asleep in their beds. He sees a woman who’s tied up and gagged with tape in someone’s bathtub. He sees a few other people getting dressed. He sees a man masturbating to pictures of naked little boys on his computer. He sees a couple having an argument. He sees a man taking a shower. He sees another couple having sex. All of their private lives are on display for him to see.

Emmett: He stops for a moment at the woman, trying to gauge if the situation there is, ah, consensual.

GM: The motionless woman’s face is covered in welts and bruises. Her skin is dirty and sweaty.

Emmett: Yeah, probably not. Hmm. He notes the number of the apartment, looks around it briefly, and carries on.

He also notes the name of the pedophile a few doors down. You never know when some blackmail will come in handy.

And besides.

There’s a special, dark place in Em’s heart for pedophiles.

GM: Some of the half-burnt-looking mail on the grime-streaked kitchen counter is addressed to a one Theodore McKee.

Cécilia’s unit, meanwhile, has three glowing figures in it. Two male ones dressed in uniforms, and a young, pretty-looking female one with wavy hair who seems to be directing them.

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They’re packing all of Cécilia’s broken, trashed, and decayed personal possessions into moldy-looking cardboard boxes.

One of the male ones grouses about the hour to his partner when the woman’s back is turned. His partner shrugs they’re getting paid extra. He doesn’t mind being up early.

He makes a lewd remark about the ways he wants to fuck the woman. His partner snickers along with him.

Emmett: Hmm. Movers? He listens to the men and then focuses on the woman, listening for a clue as to their purpose here.

GM: “God, I just want her to swallow my piss.”

“You’re sick.”

“So do you.”

“Oh yeah.”

Emmett: Helpful.

He recognizes the woman, after peering closer. Harmony. He remembers seeing her picture on his ex’s Facebook when she was hired as a PA, and then again at a local bar, and then again when he brought her home and got her to make pleasing noises. She didn’t talk as much about Cécilia as he would have liked, but Em’s always been eager for scraps.

So Cici’s moving house. Interesting. Mother keeping her baby bird close, maybe?

GM: She was a decent enough fuck. Wasn’t awful, wasn’t incredible.

Was an okay way to pass the evening.

Scraps are never as good as the real thing.

But they beat nothing.

And it was fun to think what Cécilia would think if she knew he’d fucked her PA.

Or what Harmony would think if she knew she’d fucked her boss’ ex.

The trio spend a while packing and moving the moldering boxes to a bust-up, half-rusted van with smashed headlights that looks like it could barely drive. Harmony tells them to leave everything by the front door, and not to come into the house. Cécilia has a younger sister who’s “very scared around strangers.”

“Lotta stuff to move,” says one of the guys.

“Well, I get paid hourly,” says Harmony.

Emmett: He waits for them to start down the hallway of the apartment with the kidnapped woman before he starts whistling.

It’a a severe, arresting tune. It’s a dirge of suspicion, and dread curiosity.

They can’t help but hear it as they pass the door that hides her.

GM: The dirge echoes in his ears. The apartment door seems to loom large within his vision, its suspiciously blank exterior hinting at unspeakable things contained within. Dust seems to blow towards it. Lights seem to flicker towards it. Everything seems to scream, GO HERE.

Yet three just walk on, boxes in tow, like they heard nothing at all. Because when do people pay attention to the awful things going on next door, he supposes.

As his 12th grade English teacher liked to quote, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Emmett: And yet, they pass.

He closes his eyes for a moment.

CUNTS!”

He isn’t sure where the scream comes from until well after it’s past his own lips and pulling another behind it. He hops in front of their faces, the silent shrieks of the dead raging from his lips.

CUNTS! Useless, inbred, daft fucking _CUNTS!”_

But they do not hear him. Nobody does.

So he goes.


Date ?

GM: It’s a several minute walk from Celia’s possibly former apartment to 838 Royal Street.

This part of the Quarter starts to move away from the bars, clubs, hotels, and other tourist- and nightlife-catering establishments. It’s not the residential section just yet, but it’s on its way there.

It’s as decayed, ruined, and bombed-out as any section of the Shadowlands Em has been to. The old Spanish-style buildings look like they’ve been gutted by fire, with naught left but charred timbers. The streets are choked with garbage and filth: the Vieux Carre’s afterparty after any wild night. It stinks like fat, oil, grease, piss, vomit, and weed. There don’t seem to be many people out. The pitch-black sky overhead seems like it’s turning a cheerless dark gray.

Celia: From the outside, the building is unassuming. Like most store fronts in the French Quarter there are all sorts of rules and policies on what can and cannot be revamped. The spa owner has had to make do with what she could: flower boxes, gauzy curtains behind the floor to ceiling windows, lettering proclaiming the name in gold font across the top. It’s cute.

Inside is a different story. It’s like walking into a portal that takes Em from one place to another. Outside is the French Quarter, inside is… relaxation incarnate, maybe. There’s a set of double doors inside the outer pair that takes him to a reception area, though it’s nicer than any he’s seen. Products line the shelves. A desk sits empty along the wall by another set of doors. It’s easy to imagine a buxom blonde behind the computer with freshly painted nails tapping away at the keyboard. More doors, mood lighting, floor to ceiling curtains that offer a semblance of privacy to those who step inside. Couches, recliners, a table with refreshments waiting to be consumed, tea and cucumber water.

At least that’s what it should look like. But the exposed brick walls are crumbling, white caulk plastered on the floor. Overhead chandeliers are missing bulbs, their light guttering, casting dancing shadows across the floor. Some of them smile at Em, wicked smiles, poison laced apples waiting to be cut apart. The carpet has more charred marks than he’s seen outside of a burn unit. And the smell… all these spas pump incense into the air to relax their clients, but Celia somehow got it wrong. Raw sewage or dumpster fire, that’s what his nose tells him.

GM: Or perhaps blood.

It’s everywhere.

Thick, half-dried messy wet pools of it, leaking out all across the floor.

Celia: There’s a lot of doors in this place. Doors that lead to private rooms with rotting tables and moldy blankets, with tools that look more like something he’d see in a snuff film than an upstanding place like this. Some of the bottles feature a little skull and crossbones.

That blood smell gets stronger the closer he gets to the back of the spa, though. Another set of doors, high archway, though these are locked. As if that could keep him out. He slides right through the steel.

There it is. A morgue. A stone table in the center of the room. Cuffs to keep people detained, to quit their struggles on the cold slab. The edges of it are chipped. All of it is wet. Blood, guts, sinew, a veritable butchers block smack dab in the middle of a spa. The grimy floor is coated in the viscous red stuff. He might slip in it, if he had to worry about that kind of thing.

There are no tools here. No perfumes or powders. Just the clinging scent of death and decay.

Emmett: Seems his suspicions about the person he’s here to see were right.

Every bit as much of a monster as the ones who took her.

But this place seems empty. Lifeless.

He wonders if he can find a clue as to where she’s gone.

GM: There’s also an ashen-faced woman standing over a particularly fresh pool of blood, dressed in clubbing attire for the last good time of her life. Her eyes are closed and her face is blank. She’s swaddled in a mucus, cobweb-like thing that somehow looks simultaneously and thick and hazy. Its edges slowly drift through the air on a breeze Em does not feel.

Emmett: “Convenient,” he murmurs. He tries to will himself into the caul, the way Lamarck seemed to think they could.

GM: Em’s hands sink into it as if guided by a will of their own. It’s cold to the touch. The girl, who looks around his age or maybe a bit younger, doesn’t scream like Kione did. Em can hear something through the caul like the pulsating of a heartbeat, but it doesn’t seem to come from her chest. He thinks he can hear voices, too. A babble too faint and indistinct to make out the words of.

Em hurts. His heart is breaking. He is angry. He is sad. He is giddy. So, so giddy, and lustful. Fuck. Oh shit, he’s scared, better laugh it off. He laughs his ass off. It’s all so damn funny, and he could really use a good fuck. Distantly, some part of him becomes conscious that he’s peeling off the caul, cold layer by cold layer. It vanishes in a puff of golden haze. It fills Em up. Makes him feel full of warmth and vitality. Almost alive again.

Em sees that he is kneeling on the floor. He can see through the macabre spa’s half-translucent walls that the sky is now a lighter gray, the color of ashen smog.

The girl on the floor looks around slowly as her brow creases.

“Who… who are you?”

Emmett: It’s like the first hit of a new high, and as a lifelong hedonist he adores the flow of emotions that aren’t his, the heady mix of stolen vibes both good and bad washing away his problems for the briefest second of eternity, the smallest mercy of an afterlife full of nothing but grays and ghosts.

He would cry with wonder if he could cry. He lets his own wounds heal as he frees the girl from the prison-womb of the caul, and he’s suddenly full of so much juice that it don’t even tingle as they take his pain with them.

And then he’s holding her, the enfant, his enfant, because he knows she is his to do with as he pleases; and his heart is heavy again, because he knows what he is to do with her.

“Em,” he tells her, frankly, as he wobbles to his feet and brings her with him. “And I’m a ghost. I’m afraid something bad happened to you.”

GM: She blinks slowly as he picks her up.

Then she says it. Says it like someone would admit they were gay, in the ’80s.

“I… I’m dead.”

The word is heavy.

But not disbelieving.

Emmett: “Yep,” he agrees. “But so are most people. Including yours truly. Don’t try to think too hard about everything all at once. Let’s start with your name.”

Yes, tell me about yourself, as I prepare to do something terrible to you.

GM: “I’m… I’m Jenna,” she says in that same slow tone. “Jenna Crosby.”

She looks around the room, then holds a hand to her mouth.

“Oh my… oh my god…”

Emmett: “Jenna, huh? That’s a nice name.” He follow her gaze. “Yeah, it takes some getting used to. Don’t look there. Look here.” He spreads his fingers and from his palm sprouts a bouquet of roses, reds and blues and greens and yellows that catch the light like gems but look far too alive to be mere stones. Their stalks twist around each other and weave her name in a cursive of vines.

“There’s still color in this world, if you know how to find it. Can you walk and talk? I know a safe place. With more colors, and more Caspers. That is to say, you know. Friendly ghosts. Like you and me.”

GM: Jenna smiles a bit at the theatrical display.

The blood-caked floor and the gore- and viscera-coated table, though, tug at her eye.

It’s still red. Still fresh.

Still fresh-smelling.

“That sounds great,” she says quickly. “Let’s get out of here.”


Date ?

GM: Serendipity seems to draw Em along the path to 1415 Third Street, like a train whose doors have already closed and he can’t get off. He supposes he’s seen enough of the Shadowlands to be at least somewhat jaded, at this point, because Jenna jumps at every noise, flinches at every shadow, or stares in mute fear at the things they come across.

He supposes you can get used to anything, after long enough.

She’s full of questions. What this place is. Why it is this way. Who Em is. Why they’re here. What comes next.

“Is this… is this Hell?”

“I didn’t think Hell really existed…”

Emmett: Em’s a traitor and a liar and a rapist and a killer, but he’s not dispassionate. Anything but. His compassion is the stuff of religion. He’d look fantastic nailed to a cross.

She’s only going to be so long in this afterlife. There was something hideously unambiguous about how Abélia had talked about her hunger, and he has no doubts that whatever the process of Abélia eating Jenna looks like, she won’t be around to review it later.

Her afterlife will be brief. It costs him nothing to give her hope.

Nothing, except for the look on her face when she realizes the truth.

Lamarck really did have the right way of things, didn’t he? If it had just been him he might have kept his would-be slaver around. How little he judged. And how little it actually mattered, for all the good it did at the bottom of a long, dark shaft.

He answers all her questions, lying colorfully when convenient. The place he’s taking her is clean, he says. It stands out from the others. It looks a little scary, but it’s real and it keeps predators away.

There are predators, he assures her. Better she stay close to him, and hold his hand if she wants. Things aren’t so bad in the afterlife. See how he floats, skis in midair?

GM: “My boyfriend and I got into a fight,” Jenna says as she squeezes his hand.

“A really big fight.”

“That’s why I went out, to go club without him. I think I wanted to make him jealous.”

“But it all seems… so stupid now.”

Emmett: “What was the fight about?” Em asks, squeezing her hand back. It’s with his good hand, obviously. The other he’s wrapped in a midnight cast about his shoulder. Everybody trusts a cripple.

GM: “Money. Work. Stuff that just seems completely stupid now.”

“I guess it’s like they say. You can’t take it with you…”

Emmett: “They say that,” he agrees. “And they’re right. But they’re wrong about a lot of things, too. If this is hell, well… it could be worse. It isn’t heaven, but it doesn’t have to be torture. It’s just… hard, at first.”

GM: “That sounds a lot like life.”

The pair pass those twisted, hungrily grasping oaks. Em doesn’t see it happen. He didn’t even see them reach the house. The iron gates slam shut behind the pair.

Jenna looks ahead at the home.

For a moment, she just looks.

Stares.

Then she screams.

Emmett: “A lot like life,” he agrees. “More than you know.” He starts to float, steadily, still holding her hand and releasing it as his feet rise above her waist.

His voice is still so calm, warm despite the inevitable chill of this place. It should make his words steam when he talks, but he draws no breath.

“In life, and after, you can’t always trust strangers. But I wish you could. You seem nice. For what it’s worth, if you tell me your boyfriend’s name, I’ll give him a message. Or your family. Whoever.”

He sprouts batlike wings and flaps into the air above her, safe from her ability to reach him.

He does look sorry.

But not as much as he looks tired.

GM: Jenna doesn’t get to answer.

She doesn’t even get to look shocked.

The house’s doors fly open. Pseudopod-like tendrils of living darkness shoot out like ravenous, grasping tongues. They smother her in the same oily, tar-like residue leaking from the walls. It reminds Em of the salivas some amphibious species spew over insectile prey they’ve caught, perhaps to aid in digestion.

Jenna is there. Then she’s not. The doors slam closed as she’s hungrily sucked inside.

But Em can still hear her screams, from inside the house.

They sound even louder than they did from outside.

Emmett: He coughs awkwardly.

And just like that, her anguish and betrayal has no bearing on his life, no inconvenience. No weight other than the thought he chooses to dedicate to it.

He really grew into a bastard while his eyes were on all the other monsters, didn’t he?


Date ?

GM: Caroline is working in Cécilia’s home office with her sister.

Our larder’s first addition has arrived.

Bring it up to my body, Caroline, if you please—the power to see Abel’s children is yours, here.

A moment passes.

Ah, it seems we have a guest, too! Say hello to him instead, my dear, if you can spare a few moments from your work. I’m afraid I’m still in little shape to suitably entertain.

Caroline: A guest? The Ventrue rises wearily. Well, it would be rude not to entertain.


Date ?

GM: The front door silently swings open at his approach. There’s ‘normal’ things past it, rather than the pitch black void he entered last time.

The house’s interior is no less sumptuous than its exterior. The historic property is large enough to house all seven Devillers in comfort and privacy with seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a lavish ballroom, elevator, and foyer with an elaborate winding grand center staircase once featured in the Library of Congress. (Em recalls that tidbit from his last visit, a literal life ago.) There are also adjacent servant quarters and a stable for horses separate from the 1,500-square-foot, two bedroom, two bathroom carriage house. The home’s elaborate features include moldings with 22 carat gold leaf, 37 window trim, fine plaster cornices and ceiling centerpieces, marble mantels, custom designed rugs, and 16 ft ceilings both upstairs and downstairs. All the palatial rooms are furnished with choice antiques, many the work of long-dead artisans who were America’s foremost cabinet makers in the 19th century.

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The chimney piece of the living room is designed to contain a wooden eagle found at the mouth of the Mississippi after a hurricane. Carved from cypress, it is believed to be the sternboard of a pilot boat built in Charleston at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Murals are painted on the ceilings of the living room, double parlor, and dining room, all painted in 1866 and executed with great delicacy after the manner of Robert Adam. The wallpaper in the dining room is the famous Züber 1834 “Scenic America."

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All of it looks perfectly normal. Perfectly solid.

There’s no trace of Jenna.

“’I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high,
Will you rest upon my little bed?’ said the Spider to the Fly.
‘There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in!’”


The female voice wafts from nowhere and everywhere.

Emmett: This place is danger. But rude to leave now.

Rude, and weak, and while he isn’t intending to bully her, he suspects Abélia will not treat him more kindly of he is weak.

His wings fold politely as he enters.

“As beautiful a home as I remember, madame.”


Date ?

GM: Caroline excuses herself to Cécilia and walks to the home’s atrium.

It’s him, behind the now-closed front door.

Right there at the foot of the winding grand center staircase.

He’s considerably more handsome and better-dressed than he was at their last meeting. He looks like he’s shed a decade off his now-beardless face, and he’s dressed in a black sports coat, white button-up, and black slacks instead of a shabbily-fitting Orleans Parish Prison orange jumpsuit. Plus there’s how he has legs again, too. The insistent draft, though, distracts from the aesthetic. So does that odd faintness of his shape, the slight insubstantiality. He looks like he should evaporate when the fat Louisiana sun shows its face.

Worst is probably his arm—black and rotted and hanging around like somebody decided amputations were out of style last week—but it’s not his fault, he’s been dead.

The arm wouldn’t be so bad, anyway. If he would just stop smiling.

Emmett Delacroix.

The guy she framed, got executed, then mind-raped to remember nightmares until he shat himself.

And maybe killed Mark Stines, but it’s like she said to her sister.

Who will ever know what the truth is with Emmett Delacroix?

Caroline: There’s a moment of shock, then a moment of anger covering shame. He’s. Fucking. Dead. She made damn sure of it.

And yet, here he is, standing in her foyer. He’s definitely dead still, but she’d thought this a problem long buried.

GM: By all present appearances, Emmett still is pretty fucking dead. Caroline doesn’t hear any sort of heartbeat from the half-translucent figure. Or smell so much as a whiff of blood. The grandfather clock seems like a more appetizing meal than he does.

Caroline: Not that she has that much room to talk about dead things wandering around.

Emmett: He looks at her, too. “Huh. I wasn’t expecting to see you here. And as beautiful as ever, Miss Malveaux. Why, I’m only happy I’m less shabby than last time we met.”

GM: The same black, stinger-lord cord stabbing into Simmone’s heart stabs into Caroline’s.

Emmett: He smiles at the look in her eyes, the embers of shock and anger simmering like mild embers. “Are you also Mrs. Devillers’ guest? This is a far prettier cage, too, than Orleans Parish. Ah, memories. But you know what I’m like when I start reminiscing, of course.”

Strangled, mad laughter echoes in the middle distance.

His, from that night when she broke him open and sucked out what she needed.

Caroline: Caroline breaks free of the shock and lets loose a peal of fluttering laughter.

“Guest? Why would I be a guest in my mother’s home?”

“You always were a flatterer, though. You look better than when we talked last time. I’m happy to see that death agrees with you.”

Emmett: He blinks, but seems more puzzled than shocked. “Mother, hmm? I didn’t know your families were that close, even with your brother marrying in. That’s very wholesome, though. Is your, ah, sister here, then? I was wondering if I’d see her.”

GM: Which sister?

There’s apparently now seven total.

Caroline: A hint of irritation crosses her brow. Interesting.

Emmett: “Cécilia, that is,” he adds happily.

Caroline: “Is that why you’re here, Mr. Delacroix? To bother my sister?” There’s an edge to her words. “I can certainly think of better uses of your time.”

Emmett: “Bother?” he makes a face like a wounded puppy. “I would no more bother her than I would be buggered—that is to say, I rather think that I’ve had my fill of either while I breathed.”

His laugh is a soft, mischievous thing, that could mean nothing or everything. “But why so tense, dear lady lick? You aren’t scared of ghosts, are you? You don’t need to be scared of this one, at any rate. I’ve often thought about our time together, and what I would say to you when I saw you again.”

Caroline: “Is it everything you ever wished for?” the blonde-haired, blue-eyed statue asks.

Emmett: “In a sense. I always wished to hear it myself.”

He steps towards her, bows, rolls a wrist and suddenly holds a white flower, bulbous and luminous so that the entire room is suffused with its warm light.

“You have my forgiveness, Miss Malveaux,” Em says simply. “From one monster to another.”

Caroline: The monster doesn’t quite recoil at the flash of light, but he can see the tension coil through her dead muscles, see the whip-tight reflexes tensed.

That tension doesn’t fade with his apology. Instead she simply stares at the ghost.

Liar. Manipulator. Con artist.

All these things. And he comes into her house and offers her forgiveness?

For a moment she isn’t sure what to say, so she falls back on a safe option. One she learned from her mother. A laugh.

“Do I now?” Her tone has more iron in it than he recalls from their meeting when he was alive.

Emmett: “You do,” he assures her, her laughter lifting the corners of his mouth. “For the framing, and my execution. For the conjugal you paid me in prison and the things you did to my mind. There are no grudges, no gripes. I understand. You are forgiven, and what might have been bitter between us is dust. Are you so surprised to be forgiven?”

He twirls the flower between his fingers, and it floats close to the chandelier, casting its warm light over the pair.

“I suppose it’s only natural. Forgiveness is all too rare for the dead, hmm?”

“But it is yours, if you’ll have it. And please. Call me Emmett. Caroline.”

Caroline: “It’s a shame, really. How little of value I got out of that,” Caroline answers. “Breaking your mind.”

“Your memories of what happened in the Dungeon were buried so deep that even when I pried them out they were unrecognizable.”

“You were such a broken thing already, though.”

Emmett: “I might remember more, now. Death does that, it’s very handy.” He tilts his head. “Anyway, my egg’s all put back together now. Like Humpty Dumpty couldn’t be.”

He narrows his eyes for a moment. “You asked why I was here. I made a delivery to your mother. I always wanted to be a pizza boy.”

“There’s more to come, I hope you’ll tell her.”

Caroline: A grim smile. “I’d be careful there, Emmett.” She pronounces his name sharply. “I may have framed you and shattered your mind, but play the games you played with me and my sister with my mother, and you’ll find yourself missing far more than your sanity or life.”

Emmett: “Oh, why ever would I? She’d always win. No, I’m her humble servant. And Cécilia’s, of course. Even yours, Caroline, if you have need of a friendly ghost.”

Caroline: “I’m fairly certain I remember Casper being a child, not a rapist and murderer in life,” she answers, contemplative.

Emmett: “Well, they didn’t play those parts up, but it was all in the subtext. I remain a child at heart, much like poor Casper. And dear Caroline, do you mean to imply that rapacious murderers are unwelcome in your home?”

Caroline: “Not at all,” Caroline answers. “Only that those who would do harm to my sisters in any way will suffer for all eternity.”

There’s a predatory gleam in her gaze. “How’s your sister doing, Emmett?”

Emmett: The flower wilts above, and there’s nothing cocky or artificial about the somber expression that steals across his face.

“If you ask, you know,” he says simply. “You can threaten her, if it gives you pleasure, O host, but I am already your docile guest. Should you intervene in her woes, I would owe you personally and become an enthusiastic servant, and my forgiveness would overflow into friendship. I cannot stop you from hurting her to prove a point. I have already destroyed her life with my bluster. But the less time I must spend fretting over her, the faster I can fill your Maman’s… she used the word ‘larder.’”

Caroline: “Threaten?” Caroline rolls the word around in her mouth like it’s a favor to be appreciated.

“So you haven’t visited her in your death. That’s a shame, Emmett. Is there anything you really care about, or anyone, other than yourself?”

Emmett: “I don’t know what gave you that idea,” he corrects gently. “I have visited. Do you think I care for nobody, Caroline? If so, you truly must be confused by my presence here.”

He sighs and turns. “I came to thank Cécilia for her generosity in my final days, and for, ah, executing my dying wishes. If you would have me go, I only ask that you tell her as much, and that if she ever needs assistance of a ghostly variety, she need only ask.”

“You don’t happen to know where Lena’s kids got to, do you?”

“The mob said they’d kill them if I couldn’t pay, and obviously when I was inside it wasn’t as though I could. I don’t know if the mob did follow through, though. Knowing the Dixies, they may merely be slaves. I haven’t been able to find out yet.”

Their faces dance in the intervening space, conjured from shadow and soft light. Soft. Innocent. Noah has his eyes.

Staring at her, even as he turns away.

Caroline: “I had some ideas,” Caroline answers. “It’s been a low priority, and I had a concern that if she didn’t like the answer it might send her off the deep end again.”

Emmett: “I would know what my mistakes have cost me.”

“And her.”

Caroline: “It cost her everything,” she answers. “It might have cost them their lives, and nearly cost her the same. She’s obsessed with finding them, but… well, that’s easier said than done.”

“There’s another vampire I could ask about it, but…” She shrugs.

Emmett: “I know how to find the man who knows.”

“If you want a ghost like me to owe you.”

Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks.

Emmett: “Oh,” he agrees. “Bert Villars, the attorney. Ask him how to find a man called Bud. He was the shark.”

GM: Caroline has heard of the former, at least. One of the most sleazy and disreputable hucksters in the legal community. Carson held him in utter contempt. Whenever a pimp or crack king was facing criminal charges, Bertram S. Villars, esq. was there to represent him.

Caroline: “Why don’t you just hang around until you find them yourself?” she asks skeptically.

Emmett: “And whatever would you like in return, Miss Malveaux?”

“I can’t find Bud without talking to Villars, and haven’t found a way to suitably… interview him as of yet. And I have other obligations that prevent me simply watching Villars, including gathering souls for your mother. But rest assured, if you want somebody spied upon or secrets brought back to you, you could do much worse than making a friend like me.”

Caroline: The Ventrue muses for a moment.

“There’s a reason your sister isn’t in prison or dead,” Caroline says at last. “She’s already under my protection, and influence.”

Emmett: “Is she?” He turns and regards her. “Why?”

Caroline: “I had a use for a doctor. One that owed me everything, that no one else wanted.”

Emmett: He nods, satisfied by a selfish explanation. “If you are able to return her children to her, she won’t be the only one in your debt. I’ll be every bit as much your spook as I am Cécilia’s.”

Caroline: “Even if it’s in a pair of boxes. Or maybe ashtrays?” Caroline asks.

Emmett: “Obviously I have a preference. But at least if I know they’re dead, I can find their spirits.”

Em looks at her levelly. “Name your price.”

Caroline: “Leave my sister alone,” Caroline answers without hesitation.

“Cécilia has more than enough troubles in her life without a troublesome shade.”

GM: “Caroline, who are you talking to?” comes her sister’s voice.

Emmett: Her voice would quicken her pulse if he had one. Caroline can see the effect it has on him—his pupils dilating, his expression freezing slightly. It takes him a moment to shake it off before he regards the vampire with a raised eyebrow.

“If she wants me to stay away, I’m happy to. But it seems like a choice for her, doesn’t it? Will you really refuse to tell her she has a visitor? And besides, are you going to pretend I’m not a gift on a silver platter? You can’t watch her all the time, after all. But I can, if she wills it. I can guard her and warn her of threats before they come to her.”

GM: She rounds the hallway.

Looks at the door.

Cécilia frowns in puzzlement. It wasn’t that long ago that Em saw her, he supposes, but time crawled at a snail’s pace in solitary, and who knows how much has passed since he died. Cécilia still has an engagement ring on her finger that looks like it must cost someone’s mortgage, though, for what that may be worth. She’s dressed relatively casually in a white ruffled blouse, loose pale blue skirt that matches her eyes, and darker hemp ballet flats.

She’s still beautiful.

Emmett: He looks at Caroline, eyebrow raised.

GM: Cécilia just looks right past him.

Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes narrow. If Cécilia is here it isn’t by chance.

“You had a visitor,” she answers her sister.

Emmett: He inclines his head to her, smiling with encouragement. “Have, technically. Should I appear or do you want to spare her the surprise?”

GM: Cécilia looks back from Caroline to the door, then raises a hand to her mouth.

“Oh… mon dieu…”

Emmett: He blinks. “Oh, wait. Can you all see ghosts? Is that in the genes, too? Like the blonde hair and those bottomless eyes?”

GM: A panoply of emotions seem to pass over Cécilia’s face. Her hand doesn’t lower.

“Oh my… Emmett, is that you?”

Emmett: He smiles sadly. “It certainly isn’t Elliott. Hello, Cécilia. I hope you don’t mind if I don’t shake your hand.” He glances down at his gangrenous, necrotized arm.

GM: “I don’t think we could, in any case…” she manages, lowering her hand from her mouth.

She regards him for a moment. Her face looks truly sad.

“Emmett, I’m so sorry. I’d hoped death would bring you peace.”

Emmett: “I was never the peaceful type,” he says. “And I have things that need doing. Don’t fret, or mourn. There are worse things to be, than this. I came to thank you.”

He glances at Caroline, then back to her sister, those eyes becoming his world. The tremor in his voice is a crack children would avoid on a sidewalk.

“For the movies. And all of it. It made going to the chair a lot easier, knowing that somebody was…d
oing all that. Especially the environmental stuff. It must have meant a lot to my dad.”

GM: “You’re welcome,” Cécilia replies.

The tremor to her voice isn’t a crack. It’s more like a sad note on a harpsichord or some other delicate little instrument.

“I did have to change some things. The environmental stuff wasn’t able to happen,” she admits, “but I tried to honor the spirit of your wishes. I’m glad you were able to get out some screenplays, in the end.”

Emmett: Em raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t press. “Ah, well,” he says softly. “The afterlife is long.”

He regards the two of them together. “You two make a happy pair. I wish I would be returning on more pleasant business, but I’ll take what I can get. I’ll probably see you again sooner rather than later.”

His eyes meet Caroline’s. “I hope, in time, that you really do believe me when I say that the past is the past. That you are forgiven. And that you realize that in the grand scheme of things, we have more in common than we do differences.”

Caroline: “Deeds, not words, define us,” she answers. “But by either measure there is little generous to say of us.”

Emmett: “Little,” he agrees, “but some. Give your Maman my regards, and please let her known that that was just a taste. I’ll have more, soon. Much more.”

GM: Cécilia raises an eyebrow, but says, “Are there any ways I could help you, Emmett?”

“I obviously don’t have your personal experience with the afterlife, but Maman has taught me a few things about it.”

Emmett: He hesitates. “I’m still new to it, myself. Part of why I sought out your mother was to get more answers. Do you know of… a way to the Skinlands?”

GM: “In the sense of having a physical body again, you mean?”

Emmett: “Or at least escaping this place. The Shadowlands. It might be a pipe dream, but…” he shrugs.

GM: “As I understand things, it’s easier to go down than up, in the Underworld,” Cécilia answers. “The Shadowlands is the top-most ‘layer.’ There are deeper ones.”

Emmett: “But not a way up. To the living world.”

GM: Cécilia thinks. “You have to understand that the Shadowlands isn’t just a physical place. It’s a state of being, as much as anything else. You can walk through walls, and everything you see is through a lens of decay, but you’re very much still here, in the same plane of existence of me. You’re here now, seeing me and speaking with me. By some technical definitions, the Shadowlands isn’t even part of the Underworld proper.”

“So escaping the Shadowlands is really a question of… changing yourself, which is easier said than done. There are wraiths, I understand, who can become corporeal and even experience all the joys and sorrows of being alive. But it takes practice and doesn’t last for very long. There also stories about events like the Dia di Muertos, where the souls of the departed can cross over to reunite with their loved ones, because their feelings for one another are so strong. Or even how on Judgment Day, at the end of the world, the dead will all rise from their graves and walk the lands of the living.”

“But… I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you, so far as how to do that now, and for good,” Cécilia admits with an apologetic look. “I’m to understand that’s simply one of the great tragedies of being a ghost… being so close to the world you left behind, yet forever apart from it.”

Emmett: He is silent, for a moment.

Then he laughs. It’s a sad noise, resigned but not bitter.

“I had thought as much already. But I heard a rumor. Better no hope than false hope. Thank you for the book learning.”

“Hmmm. Does the term ‘sandman’ mean anything to you?”

GM: Cécilia seems to think. “It doesn’t, I’m afraid.”

“Maman says, though, that very few cosmic laws are truly immutable. There are always ways around them. Bargains, back doors, escape clauses, whatever name you might use. It’s just a matter of having the proper knowledge… and being able to pay the price.”

There’s caution in her tone, but also some measure of… hope?

Caroline: “You hope she can do it,” Caroline cuts in. “That she can give you that way forward.”

GM: “I suppose that’s also worth asking,” says Cécilia. “What do you ultimately want out of your afterlife, Em? Would you like to pass on?”

Emmett: “Everybody wants to pass on eventually,” he shrugs. “I want to ensure my family is safe, restored to a semblance of comfort, and my enemies thoroughly haunted. Maybe get some movies produced, too. I’m taking things one at a time.”

He regards her frankly. “I also don’t think I’ll be able to go until I’ve repaid you, properly.”

Caroline: “There are other ways,” Caroline observes. “To interact with the world in the flesh. Possession, for instance.”

Emmett: “I haven’t learned that trick yet,” he says. “I’m game, though.”

He eyes her. “For now, though, I rely on friends.”

GM: “That’s kind of you to say, Emmett, but you don’t need to repay me,” Cécilia answers. “Even if you think I deserve it, I’m very happy with my life. But you’ve been around. You’ve seen people in all sorts of situations I haven’t. I’m sure you can think of someone needier to help.”

Emmett: “It’s not about deserves,” Em says simply. “I owe you for kindness shown to me. Some part of me doesn’t want to go until I see my debts paid. All of them, kind and ugly alike.”

GM: “All right. If you want to repay me, I know there’s a man named D’angelo Turcotte who’s serving a sentence in Louisiana State Penitentiary for the murder of Mark Stines. Was he responsible for it?”

Emmett: “Yes,” Em says plainly.

“Though that’s no reason for him not to walk out early, if you wish it. Stines having been a brute, a rapist, and an attempted murderer himself.”

“I’m not sure how much faith you have in the legitimacy of our great state’s justice system, though. Although I stand before you a man executed for crimes that I suspect your sister can testify were not my own.”

GM: “Was D’angelo solely responsible for Mark’s death?” Cécilia asks. “Yvette said you’d both been complicit in it. I wasn’t sure how much of the story to believe when I heard it thirdhand, until you asked me to help you make restitution to Mark’s family.”

Emmett: “He pulled the trigger, but it was my plan,” Em says in that same plain straightforward tone. “Figure his family deserves something, though I regret nothing about the murder itself. What would you see done?”

GM: “All right. I suppose that is justice, if D’angelo did the crime and is doing the time. Maybe not perfect justice, but at least the same justice to which everyone else is held.”

Emmett: He smiles sadly. “Would you have me speak frankly, or nod in agreement?”

GM: “Frankly, please.”

“I know many people think our criminal justice system is less than perfect.”

Emmett: “The opinion of a dead man isn’t worth much,” he allows. “Maybe especially one who died as I did. But it’s not simply an imperfect system, Cécilia. It’s one that does what the people behind the scenes want it to do, and it’s built around filling prisons with bodies, whether the people they belong to are innocent or not.”

He shrugs. “It’s not a polite opinion, or one that most people would say is moral. But if you ask me, D’angelo’s misfortune is just that. Not the consequences of his actions, which were guided by my own, or the good of society. I walked free because I had secrets to sit on about Stines that the Malveaux family wanted to stay that way.”

He nods to Caroline. “I’m not saying a guy who called himself Murda-Cent proudly deserves to walk free. And unless I have a good reason, I’m not going to help him. But where he is is just where he is. Justice never really came into it, and if his own choices did, it’s only because he was unlucky enough to be caught.”

He shrugs, and the shadows of a prison cell cross the spectre’s face for a moment. “I don’t pity him. But I don’t have it in me to judge him, either. What that says about me, I don’t know.”

“Maybe just because I know where we end up, anyways.”

GM: “I don’t think it’s that unpopular an opinion, actually,” Cécilia states. “There are many activists, civil rights groups, public figures, private individuals, you name it, who believe our criminal justice system is badly broken and in need of reform. We could spend all day talking about the myriad of ways. All of those demonstrations around the killing of Mercurial Fernandez go to show that our prisons can’t even guarantee a right as basic as life to their inmate populations.” She frowns briefly at his name.

“At the same time, D’angelo did kill a man. Even if the process of his sentencing wasn’t perfect, or the sentence itself disproportionately harsh to what it would be if someone like me was charged with Mark’s murder, I think D’angelo is where he belongs. Any improvement in prison conditions or clemency in sentencing he should receive are the same that any other incarcerated person should receive.”

“As far as what it says about you, I think it’s simply reflective of a broader loss of faith in our institutions. Many people don’t believe they serve the public good anymore, or perhaps even ever. That’s a serious problem and not one that’s easily fixable.”

Emmett: “Ah, but I am not a good man,” the sandman replies easily. “Even less than I am an activist, or any of the other concerned citizens you mentioned. I simply observe that D’angelo, much like everybody else, is not where he is because he should be there, but because forces beyond his power have placed him there. His actual guilt is circumstantial more than it is…” he waves a hand and smiles sadly.

“My vocabulary ain’t what it could be. Maybe Caroline knows the right word. We assume, growing up, that things are the way that they are for a reason. Our society structures itself around that belief. But I’m telling you that things are what they are because people, and not-quite people, make them that way.” He turns his gaze to Caroline. “Would you disagree?”

Caroline: “The system is exactly what it was designed to be,” Caroline answers. “One in which the most dedicated, most intelligent, most willing to do anything rise to the top, where they compete with each other. The founders understood human nature as keenly as any of us—the best they could do was structure a society in which it played against itself, in which the oligarchs fought instead of collaborated. If you want to see the alternative, look at Russia.”

Emmett: He inclines his head. “Eloquently put. Tad political, bit academic, but it comes to the same thing. Our circumstances are determined not by what we deserve, but by power. Carlin put it best.” His voice changes, becomes cracked and passionate, oratory. “’It’s a big club, and you’re not in it!’”

“Except, you know.” He winks at Cécilia. “You are. You ask what I would accomplish in my afterlife? Maybe I’ll join.”

Caroline: “That’s where we disagree,” Caroline answers. “We deserve what we get. What was the Churchill quote? Democracy is the worst system… except for every other one?”

Emmett: He smiles at her. “Interesting. Do you have what you deserve, Caroline?”

GM: “Yes,” Cécilia immediately says.

Emmett: He tilts his head and awaits her answer.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline answers just as quickly, then glances at her sister.

After a second she continues, “Equal parts prince and pauper. But my wealth, where it matters, is beyond compare.”

“And I’m working on the rest.”

Emmett: Em inclines his head. “As we all must. But I’m happy to be shown I’m wrong, you know.”

Two children stand behind him, suddenly. Caroline knows them. They stare ahead, blankly, corpse-attentive. He drapes an arm over his nephew and niece.

“Give them what they deserve, what their mother deserves, and I’ll be the happiest fool in the city.”

The children melt into shadow when she meets their eyes.

“And your fool, at that.”

GM: Yeah, I can’t wait to see you hurt them.

Caroline: “Finding out what you want to know will cost me something,” Caroline answers at last. “Bring me something valuable to offset it.”

Emmett: He bows. “What would you find valuable?”

Caroline: “My stepmother,” Caroline answers after a moment. “She’s recently deceased.”

GM: Oh, you don’t need to worry about her, if you think she might try to hurt you, thinks Cécilia.

Maman doesn’t leave… loose ends.

Caroline: I’m more interested in what else she might have left behind, Caroline answers. She had a safehouse in the city.

Emmett: “Step? You mean Nate’s wife?”

Caroline: She doesn’t quite scowl at the questioning. “Claire Malveaux,” she clarifies more sharply than she intends. “She was a hunter. She had a safehouse in the city. I want to know where it is, and what’s inside.”

Emmett: “Er. Hunter?”

Caroline: “Hunter. She killed my kind. And, I suspect, yours too when she could.”

Emmett: “Bit redundant in our case,” he says affably. “And that sounds awkward. How’d she die? And how long ago?”

Caroline: “I killed her,” Caroline answers. “A few nights ago.”

Emmett: He blinks, then shrugs. “I didn’t get along with my parents, either.”

He inquires as to any other details she can share that might help him find her house. The places she frequented. People who knew her movements. That sort of thing.

Caroline: Caroline relates that her stepmother spent much of her time in the French Quarter, but also had associations with the Pi Alpha Kappas that could tie into any such safehouse. She provides the hotel and room number where her stepmother died.

“She was a powerful figure,” she finishes.

Emmett: Hey, you wanna haunt some sorority girls?

“Sounds like a place to start,” Em agrees. “Are there lots where she came from? Hunters, that is.”

Caroline: A dark smile. “Fewer tonight than a few nights ago.”

Emmett: “…huh.”

GM: You know, I think I’m gonna make you have a harrowing every day you don’t make progress finding our dear niece and nephew.

Emmett: Where’s that coming from? We’re literally making progress right now.

GM: Or maybe just blast a bunch of cum in Cécilia’s hair. Like, from a big illusory dick. What do you think she’d do?

Emmett: Probably get her mother to eat us.

GM: She wouldn’t.

But don’t worry. I’m pretty happy with what you’ve done here.

Emmett: Well, we definitely wouldn’t be able to wrap her around our finger.

GM: Just reminding you to keep it up, buttercup. We get juvenile when we get bored, after all.

And if it takes too long to find those brats, or you blow it off or half-ass it like a homework assignment along the way, and go ‘but progress!’, I’m gonna get bored real fast.

Like, I wonder what Cécilia would do if we made a giant dick appear in her mouth, and made it look like she was sucking whenever she talked. Or spelled out some floating letters in cum that said ‘WHORE’ and followed her wherever she went.

Emmett: “My Shadow’s whining at me,” he says suddenly, glancing at Cécilia. “Excuse me for a moment.”

Harrowing, you whiny, angsty bitch. Unless you’re scared of getting spanked. Tired of your complaining.

GM: What are you getting your panties in a wad about? I haven’t even done anything.

Yet, anyways.

Emmett: Too bad. Harrowing. Now.

GM: Uh, fuck you, I decide when you have those.

Emmett: Aw, is widdle Gasper scared of getting his immaterial ass kicked?

I’d go easy on you. Sing you a lullaby. It’d go, poor little Gasper, no ideas of his own. Doesn’t know how to do shit but groan.

He can feel his other side boiling, flexing, ready to pounce.

But he’s tired of it. And he’s done being pushed around.

GM: Huh. Someone’s in a mood.

Here’s the thing though.

You’ve made me really fucking strong.

Emmett clamps down on his Shadow’s obnoxiousness like a bear trap over a hapless idiot’s leg.

Huh. You really are pissed off!

Here’s the thing though… I’ve got a lot of ammo to burn, all thanks to you.

And I’ll just keep burning it… until…

Caroline watches as enormous, hairy, stinky, sweaty penis shoots a full load of jizz all over Cécilia’s face. The salty-smelling cum dribbles down her cheeks and nose, spelling out the still-dripping words WHORE over her breasts.

Caroline: Fury flashes in Caroline’s eyes and suddenly she’s there, right in front of Em. She throws a fist at his face.

GM: Her fist passes through the ghost like he’s not even there.

Caroline: She looks down at her fist and scowls.

GM: Cécilia says nothing. Her face is very, very still.

After several moments, she speaks.

“You said your Shadow was whining, Emmett?”

Emmett: His silence speaks volumes. So does the expression on his face. The shame, the fury, and worst of all, the helplessness.

He turns, voice cracking. “I should go.”

GM: “Wait,” says Cécilia.

“That was your Shadow. Wasn’t it, seizing control?”

“I’d sooner we denied it any kind of victory, because that’s exactly what it wants. To drive wedges between you and other people.”

“Caroline also knows something of what it’s like to lose control. Don’t you?”

Sticky wet cum continues to dribble down her face as she talks.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t quite snarl, but her lip curls.

GM: The jizz-spelled word over her breasts morphs into two further ones:

CUM DUMPSTER

Emmett: “That’s not an excuse,” he spits, and he sprouts bat-like wings as he walks. “If I can’t control it, I can’t be trusted. And I clearly can’t.”

GM: “There are ways to control it, and to beat it. How much do you know about Shadows, Em?”

“Have you had anyone to explain these things to you?”

Emmett: He stops at the door, wings twitching. He still doesn’t look at her. Denies himself the sight of his cruel prank.

“No,” he says, quietly.

GM: Em can’t see it.

But he can smell it.

Hear the sticky drip-drips.

“I think that would also frustrate your Shadow more than anything else, then,” Cécilia replies. “People who are ignorant are always easier to take advantage of.”

“That must be like… playing a sport without knowing any of the rules, while the rival team has also deputized themselves as the umpires. The whole thing would feel grossly unfair. Be grossly unfair.”

“Caroline, do you have any idea of what that would be like to experience?”

Caroline: Caroline fixes her gaze on her semen-splattered sister. Thinks on how that must feel. How it must smell. And here she is, calmly, rationally, comforting the shade of the man who lied to her, manipulated her. Of a murderer and a rapist.

She’s too good for Em. Too good for her.

Her knuckles pop around her clinched fist. “You know I do,” she answers. And when she loses control it results in dead bodies, not dirty jokes.

GM: The words have shifted again.

JIZZ GUZZLER

“I do. But perhaps it’s worth something to Em to know that someone else does.”

Caroline: “I have a suddenly keen awareness for my kind’s lack of patience with it,” she replies.

But she knows that’s unfair. How many times has her will not risen to the challenge of the Beast? How many lives has she shattered for it?

“When we’re hungry, or hurt, or even just pissed off, our own monster comes out.”

“That’s was how I maimed and killed, mostly, in those first nights.”

GM: “Those were very terrifying and lonely nights, I’m sure, before you came into contact with larger Kindred society. Which offered horrors, traumas, and indignities of its own for you, I know, but at least other people who understood you and could provide context and meaning to your experiences. I’d guess that Em hasn’t come across larger Stygian society yet, or other wraiths would have either explained this to him or taken… measures to ensure his Shadow couldn’t cause further problems.”

“The latter perhaps being more likely than the former. I’m to understand many newly-risen wraiths get taken as slaves by older ones.”

Emmett: “There are pardoners,” he says. Still looking at the door. “I don’t know what to do without one. And every time I get close to doing something, or even tell the prick no… well.”

The mess on her face says it all.

GM: “I understand that it’s possible to get by without one, from what Maman has told me. Your Shadow can’t just take over whenever it wants. There are rules it has to follow.”

Emmett: “What rules?” He turns his head ninety degrees, still only looking at her from the corner of his eye.

GM: “Your Shadow has to expend some portion of itself when it tries to take over, or to use its other abilities. If it does so enough times, it’ll be starved and impotent. Just an angry voice in your head.”

“It grows stronger whenever you give in to the worst parts of yourself. Whenever you do the things it wants. Or whenever you draw on it for power.”

“Maman tells me the Underworld is a harsh place, and that even wraiths who know they’re making their Shadows stronger often feel it’s the lesser of two evils.”

Emmett: “How do I weaken it?”

GM: “You already did, here. Your Shadow used some of its strength, maybe a lot of its strength, purely to play a juvenile prank. I’m sure it could have used that on something much more actively malevolent.”

Emmett: “Still. It has to have some weakness. Some way to bring the fight to it.”

GM: “Maman hasn’t explained as much to me there. But if giving in to the worst parts of yourself strengthens your Shadow… living up to the best parts of yourself seems like it could only help.”

Emmett: “I’m feeding your mother souls,” Em says bluntly.

“My only way forward is through the darkness.”

GM: “Forward to where?”

Emmett: “Somewhere that isn’t here. Somewhere that…” he tries for words, and fails. “I don’t know what I want. Except that I probably won’t get it.”

He’s wasted enough of her time. He turns to go, ready to kick off the ground, take to the air, and soar into the night.

Caroline: The Ventrue moves like she did before. Lightning quick, this time entirely through him to the other side of him. Positioning herself between the wraith and the door.

Can you give me a moment with him, Cécilia?

GM: Of course.

With his face turned away from Cécilia’s, Emmett can’t say what the expression on his ex-girlfriend’s looks like. Or how much of his Shadow’s ‘handiwork’ yet remains. But her voice sounds simultaneously sad and hopeful as she replies,

“I hope you find out what you want. And I hope that you do get it. If you want to talk again, I’ll be here.”

She turns to go, the light tap of her shoes sounding against the wood floor.

Caroline: Caroline eyes the dead man. The killer. The rapist. The monster. And also her patsy. Her shared survivor—such as it is—of the Dungeon. Survivor, that’s a joke.

She’s silent for a moment, running her tongue across her teeth. Her fangs, really, he can tell. There’s something monstrous inside her. Hard and cruel. When she finally speaks it’s with steel.

“Most of us never change,” she admits. “We are what we are, and not even death will change that.”

“I am no different, so I give you this warning, once. Whether you succeed or fail in any task laid before you is immaterial. Spend your afterlife as you wish. If you wish to tie your fate to ours, you’re the wiser for it. If you wish to seek your own, I wish you peace.”

There’s a pause. He can almost feel the ‘but’ coming.

“But, if this is a con, if this is an attempt to manipulate my sister’s better nature, if you seek to hurt any of my sisters or my mother, do not think you are beyond my reach simply because I cannot touch you.” She waves a hand through the shade for effect.

The monster inside her is so close to the surface now he wonders how others don’t see it. How she doesn’t send her family running in terror. The monster fills her voice with hate.

“Hurt my sisters and I will kill everyone you have ever known. I will kill your family down to the last living descendant, and I will make it painful, knowing you will watch. I will burn everything you might have ever loved if you seek to take that which I love from me. This I swear to God.”

Emmett: His wings flutter impatiently, his eyes on hers. Both gazes dead, yet so very different. His doesn’t flicker as she plunges a hand through his corpus, even as it parts like shadow and smoke to accommodate her posturing.

“You can swear it to me,” he simply says. “You are heard, Malveaux. But you need not exert yourself so. Your Maman scares me more than you could hope to. As for destroying all I have ever loved…” he smiles sadly. “I think even a girl who killed her mother might balk at hurting Cécilia. Farewell, lick. Until next time.”

She cannot stop him from leaving. This he knows, and it amuses him to have the last word, if only because he suspects her lack of power over him disturbs her. He leaves shadow and and the sound of laughter behind him, lingering past the beating of his wings.

GM: Yet though Caroline may lack that power, another force all-too plainly does not. The house’s front door, solid and impenetrable to the wraith’s sight, its pristine oak surface unmarred by the decay of the Shadowlands, holds fast before him.

Caroline: The heiress stares at him, unsmiling. “If you fear her, you would do well to be less flippant in her home. Her protectiveness towards her daughters is mirrored in mine, and you’ll find patience may be the only quality in which I outstrip her.”

Emmett: He sighs, and turns to face her. “What would you have me say, Caroline? I can be polite, as can you, but we have made our terms clear. I will not cross your Maman, even leaving aside her charming hospitality and our current bargain; and I will not see Cécilia harmed for reasons I should think I’ve made clear. I have no reason to take an interest in the rest of your sisters. What else do we have to discuss, beyond my flippancy, a subject you will most assuredly find exhausting, even if only because I can discuss it until sunrise.”

“Indeed, the longer I linger, the greater the chance my Shadow resurfaces and leads me to say something truly uncouth, which neither of us wants. I aim only to be a pleasing guest, and yet already I have allowed my worse half to get the better of me.” He wrings his hands in consternation as his wings open and close impatiently, his feet lifting steadily off the ground.

Caroline: “Save the indignation and take this for what it is, Emmett. In life you were a murder. A liar. A rapist. A manipulator. You fed on human suffering in a way as depraved as any lick, and without the same holy purpose. In your travels you sought to victimize me, and did victimize my sister. Your entire life was built on whatever lie was most convenient and advantageous to you in the moment, and upon playing on others’ emotions. You were a monster, just like I am. And death has done nothing for my temperament.”

She pauses. “That Cecilia is willing to overlook all of that out of her genuine desire that you find peace and purpose and perhaps even happiness is a gift you are wholly undeserving of. I do not presume to dictate how my sister spends her time or affections, or suggest she is wrong in offering them.”

“But I know what you always were. If you wish to be better, be better. Prove her right. I would only you know whatever she may hope, I will always be there to protect her so she may continue to. And I don’t take chances.”

She walks through him, her heels clicking on the floor as she moves away from the door, towards the hall Cecilia disappeared down. Her voice trails over her shoulder as she departs.

“I wouldn’t hold out, too, for the rising sun. It’s been up for hours.”

Emmett: Well. Through his crotch.

“Oh, well that’s just…” he trails off as she walks away. “Kind of impressive, actually.”

He dips a toe against the door, trying to get through.

GM: It remains solid against his foot.

Only when Caroline has left does it swing open.

Endless gray and gloom stretches outside.

Emmett: “As ever, madame, a pleasure,” he demurs as his wings beat again.

“Until next time, and your next feeding.”


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

“Talk or we burn you.”
Unknown hunter


Date ?

GM: Pain stabs through Celia’s flank. Her Beast roars.

“Wakey-wakey, bloodsucker.”

She can’t see. Her sight is covered. There’s something thick in her mouth.

“Here’s how this is going to go.”

Someone pulls the blindfold away. It’s painfully bright out.

Day out.

Celia’s head throbs. She’s in a bare room, handcuffed to a bed in spread-eagle position.

The man and woman from the car are sitting on the bed. The woman is holding a bloody knife. The man has a cigarette lighter.

He flicks it on. Moves it closer to her face. Celia’s Beast gnashes its teeth and rears it back.

He flicks it off.

“You’re going to answer our questions, or we’ll burn your pretty face.”

“If you’re still stubborn after that, we’ll get creative.”

“Nod if you understand.”

Celia: She doesn’t know how it works, the thing that Savoy did that night when he felt her die. She doesn’t know how strong the bond is, or if he or her sire will be able to feel it, if she’s doing it right, if there’s even a way to do it consciously.

But she screams. Inside her mind she screams, wordless, panic and rage and fear. That deep-seated fear of fire, of daylight, of these two people standing over her with their knife. Her mind is an echo chamber of please and God and help me, save me.

Her face isn’t flat. It doesn’t betray the rage, but the terror? She lets that show. Anyone would be scared in this position. It puts her back to that time in Em’s apartment. Watching her mother get raped. Tied down, just like this. Hacksawed.

She can’t talk around the gag in her mouth, but she nods. She nods vigorously, all the while pulling in that predatory smell and projecting the same thing she had shown them… before. Last night? How long ago?

It doesn’t matter. She projects that impression of innocence.

GM: The man’s face seems so soften, perhaps a bit.

The blindfold goes back on.

The gag comes out.

“How recently were you turned into this?”

His tone isn’t kind. But it’s perhaps less cruel than when he waved the lighter in her face.

Celia: She could lie. She could tell him she doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

But there’s an easy way to test that, isn’t there? Push her outside. Let the sun ash her. There’s a tightness in her chest where her heart used to be. Dread curls in her gut.

They want information. It’s not often you find yourself with a vampire on your hands. Would they ash her for lying? Or just put that cigarette lighter on her, slide that knife under her nails?

Her voice comes out in a broken whisper, a pained whine. Breathless. Afraid. “I didn’t know what she was.”

Keep calm. Keep calm and scream inside. Cooperate. Someone has to know she’s missing. Savoy has to wonder why she didn’t show up. That’s not like her. She wouldn’t miss a meeting. Maybe he sent someone to look for her. Maybe Pete…?

She doesn’t pull at the bindings. She is very, very still.

GM: She couldn’t see them, anyway, Just like she can’t see the man’s expression.

“How recently?” he repeats. Not angry, yet, but pressing.

Celia: When was the last selfie she’d posted on Instagram? She remembers it because it had a sunny background. Augmented reality. Photoshop. That’s what she’d told Coco years ago when she’d asked.

Too young and they’ll think she doesn’t know anything. Too old and they’ll know this innocent mask is a lie.

There’s no way to win. Another game without an end.

It isn’t fair. All she wants to do is fix her family. Her dad finally said he was proud of her. Her sister is waiting for her to come back.

Her lip quivers. She draws in a shaky breath so she can tell him what he wants to know.

“A few months.” She prays it’s the right answer. They can check her Insta page if they need to; it’ll show that sunny photo, date stamped from a few months prior.

GM: “What’s your phone PIN?” asks the woman.

Celia: “Face scanner.” Jade’s face.

GM: There’s a pause. The blindfold gets pulled away. The man’s eyes are shut as he holds up the phone to her face.

Celia: It doesn’t open. Celia isn’t wearing Jade’s face. She’d never had a chance to change for her meeting.

GM: She’s blindfolded again.

She can hear the man’s scowl.

“Dumb of you.”

Celia: “Is—is that a white phone? Mine isn’t white.”

GM: There’s silence.

Retreating footsteps.

Door opening.

Closing.

Celia: She strains to hear anything beyond the door. Anything that will give her more information on where she is or what they want with her. All the while she remains still. She breathes, just to make herself look human, just to give her something to do.

GM: She hears plenty. Muffled yelling and screaming.

Alana’s voice.

Celia: No.

GM: “Mi-fre-f!!!”

“Open your mouth,” says the woman.

Celia: Her mouth opens. She keeps her fangs hidden away.

GM: The gag gets shoved back in. The blindfold comes off.

Alana is gagged and tied up. The man traces the knife’s edge along her face.

“Talk or we burn you. That’s what we said, starting with your pretty face.”

“But you fucks can come back from anything.”

The ghoul is very still, but her damp eyes are wide and fearful.

Celia: Celia shakes her head, eyes pleading. She shouts from behind the gag. The words are muffled.

GM: “Can you unlock the phone?” asks the woman.

“Nod or shake your head.”

Celia: She doesn’t know what’s on her phone that they want. Selfies? Business receipts from her email? Sexts to Randy? She’d learned, long ago, how technology could fuck someone. She doesn’t keep anything worth saving on her phone. That’s just ignorant.

But she can’t take the chance she was sloppy. Sell out a ghoul, or sell out her entire kind?

It’s an easy decision to make.

She hates herself for it.

She shakes her head.

GM: The woman holds down a crying Alana, and then the man saws off her right ear. Blood messily spurts everywhere as the ghoul makes muffled screams past her gag and thrashes in place.

Celia can feel her elongated canines pierce through the gag’s cloth as the heady coppery scent fills her nostrils.

Celia: She thrashes against her bindings. Against whatever is holding her back, she thrashes, yanks, pulls. Her body bucks and bows, bending, twisting. Her fingers curl into claws. She screams again. Wordless. Rage. Panic. Shakes her head. Again, again. Stop it, she’s screaming, but they can’t hear.

GM: Perhaps her Beast bursts out and overtakes her. Perhaps she howls like the monster is. The handcuffs cruelly dig into her flesh and hold her fast.

Perhaps Roderick or Veronica could burst those steel bonds. But she’s just Celia. Weak.

“Is this her phone?” the man asks Alana, holding it up.

The sobbing, newly-one-eared ghoul mutely bobs her head, over and over, as if that will make the pain stop.

“Oh, look. More lies.”

The blindfold goes back on. The gag comes out.

“Punctured it,” says the woman.

“She’s a monster,” says the man. “Look at those fang marks.”

“There’s monsters and then there’s monsters,” says the woman.

Someone’s hand touches Celia’s shoulder.

“You say you’re pretty new to what you are,” comes the man’s voice.

“Okay. You’re a sweet girl something bad happened to.”

“This will go easier if you cooperate. Just tell us how to get into the phone.”

Celia: The skin where they’d stuck the knife knits itself back together beneath her shirt. The wound is bloody enough that they might not notice, even if they were looking at it.

How long has she been here? How long until nightfall? Until someone comes looking for her? Did anyone even notice? Does he care that she was screaming in her mind, or is he snoozing, peacefully, behind those steel doors in Paul’s house? Alana will fold soon. The girl wasn’t built to withstand this kind of torture.

Her mind rips through her options. They seem to feel at least something for her. Pity, maybe. But that won’t stop them from taking her head when they get what they want. Her and Alana both. And then what? Then Roxanne fades away into nothing, or breaks free of the restraints. Kills one of her employees. If they get into the phone and find what they’re looking for—what are they looking for?

She doesn’t need to see the man to make him feel things. There’s no eye contact required. She pours it down that line of energy that connects the two of them, the one from her shoulder to his hands to his heart. She makes him feel it. See her how she wants him to see her: friend. Not a monster. Just a sweet girl something bad happened to. Someone who wants to help, she just can’t, and she doesn’t want to be this way, she wants to help, of course she wants to help, she’s a people pleaser, she’d do it if she could.

“J-Jade has to do it.” She puts a tremor in her voice. “I can help, just—what do you need?”

“Please don’t hurt her,” she tacks on, because that sounds like the kind of thing someone nice would say, the kind of thing someone decent would be worried about.

GM: “Who is Jade?” asks the woman.

Celia: “She’s in charge. She’s the one… the one who…” she breaks off.

GM: Celia can’t see Alana’s face, but the ghoul’s gag-muffled sobs are still all-too audible.

“The leech who turned you,” fills in the man.

“Blankbodies now,” says the woman.

“Suppose they are,” says the man.

Celia: Celia nods her head. She presses her face into her arm, even tied as it is, as if to hold back tears.

GM: “That’s good,” the man says encouragingly. “Tell us about Jade.”

Celia: “She—she’s hurts me. She makes me do what she says, I don’t want to, but she… she makes me and… she kil—she killed—” She cuts off into a hiccupping sob. “I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want to, she r-raped me, she ju-just takes over when I…” Her head shakes, back and forth. “Please, please, tell me w-what you want, I’ll help, I will, I c-can’t go back to her.”

GM: The pair question Celia extensively about Jade. Her name. Her haven. Her routine. Her demonstrated powers. Her preferred vessels.

The lies drip from the Toreador’s too-practiced tongue like honey. She was spouting bullshit long before her Embrace.

And besides, it’s not even completely a lie. Once you can fake sincerity you have it made, so it’s even better if you don’t have to.

The pair seem to swallow it all. Hook, line, and sinker.

Celia: She tells them what they want to know. She tells them about the woman who came to her. The old woman with the curling gray hair, leathery skin, wrinkles upon wrinkles upon wrinkles. Evening appointments only, but that’s not strange—a lot of people work during the day. The woman had wanted her to fix her flaws. To make her younger. More beautiful. Only any change Celia made came undone the next night. There’s no way to make it permanent. Nothing she can do for them.

She tells them about the rage. The beating she’d endured inside her own establishment when her client hadn’t liked her news. When they press for details about what the woman can do, she tells them about the durability. The healing. The mind control. Smart to cover her eyes or mouth. So smart. You need direct eye contact, she tells them, that’s how they get you. Both eyes. Nothing in between. That’s the drawback, she says, that there are ways around it if you know what you’re doing. She’d had a special pair of glasses made for when she deals with the woman. Maybe they saw her with them?

She tells them about the dirty table where she was taken apart. The table covered in blood, filth, excrement. The bindings like these—and here her voice breaks again, because these bindings remind her of being beaten, of being violated, and she tells them that, too, and she presses her face again into her arm as her body trembles. Helpless. Her friends are hurting her. She tells them, too, about the laughter. The screaming. The broken bones. Sometimes she’d be suffocated. Her vision would go black and then red. The blood vessels would pop in her eyes and face. She’d have to pile on the makeup after that. The woman would always bring her back from the brink of death, though.

Until one night she didn’t.

Now she’s one of them. A leech. A slave to a more powerful master. She just wants to be left alone. To make people pretty. She’s good with makeup. She seizes that idea, showing them excited desperation: she can help them. She can help them get in to where the woman stays. It won’t be strange for Celia to show up, and she can disguise them, bring them with her.

She can help. She just wants to help. To help them. To let them help her. To get her out from under the thumb of the evil thing that stole her life from her.

She asks, at some point, if they can put the ear on ice. Maybe a doctor can reattach it.

There’s a ritual, she tells them, haltingly. Breathlessly. A ritual that will make them fast and strong. It will help when they fight the woman. When they go after Jade.

But there’s a price. Two prices, really, and she’s flustered as she tells them that. Shy. She makes them draw it out of her, coaxing. She’s afraid to scare them, she says, she doesn’t want them to think less of her, doesn’t want to be seen like… like the woman. She seems reluctant to part with the information.

She needs blood, first. Their blood. She doesn’t need to bite them, not if they don’t want her to. They can put it in a cup. Feed her with a straw. Hold it to her lips. It’ll leave a scar if they cut themselves like that though, she can’t fix that. But if they do want her to bite them, she promises it won’t hurt. She can take it from their wrist if they want, and it’ll close after, no scars. She won’t take too much. Enough for the ritual, that’s it. The other one can hold the knife to her if needed, if it sounds like their partner is in pain.

She doesn’t want to hurt her friends.

The second part… she trails off as she tells them. She bites her lip with flat teeth, sends the blood to her cheeks to redden them. She plays up that picture of innocence; demure, chaste, pure. She squirms as she tells them.

The second part is to seal it with a kiss.

GM: Celia can’t see anything happening as she talks, but she hears Alana chokingly add to the story. She sobs about the unspeakable things Jade does to them both. About how she and Celia are both victims. How she didn’t want this, any of this, for herself, she doesn’t want anything to do with vampires, but Jade forced her. She begs the pair not to hurt Celia, who’s done so much to shield her from Jade’s wrath. Who’s endured beatings and worse, so much worse, in her place. She begs the pair to save them from Jade.

Celia: Celia pictures the girl’s words as she talks. She puts herself in that position, the both of them in that position: playtoys for more powerful Kindred. It isn’t a stretch to imagine. She sees Veronica’s face twist as she destroys things. Hears the phlemgy, squelching laughter of the Nosferatu. Imagines her sister’s wounds. She didn’t even get a chance to ask what happened. Who had hurt her.

Celia lets that fear fill her voice. Shows them the way her body trembles at the thought of being subjected to more abuse. It isn’t even a stretch: she knows if she plays this wrong the rest of her kind will have something to say, too, and that’s assuming she gets out. Savoy has never had cause to be disappointed with her before, but she can see it in his eyes when she pictures him. Failure. He’ll say he should have left her in the water. Should have let the sun ash her. Donovan threw her away, and Savoy will say he should have left her like the garbage that she is. It’s a quick execution to sell out their own kind, she knows. Maybe that’s the best she can hope for now.

Or maybe they’ll sell her off to the highest bidder. Make an example of her: this is what happens when you get sloppy. Veronica had smugly told her she’d taken someone like that. He’s just a bitch now. Treated worse than she’d ever treat a ghoul, or even the kine. A primogen’s childe and he still has no recourse.

All of that she pours into her words. Halting. Splintering. But not for her. For Alana.

Please, she says to them, please would they consider letting Alana go? She can get a head start out of the city, before the others wake up, before they learn about the betrayal. Alana doesn’t deserve this, she tells them, voice breaking, and if Celia… if Celia is going to find her ruin here—pleasedontendme—at least Alana would be free from it.

GM: Once more, honey drips from the Toreador’s practiced lips. Perhaps the alternating gag and blindfold would be enough to shield them from Celia’s powers of enthrallment, were she a childe of Ventrue whose gaze must be assiduously averted, but the Rose Clan’s vitae runs through Celia’s veins instead.

Celia cannot meet their eyes. She cannot read their faces. But she can read their voices, and the silences in between. She can feel their hearts paining for the innocent victim she proclaims herself to be.

She has, after all, had so much practice playing the victim.

Being the victim.

Her captors don’t apologize for Alana’s ear. But she hears retreating footsteps, an opening door, and the mutilated ghoul stammering out here thanks. There’s the door opening and closing again, and the woman’s voice saying to “keep applying pressure.”

Celia’s request to be let go is met with a hard but pained, “I’m sorry, but that’s out of the question,” from the man.

“It’s good you’re cooperating. This will go as gently for you as it can.”

“Things are about to get a lot worse for your kind. A lot worse. You’re lucky we were the ones to get you. We’re teddy bears, honestly, next to—”

There’s a sound from the woman.

They tell Celia to keep talking.

They pause when she gets to ‘the ritual.’

Celia: She tells Alana that the ear can be reattached. It can be fixed. To go to a meldical—sorry, she’s slurring, medical, she’s so tired, her brain is fuzzy—and she can get it fixed, she won’t have to live without an ear.

She sounds hopeful. So hopeful. And so grateful when they let Alana go, when she hears the retreating footsteps. She thanks them for their kindness when the door shuts, not a trace of irony in her voice. She understands. They can’t let her go. She tells them she understands. But there’s hurt in her voice.

“Next to what?” she asks, desperate. Fear seeps from her pores. She’s helpless. Bound. Gagged. They know how to beat her. They’re scaring her. She doesn’t want to go out screaming. Can they tell her? Please? She doesn’t want… she doesn’t want to be surprised by it. When it happens. She asks, quietly, when they pause, what will go gently. “Are you going to… to finish me?” She doesn’t say ‘kill.’ She’s already dead. That will just remind them.

GM: “Please don’t! She never wanted this!” begs a too-familiar voice.

Alana’s.

“Stay quiet,” says the woman. “The more pressure you maintain, the less blood you’ll lose.”

Alana falls silent.

“We’ll talk about that later,” the man answers Celia’s question. The words are gruff, but not without pain of their own.

Celia: Oh. Oh no. They hadn’t let her go. Celia had just been making up stories in her head. Imagining the things she wanted.

It’s not fair.

It’s not fair, Alana shouldn’t be here. She’ll have to watch her die. She’s going to watch her die.

She makes a sound. It might be a sob.

GM: She feels the man’s hand against her shoulder.

“You’re doing good. We won’t draw this out. Just answer some more questions. About this… ritual…”

They question her. They patiently listen to her answers. About becoming stronger, faster, tougher. About the blood cost. About the kiss to seal it.

Chaste and demure. It’s not hard time slip into character. It’s what her dad taught her to be all her life. It’s the only thing he could love her as. It’s what her mom still is, in all frankness. She’s had a lot of practice with this act.

“…we could use that,” the man says finally. “Stronger. Faster. We can’t go toe to toe, against… leeches. Have to fight dirty. Hit where they’re weak.”

“We’ve lost friends, when we couldn’t. Your help might save lives.”

Celia: “Will it… will it save mine? Hers?” She nods her chin to the last spot she had heard Alana’s voice.

GM: “We can’t let you go,” the man says heavily. “You’re still human now, but eventually, you’ll turn into a monster. As bad as Jade.”

“Do you really want that to happen? Do to some other poor girl what she did to you?”

Celia: “You don’t have to let me go. I… I’ll stay here. I want…” Celia’s lip trembles. “I want to… to be normal again… if you… you could keep me, you could… a cure, maybe, there has to be…”

“They say… they say the worse you get, the worse you look. It shows in your face. You could monitor me. Look for signs. If… if I start to go…”

GM: “I don’t know if there’s a cure,” says the man. “We’ve heard… rumors. Things like killing the leech who turned you.”

“But we’ve never seen it,” says the woman. “I don’t know if a cure even exists.”

“Maybe… they know more…” says the man.

“They wouldn’t help,” says the woman.

“We could try. Hold her here, like she says…”

Celia: “I met one once. Before Jade. I didn’t know what he was at the time. But we talked about saints and sinners, and it came up… it’s compounding. It builds. And if you help enough people…”

“I can help you. With the ritual. Every night. You can… I don’t know who they are, but… maybe, maybe they would help, maybe they would know more, and I’ll help, I will, whatever you need from me.”

“Are they… rivals?”

GM: “No.” A pause. “Well. Mostly, no. But things aren’t going to be like they used to be, anymore. For you or us.”

“She shouldn’t hear this,” interjects the woman.

Celia: “I’m sorry. I just wanted to help. I thought maybe… maybe I might know something about them, but I don’t know who…”

GM: “They’re no one you’ve heard of,” says the woman. “And they won’t help. It’s better if—”

“—we want to kill her sire anyway,” interrupts the man. “Maybe that’ll do something, maybe it won’t. Doesn’t hurt to see if it does.”

Celia: “I can’t go anywhere.” Celia pulls at the bindings, to show them. “I’m… your prisoner. I’m yours. It’ll… it’ll let me redo the ritual. Each time you need it. So you… you won’t lose each other.”

GM: There is another silence as the two seem to mull over Celia’s words.

Maybe they are finally coming to their senses.

Maybe this sounds all-too suspiciously like ghouling.

Maybe they know about that.

Maybe they’ve realized what she is trying to do to them.

Maybe they’ve realized the innocent victim mask is a lie. That it has been a lie since even before her Embrace.

There’s a sound like footsteps.

The door opening.

Closing.

Silence.

Opening.

Closing.

Then, an unmistakable coppery tang in her nostrils, even before she feels something cool and ceramic pressed to her lips.

“Okay. Do it.”

Celia: Her mouth opens. She does her best to keep her fangs tucked away.

GM: The luscious, too-brief taste rolls down her mouth like red velvet. Veronica called it “the best sex you’ve had, the best high you’ve had, the best food you’ve had, all rolled into one.” There’s a decidedly bitter note to this hunter’s vitae, which has a strong, hearty flavor. Celia can imagine it might taste even better in the thick of combat, laced with adrenaline.

It’s not without a note of sweetness, too… sweet with the man’s feelings for her, because it has to be the man’s. It’s a blatant and unsubtle note, like someone poured sugar all over a hamburger. It’s sweet, and might even pair okay, but there’s nothing at all subtle about it. Savoy and Veronica both always said that inspiring the kine’s lusts “the real way” made for better flavor.

Celia: She doesn’t need it to taste good. At this point it’s just sustenance. She hushes the Beast’s complaining at the taste; soon she’ll be out of here. Soon she’ll feed on something sweeter. Someone has to know she’s missing. Someone has to be looking for her.

She swallows it down, but it’s not enough. Never enough. The red clings to her lips and she licks it free. She won’t waste any of it. Her hand moves, but it’s caught fast by the cuffs. She turns her head to frown at the arrested motion.

“Runes,” she says.

GM: “Runes, what?” asks the woman.

Celia: “Ritual,” Celia says, as if that explains it. “Runes. For it to complete. Need to mark you.”

GM: “You just said there needed to be a kiss,” she says with a frown.

Celia: “To seal it. Blood for payment, kiss to seal. The ritual itself…” Celia trails off. “The sun. It makes everything I do weaker. I can wait. Until sunset. Stay tied. Or I can mark you. Infuse extra power into it. Make sure it sticks.” There’s a pause. She gathers her thoughts. Sends out a new impression: trustworthiness.

“How familiar are you with rituals?” she finally asks.

GM: “Brianna was the real expert at that stuff,” admits the man. “Leeches—blanks, killed her a few months back.”

Celia: Her lips pull downward.

“I’m sorry. They…” she hesitates. “They killed someone I was seeing. My boyfriend. Before. I didn’t know until I was turned that they were responsible for him.”

GM: “Jade killed my mom,” Alana speaks up quietly. “I didn’t even know why, for a month. Until she told me it was because she was hungry.”

“And because she knew where my mom slept. Convenient, was what she said.”

“That’s the thing,” says the man. “They’ll kill just anyone. And everyone leaves a hole behind. Other people to pick up the pieces.”

Celia: “I don’t want you to lose anyone else,” Celia says quietly. “I’d do anything to keep that from happening. I… if they found out I was doing this ritual…” she trails off. A delicate shudder runs down her body.

“I have a daughter,” she says after a moment. “She’s with my mom now. But Jade knows she exists. And… I live in fear that something is going to happen to her. That she’ll hurt her. To hurt me. Because I do something wrong.” Her voice is strained. “All I wanted… I just wanted to see her graduate… to know that she’s taken care of, and I…” She trails off.

GM: “You don’t have to worry about Jade for much longer,” says the man. “We’re going to hit her. Today, while the sun’s still out. Before she notices you two are gone. You can help us with your… ritual.”

He leans in and kisses her lips. It’s a somewhat awkward kiss, with no real lust or passion behind it. It feels almost sad.

Celia: She makes a noise, something that might have been a squeak of surprise, but she’s quick to recover. Celia’s lips part. Her mouth is warm, but there’s no moistness to the tongue that she slips into his mouth. Her hand pulls against the restraint almost reflexively, as if to cup his cheek or touch his shoulder. It’s held fast by the steel handcuffs.

There’s no exchange of power. Nothing happens.

Except the pulse that she sends down the line. The way her tongue curls around his. The desire that she infuses him with; a desire for her, to get these cuffs off, to take her like a man takes a woman. She’s so pretty, isn’t she? Beautiful skin. Tight body. Curves in all the right places. So soft, so warm, so inviting. She’s been so helpful. And how often is is that he’ll get a chance to bed a vampire? It’s desirable for the novelty alone, really. Hasn’t he read any pararomance novels? Vampires make the best lovers. She even has a heartbeat. He can feel it in her chest, pounding away. Her nipples are hard beneath the shirt she wears, straining, begging for him to touch them.

He’ll never get this opportunity again. He should bed her now, while he has the chance. Send the girls out of the room. Just the two of them; what sweet love they can make.

GM: Celia can’t read the man’s face. But she can hear his breath and how much quicker it comes. She can feel his hands lingering on her body.

And not least of all, she can feel the lust that inflames his kiss.

His tongue entwines with hers, his mouth all-too hungry as their lips meet.

Until they are interrupted.

“My turn,” the woman says thickly.

The man reluctantly pulls away.

Celia hears a faint noise, then another unmistakable copper tang fills the air. The ceramic cup is pressed against her mouth.

The woman’s blood tastes similar to the man’s. Hearty and bitter, but with a salty undercurrent, and nowhere nearly as much of the glamor-induced sweetness, though some of that is still there. The flavor feels natural. Mostly natural.

The woman leans in for a second kiss. It’s less sad than the man’s. Quicker and more businesslike. She’s doing this because she has to.

Celia: The man being ripped away from her draws a mournful sound, low and in the back of her throat. She misses him. She wants him. There’s a promise in that sound: what she can do to him if he comes back for more. If he gets her alone. But she doesn’t turn down the blood. She drinks again, swallows it down, and her tongue flicks across the woman’s lips.

Is this what jealousy tastes like?

Her fangs extend. Two points of fire in the woman’s lip, followed by the sweet ecstasy of the kiss.

GM: Celia sips, rapturously. The lips are a poor point to drink from, though. She works lower, nuzzling her head against the woman’s neck. The Toreador can feel the initial tension in the woman’s body drain away like a stressed client laid out on the massage table. Celia knows all about making people feel good. She shivers and pulls taut against the handcuffs as bliss flows down her throat. Oh, oh yes—

Suddenly, there’s rough hands squeezing her breasts, then pulling down her pants. Working off her panties. There’s the sound of a belt unbuckling, a fly unzipping, and then a man’s hard cock filling her.

“Ah, yeah, take it, you vampire slut! Take it!”

The man’s thrusts come hard and fast. If Celia were like most of her kind, for whom their sex organs’ nerve endings are as dead as the rest of their bodies, she might not have even noticed amidst the sanguine ecstasy coursing down her throat. The man doesn’t sound at all bothered. He presses down on top of Celia, on top of the woman atop her. He pins Celia’s cuffed wrists to the bed as his balls smack back and forth.

“You’re fucking mine! I OWN you, slut! Beg for your life! Work those whore lips!”

Celia barely hears him. There is only the rapture of the kiss, the rush of life shooting up her veins, making her warm, making her whole. She takes and takes and takes. Her victim moans and pushes herself closer against Celia, but doesn’t resist. They never do. The Toreador takes and takes until the woman’s heartbeat is a dull, weak thump, then silent altogether.

“You’re FILTHY! DISGUSTING! Yeah! You’re MINE! You’re gonna fuck me all day! My—pet—vampire—WHORE!”

Celia feels strong hands clamp around her neck, cutting of her air supply—if she still breathed. The man chokes the shit out of her as he thrusts faster and harder. There’s an almost manic quality to his voice as he half-screams, half-sobs,

MINE! MY! PROPERTY! BEG FOR YOUR DADDY, YOU WWH-OO-OORREE!!!”

The man gives a strangled inarticulate cry as he tenses and blows his load, filling Celia’s dead cunt with his seed.

Celia: Celia takes more pleasure in sex than most of her kind. They call her perverted for it, tell her that it’s the blood that she should get off on. She just smiles at them because she knows how wrong they are, how the simultaneous enjoyment of blood on her tongue and a tongue on her clit is better than anything they’ll ever get. They’re missing out. Deprived, really.

She’s been with enough men to know the signs. The way he speeds up. The nerves in her dead cunt telling her that his buried-to-the-hilt cock is beginning to twitch, just as she was starting to enjoy the ride. She might have even started to call him “daddy” the way he wants, or would have if his fingers weren’t curled around her throat. Maybe she makes a noise or two to urge him on. Happy noises, like Veronica taught her. Right there, those noises say, don’t stop. Even so, she can feel it. She knows it’s coming. Knows he’s coming.

She times her moment right. Waits for his fingers to curl around her neck, for that first sign of climax to hit him. She lifts her head and sinks her teeth into his arm. A tiny prick of pain, then prolonged pleasure. Waves and waves and waves of it.

Fucking his vampire slut is the best feeling.

GM: But just as Celia nips at him, a heavy thud hits the floor.

The man pulls back.

His voice is aghast with horror.

And fury.

BROOKE!”

Suddenly, there’s a click from one of Celia’s handcuffs.

YOU!”

Footsteps. Racing.

Colliding. A horrible shk sound.

That unmistakable coppery tang.

Alana’s voice, screaming.

A second heavy thump.

Celia: The Beast rears its ugly head. It yowls and hisses and spits, demanding blood, demanding payment, demanding life. For a moment maybe it’s free. For a moment maybe Celia hisses, too. But her teeth clamp shut, lips pressed together in a firm line. She cannot lose her cool. She beats it down through sheer force of will, stuffs it deep inside of her.

The sound of Alana’s continued scream is the only thing that keeps her calm. The body isn’t hers. The body can’t be hers. She wouldn’t be screaming if the body were hers.

She yanks her free hand toward her face to pull the blindfold free.

GM: But it is Alana. Lying in a heap on the floor, her right ear coated with blood, and her hands stained red as she cradles the savage cut across her abdomen.

The half-dressed man throws the knife aside, seizes a wooden stake, and lunges at Celia with a wordless scream of rage.

Celia: There is a single moment here where Celia has a shot.

A single moment where she can get out of this situation, hopefully alive. Or at least less permanently dead than she would be if this man has a chance to stab her through the heart with that stake.

Her vision, her world, narrows to him. To the stake in his hand. She can hear, distantly, the sound of Alana sobbing on the floor. She can smell the blood. See the rage twisting on his face.

None of that matters.

Nothing but the piece of wood in his hand. The distance between them. The arc as he brings it down toward her chest.

The world slows.

Her dead heart pumps.

She strikes.

Quick as the snake hiding in the grass, she lashes out. Her hand flashes towards the man’s face. There is nothing pretty, nothing glamorous, about what she is about to do. It’s the sewers all over again: she doesn’t create. She destroys. Her fingers seek his nose. His mouth. His eyes, if they can reach. They sink into his skin. Flesh-colored playdough. They don’t rip: they smooth. How many wrinkles had she smoothed over the years? How many fine lines and signs of aging had she stolen from people’s faces?

His lips are nothing if not giant wrinkles of their own. His nose is cartilage waiting to be splattered. The lids of his eyes will never open again.

When she pulls her hand away his face is smooth.

Flawless.

GM: Celia took an Intro to Psychology class at Tulane that briefly went into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. What people want and when they want it. First they want food, water, warmth, rest. If they don’t have those basic physiological needs met, they won’t care about more abstract needs like relationships and achieving their full potential. You start with the basic shit first, then you work your way up.

But Maslow got one thing about his hierarchy wrong.

He put ‘food’ at the bottom.

‘Being able to breathe’ should have probably been at the bottom.

Because if you can’t breathe, who gives a fuck about food?

Or, for that matter, killing vampires.

The man panics. That’s the only thing he can do, as he stops breathing and human nature sets in. He claws at his face as if that will do something. He claws and tears until blood runs down the baby-smooth plateau of flesh that used to be his face. He claws and gouges until there’s a sickening squelch and retinal fluid leaks down his cheeks, not from eyes that do not see, but eyes he no longer has—eyes fused solid with the flesh of his eyelids. Celia can hear the ghastly muffled sound coming from past the fused flesh that used to be his lips.

He has no mouth.

And he must scream.

It isn’t pretty. It isn’t quick. Celia watches the entire time as he dies a slow, torturous death on the ground from asphyxiation, writhing like an overlarge half-squashed bug no one even has the decency to put out of its misery.

But he dies the same way that anyone else who allows Jade to work her hands upon their face comes to live.

Flawless.

Celia: It had almost happened to her once. High. So high in the air. In the arms of the thing that had destroyed her life, she had almost suffered the same fate.

Asphyxia.

She had never intended to go into medicine. She hadn’t thought that the career would be fulfilling, or the concepts interesting. But that night her mom went into that shack with severed toes and came out whole? That changed everything. She knew she wanted to be able to do that some day. She’d studied. Learned everything she could.

So she knows, now, what is happening inside the hunter. No air holes. No oxygen getting inside his lungs. He’s struggling to breathe, to bring anything in, but what he doesn’t know is that it needs to get out. What people don’t realize is that it isn’t the lack of oxygen that will kill you: it’s the oversaturation of carbon dioxide. It’s toxic to the human body. That uncomfortable feeling in your lungs when you hold your breath? Carbon dioxide trying to leak out. All he has to do is stab himself over the mouth and rip free a breathing hole and he’s golden.

But the first thing to be hit by the lack of oxygen and excess carbon dioxide is the brain. It causes panic. Flushed skin. Perspiration. She can smell it, dripping off of him in buckets. There’s hemorrhaging in the sclera, though she cannot see how the whites of his eyes turn red with his skin sealed shut. Only after, when he punctures the skin and it oozes down his face, red and white mixed together.

She watches him stumble, scratching, clawing, hacking at his face with his own hands and nails. It almost ruins her beautiful work.

She doesn’t even give him the dignity of watching him die.

Her eyes turn away from the pathetic mass of flesh writhing on the floor. She reaches for the key still embedded in the steel handcuffs he had used to tie her down, swiftly unlocking her other wrist, then both ankles.

She rolls off of the bed to check both women. Alana’s sobs call to her, but her attention is on the other hunter for the moment it takes to determine her status. She cannot leave an enemy at her back.

GM: The woman has no heartbeat audible to Celia’s ears. She doesn’t need to touch the hunter’s so-pallid neck to feel for the pulse that isn’t there. Any medical attention came too late for this one.

Celia: The loss of information—who are they?—is the only pang of guilt that Celia feels for ending the lives of these two. Her hands close around the woman’s wrists and she drags the body to where Alana sits on the floor, hands pressing against the gaping wound in her stomach.

Celia bites her own wrist and offers it to the ghoul, ready to sink her fangs back into the woman to replace whatever her pet takes from her.

GM: The heady scent of blood is everywhere. All over the floor. All over Alana. It’s impossibly arousing: Celia couldn’t stop the ‘boner’ in her mouth even if she was trying to.

The ghoul falls on her domitor’s wrist with a wordless sob. She sucks and sucks like a babe at its mother’s breast. The nasty stab wound closes as thought it were never. The bleeding stops. Flawless.

“Mistress… my ear…” she whimpers.

Celia: “I know, darling.” She lifts a hand to touch the ghoul’s cheek. She has done so well. So well.

“I know. I’ll get it sorted. Do we know where it went?” Better to reattach the old ear than fashion a new one. Her hands move along the woman’s body, searching her pockets.

GM: “They… they took it outside…”

Celia finds a phone, but the screen asks her to ‘draw unlock pattern’ over nine dots.

Celia: “Then I’ll make you a new one,” Celia promises her. “I know it hurts. You have to be strong for me right now, okay? Just a little while longer. Just until we’re out of here and back home.” She checks the time on the phone’s lock screen before setting it down.

“Did you see anyone else here?” Then, a second later, “why outside?”

She crosses the floor to where the man discarded her clothing when he fucked her, pulling the material back over her legs. She searches his body for a phone, too. For his and hers. He had been the one holding it earlier.

GM: It’s around noon.

Alana nods slowly at Jade’s entreaty and rubs her head against her domitor’s stomach. “Outside the… door, mistress. Somewhere else, in the house. They had me blindfolded. I didn’t see.”

The ghoul’s ear is still gone, and her face is streaked with dried blood, but Alana’s voice is steady as more ceases to flow. She looks and sounds all better now, minus the ear. Miracle medicine, Pete called it.

Celia finds her phone, locked to any face but Jade’s. The man’s phone also asks for a PIN.

Celia: She’s going to need to change that, she realizes. Being stuck without access to a phone in a strange location is not doing her any favors. She is still a moment, mind ripping through her options.

She cannot stay here. She does not know if the hunters have others in the house, and if they do they’re likely to be like them, hunters as well. She doesn’t want to send Alana off on her own, but there’s work that needs to be done here that the girl cannot do. She presses her for information: did she hear anyone besides these two? She assumes, perhaps incorrectly, that if there had been others in the house they would have come running at the noise. She needs to be ready for that.

A moment of reflection later and Celia decides on a course. She tells Alana to watch the door. Her hands move to her face, twisting and shaping it with practiced ease to become what she needs it to become, to become the monster the pair had been looking for the whole time: Jade.

GM: Alana answers that she did not hear anyone else in the house. But the hunters were talking on their phones, and seemed in contact with other people. They sounded as if they were talking in code. They did not ever reference ‘vampires’ by name, nor did they volunteer their own names or Celia’s name, but they seemed to be insinuating they had a vampire in captivity. Alana does not think it is safe to stay here.

But it is dangerous to leave, too. Celia can feel the sun hatefully bearing down on her even through the building’s walls. She is tired. She is so, so tired. Beautiful corpses like her should stay properly dead when it’s this bright out.

Celia: The facial transformation doesn’t take long. It is an old, deft skill at this point, a transformation that she has performed multiple times per evening for the past few years. Once it is complete she unlocks her phone. She tells Alana to take the woman’s clothes so that she is no longer covered in blood.

She scrolls through her contacts to find Mélissaire’s number, then dials Savoy’s ghoul.

GM: That doesn’t make it hurt any less. It hurts as much as any plastic surgery without anesthesia could be expected to hurt. Protesting muscles pulled and contorted every which way, reshaped like putty in her hands. It feels like someone is destroying her face. Because someone is.

Beauty always hurts.

Alana strips and changes.

“Why hello, Jade. We missed you last night!” greets her grandsire’s ghoul over the phone.

Celia: She’s used to pain. Used to the way her muscles fight against the transformation, the way her skin feels as if it has been stripped from her face and reapplied with nothing more than tape to keep it down. Like a thousand paper cuts all at once. Or the fine edge of a blade sliding into the soft flesh beneath the keratin of her nails. Beauty is pain, but beauty is everything. She’ll pay the price.

“I found myself inexplicably busy,” Celia says into the phone. Her voice betrays her exhaustion. “I ran into some friends, and we had a wild night. I would love to make it up to you, but I seem to have misplaced my keys. Can I catch a ride?”

GM: “Sure thing. I can’t wait to hear all the sordid details.” The ghoul laughs faintly. “Where are you now?”

Celia: It takes just a moment for her to find her location on the phone’s map. She passes it along. She insinuates that her friends mentioned they might be having company over for lunch, and that she’d hate to be a third wheel.

GM: She’s in the 9th Ward. A bad neighborhood.

“Oh, well we certainly wouldn’t want that… someone as cute as you should have third wheels, not be one herself. Hang tight, I’ll be over in a jiff.”

Celia: “Appreciate it.”

Celia’s eyes roam the room in speculation. She needs to do something to clean this up. She could just take the bodies with her, she reasons. Inconvenient to waste building material when she has so much research left to do on what she can and cannot accomplish. Maybe Pete can do that blood reading thing and find out more. He only needs one of them for that, though. Still, the girl’s identity might be useful.

Her thoughts spin over each other in disarray. She’s exhausted. The sun is beating down on the house and she can feel it. She needs sleep.

She says something to Mélissaire about trunk space, room for a massage table. She’ll bring the bodies, she thinks, and then there’s just blood to clean up, but without a body there’s no crime. Maybe she can have Alana smash a few windows. Take some petty cash. She searches the bodies for wallets, identification, anything.

Support: It’s a few moments after she hangs up that a window opens and Randy rolls in like a ninja, shotgun brandished. “I got you, babe!”

Then he looks at the bodies, the blood, his very beleaguered and entirely freed domitor.

“Oh. You, uh. You finished without me.”

Wouldn’t be the first time, he thinks ruefully. He straightens up awkwardly, holding himself at an odd angle, all the better to compensate for his missing…cheek.

GM: “Wouldn’t be the first time,” Alana sourly remarks, arms crossed. Her face is streaked with blood and she’s missing an ear.

Support: Dammit.

Celia: The sound of someone else approaching is enough to make Celia wary. It’s too soon for Mel to be here, unless the girl is driving, as usual, with a lead foot. She’s already planning how best to dispatch this new threat when she recognizes Randy’s voice, and she abandons the half-crouched fighting stance she’d taken up.

She lays a hand on Alana’s arm at the typical exchange between her ghouls. She has no patience now to deal with their squabbling.

“Randy. Perfect timing.” Her voice is carefully neutral, though not cool. He can see the relief in her eyes, the emotion that she can’t put into words. Not here. Not yet. Her tightly coiled control is the only thing keeping her together. “Search the place. Anything useful. Identification. Wallets. Computers. Weapons. Documents. Anything. We need to know who these people are.”

Something. Anything to make all of this worth it. To make the fact that she was kidnapped, tied down, treated like an animal, and fucked worth it.

“Alana’s ear, as well,” she adds after a moment.

GM: The trio search the house. For the most part, it’s a wreck: decrepit and foul-smelling with significant water damage. One of many homes wrecked by Katrina that just never got fixed up. There are dust-covered hypodermic needles, what might be human feces (aged enough to no longer even smell), and other signs of habitation by junkies and squatters. The lights and sink don’t turn on.

The hunters have brought sleeping bags, toiletries, packaged foods, water, and an ice-filled cooler. They find Alana’s ear inside, along with more food. The ghoul immediately implores her domitor to reattach it.

Support: Randy picks up the ear and flicks it with a finger before handing it to Alana, somewhat apologetically. “Yikes. That… has to be a health hazard.”

He’s been polite enough to not say anything thus far, but Celia can tell from the way he keeps looking at her, biting his lip, his sluggish attempts to participate in the search.

He’s thirsty.

Celia: Her ghouls, she reflects, are so needy.

“I need a more sterile environment to attach your ear, ’Lana.” Celia touches her cheek once more, her thumb brushing across the girl’s lips. “We’ll put it on ice. I promise, when I wake up, when I have time to assess the damage and see if there’s any hearing loss, I’ll reattach. Where it’s clean. Randy wasn’t here because he was infected by the sewer water; I won’t have you, too, succumbing to something that can be prevented.” She pulls the girl closer to her, taking a moment to nuzzle her neck. “You did so well today. I won’t let you be without it. I promise.”

Her eyes flick toward Randy. He doesn’t need to say anything. She can tell.

Indecision wars in her gut. He wasn’t here. He wasn’t here when she needed him. And yet… he came down to the sewers for her when she called. He followed her, he was late, but he came. He’s useless without the blood. Nothing more than a junkie jonesing for his next fix.

She crooks a finger at him, beckoning for him to follow her back to the bedroom, back to the site of her ordeal. The body isn’t yet cool. She opens a vein for him with her teeth and drinks from the man.

Support: They make a morbid, lopsided human centipede, the corpse feeding her, her feeding Randy, Randy contributing nothing but those bright, bright blue eyes.

Eyes that look at her like she’s a goddess.

Randy might not be that smart, but he knows enough not to complain when she decides he’s had enough.

GM: Alana beams at the praise. She starts to get handsy with Celia, and leans close as if to kiss her, but then seems to mind herself and the present moment. So she simply nods, “Yes, mistress. Thank you, mistress.”

She watches with a sour expression, though, as Randy follows Jade in.

Celia: All the same, Celia lets Alana sit on her lap while she feeds the other ghoul, and despite the very, very inopportune place for it, her hand travels up and down the girl’s body.

“Your cheek as well, Randy,” she says to him once she pulls her wrist away.

GM: And just like that, the look is gone. Alana makes ‘happy noises’ as she nuzzles her face against Celia’s neck, planting soft kisses.

Support: “Oh, uh…” he looks at Alana.

Definitely not his brightest moment, he thinks, as he drops trou, displaying his uneven posterior to both his fellow ghoul and domitor.

GM: Alana snickers.

Celia: Her eyes flash in amusement.

“Later, Randy, is what I meant.”

Support: “…oh.”

“That, uh. That wasn’t clear.”

Randy coughs, and then pulls up his pants.

This is not his day.

GM: “Celia always makes herself perfectly clear. If we misunderstand her, that’s through our own fault,” Alana declares.

Celia: Her fingers pinch the ghoul’s nipple through her shirt.

“I prefer,” she purrs, “when you call me mistress.” She nips at the girl’s neck, though there’s no heat or threat behind word or deed.

Support: He eyes her sourly, trying to think of a joke about her missing ear but failing.

“Kiss-ass,” he mutters finally.

GM: Alana makes a light, so-sensitive gasp as she rubs the back of her head against Jade’s neck.

“I couldn’t think of a happier privilege than to plant kisses on the mistress’ rear,” Alana declares with a smile.

“I’ll do it right now, if she wants me to.”

Celia: “Enough,” Celia says to them, “both of you. We’re a team. Tonight, you can squabble. Today, cease your posturing.”

GM: “Of course, mistress. I’m sorry if it seemed like I was being catty, Randy. It is important for us to work together.”

Support: What posture? My back is killing me from the glute up.

But he shuts up with a pointed folding of his arms. He hates when she apologizes. He has to pretend he cares.

“I’m sorry, too,” he grates. “What’s the plan, ba—mistress.”

GM: It doesn’t sound the same coming from him.

Alana adores the word, they can all tell. She loves saying it. Acknowledging Celia as her superior, as her owner, not just her lover.

Celia: “Mélissaire is on her way to collect me. We take the bodies, and any evidence that they were here, with us. You two…” there’s a pause. Despite her words, despite her position as ‘above them,’ she sounds tired. “Find a place for the bodies. Stay with me today. Tonight. Until we learn the extent of these hunters’ reach I would prefer to keep you both near me.”

GM: Alana nuzzles her head against Jade’s cheek and runs an arm along her back.

“Of course, mistress. We won’t ever leave you.”

Celia: She reaches out to take Randy’s hand in hers. Gives his fingers a gentle squeeze. They’ll get through this.

Support: He squeezes back, some of his bad humor and humiliation abating.

Anything for his babe.

GM: And just like that, the Toreador is out like a light, slumped backwards over the bed.

Alana looks at her for a moment, then kisses Celia full on the lips. Deeply and hungrily.

Support: Randy lets her, and starts seeing to the other corpses in the room.

The things he does for love.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Caroline VI
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Story Twelve, Caroline VI

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


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

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

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

His number stares up at her from the phone screen.

Expected to work together.

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

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

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

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

Donovan. She hits call on the phone.

Work together. Right.

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

There’s no greeting.

There’s not even breathing.

Caroline: Well, that makes two of them.

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

Assistance. Not service.

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

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

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

The line clicks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or maybe it wouldn’t have.

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

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

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

Maybe wouldn’t even be here now.

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

Caroline: Of course it does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ventrue’s grin is almost wolfish.

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

Could do with dinner: there’s something here.

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

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

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

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

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

She knocks on Luke’s door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: It’s steady.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Roger and the others need time.

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

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

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

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

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

He returns to the living room with drinks in hand.

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

Caroline: The Ventrue scowls as she accepts the drink.

“She made her own decisions.”

GM: Luke leaves it at that.

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

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

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

Caroline: “You’re sure?”

What the hell?

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

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

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

Caroline: “But you got a sample?”

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

“Yes. From Cécilia’s room.”

“That was easy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline never did.

He takes another sip of his drink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Luke raises his eyebrows.

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

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

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

“Your cousin won’t let that happen.”

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

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

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

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

Caroline: Caroline pauses, seemingly to consider.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: He nods. “I’d agree with that.”

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

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: There’s a text message from Ferris.

Still hungry? Dinner’s picked up.

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

GM: It says the signal is still there.

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

GM: Affirmative.

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

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

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

“I know that wasn’t easy.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Luke’s expression softens.

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

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

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

“It’s funny, in a way.”

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline: “What did she say?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline: “You could do worse.”

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

Caroline: “I never said it wasn’t.”

GM: “You said that was possible.”

Caroline: “I don’t take chances.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he’s right.

There is no time for half-measures.

GM: When is there?

Caroline’s phone buzzes from her pocket.

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

GM: It’s from Ferris.

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

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

Caroline: She sways.

“I don’t… "

The phone tumbles to the ground from numb fingers.

“Need..”

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

"Help… "

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

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

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

“Mom, come on, come on… !”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, amidst it all, love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, no… what is it, Luke… ?”

“My mom’s… my mom’s dead…!

There’s a fresh wave of crying.

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

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

“My… my apartment… "

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

“O… okay… "

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destroying her brother like this, ripping out his heart?

Murdering Claire for him.

Burying her own heart.

For him?

She knows the answer.

But it won’t stop her from trying.

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

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

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

But she’d do it again.

It’s what a dutiful daughter should do.

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

Daughter.

Not sister.

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

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

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

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

It’s as she herself said to Luke:

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

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

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

Some time passes.

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

She doesn’t finish that thought.

“Let me… let me hold you… "

Maybe Luke nods. Caroline doesn’t see.

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

“Luke, let me… "

“No… no, it should… Dad’d want me… "

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

“I… guess we’ll… "

The phone dials.

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

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

And just like that, it does.

“What?”

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

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

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

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

Caroline can feel the heat rising in his voice.

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

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

But only an echo.

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

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

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

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

The line hangs up.

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

“That… FUCKING… !”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And I guess being gay.”

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

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

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

Still, she knows what her brother needs to hear.

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

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

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

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

There is another pause.

But also not for overlong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s silent for a moment.

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

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

“No. But we’ll put people on it.”

“I have… other things I need to do.”

“Can I help?” asks Cécilia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I made my bed here.

She truly has no one else to blame.

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

GM: Then that’s what counts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for Caroline, it’s only a beginning.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline: “Better than nothing.”

She has no intention of sharing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which begs the question: what did they catch?

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline: “We’ll find out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll have her accompany Brett.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Sooner rather than later.”

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

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

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

Caroline: Caroline nods.

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

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

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

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

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

“Whatever.”

“He’s ash now.”

Caroline: A predatory grin at that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She runs her hand through her hair.

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

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

“If…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Doing the devil’s work.”

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s the next step there?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: The ex-CIA agent nods.

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

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

In the Quarter.

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

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

GM: “Prudent choice.”

Caroline: “Advantages where we can get them.”


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

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

Punishment enough? Not hardly. Not yet.

GM: The glassy-eyed young man starts chugging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All those hours spent staked to cool off.

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

She tolerates it for a moment. The moment passes.

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

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

“That’s all I am to you,” she croaks.

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

She tries to kick instead.

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

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

GM: Jocelyn gives her a burning stare.

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

Caroline: Caroline lets the hurt of that show.

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

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

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

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

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

“No.”

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

The Ventrue licks her lips.

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

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

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

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

She tries to block it out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She pauses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, then sighs defeatedly.

“I didn’t.”

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

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

“I just wanted to help you get away.”

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

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

Finally she asks, “Does it matter?”

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

“Why don’t you show me.”

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

GM: Jocelyn stares back at her.

“Dunno. But it’d feel fair.”

Except it won’t be fair.

That’s the joke.

Her sire already saw to that.

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

GM: More red wells from her eyes.

“If you want me, take the damn collar!

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

There’s no reluctance in her voice.

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

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

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

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

Maybe she’s just furious.

Maybe she wants to recapture what they used to have.

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

Maybe she’s just hungry.

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

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

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

For Jocelyn, she feels nothing.

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

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

She finally gets to what’s required.

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

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

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

She drinks ravenously.

She doesn’t let go.

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

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

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

“Well. You got what you wanted.”

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

There’s just hunger.

“I’M… THIRSTY…!

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

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

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

It’s just as futile.

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

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

She giggles.

Drunkenly.

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

There’s another giggle.

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

“Mm, les’ fuck.”

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

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

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

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

She giggles.

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

She starts pulling off Caroline’s clothes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop,” she groans.

“Jocelyn… st… op…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you, Caroline… "

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

She doesn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you mean?”

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

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

GM: “Oh,” says Jocelyn.

“But you’ll be back?”

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

“And things will be different. Better.”

A heartbeat.

“Will you be here when I come back?”

GM: There’s another beat.

Or there would be, if their hearts still pumped.

“I want to hear you say it.”

Caroline remembers the last time Jocelyn asked that.

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

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

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

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

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

She squeezes Jocelyn lightly and bites her lip.

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

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

“I love you.”

What’s love anyway?

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

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

If her father is, less important than his work.

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

Love rarely seems like it’s ever enough.

But her paramour’s face lights up.

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

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

“So like… look after this place how?”

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

She smiles at the second question.

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

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

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

“I want someone I trust.”

That’s a short list.

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

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

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

“GI Joe and GI Jane.”

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline: It’s an unfortunately apt title.

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

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

GM: Jocelyn giggles and nuzzles her neck.

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

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

She settles her hand on Jocelyn’s upper hip.

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

How to so lightly plant this idea.

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

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

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

GM: “Okay, I can do that.”

“Like, the GI joe ones?”

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

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

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

“I don’t want to see you die.”

GM: Worry flickers over the Toreador’s face.

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

“You’d really like her.”

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

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

She wonders if she’ll still love her then.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett V
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Story Twelve, Emmett V

This is a bad fucking idea.
Emmett Delacroix’s Shadow


Date ?

GM: Try to go home and I’ll drop you in a harrowing.

Or maybe see if I can push away Hannah.

Which would you hate more, scale of 10?

Emmett: Kinky. Sure. Not there. Not even if I agree to give Dad a nasty surprise?

GM: Like what?

Emmett: Not very imaginative, are we. Unless you really don’t want to kill those damn dogs.

GM: Ha. Hahahaha.

Emmett: Oh, that might just be my better nature trying to tell me this world will be a better place without either of those flea-stinking, housebroken fucking monsters.

GM: Okay. Let’s kill the mutts. They were always his replacement for us anyway.

Emmett: Couldn’t agree more. After I talk to Dad.

GM: What the fuck even about?

Emmett: He knew that other ghosts. Which means he knows about ghosts. Think dear old dad may have been holding out on us. I want to know what he knows. I had enough of him knowing shit I didn’t when I was alive.

GM: So what? He’s just a human. He doesn’t know anywhere close to as much as I do.

Kill his dogs and might be I’ll feel in a talkative mood.

Emmett: That’s a good point. But let’s be even about this. One before. One after.

GM: Okay. One question now.

Wait, how the fuck are you even going to kill his dogs? Last I checked, the most we can do in the real world is fog mirrors and make spooky images.

Emmett: We’ll find a way. Or rather, I will. Can always scare a neighborhood kid into doing it. But one question now: Lamarck was holding back something about how to get juice. You know what that might be?

GM: Yeah, you’re getting jack shit until you find a way.

Go pop in on the neighborhood brats, I guess.

Emmett: I’d fly, but I’m a little low on juice. Tell me how to get some, and I’ll head over.

GM: Fuck you.

I’m sick of helping you out and getting nothing but promises.

Emmett: Sick, are you. Wow. That must be tiring. Fine, we’ll walk to the neighborhood. It’ll take a long time and it’ll be more dangerous. Moment it looks like I can get a kid to grok one of the pooches, though, I want my answer.

GM: Yeah, except I think it’s funny watching your ass land in the fire, so win for me.

Emmett: You can literally tell I’m not planning to fuck you here, so you holding out is nothing but making you wait longer.

GM: It annoys you, though.

So that’s worth it.

Emmett: If you’re not okay with me doing that, though, no reason to go after the pooches.

GM: Then you can live without answers, fuckwad.

Or I guess ‘stay dead.’

Emmett: He takes a deep breath. A deep, deep breath that shouldn’t be necessary.

Then he decides to make a bad decision. It’s been a few minutes since the last, after all.

He orients himself, and then starts walking to the Garden District.


Date ?

GM: It’s a long walk from the Quarter to his destination. Em passes scene after scene of decay and morbidity. The CBD looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, the soaring skyscrapers little more than bombed-out, blasted husks. Indistinct penumbral shapes seem to flicker and cavort among the too-dark spaces between the ruins.

But nothing disturbs Em along his journey.

He has the nagging sense that his destination might be more perilous than anything he runs into along the way.

Emmett: Not just nagging. All but screaming.

But where there is danger, there is opportunity also.

Or something.

GM: The Garden District is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in the city, or at least the living city. The live oaks have an almost architectural presence. They reach to the sky, like living buildings, huge and thick, with large, twisty branches, forming leafy canopies over the streets lucky enough to have them as neighbors. Strolling through is like visiting a sculpture park. Each tree is an improbable explosion of form. Branches run perpendicular, for feet at time, only to dip down, retake root in the ground, and then resprout, like a subdivision of the original tree. These gravity-defying limbs—every bit as structurally challenging as anything by Frank Gehry—prove difficult to resist. They invite exploration, especially by the young (and the young at heart).

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Here, though, the branches are barren and lifeless. There is not so much as a single leaf. The trees are dead husks trapped in eternal winter, and the jungle gym-like branches do not invite exploration, but fear. They seem like a crone’s clawed hands, sharp and withered and covetously grasping at everything within reach. The longer he stares at them, the more they seem to twist under his vision like some elaborate optical illusion. They seem less like hands and more like tooth-lined, noneuclidean maws, inviting him to but step inside before they snap shut around him. Would that be such a terrible thing?

Emmett: Probably not. But the trees will be here later, if he survives the meeting ahead.

The lesser of two evils will always remain.

GM: The rest of the neighborhood’s dead reflection is much the same as the trees. The grand old mansions are rotted husks all but screaming to be used by the dead as haunted houses. Statues’ pitted faces are set with cruelty and hate. The flowering gardens are shriveled abattoirs of brewing poison. The water from the fountains is stagnant and brackish. Few luminous figures are visible along the cracked and poorly maintained sidewalks. The hour seems late indeed.

He finally comes to his address.

1415 3rd St.

Emmett: A number etched into his memory with nightmare letters since he was seventeen. The last time he was here. The last time he ever entered this place, cocky and high on his own ego, his own certainty. And when he ran from here mere minutes later, the world upside down and shattered like a glass in a bar fight.

This place, where he learned that monsters were real and that sometimes they had families.

The dead man squares his shoulders, lets out a corpse-breath he didn’t know he had been holding, and strides forward into Château Devillers.

GM: In the real world, the Walter Grinnan Robinson House is one of the most beautiful homes in New Orleans. The palatial Antebellum mansion incorporates a sophisticated blend of Greek Revival and Italianate styles with a Neoclassical cast iron fence adorned in delicate shell motifs. It feels like a throwback to an earlier age of opulence. It’s far from the only multimillion house in the historic neighborhood to feel that way.

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Viewed from the street, the house presents an impressive sight. It’s far back on the lot, sideways to the street, with a Palladian carriage house and iron gates. The impressive scale of the house results from its two nearly 16-foot stories of equal height. Double galleries with curved ends, an essential feature of Garden District homes, adorn the façade. These feature Doric columns on the first floor and Corinthian on the second. Cast iron panels in a somewhat heavier than normal pattern link the columns and blend well with the feeling of solidity which the building gives. The southern exposure has double galleries framed in ironwork of a lacy design, which effectively lightens and gives delicacy to the whole of the building.

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The snow-white mansion is also one of the largest properties in the city, covering close to 14,000 square feet if one also includes the 1,500 square foot carriage house that likely served as servant quarters when the house was first built.

The spectacular grounds have a beautiful pool. Outdoor features include multiple balconies/porches, a Neoclassical fountain, and formal gardens with weeping willows, palm trees, and vibrant flowerbeds of roses, violets, magnolias, and other sweet-smelling blossoms. Neatly-trimmed green hedges and a wrought-iron fence make the home’s privacy tastefully but abundantly clear. Access in is controlled through an intercom by the gate.

But all of that is in the real world.

Here, in the gray purgatory where dead people go, the snow-white manse itself looks mostly the same. It isn’t rotting and dilapidated, like the other homes in the neighborhood are, or half-translucent to Em’s sight. On the contrary, the house looks pristine and corporeal, as if someone plucked the structure that exists in the real world and replicated it here in the Shadowlands.

The similarities end there.

Most of the home isn’t white. It’s pitch black. Deeper than black. Em feels like he’s falling into an abyss just staring at it—and prevented only by its shape. Enormous tendrils of inky, dripping darkness are wrapped crushingly tight around the snow-white house like protoplasmic pseudopods, a kraken’s tentacles, or a spider’s million-stranded web. Em is not sure which. They seem to pulse and ripple as he gazes upon them, defying definition as either strand, limb, or amorphous appendage. The house’s geometric angles seem off, too, the longer he stares at them, and increasingly non-euclidean, as if his mind is unable to fully take in the sight before it. His head is already starting to hurt. Part of him wants to look away. Part of him wonders how much good it would do. The black morass drenched over the house feels almost alive. Em could swear he can hear it pulsing like a beating heart as it caresses the smothered, strangled home. He can hear the wet pools of black, tar-like blood (how does he know it is blood?) running down the house’s side like oily tears. Em cannot tell where the blood ends and the tendrils (tentacles? pseudopods? webs?) begin. All is darkness. All is night. The snow-white house stands tall before him, but it is gone, no more than a memory. It is the darkness that gives this home its form and substance. To enter this house is to enter a gaping maw.

Em knows. He knows, all the way to the bottom of his shriveled soul.

This place is evil.

The wrought iron gates yawn invitingly open.

Emmett: Open.

He knows it then like he knows that this place is evil.

This place knows he’s coming.

It welcomes him, even if only to a darker and more dismal fate than the one he currently inhabits.

Turn back, whispers whatever thinner-than-paper buffer of instinct that separates Em from his Shadow. The tiny part of him that just wants to exist.

Turn back, and just stop trying so hard.

But he is already dead. Hannah had struggled to say it, but he knows the truth: he has less to lose now than he ever has before.

Em looks at the house that looks back, stares through him like, well, a ghost. He cannot win a staring contest with it. But he can capture its gaze.

He can enrapture it.

Em gives himself a tuxedo, dark as the shadows this place casts, complete with a bowtie that twinkles when he smiles. If he dropped dead the night he met Cècilia, he might not have looked like he does now, his corpse-face scraped clean of the stubble he so often wore in the last days of his life. He considers adding a hat, but decides against it.

Nobody dies with a fucking hat on, and they don’t do it so they can wear one after.

Dressed for a dance, Emmett Miloud Delacroix walks into the Devil’s Den.

GM: The Devil’s gates clang shut behind him.

A white path stretches before him.

He almost wonders how he missed it. How he could possibly ever have missed it.

The house’s lawn is white. Em only somewhat sarcastically supposes most people born and raised in this city wouldn’t know snow if someone dumped it down their shirt, but he’s been to Denver in the winter, back when he thought he could solve his problems by running someplace else. (After all, if your problems are you, a change in scenery won’t do much.)

It crunches under his feet, like thickly-packed snow crunches.

But snow comes in smaller flakes than ones he can pick up with both hands.

Snow doesn’t stare up at him with two black, empty eye sockets and death’s rictus grin.

There are dozens of them, he realizes, as he stares across the home’s white lawn. Hundreds of them. They come in all shapes and sizes. Stripped clean of flesh, one and all, with naught left but gleaming bone. Most of them have at least vaguely humanoid anatomy.

Some of them don’t.

But all of them make the same sound.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch.

Emmett: It’s not exactly how he would decorate. He’s more of a cactus person.

He takes a step, and another step, and then he steps into the air and floats over the other dead things until he reaches the door.

He knocks three times, gentle but insistent.

GM: His spectral flesh raps solidly against the door. He can hear his knocks.

There is no response.

The door merely swings open on silent hinges.

Past its threshold is nothing but pitch black.

Emmett: That gives him pause. That emptiness. That clear, final warning.

Last chance to fold before the showdown.

GM: This is a bad fucking idea.

Emmett: And then his Shadow speaks, and he feels himself grinning savagely.

Find her unnerving, do we?

Man, if only I was talking to Kione right now, right?

Ooh, OOH! Or with the Knights?

Or maybe talking to my dad.

GM: I’m just stating the obvious.

We never met a bad idea we didn’t like.

Emmett: Ain’t that so.

Well, Em never lost a game of chicken.

He steps over the threshold, and into the darkness.

GM: There’s a sensation of falling. Vertigo. Butterflies in his stomach.

Squirming, burrowing maggots in his stomach.

He doesn’t feel his body limbs spreading. He doesn’t feel air resistance tugging against them.

There’s just. Falling.

Forever.

His feet hit the floor. His footsteps seem to echo for miles.

Shapes emerge from the gloom. Outlines. He’s in a bedroom with a four-postered bed. Cavernous windows yawn open to a howling black void. A storm rages out there, but it’s none he can see.

A shape lies on the bed. It’s clad in a flowing dress of purest midnight. Em can’t say where it ends and the room begins. There’s no one in the dress, but it bulges as if filled.

The clothes have no emperor.

A young girl lies on the bed. Her face burrows against the dress’ bosom. Her form glows white with the telltale aura of life. A cord trails from her back, like Amelie’s, but pitch black. It looks less like a cord and more like a spider’s grotesquely overlong stinger, stabbing deep into her heart. Em can see viscous, tar-like black blood sluggishly crawling through her veins with every inhalation and exhalation of her chest.

Emmett: He approaches the glowing girl. Tries to make out her face.

GM: She looks like a Devillers. He cannot say which one, beyond prepubescent. They all look so alike. Oily black tears slowly leak from her closed eyes.

When Em leans close, he can see tiny, mouth-like bubbles popping open in the tar-like substance.

He can hear them, too.

They’re screaming.

So softly.

Emmett: “Simmone?” Em mutters softly. He thinks that was her name, Abèlia’s youngest.

He turns his attention to the screaming bubbles. “Souls?” he muses, too weary to pity them. “Hmmm. Guess you aren’t a vampire, then. Didn’t think you were, but never heard of one doing that.”

He looks back at the girl, at her tears. “Is she in pain?” he asks, again aloud.

GM: Emmett’s only answer comes from the howling void. Windows rattle in their frames as he feels a shadow draw over his soul.

There’s something out there.

Emmett: But his soul is a dark place already. A greater shadow is a novelty.

He turns to face it, his expression turned to a faint smile, his ruined, gangrenous arm lifting in a dead man’s salute.

“I’ve come to talk,” he says to the thing outside.

GM: The void only continues to howl.

Emmett: He reaches out a finger and pokes the stinger-like protuberance.

GM: His finger passes through like it’s not there. He feels another small part of himself wither and die, but cannot even name what he lost.

Emmett: He hisses, clenches a fist.

“Okay. Don’t like to be touched.”

He reaches for the dress next, touching its torso, seeing if it folds under contact.

GM: It depresses under his touch. Oily black blood leaks out. It smells violet, cool, and creamy. Perfume lathered over the death of innocence and the rape of hope. The sound of the seeping liquid is almost hypnotic.

It’s like babbling, watery laughter.

Fluttering laughter.

Emmett: For a moment, he is alive and seventeen again, and his heart is pounding, his forehead bristling with sweat and disbelief and Louisiana heat as he runs from this place, and that laughter outruns him and waits for him to catch up.

But only for a moment. Then he is dead again, and dressed for dancing, and he says, “I’ve come with a wedding gift.”

GM: The blood seeps across the black stretch that is the not-floor. Em doesn’t know where the room’s lights came from, but he knows when they die. The storm in the void shrieks against the windows. Motion suddenly ripples underneath Em’s feet, like quicksand, and he’s flung face-first onto the bed. It splits open like a hungry maw, with jagged bits of wood for teeth.

“A GiFt!”

The violet and creamy perfume scent wafts up his face like a monster’s breath, but the rot underneath is impossible to mask. It smells like prison—semen, blood, iron, and stale sweat, over something even blacker and fouler.

“WhY, hOw tHoUgHtFuL oF yOU, yOunG lEMuRE. i HOPE YOU HavE ChOsEN With CaRE.”

The voice is warbling and discordant, like dozens of people trying to talk over each other at once through broken jaws and shredded tongues.

“YOuR CoRPUs WoUlD aLSO mAkE aN aCcePTAblE gIFt, anD SaTE MINE APpEtiTeS FOR A TimE.”

Emmett: I don’t know what you’re talking about, Gasper. This was a great idea.

The smell would make him gag if he were living, but as a dead man it merely curdles his smile—but only for a moment. He reclines on the bed with his elbows supporting him, his eyes wide with awe but his voice rapt, eager to please.

“Then you are in luck, madame, if you find it lacking. Though methinks—” she seems like she’ll appreciate ‘methinks,’ “—you’ll enjoy it, for a time anyways.”

He slips a hand beneath his jacket and it comes out with a tall, bright red-wrapped present tied with purple ribbons.

He offers it to the darkness to open.

GM: The ribbons pull themselves free like writhing worms as the present sinks into the bed. The jack-in-the-box with Em’s face pops out. It lunges at him like a striking snake. Maggots crawl from its open, drooling mouth.

Em throws himself off the bed, rolling to the side as the thing’s mouth sinks after him into the not-floor. It chews madly, deliriously, swallowing calcified void. Its mouth warps in on itself. It chews apart its own nose, then its eyes, then its forehead, and finally its chin, screaming in Em’s voice as the too-flat teeth madly crush, tear, and rend. A swarm of spiders hungrily sets upon the pulped remains.

Emmett: He comes up rolling in a Willy-Wonka somersault mere inches above the blood-soaked floor. A part of him is impressed with his own postmortem agility, his own ego singing. But that part of him is less loud than it used to be, and so he smells something else in the rot, the prison-stench, the monster’s wretched soul-reek.

Pain. The coppery, angry scent of open, seething wounds.

She’s hurting.

“I give you myself,” he says simply. “My corpus, but more than that. I offer you what I could not take from you now if I tried. My own afterlife. My bravado, my eyes and ears, my tongue and my powers. These things, I pledge to your eldest, and therefore to you, madame. If you would have me, of course. As a meal, now or tomorrow or in a decade, and as a servant.”

Once, he could never have done this. He had too much arrogance, took too much for granted.

But death has a way of altering your perspective.

“You seem less yourself than when last we spoke, madame, if you will forgive my presumption. You could devour me where I float, and yet you are patient enough to allow me to speak. How might I be allowed to repay you for such hospitality?”

GM: The darkness is tortuously silent. Even the void beyond the windows seems quiet and still.

Then:

“bRInG Me SOulS, LemURe.”

The floor splits open beneath Emmett’s feet. The voice booms up from the rent.

“LiviNg SOULs.”

Vertigo churns his stomach as that rot-under-perfume scent wafts against his face.

“deAd SOUlS.”

The floor snaps shut. Tar-like blood creases the rent like wet drool as the scent dies. The voices emanate from behind him.

“I CaRe NOt.”

Emmett: “What about, hmm, imbeciles? Souls driven mad by their death?”

He spins like a top to receive the voices directly, ever the polite guest.

GM: A hiss like a rattlesnake’s tail sounds against Em’s right ear.

“SouLs, LEMuRE. aS MAnY As yoU caN.”

The floor feels like oil, now. He’s sinking. There aren’t any windows anymore. There aren’t any lights. There’s just the bed, floating in the gloom, receding further and further away like a lost ship upon a midnight sea.

The voices gurgle from below Em’s feet.

“saTE MinE HuNgEr, AnD i sHall saTE yoUrs.”

Simmone yawns and nuzzles her face against the empty dress. The voices boom down from the ceiling as the child disappears.

“FiLl my LArDer pASt sATiATiOn, ANd i SHaLl REndER unTo yoU…”

Fluttering, screaming laughter pours from everywhere at once like roaring waves.

Maman laughs.

Phil laughs.

Tanya laughs.

Sami laughs.

Cécilia laughs.

“yOuR HEArt’s deSIrE!”

Emmett: Past satiation. He wonders idly what it will take. Five? Ten?

For a moment, he feels cold when he realizes the number means nothing to him.

Nothing at all.

But only for a moment.

“I will bring them,” he says. “So that you may feast, madame.”

He wonders if dogs have souls.

“Are you weary of my presence yet, madame, or would you allow me to entertain you for a while longer?”

GM: The darkness is silent.

Emmett sinks.

“Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly
“‘Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy”


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Up to his neck.

Up to his eyes.

“The way into my parlour is up a winding stair,
And I’ve a many curious things to shew when you are there.”


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It’s okay.

It’s okay.

He was always here.

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“Oh no, no,” said the little Fly, “to ask me is in vain,
For who goes up your winding stair can ne’er come down again.”


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“Em… help… me…!”

Phil screams. Tanya screams. Lena screams. Sami screams. But they feast. Rapturously. Flat teeth crush into his flesh as they bite, swallow, belch, like crazed maenads of old.

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His mother bends to kiss his forehead and vomits spiders into his mouth. He tries to laugh, because it’s so damn funny. He chokes on their skittering legs and it sounds like he’s screaming instead. They’re in his stomach now, his arteries, and now his heart, devouring it piece by piece. Blackness steals over his sight, and when he tries to scream, fluttering laughter comes out.

Em smashes to his face outside the Robinson House’s front gates, weeping foul-smelling black blood from a dozen wounds.

Its gates remain invitingly open.

Emmett: He screams his dead throat raw past the pain of his tortured corpus, bleeding humors that he is not entirely sure are his own.

He’s not sure how long he lies there, broken and suffering. Or how long he screams. It doesn’t matter. His throat doesn’t actually bleed.

What. The fuck. Was that?

“…or, not,” he finally squeaks.

“Not works too.”


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Caroline V
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Story Twelve, Caroline V

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


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

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

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

Vidal does not acknowledge or respond to him.

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

He says nothing at her presence.

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

“Seneschal Maldonato shall brief you on the details.”

The sheriff says nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The perpetrator remains unidentified.”

GM: The sheriff’s expression remains unchanged.

So does that of Caroline’s sire.

But she feels it.

She feels the words before he even says them.

“Twenty,” he breathes.

His voice is a whisper.

“Their ghouls.”

“Their families.”

“Their ghouls’ families.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This.”

“This is how I am repaid.”

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

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

GM: It’s her fault.

Caroline: She had to.

GM: It’s all her fault.

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

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

She did it as much for him as for herself.

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

GM: The prince’s voice dies.

He does not speak.

He does not move.

He does not blink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: He suffered for her, after all.

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

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

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

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

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

GM: A heartbeat is audible to her sensitive ears.

But it is weak and fast, fading fading.

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

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

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

:: I shall not forget. ::

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

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

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

The ghoul’s eyes stare straight behind her.

Caroline: She turns.

GM: It’s the sheriff.

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

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

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

There is just nothing.

Here, in the heart of darkness that is her sire’s lair, in the face of such news, Caroline may perhaps have expected… something. But there is nothing. The figure before her looks like an automaton, a facsimile, a shell for something else. All just putting on a performance and reading from a script. All until now—now, when there is no script available to reference.

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

Or perhaps there was nothing there to hurt.

Nothing at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And she is not afraid.

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

“You will find this perpetrator, sheriff.”

His black gaze burns with hate.

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

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

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

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

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

“Or at least one so easily struck down?”

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

Caroline: Caroline does not gainsay him immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Caroline’s sire says nothing.

The sheriff says nothing.

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

“Traitors, my prince,” the sheriff breathes.

Vidal’s gaze slowly settles upon Donovan’s.

“They are guilty in their hearts.”

“Guilty by intent.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Thoughts well within Caroline’s mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: The prince’s black gaze slowly burns.

“Destroy the entire clan.”

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

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

“I have tolerated the lepers for long enough.”

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

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

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

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

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

No reaction crosses his face at the previous order.

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

“Kill them all.”

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline: Bitterly well.

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

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

Vidal seems to silently deliberate the sheriff’s recommendation.

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

Donovan offers no response.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Name this treachery.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline: The words are worse than a slap, even one delivered by the powerful elder.

She bites her lip. “As you wish, Your Majesty.”

“The absence of Bishop Malveaux will leave his domain open to raiding, especially within the church. I might recommend then only that the sanctity of your domain explicitly extend to encompass it until an appropriate custodian may be suitability identified.”

GM: “Mother Doriocourt and I are the sole priests remaining not of the Hidden Clan, my prince,” Donovan states. “The kine’s archbishopric shall be well-served in the hands of the Sanctified archbishop and demonstrate further continuance of tradition.”

The prince’s black gaze abruptly re-focuses.

“Father Polk.”

“He has not been seen since the time of Bishop Malveaux’s disappearance, my prince. Miss Gerlette has been unavailable to confirm the fact of his final death. Their killer are likely one and the same.”

The hatred etched onto the prince’s motionless face at this latest news looks barely even human. He looks like a gargoyle, a demon, frozen in lifeless and eternal fury.

Donovan does not speak.

The prince does not speak.

Minutes pass.

“Double the number of executions,” he finally hisses.

“As my prince commands,” the sheriff answers dispassionately.

“Mother Doriocourt is granted leave to oversee my domain over the Roman Catholic Church. You shall find this criminal, sheriff. This blasphemer who would slay the humblest of my flock. Such men upon whose backs the foundations of our church is built. You shall find this criminal and bring them to me. Staked and spared the mercy of final death.”

Caroline: “Mother Doriocourt is beset by duties likely to only grow with her assumption of duties as bishop if confirmed, to say nothing of her vital role in maintaining dominion over the police.”

“I am to take the cloth, and have greater knowledge of the vacant domain than any other. I might also immediately move to use the associated resources to further delve into the influence of the hunter networks in the city that were doubtless funded in part by them. I would ask for reconsideration in this matter, Your Majesty.”

And it would keep the domain in Ventrue hands. Caroline doesn’t add.

GM: The weight of her sire’s stare settles upon her.

“Mother Doriocourt is the archdiocese’s foremost expert on witch-hunters associated with the police. I have informed you I shall render unto you and expect from you the utmost best in all things. You shall have temporary rights over the domain. Produce superior results to Mother Doriocourt’s past investigations and the domain shall be yours permanently. Fail and its rights shall pass to her.”

Nothing passes on Donovan’s face.

Caroline: “I understand, Your Majesty.”

“If Father Polk has also been destroyed, that also leaves open the question of duties as archivist for both Clan Ventrue and the holy church.”

“The former might be ably filed by Ms. Adler. The latter, perhaps, by his childe, Ms. Gerlette, if she remains. At least until a better candidate might be identified to step into the role or she grows into it. It would provide continuity of that line.”

And might even give her some purpose to her wrecked Requiem.

Caroline has not forgotten that Roxanne and her Krewe, for her haughtiness, was a major reason she survived those early nights.

The clan’s archives remain deeply interesting to her, but she expects to have ample enough matters to consume her time to follow. Simply having them ‘more’ available than they previously were (barely at all) would be a win enough.

GM: Caroline can see that same haughtiness on the Hussar’s face, too, when she declares “if” Roxanne remains.

“Miss Gerlette is unsuitable,” Donovan states coolly. “As caretaker of the church itself, Mother Doriocourt is qualified to care for its history.”

Caroline: Donovan was the one that claimed she wasn’t reachable.

“The sheriff is certainly more knowledgeable than I as to his childe’s capabilities, I would suggest only that even Bishop Malveaux took an assistant in that task, and that it would not be remiss in continuing to cultivate future talent. Serving as Mother Doriocourt’s assistant might be a positive influence upon Ms. Gerlette and allow the more elder Kindred more freedom.”

As the discussion continues Caroline burns through vitae, knitting her cracked jaw, her smashed face.

GM: “Is Miss Gerlette able to serve in such a capacity?” the prince inquires.

“That is unknown, Your Majesty,” the Hussar answers. “Mr. Jenkins claimed she had attacked Scourge Meadows in vengeance for her slain coterie-mate. She believed that if another neonate had fought the scourge and survived to tell, it was within her means.”

Caroline: Not hardly, Caroline offers in bitter memory. The fight with Roxanne had been all-too one-sided, especially compared to that with Meadows. The memory of the scourge’s claws is more than skin deep.

GM: “Mr. Jenkin’s subsequent destruction at the scourge’s claws would suggest the Storyvilles aroused her ire.”

The words drip with disdain.

Caroline: “Ms. Gerlette was very far from a match for Scourge Meadows. The entire krewe is far from a match from her. If she attacked the scourge, especially with only half their strength, Ms. Gerlette would exist still only by her mercy or another’s intervention.” Caroline’s tone makes it very clear how unlikely she finds that idea.

GM: “There are worthier matters to investigate than another missing Storyville, my prince,” Donovan states dispassionately.

Caroline: “Certainly,” Caroline agrees.

Even her own feelings for the one among their number are a muted memory, especially here, now, in front of her sire.

GM: “The archives shall be overseen by Ms. Adler and Mother Doriocourt,” Vidal states. “If Miss Gerlette is found, she may serve in an assistive capacity.”

GM: “I would next speak of Miss Malveaux’s punishment, Your Majesty,” Donovan states.

“On what basis is this warranted?”

“Claire Malveaux was an asset under mine and Bishop Malveaux’s joint supervision. Her witch-hunters slew Your Majesty’s foes. We were neither informed nor consulted as to Miss Malveaux’s plans. Claire Malveaux has been prematurely lost to us as an asset. In our communications, she informed me of contingency plans to damage the Masquerade irreparably in the event of her death. These had stayed my hand until her plans could be verified and dismantled.”

Caroline: “Your Majesty, you know better than any that by necessity, all arrangements with hunters must be short term—they inevitably become a blade without a hilt that bites deep their wielder. Claire Malveaux’s death was ordered by the seneschal himself, the manner given to me to arrange as proof of my loyalty. If there was additional guidance to stay my hand, it did not reach me.”

“Even had it not been so ordered, she played everyone for fools Your Majesty. Among her last words were declarations of her intent to stake and deliver me to Mr. Savoy for release after his ascension. She repeatedly conspired with Mr. Savoy to push me into his camp and only ever exposed a tiny portion of her knowledge, capabilities, or resources. Resources she actively devoted to undermining your rule. Those killed were among the most fanatical of the witch-hunters—mostly those infesting the police force. Others that remain are better suited for use or elimination now than ever before—many have already been identified.”

“Of course, if it is Your Majesty’s will that I should be punished, I am your humble servant. My actions were indeed without coordination with the sheriff. I know not what other measures she had in place, but the dismantling of the network she assembled remains among my highest priorities.”

GM: “Claire Malveaux’s death was ordered by Seneschal Maldonato. The implementation of that order was delegated to Sheriff Donovan and Bishop Malveaux, under whose supervision you were placed,” the prince states crisply. “Sheriff, select two retainers among Miss Malveaux’s retinue to slay.”

“Miss DeMatthews’ former servant and the Olympian,” Donovan replies coolly.

“Master, if I may speak, the sheriff’s time is occupied by many duties,” states the Hussar. “If it pleases you, I may dispatch the two in his stead.”

Caroline can see the glint in the scarred, burned man’s hooded eyes.

He wants to fight ‘the Olympian.’

“Do so,” Vidal states perfunctorily.

His gaze re-affixes upon his childe.

“I do not tolerate infighting. I do not tolerate insubordination. You will respect the archdiocese’s chain of command and your own place within it. If you cannot follow orders, you will not be trusted to issue them to others. Am I understood?”

Caroline: “Yes, Your Majesty,” Caroline replies stiffly. Execution of her servants. Murder, really. Cold hate smolders towards the sheriff, like a limb immersed in ice water. Petty.

It’s not the first time those in her service have died for her. It will not be the last, but the callousness of the sheriff in bringing the matter up is not something she shall forget.

Never mind that the sheriff excluded her from all matters to do with Claire. Never mind that he repeatedly antagonized her, even staked her.

It didn’t have to be this way.

Shouldn’t have to be this way.

GM: “I would raise one final matter, my liege, if you have no further orders for me,” Donovan states.

Caroline: For not the first time the memory of the sheriff staked, to be turned over to Savoy floats through her mind.

The seneschal was confident the blood bound ensured his loyalty, but Caroline has her doubts. She can think of no more ready agent to undermine the prince, and few ways his rule could have been more ill-served than by the sheriff’s increasingly monstrous reign of terror.

GM: “In this time of uncertainty, your servants’ obedience is paramount. I would renew my blood oath to you and ensure my loyalties can waver in neither thought nor deed.”

The prince stares upon his servant for a moment, then raises his wrist to his fangs.

Donovan kneels to drink, then rises.

The prince’s dark gaze smolders silently ahead.

He does not speak.

The sheriff does not speak.

The ghouls do not speak.

There is only silence interrupted by the scream of rain and wind against the massive window.

A bolt of lightning strikes overheard. The sudden flash starkly illuminates the hoary Ventrue’s utterly motionless face. It looks like a statue wrought by one of the old masters—the whitest marble contrasted by pitch shadows. All blacks. All whites.

And from those eternally burning eyes, nothing but black.

“Leave me.”

Donovan bows and silently departs with neither haste nor sloth nor backwards glance. His automaton face is as blank as his master’s is dark.

The ghouls follow in his wake.

Caroline: Caroline stares a moment longer, in longing perhaps, before turning to follow.

Whether or not the undead statue’s gaze follows her in turn she can’t say. But the image of those burning black eyes, alive with only hate, follows her for a long time.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline follows the others out the room, but calls out to Robert Congo when they are clear of it. “Mr. Congo.” When he pauses she stops a fair distance away. “I would speak with the seneschal, if he is available.”

The Ventrue has healed the worst of her wounds, but her jawline is still a mass of ugly purple bruises.

GM: “He is, madam.”

The ghoul escorts her to his master’s office. Maldonato indicates that she assume one of the seats across from his desk.

Caroline: She follows at a ‘healthy’ distance. For Congo.

“Seneschal Maldonato,” she greets the elder. Their relationship has always been complex. Perhaps never more so than now. There are so few secrets between them.

She takes the offered seat, pushing back a short distance from the table. Her fists are tightly clinched on her thighs, but her attention is clearly on the seneschal. She doesn’t try to hide the worry on her face.

“That was terrible, for him. These nights have been terrible for him.”

And for you, she doesn’t add, though her tone does.

“He stared after your departure. Just stared, for hours at where you had stood. Then tonight… he seems… done. Tired. Exhausted with everything. And when he spoke, no other would raise a voice to gainsay anything he wished.”

“Is this the future?” she asks.

GM: The Moorish elder assiduously regards Caroline from behind the oaken desk. He’s dressed tonight in a familiarly double-breasted gray suit with a pale blue necktie and gold cufflinks.

“Eternity’s rigors are great, Miss Malveaux, and the human mind is ill-suited to withstand them. Humans are cyclic beings. Days pass to nights. Spring passes to winter. A parent’s generation passes to their child’s. ‘To every thing, there is a season, and a time and purpose under Heaven.’

“Kindred are not human. The Requiem has no cycle: nights pass to days, and days pass to nights, but our minds do not register this passage of time. Sleep passes to wakefulness in an eyeblink. Yet we were once human, and we cannot so easily transcend the need for a cyclic existence. Torpor is how we satisfy this need. Rare is the Cainite who does not eventually succumb to its call.”

“Some Kindred fear the sleep of ages. To surrender to its call and remove ourselves from the world is to return to a cyclic existence where we are not eternal. It is to experience our own death in microcosm.”

“It is sleep but not sleep, where thoughts are sluggish as thick honey and take years to flow. It is a state where dreams and might-have-beens intercourse with true memories. It is a state where sounds and smells from the deepest recesses of one’s consciousness find their way to the surface again, but disturb the mind no more than a rose petal falling on a still pool of water. Time has no meaning; hunger has no meaning. There is no future. There is no past. There is but an endless and eternal now.”

“It is restful.”

“It is restorative.”

“It allows the dead to experience some measure of true death and awaken refreshed, as a living man might awaken from a long and restful sleep.”

“That is his future. His rest is long overdue.”

Caroline: “But not yet,” Caroline almost whispers. “He has work still to do… I fear for him, though. That as he is, he may become his own worst enemy.”

GM: “It is the way of things, Miss Malveaux, that there is always more work to do.”

Caroline: God, if that isn’t the truth.

“When does he get to rest?”

GM: “When he chooses to lay down his crown.”

Caroline: “He wanted to execute twenty Kindred. All their ghouls. All their mortal family. All their ghouls’ mortal family.”

GM: “All that was discernible to Mr. Congo was discernible to mine ears.”

“His rest is long overdue.”

Caroline: “What must we do then, to assure it?” she asks seriously, a hint of desperation in her voice.

GM: “He must first name you the heir to his throne. He has accepted you as his Blood and childe, but no more. One whose intended rule spans eternity has no need for an heir.”

Caroline: “He must be convinced, then, that I am worthy. Capable,” she fills in.

GM: “This fact must become reality and its truth self-evident to him,” Maldonato states in simultaneous agreement and correction.

“No ruler governs without the consent of those whom they govern. You are in need of friends and allies from within traditional halls of power, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Indeed,” Caroline answers bluntly.

She bites her lip, the added sensitivity from the bruising making the sensation all the more acute.

“I cannot be at war with his sheriff and also be his heir,” she says. “And buy-in from others is all but required—too many of whom I have unpleasant history with.”

“Might you offer any wisdom on either point, Seneschal?”

GM: “The sheriff desires your sire’s throne, Miss Malveaux. This fact has escaped the attentions of few in Elysium.”

“Of all the would-be claimants among your sire’s allies, his eventual praxis remains the most probable, even weighed against the loss of his most potent ally.”

Caroline: “He would appear to be a rare pillar remaining in the prince’s rule, to be treated as a rival,” Caroline answers with concern.

GM: “The greatest impediment to the sheriff’s ascension is your sire’s recalcitrance. Even were he inclined to surrender his throne, to do so to the childe of our foe would leave him ill at ease. Time has served to erode his inhibitions, and present circumstance might erode them further still, but the fact of your existence has strengthened them anew.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

“Perhaps I lack the proper context, but it seemed to me his actions this night were not the actions of one eager to see a continuity of rule. I can think of no surer path towards the archdiocese fall than a tyrannical rampage—unfettered execution’s in mass.”

“By your strength and the prince’s, it may limp on, but deprived either, and with allies turned enemies by such wanton violence, it seems unlikely the Baron and Mr. Savoy both could be held off.”

GM: “If the attempted genocide of the Hidden Clan should come to pass, our combined strength may yet be insufficient to retain praxis over the city,” Maldonato answers gravely.

“That strength has waned over the past months even as our foes’ has waxed. There is a limit to how many losses we may endure. Mightier princes than your sire have lost their thrones.”

“However, you have done well in postponing that genocide. His mind may yet be swayed to milder courses of action in the interim.”

“Mercy shall not sway his mind, but proven actions to neutralize the clan’s threat may yet do so—such as the assistance of Primogen Opal’s clanmates in her removal, or the blaming of parties besides our prince for her demise.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Tyranny without understanding breeds neither love nor respect. It is right that they should fear his judgment, but necessary too that they should perceive it as the prince’s justice, rather than his fury.”

“If I had my way, Primogen Opal’s actions would be exposed in the moment, naked in their treacherous duplicity. Her conspirators in the action facing immediate and effective judgment. But no further. A show of the prince’s strength, justice, and control. They should remember why he is worthy of both fear and respect.”

“Such an action would require all three to succeed.”

“Which brings me back to the question. From where might strength be best sought, if the sheriff is to set himself against me?”

“Or perhaps better stated, who that might be open to supporting the prince has cause to stand against Sheriff Donovan?”

“My thoughts trended first towards clan, where Regent McGinn presents powerful, if distasteful, potential, but judging from the sheriff’s response tonight, I expect him to be off the table. He also possesses significant ambitions of his own. Prince Guilbeau offers some similar potential, but there were the concerns raised as to him when I was presented to my sire.”

“Among the Sanctified, the sheriff stands in high regard likely to only grow as his childe assumes the title of bishop. She may lack the spiritual authority of Bishop Malveaux, the appearance of power remains power, and there are few other contenders.”

“Only Father Elgin remains that might command significant respect, and my sire is likely to look ill upon further cultivation of that relationship. On the other hand, cultivation of him—and other loyalists among the Hidden Clan—might suffice to encourage a staying of my sire’s hand when the time comes.”

“That leaves mostly outliers not firmly committed elsewhere. Primogen Poincaré and Duquette spring most readily to mind, though the former has his own ambitions and the latter her own reservations, I’ve enjoyed… pleasant relations with each.”

“And Mr. Matheson, who is much the mystery to me.”

“And of course, any I’ve missed or misjudged.”

GM: “All Kindred of standing possess flaws and ambitions, Miss Malveaux, and all the more so in this climate of uncertainty. To desire allies with neither is to be lonely for allies indeed.”

“Regent McGinn’s distasteful qualities are well-known, nor are we we ignorant of Mr. Guilbeau’s complicity in past crimes. Yet a Gerousia that afforded seats to neither of them would be lonely for members indeed.”

“Your counsel was rejected on the demerits of its means rather than its ends. To demand that any sire initiate a childe into a covenant of the prince’s choosing is to abrade the sire’s pride and advertise the prince’s weakness. It is implicit in the promise of a childe’s creation that one may mold the fledgling to one’s will.”

“Your sire’s hand may be stayed against the Hidden Clan if and only if its members demonstrate their loyalty to him through support against Primogen Opal. Such aid is easier requested than enlisted, for she is more than merely their primogen. She is their mother. I believe Mr. Cartwright the least loyal to his clanmates and easily bought off with Regent McGinn’s aid. Primogen Opal’s other blood descendants shall never consent to aid Prince Vidal against their ancestor and would likely follow her to the Baron’s camp even without our prince’s decree, so their slaughter harms us not. Father Elgin may be possible to sway. Few Kindred save Scourge Meadows have ever considered him as more than the unpresuming host, nor sought to understand his desires and ambitions. These remain abstruse to me. Regent Sundown might best be neutralized through token offers of covert aid that satisfy the prince without threatening the former’s apolitical status, yet so fine a line may be difficult to tread. Father Marrow might also be approached on the basis of shared faith. His association with the Baron has obscured his name in the eyes of many Sanctified.”

“Among the Sanctified, there are many actors beyond those whom you have named. Their support is essential if you are to be a credible heir to our prince and alternative to the sheriff. Primogen of other clans and covenants have little cause to support a Kindred who cannot command her own covenant’s loyalty.”

“Scourge Meadows is the first Sanctified whom I would make amends with, for reasons practical as well as political. She is no dumb beast and may make a second attempt on your unlife under more favorable circumstances. For all her faults, the scourge has drunk from our prince as deeply as you, and her actions remain a net benefit to the Church Eternal.”

“Yet she has still left our prince’s service and answers to no master but her own interpretation of the archdiocese’s laws. Were she returned to the fold by the efforts of our prince’s childe, such a deed would at once uplift your name and grant hope for the covenant’s future. Miss Malveaux might be shown to unite as well as divide—and there is no little symbolism in a scion of the Kingship Clan bringing a Gangrel to heel. Every ruler requires a dog at their side. Few dogs are so feared as Caitlin Meadows. Only the sheriff’s name inspires equal dread among our enemies.”

“Seek out why she has left our prince’s service. Perhaps therein may lie the answer to her return. Hound Agnello or her other childer might aid in such an endeavor.”

“Yet a prince’s scion must have allies beyond dogs. Primogen Hurst, Mr. Harrison, Hound Wright, Deacon LaCroix, Mr. Pacuad, those further neonates of lesser name and achievement—without the support of the covenant’s rank and file, your rule shall end before it might ever begin. It is on the backs of such Kindred as Father Polk that lasting praxis is built. Kindred who faithfully carry out orders and aspire to little higher. The sheriff has allies beyond Mother Doriocourt and Deacon Benson, but these are not so immutable in their loyalties.”

“Any Kindred must first win allies among their own age and standing if they are to aspire to ones of higher station. Cainites of mine years have always viewed neonates who seek our exclusive company with contempt. They are as your mortal family regard the ‘noveau riche’ who pretend above their station.”

“This is why I have planned for a 70-year regency to permit you time to establish yourself among the Camarilla, to come more fully into your Blood’s power, and to facilitate a smoother political transition from one regime to the next. The Requiem of Chicago’s Prince Jackson has spanned 30 years and he insists he is master of his destiny. For so long as elders of comparable vintage to mine own reside in his city, I do not believe this claim.”

Seventy years, Caroline recalls from her lessons with Becky Lynne, is the age at which the Lancea et Sanctum (and by extension, much of the city at large) considers a neonate to have (at least nominally) become an ancilla: a mirror number of the biblically allotted years of a mortal man’s life, spent instead in darkness.

“All of these connections shall be facilitated by the growth of your domain and associated mortal holdings. I advise you to personally see to as many details as is feasible tonight. I shall aid in that domain’s expansion where I may, as shall your sire. He too desires the material success and prosperity of his childe.”

Caroline: Caroline takes in the cynical commentary as to the rest of the Gerousia without great comment, though she does stop to inquire as to whether the seneschal believes either of the older Ventrue present attractive allies in his mind, and whether he has any thoughts as to the merits of them. Of the two, she judges McGinn to be significantly more powerful, but also more dangerous, while Guilbeau alienates fewer others by his nature and has a ‘relief’ system as it were, with his desire to retake his city.

She largely agrees with Maldonato in so far as the Hidden Clan—she’s seen no sign they might break ranks. She fears without such an overt breaking, or significant value added, that her sire is unlikely to chance his course.

Meadows is an interesting idea she hadn’t concerned, but it certainly seems to catch her interest. She inquires as to whether he might point her in the direction of a starting place for such an endeavor, or if there is a best way to approach the scourge.

She takes the rebuke as to cultivating relationships only with older Kindred for what it is: intended well despite its pointedness. She inquires specifically whether she thinks Hound Wright might be swayed from the sheriff’s influence.

She comments about the theological significants of the seneschal’s decision of seventy years before observing that whatever her regency—and with seventy years the prince might well have risen from torpor by its conclusion—they do not have seventy years to convince the prince of her worthiness, nor seventy years to gain allies and influence sufficient to hold off pretenders immediately (even if she takes that time to grow into her full influence).

Even with the seneschal as regent and prince in all but name, she does not expect her sire to lay down if she is unable to establish herself, nor others to refrain from potentially lethal infighting even within the prince’s loyalists.

GM: Maldonato believes all of the Gerousia to be allies worth cultivating. “It was by your sire’s will they ascended to that body’s ranks.”

Caroline: She inquires more specifically if there are any allies that he would specifically suggest she avoid for reasons she might not otherwise immediately realize.

GM: He corrects Caroline’s misinterpretation and repeats that there are Nosferatu whose loyalties he believes might be swayed. It is Miss Opal’s direct descendants, with the exception of Randolph Cartwright, whom he considers a futile cause.

She might start with any of three Meadows’ childer, or perhaps the scourge’s other clanmates. The Gangrel clan also holds periodic gatherings known as ‘things’ where fights are frequent but rarely to the death.

Caroline: She observes that there are few enough not from her line—but more lightheartedly than in an attempt to correct the elder.

Caroline inquires as to whether such Gangrel gatherings are ‘welcoming’ to outsiders, or more closed as are Ventrue.

GM: “Primogen Opal has six known surviving descendants within the archdiocese, including Mr. Cartwright. At least five further Nosferatu who do not share her bloodline also reside within the archdiocese.” Maldonato’s face is utterly without levity at Caroline’s remark. “You are fortunate to have erred in mine presence, Miss Malveaux. Such nescience would cost have cost you face before other Kindred of standing.”

Caroline: Any hint of levity goes out like a candle snuffed out on a moonless night. “Thank you for the correction, Seneschal. I had meant only to convey that her line was one of the most prolific in the city—perhaps the most prolific outside of Primogen Chastain.”

“I can understand how poorly that might be received if spoken so carelessly.”

GM: “Mother Iyazebel’s line eclipses Primogen Opal’s in size by some half-dozen Kindred. Bishop Constantine’s line also exceeds the primogen’s by one descendant. The devil may lie in the details, but so too does truth.”

“The line is middling in size relative to the other clans’. It is its members’ devotion to their matriarch that distinguishes it.”

“Yet that devotion is sufficiently powerful as to influence perceptions, as evidenced by your own assumption. One must strive to see facts as they are and not as others would mispresent them.”

Caroline: Caroline tilts her head. “Ah, you’re including those beyond the city or destroyed, Seneschal.”

“I suppose they must be more ingrained in your mind more uniquely than mine, having a Requiem that spanned their own. Still, the point is well taken as to specificity of language in such conversations, especially among those who have seen so many years.”

GM: As to Hound Wright, while Maldonato does believe him loyal to the sheriff, he also believes those loyalties more mutable than his childe’s or Deacon Benson’s. The Brujah might be swayed by her.

As to the matter of her sire’s torpor, Pearl Chastain’s lasted some 80 years and was not her first (nor even second). Maldonato’s first torpor lasted approximately 120 years, when he was centuries younger and his blood thinner than Vidal’s is now. There are Cainites of greater age and thicker blood whose slumbers span centuries, even millennia. Ultimately, it is impossible for any Kindred to know how long Vidal’s torpor will last—“save perhaps the Agonistes. Fortuna is an unreliable ally, Miss Malveaux. I make no plans around what I cannot predict.” Maldonato’s operating assumption is that her sire’s sleep will last indefinitely.

Maldonato replies that he would not have suggested the Gangrel’s things as a potential inroad with Meadows if he believed them nonviable. The Beast Clan is more open to the presence of outsiders than the Ventrue, yet they ascribe to their own customs, traditions, and form of honor (“they are more than feral beasts”). They are also far less shy than the Kingship Clan in expressing offense in a directly physical manner. Caroline would be well-served to arrive in the company of an established clanmate as a guest—and to expect a fight even if she causes no offense. Fighting is one of a thing’s typical activities.

Caroline: Yes, because the last time I was sent to meet someone without guidance ended so well. Caroline bites back the acerbic thought of her meeting with Matheson in response to the seneschal’s critique of her questioning.

GM: Doubtless her present audience would be utterly without sympathy.

Caroline: “As to domain, and this night, should I confine my activities to Perdido House tonight, and in the foreseeable future?”

GM: “I would make preparations to do so, Miss Malveaux. You may venture beyond Perdido House, but beware your safety if you choose to.”

“Nevertheless, your doing so may prove propitious. You may assist the sheriff’s efforts to preserve the Masquerade in the wake of your mortal mother’s death.”

Maldonato provides Caroline with Donovan’s ‘work’ phone number, along with the usual cautionary on telecommunications security. The expectation seems clear that whether they like each other or not, they are working together now.

If requested, he provides contact information for other Sanctified Kindred.

He also raises the matter of granting Caroline an expanded domain. It is better if she receives such an award before her lineage is publicly revealed, for it will not do to foster the impression that she owes all she has to her sire’s names alone.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite twitch at the naming of Claire as her mother, but ancient Moor is far too practiced a watcher of people to believe her unaffected by it. Still, she bites her tongue and addresses the matter he’s brought before her.

“I’ve made no secret of my interest in the courts, and recently began cultivating some influence locally with Primogen Duquette’s permission. Opportunities to make positive use of that influence and cultivate more would tie into what I’ve already cultivated as well. The firm will need restructuring, but also stands alone. The Giani Building has its appeal to me, but ultimately nothing I built there need be more than temporary.”

“The Malveaux family, obviously, as expressed before my sire. The influence there is significant and widespread even in the city. I should think maintaining those quite a challenge if I am to be sequestered here for a time.”

“There’s also a small section of the Garden District that I also have my eye on,” she alludes to.

GM: “Your safety may be guaranteed nowhere, Miss Malveaux, only ameliorated,” Malonato answers gravely.

“Political circumstance, however, may prove a more efficacious shield than force of arms. Not a one of Prince Vidal’s prior heirs were ever publicly acknowledged as his intended successor. Your station may both attract and repel attempts upon your unlife.”

“Expanding your protective detail may thus prove a sagacious use of your resources, now that your ghouls number two fewer. The childer of Washington D.C.’s Prince Vitel are protected at all times by agents of the Secret Service. I believe they have found the investment in vitae to have amply repaid itself.”

Maldonato clarifies, however, that he was referring to a territorial grant of domain rather than a specific sector of kine society to grant Caroline domain over (though he is pleased to hear she has established a working relationship with one of the city’s primogen). He inquires as to what physical areas of the Central Business District she feels herself “most capable of assuming stewardship over.”

“If you are inquiring as to your adoptive mother’s home, Miss Malveaux, such a grant of domain would be wholly titular,” the seneschal answers the matter of the Garden District. “Few are the Kindred who would not find their designs frustrated should they seek to claim the Walter Robinson House or its occupants for their own. Though a prince’s word may grant domain rights, power and cunning alone doth make such a claim reality.”

Caroline: There’s a flash of anger at the idea that another Kindred might presume to claim her family. Their designs frustrated? How about their havens burned. Their kine gutted in the streets and every Kindred in their line extinguished. Some wars are worth fighting.

She buries that thought as deeply as she can, turning over the suggestion of a geographic domain within the Central Business District.

“I’m most familiar—and established immediate area around the Giani Building. I’d notionally pitch a block in either direction, but you’d be committing almost half of what was former Hound Agnello’s domain in so doing, and that’s unlikely to earn me any long term good will from the hound, and would also place me squared up against the domain of Mr. Savoy.”

“Sitting on the corner of Canal Street had its benefits when I was fence sitting, but I have no illusions as to my ability to withstand any hostilities he could bring to bare.”

She shakes her head. “The Giani Building was convenient when I was under Hound Agnello’s influence, but my commitments to it are not so deep as to blind me to its strategic weakness.”

GM: “Hound Agnello’s domain is not being held in abeyance pending its former owner’s improvement in standing. The domain is a prosperous one and shall be awarded to any other Kindred whom I deem a worthy steward. Interested individuals have already sought to curry my favor.”

Maldonato agrees with Caroline that the Giani Building’s location is less secure than a domain further away from the French Quarter. However, he does not consider that to be so bad a thing. Savoy has made repeated attempts to expand into Vidal’s territory, and the prince into Savoy’s. Kindred vassals fight these battles on their behalf. The seneschal does not consider such a role unbecoming of the prince’s childe. She will be expected to carry her weight in the faction and to help fight its battles. The operative question is whether that is best done through her physical domain or other avenues.

Caroline: “I would never gainsay your right to dispense with your domain as you see fit, Seneschal. I would only observe that if my own influence might have bearing on Hound Agnello’s renaissance, such a thing might have value for all parties. Vice the alternative, that the new stewardship of his former domain be a barb between us other parties could exploit.”

GM: “Such a barb will exist between Hound Agnello and other Kindred to receive his former domain, Miss Malveaux. Failing the hound’s immediate return to favor in mine eyes, he must reconcile himself to the fact that his territorial holdings shall pass to another.”

Maldonato also raises the related question of whether she wishes to relocate her law firm to a floor on Perdido House. The prince and his lieutenants obviously spend much of their time in the building. Moving the firm there will better integrate it, and Caroline, into the flow of the prince’s operations. (She should also expect much of her future legal work to relate to Vidal’s and his lieutenants’ assorted enterprises.) The firm itself will also benefit from the building’s considerable security. However, Caroline is the firm’s owner and better aware of its needs than anyone else, so the final decision is hers.

Caroline: She chews on that idea. “I’d originally intended to keep it largely independent, in the belief that it would be more approachable to Kindred perhaps… intimidated by Perdido House. But then my understanding of my role here was more opaque.”

She runs her tongue across her fangs.

“Much, I believe, depends on what the threats to my Requiem are, Seneschal, and how they might best be combated. The lengths gone through to remove prior heirs are clear, but how such pitfalls might be avoided moving forward is less so to me. Shall I set my ghouls to adding to my retinue, or leave Perdido House only in secret, or at the greatest urgency? I don’t imagine any of the three to be the plan—none project strength for either the archdiocese or myself. And yet, I imagine the threats to my Requiem will only grow once publicly acknowledged.”

GM: “Threats must be met, Miss Malveaux, by either strength or guile, and no prince may rule by the latter alone. An eternally cloistered childe shall earn the respect of none.”

“I would find it prudent to expand your ghouls’ retinue. I would find it prudent to relocate your law firm to a more secure location, given the dangers posed to your Requiem, in absence of any compelling reason to do otherwise.”

“I do not consider independence from your sire to be a desirable state of affairs. Nor do I consider dependence upon your sire to be a preferable alternative. Interdependence is the state you must achieve if your futures are to end in aught but tragedy.”

“Sheriff Donovan’s and mine own domains are closely linked to Prince Vidal’s, and his to ours. The value of this relationship exceeds that of any relationships you might form with Kindred lowly enough in station to be discomforted by Perdido House. Though it behooves any sovereign to be loved by their subjects, their foremost duty is to rule.”

Caroline: “Verily,” Caroline agrees.

“Strength is precisely the question. I’m as strong as any childe of this millennium in the city,” she states as fact. “But I don’t expect my foes to be neonates off the street. With guile I have stood against even far older Kindred at places of my choosing. But I labor under no illusions as to the limits of my strength.”

“A balance to be struck, as in all things. Between prudence and the appearance of weakness.”

The heiress doesn’t argue with the seneschal. Indeed, she agrees that relocating the firm to Perdido House as too many advantages to ignore. Doubly so if she’ll retain the ability to interact with it while under her sire’s tutelage.

As the topic shifts back to possible domains, she identifies several likely areas, each several blocks, as promising candidates based on their demographics, useful services she might coopt there, or prospects for their development.

None of them border the French Quarter. “I am not afraid of defending a domain against Mr. Savoy, but if this is to be a domain prior to my recognition, and I am to hold it during my sire’s promised education, I think it wiser that it have more inherent stability.”

GM: Maldonato listens patiently to each one.

The block around O’Keefe and Poydras, though somewhat large for a neonate of her years, is acceptable to him. Caroline may deal with poachers due to the relatively good feeding for the CBD and its close location to Storyville (the local name for the Rack rather than the former neighborhood).

The seneschal seems more interested, though, by the prospective domain she identifies near City Hall—specifically, its legal institutions. Vidal will, unsurprisingly, not surrender the former, but will pass the DA’s office into her hands, along with the adjacent Civil District Court and First City Court.

Some of the land to the east could also be hers, which includes some bars, restaurants, and similar establishments. It is less hunting than along O’Keefe and Poydras, however.

At present, Maldonato does not wish to issue a large enough grant of domain to be the subject of speculation at Elysium. He is amenable to issuing a larger grant once the truth of her identity is made known. Caroline’s immediate grant should thus be one that she may best serve her sire by having additional time to cultivate.

Caroline: She wants the DA’s office and District Court, but observes to have anything meaningful beyond it would require a massive geographic grant—to the east are mandated parking lots for the civil institutions, to the north is Tulane Medical, to the south is Perdido House, and to the west is largely industrial wasteland, so far as Kindred are concerned.

She observes that with already wide ranging grants from her sire, a geographic base might make more sense—and raise fewer eyebrows than a grant of a major institution, which could come with official acknowledgment.

GM: Maldonato does not believe it will raise overly much suspicion when Caroline is uniquely qualified to manage that institution on the prince’s behalf. There are no other Sanctified attorneys, after all, and such a sign of Vidal’s trust could raise her standing in the eyes of other Kindred.

Nevertheless, he concurs that such a grant of domain may still occur later, if Caroline wishes to develop the area around O’Keefe first.

Caroline: Caroline does not swim against the current: she can see readily enough the seneschal’s interest. So long as she is permitted to maintain her hexis over the Giani Building, she sees well enough the symbolic and practical value in dominion over the court and DA’s office.

GM: “Arrangements shall be made,” Maldonato states. Caroline would be well-served to use any remaining time tonight, after she has rendered aid in whatever efforts to maintain the Masquerade the sheriff enlists her for, to begin laying groundwork for her hold over the legal system.

Caroline: More to do. Thankfully, she already has plans drawn up for that eventuality.

She bites her lip. “There’s another, more personal matter, Seneschal.”

GM: “Proceed, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: “Ms. Baker has not taken our… split… well. I had hoped…”

She pauses, wrestling with the memory of Jocelyn’s charred body, of her tears at Caroline’s words. Of the sick thump the stake had made when Caroline drove it through her lover’s chest.

I guess there was more there than the bond after all, she admits.

She continues, “Time away from the city might do her well. I had hoped the means to contact her sire might be available.”

GM: The seneschal frowns gravely.

Caroline: The frown is like a slap.

It’s a selfish request. A petty one. A poor use of the archdioceses resources.

And to make it of him in the shadow of his own lover’s banishment must sting.

But she cares. And she doesn’t know what else to do. Keep Jocelyn staked in her basement indefinitely? Just let her immolate herself?

GM: “We are less than one hour departed from your sire’s audience, Miss Malveaux, and already you bring me news of further strife among our covenant’s house?”

Caroline: “The opposite, in fact, Seneschal,” Caroline answers quietly.

GM: “Elucidate, Miss Malveaux.”

Caroline: Caroline’s face hardens. She spits out the answer clinically. “She wished that I wipe her memory of our fight over the thin-blood’s Embrace. After we split she fell into depression and later tried to immolate herself if we could not be together.”

GM: Maldonato raises a forestalling hand.

“Enough. I care not who authored your quarrels with Miss Baker, only for the fact they are unresolved. No longer will I suffer to hear the name Caroline Malveaux associated with strife and disunity among the Sanctified. That era is finished. Though I have vested much trust in you, do not believe me so temarious as to gamble the archdiocese’s future upon the actions of a single neonate. Other avenues yet remain should my trust prove unworthy.”

“If you desire my aid or counsel in resolving your quarrels with Miss Baker, I shall render it. But I shall not facilitate her removal from the city and pull yet another stone, however small, from your sire’s crumbling house. More is expected of you now, Miss Malveaux. You may may end or continue your personal relationship with Miss Baker as you see fit, but you shall ensure she remains our prince’s obedient subject by our next meeting.”

Caroline: The words leave Caroline feeling hollow, as though she’s experiencing an out of body experience, all the world distant.

Foolish, to think the seneschal would care about a neonate, beyond her use to the archdiocese.

Foolish to, to believe there might be a miracle fix to the problem, someone that could simply carry Jocelyn away to a better Requiem.

Foolish, to put her own feelings, what’s left of her tattered conscience, ahead of her fa—her sire’s needs.

The words that leave her lips feel as though they cannot possible travel the enormous distance between herself and the ancient Moor.

“By your will, Seneschal,” she acquiesces.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia IV
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Story Twelve, Celia IV

“Like, our whole family hates each other. What happened to us?”
Logan Flores


Monday evening, 7 March 2016

GM: Jade comes back to work the next night with a full head of new hair. Her first client is Celia’s mom.

The older woman hasn’t brought along Lucy and has a fretful look on her face in the Tranquility Room. She puts on a smile when she gets up and moves to hug Celia.

“Hi, sweetie… how you feelin’ tonight?”

“I brought some of those biscuits with chocolate gravy, by the way. Lucy helped make some more and would just love to know what you think of them.”

Celia: Celia hadn’t realized her mother was coming in so soon after her last appointment. She would have had Alana cancel the appointment if she had known. She has a meeting to prepare for. An evening to forget. A wayward ghoul to deal with.

It isn’t until she’s staring at her mother across the room that the awkward dinner conversation comes back to her. She has the grace to look away for a moment, though she lets the woman hug her.

She’s not a monster.

“I’m great, Momma. How’re you? How’s Em?” Her voice is all fake cheer.

They can just pretend last night didn’t happen.

GM: Celia is positive that her mother didn’t have an appointment pre-scheduled for tonight.

But she was also the one to say her mom could schedule appointments anytime she liked. $100,000 bought that much.

“We’re both great too, thanks so much for askin’,” her mom smiles back. “Would you like to munch on some biscuits while you work? I don’t mind, I know you’ll do an amazing job with those magic hands of yours either way.”

“Oh, and I’m going to tip you today, plus cover the product fee,” she adds. “It hasn’t been a week since I last came in, after all, and today isn’t my monthly hair stylin’ either.”

Her smile is full of equally plaintive desire for things to be back to normal.

Celia: “No, thank you. I can’t have food products in the rooms. It sets a bad precedent for my staff. And, please, you don’t need to worry about the fee. Spend it on Lucy.”

GM: “Oh, that’s true. Okay, I can leave them with Landen if he’s all done with clients, I bet his day could use some more chocolate in it. And Natalie and Piper, if Piper’s still around.”

Celia: “I’m sure they’d appreciate that, Momma. Why don’t you get situated and I’ll deliver them to the front desk for you.”

GM: “Oh, they, that’s right. I’m sorry, sweetie, it’s just really hard to wrap my head around those pronouns,” her mom apologizes.

Celia: “I meant ‘they’ as in all three of them,” Celia clarifies. “But go hop up on the table, I’ll be right with you.”

GM: “Okay. I’ll see you soon.” Her mom touches her arm and gives her another slightly plaintive smile before heading off.

Celia: Celia waits until her back is turned before she makes a beeline for the front desk, where she hopes Alana is working. If not there it’s possible the ghoul is in the small office upstairs, but she checks the desk first.

GM: Natalie is there to take the cookies. She finds Alana upstairs in her office.

“Mistress?” she asks as Celia comes in.

Celia: “I’ll be occupied for the next hour. Find a vessel for me. Someone without drugs in their system.” There’s no need to repeat the mistakes of last night.

GM: “Right away, mistress,” Alana nods, rising immediately.

Celia: Celia flashes her ghoul a smile of appreciation. She returns downstairs, to the room she had sent her mother to. She knocks before entering, common courtesy in the spa, and shuts the door behind her.

“What’re we in for today, Momma? Just had a massage last week. Skin is looking good. Lashes? Or did you make the appointment as an excuse to talk?” Her tone is wry.

GM: Her mom gives another, somewhat sheepish smile.

“…how about you do my lashes, sweetie. Or, really, whatever you think best. You know I’m play-doh in your hands.”

Celia: “Looking a little blonde,” Celia says after examining them beneath the light. “They’ve grown out since the last lift and tint we did.” The timing is about right, too. They don’t generally do the extensions on her unless it’s for special occasions, but her mother has a pretty strict regiment now that she comes to see Celia regularly. Facials twice a month, one with chemical peels and dermaplaning, massage twice per month unless her leg is acting up, then they swap out the facial for more bodywork. Every six weeks it’s lashes and waxing, and she occasionally opts for the body wraps, peels, and steam showers as well.

Celia gathers the required tools: the lash shields, bottles of tint, rod glue, cream developer, mixing tray, brush, wands, tape, and eye pads. She sets them on the cart, laid out in order of use, and sits down to begin to clean her mothers lashes with a squirt of foam from a pump bottle onto two clean applicators. They’re actually used for lip gloss, but they make great lash cleaners as well, so Celia orders them in bulk, thousands of black stick doe foot applicators at a time.

She could start the conversation. Let her mother know she doesn’t need to mince words. Bring up the lies she’d told last night.

Or she could let her mother do it.

GM: “That’s right. Want to keep the hair blonde, not the lashes,” her mom chuckles. It’s a bit of a lame joke. And not really a joke.

“How are you and Randy doing?” she asks as Celia starts on her lashes.

Celia: Celia is polite enough to laugh along with her mom. She’s definitely heard worse jokes. As soon as her mother’s lashes are clean she tells her to open her eyes, then puts a gel eye pad down beneath her lower lash line. She has her mom look up, toward her, and tapes down her lower lashes so they don’t get an accidental perm. Then she can close her eyes again, and the real work begins.

A lash lift is like a perm for your eye lashes. It doesn’t lengthen them but it does add a nice curl, and it usually lasts anywhere from four to six weeks. Until the lashes grow out again. The first step is putting down the right shields. Some stylists use the same shield for every client, but Celia isn’t “some stylist.” She’s Celia Flores. She takes more than the length of the lashes into consideration when picking the shield: she looks at the shape of the eye itself. The hood, or there lackof. At this point in her life Diana’s eyes would benefit from a lift themselves. She has less wrinkles than most women her age, but nothing can keep the enemy of time at bay forever.

She uses a small bottle of rod glue to adhere the shield to her mother’s lids, sliding it down until it is flush against the lash line.

Beauty.jpg
“We’re okay. He was disappointed that he didn’t get any of the cookies last night. I’ll have to save him some.”

GM: Celia’s mom keeps her eyelids closed. She doesn’t feel tense as the shield goes on. She knows the routine, after seven years of weekly visits. Like she says. Play-doh in her daughter’s hands.

“Oh, he doesn’t have to worry a bit, then. These are exact same ones. I’ve included lots of chocolate gravy, too, so he won’t miss out on a thing.”

Celia: “I gotta be honest, Ma, when you call it ‘gravy’ it sounds decidedly unappealing.”

GM: Her mom chuckles. “I didn’t come up with the name, sweetie, that’s just what it is. They call it gravy because biscuits go with gravy like peas in a pod.”

“And, you know, it isn’t strictly chocolate. What it mainly has is cocoa powder. Most of the sugar comes from regular ol’ white sugar and vanilla.”

Celia: “It’s powder rather than melted chocolate and cream? I’d assumed it was just a fancy ganache, if I’m being honest.”

GM: “Oh no, this is somethin’ else. It’s also got milk, plus some flour to give it a slightly thick consistency.”

“So it’s like gravy, if someone just swapped out all the savory ingredients for sweet ones.”

Celia: “Huh.”

She hasn’t kept up much with cooking since she died.

“Sounds interesting.”

GM: “You can also add a few pinches of salt. It’s been a hit with Lucy and Emily, I hadn’t made it in a pretty long while. It’s classic Southern comfort.”

Celia: Once the shields are set Celia focuses on the next part: gluing the lashes down. There’s an adhesive she applies to one shield at a time. Then, with a special metal hooked tool that is reminiscent of tweezers, she lifts each individual eyelash onto the glue to hold them in place. She does one eye, then the other, until her mother’s lashes are all adhered to the shields and the shields to the lids.

It looks, in a word, a little wonky. Every time Celia did this in school she couldn’t help but laugh.

Beauty.jpg
GM: “This part always looks so funny to you, I bet,” her mom chuckles.

She pauses, then ventures, “You’re sure things are okay with you and Randy, sweetie?”

“You seemed a little blue, last night.”

Celia: Celia sighs. She really hadn’t wanted to have this conversation. She focuses on what she’s doing for a moment, and swipes the first part of the perm onto her mother’s upturned lashes. It’s got a bit of a sulfurous smell, though the fan that Celia clicks on does its job in keeping the worst of it away. Just a thin blue coat goes on, then Celia sets a timer to let it process.

Lash lifts are pretty hands off once the lashes are all glued into place.

“I’m a little disappointed in him,” Celia says honestly. “But that’s not the problem. I was off yesterday. My Sunday, as you know.” Celia refers to certain days as her “weekends,” even when they aren’t, to represent the days she does work. “So I had a few drinks prior to coming over. I said something jokingly to Emily and I guess she took it the wrong way.”

It’s easier, she thinks, to claim to be drinking instead of anything else.

And technically not a lie.

Since she had been drinking.

GM: “She just wants things to turn out for the best with you and Randy, sweetie. She loves you very much.”

“Can I ask what he’s done, to make you disappointed? Is it not poppin’ a ring yet?”

Celia: “He doesn’t listen.” She doesn’t need to fake the way her voice raises into a whine. “I don’t want to have to yell at him to get him to do what I want, but that’s what I feel like I need to resort to, and I don’t want to be that person. A nag. You know? Like, why can’t he just… do it right the first time?”

GM: “Oh.” Celia’s mom is quiet for a moment. “Did he pop the question on you, just… in a less than thoughtful way?”

“Emily told me this story recently, about a man who proposed to his girlfriend in an O’Tolley’s drive-thru. Because they’d go there all the time, and really loved the food—heaven knows why—so he thought it would be romantic to get the staff there to slip the ring in her burger. And she just broke down crying instead, because what girl wants to be proposed to in an O’Tolley’s drive-thru.”

“Sometimes, sweetie, men can mean well, but just be… well, total boneheads.”

“Did Randy do somethin’ like that?”

Celia: “No, no, nothing like that. He didn’t ask.” He asks for other things. “I guess… we got into a bit of an argument. A while back. About what our future would look like. And it’s been a little strained. And I keep… I keep wondering if he even loves me anymore. If he ever did. Or if he was just using me.”

She isn’t talking about Randy now. Not really. Though she uses the human terms that her mother would recognize.

GM: “Oh, no!” her mother exclaims. “How’d it go, sweetie? Is he not sure whether he wants to spend the rest of his life with you, or not?”

Celia: “Something like that. He’s hard to read sometimes.”

“About feelings, I mean.”

GM: “Hmm. Well, I’m definitely not a relationship expert, but you know what they say about communication.”

“But more than that, you two have been dating… how many years is it, now, six?”

Celia: Seven. But who’s counting?

“Yes.”

GM: “Well, at this point you know each other about as well as you’re goin’ to. I think you’re right to want to know where this is headed. And there’s really only one place it can be headed.”

Celia: “I guess I just… I have other options, you know? I’m still young enough to move on if he’s not serious about me.”

GM: Her mom doesn’t nod while Celia works, but exclaims, “Absolutely, sweetie! You’re 27. That is still just a kid. You have all the time in the world to find Mr. Right, still.”

Celia: The timer she set goes off. She cleans off the perming solution with a makeup remover wipe and puts the second one on, the one that will stop the solution from processing further.

“Exactly,” she agrees. “I have my whole life ahead of me.”

GM: “You know Randy as well as you’re goin’ to, like I said. I think he needs to… use the loo, or get off the pot.”

Celia: She wonders what he’d say if she were to say that to him.

GM: “And you’ve tried to bring this up with him. Could be all sorts of reasons he’s clammin’ up, now.”

“You really don’t know what’s goin’ on in someone else’s head. Could be there’s a sad story there and he’ll be Mr. Right once the cat lets go of his tongue.”

“And could be he’s just bein’ a bonehead.”

“Emily could try to talk with him, if you think he’s nervous around you. Or you could make an appointment to see a shrink.”

Celia: Now there’s a terrifying thought.

“Maybe.”

GM: “If you’ve been with him six years, it’s worth makin’ an effort.”

“But this relationship won’t go anywhere if he can’t open up and talk with you.”

Celia: “Anything for the listening, Ma?” She steers the conversation back to more relevant waters.

GM: “Sorry, you mean from me, sweetie?”

Celia: “No. Making him listen the first time.”

“Instead of feelin’ like I need to smack him.”

“Not that I would. Ever. Obviously.”

GM: “Hmm. I’d give him some space, maybe, if he needs to get his head in order. You could write him a letter. Just put out all your thoughts, hopes, dreams on paper, and be very clear what questions you need answered. Give him the day to mull them over.”

“He doesn’t need more than a day. You’ve been together six years. He’s seen the complete package, so far as Celia Flores.”

“If it’s hard for him to get the words out, you could even tell him he’s free to write you a letter back.”

“Or, like I said, see a shrink. It sounds like he needs to talk, more than listen.”

Celia: “That’s… certainly an idea, Momma.”

GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie, if you think it’s a rotten idea. Like I said, I don’t actually have all that much relationship experience, I suppose.” Her mom gives a faint chuckle.

Celia: “I read a sales book once that said silence is the real decider. Let the other person talk first and they give all their power away.”

“I guess maybe there’s some merit, there.”

GM: “Yes, I can see where that’s comin’ from. I mean, until your beau opens his mouth, we honestly don’t know what’s going on in his head.”

“I mean, all right, the letter might be a silly idea. But he really does need to open up with you! This relationship can’t go anywhere if he won’t even talk about it.”

“You could tell him that, if you really wanted to make your point, but I think there’s gentler ways to go about it.”

Celia: She uses a clean makeup wipe to remove the second step of the process while she mulls over her mothers words.

Would it be that easy? Just ask him? Get him to talk to her, let him open up? Somehow, she doesn’t think so. Somehow, she thinks it’ll end up with her body splattered along the ground, in a river, or her head taken clean from her body. He’s not the type of thing she can imagine herself questioning.

Besides, he has more important things to deal with than her. He has made that abundantly clear by their lack of recent contact. How many nights had she waited for him to appear, standing on top of the roof of her haven and staring at the night sky? Each time he failed to show she had been disappointed, had to swallow that bitter pill of acceptance. He doesn’t want to see her.

Still. She had been inside his head once. He had trusted her with that, if ‘trust’ is the word. Had killed her for it, really. There’s still some small part of her that thinks she was an accident. Another unwanted child, though with an ‘e’ this time.

Even so, she’d sold out her family for him.

She tries not to think about it.

She watches what she’s doing instead, using that same metal tool to lift her mother’s lashes from the glue that adhered them to the shield. Then she lifts the shield, cleans off the residue that remains on her lids.

She’d mixed the tint while they were talking and she uses another brush to apply it now, coating each individual lash in color, careful to get all sides of it. She sets another timer.

“Definitely something to think about,” she says at last. “Thanks, Momma. I’ll get it sorted.”

“Sorry for… dinner.”

‘Sorry’ isn’t a word that comes out of her mouth a lot these days.

GM: Celia’s mom fumbles a bit to take her hand and give it an assuring squeeze.

“It’s okay, sweetie. Me and Emily and Lucy all love you. We just want you to be happy.”

Celia: Me too, Momma. Me too.

“I know. I love you guys, too. All three of you.”

“You talk to Logan about what happened at all?”

“I haven’t been able to get ahold of him. Left a voicemail, texted. I guess he’s busy.”

GM: Her mom smiles at Celia’s initial words, but shakes her head. “I’ll give him a poke that you’re tryin’ to get in touch. I think he’s ashamed of what happened. Which is… which is good.”

Celia: “He still live on campus?”

GM: Her mom doesn’t nod while there’s work on her face being done. “Yep, still does. Requirement for their freshman year. I think he’s grateful for it, like you were… for the same reasons.”

Celia: “Maybe I’ll just stop by.”

GM: “I’ll give him a heads up,” says her mom. “Just so he isn’t surprised.”

Celia: “Sounds like a plan, Mom.”

The timer goes off again. Celia uses a final wipe to remove the tint from her mother’s lashes. She has her open her eyes, then undoes the tape from her bottom lashes and pulls away the eye pads. She offers her mother a handheld mirror so she can check it out.

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The result is astounding. Even though the lift itself doesn’t offer length, it curls her mother’s rather straight lashes to the point that it almost looks as if they had extensions glued on. They’re a little wet from the color and various solutions, so they stick together, but once they’re dry they will fan out nicely and give her eyes a nice pop.

GM: “Oh, sweetie, these look just gorgeous!” Celia’s mom exclaims, beaming as she exaggeratedly bats her lashes at the mirror. “Those are just like… a brand new pair of pointe shoes, except for my eyes. I bet I’m going to get all sorts of comments at work tomorrow. I do, you know, from tons of girls, who are all following the Celia Flores on her Instragram and Twitter and everything else. They all ask if I get my face done by you, and I always tell them yes, why yes I do.”

“Some of them ask if I’m your sister or cousin. That’s how good a job you do.” Her mom laughs.

Celia: Celia is happy to hear it. She smiles at her mom, pleased that she is pleased.

“I was thinking of running a special for Prom this year. Get some teens in. I don’t usually cater to them, but it is my alma mater…”

“Oh wow. Do they really?” she laughs. “That is one heck of a compliment.”

GM: “You do one heck of a job, missy,” her mom smirks. “A prom special, though, that’s a really good idea! McGehee’s prom is comin’ up in a few months, you know, and anything to make it even more magical for the girls would mean so much to them—after that shooting last August…”

Her mom’s face falls a bit. “Some of them are still gettin’ over that. It would mean a lot to them, I bet, to have a prom special from the Celia Flores.”

Celia: “I can’t even imagine the horror they’re going through.”

Celia had remembered hearing about what happened. Even as busy as she has been in Kindred society, news like a Devillers being shot travels fast. She hadn’t been Cécilia’s first phone call, but she had been among them.

It had been… awful. The whole situation.

“Did I tell you Cécilia asked me to do her hair and makeup for the wedding?”

GM: “Oh, did she? That’s just wonderful, there’s certainly no better salon in the city for her to get it done at,” Celia’s mom smiles.

“That poor family went through so much. Did I mention I’m giving private lessons again, to their youngest daughter?”

Celia: “Are you? Which one is that again? There are so many.”

GM: “There are,” her mom laughs. “Simmone is the one. She… had to leave McGehee, the poor thing, she was so traumatized.”

Celia: “Oh, no. I hadn’t heard that. Are you going to their home to teach her, or does she come to you?”

GM: “Yes, don’t spread it around,” Celia’s mom nods. “I go to their house. There’s no way she could manage anything else. She has separation anxiety, I think. Just being away from her mom or Cécilia gives her fits. I can’t even give lessons without one of them being in the room.”

“They’ve had to cancel a whole bunch of times, when her anxiety was acting up, I think.”

Celia: It’s an effort to keep the smile on her face.

Someone had told her, once, that the house was dangerous. The woman is dangerous. She tries not to think about him. About the hole that his execution left in her heart. He’d been talking about monsters since before she became one.

“Really,” Celia breathes the word, “that sounds… terrible for them. How long have you been going there?”

GM: “Hm, well, the shooting was back in August. I think a few months, now? They really had to wait a while, until Simmone was up to receiving visitors again.” She adds in a low voice, “I think they might have considered a mental institution for her, but Mrs. Devillers wouldn’t hear of it.”

Celia: “Something besides the anxiety, you think? Are the fits… does she hurt herself…?”

GM: Celia’s mom shakes her head. “Well, not physically. But I don’t think what’s happening to that girl is all too healthy. Or, has happened, I suppose.”

Celia: “Can you be a little more specific, Ma?”

GM: “Well… I really shouldn’t be repeating this, sweetie, it’s the family’s private business, but just… little things. I think Mrs. Devillers still breastfeeds her.”

Celia: “Isn’t she… older than Lucy now?”

GM: Her mom nods. “She is. She’s in fourth grade now. I guess maybe it’s just a… French cultural practice.”

Celia: “That’s beyond unusual, Momma. I don’t think it’s a French thing. Don’t women stop producing after a certain time..?”

She’s sure that they do.

“Have you seen this?”

GM: Her mom shakes her head. “Oh no, they don’t do it in front of me. But I’ve had six kids and nursed ‘em all, so I know it when I see it. There’s just little signs.”

“Women can produce milk for a pretty long time, though. I was concerned about that with Lucy. Whether I’d still be able to feed her, or should use formula. But, didn’t have any problems at almost-40.”

Celia: “No, I meant more… after you nurse a child for a while, your body stops producing. You wean the child. You don’t keep feeding her for… years and years.”

GM: “Well, cultural practices can vary there, sweetie. I nursed Lucy for a while longer than I did you and your siblings. Until she was a toddler, you might remember, and I’m happy how that worked out. I know they feel the same way in Europe and tend to do it longer there, too.”

“Though you are right, no question. 10 is pretty darn old for it.”

Celia: “Yeah…” Celia trails off. “And it’s just anxiety? Not, like, seizures?”

GM: “I haven’t seen any seizures. She’s just so scared, all the time, the poor thing. Her mom seems to be all that calms her down.”

Celia: “That poor child. Maybe… I could have you bring her some products? A mini spa kit, kind of an at home thing? You think she’d like that?”

GM: “Oh, that does sound like a fun idea. The family seems like they’re trying to get her out more, or at least liven up her routine. Cécilia actually asked me recently if I wouldn’t mind teaching a small class, with a couple other girls Simmone can socialize with. I might bring Lucy.”

Celia: “Oh? Should I come along? As her ‘mom’?”

GM: Her mom thinks. “The other girls’ moms aren’t staying around for the lesson, but I could ask, if you want to. That mini spa kit sounds like a really fun idea for the kids. Get them to feel all prettied up while they’re dancing.”

Celia: “Let me know when you’re going. I’ll put something together. And if she has any allergies. Probably stick to neutral, non-reactive things for kids… should be fun.”

“Actually, tell you what. I’ll put together a little thing for you to take over to Simmone now, and if Mrs. Devillers wants me to make something up for the rest of them, I can do that too. I’ll meet you right outside the room, Momma, with a cute little basket of goodies for her.”

She smiles at her mother before she leaves the room, taking the opportunity to gather a few things: small bottles of a gentle hydrating cleanser, a face mask, a lip and eye mask, moisturizer, a tinted lip balm, a little pot of pink, sparkly eyeshadow. A spa headband, too, to keep the girl’s hair out of her face. It’s soft and fluffy with unicorns dancing around the rim. Truth be told it’s one of their best selling products. The headband, that is, not the unicorn one in particular. It’s the kind of thing you see at a checkout and think ‘oh, I need one of those,’ but don’t actively go out of your way for.

And all little girls like unicorns, right?

GM: “Oh, this should be so much fun for them!” Celia’s mom exclaims upon seeing the goodie basket. “That unicorn headband in particular. You were right about this bein’ cute as a bug’s ear.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her mother as she takes her toward the front of the spa.

“Let me know what she thinks.”

She has to trust that if Mrs. Devillers had it out for her mother for any reason she would already be gone. She’s been seeing the girl for months now, she said; there’s no reason to suspect foul play. Even monsters want to care for their families, don’t they?

She certainly does. Speaking of.

“I’m going to pop by Logan’s dorm so we can have our chat. Have a good rest of your night, Momma. And thanks.”

For the advice that she will certainly not follow, but it was a nice moment anyway.


Monday evening, 7 March 2016

GM: After Celia’s mom exchanges hugs and “I love yous,” Alana comes through for her domitor with a tourist to feed on. He’s moderately good-looking and isn’t obviously drunk or high.

She gives him the spa treatment to explain what he’s doing here. Jade takes him while he’s on the table. He gasps with pleasure at the pair’s “magic hands.”

Alana likes to watch her domitor feed. But her eyes, most of all tonight, are full of longing. She has been so very patient. And such a good girl.

Celia: She has been. Such a good girl. Such a good ghoul, too. Jade tells her so when she’s done feeding, as she wipes the corners of her mouth to rid herself of any unsightly bloodstains. She found this prefect vessel for her mistress, not like that mistake last night. She offers her ghoul a choice: she can get a kiss now, or she can pencil herself into Jade’s schedule tomorrow and they can make an event of it.

GM: The ghoul beams at the praise. There’s no hesitation as she picks the latter.

Good things come to those who wait.

Celia: Celia pats her cheek. She tells the girl to get rid of the tourist for her and that she’ll be occupied for the next several hours between the visits with her brother and then Savoy. She mentions that she’s going to Riverbend, and leaves the rest unsaid: if she goes missing or fails to show for her meeting later alert Mel, who will alert Savoy, and the two ghouls are to go to ground. Contingency plans and all that.

Celia packs a small bag to take with her to Tulane. It contains her outfit for her eventual meeting with Savoy, just in case things take longer with her brother than she thinks they will. She doesn’t bother to change from her work attire to go see him; she’d already been dressed in flared yoga pants and a blouse, which will fit in just as well among the college students as it does here.

She waves goodbye to Alana and heads out. She dampens her ‘aura’ (she still thinks that’s a silly word sometimes) before leaving. Celia Flores is a perfectly ordinary breather going to see her breather brother. Nothing to see here.

GM: It’s a 16-minute drive from Flawless to Tulane. No one stops Celia along the way from entering Vidal’s territory. Ordinary breather. Still, she knows it’s best not to linger: there are semi-periodic patrols against trespassers. She parks her car and gets out by Barbara Greenbaum House, a four- and six-story residential hall (one of the wings is raised over the others) with room for hundreds of students. Celias’s Beast licks its chops at the thought of so many vessels lying helpless in their beds. It’s not too hungry, after her recent meal, but the thirst is never entirely gone.

Barbara_Greenbaum_House.jpg
Barbara_Greenbaum_House.jpg
But there is something to see here. Tulane’s campus is emptier at this hour of the evening, but Jade runs into a number of avid female coeds who go, “Oh hey! You’re Celia Flores!” “Omigod, I follow your Instagram!” “Can we take your selfie?” “What are you doing at Tulane?” “Do you have a boyfriend here?”

Celia: Celia wonders at the wisdom of appearing here in her mortal face. She could have ducked into a bathroom and changed later. Worn sunglasses. Something to keep the kine from recognizing her.

But, really, how many of her type follow Instagram? How will any of them know? The only ones who know her face are on her side, plus the sheriff, and technically it’s his territory, and if she’s not feeding…

Her mind does the mental gymnastics that make this okay. She smiles for her fans, such as they are, and denies the boyfriend question with an, “I’m perfectly content with just the one.” She poses for a handful of photos, asks them to wait to post those until tomorrow because she’s here as a surprise and doesn’t want to spoil it, and moves on to find her brother’s room.

Celia: Besides, she reasons in regard to her sire, negative attention is still attention.

GM: But they all think she’s pretty.

They all want to be in her pictures.

They all want to look like her.

Some of them probably even want to be her.

There are worse wants to be the subject of. The miserable trek into the sewers seems an increasingly distant memory.

Celia: She doesn’t have long, she tells them, thanks so much for your shares and follows, be sure to tag her when they post (tomorrow!) so she can see them too.

She loves the attention. She really does. It’s sweeter than the blood of the sire she is so intent on avoiding this evening. And it’s that thought—being dragged before him, in trouble, arousing his ire—that gets her feet moving, that makes her answers a little more firm as she extricates herself from the crowd.

Of course her sire is not the only one of her kind to stalk the vast grounds and halls of Tulane (nor can she actually imagine him here amongst the booze-soaked, party kine); she is aware from both her own time here as well as current events that there are others to whom the regent grants feeding rights, and she keeps her eyes constantly moving for any who might fit that description.

So she can avoid them, naturally.

GM: The coeds all promise Celia that they will wait to post the photos and wave as she takes off. At least for now, she spots none of her fellow Kindred… though the college campus is an excellent feeding ground, and she can readily imagine her grandsire telling her she is wise not to linger.

She pulls out her Solaris on the way to Logan’s dorm.

The photos are already up and getting likes.

The girls have tagged her, at least.

Celia: Well. She supposes she’ll just need to bank on the fact that no one is watching her feed. That her kind don’t care enough about Celia Flores to pay attention. That anyone who is doesn’t know that she doesn’t quite belong here.

Maybe they’re not geotagged. Maybe there’s no obvious Tulane buildings in the background. She scrolls through the photos as she walks toward the dorm, sending a quick text to her brother to let him know that she’s here.

Hey L. Came to visit my baby bro. What room are you in again?

GM: oh hey sis. 312.

Celia: She heads up the stairs, taking them two at a time instead of opting for the often overcrowded elevator. A moment later she’s at his door, knocking.

GM: And a moment later he’s at the door, answering. Logan Flores is a tall, blonde-haired and brown-eyed 19-year-old boy with a clean-shaven face. His figure is pretty buff. He played football in high school, just like his old man did, though he’s dropped football in college in favor of the ROTC. It remains to be seen whether that will win Dad’s approval.

“Celia. Hey,” he says at the door, wrapping his arms around her in a hug.

Celia: Celia doesn’t need to feign the smile at the sight of her brother. She’s pretty sure he had another growth spurt since the last time she saw him, too, or maybe it’s because she’s in flats instead of heels. Regardless, it looks like he’s been working out, and the hug he gives her is practically enveloping.

“Hey, Log.” Pronounced with a long ‘O’ instead of likening him to a stick. “How’s your semester coming along? Can I come in for a minute?”

GM: “Yeah, sure,” he says, letting go after a moment.

Logan’s dorm room is fairly typical of an affluent college student. He has it all to himself, for one: no roommate’s second bed. There’s an American flag draped over the wall, along with a wooden crucifix, a high school football banner, and a Make America Great Again campaign poster. There’s also a few family photos. One is of his high school graduation, dressed in a cap and gown with a proud-looking Maxen clapping an arm around his shoulder. The second picture shows a middle school-age Logan, awkwarder-looking but still big, lifting up a smiling Diana in his arms. Her expression all but proclaims, ‘look how strong my boy is!’. The last picture shows Celia’s brother in his football uniform.

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There’s also the usual laptop, assorted textbooks and binders, and dirty clothes and dishes. Logan looks like he’s trying to be more cleanly, and even succeeding, but still has a bit of a ways to go. He clears some of the school stuff from his bed and offers Celia a spot.

“Want something to drink?”

“And semester’s going pretty good. Have to be up really early for those ROTC runs, but getting used to it.”

Celia: She does, but she’s not going to take it from her brother.

“No, thank you, I just had a full meal.”

GM: “Okay. How’s the business? There’s a bunch of girls in my classes who all follow your Instagram.”

He heads back from the fridge to plop down on the bed.

Celia: “Glad to hear things are going well. Morning runs sound super yucky, though.” Celia makes a face. She takes the offered seat on his bed, pulling one leg up to sit more casually. Her eyes take in the room, then settle on the brother sitting next to her.

“Business is going great. I just saw Mom earlier today. And yeah, I can tell your classmates follow me; I was practically mobbed on my way in, ha.”

“Made it a little awkward to get the visit in, to be honest. Trying for discretion and there’s a bunch of co-eds screaming my name. I ever tell you about the time I was meeting someone for a date and was accosted by an overzealous fan?”

GM: “Oh. Man. That had to be awkward. How’d you play it?”

Celia: “He was pretty mad about it. Said something about ‘why do you always put your fans ahead of our relationship,’ ’can’t even go out without a camera on you,’ that kind of thing. Super awkward. Didn’t last long. Messy breakup. Before I met Randy, of course.” Celia shrugs, gives him a wry smile. “How’re things with your lady friend?”

GM: “Yeah. Well. Sounds like he was an asshole if he couldn’t be happy for you,” Logan smiles back. The expression lapses, though, at Celia’s question. “Uh. We aren’t really talking. Had a fight. Might be the end.”

“Oh well. Wasn’t gonna last past college anyway, when I commission.”

Celia: “He was definitely an asshole,” Celia agrees. She makes a sympathetic noise at her brother’s reveal.

“Anything worth fighting about? Thought you two were pretty cozy.”

GM: “Just…” Logan waves vaguely. “Stuff. Like that.”

“I dunno. Maybe she’ll be happier with another guy.”

Celia: “Maybe. Are you happy, though?”

GM: “I really, really wish I’d gone to West Point,” Logan sighs, rubbing his head.

“Like, Dad knows congressmen. He could’ve asked the Malveauxes. All the guys who go to West Point are the ones who run things.”

Celia: “Transfer. Get in on your own merit instead of asking Dad. If that’s what you want to do, then do it.”

“But if you’re only doing it to please Dad…” Celia trails off.

GM: “I’m not!” says Logan. “I wanna serve our country. I want to stop terrorists and be the good guy. It beats being a lawyer like David.” Her brother glowers. “He’s such a wuss.”

“But, no way I’m getting into West Point on my own.”

Celia: “Why?”

GM: “‘Cuz you need to be top of your class in, like, everything. And you need a congressional nomination, or a service-connected nomination. You literally can’t get in without one. And we don’t have any service nominations.”

Celia: “Right. I remember you talking about the nomination. I thought that’s why you joined ROTC, so you could ask one of them about it.”

“So you put your nose to the grindstone here, stay at the top of your classes, finish out the year, maybe next, and transfer. What’s your GPA?”

GM: “No, I joined ROTC ’cuz it was too late for West Point!” Logan says, frustrated. “And, they don’t like transfers as much. They want freshmen. If you transfer you actually start all over again as a freshman, ‘cuz they don’t think the ROTC is good enough.”

“My GPA’s, I think a 3.0.”

Celia: No wonder he’s so angry. That’s lower than hers had been.

“Did you ask Dad for a nomination, before?”

GM: “Dad can’t nominate me! He’s only a state congressman!” Logan exclaims, angrier.

Celia: “That’s not what I asked. I asked if you asked him to get one for you.”

GM: “No, I didn’t, ‘cause it’s too late! I decided to do ROTC after I got accepted into Tulane, remember? Dad chewed me out all over it.”

Celia: “Logan, just take a breath for me, okay?” Celia pauses. Waits for him to do so. “Do you need West Point in order to serve your country? Or can you finish here, continue with ROTC, and move on from there? You’ll be a commissioned officer, won’t you? That’s already leagues above someone joining with nothing.”

GM: Logan takes a breath.

“There’s tons of officers. I mean, so what. It’s nothing special. Anyone with a BA can be an officer. It’s the ones who go to West Point who basically run everything.”

Celia: “So you’ve got an uphill battle. And, as you just said, there isn’t anything you can do about it now. Can you make the most of what you do have access to?”

“Alternatively… do you need to go into the military to serve the country? You said, specifically, ‘stop terrorists’ and ‘fight bad guys,’ and you don’t have to do military service to do either one of those. What’s your plan? FBI? CIA? NSA? Other acronyms that are too secret for either one of us to know?” She grins.

GM: “The NSA’s for nerds, the CIA gets a million applicants, and the FBI’s, I dunno, I like the military more. I’d like to get out of here and see the world and just blow the shit out of some terrorists.”

“Look, read this.”

Logan pulls up a page on his phone and shows it to Celia:

“My most memorable moments were two that were almost identical. It was when I dropped a hellfire missile into four Taliban sitting cross-legged, indian style in a circle de-briefing their attack on us. I put a hellfire into the middle of them. Actually I put two hellfires in the middle for good measure. Watching the screen go white and then watching their fucking body parts fly everywhere, some of them were twitching, and knowing that I just fucking killed these guys. I just ended their lives. It’s a sense of joy and happiness that I’d only felt when I was a basketball coach. I coached a high school rec team when I was in college and I had this one kid on my team who was the scrub. I spent a lot of time with this kid just teaching him basic shit and he ended up scoring the last point of a game at the buzzer. I don’t remember if it was to win the game, but I remember the joy I saw on his face. There was joy in the stands, with his teammates, and obviously with me as the coach. That was the single most joyous moment of my life until I killed those fucking pieces of shit. And you can see the smile on my face right now, right (laughs)? I’m beaming from ear-to-ear thinking about killing those fucking people. I’ll never forget that. I just remember thinking, ’I’ll probably never feel this happy again.’ And actually it was the next day when I dropped a hellfire into the middle of five of them.”

Her brother grins at her.

“I mean, isn’t that just. Just, holy shit?”

Celia: Celia’s eyes scan the screen of the offered phone. She reads. She reads, then reads again, and wonders where her parents went wrong.

She killed someone last night. Mutilated bodies. Taken people apart, skin, viscera, muscle, sinew, all of it. Turned a gunshot victim into a blood bag. Raped an innocent boy. Plans a vile punishment for when her ghoul comes crawling back to her.

And it still isn’t as bad as the thought of watching the downward spiral that her brother is edging closer and closer to.

But she smiles back at him.

“Is it the killing or the fact that they’re a bunch of towel-headed, Allah worshipping A-rabs that’s got you into it?”

GM: “Well, that they’re towel-headed A-rabs. They’re total pieces of shit. I showed this to one girl in my class who’s a total libtard and went on all about how killing is wrong, and I said these guys are pieces of shit who make women wear veils and carried out 9/11 and blow up thousand-year-old statues because they aren’t Muslim enough.”

“Like, these people are just cartoon-level evil. World’s a better place without them.”

Celia: “Ugh. I wouldn’t even bother with girls like that. Or people like that. Anyone who makes blanket statements like that probably need to have their head surgically removed from their ass.”

GM: “Yeah. I was just showing it to her for laughs.”

Celia: “Riling them up though, that’s fun.”

“She get indignant? Red-faced?”

GM: He grins. “Yeah. She looked like she was gonna explode, that’s how red her face turned.”

“I, uh. I also might’ve showed it to Mom.”

Celia: “That…” Celia stares at him. “That might not have been the best call.”

GM: “Eh heh. Yeah. It… I’d just got really excited.”

Celia: “What did she say?”

GM: “Well, she just made this sort of, puckering expression, and her eyebrows went really up. Then ‘oh my lord’ or ‘oh my heavens’ or something like that.”

“I, uh. Kinda regretted it.”

“I was just showing it to basically everyone I knew. It really inspired me.”

Celia: “I bet. What about when they pull out of there, though? What’re you gonna do after you’re done blowin’ ’em up?”

GM: “Well, we’re sort of always in wars. There’s always more bad guys.”

Celia: “Yeah, but like… at what point are you gonna be the guy pushin’ papers instead of on the ground, you know?”

GM: “Well, highest rank still deployed on the field is a colonel. I mean, plenty guys don’t ever make colonel. Though by that point it’s not like you’re blowing them up yourself, yeah.”

“I dunno. Maybe I’ll stick with it, or go into politics. There’s lots of congresspeople who become captains and then go into public service.”

Celia: “I dated a guy a few years back. Real macho guy. Ex-military. Same ideas as you. OIder, though, so he was getting out right around when 9/11 happened. Told me that when he took his test he scored so high they put him into a special unit, secret base, all sorts of stuff. He didn’t quite say it, but he heavily implied his job was to get information out of people.”

There’s a pause while she eyes her brother.

“Think you’d be into that, or would you rather do it from afar, pressing buttons?”

GM: “I’d rather do it up close,” Logan says. “Like, I think you kinda owe it, in a way. To do it yourself.”

Celia: “Something real impersonal about a gun, yeah.”

GM: “Well, a gun’s pretty personal. I mean pressing buttons.”

“I guess someone’s gotta to do it. But it’s not as, it doesn’t feel as honest.”

Celia: “When Em was going through med school, she told me that they had to work on cadavers. Rip them open, operate on them, things like that. Dead flesh and all. She said a couple people fainted the first time, and one of the boys withdrew.” Celia gives him a look. “Couldn’t handle it. Lotta cops who leave the force after killing someone too.”

GM: “I can handle it,” Logan proclaims.

Celia: “Maybe we should find out. Got any enemies?” she smirks.

GM: He laughs. “I wish.”

“Just campus libtards, but they’re not terrorists.”

Celia: “Well, at least you’ve got a code.”

GM: “That’s the difference between us and them.”

“Though Noelle Cherry and Bill Jay Roberts might be kinda close to enemies.”

Celia: “Those are Dad’s enemies,” Celia points out, “not yours.”

GM: “Well, his enemies are my enemies. And so are yours and Mom’s and everyone else’s.”

He wraps an arm around Celia’s shoulder. “You got any guys who are giving you a hard time, stalking you, whatever, ‘cuz you’re so popular, just lemme know. I’ll beat the crap out of them.”

Celia: “Aww.” Celia ruffles his hair with her hand. “I’ll let you know. You’re the best brother a stalked famous person could have.”

GM: Logan beams.

Celia: “Maybe I’ll have you work security at this event coming up, see if you can keep the hordes of people at bay. Get you a bat to break some kneecaps. You got some free time for me?”

GM: “Yeah, absolutely!” her little brother nods. “What’s the event?”

Celia: She tells him about it. High society kind of thing, the type of place she’ll need to wear her Celia face to. She doesn’t expect trouble, but every time she’s out in public she’s mercilessly hounded, and she tells him about a stalker she had a few years back when she was just getting everything off the ground with her business. Obsessed, she told him. Followed her on social media, followed her in person, it was all pretty creepy. Even attacked her one night, too.

“Would’ve been nice to have you there, then. Never know when the crazies are going to strike.”

GM: “Geez, you never said anything about this!” Logan exclaims. “What’s this asshole’s name?”

Celia: “Doesn’t matter,” Celia says, shaking her head. “I handled it. And he’s dead now, anyway.”

“Also you were like, prepubescent. Like this tall.” Celia holds her hand a foot off the bed.

GM: “Wait, he’s dead? What happened there?”

Celia: “Think he flipped his car.”

“Doesn’t matter,” she waves a hand, “it was years and years ago. And now I’ve got you watchin’ out for me, yeah?”

GM: Logan nods. “Damn, though. That’s crazy. I guess that’s the dark side of being famous.”

“Still, though. You’re famous and you’ve got your own business and everything. You’re really successful.”

“I know you don’t like to talk with him, but… Dad’s proud. He really is.”

Celia: There’s a moment of silence.

Finally, she says, “Is he really? Did… did he tell you that?”

GM: Logan nods. “Yeah. We were just talking about things we’d all done and he said you were really successful, and that he was proud of that.”

Celia: “That’s… that’s really nice to hear. Thanks, Logan.”

GM: “You’re welcome. Have you thought about… maybe seeing him again?”

Celia: “I, uh… I kind of thought he didn’t want to, to be honest.”

GM: “Well. He’s proud.”

Celia: “Doesn’t mean he wants to see me,” Celia points out. “Unless he told you otherwise.”

GM: “Our family’s weird. Dad and you don’t talk. Mom and Grandma don’t talk. Dad and Mom don’t talk. Mom and Isabel don’t talk. You and Isabel don’t talk.”

“Like, our whole family hates each other. What happened to us?”

Celia: “We let ourselves fall apart. We weren’t there for each other, not when it mattered.”

GM: “Oh, and Mom and Prudence don’t talk, forgot one.”

Celia: “Isabel and I exchanged a few letters. While she was at Liberty.”

GM: “How’d those go?”

Celia: “Not… terrible?” She winces. “Could have been better, we had a rocky start. I guess I just… when Mom and Dad split, she and I took opposite sides. I know you were young, but it got ugly a few times between us, and we were both really angry for a long time. I think her being away let me put things into perspective. She’s my sister, you know? So now… now with her being in Sudan, you know, it’s like, ‘how long is she going to be gone? What if she settles down over there and I never get to see her again?’ And that doesn’t sit right with me, so the effort has been more, as of late.”

“Why, got some tips for me on how to get through to her?”

GM: “Well, that’s good,” says Logan. “I haven’t been in touch with her a lot because, like you say, Sudan. She can be… pretty bossy. I mean, after… after you and Mom left, she kinda had to be. Dad called her the ‘lady of the house.’ I just remember this time she was giving me a bath and really scrubbing me to get all the dirt off, and…”

Logan kind of shrugs.

“Maybe just… show you know it’s been hard for her, too.”

“Plus that whole accident with her toe made it all extra hard.”

Celia: “I still don’t even understand what happened there.”

GM: “I don’t really remember a lot either. The others all said we were just going from house to house to house like ping-pong balls. Because of court stuff. Mom and Dad fighting.”

Celia: “It was a pretty turbulent time, all the way around.”

“She never said anything more about it? And with that… really, really ugly scandal?”

GM: “Oh. Yeah. There was how her face, in those videos… I think that’s kinda why she went to Sudan.”

“Just, even though they were fake… everyone still talking about her.”

Celia: “I kind of figured as much, honestly. I can’t imagine being at the center of something like that.”

GM: “Yeah. I mean, worse when you’re a girl, I guess.”

“And Mom didn’t have her face in the news, so… maybe Isabel kinda blames her.”

Celia: “Pretty sure Isabel blames her for more than that. I kind of feel bad for Mom sometimes, since she doesn’t talk to anyone else in her family. We’re all she’s got.”

“But yeah. I guess I just didn’t put it into perspective, that she bore the brunt of all that. Maybe I’ll give her a call. Anything you want me to pass on?”

GM: “Well, Dad doesn’t really talk to his family outside of us either, so I guess him and Mom have that in common.”

Celia: “Dad’s family is complicated, though.”

She hadn’t realized the parallels until the words were out of her mouth. Huh.

GM: “Giving Isabel a call sounds like a good thing to do, though. Sudan has to be pretty lonely.”

“Hey, you know you can talk over WhatsApp to avoid getting charged for international calls?”

Celia: “I didn’t know that, actually. I’ll have to try it. Thanks for the tip. Like I said, best baby brother a girl could ask for.”

GM: Logan smiles. “Yeah. I’ll definitely use it if I get sent overseas.”

“Oh, how’s Lucy, by the way?”

Celia: “She’s good. Doing really well. You should see her dance; so much better than I was at her age, all elbows and knees. Mom’s been a real gem with the childcare.”

GM: “Yeah, she basically lives with Mom, it seems like. It’s pretty cool to be an uncle though.”

Celia: “I bet. I’m sure Mom can’t wait for the rest of you to pop some babies out. She told me about that time you got her hyped up on sugar just before bed time, you know.” Celia gives him a look. “I’m just saying when it’s your turn, turnabout is fair play.”

GM: Logan grins. “Yeah, yeah. She doesn’t have to worry. I want a really big family too.”

Celia: “You could get a motorcycle. Be the cool uncle.”

GM: “Ha. That’s an idea. The whole motorcycle culture is pretty interesting.”

“I… feel kinda bad how Dad never gets to see Lucy,” he then says.

“I mean, he’s her grandpa, and he’s never even met her. And I think he really wants to.”

Celia: “Considering our extremely strained relationship and the things he said to me when he found out I was pregnant, I don’t really think it’s going to happen. That would take some serious apologizing and making amends on his end.”

GM: “Don’t you think it would be better, if we all actually talked and saw each other?”

Celia: “Logan, honestly, I wish it were different. I wish Dad and I got along, and Isabel and I got along, and that none of the stuff that ever happened to our family happened. I really do. I wish it never got bad and I could take back all the mistakes I made. But I can’t just wish and make something happen. It takes two parties. And Dad hasn’t called me, either, it’s not like I’m just ignoring him.”

GM: “Well, someone has to start it, though.”

“You can’t, like, both call at the same time.”

Celia: “At this point I wouldn’t even know what to say to him.”

GM: “Maybe just, you miss having a dad?”

Celia: Somehow she doesn’t think there will be a tearful reunion with hugging and exchanged sentiments if she were to see him again. Even so, it’s there inside of her, a little spark of something she doesn’t want to put a name to. It’s been tucked away for so long that she thought it was gone, but this conversation brings her right back to it.

It brings with it the night he’d made her stay up cooking. The time she’d introduced him to Stephen. The way his hands had felt as they came down on her, hard. The smell of blood. Her mother’s screams. The “eh-eh-eh-eh” from the tape.

Isabel’s broken smile.

“I’ll think about it.”

Maxen belongs to someone else. She can’t talk to him even if she wants to without breaking a bunch of rules and stepping on toes. Like she’s breaking by being here, even if she isn’t feeding.

“I should head out soon.”

GM: “Oh. Sure,” Logan says, getting up from the bed.

“But for what it’s worth… he hasn’t dated. At all. Like, not even once.”

“I mean, obviously, that isn’t you. It’s just… I think Mom and you left a really big hole in his heart.”

Celia: She thinks about telling him why he hasn’t dated. That she’d had this conversation once with him, after Mom had left.

And it’s like a little bulb goes off in her head. She closes her mouth. Hugs her brother tightly.

“Thanks, Logan. I’ll see what I can do to… to fix it.”

GM: He hugs her back. Lifts her up several inches as he does.

“Okay, sis. Love you lots.”

Celia: “Love you lots,” she says, laughing, as he puts her back down. “I’ll let you know about the party. Don’t be a stranger, Logan. You know I like hearing from all of you.”

GM: “Yeah. Me too,” he smiles back.

“Um. Also. I… hit Erin. When I was really mad.”

“What should I do?”

Celia: The mirth fades as quickly as it came. She looks him up and down. Debates what the best thing is to say to him that will get through.

“Erin is my size, isn’t she? So you’re… this much bigger than her. And you hit her.” She makes a noise that’s like a sigh, shaking her head.

“I won’t lecture you on how it was wrong. You know it was or you wouldn’t have said anything to me about it. You could try apologizing, but she doesn’t have to forgive you. Ever.”

GM: “I did say sorry, yeah. She hasn’t said anything back.”

Celia: “But the issue here is deeper. It’s that you thought it was okay to hit her in the first place. You were on edge when I came in. Do you have an outlet for that rage?”

GM: “I didn’t think it was okay! I just… I was just in a really bad mood, and she was being kind of a bitch, and it just… happened. I wish I could take it back but I can’t.”

Celia: “Hey.” Celia lays a hand on his arm. “You don’t need to explain it to me. I get it. I understand that rage. Trust me, I do.”

“Do you want to fix it? Or do you want to learn from it and move on?”

GM: “Well, why not both?”

Celia: “Because you can’t make someone else forgive you for something.”

GM: “I guess not. It’s just being the better person.”

Celia: “And look at it this way: if I told you that I forgave my stalker for attacking me, what would you think about that?”

GM: “Okay, that’d be pretty fucking crazy. He hasn’t done anything to be worth forgiving.”

Celia: “He’s Lucy’s dad.”

GM: Logan blinks. “Wait, what?”

Celia: “It’s a really long story. I’ll tell you, but I want to get you through this first.”

GM: “I wanna hear this! Did he… did he rape you!?”

Celia: “No.”

“We were together. We broke up. He started stalking me.”

“It doesn’t matter. It was years and years ago, and he’s dead. So that’s the end of that.”

GM: “Oh. Wow.” Logan blinks. “That’s… that’s really heavy.”

Celia: “That’s why I asked. What if I told you, after he hit me, I wanted to go back to him?”

GM: “Well… was he really sorry about it?”

Celia: “Maybe. What I’m saying, Logan, is that Erin and I were once in the same position. If she were me, would you tell her to forgive you?”

GM: “I… I guess not… and I haven’t. It’s just that I’m not a bad guy and I hope she could see that.”

“But, if she can’t, maybe we just aren’t right for each other.”

Celia: “Then show her that. But show her from a distance. That will mean more than any apologies. Give her space. Let’s find you an outlet for your rage. I have a few ideas, I just need to talk to some people first.”

GM: “Oh, yeah, you asked. We do a fair amount of physical stuff, for ROTC, and I work out outside of that. But it’s not really like football was.”

Celia: “That’s not the same as what I have in mind.”

GM: “Beating up your stalkers?” he smirks faintly.

Celia: “Something like that. Something outside of the rules of polite society.”

GM: “Wow, okay. I’m behind that. Healthy outlet.”

Celia: “Beats beating women.” She smiles, though, to take the sting from her words, and nudges him with her elbow. “For what it’s worth… I’m glad you told me. The fact that you did and that you want to fix it means you’re not a monster, you know?”

GM: “Yeah. I’m… glad to hear that.”

“I told Mom and I think she told Emily, cause she gave me a total earful.”

Celia: “Anything worth repeating?”

GM: “I hung up,” he says flatly. “Not to be sexist or anything, but… women can be nags in a way guys just can’t, you know?”

Celia: “I was just about to tell you that she gave me an earful for having a glass of wine before dinner,” Celia confides, “so I definitely get it.”

GM: “Well, you’re 27, you can have a glass if you wanna.”

Celia: “That’s what I said.”

“Women, right?” Celia rolls her eyes at him.

GM: “Haha. Right, women. Though I guess guys can be pretty thick too in their own way.”

Celia: “We’ve all got our issues.” She grins. “But, yeah, to sum it up, my advice is to leave her alone now that you’ve apologized, and to let me borrow some of your evenings to show you a better way to release that anger. I think you’ll like it.”

GM: “Okay, that sounds good. Text me about whenever.”

Celia: “Will do. And you know my door is always open if you need me. Take it easy, Logan.”

GM: “I know. You too.” He hugs her again.

Celia: She lingers momentarily, soaking up all the feelings of being human again that she can get from her brother hugging her. It’s a warmth she doesn’t get from others of her kind, a goodness she can’t find within Kindred society. Even knowing that he has rage problems, even hearing that he’d hit his girlfriend, she doesn’t think he’s nearly as bad as the people like her.

Before she goes she nabs the hoodie that’s slung over the back of his chair and tells him it’s to avoid the stalkers on the way to her car.

It’s worrying, she thinks, this obsession he has with wanting to blow people up, but maybe… maybe she can fix it. It’s not too late for him.

She touches a hand to his arm at the door, smiling up at him. He isn’t so far gone that he can’t come back.

Maybe her family isn’t as broken as she thought.


Monday night, 7 March 2016, PM

Celia: There’s something to be said for the differences in dealing with the members of her family. Her mother is handled with kid gloves and velveteen coated lies. Lucy with cotton candy smiles. Logan with patient understanding and shared joy over torment.

And Isabel… Isabel needs a firmer hand, Celia thinks. She has been thinking for some time now on how to play this, on the best way to begin mending the fence that their parent’s fighting cast down upon them. It isn’t fair, she thinks, that someone else’s actions were what began to throw shade over the sunny garden that could have been their relationship.

Perhaps it is Logan’s words that got through to her. Or perhaps it is just that opportunity came knocking late one night, and now she just needs a moment to kill time before her meeting with the lord of the French Quarter.

Hustler.jpg
The store is on her way back to the spa. Hustler Hollywood, it’s on the far end of Bourbon Street near Canal, right next to a Walgreens. The neon light beckons to her, a guide toward the double doors that lead into the depraved fantasy world beyond. It’s amusing to see the looks of tourist kine as their eyes scan the front of the shop window, decorated with a display of mannequins in various poses with gauzy lingerie, strap-ons, and leather paddles dangling from their wrists. It’s amusing to see the disgust as mothers pull their children closer, avert their gazes, cover their eyes with their hands. She wonders, sometimes, why there is even anyone allowed on the street that is under the legal drinking age. Do they expect sunshine and rainbows in a place like this?

She pushes open the front doors.

The first floor is lingerie. Body suits, dresses, thongs, heels that are so impossibly high she can’t even fathom how someone would walk in them. DVDs, too, for those people who are too old or too dumb to know how to find what they want online. Purses, necklaces, body jewelry. She lingers for a moment in front of the glass case with the jewelry, eying the contents. She could get something for Alana. One of those body chains that attaches to throat and nipple, or perhaps the one with the extra chain that would clip around her clit. She wonders, idly, if the ghoul would submit to a piercing. A set of piercings. Ones that buzz when Jade presses a button.

Of course she would. She’s a good girl.

But Jade isn’t here for Alana tonight. She’s here for another reason, so she takes the stairs in the middle of the floor that lead to the second story, where things get a little more risque. This is where they keep the toys. The handcuffs and dildos and lube, the strap-ons and vibrators and leather cuffs and collars. She gravitates toward the section that looks more like it belongs in a dungeon than a sex shop, aisles lined with whips and chains and prong collars, electrical devices, paddles. And there, on their very own shelf, sits a collection of gags. Ball gags, o-ring gags, double ring gags, tube gags, gags with little silicone cocks that fit neatly into the mouth, gags with lips, gags with hooks, gags with straps that go across the whole face, dental gags, hooded gags, spider gags. Some are metal, some are leather, some are silicone or latex.

She takes her time perusing the selection. Her brother’s words and her own desire to fix what she broke play in her mind. But she cannot pretend her special visitor is not dangerous, and that if said visitor were to discover her secrets and spill them to the Kindred society at large there would not be problems. So Jade opts for a whole kit. A face mask with an open mouth where she can put the steel gag. Mittens to cover the hands, little booties for the feet.

She puts it all into a basket and tosses in an item or two for Alana, as well. Maybe one day she’ll collar Randy, she thinks, once he learns to submit. Perhaps a gag for him. She laughs at the thought, drawing a look from a nearby patron, and she winks at him as she walks away. Her hips swing with each step. She pays for her items. Loads them up into the car. Finds another parking spot nearer her own domain, Bourbon Heat. This time of night the party is already in full swing, and it’s to loud music and strobe effects that Jade walks into the door. Bodies twist and writhe on the floor.

She buys a drink. She pretends to sip, eyes scanning the floor for what she needs. Someone with a crucifix, maybe a pair of cross earrings. Someone who loves Jesus.

GM: Bourbon Heat is partying. Like always.

Club.jpg
Club.jpg
Club.jpg
Hundreds of bodies are packed into the nightclub like sardines, writhing and undulating to pounding club music. Jade can all but smell their lust and sweaty desperation. The pungent musk is no less prevalent at the bar, where sharply-dressed, cool-eyed human predators leisurely pick out victims from among the throngs. Other individuals stare at the dance floor with drooping eyes as they hold hands to skulls pounding from one laced drink too many. Some of the predators molest them in plain view of the crowd, while others half-lead, half-drag their prey away to bathrooms where they may satisfy appetites even this jaded public cannot countenance. Yelling, sneering, and laughing faces are ghoulishly illuminated by the pulsating blue and red lights. The entire city seems present in the club in microcosm, driven by the knowledge that it will be old one day and no longer free to indulge its appetites. Better dance, drink, and fuck its way to an early oblivion.

Love for Jesus appears all-too scarce in this house of sin.

But it’s not overlong before the attractive Toreador starts to receive attention. There aren’t as many guys who follow her social media accounts as there are girls, but there’s still some. A smirking, green-haired young man in a spiked leather jacket, fob chain, and t-shirt that reads ‘FUCK YOU’ strikes up a conversation.

“I had a girlfriend who was really into your makeup vids,” he remarks.

He slips something into Jade’s drink while he probably thinks she isn’t looking.

Celia: Ah, well, Jade supposes that the mark was a guess anyway, and she doesn’t have the required time this evening to be picky. One juicebag will work as well as another.

The predators, though, those pose a challenge of another kind. A game of cat and mouse and they don’t know which they are until her fangs have sunk into their neck or wrist to draw that delicious meal forth. It would be all to easy to scoop up an overly indulged tourist or co-ed, but where oh where is the enjoyment in that?

She doesn’t even need to seek one out. He comes to her, this green haired bravado, and she plays the role of Jade oh-so-well when it’s male eyes on her. She smiles at him.

“She has good taste.” Her eyes linger on his body as she speaks the words. She reaches out to touch one of the spikes on his jacket. “Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve always admired a man in leather.”

She gives the boy the opportunity he needs to feel like a man when he spikes her drink. She takes another pretend sip. Roofies? She pulses with the music, lets the boy chatter in her ear, inane comments that mean nothing in the grand scheme of things. The minutes tick by, her cup gets ever lower. Spilled across the floor, another sticky residue for the cleaners in the morning.

At some point she sways, leaning against him. Her words slur. Thanks, Randy, for the practice.

Find my car, take me home, go somewhere quieter; does it really matter what she says?

It doesn’t, in the end. It doesn’t really matter what she says or to whom she says it to, not in a place like this, not to a boy like him. Everyone here wants the same thing anyway: to escape from their problems. To find a partner to rub up against on the floor, someone to take home to ease the ache of the emptiness in their hearts for a night, to quench that fire in their loins.

She doesn’t feel anything about it anymore, particularly not when the kine are so eager to show off that they’re rotten people at their core. Predators are bad for business, anyway. So she leans on him on their way out the door, giggles at what comes out of his mouth, leads him to her car. Of course I can drive, she tells him, and that’s that.

They’re back at the spa in no time at all. She takes him inside to find her other visitor, the one receiving this present wrapped in studded leather and profanity-ridden shirts. She passes him off to Alana and tells the ghoul to keep an eye on him for a moment while she prepares a room.

She takes a moment to walk back to the car to retrieve her purchases.

GM: The boy looks amused at Jade’s suggestion she can drive, but doesn’t stop her. Maybe what he’s given her is slow-acting. Maybe he doesn’t give a fuck. Maybe he’s just being stupid.

Why does anyone do anything.

He’s reluctant to leave Jade’s side at first, but Alana presents such a tempting treat. When the ghoul starts making sexual advances, he finally follows her off. Jade supposes it makes the need for date rape drugs is redundant.

Unless he gets off to that.

Not impossible. People can be cruel. Vampires aren’t the only predators among the kine.

One might not even be the only predator here.

Jade almost doesn’t notice it at first, amidst the flow of traffic. But there’s only so much traffic in the Vieux Carre.

There’s another car. Plain and unassuming.

Following hers.

Waiting outside the spa.

Celia: Well this has certainly made for an interesting evening. A predator inside the club, and now a hunter outside the spa. Lonely fan? Police detective? Stalker? Could be a jealous girlfriend, maybe the one he mentioned earlier.

Or it could be someone following her from Tulane. Someone who saw her there. Kine? Kindred? Logan? The boy from the Hustler store?

There are only so many ways to find out.

She makes sure that her Celia mask is firmly in place. Draws that predatory smell into her body, so people like her won’t react, and in its place she projects the one she wants instead: innocence. Celia Flores is just another mortal in yoga pants and a university hoodie, another hard working woman going about her evening.

Her eyes scan the face of the man in the car. She doesn’t recognize him, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.

Her steps take her past his car. Slowly.

Give them the opportunity they need and all, right?

GM: The man in the car doesn’t glance up at Jade. There’s a woman in the seat next to him. Brown hair, maybe in her 30s, casually dressed. They’re both hunched over the same phone screen as an entertainment video plays.

Celia: How anticlimactic, Celia thinks. She’d thought there would be another vessel to add to her collection tonight. A second juicebag for she and her guest to share. She might have even invited a second one in. But three? Three is pure gluttony. Excessive. Decadent, and not in the best way.

She walks right past the car and into the spa, the bags in her arms only a mild inconvenience as she locks the door behind her.

And yet… there’s that niggling thought in the back of her mind. The sense of trouble. Danger.

Her plans for this evening go out the window. It’s unfortunate, but then she really shouldn’t be getting sloppy. Not with this face.

She finds a mask for her mouth and nose, pulls her hair back into a severe bun to keep it off her face, dons a pair of those eyeglasses her lash techs use. The masks, too, are for the lash techs; there’s nothing quite like being in someone’s face and breathing their air, smelling their breath, for an hour or two at a time that makes you want to gag. Hence the masks. Standard practice. Celia doesn’t usually bother with them, but Piper has complained one too many times about clients coming in after their morning coffee, or bringing in the curry or Thai smell from one of the places nearby.

Plus, it’s generally bad form not to wear one during a dermaplaning session. Who wants to inhale all those dead skin cells that are scraped off with a scalpel?

It’s not quite as good a disguise as changing her whole face, she admits, but it’ll do.

She goes to find her guest.

The special one, not the punk.

GM: Celia’s special guest awaits on a steel, cuff-lined table in the Kindred frenzy room. Alana has cleaned it up from the girl’s death, disposing of the unused parts and saving what her mistress can recycle.

The current occupant looks like hell. Her face has been all but ripped to shreds. White bone freshly gleams from under raw, red, claw-shaped tears. She’s missing an eye, along with wholesale clumps of hair and chunks of flesh from lower down across her body. Celia can tell, because her clothes are little more than bloody tatters. The still-intact flesh looks like it’s been through a grain thresher. Hell has chewed her up and spat her out. The wooden stake protruding from her chest almost feels like overkill.

The vampire’s sole remaining, wide open gray eye stares up Celia with hate. Pure, frozen, paralyzed hate.

But, be that as it may.

Logan said she should talk to her sister.

Celia: It’s not her fault.

That’s what Celia tells herself. That it’s not her fault her sister had come after her. Not her fault she’d launched herself at her in a frenzy. Not her fault that Randy did his job and put her down, so easy to do once the girl had been torn to shreds by another.

Celia steps into the room. Her eyes are on her sister, wary. A caged beast, and she’s only made it worse, and the pair of people outside in the car have complicated things. Now she can’t just feed the punk to her.

Maybe it’s better this way. Maybe all that BDSM gear she’d just purchased shouldn’t be used on her sister. She’ll try something else instead. She puts on a new flavor. The face of a friend. The kind of friend you’d spill your secrets to, or maybe even the face of a sister: someone you sit up with late at night with your legs tucked under the covers, blankets over your head, flashlight shared between the two of you while you read from the magazines your parents didn’t want you to have, long after they turned out the lights. Before the monsters crawled out from under the bed.

She uses a scalpel to cut the inside of her wrist, too, and then her fingers to pry open her sister’s mouth so the blood can drip inside.

Nothing by half measures.

GM: At that sanguine taste, a monster overtakes Roxanne’s eye. It bulges in its sockets, the veins red and thick as any flow of blood. That monstrous eye screams for more. It screams to rip Celia to pieces and drink up every last precious drop from her veins.

Fangs visibly bulge in Roxanne’s mouth.

But that is all they can do.

Minutes pass before a sister stares back out from that bruised and bloodied eye.

A frightened sister. A hurt sister. A vulnerable sister.

A sister Celia never had.

But maybe one she could have had.

“She’s still really in her shell,” their mom had said. After Isabel and Diana and the others were all together again.

Maybe Celia could have talked to her. Before that fateful text to Dad.

Who knows what sister she might now have?

Celia: She broke her. Celia did this. Could have fixed it. Could have made any number of choices that would have taken all of them on a different path. Could have —

She pulls herself from the thoughts that threaten to drag her down into the depths of the hell inside her soul.

No one gets anywhere by looking in the rear-view mirror.

“I brought you a snack.” Her voice is muffled by the mask. It seems like overkill now; there’s no way Roxanne doesn’t know who she is. But she doesn’t remove it. “But his friends followed me. Sloppy. I’ll get you another.”

She moves around the table, checking her restraints, making sure everything is set. She had tested this table extensively. It was built to maintain the rage of Kindred much stronger than her sister.

Hopefully it holds.

“The problem is I don’t know what kind you like. Your preferences. I thought maybe someone religious; can you believe the lack of Christians in the French Quarter?”

She doesn’t expect an answer. No way for the girl to answer, really, with the stake still in her.

The scalpel flashes out once more, this time to the side of Roxanne’s arm. She lets the blood cool. Long enough that it shouldn’t cause an issue. Longer than she’s ever waited before, all that talk of ‘safe sex.’ Takes her back to that night.

She doesn’t want to think about that night.

So she counts to ten, fifteen, twenty. Plays the first part of her favorite song in her head. That catchy one that’s always on the radio that she’ll never admit to liking. That’s long enough.

Her finger dips into the blood, brings it to her mouth to taste.

She doesn’t want to think about that night, but there it is. In her head, dragging her down. Her sister spread out just like this, cuffed at wrist and ankle. She’d been smacked around then, too. Bleeding, even. But not like this. Bleeding from between her legs. Bleeding, a puddle of it beneath her on the pink fluffy sheets of Celia’s childhood bed, pink because her mother had been tied there moments before, had endured the same abuse. Red and white make pink.

Celia did that. Both of those. Left her mom that night, let her get kidnapped. Told her dad to tie up her sister.

And he had.

She’s doing this now, too. Her sister came to her broken. Bleeding. And she’d staked her for it.

Like the monster that she is.

The monster inside snarls as the blood hits her tongue. She’s so caught up in memories that she almost doesn’t taste it. But there it is: the information that she’s looking for.

GM: Red and pink. Maybe yellow, too. Or brown.

It’s funny to think about them tied up on the same bed like that.

Did their mom piss or shit herself? Celia can’t remember that particular detail, but she can attest that many people who you do terrible enough things to can lose control of their bowels. So Roxanne, Isabel, whoever (she was Isabel then), was raped on top of her mom’s piss and shit.

Does that make it better, if it came from from your mother? It’s better to sit on your own piss and shit than a stranger’s, she supposes, so is it somewhere in between if it comes from an immediate family member? It’s sort of like asking whether you’d rather find a hair from a family member or a stranger in your food, and the answer to that is a no-brainer.

Then again, maybe Roxanne just didn’t notice.

Or care.

And maybe the bed just went back to white after her dad finished inside her and it dripped out.

Celia might wonder who cleaned that up, anyway.

Awkward to ask Luana to do.

She can’t see her dad doing that himself, either. He didn’t do that after he finished inside her mom, after all. Celia remembers that too. How Diana cupped her hands around her vagina in a mostly futile effort to collect the cum after it pooled out. There went all of Lucy’s brothers and sisters, dribbling between her fingers.

She supposes pain and degradation has always been a Flores birthright.

Next to the memories, the tang of Roxanne’s blood is almost disappointing. It’s been a long time since Celia tasted her sire’s, but the Beast never forgets.

The vitae of these Kindred tastes nothing alike. Not even down to the same clan.

Celia: How long had she hated her? How long had she wanted to wrap her hands around her neck and squeeze until her head popped off? How long had she wanted to have her on her table here, like this, and flay the skin from her body so she could keep it as a souvenir?

She’d thought of so many ways to kill the bitch since she had ruined this new life for Celia simply by existing. She’d worked so hard to conceal her name, her real name, so this interaction never happened.

That’s the truth of it, then: they were sisters once.

They’re not anymore.

Jade buries the hatchet.

She reaches forward to pull the stake from Roxanne’s heart.

“Why did you come here?”

GM: Roxanne doesn’t gasp. Her lungs are dead.

The ravenous, almost dead, still-bleeding, monster just jerks and thrashes against her restraints. Madness burns in her eyes.

She rasps out a single word:

“Blood.”

Celia: Celia leaves the room without a word. The door locks behind her.

Dilemma: feed her the boy and his friends outside know that this was his last seen location. That could bring up problems later on. It’s probably already brought up problems. Feed her the last of the blood from the girl last night and deal with a Kindred who might be on ecstasy. Feed her Alana? No, that’s too big a risk. Celia could feed from Alana, the girl, and the boy… and then spit it back up into a cup. Baby-birding, as it were.

Her Beast snarls at the thought of giving up what belongs to it. Its claws scrape against her insides in warning. No vomiting up the blood, then.

She finds Alana and the boy to see what sort of state they’re in.

GM: They’re fucking on the table. Alana mostly looks bored.

Celia supposes it’s keeping the guy occupied.

Celia: Perfect.

Well, not perfect. There’s a twinge of something territorial at the sight of someone else railing what belongs to her, assuaged only by the glazed look in the ghoul’s eyes.

Celia doesn’t make her presence a secret. She slips behind the pair of them and runs her tongue along her newly lengthened fangs. She bites the boy first, running a hand through that green hair of his while she swallows down his blood, slurping and sucking until she has taken what she needs before licking it closed. She makes the pair of them flip so she can get to Alana next, out of sight of the poorly performing stud. She bites. Drinks. Cups a bare breast in her hand while she does so, fingers pinching her nipple. She whispers to Alana to drug him and get rid of him when she’s done: out the back door, drop him at a club.

Then she’s gone. To find the leftover blood from the girl last night, drug ridden as it is. She pours it into a borrowed mug from the break room. Cuts herself to bleed what she’d just taken into the mug, swirls it around to combine it. Into the microwave to get it hot.

GM: The stud’s poor performance notwithstanding, he’s clearly into Alana. He hoots like a monkey and slaps her tits. She has eyes only for her domitor, though, when the Toreador comes in. She obediently flips, even when it makes the boy curse, and whimpers with pleasure as Celia squeezes her so-firm nipple. She whispers back, “Too glad to,” as her mistress takes her leave.

Celia watches the bug in the microwave go around and around. She covers a dish over it like Mom always said to. Don’t want any precious blood to get over the walls, after all.

Two minutes, for good measure.

Get it piping hot.

She wonders if Roxanne would appreciate her flesh bag.

The mug goes around and around.

Celia feels like she could stare at it for just forever. There’s nothing in the world but her and that microwaving mug. Sight recedes. Sound recedes. Just her and that mug and the lit-up microwave.

Something hard hits her knees, then her chin, and it all goes dark.

Beep-beep goes the microwave.

All done.


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