Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Story Twelve, Emmett IV

“I’m pretty sure none of our decisions panned out how we wanted. Why we’re here, isn’t it?”
Courtney


Date ?

GM: The other two wraiths are waiting when Em gets back, though he can see them through the walls the entire time. Hannah looks a little discomfited. “Just how it had to be,” says Ginger. “It was him or us.”

Emmett: “He got seventy years to do whatever he wanted,” Em adds. “And he chose to spend it doing that. Don’t beat yourself up over it too much, Hannah.”

GM: “I guess so.” She blinks slowly. “Is this the afterlife?”

“Seventy years, and doing… that?”

“Are we just stuck here forever?”

Emmett: “It’s an afterlife, I suppose. Maybe there’s another one. Maybe there isn’t. But if it’s anything like life, probably up to us to make the most of it.”

He regards the caul. “He gave us some info on that. The caul. I guess we wait for Courtney before going in? Or we can try it with the three or two of us.”

GM: “This is… awful, though,” says Hannah.

“I mean, just look around! What’s there to even make the most of?”

“There’s your family,” says Ginger.

“And they’re gonna die! Then what?” exclaims Hannah. “This… forever?”

Hey, he could just kill himself again.

Emmett: “For what it’s worth…” Em shrugs. “I’m here for a good time. Not a long time. I don’t want to stick around as long as Lamarck. But that doesn’t mean rushing into… whatever’s next. Way I see it, if I stuck around it’s because I have unfinished business. That’s my priority. Maybe someday, it’ll be done. ’til then, may as well keep busy with it.”

Or until I find a way to become a vampire. Little column a, little column b.

GM: Jealous, huh?

Emmett: Are you not?

GM: Yeah, well, so far as I know, that’s a pipe dream.

But there’s ways out of here, if you’re sick of the Shadowlands.

Emmett: Oh? Ways to where?

GM: The real world.

And less real worlds.

Emmett: Hmm. I’ll take the former for 500.

GM: Oooh, let’s get Sami to say she needs us.

Oooh, let’s feed Yvette ice cream.

Oooh, let’s get revenge on the people who put us here.

Oooh. Ooooh.

And it never fucking happens.

Emmett: Okay, here’s my thinking. If we just lobotomize this guy, they’ll be all pissy. We need to at least make it look like we’re trying to help him. And to find out what he knows about Astride so we can dangle it over Sami’s pretty fanged head. If we can do those things, inside the caul, I’ll get out the icepick. You game?

GM: Yeah? And what if we can’t find out?

Emmett: We cross that bridge then, don’t we? Depends on if he seems like he’s gonna be useful. A guy who doesn’t want to be a girl might be. If he seems like an asshole, we drop him. Or at least, we fight it out then. Hmmm?

GM: Do I seem like I fucking care about any of that shit?

He gets a lobotomy or you get nothing.

Emmett: Then we have our terms. If we can find out what I need from him inside, we make it look like an accident. If we can’t, you don’t give me shit but I’ll keep him. Seems like a win-win to me. Should be one for you, too. In fact…

Em cracks his shoulders. Audibly. “I’m going in.”

“I know he said multiple spooks makes it go faster, but… maybe I should try it alone. We don’t know what’s in there.”

GM: “I guess,” says Hannah. “It just seems like…”

Em jams his fingers through the rents in Kione’s caul, then stabs them into his ears. Horrors blossom before the enfant’s eyes. Sami’s empty eyes as the men gang-raped her. Jermaine’s equally tranquil gaze as Em slit his throat. Ron, telling him everything he touched turned to shit. His parents giving up. Stines getting out the spoon. Cash Money’s bottle smashing over his head. Bud drawling they done had a deal. Lena literally dumping him on the curb. His summons all of his pain, all of his humiliation, his depression, his awfulness. His reasons to just give up. The phantasmal images race across Kione’s eyes as his mouth parts wide in a soundless scream. Em rips the caul off like wet tissue paper, then gives the other wraith a kick in the balls for good measure.

He collapses to the ground, eyes blank as his mouth slowly works open and shut like a fish’s.

HAHAHAHAHAHAH!

HAHAHAHAHA!

HAAA HAAAAA!

HAAA HAAAA HAAAAAA!

Emmett: Oh, for fuck’s sake.

GM: “What the fuck!” exclaim Hannah and Ginger simultaneously.

Emmett: He tries to talk, but isn’t optimistic. “Shadow!”

GM: “And you were the one who gave Turner so much shit for not having a handle on hers!” yells Hannah. “Gee!”

Ginger turns over Kione and tries to catch his gaze. “Hello? Are you there?”

The caul-less enfant gives no response.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

THAT WAS GOOD!

WE SURE FUCKED UP THIS GUY!

Don’t worry, you’re back in the driver’s seat. You can deal with these idiots’ whining.

This is all your fault, by the way. ‘When we get bored, we get juvenile.’

Emmett: He closes his eyes and counts to three.

Well, he tries to. He gets to one and a half before losing patience.

“Look,” he manages, holding out his hands, “I’m not happy about what just happened either. And unlike Turner, I actually do feel bad about it, so if you would do me the kindness of understanding that things like that are going to happen occasionally, and sometimes it’ll be you doing them, we can figure out what to do next.”

He looks down at Kione’s vacant stare. “Sorry, man. I really am.”

He pauses for a moment before saying, “Hannah? I know you’re angry. You have reason to be. I am too. But you said earlier you can siphon the juice we run on?”

GM: “Oh, that’s great you feel bad! What was it you said? That if she couldn’t control her Shadow, we’d kick her out, or something?”

Emmett: “Do you want me to leave?” Em asks levelly.

GM: “I just remember you sounding real authoritative when you weren’t the one whose Shadow was playing loose.”

“Look, it’s done,” says Ginger. “He’s gone, we can either stick together or be even more screwed.”

Emmett: “I guess I owe Turner an apology for judging her for what she did to you, then,” he says. “One I’ll happily supply, if we see her again. Hannah, you can take as long as you need to forgive me. There’s people on the other side of the grave who still haven’t. But right now, right here, I’m trying to pick up the pieces of my fucked-up alter ego’s power trip, so… ” He points to Kione. “Can you take from him, or not?”

GM: Kione gets up.

Emmett: “Oh.”

GM: His mouth moves several times. His eyes widen with terror. Blood spills from his lips as his kidneys rip open. A second smile rips across his throat, then all the way to to the top of his head. His feet lift off the floor. More blood spills. Then he crashes to the floor as his head explodes open, until only gory oatmeal is left.

Then he gets up and does it all over again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Emmett: “Well,” Em says halfway through the second time, “that’s just upsetting.”

He looks at Hannah. “Looks like he’s, um, acting out his death. Which I guess is a thing ghosts do. I’m not sure what we can do to help him. If we can, even.”

He has the decency to look ashamed.

Mostly, he’s still just pissed.

GM: “Oh my god…” Ginger whispers at the sight, holding a hand over her mouth.

Hannah doesn’t tear her eyes away either, until Em speaks.

“‘Your Shadow keeps causing problems, you become a liability.’ Yeah, that’s what you said. Ginger told me.”

“I don’t know what there is to do about it,” says Ginger.

“I don’t either! Do you know how many more times his Shadow has to pull this shit before he’s a liability!?” grouses Hannah.

Emmett: “Hannah, I’m here now,” Em says calmly. “I’m sorry for what happened, and if I could undo it I would. But that’s not how this works, anymore than you can un-take the pills you took. If you want me to go, say so. I’ll not force my company on you. But if you still think I have more to give you than disappointment, I’m ready to offer it. Now.” He raises his hands placatingly. “Are you ready to hear what I’m thinking?”

He looks at Ginger entreatingly.

GM: “He did say we should wait for you,” Ginger relents. “You were gone for a while. Y…”

The pair are interrupted as Sami reappears, trailed by Courtney.

Emmett: Em smiles at her brightly, only to look guiltily at Kione’s shade. “Uh. Hi. Lot happened.”

GM: Kione’s head splatters open over the floor.

“What the fuck?” asks Courtney.

Emmett: “Like I said, lot happened,” Em says tightly. He relates the events of the last… however long… in a few sentences.

“And so now we have a guest, but thanks to my Shadow, he’s… this.”

GM: Em is interrupted by Sami, who looks at the ouija paper and asks, “So?” like no one is already talking and nothing is happening.

Emmett: Em pinches his nose.

He picks up the pen and starts moving it.

k-i-l-l-e-d-d-e-a-l-e-r

k-i-o-n-e-w-h-i-t-e

h-i-s-g-u-y

GM: “Looks like ghosts are good for finding out things,” says Sami.

“They say anything before he died?”

Emmett: p-l-z-w-e-h-a-d-d-e-a-l-n-o-n-o

e-t-c

Em looks over his shoulder at Courtney. “So, how was your night?”

GM: Sami pulls a phone from her purse. It’s an old-fashioned flip one.

“White’s. Go take care of it.”

She frowns, then looks at Em.

Well, at the pen.

“Cops there or on their way?”

Emmett: 7-t-h-w-a-r-d

b-u-t-l-o-u-d

w-i-t-n-e-s-s-e-s

GM: “Typical,” Sami mutters.

Emmett: s-o-m-a-y-b-e

GM: “Cops might be there,” Sami says into the phone. “Witnesses.”

There’s a pause.

“Yeah.”

She flips the dumphone closed.

“So scratch my back, I scratch yours, wasn’t it?”

Emmett: The pen rolls to the YES.

GM: “That was an invitation to say how.”

Emmett: The pen rolls.

s-o-o-n

h-a-v-e-y-o-u-r-n-u-m-b-e-r

b-u-t

u

k-n-o-w

w-h-o

GM: Sami rolls her eyes.

“Guess dying hasn’t shrunk your ego.”

“‘Sami struck it big like I never managed to, Sami’s a vampire, yet Cash Money’s still breathing, but what the fuck does that matter when I want him in the ground?’”

Emmett: w-h-a-t-n-e-e-d-s-t-o-h-a-p-p-e-n

GM: “If it was practical to do I’d have done it already.”

Emmett: d-i-f-f-e-r-e-n-c-e

b-t-w-n

u-s

n-o-t

v-r-y

GM: “Sure is.” Sami looks at the empty air. “How’d that work out for you?”

Emmett: p-r-a-t-a-k-e-t-h-a-t-t-o-n-e

i-w-i-l-l-d-o-w-h-a-t-i-t-t-a-k-e-s

i-f-y-o-u-c-a-n-t

i-l-l-f-i-n-d-s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g-e-a-s-i-e-r

GM: Sami rolls her eyes again.

“You know, I’ve learned a lot these past few years.”

“I thought I was good at manipulating people when I was breathing. Boy, was that wrong. I was good enough for the entry leagues.”

“But my sire taught me a lot. One of the things I learned from her, really learned, was patience. That’s always been it. Understanding people. Situations. Taking your time. Basically the opposite of what you always did. Christina told me all about what happened with Talal.”

“You don’t know jack from shit about anything here, so all it does is make you look dumb when you try to bait me. I won’t help you. I won’t stop you though. Should be funny to see you blunder into another situation you don’t know jack from shit about.”

Emmett: Em glances over his shoulder. “Hannah, you want money for your mom, or do you want this one nowhere near her?”

Meanwhile he writes, s-o-t-e-l-l-m-e.

“Also,” he mutters. “Sire? That is some… ” he glances self-consciously at Hannah. “Weak-ass shit. Fucking vampires.”

GM: “Yeah, I’ll pass on vampires having anything to do with my mom,” Hannah huffs, crossing her arms. “She doesn’t need money anyway.”

“What an Em way to ask for help,” says Sami. “Let’s hear you say you need me.”

“Or I suppose, see you write.”

Emmett: Ah, that was always the key to her. He rolls his eyes at the others, unaware of the resemblance between them in that moment.

i-n-e-e-d-y-o-u

We’ll make her beg for us before its over, Em promises Gasper. Or at least, I will.

p-l-e-a-s-e

GM: His Shadow is silent.

“See, not so hard,” says Sami.

“He’s protected by older vampires he’s useful to. They can deal with ghosts.”

Emmett: He closes his eyes for a moment.

Then he moves the pen.

T-h-e-L-a-d-y.

She knows who he means.

The one they never talked about.

GM: “She’s one of them,” nods Sami.

“She’s not so bad either, when you get to know her.”

Emmett: n-a-m-e

GM: “What’s that to you?”

“You’re dead. Hell, she thinks you’re in the ground.”

Emmett: He waits. She’ll tell him or she won’t.

GM: His ex shrugs. “Consider playing twenty questions to be scratching your back, then. Camille Richelieu.”

Emmett: The pen rolls to yes. And then spells out a ‘thanks.’

GM: “You’re welcome, I guess. What are your plans for today?”

Emmett: s-l-e-e-p

p-l-a-n

w-h-a-t-y-o-u-n-e-e-d

GM: “Hmm,” Sami says thoughtfully.

“Give me a little bit, actually.”

“Go enjoy the afterlife. Meet me back here at, let’s say midnight, night after tomorrow night.”

Emmett: n-o-c-l-o-c-k-s

b-e-a-r-o-u-n-d

GM: “There are clocks,” says Sami. “Can you just not read them?”

Emmett: The pen rolls towards no.

h-a-r-d-e-x-p-l-n

GM: “Phone clocks? Digital clocks? Mechanical clocks?”

Emmett: The pen twitches in a sort of noncommittal shrug. Then rolls towards no.

GM: “What about an hourglass?”

Emmett: The pen twitches in that same sort of shrug.

GM: Sami pulls her phone back open. “Get me some hourglasses. One that measures actual hours, and one that measures more than one hour.”

She flips it shut again.

They wait a little while, but it’s only a little while. One of the hotel staff knocks on the door with the requested hourglasses. Enough money buys more or less anything, it looks like.

Sami turns one of the hourglasses. It’s cracked and pitted, but Em can see sand fall from the upper bulb to the lower one.

“Well?”

Emmett: The pen rolls to yes.

GM: Sami turns one of the larger ones.

“Great. I’ll be back when this is empty.”

Emmett: Em eyes it, than looks at his compatriots. “Seems like a good time to touch base.”

Behind him, Kione’s head explodes again.

GM: “I don’t think I want to stick around for that,” says Ginger.

“Me neither,” mutters Hannah.

Emmett: “I don’t think any of you should have to,” Em agrees. “We’ve tended to my affairs. We should tend to yours next.”

“Especially yours, Hannah.”

GM: “I’d rather split up,” says Hannah.

“I guess we know when to be back by,” says Courtney.

Emmett: “We can split up,” he says. “Hannah, can I talk to you for a minute? Maybe down in the lobby?”

GM: “Here’s fine. What about?”

Kione’s head explodes again.

“Is that ever gonna stop,” Ginger mutters.

Emmett: “We can leave for somewhere more pleasant,” Em agrees. “And honestly, I wanted to invite you to yell at me a bit. You clearly want to.”

GM: “Thanks, but no thanks. I’d rather go see my mom.”

“I’m ready to start looking for Melody,” agrees Ginger.

“I thought we wanted to stick together,” says Courtney.

“We know when to come back now.” Ginger.

“How are we gonna know?” Courtney. “I mean, we’re not bringing the hourglasses with us.”

“We can pop back every so often.” Ginger. “If it’s almost empty, then we can wait here.”

Emmett: “We can do teams,” Em says. “Courtney and I, you and Hannah. Buddy system is probably a good idea.”

GM: “Yeah. It’s not exactly safe out there,” agrees Courtney.

“True.” Hannah.

“All right, see y’all when the hourglass is empty,” says Ginger.

The wraiths exchange final farewells in the now-empty suite.

“So, where to?” asks Courtney.

Emmett: Em smiles bitterly at her. “Honestly, I’m tired of making all the decisions. They never seem to go the way I’d like. What would you like to do, Courtney?”

GM: “Honestly, I’m not in as much of a hurry to see someone as they are,” the former stripper remarks. “For what it’s worth, though, I’m pretty sure none of our decisions panned out how we wanted.”

“Why we’re here, isn’t it?”

Emmett: “You’re right. I guess I’m just worried she’s looking to get away from us, or at least me, the first chance she gets. Hannah, I mean. And Ginger… Ginger I want to talk to more, figure out what she knows about these things. They both saw my Shadow get the better of me. And, well, that’s the result.” He points bitterly to Kione. “What could have been another member of our little group. Now he’s only able to haunt other ghosts.”

GM: His head explodes again as Em says so.

Emmett: He sighs a useless sigh.

GM: After another moment, it reconstitutes as the mindless ghost gets back up.

Again.

Courtney stares.

“That’s so fucking weird.”

Emmett: “I know. Come on, let’s get out of this room. Maybe down to the lobby.” As they walk, he asks, “What’d Sami get up to? Anything interesting?”

GM: There’s another gory explosion from Kione’s shade.

“She talked to some other vampires. Licks. Whatever,” says Courtney.

“They had… what looked like vampire sex.”

“Talked about a party that was coming up in a few nights.”

Emmett: “You get any names?”

“Also. Vampire sex. What.”

GM: “Yeah. They didn’t actually fuck. Just… bit and snarled and drank each other’s blood.”

Emmett: “Kinky. And gross.”

GM: “They seemed pretty into it, at least.”

“She also looked… I don’t know, young enough to barely even have tits.”

“That wasn’t even the creepiest part.”

Emmett: “The other vamp?”

GM: “Yeah. She had these… just dead eyes. She looked like she could’ve been in fifth or sixth grade.”

“But she also couldn’t. You just knew, looking at her, this wasn’t a little girl.”

“Well, tweenager.”

Emmett: “Huh.” He surprised himself by not feeling jealous.

A thought occurred.

Hey, Gasper. What do you think of Sami?

GM: Silence.

“Felt kinda spooked sticking around her,” says Courtney.

“She never looked directly at me, but I wonder how well they can see us.”

Emmett: “Not well, from what it seems like to me, Astride was deaf and dumb. She seems to be, too. Giovannini sure seemed to be able to see us, though.”

GM: “Guess it is what it is.”

They get off the elevator without looking down. They walk through the closed doors. Courtney looks across the ruined and decrepit lobby.

“Well, where to?”

Emmett: He considers the lobby for a moment. Wonders what time it is. He’s so low on energy. So drained.

Does it seem like day, judging by the amount of people around?

GM: The luminous white figures are close to absent from the lobby.

He supposes Sami the vampire wouldn’t have left if it was sunny out.

Emmett: “Call it silly, but my gut says we should try and follow Sami, unless there’s another place you have in mind.”

GM: “I don’t have anything better to do.”


Date ?

GM: Sami’s already taken off, but Em and Courtney find it easy to catch up. Buildings and material objects part before the two like shadows and smoke. Sami’s rusted, broken-down sports car stops off at Rampart Street. It’s on the border of Treme and one of the poorer areas of the Quarter. Streetwalkers and junkies are out all hours. Buildings are torched-out, blighted hives that might not look significantly brighter in the real world.

The half-skeletal corpses lying strewn between veritable fields of cracked and leaking hypodermic needles, though, are probably unique to the afterlife. Their sunken eyes seem to almost pleadingly follow Em and Courtney.

Or perhaps hatefully.

When Sami parks her car and gets out, an unkempt-looking and dangerous-looking man with a knife tries to mug her for her purse. Sami just looks at him and asks thoughtfully, “You high on anything?”

“Purse, bitch! NOW!”

“Be that way. Get in my car. I’ll show you a real good time.”

The man’s brow furrows, then he gets in. Sami sinks her fangs into his neck and drinks thirstily.

“Make sure someone doesn’t try to steal my ride,” she says once she pulls away.

“Okay,” the paler-looking man says thickly.

Emmett: “Huh,” Em remarks. “Neat trick.”

GM: “What I’d have given to have that,” Courtney mutters.

Sami disappears into one of those blighted hives. The wraiths follow after her. Sami walks past several doors, then opens one that’s slightly ajar. A pretty African-American woman dressed in a flowing white cotton gown is bent over a man in his bed. Low sucking noises are audible. Her form is as glowless and ashen-hued as Sami’s.

“Got a good flavor, doesn’t he?” Em’s ex remarks.

The other vampire startles and pulls away.

“Relax, I’m not judging,” Sami smiles.

“Well, except to say how you’ve got good taste. Asshole definitely deserves it.”

Emmett: Em glances at the face of the victim, wondering if it’ll be familiar across a grave.

GM: Shawn Boyce. A petty, low-level drug dealer with a violent temper and trashy mouth affiliated with one of the local gangs. They were locked up in OPP at the same time, once.

Emmett: “Hey Shawn,” he says aloud. “I remember selling you my piss.”

He glances self-consciously at Courtney. “It’s a prison thing.”

GM: The other vampire starts to say something to Sami.

Then she turns and looks directly at Em.

Emmett: “Well,” he says defensively. “It is. Come on, you can’t judge me. Not to, you know. Pull your fang too hard.

He points to Sami. “I’m her friend. You can tell her Em’s looking down her dress if you want to.” He floats upwards and does so, demonstratively.

If you can make them laugh, you’ve done something for them.

GM: The other vampire does laugh. Loudly.

But Sami is still right there.

She follows the other vampire’s gaze.

“Hi, Em. You know that my friend here can see ghosts? I was actually just stopping by to ask her advice about the ones haunting me.”

Emmett: “Cool,” Em says. “Do you do couples counseling, too?”

GM: Sami turns, removes a salt carton from her purse, and sprinkles a thin white trail along the unit’s door.

Emmett: He pokes it.

GM: His finger starts to dissolve as though dripped in acid.

Courtney stares at it, then tries to walk through the wall, well away from the salt line.

She bumps against the suddenly too-solid solid edifice.

“How many are there, besides him?” Sami asks.

“Just one,” the vampire answers in a Caribbean-sounding accent. “A woman.”

“I guess we should make ourselves at home,” says Sami. “This is Rose-Marie, Em.”

“’Ello,” the other vampire says quietly.

Emmett: He howls in agony, and after a moment, smiles a sickly smile.

“Charmed. Or is it haunted, now? Both appropriate, I’m sure.”

GM: “‘E says ’e’s ‘charmed. Or is it ’aunted, now? Bowt appropriate, I’m sure.’”

“That’s sweet.” Sami turns back to where Rose-Marie was last looking. “So who do you work for that put you up to following me?”

Emmett: He rolls his eyes, teeth still gritted as his spectral flesh regenerates. “Ask her if I’ve ever worked for anybody. I’m following her the same reason she’d follow me as a ghost. Boredom and leverage. Nothing business. All personal.” He adds in a stage whisper, “I have a crush on her.”

GM: Rose-Marie relates that.

“Does ’e work for de Baron, you dink?”

Emmett: “Who?”

GM: “No way,” says Sami.

“That’s too him to be a lie.”

Emmett: “She gets it.”

GM: “Still a problem, though. We can’t have him and his friends popping in on me while I’m in the shower.”

Emmett: “Ah, not even just me?”

GM: Rose-Marie relays that too.

“I need to learn how to see ghosts, like you,” Sami says.

“Dat is not a ting to take on lightly,” says the other vampire.

“Yeah, well, neither is Emmett Delacroix getting to be invisible and incorporeal.”

Emmett: “She gives me too much credit.”

He winks at Courtney and mouths, not enough.

GM: The other ghost looks amused.

“‘E says you are giving ’im too much credit, but ’e’s winking at de other ghost.”

Emmett: “We should definitely just do this for our future meetings. You, Rose-Marie, are one hell of a ouija board.”

GM: “Dank you, mesye.”

Emmett: He doffs a hat made of shadow and smoke that curls into nothingness.

GM: “I bet he is,” says Sami. “Right now a good time for you to start?”

“Well, I, I suppose.”

Sami offers a dazzling smile, the kind Em used to pay upwards of half a grand an hour for.

“You’re a gem, Rose. The others don’t even see your shine.”

She adds, “Let me take you back to the Carlton. We can at least do this in comfort and style.”

“Dat does sound nice,” replies Rose-Marie. “But what about de ghosts?”

“Oh, I suppose we can just leave them here,” Sami says idly.

“Oh, come on!” says Courtney.

Emmett: “Or,” Em lifts a finger, “you don’t, and we continue to remain on good terms. Plus, I’ll tell you something about the Giovannini.”

GM: Rose-Marie relays that.

“You think she’s gonna let you out?” asks Courtney.

“Oh. Stupid of me. She can hear.”

Emmett: “I think it’s my problem if I don’t, and the others deserve not to wait for me.”

GM: “Step back to the end of the room,” Sami tells Em.

Emmett: He does so.

GM: “He there?” she asks.

Rose-Marie nods.

Sami pours another line of salt between Em and Courtney, then smudges the outer line with her foot.

Courtney moves to step over it, then seems to reconsider and walks halfway through the wall.

“I’ll tell the others you’re here.”

Emmett: He just nods, and turns to face the monsters.

“Thank you,” he says. “Are you aware of the prison break?”

GM: “Fill us in,” says Sami.

Emmett: He does so, adding a minimum amount of flare and special (spectral?) effects to aid the storytelling. The highlight is that one of the licks, a bitch named Bobbi Jo, got torn apart by the chaos that ensued after a certain unnamed wraith (here he studies his fingernails judiciously) fooled her into freeing another ghost.

He suspects the other members of the “family” might be miffed about that. It probably fucked up their plans for the ghosts, too.

GM: Sami looks thoughtful.

Very, very thoughtful.

Emmett: “Break the line. I know when I’ve paid my dues.”

GM: “You have any idea just how much your ass must be worth to the Giovannini?”

“No, I’m sure you do.”

“Any idea just what sorts of favors they would owe in return for it.”

Emmett: “Which means it’s an excellent thing for you to hold over my head, as I keep running errands for you and serve your interests. Love.”

“Info doesn’t exactly have an expiration date, does it? No need for you to cash in immediately. You said so yourself. The key to so many things is patience.”

“And besides. You miss me.”

The grin he gives is enough to make a dead woman flush; or maybe that’s just Rose-Marie’s frosty complexion. It doesn’t matter. Em knows she’ll keep him around for the same reason he knew he would not fall to Lamarck. Some people show you who they are and what they need from the get go. Lamarck needed acceptance.

Samantha needs to be needed. Needs to know she can fuck him whenever she wants, so she can feel nice when she doesn’t.

He knows because it’s how he feels. And they’ve always been more alike than she cares to admit.

GM: Sami seems to think over Em’s words.

Or perhaps not think them over. The deceased scam artist is at his best, after all, when his marks are feeling rather than thinking.

Then she breaks the salt barrier with the pointed red tip of her probably-several-hundred-dollar pump.

It probably really is a bad idea, objectively speaking.

But it’s like he said. Mostly like he said.

They always have been more alike than they’d care to admit.

“I guess so. Go enjoy the afterlife.”


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Caroline IV
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Story Twelve, Caroline IV

“You shall find me a harsh but fair sire.”
Augusto Vidal


Tuesday night, 7 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s once Caroline is in the car with Ferris that he gets down to the ‘real’ business. The ex-CIA agent clearly doesn’t trust the Walter Robinson House’s security personnel without having personally vetted them.

Caroline: He’ll have plenty of opportunity to do that, Caroline adds. Today was a brutally demonstrative example of how inadequate mortal security is for her needs. The charred corpse in the back of the SUV is evidence of that.

She’s made Meg ride in the second car.

The current security doesn’t need to be replaced, but she intends on shifting a significant portion of her efforts—especially if she actually leaves the city—to providing security around her family while she’s gone.

GM: Ferris questions Caroline extensively about all of them. He says he’s already started running background checks on everyone. He’s inclined to throw out all of the people who were associated with René, for a panoply of reasons.

“I’d also assume May is compromised until disproven. Could be someone’s been in his head for him to be saying the things about Gettis that he has.”

“Could be he’s even part of Gettis’ organization. He was a cop. Great shooter, too. I’d have wanted to recruit him if I were Gettis.”

“If I wanted to fake my murder, I’d have an agent I controlled be the one to kill me.”

“Casquette girl said he was clean. Could be mistaken. Could be lying.”

Caroline: “More reason to keep him close for now,” Caroline answers. But she thinks May is genuine. “His reaction to Jocelyn was real enough, and I poked around a little as well.”

The others she’ll give him the lead with. After all, he did plenty well with the family so far.

Well, minus herself, her mother, and her brother.

GM: It’s almost as bad a track record as hers.

Caroline: Mistakes were made.

GM: “Typical reason to keep a double agent close is if you know they’re a double agent and want to feed them misinformation, ma’am. We don’t know that for sure about May.”

“I’m going to dig into him more deeply. If he checks out, he’s worth keeping. Impressive shooter.”

Caroline: Caroline agrees.

GM: Widney delivers her report on how things are progressing with Audrey. NOPD, seemingly rather than contest the legal process, released the prostitute on bail. However, Caroline’s people have been unable to locate her.

Ferris also has a more ominous report to deliver. A bomb was found in one of Caroline’s cars. Her primary one, actually—this is a different vehicle they’re driving.

His people are still combing the car over for trace evidence. They have yet to link the assassination attempt to a specific perpetrator.

Caroline: “I guess we’re done being friends,” she answers that, with a quiet anger.

“Sounds like hunters,” she further elaborates after a moment.

GM: “Gettis stands a lot to gain from your death right now,” Ferris concurs. “So does Savoy. Could be they’re working together in this.”

Ferris also wants Caroline to invest in a backup haven. The Giani Building is a semi-public building with lots of tenants. It’s easy for people to get in and out, and to do things like smuggle in bombs. Caroline’s security can lock down the flow of human traffic during emergencies, but they can only do so for so long at a time. A property that’s exclusively owned and used by Caroline would be ideal. A ‘wartime haven’ she could use during periods like this.

Caroline: She nods. It’s good advice, though traditionally public attention has also been valuable in deterring less desperate attacks. At least in theory.

It’s a question of income, and assets in the moment, but one that she expects to be less pressing over time.

“Perdido House has been made available in the interim.” To say nothing of her mother’s home, or even the LaLaurie House, though she doesn’t mention them.

Better to keep it away from her sisters for now.

“There are also plans in place for a leave of absence from the city, I suspect.”

GM: “Public attention works both ways, ma’am,” Ferris says to her first statement. “Someone who does their homework can find out you don’t own the building. Enough attacks and the Pavaghis might try to force you out. Bad tactic for the Masquerade, but could leave you pretty vulnerable for a little while if they’re able to.”

Caroline: She doesn’t disagree. Securing the building is a project she’s been tending since Adler demanded she break off relations with Sarah.

GM: On Perdido House, Ferris says, “Security there seems top flight. Your stepmother had me look into it. Pretty much every vampire hunter worth the name knows what that place is. Suicide to attack head on, though.”

Caroline: “Quite,” she agrees. “For obvious reasons my preferences are more independent.”

GM: “We suspect a lot of the prince’s people have havens there, or at least backup ones. Doubt they want to be completely under his thumb, but useful to have in a pinch.”

“My preferences run the same. Secure doesn’t matter if it’s not secure we control.”

Caroline: Caroline agrees again.

“There are limits, though, to how far we can go with our current resources.”

GM: “Yes. Doesn’t need to be a nice place. If anything, better that it’s not. Not as many enemies will think to look for you somewhere ‘beneath’ you.”

Caroline: “I don’t simply mean in terms of financial,” she clarifies.

GM: “The lower cost would be easier to fit into the budget, too,” Widney adds. “I’m hopeful, ma’am, that those resources will expand as you’ve indicated.”

The cars arrive back at the Giani Building. The last matter to come up is that of Simmone and her ghouls’ various children.

Ferris, when asked, replies that his daughter Miranda no longer lives in New Orleans.

Ferris promptly moved her out of the city following Caroline’s visit and the threat she made against his family. His decision proved a prescient one. Bishop Malveaux sent agents to Ferris’ house within minutes (or so Ferris estimates) of Caroline’s meeting with Malveaux and Guilbeau aboard the Alystra, during which Caroline relayed that Ferris was less than loyal to the Malveaux family’s then-Kindred master. It’s almost certain that the bishop’s servants would have kidnapped Miranda to use against Ferris, if she were there when he wasn’t.

“It’s what I’d have done,” he remarks neutrally.

If anything, Caroline’s earlier threat might have saved the girl’s life. While Claire also told Ferris about her stepdaughter’s meeting with the bishop, that warning could have come too late.

“Though you’ll understand if I don’t thank you, ma’am. It was purely by accident on your part.”

Caroline: “Our relationship was complicated,” she agrees.

Small mercies. Miranda remains a potential liability to Ferris, but Caroline indicates that among other things, she desires ‘some’ degree of normalcy returned to his life.

GM: “I don’t have any plans to move her back, ma’am. Too many people know who I am to you. Too many aren’t trustworthy. It was already a risk keeping her in the city when I was undercover.”

Caroline: “Perhaps,” she agrees. “But distance is not the only form of protection, or always the best.”

GM: “You don’t know where she is, ma’am. I don’t know where she is either. No one can make me reveal what I don’t know.”

“It’s not perfect. I’d have preferred to raise my own flesh and blood myself.”

Caroline: Caroline scowls more at the thought of what they’ve done to him than at what he’s said.

“We can do better. We will do better.”

GM: “Ma’am, there’s nothing you could realistically do in a thousand years that’d make me want to bring her back.”

“If she were here, she would always be a liability. Enemies would use her to get to me.”

“Point me at any enemy you want to bring down. First thing I’ll do is look for their weak spots. People and things that can’t defend themselves.”

Caroline: “A thousand years is a very long time, Roger,” she answers, but doesn’t press the point for now.

GM: “One last thing I’ve picked up. Mixing personal with professional never works out.”

Autumn, when Caroline approaches her, is another story.

She says her brother Jeffrey is 13. Her sister Stephanie is 10. Same age as Simmone. They’re technically her half-siblings, as Autumn is her father’s child from a previous marriage.

Caroline: It isn’t lost on Caroline that associating with the Devillers would open many doors for the otherwise middle class family.

GM: It doesn’t seem to be lost on Autumn either. She’s game for either or both of them spending time with Caroline’s sister. She does have something to ask in return, though.

“So, look. I said the Krewe helped me with college. My dad’s a public schoolteacher and doesn’t make a lot. The charter schools all slashed teacher pay after Katrina, and they actually slashed his even more for being a humanities teacher.”

“Fun fact. Teachers get paid the same at most public schools regardless of subject.”

“And our moms… aren’t in the picture. My family’s struggled a lot to make ends meet.”

“It’s been better since I was ghouled, and even better since I started working for you. There’s a lot I’ve been able to do to help them out.”

Caroline: Caroline can see where it’s going, but she’s happy to let Autumn get there on her own.

GM: “They’re not at risk of getting utilities shut off or anything like that. That’s way in the past now.”

“Stef and Jeffrey both go to private schools. Okay ones, that we can afford, because my dad knows way better than to send them somewhere like where he works. He actually got hospitalized by a student once.”

“I’d like them to go to better schools, though. Really good ones. And I did some research, and your mom’s on the McGehee Board of Trustees… "

Caroline: “It could be arranged,” Caroline muses. “And would be rather convenient too if Stephanie attended the same school.”

GM: “Exactly! Simmone could help her make friends. It’d be rough getting pulled from her old school.”

“McGehee’s only for girls, but there’s another good boys’ school I found for Jeffrey. My family and I can help pay some of the tuition, but it’s 20k a year at McGhee. Just insane how much that runs, but I guess you get what you pay for.”

“We’d apply for financial aid, too. But if your mom could help us get awarded more, or just find some way to waive or cover the rest… "

Caroline: “Let’s set up a ‘date’ for them. See if they hit it off,” Caroline answers. “If they do… well, I expect the rest will work itself out.”

“Has your sister ever taken dance lessons?”

GM: Autumn shakes her head. “We didn’t really have money for lessons in much of anything. But she’s pretty good in P.E.”

Caroline: “Do you think she’d enjoy them?”

GM: “She’s never said she wants to be a ballerina or anything, but I think she would. Kids are kids. They tend to like new stuff.”

“Plus she hasn’t gotten private lessons in anything before. Think that’d make her feel special.”

Caroline: “I’ll have my sister reach out then, to set something up,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Great!” smiles Autumn. “I’ll get you the details of the stuff for my brother.”

“Was harder finding a school for him. Pretty much all the good ones in the state are Catholic or Christian and we’re Jewish.”

Caroline: “Convert now. Repent later,” Caroline muses.

GM: “Hey, convert to our religion and you’re not going to Hell. Our God doesn’t have a Hell.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a small smile. “I rather suspect He’d make an exception.”

GM: “Even Hitler gets to enjoy eternal rewards, eventually,” Autumn answers seriously. “You’ve done a lot of bad crap, sure, but I don’t think you’ve beat Hitler there.”

Caroline: “That’s a pleasant thought,” Caroline answers. “I didn’t realize you were practicing.”

GM: “Well, I’m Reform Jewish. You ask Orthodox Jews, it’s not ‘real’ Judaism. Since we let men and women sit next to each other in pews. And my family doesn’t really keep kosher except on holidays.”

Caroline: “Well, we all have our flaws, depending on whom you ask,” Caroline reassures her.

GM: “It is a little lonely sometimes, though. My rabbi obviously doesn’t talk about licks or renfields or any of the other things that go bump in the night. You Catholics have this giant vampire religion with a social support structure and complex theology to explain your place in the world, but if you’re Jewish in this city you’re basically on your own to reconcile it with your religion.”

Caroline: “No Jewish vampires?” she asks.

GM: “Vidal doesn’t really go out of his way to welcome non-Christian licks to the city. They’ve all got to swear an oath of allegiance to him, God, and Jesus Christ.”

“There might be some, but none that are really serious about the faith. Or at least open about it.”

Caroline: “It’s because we’re all a little Jewish after our Embrace.” She grins. “Have you seen what a hard bargain we all drive for even the smallest favors?”

GM: “Ha ha ha. You know that we specifically prohibit consumption of blood?”

Caroline: “I didn’t,” she answers. “I imagine that must create a real crisis of faith for any Orthodox Jews that get turned.”

GM: “Yep. The laws of kosher prohibit using blood in cooking. If you’re really following the Torah, it has to be completely drained from the animal and buried in earth.”

“I think Orthodox Jews pretty much have to make their peace with it.”

Caroline: “We all do, one way or another.”

GM: “But in some ways it’s easier for us. They’ll just spend longer in Sheol, that’s basically Purgatory to purify their souls, before they get to enjoy their eternal reward.”

“Sanctified theology honestly seems so bleak to me. You already have the Christian notion of Hell, saying some people suffer forever for their sins, and then the giant vampire church confirms that yes, you really will suffer forever.”

“So I think even Orthodox Jews have a real hope that Sanctified don’t.”

Caroline: “It depends on how you view Hell,” Caroline answers. “Later Christian thought painted Hell in fire and brimstone, but early theology depicts it more… well, passively I guess.”

GM: “More like our theology.”

Caroline: “To disobey God and turn aside from his love in favor of sin is to turn yourself from your true calling in favor of things that will ultimately bring you misery.”

“I heard a good sermon once that compared Hell to what an alcoholic endures when he’s deeply in the throes of his addiction.”

GM: “That’s pretty in line with something my rabbi could say. To us, your sins stick with you, and Sheol is basically a spiritual washing machine. The more bad things you’ve done, the longer you have to get washed before you can move on.”

“Maximum one year for most people. Only ones who’ve committed unimaginable evil, like Hitler, have to get washed until the Messiah comes.”

Caroline: “Similar, but we don’t hold you can wash after death,” Caroline answers. “Or, within the Sanctified, at all. Our only hope is in existing in the purpose God has left for us until the return of Jesus Christ.”

GM: “Well, that’s too bad. I don’t think you deserve to suffer forever.”

Caroline: Caroline only offers a sad smile.


Tuesday night, 7 March 2016, PM

GM: The next remaining matter to see to is Ramsey.

After all, if Caroline can come before the seneschal with her stepmother’s medical records, she can say that she pulled her weight. That Donovan or the Krewe didn’t have to pick up the slack.

She wonders how much the sheriff would like to say that.

And, perhaps most infuriatingly of all to any Ventrue, it’s entirely within another’s hands.

Ramsey’s.

Caroline: The Ventrue does not react well to her inability to decide the outcome.

She’s come to hate being so helpless, so useless. Even attempting to make phone calls or harass the staff to distract them is off the table, as it would only leave a further trail of evidence of some kind that she’s poorly positioned to clean up.

It’s not a surprise they’ve pawned the task off on her—something that only makes her irritation grow under the surface.

It eats at her.

She paces around Ramsey, eavesdropping on her thoughts as she works, Occasionally lashing out, poking, prodding at some unspoken doubt or concern as the hacker works, giving voice to her doubts, to her questions of self-worth, pushing, on her to prove herself to her. Harder. Harder still.

She doesn’t have time for breaks. Doesn’t have time to be tired. She has to prove herself.

GM: Ramsey does not react well to the pressure. She doesn’t say anything, but that doesn’t matter when Caroline can literally read her mind. She’s already being required to do this outside of her normal workspace. There is little she dislikes more than “doing her thing” with someone huffing and puffing above her shoulders.

Well. Maybe being reminded of her rape, which Caroline does.

The hacker and sexual assault survivor looks on the verge of tears when she finally snaps at Caroline, “For fuck’s sake, I have the fucking records!”

There’s a glimmer of hope.

Except she doesn’t. Sort of.

Technically, she does have them. They just aren’t fully usable yet.

Ramsey explains that higher-end service typically begets higher-end security. However, Claire’s healthcare provider made the all-too common mistake of having fax machines in their building. Ramsey says those are “some of the most dangerous things you can have in your office,” as they are notoriously vulnerable to hacking. Caroline doesn’t fail to pick up that Ramsey hasn’t voiced aloud her normal recommendation to get rid of any fax machines she has.

She’s not being deliberately unhelpful. She’s just assuming Caroline will draw that conclusion from “most dangerous things” rather than giving the advice outright.

Medical records, in any case, go through fax machines. It wasn’t hard to break into the one in question after an initial phishing attack on a secretary’s computer to look for a fax receipt or signal.

Caroline: Caroline can read between the lines, and she’s more interested in why they aren’t available ‘yet’ than she is in critiques.

GM: The records, which Caroline can see on Ramsey’s screen, go on for pages and pages and pages. They look like medical forms stamped with gibberish. Ramsey starts to explain (though Caroline actually partly knows) how modern healthcare clearinghouses (who deal with her former stepmother’s insurance claims) have a very specific system of coding health care services. Modern versions need people to exclusively pump it through very specific programs and send it over the internet. All you really need is a copy of the code-to-service mapping and you’ll have a solid image of a person’s health history. Past issues are taken into account in the coding.

The icd-10 has over 70,000 codes. It’s medical jargon and tech coding all thrown into one incomprehensible-looking pot: Caroline is actually fortunate these records are fully digital, because sometimes terrible handwriting can get thrown in as a side dish if scanned paper records was the method of input.

Caroline: “So we need to push them through their actual software to get something legible?” she doesn’t quite demand. She’s pushed Ramsey hard enough.

GM: “We can’t really do that,” the hacker tiredly replies. She explains that to ‘decode’ the records, someone ‘just’ has to look up what they mean from the big book of codes. This obviously takes less time for a single claim than someone’s entire medical history, and the used codes themselves aren’t always ‘trustworthy’ either. Codes commonly get screwed up by insurance companies, who like to slip in extra things they can bill for and hope no one catches it. This obviously pisses off a fuckton of doctors. There’s also good old-fashioned coding screwups. So one can get a lot of similar-looking copies on record, with slight adjustments as the doctors and the insurance people essentially yell at each other through code.

In short, Ramsey has the data. She just needs to translate it into plain English. This is actually something Caroline realizes she could assist with, because in order to get potentially unstated past health issues, a lot of information can be found in the coding itself. The coding refers to conditions which almost always are comorbid with others and is actually very specific, for the most part, if one understands the medical jargon. Ramsey can handle the tech code, but admits she doesn’t have the medical background to decipher the jargon.

So that’s what’s left to do. Sifting through pages and pages and pages of Excel spreadsheets to distill them into them a concise and actually accurate medical history.

Caroline: It’s a paperwork nightmare, but one Caroline is particularly well-suited to slog through. She has them print the records and starts tearing through them as quickly as she can in the next room, as quickly as they come off the Xerox business-class printer (with built-in fax capability).

Caroline doesn’t really understand the code side of things, but the medical specific terms and tests do stand out to her, and she can move through them quickly. She highlights anything of interest that stands out, pulling the wheat from the chaff and tossing away the garbage. Her hands move like the scything blades of a harvester as she tears through page after page.

While she does so, she brings in Fuller and his years of experience dealing with medical records (he’s told her the Navy is notoriously obnoxious about medical readiness) and medical background to help Ramsey with the next step in the refining process. He provides answers to questions on demand as the hacker works through what Caroline identifies as meaningful.

It’s slow going, especially relying on Fuller and Ramsey on the other end. Even with the lion’s share of the data being messy or meaningless, she tears through it far faster than they do.

She even has time to go back over sheets twice to make sure she didn’t miss something in her haste.

GM: Caroline has more than physical speed helping her, too. She recalls Thomas’ description of the Albino. “He was said to have a sharp mind, though—the sharpest in his family’s generation. He devoured books, read everything in the family library five times over.”

The old man was more accurate than he knew. Caroline recalls his words exactly. She recalls the tidbit about ‘the Albino’ keeping up with Paul Morphy, the greatest chess master of his generation in the world. She recalls Paul Morphy’s birth date as June 22nd, 1837, and the date of his death as July 10, 1884, which would have made him 47 years old—he died of a stroke. She read all of those things once, somewhere, but she remembers them now.

The Ventrue’s pale hands are a blur as they tear through page after page, but her mind doesn’t feel that much slower. It shoulders the mindlessly repetitive work with ease, pulling up terms she hasn’t used in years like a diver retrieving precious pearls from the distant sea floor.

It would be one thing to do this work with all the time in the world, but Caroline doesn’t have all the time in the world. The clock’s hands are slower than hers, but they tick no less inexorably past. The room’s very lights seem to glare down at her like miniature suns, the same sun she saw such a terrible preview of early today, promising a death no less swift or agonizing if she disappoints her sire, makes any misstep around his closest servants.

Her head pounds. Even her hands feel cramped. But the fruits of her labors finally sit before her.

An unobtrusive stack of paper documents written in plain English.

She glances back up at the clock. A little while remains before she is due at Perdido House, though it is a little enough little while.

Caroline: She pointedly unplugs the printer-fax machine on her way out with a wry grin towards Ramsey and takes her leave from the ghouls, retiring back to her rooms upstairs where they’ve stashed Jocelyn.

Business accomplished for the moment. As always, she carves out pleasure where she can around it…


Tuesday night, 7 March 2016, PM

Caroline: The room is dark and cold, as always. The familiar articles are all there, the low king-sized bed, the soft black silk sheets, the low blue lighting with its rich shadows, the faint sound of running water from the tiny fountain at the head of the bed.

There are new additions as well, not for the better. The pile of laundry piled around one of the dividers in the room (and atop it) the unmade bed, the shattered remains of the other divider exposing a bathroom (all she truly uses it for) and its counters piled with cosmetics used to hide the worst of her death from the world.

It’s a familiar scene for Jocelyn to awaken to, if in an utterly unfamiliar (and painful) way, chained to the bed, Caroline’s still bleeding wrist drawn away from her ravenous, monstrous maw.

Her face is tight, drawn. The Beast didn’t like that, didn’t enjoy letting someone else take what was rightfully its own, even if it was this submissive lesser at its mercy.

GM: That’s not technically true.

It is her second time being chained to a bed by Caroline.

Caroline: Not that she remembers the first.

GM: Jocelyn ravenously sucks and gulps until the wrist is withdrawn. She licks her lips, pink and hale once again, getting every last drop.

She eyes Caroline’s wrist for a moment.

It’s never enough.

Caroline: Despite everything else, it warms her dead heart to watch the worst of the wounds fade. She tenderly brushes Jocelyn’s hair out of her face, behind her ear.

GM: Jocelyn smiles up at her. There’s not a trace of anger or alarm like there was last time.

“You and a mouthful of juice. What two better things to wake up to?”

Caroline: “How do you feel?” Caroline asks, seated on the edge of the bed near Jocelyn’s head.

GM: The Toreador pulls her handcuffed wrists.

“Kinky,” she smirks.

Caroline: “You were hurt. God, you were horribly hurt.”

Her flesh still smells of it.

“You’re lucky you didn’t ash yourself.”

GM: “You saved me,” Jocelyn beams.

“You always do.”

“You’re always there.”

Caroline: Caroline grinds her teeth. “Barely.”

“Jocelyn, you can’t keep doing this. Can’t put yourself in danger like this, can’t hurt yourself.” Her expression breaks. “You’re hurting me.”

GM: Jocelyn looks mournful at Caroline’s expression. Truly mournful. It’s like staring into a mirror of her own hurt.

“Caroline, I had to do it. After you said… "

Her face falls a moment as if in recollection of the words, then she continues,

“…that was the only way to see. To show you, to show us, that you still cared.”

She beams again.

“And you did. You do. I won’t ever have to do anything like that ever again. Because we love each other.”

She stares up at Caroline, wide-eyed and smiling, seemingly heedless of her literal chains.

“Come on, let’s have makeup sex. That’s always the best.”

She adds, “You can keep me like this. It’s kinky.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a gentle smile. “We don’t have time. I have to go soon. Well, too soon for that.”

GM: "Awwww… "

Caroline: “You know I’ve always had responsibilities, but things are changing, finally. For the better I think.”

GM: “Suck me off, at least. Just a quickie.”

Caroline: It’s tempting, but something practical holds her back.

“We need to talk before I go.”

She retrieves the handcuffs’ keys from where she left them.

GM: Jocelyn looks disappointed.

“Okay, what about?”

Caroline: “I may be leaving for a while. The city, I mean.”

GM: Jocelyn looks like someone’s told her that a beloved family pet needs to be put to sleep.

“How long?”

Caroline: “I don’t know,” she admits. “Maybe weeks, maybe more. It isn’t really my decision.”

“And when I get back… well… some things will be different.”

GM: “Well… like what?”

Caroline: “Someone’s interested. Very interested. Finally interested. Someone… that can change my entire Requiem for the better.”

“But it’ll be different, too. More structured, I think.”

GM: "Okay… "

Caroline: “Less forgiving, in some ways.”

GM: “So, who?”

Caroline: Caroline, having unlocked one of Jocelyn’s hands, leaves the key to the remaining cuffs in it and stretches languidly like a cat.

“You know how they are,” she answers defensively.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t unlock herself.

“So someone I don’t know is gonna take you away for you dunno how long.”

Caroline: Part of Caroline wants to shy away from how awful that sounds. Wants to whine pitifully at Jocelyn. She knows it’s the part bound to her.

She’s better than that.

“Yes,” she answers instead, matter-of-factly. “Though you do know them.”

GM: “This is the worst makeup sex.”

Caroline: “I know,” Caroline answers. “And I’m sorry for that, but this… this is… I can’t wait to tell you everything, when it’s time. It’s been so long in coming.”

“You have no idea what it cost… "

GM: “Yeah, no makeup sex.” She pauses. “Look, I’m happy for you and all, you deserve it, but… you seriously have no idea how long you’re gonna be gone?” Jocelyn doesn’t try to hide the pain in her voice. “Right when we got each other back?”

“Can’t I come with you?” she adds. “The Storyvilles pretty much imploded after I told Roxanne about Evan. Stick a fork in ‘em. I don’t really have anything here anymore.”

Caroline: “I can ask, but… you know how elders are. I’d expect… maybe a few weeks. Maybe a couple months. When I know I’ll send a message.”

She bites her lip. “On the other hand, without the Storyvilles, maybe it’s time to take your sire up on the idea of getting out of town for a bit, seeing a bit more of the world, and how she does that.”

GM: “I don’t wanna be with Sally. I wanna be with you.”

Caroline has to wonder if she’d have said that before the third drink.

“And I can’t just call her up to say ‘hey come pick me up’ anyway. She’s only in town for Mardi Gras, usually. I have no idea where she even is. I used up my one call with her, if you remember.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “I know, and I don’t want to leave you.” It’s not a lie. “But I no longer have a choice.”

Jocelyn getting out of town for a while would be better for her as well.

“I’m just trying to make the best of the situation.”

GM: “I’m stuck here. Without anyone or anything.”

Caroline: “What if I could get a message to Sally?” Caroline asks. “I know I’d feel better if you were out of the city for a little while. I don’t just want you sitting here miserable without me.”

GM: Jocelyn looks at her dully.

“I guess.”

Caroline: “It means the world that I mean the world to you,” Caroline continues, gently cupping Jocelyn’s chin, “but I can’t be the world to you.”

GM: “You didn’t mind earlier.”

Caroline: “No. You had the Storyvilles. You had your art. You had other things you cared about.” Caroline answers. “And I had other things too, things that demanded my time.”

GM: “Why don’t you say no?” asks Jocelyn. “If I can’t come.”

Caroline: “I’d die,” Caroline answers bluntly.

GM: “Let’s make a run for it. Be nomads. We can have hot makeup sex in your car.”

“You’re smart. You’re tough. We could pull it off.”

Caroline: “Jocelyn.” Caroline’s tone is not amused.

“I might be happy with you, but do you think I’d ever be truly happy as some nomad drifter? That I’d be happy leaving my family behind? Having nothing to call my own? Eking out an existence?”

“I considered it. When things were at their worst. And I decided then that a small chance was better than that. Because it wouldn’t be a life.”

“Now, after everything I’ve done, everything I’ve given up to get this chance to be who I really am, who I was meant to be, you want me to abandon it?”

She pauses before continuing. “Are you telling me you wouldn’t wait?”

GM: Jocelyn is quiet at first, but then protests, “But you haven’t even said what that’s gonna be! Or how long you want me to wait when there’s fuck-all for me here!”

Caroline: “Then make something!” Caroline answers angrily. “You don’t know what you asked of me.”

GM: “I DO make things!” Jocelyn retorts. “I make my art, which all the torries here hate!”

Caroline: “Is it all Savoy has? Or Primogin Poincaré? Or Donovan? Or the harpies?” Caroline asks pointedly.

GM: “Well I’m not Savoy, or Primogen Poincaré, or Donovan, or any of the harpies! And half of them are poseurs who don’t even do any art!”

Caroline: “You don’t have to be them. I can’t even tell you what you have to be. But you can’t just be my lover,” Caroline answers back, pain evident in her voice.

“Because I can’t just be yours. I have to be something else.”

GM: “I’m not just your lover! I’m an artist too, that everyone shits on, and a krewemate in a krewe that fucking imploded the moment it met you!”

Caroline: That hits like a slap in the face, and Caroline’s face shows it.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t find Evan,” she answers quietly. “And that other licks are so cruel to you about your art.”

GM: “I’m plenty of things. Everyone just shits on them,” Jocelyn declares morosely. “And now you’re leaving too.”

Caroline: Caroline’s first inclination is to apologize. But she doesn’t, because she’s not actually sorry.

GM: “Call my sire, I guess,” Jocelyn says glumly.

Caroline: Caroline scowls. “I have a lot of problems, Jocelyn. Other licks trying to kill me. Century-old ghouls hurting my family. A thin-blood I’m still babysitting. Traitorous ghouls. Dozens of bodies to dispose of.”

GM: “I said you could call my sire,” Jocelyn scowls back. “What, do you want me smile about it and say that’s not like going to the O’Tolley’s PlayPlace when I thought we had tickets to Disneyland?”

Caroline: “You nearly blew the Masquerade with my family this morning,” Caroline continues. “And you don’t know how much blood it took to bring you back.”

GM: “And you made me want to walk out into the sun if you didn’t want to make up. You were the one who said you never wanted to see me again!” The Toreador’s eyes are full of hurt.

Caroline: “For your own good!” Caroline snaps back, equally pained.

GM: “Oh, that’s so like you, deciding ‘for my own good’! Guess Jocelyn doesn’t get a vote, cuz you’re so much better than her!”

Caroline: “Other licks are going to try to hurt me now, Jocelyn. Like they never have before. They already are. And I don’t want them to go through you to get to me!”

GM: “I don’t CARE!” Jocelyn shouts, her eyes wide. “I’d rather walk out into the FUCKING SUN!”

“So if you wanna break up with me again, great! I’ll take a suntan so you don’t have to deal with the headache!”

Caroline: “I don’t want to break up with you,” Caroline snarls, rising in fury. “I want to take care of you! I want you to be safe, and happy, and yes with me, but I can’t do all those things at once.”

GM: “Great. Dump me off at the PlayPlace then while you go to Disneyland,” Jocelyn says flatly.

“I even said you could call my sire. Then you had to go and lecture me too. Because that’s just so you, you can’t just win, I have to say I love losing too.”

Caroline: “Goddamn it!” Caroline shoves over the remaining divider with a crash. “I’m just trying to do right by you, and you’re making me the asshole for it.” There’s obvious hurt in her eyes.

“I’m sorry I want more than to watch television and shop in my Requiem, but that was never an option, not from the moment I was Embraced. It’s not my fault.”

GM: “Fine!” Jocelyn shouts back, finally removing the cuffs and rising to her feet as the divider hits the floor. “You’re leaving, nothing I can do! Call Sally! You win! What the hell else do you want from me!?”

Caroline: “I want to make you not miserable!” Caroline snaps, the twisting of the bond competing with her anger over Jocelyn’s earlier actions and her inability to make it better.

This isn’t how it’s supposed to be. How she’s accustomed to it being. She’s never been in such a tumultuous relationship, never had to deal with someone else being the needy and demanding one.

“I don’t want to worry about you stepping into the sun or starving yourself or getting snatched off the street by someone out to hurt you to hurt me. I don’t want to feel like I ruined your whole Requiem just because I care about you but also have other goals in my own.”

“I want a future for us where you can be strong and independent.”

“I care about you.” She taps Jocelyn on the chest. “I want you in my Requiem. I’m willing to put in effort to make you part of my Requiem.”

“But this? This isn’t you wanting to make things work. It doesn’t feel like you thinking about how we can best make that happen.” She doesn’t seem like she can stop herself, now that she’s gotten started. “This is you seeming to just want me, and damn everything else. And that’s not how love works, Jocelyn!”

“You throwing yourself into the sunlight in front of my family to get my attention didn’t make me want to take you back. All it did was hurt me. All it did was make me so angry I wanted to rip Meg’s face off then throw you out on my lawn to finish what you started.”

“But I didn’t. Instead I brought you in, and I mind screwed everyone—people I cared about—during the day and hid you and brought you here and got enough juice to wake you up so we could have a goodbye before I left. And I tried to bury how much you hurt me today, and tried to come up with ways to make the time I was away better, tried to make this bitter sweet moment at least a little better, better than a note left or nothing at all. Better than waking up in pain and starving. And all I got was guilt for pursuing my dreams.”

“That’s not love,” she snarls. “Right now this doesn’t seem like love.”

“I didn’t take you back Jocelyn because you braved the sun. I took you back in spite of it, because even though you made me so damn angry it still cut me deeper than a knife to see you in so much pain. That’s love. It’s the same reason I tried to push you away—because I loved you more than I wanted you. Because you could blame me to your krewe for Gwen so you wouldn’t be alone.”

“Love is sacrificing and caring more about someone else than yourself. This is… abuse. It’s psycho ex territory, some crazy guy slitting his wrists in front of your house because he needs you, threatening to hurt himself whenever you’re mad at him… the stuff you’ve done is the kind of stuff I’d report a guy to the police for when I was a breather.”

“You want to show me how much you love me? Build a life. I don’t need you to be my mirror but I need you to be something. I could blame it on my s—my patron, could say that you have to grow up so impress them, but that’s a lie. You need to step up for me, because I need you to be someone who can challenge me, and support me, and grow with me. I need you to be someone that cares about my welfare, and how you can help me, as much as I care about yours. And that isn’t as simple as just being together every night.”

The Ventrue seems to be running out of steam as she continues tiredly. “I want a partner. I want things that last. Someone that can know about my plots and plans and secrets without being endangered by them. And if you can’t be that, you’ll still always be important to me, but… things aren’t simple. They’ll never be simple with me. I’m never going to be like the Storyvilles, where the times are easy and the nights ours to fill as we like.”

She stares down Jocelyn. “I think spending time with your sire would help you. I didn’t just suggest it on a whim to get you out of my way. I think she could teach you a lot. Things you’ll need if we’re going to stay together. Or, alternatively, she’ll open your eyes to other things you may care about more. There are easier cities to settle in than New Orleans, cities where your very real artistic talents will be respected by the harpies. Places where your Requiem won’t be complicated by mine.” There’s a sad resignation to the end of her statement.

GM: Caroline pours out her heart into her words, to make her lover see. To understand.

But Jocelyn just gives a sullen look when she’s done.

“Well if you didn’t want a psycho ex I guess you shouldn’t have fucking collared me after you killed my friend.”

Caroline: Caroline takes the slap for what it is.

GM: “Couldn’t even be from a glass. Had to be straight from the wrist.”

Her eyes flash.

“And then you actually fucking lecture me about moving on?”

Caroline: “Go ahead,” Caroline tells her in bitter pain. “Say it. Say everything you want to say. Hurt me.”

GM: Jocelyn looks like she’s thinking of something to say. She really does. Her face wars and boils with so many of the hurtful things she could say, about all the ways she’s been hurt.

Then she just screams, shoves Caroline onto the bed, raises her wrist to her mouth, and thrusts the bleeding font at the Ventrue’s mouth.

WHY DON’T YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE! TO WANNA THROW YOURSELF IN THE SUN WHEN SOMEONE DUMPS YOU!”

Caroline: Caroline catches the wrist and shoves it away, even as she grabs Jocelyn as a whole, pins her down.

“Because my collars are part of my price,” she doesn’t quite spit.

GM: “Oh, just ANOTHER fucking way you’re better than me!” the Toreador wails. She kicks and thrashes, red running from her eyes as she stares venom up at Caroline.

“I don’t GET to move on! I don’t GET to find someone new! I don’t GET to not always, fucking, want you!

WHY THE FUCK DID YOU DO THAT TO ME!?!?” she screams.

Caroline: Caroline accepts the venom in silence. She wants to spit the truth into Jocelyn’s face. Wants to hurl the hurt back at her. You did.

But it’s better for Jocelyn to hate her, to blame her, than to blame herself.

She leans down and kisses Jocelyn on the cheek. So she tells a half-truth.

“Because I didn’t want you to hate me, couldn’t bear for you to hate me, because of what Gwen did.”

It’s a shameful admission.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: “So that’s why you DUMPED me,” the Toreador stares.

“Why the fuck would you do that!? Why the FUCK would you collar someone, then dump them!?!

There’s a knock against the door.

“Ma’am, it’s time for us to go,” sounds Widney’s voice.

Caroline: “It wasn’t to hurt you,” Caroline tells her, climbing off Jocelyn.

GM: “Well it fucking DID! How could y-”

“Ma’am, we’ll be late,” the ghoul interrupts.

“Oh shut the FUCK up!” Jocelyn screeches.

Caroline: “I have to go.” Caroline rises and goes to the door.

“I’ll see if we can reach out to your sire.”

“I’m sorry for hurting you, Jocelyn.”

GM: Jocelyn stares like she’s been punched.

“No you don’t. NO YOU DON’T! YOU’RE NOT DUMPING ME AGAIN!!!” she shrieks, slamming her fists fist into the wall, over and over and over. The blows leave deep, all-too visible gouges. Jocelyn isn’t that strong. She’s clearly burning through all of the blood Caroline fed her, and rapidly.

Caroline: “Goddamn it, stop!” Caroline shrieks. “I didn’t say that!”

GM: Jocelyn just gives a strangled half-scream, half-cry, and keeps slamming her fists into the wall’s still-deepening gouge. Red freely leaks from her furiously scrunched eyes.

“Ma’am? Should Ferris and Fuller handle this?” comes Widney’s voice.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline snarls in obvious grief. There’s a stake available in her equipment box in the hall. She snatches it up and blurs at Jocelyn.

GM: It almost feels redundant to say it pierces her lover’s heart.

Caroline already did that.

Jocelyn’s frozen face still looks like it’s crying.

And screaming.

There’s still red around the wide-open eyes.

“Ma’am, we can take her with us and discuss what to do in the car. We will be late for your appointment if we don’t leave immediately,” Widney states.

Caroline: She’s not the only one. Lonely tears run down her pale cheeks as she looks down at what she’s wrought. Her hands shake.

She doesn’t have time to grieve. “I’ll send someone for you. To take care of you,” she tells her paralyzed lover.

She’s sorry. She really is. She leans in and plants another kiss on Jocelyn’s cheek before closing her eyes with one hand.

She looks back at Widney. It’s time to go.

GM: Widney volunteers (as they make their way to the garage) that she, Ferris, or both could accompany Caroline on the drive to Perdido House. It’s six minutes one way. Twelve minutes total isn’t a great deal of time to be away from their duties if their domitor wants to discuss options for Jocelyn.

Caroline: She’ll discuss it with Ferris, but there’s painfully little to discuss. She knows what she wants to do.

What she has to do.

GM: There’s a feeling. One foreign to Caroline’s mind, but not unwelcome. It feels like a sister’s hand brushing against her face, loving and concerned. Aware of her pain.

Caroline: She’d hoped it would be easy. Hoped she could make things better.

GM: Ferris joins her in the car as it takes off.

“We can let her sit a few nights. Run out of blood. She’ll be in torpor until you get back.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “It won’t be safe for her here, her ghoul will lose her mind, and the seneschal will begrudge the treatment of his tenant.”

GM: “The others briefed me on Jocelyn. So did your stepmother.”

“Seems no one cared too much when her friend went missing.”

Caroline: “I intend on speaking on the matter tonight with the seneschal. If that goes well, one of his agents will call upon you to collect her. If not, bundle her carefully—inconspicuously—and deliver her to my mother. Do not disclose what it is you are delivering. She’ll take care of the matter from there.”

The gentle touch of Cécilia’s mind on hers is the soothing balm she needs to keep her composure.

GM: There’s that feeling again, like a ghostly hand against Caroline’s cheek. If she’s all right. If her family can help.

“She’s unstable, ma’am. She’s a weak spot for you that’s caused nothing but trouble,” says Ferris.

Caroline: She works to find her calm, to send her resignation in the face of Jocelyn to her concerned sister.

It hurt. It wounded her more deeply than a blade. But it only hurt.

“It’s done,” Caroline agrees. Her voice is hard, distant, detached.

GM: “I’ve never seen it end well when leaders think with their pants.”

Caroline: “One way or another, we are done. I simply would not see her undone by it.”

She was a fool, to think she could have her cake and eat it too. Selfish. As always, someone else has suffered for it.

“She deserves better than that… and her sire is not one I would senselessly court as a foe. We have enough of those.”

GM: “I’m not informed of the sire’s identity.”

Caroline: “An archon, Roger. Her sire is a vampire that kills other vampires for the Camarilla.”

“Even if I cared nothing for Jocelyn, I would not explain to her sire why her childe suffered at my hands, should she come to call. A more… nuanced solution is required.”

GM: “Handing her off to the sire would be one way to remove her without killing her. Don’t see the sire being happy, but more happy than you killing her. And she’s not going to leave you alone.”

Caroline: “It’s an option… and the bond will fade with time.”

For both of them. She doesn’t know the pain of the third stage of the bond, the raw power of it, but the raw wound of her own bond aches still.

GM: “Could keep her in torpor, revive her when you’re back, and rewrite her memories. If the sire won’t notice she’s missing before then.”

Caroline: “I would pass that task to more skilled hands than mine,” Caroline answers. "Or at least less personal ones.

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

“Jocelyn doesn’t seem like she ever had a great deal to offer you.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes are hard. “Be careful there, Roger. It’s done, there is no need to dig at that wound.”

GM: “As you say, ma’am,” he tonelessly repeats.


Tuesday night, 7 March 2016, PM

GM: Pleasure proves all-too fleeting, but a prince’s childe has higher duties. Ferris does not accompany Caroline to Perdido House: he has enough work to see to already. The last order of business he brings up with his domitor is Ericson, since spared in a crisis (or perhaps remembrance) of conscience.

If Caroline is to be absent for long enough, they may benefit from deciding now. Do they wish to ‘break her in’ at a specialist’s hands, try to do things themselves, or cut her loose?

Caroline: If she is unable to contact them directly (something she does not expect) she would have them expose her to the world, and, failing that, find a gentler method of breaking her loose than Caroline had planned. With her not currently fully bound, she doesn’t trust Ericson in the hands of another.

GM: “A ghoul trainer would be unable to bond her to themselves, ma’am,” Ferris points out, but otherwise seems to hold no preference as to how to proceed.

Caroline: “Give her the choice I’d meant to.”

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

Caroline already knows how he’d have proceeded. It’s comforting to be the lesser monster.

Then again, as far as she knows, he hasn’t killed his own mother.

Maldonato’s two ghouls accompany Caroline on the drive back to Perdido House. Fuller drives. Gisèlle maintains her same tranquil silence while Kâmil makes inquiries as to her stepmother’s medical records.

Caroline: Caroline indicates the several folders beside her, big, thick things. “I have electronic copies as well.”

GM: The elder ghoul pages through them and says his master will be pleased Caroline has these. If the amount of time he reads through them is any indication, he seems to understand at least the medical jargon.

When he hears how they were obtained, he remarks, “Cybersecurity is an area our prince’s agents are less proficient in than we should desire, alas.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip for a moment, then offers, “One of several, I fear. It has the look to me that those agents have grown few indeed over time.”

“That fresh blood might be of value.”

GM: “My usta has long desired that I obtain a computer science degree from Tulane, but the hours in the night are few.”

“And perhaps such pursuits are better-suited to fresher blood.”

Caroline: “His nights might have more value spent elsewhere,” Caroline chimes in as well. “Though I would not presume to offer him such counsel directly.”

GM: “I spoke in reference to myself, bayan, though my usta has obtained degrees in numerous fields from Tulane. I am certain he shall advise you to do the same in time. He believes one of the Requiem’s too-few yet greatest blessings is an infinitude of time to further one’s learning.”

Caroline: “I pray I find it so. It has seemed among the most precious of commodities in my Requiem to date. The night’s hours are never long enough, and its demands many.”

GM: The elder ghoul inclines his head in concurrence. The casquette girl remains silent and still. It’s not a long drive to Perdido House. They take some elevators up. Kâmil takes the folders and says he will deliver them to Regent Harlequin. Gisèlle escorts Caroline to her master’s office and knocks once against the door. It’s a soft sound, more a brush than a proper knock, but it’s greeted with a familiar “Enter.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t mind the silence on the walk. Most people talk too much.

Perdido House lacks the same terror it always has.

GM: Maldonato waits on the other side behind his desk. The office and its occupant are changed little from the previous night, though the seneschl is now garbed in a navy suit instead of a gray one.

“Miss Malveaux. How does the evening find you?” he inquires.

Caroline: “Well, Seneschal,” she answers precisely. “The assistance your ghouls provided has been greatly appreciated. I’ve found these nights… eventful.”

GM: “I am pleased their service has been of use.”

The casquette girl is already gone, though Caroline neither saw her leave nor heard the door close.

Caroline: “It was prudent,” Caroline answers.

“The assassination attempts have started,” she continues nonchalantly. “Car bomb, ghouls found it.”

She pauses. “Quicker than I’d expected.”

GM: The seneschal appears little surprised. Somber, perhaps, but little surprised.

“Has a perpetrator been identified?”

Caroline: “No, Seneschal. My ghouls are investigating, I expect it was hunters though. It’s a safer move for them than anyone else off-hand, and the method feels more hunter to me.”

“If it were me, I’d use a pawn to set the bomb—and given that it was discovered without exploding… well, it feels less professional.”

GM: Maldonato summarily questions Caroline as to her activities since their last meeting, the success of efforts to conceal the cause of Claire’s death, and any further information she has discovered concerning the attempt upon her unlife.

“Come,” he states at the conclusion of her brief narrative. “It is time we saw your sire again.”

Caroline: She rises with unnatural speed at the prospect. There’s an unnatural thrill that goes through her at those words once again. That quickening in her blood that all but sings at the prospect of seeing him, of perhaps even pleasing him.

She can’t tell how much is the blood, that second sip, and how much is genuine, but it doesn’t really matter.

“Yes, Seneschal.”

She prays they find him in better temper tonight.


Tuesday night, 7 March 2016, PM

GM: The journey to Perdido House’s penthouse takes no longer than it did last night.

It still feels as if it takes a thousand years.

Maldonato gives utterance to no further words as the elevator doors sweep open to the same cavernous chamber of ruin and neglect. Caroline can make out their footsteps from yesterday in the dust.

Caroline: The filth still tears at her. Why hasn’t someone taken care of this? Why have they allowed him to suffer in this. It’s not fit for him.

She says nothing.

GM: The pair’s echoing footsteps still feel like the only sound for miles around. They proceed down the same barren hallway to the same set of double doors. Maldonato does not knock. They swing ponderously open with the same low squeak.

The executive boardroom looks the same as it did last night. The destroyed table hasn’t been replaced. The ruined sword lies where it last did.

Caroline’s sire looks equally unchanged.

He wears the same midnight suit, seemingly cut and spun from the night itself. The same blood-red tie. The white dress shirt, bringing vaguely to mind the ermine mantles of kings long past. The same ring set with the same hungrily gleaming red gem. The same shadows haunt his motionless, marble-white face.

He broods from the same throne-like chair. Rain silently screams against the tall window overlooking the city. His city. He doesn’t look like he’s once moved.

Caroline: The excitement of the moment is muted by the vision of decay, of stagnation. She resists it as best she can, even if it makes her want to wrap, to beat his chest, to demand he rise up as he deserves.

GM: Maldonato waits silently with Caroline. The throne-like chair slowly turns. Her sire’s black gaze burns into hers. The eyes dominate the shadow-cragged face: cold, fanatical, implacable. Those who stare into them overlong feel dizzy, their mouths warm with the taste of blood.

After a moment, that black fire slowly recedes.

“I have considered the crimes before me and shall now render judgment,” he pronounces in his thick, crisp Spaniard’s staccato.

Caroline: The excitement at a sign of life is muted again by his grim pronunciation.

“I am prepared to accept the prince’s justice,” she answers, coming to a knee before him.

She doesn’t shake under that hard baleful glare, meeting his gaze as he demands with all the softness that she can muster.

She says nothing further. If he has made a decision, there’s nothing further to say.

GM: “Thou shall only sire another with the permission of thine elder.
If thou createst another without thine elder’s leave, both thou and thy progeny shall be slain.”


“Those thou create are thine own children.
Until thy progeny shall be released, thou shall command them in all things.
Their sins are thine to endure.”


“I find you both guilty of violations of the Third and Fourth Tradition. Yet you have confessed your crimes, which are themselves especial in their transgression, for the progeny was sired by one other than the sire.”

“Furthermore, I find myself guilty of violations of the Fourth Tradition. The childe was Embraced by another without the prince’s leave, but the childe’s blood remains the sire’s blood, and their sins the sire’s sins.”

Caroline: His initial condemnation of them almost buckles her resolve, to be vilified by her sire for crimes she had no say in, but she tightens her jaw and listens through it.

GM: “My punishment is required, Seneschal. No other in this city is fit to raise hand against me.”

Vidal rises from his seat and strips off his jacket, necktie, and dress shirt. The exquisitely muscled flesh beneath resembles a marble statue by one of the old masters come to life: almost completely stark-white, darkened only by ancient glare of a cruel Andalusian sun, and utterly unmistakable for a human being’s.

He turns his back.

Maldonato raises a scimitar that Caroline did not see in his hands.

Caroline: It makes Caroline want to object, that he did nothing wrong, that he should not suffer for the betrayal of his trust, for her errors.

But that, she judges, is not his way. Nor her kind’s, as she explained to Natalia, not so long ago.

Their laws are harsh. By necessity. And so is her sire.

GM: Caroline does not see the blade come down. But she hears its results. Hears the ear-rending scrape that’s like steel against steel. She soon comprehends why her sire’s lover does not use a whip as the sword comes down, again and again and again and again, a nonstop blur of gray lightning in his hands.

The air whines with an unrelenting metalline scrape as lines crisscross her sire’s back. Thin and pale at first, then thicker and deeper. Blood eventually wells forth.

Maldonato does not slow. More lines open. Red eventually flows from them all in a seemingly all-too literal fulfillment of the phrase ‘squeezing blood from a stone’.

The cuts grow more surgical, or perhaps always were. The prince’s back is eventually flayed open as the sword continues to chew through raw, red muscle and sinew like a grain thresher. Skin and flesh disintegrates into ash as it flies off. The metalline hum slowly decreases in volume, punctuated by the occasional resurgent scrape against rib and spine. Blood pools and spreads at their feet.

Vidal clasps his hands and hisses something in an archaic tongue that sounds partly like Spanish. Caroline makes out some of the words.

“Lloramos a ti, oh Señor, ¿tú: Ten misericordia de nosotros y conceder el perdón. Oh Rey del cielo, y el Señor eterno, recibir las oraciones que nos infunda: y conceder el perdón. Visita a los enfermos-traer cautivos, ayudar a la viuda y el huérfano: y conceder el perdón. Hemos pecado y han salido de ti, ¿tú quien eres el Redentor de todos, a salvarnos: y conceder el perdón. Tenga misericordia sobre el penitente, y lavar las manchas del pecado: y conceder el perdón.”

(“We cry to Thee, O Lord, do Thou have mercy upon us:
And grant forgiveness.
O King of heaven, and everlasting Lord, receive the prayers which we pour forth:
And grant forgiveness.
Visit the sick—bring forth captives, help the widow and the orphan:
And grant forgiveness.
We have sinned and have departed from Thee, do Thou, who art the Redeemer of all, save us:
And grant forgiveness.
Have mercy on the penitent, and wash away the stains of sin:
And grant forgiveness.”
)

“Girar lejos, oh Jehová, el ardor de tu ira, y lástima de repuesto: tu pueblo y tenga misericordia. Conceder una favorable y pronta respuesta a las oraciones de todos, estamos implorarte: y tenga misericordia. ¿Tú, oh Cristo, mira a nuestros gemidos, suelta las bandas de la muerte, y nos conceda la vida: y tenga misericordia. He aquí nuestras lágrimas a examinar nuestros suspiros, y ahora extensamente en lástima perdonar nuestros pecados: y tenga misericordia. Aunque ninguno de nosotros ser digno de ser escuchado, ¿tú, oh Cristo, por tu propio auto ayudarnos: y tenga misericordia. Amén.”

(“Turn away, O Lord, the fierceness of Thy wrath, and in pity spare Thy people:
And have mercy.
Grant a favorable and speedy answer to the prayers of all, we beseech Thee:
And have mercy.
Do Thou, O Christ, look upon our groanings, loose the bands of death, and grant us life:
And have mercy.
Behold our tears—consider our sighs, and now at length in pity forgive our sins:
And have mercy.
Though none of us be worthy to be heard, do Thou, O Christ, for Thine own self help us:
And have mercy. Amen.”
)

“Escucha nuestra oración, oh Jehová, y escuchar a nuestros gemidos, porque reconocemos nuestras iniquidades y sentar abrir nuestros pecados delante de ti. Contra ti, oh Dios, hemos pecado; Te hacemos nuestra confesión, e implorar perdón. Girar tu rostro, oh Señor, a tus siervos, a quien tú has redimido con tu sangre. Repuesto de nosotros, te ruego, y vouchsafe perdón de nuestros pecados, y estará encantado de brindarnos tu amorosa bondad y Tu misericordia. Amén.”

(“Hear our prayer, O Lord, and listen to our groanings, for we acknowledge our iniquities, and lay open our sins before Thee. Against Thee, O God, have we sinned; to Thee we make our confession, and implore forgiveness. Turn Thy face again, O Lord, upon Thy servants whom Thou hast redeemed with Thine own blood. Spare us, we pray Thee, and vouchsafe pardon to our sins, and be pleased to extend to us Thy loving kindness and Thy mercy. Amen.”)

Caroline: It’s like watching a god. She knows better than most how deadly that blade is in the seneschal’s hands, and to see it so blunted begs the question: is the seneschal the only one ‘worthy’ to punish the prince, or the only one able?

She too knows the pain of the lash, knows the agony of it. How her Beast roared and raged in the face of it, but how death did nothing to blunt the pain. And her own lashing went none so deep as this. Watching him suffer for her sins is like watching Christ on the cross.

GM: Yet where Christ died upon that cross, so close to his father’s heavenly embrace, the Cainite who suffers for Caroline’s sins meets his end upon a lowlier place. Vidal collapses to his knees, then falls flat upon his face, unable to weather the continued assault. The sound he makes is less like a human scream than a dragon’s roar. The room’s shadows abruptly rear to horrid life like baying hounds, tearing free from their ‘owners.’ They hold the prince down and smother him beneath their blackness as his Beast screams and thrashes, even calling upon shadows of its own.

But this battle is already forfeited. The sword only continues its grisly descent. Flesh, muscle, and organs seem to vanish into the air like smoke. Soon, Vidal’s body is picked surgically clean of flesh. Little remains but a ravaged skeleton set with two furious eyes, a tongue, and an incongruently intact heart. Red has soaked everywhere across the floor.

Caroline: Caroline can only watch in mute horror.

GM: The scimitar finally ceases its blur.

Caroline: Why doesn’t he stop… why didn’t he stop…

She stares at the gruesome and ravaged thing that was, not so long ago, her sire.

GM: Silence reigns. The skeleton ceases its struggles.

Its next words sound like broken glass being chewed.

“You are unfinished, Seneschal!”

“I can safely visit no further harm upon you, my liege,” Maldonato answers.

“I must suffer!”

Caroline: Caroline blurs, her body laid across her sire’s.

“No more!” she cries out at last. “Please, no more,” she begs the seneschal.

GM: Pity moves in the Moor’s thoughtful brown eyes.

“Your filiality does you credit, Miss Malveaux, but I am your sire’s to command in this and all things. He has heard my counsel and enjoined that I proceed.”

Caroline: Her dead heart doesn’t pound, but she can hear her blood pounding in her ears.

“I am the prince’s blood, can it not be shed in place of his own, Seneschal?” she implores.

GM: “Thine sins are his to endure. As is mine own for your creation and abandonment.”

Caroline: She looks between the two elders, her dress smeared with her sire’s vitae. Between two pitiless pair of eyes, hoping for a moment one might relent.

Finally, she moves. “It is not my place to gainsay the prince. I would only all alternatives be considered.”

GM: She thinks back to her mother’s words:

The ill-informed see him as the velvet glove to soften Augusto’s iron fist, don’t they? Ah, they are but different faces to the same coin, my dear. Men of duty, resolved to do what needs to be done… men unwavering in their convictions, who would sooner break than bend…

“If there is further counsel you would offer, Miss Malveaux, I do not believe that its rendition would contravene our prince’s will.”

There is no reply from her sire.

Caroline: She gathers herself, as if reluctant to speak, but does so, her voice ragged, trying and failing to hide the pain she feels.

“Only that the prince has duties too, beyond those to justice, that cannot wait as it might. To the city, so carefully balanced. To his loyal subjects, who serve him even now, and to his childe, who has had no sire in her Requiem.”

To me, she rages internally, darkly. Only a night after learning of her and he’s leaping into the arms of death or torpor. Bitter black pitch weeps inside. It’s too familiar. All too familiar. Not good enough. Not worth his time. Not as important as other so-pressing demands of office.

She continues, that decades old pain all to obvious. “The prince’s love of justice is well spoken of, but to face torpor or final death is to lay down a duty and a burden, not to face one this night. To do this justice now is to permit another crime. That is not the prince of whom I have only heard spoken.”

Only the father whom she’s known her entire life. Why shouldn’t her father into the Embrace be the same. Why would he view her any differently.

“We will all face justice. Not all might first face their duties.”

GM: Silence reigns.

It feels like someone has walked over a grave when the double doors creak open. It’s the Hussar. Caroline hasn’t ever seen anything but haughty contempt on his burned, hideous face, but there’s a look of all-too genuine distress as he sees his master.

He holds his tongue, however, and passes the glass in right hand to Maldonato, who bleeds into it and holds it to the skeleton’s desiccated mouth. Flesh, muscle, and then skin regrow as the vitae steadily flows.

The Hussar opens the suitcase in his other hand, then proceeds to dress his master in the collared shirt and two-piece suit contained within as the Ventrue drinks. He kneels to his feet to fit the prince’s socks and lace up his leather shoes.

“Your judgments yet remain to be rendered,” Vidal pronounces from his chair as the hoary ghoul finishes his necktie.

“Miss Malveaux, I find the punishment previously levied by Seneschal Maldonato to be proportionate to your crimes.”

Caroline: Death.

More than just the Beast blanches at that thought. She has so much to lose now that she did not when the sentence was first leveled.

GM: His baleful gaze turns upon his lover. He raises his hand for the flow of blood to cease. His marble-like face truly does appear a statue’s. Every chiseled line is etched with barely-constrained fury.

“You have broken my trust. You have violated my laws. You have betrayed my oath.”

“You have forced me to betray my own oath. By your actions, I have violated my own laws and blasphemed against God Himself.”

“You. You alone, Philip, whom I have trusted. You alone.”

The prince doesn’t shake like a man might. He is simply still. Utterly still. His flesh does not act upon his fury. The world does. All seems drawn to that baleful gaze, sucked in, incinerated by the black inferno silently raging behind those dead eyes.

“You have confessed your sins to me,” he whispers. “Per my laws, that fact alone mitigates their severity,.”

“I banish you from my person. I shall no longer look upon your face. Sheriff Donovan and our heralds will conduct all communications between us.”

“I now walk my Requiem alone.”

Caroline: Don’t we all.

The grim similarly with her last encounters with her own lover are not lost on Caroline.

She knows, in her bones, it is as much a punishment of himself as the seneschal.

GM: “As my prince commands,” Maldonato replies, bowing low.

“في هذا الأمر وفي كل شيء ، ما زلت خادمًا مطيعًا لجلالتك”

(“In this and all things, I remain Your Majesty’s obedient servant.”)

The seneschal turns and departs.

No further words pass between them.

The prince stares after him until the double doors softly close.

Caroline: She feels suddenly naked before the prince.

GM: Caroline’s sire doesn’t even look at her. He stares silently upon those doors.

He stares. And stares.

Minutes pass.

He doesn’t move. Doesn’t blink.

The Hussar only stands at silent attention.

Caroline: She is silent. Patient, even as the seconds tick by like hours. She wants to cry out for him to say something. But she knows that he wishes her quiet obedience. Her reserved calm.

GM: Minutes tick by.

Then more minutes.

Then more.

Then more.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

Caroline: The pressure speak is overwhelming. She fights it as fiercely as she ever fought the Beast.

GM: The prince does not once look away from those doors. He feels like a statue.

Caroline’s senses feel so muted. There’s not even the wetness of his blood against her shoes. It’s dried.

Caroline: She can well imagine what might pass through his mind in the moment. The self-loathing and pain. The anger. The frustration.

GM: Completely dried.

There is only the oppressive silence.

And that uninterrupted, endless, motionless, million-yard stare.

Time passes and passes and passes.

And passes.

And passes.

And passes.

On.

And on.

And on.

And.

On.

Caroline: She reflects on the loss of a relationship of months, and how it must feel to sever one of centuries.

She waits. She wishes she might offer some comfort, to this elder she barely knows, but there is nothing to say.

GM: If the seconds pass like hours, it feels as if she is watching centuries crawl by.

The only indication she has of the time is when the Hussar silently clicks the shades to cover the window.

Caroline: It provides plenty of time to think on her own decisions. They are not happy thoughts.

GM: Maybe too much time.

It feels like hours before the weariness hits her, and for a second, the younger Ventrue knows oblivion.


Wednesday night, 8 March 2016, PM

GM: The dead don’t sleep for long. Caroline opens her eyes. She’s on the floor. It’s eight (or more) hours later than it was a second ago.

Caroline: She stirs. Rises to take in her surroundings.

GM: The Hussar still stands at attention by the window. The shades are gone. It’s raining out again.

Her sire is still seated upon his throne-like chair. He doesn’t stare after the door. His head is drooped forward in apparent slumber.

Caroline: She takes in the Hussar, her sire. Debates breaking the silence with him to ask when the prince might stir and decides against it.

GM: The Hussar doesn’t look at her. Just stares forward at silent attention.

Caroline: It’s not a long debate.

GM: Time passes. Her sire’s drooped head remains motionless.

Caroline: She remains silent. Stoicism is a Ventrue virtue.

GM: His lower face is covered in hair too, she notices. Days’ worth of stubble only halfway grown into a beard. Like Savoy’s, but messy, scraggly, and unkempt.

Caroline: Not everyone meets the Embrace as they might wish.

GM: Time passes.

And passes.

And passes.

It’s just as slow with her sire motionless. But perhaps less oppressive.

Finally, it happens. He doesn’t yawn or stretch. Or look around. The downturned head simply slowly tilts up. It almost reminds Caroline of one of those robotic dog pets that were popular when she was a kid. After the battery ran out and it stopped making sounds. It’d dip back to its natural resting position, cold hard plastic without any joy or life.

The Hussar, however, drapes a barber’s cape over his master’s shoulders and carefully begins to trim away the unkempt hair with a pair of scissors. Caroline didn’t see him with either object last night. The hair dissolves into ash as it falls away. There’s little clean-up.

Her sire gives no response for several moments.

Then he looks at Caroline.

At least a full minute passes, punctuated only by the scissors’ steady clipping.

Then:

“Summon the sheriff.”

The Hussar pauses and removes an old-fashioned dumbphone.

He dials a number.

“Your presence is desired.”

There’s an indistinct, curt response. The Hussar closes the phone.

He resumes cutting his master’s hair.

Caroline’s sire still stares at her.

Then he says:

“You shall find me a harsh but fair sire.”

Caroline: Caroline startles as he finally speaks to her.

“I can ask for nothing more, Your Majesty.”

GM: The prince extends a marble-like wrist. Raises it to fanged lips.

Lowers it down. Red wells forth.

“Drink.”

Caroline: There’s a moment of spiraling terror at that demand. She knows what the third drink looks like. She’s seen it in Jocelyn’s eyes.

A moment of doubts.

She swallows them down, then advances to swallow down something more potent. What else is there to do?

She is her father’s daughter. Her sire’s childe.

The idea of centuries in thrall to a torpid sire burns in her mind. Centuries like Jocelyn.

That terrified part lashes out. Asks what more she has to do to prove herself to him. Her devotion. Her desire. Her loyalty.

But he’s answered that question already.

He did not make a request.

GM: Her sire’s blood fills her. For the third time. It washes over all in its path like an unstoppable tide. A tsunami of bliss. All else shatters before its path.

Coco.

Donovan.

McGinn.

Veronica.

All nothing.

Even Jocelyn.

Nothing.

No more doubts. No more fears. No more uncertainties. No more questions.

He is her all. Her prince. Her sire. Her father. Her everything.

She couldn’t be happier.

Caroline: She drinks until he commands her to cease, drinking in this opportunity to be close to him. To touch the face of God.

She doesn’t know where the bond begins and the truth ends, but she knows she was foolish for even considering any path but this one.

What could Savoy have offered compared to her sire? How could he be anything but a pale shadow.

She’s right where she belongs.

GM: That sanguine bliss feels like it lasts forever.

And it feels like it lasted far too short.

“Capitán Gaultierrez will make the arrangements to relocate you and your personal effects to my haven,” her sire states crisply as the ghoul applies shaving cream over his face and produces a straight razor.

“You shall be educated in faith, statecraft, history, warfare, and all disciplines and bodies of knowledge appropriate to your new station. You shall be privately introduced to those Kindred whom Seneschal Maldonato and I distrust least, then announced before the Camarilla at large. Honor our faith and bring dignitas to our bloodline, and you may be of great service to God, church, and clan. Prove yourself unworthy of my Blood and I shall reclaim it.”

Caroline: Caroline listens, drinking in every word.

GM: “I shall expect the highest performance to meet the highest expectations in fulfillment of the highest responsibilities. This I swear to you, Caroline Malveaux, childe of Augusto Vidal, childe of Urcalida, childe of Tiamat, childe of Ventrue. This I swear by my Requiem and dignitas as a childe of our founder: by Longinus the Dark Prophet: by the Virgin Mary, by Our Lord Jesus Christ, and by Almighty God:”

“I shall accept from you, and offer to you, only the utmost best in all things.”

Caroline: The declaration is everything Caroline could have asked for, everything she’s been waiting what seems like centuries for.

Acknowledgement, recognition, opportunity—all these things, and from her sire. Not some pretender to the throne out to use her towards his own end. Not from some elder desiring a pawn. From her sire. So long ignorant of her existence. So long kept from her. So long imagined, even fantasized about.

In life, she might have killed for such a declaration from her father. In death, she’s done far for more the same. It still feels like a dream. Like at any moment she might wake up to find the spell broken.

The desire to bask in the moment wars with the urge from deep inside her to declare her fidelity. That urge wins out, after so long in silence, so long apart.

She still kneels before the prince, where she was when she took that third blissful drink from his wrist.

Her voice is soft, like a caress, but firm as she replies in the language of his birth with a comfort and ease brought on only by long practice.

“Su Majestad, seré digno de todo lo que usted ofrezca, y seré todo lo que usted desea de mí. Seré digno de los nombres de mi linaje, para ser llamado el childe de Augusto Vidal, childe de Urcalida, childe de Tiamat, childe de Ventrue. Esto te lo jurote lo juro, Su Majestad.”

(“Your Majesty, I shall be worthy of all that you offer, and shall be all that you desire of me. I shall be worthy of the names of my lineage, to be called the childe of Augusto Vidal, childe of Urcalida, childe of Tiamat, childe of Ventrue. This I swear to you, Your Majesty.”)

My sire.


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Story Twelve, Celia III

“Watch the Toreador barbie doll debase herself like the monkeysucking slut she is.”
Gerald Abellard


Sunday evening, 6 March 2016

GM: Jade and Randy make a pit stop back at Flawless to suit up for the sewer trek. Alana has laid out her mistress’ boots, leather pants, and any other clothes and provisions she’s asked for.

The ghoul is also lying prone on the floor as she fondles herself, naked except for the collar and leash, the latter of which she’s placed under Jade’s boots.

“Maybe you’d like to… ohhhh… fill them, mistress…” she murmurs between ‘happy noises.’

Celia: “You didn’t get enough last night?” Jade smirks down at the ghoul. “After our trip, pet.”

Support: “Eugh,” Randy grumbles as he follows her. “All the tables in here and you lie on the floor? That’s how you get ants, ‘Lana. Pussy-hungry ants.”

GM: Alana gets to her knees and rubs her head against Jade’s legs, the collar’s bell chiming as she does. “Okay, mistress… I’ll keep myself wet…”

Celia: “There’s a good girl.” Jade rubs her head for a moment, then finishes dressing. She hopes Randy brought a pair of boots; she hasn’t been in the sewers down here before, but she’s heard things.

GM: Alana volunteers to dress Jade for her. “You shouldn’t have to do something so menial as that, mistress,” she purrs. “What’s a salon for, if not to pamper you?” She kneels low to the floor and slowly wags her rear back and forth as she laces up the Toreador’s boots.

Celia: “I said after. Don’t make me repeat myself again, Alana.”

GM: “I’m sorry, mistress, of course I won’t,” Alana apologizes. She finishes lacing the boots more quickly and without shaking her rear.

Celia: “See to our guest while I’m gone. Collect the useful parts.” Blood, hair. Jade doesn’t need to explain that to Alana. Once her boots are laced Jade leaves, crooking a finger at Randy so he falls in line behind her.

GM: “Yes, mistress,” nods Alana.

The other ghoul follows after her. They get into a plain, boring sedan and start driving to the address Alana gave them. It’s in a rattier part of the Quarter.

Celia: Having never been to the sewers before, Jade isn’t quite sure what she’s looking for. Certainly not a large, neon sign that says “rats enter here,” though wouldn’t that be helpful.

She sideeyes Randy as he drives through the streets of the French Quarter in the gray Hyundai Genesis. He had been the one to pick it out when she’d sent him to go shopping for her for something less conspicuous than the flashy thing he drove. It’s the kind of car that doesn’t draw a second look unless you know what you’re looking for, he’d said, then waxed poetic about horsepower while her eyes had glazed over. It’s cute, though, in a camouflage coupe kind of way.

Car.jpg
“No talk of Cici while we’re down here,” she reminds him, checking the mirror to make sure her Jade face is all in order. He knows. She knows he knows. Still, just in case. “Just don’t talk. Don’t even think too hard. Quiet muscle.” There’s no reason this should be anything but pleasant.

If traipsing through the sewers can be described as pleasant. She should plug her nose now with something. Just reach up there and pull a flap of skin down to prevent anything from getting in. Or smooth over the sensory neurons.

GM: It’s in, almost predictably, a dark and foul-smelling alleyway.

There’s nothing there, besides some dumpsters overflowing with assorted garbage and filth. Just a manhole cover emblazoned with the words ‘Sewage & Water Board—Crescent Box—WATER METER—Ford Meter Co. Wabash Ind—New Orleans, LA’ with little stars and moons.

Sewers.jpg
Low phlegmy chuckles echo from behind Jade like bursting zits.

“Looks like I lose a swig of juice. Didn’t figure the Toreador barbie would show.”

The voice makes Jade imagine what it would be like to have a load of pustules on the bottom of her foot that squelch and burst with each step.

“We had a betting pool going. But it’s okay.”

A sight emerges from the shadows.

It’s a dermatologist’s worst nightmare.

It’s a walking, one-man freak show. He’s dressed in little more than moldering rags, and his face is a blasted wasteland of every type of acne in Jade’s not-inconsiderable vocabulary. Every inch of the dark, leathery skin is ravaged by pustules, papules, whiteheads, blackheads, nodules, cysts, and residual scars. Some are big, some are little. Some are whole, some look freshly popped. Rancid-smelling white pus freely runs down flabby cheeks and a squashed nose like water from someone who’s just stepped out of the shower.

Gerald ‘Greasy’ Abellard smiles widely, revealing yellowed and crooked teeth. Several stringy hairs protrude from his mottled gray lips.

“I’m pretty sure I’m still gonna come out ahead tonight.”

He sticks a warty finger up his nose and loudly hacks to the side, expelling a rancid-smelling stream of darker gunk onto the ground.

Celia: Jade’s disgust at the sound of the voice is rivaled only by the sight of the thing himself. She doesn’t even think her clinical strength “Max” line would be enough to help these pustules. Water logged corpses look better than this guy. That time she’d been teased for chicken pox because she’d run out of concealer has nothing on this.

Her smile still manages to reach her eyes. She’s had bad skin. She gets it. Judge not and all that.

“Tell me your next wager and I can sway it in your favor, if you’d like.”

GM: “Whether I’ll be on the cover of People next year. I’m trying to take better care of my skin, you know, and I think it’s showing a lot of improvement,” the sewer rat leers.

“You do skincare and all other girly barbie shit, right? Got any tips for me?”

Celia: “Well the fact that it’s purging is a good sign.”

GM: “Oh, that’s good. Maybe I could try running a cheese grater over my face, and give you a big jar of everything that comes off? So you can give me a really personal skincare recommendation?”

Celia: “I have less invasive measures if you’d like to solicit my services.”

Support: Randy looks down at the manhole, studiously avoiding eye contact.

As in, his eyes. From making contact with any part of this thing.

Celia: “Though perhaps a scalpel.”

“I use them for dermaplaning, see, where you take the top layer of skin off.”

GM: “Oh, I’d love to solicit your services!” Gerald exclaims with a hacking guffaw that sounds like someone taking a freshly ripped-off, really runny wart and smooshing it between their fingers.

He then does exactly that and loudly sniffs the running fluids. He holds his damp finger right up to Jade’s nose.

“Hey! Does this tell you anything? I think it smells different!”

Celia: “Maybe the top few layers, here.”

GM: Gerald rubs his soaked fingers along the skin below Jade’s nose and above her lip, giving her a ‘milk mustache.’ It smells almost like dried cum admixed with fresh piss.

“Mmm! You can just bottle that!”

“How about a trade? I give you free perfume, you cut off the top parts of my face? The whole thing is the problem, so I guess it makes sense to just get rid of it all.”

Celia: Her lip curls.

“I could piss in a bottle and sell it online. I’m sure a sac-less skunk somewhere is looking for what you’ve got to offer. But if you want me to take off your face, I’m sure we can arrange something. Once I get deep enough you won’t even feel it.”

GM: Gerald clasps his hands over his heart in exaggerated hurt.

“Oh, you’re just killin’ me! I think I’m never gonna be on People at this rate!”

“Well, okay guys, guess she thinks I don’t have it in me. Maybe I can learn to code or something.”

A chorus of unseen guffaws answers the Nosferatu. They sound like squealing rats being squelched into roadkill.

The manhole cover suddenly lifts up. The putrid stench from beneath beckons.

“Now most licks we usually give a hard time,” says Greasy. “But for a Toreador barbie like yourself, who’s probably on her back at least as often as she’s staring into a mirror, and who provides such a valuable service to the world by turning more breathers into barbies just like her, I’m gonna give the exclusive, VIP treatment. Direct access to the clan’s warren in our finest accommodations, through our fastest, most exclusive, most luxuriant mode of transportation. Does that sound amenable, Miss Barbie Doll, ma’am?”

Celia: Jade is certain that, whatever their mode of transport, it isn’t as luxurious or as fast as Randy’s car. Or even her car, with all that hidden horsepower Randy had told her it possesses.

Nor does she ask Gerald if the reason he’s so mad about her spending time on her back is because his partners, few as they are, would rather be bent over in front of him so they don’t have to look at his face.

Instead she smiles at him, tells Randy to watch the car, and steps closer to the pustule ridden Nosferatu so she can take his arm in her hands. The smell is overwhelming up close; maybe this would be a good punishment for Randy. Maybe she should tell him, later, that he’ll be spending the night with these fine folk next time he does something to mildly irk her.

“Lead the way.”

The worst part is that it’s not as if the fact she doesn’t need to breathe is helpful. Any time she parts her lips to speak the olfactory neurons on the roof of her mouth transmit the smell to her brain.

There really is no way to win.

GM: But there are so many ways to lose.

There’s a dull clank as the manhole cover comes off. Jade can smell the rank stench of the sewers even from up here. It smells exactly like she would expect it to smell, but there’s a strong note like rotten egg.

Gerald cackles as he walks her up to the literal hole in the ground, then gestures grandly towards the maintenance ladder down.

“Ladies first!”

The ghoul is left ignored.

Celia: Gross.

If she gets eaten by an alligator she’s going to be so pissed.

She casts one final look at the safety of her car and ghoul, then steps toward the now open manhole cover. At least she doesn’t need to breathe, right? That’s the saving grace here.

Her lips flatten into a thin line as she descends into the darkness below.

GM: Gerald patiently waits for Jade to start climbing, then stomps his foot down over her fingers.

Celia: It’s enough to cause her to lose her grip. Surprise flashes across her face.

She falls.

GM: There’s a loud splash as her head goes under, along with the rest of her, and painfully cracks against the tunnel floor. Raw sewage water envelops her. In an instant, everything from her boots to her hair is completely soaked—including her surprised, still-gaping mouth. The taste of the swallowed sewage is unspeakable. Like piss and shit watered down with brackish water left to stand and ferment for days. Jade feels a semi-solid, potato-shaped object brush against her tongue, and realizes it is a free-floating turd.

All is fouled. All is made filthy.

From all around her, a chorus of phlegmy voices laugh and laugh and laugh like hyenas.

Celia: There is nothing pretty about the way she rises from the water.

No, not water.

Sewage.

It clings to her. It seeps into her pores, her hair follicles, her nail beds. It surrounds her. It’s inside of her.

So is the Beast. Snarling. It wants her to pounce. To tear the skin off these ugly little things that think to break her with their crude ways. That fail to break her with their ill-conceived tricks.

Don’t they know who she is?

Don’t they know better monsters than them have tried?

Celia went into the water, and Jade comes out. Slime and muck and piss drip down her face. Her hair is a wet tangle of knots that will need to be shaved if she ever wants the smell to come out. And for all that, not a lash is out of place. Not a nail is broken.

She rises. Makes herself smile, showing teeth, though her eyes remain cold. Flat.

She laughs, too. Low. Throaty. Forces it out around the pit in her stomach. She can still taste the shit, lingering on her tongue. Fetid. Putrid. Her eyes find Abellard’s.

“How long has Garbage Barbie been your fantasy?”

GM: Abellard doesn’t take the ladder. He just jumps down with a splash and gives her a literally shit-soaked grin. Jade can only imagine what the sewage is doing for his complexion.

“Long time, barbie, long time,” he snickers, patting her sewage-caked hair. “I’ve got lots of fantasies. Sometimes the FBI tries to arrest me for them.”

There’s a dull clunk as the manhole cover slides back into place.

Celia: The Nosferatu appearance isn’t a curse. It’s the result of living in actual shit.

“If you wanted me wet, Abellard, there are easier ways.”

GM: “I bet there are. Like this one. Hey, Malo! C’mere, boy!”

There’s a simian screech as a chimpanzee bursts out from the sewer water.

“Look, Malo! Look what came home! Yeah! It’s a slut! A barbie doll slut! Don’t you want to fuck the slut, Malo?”

The chimp screeches its agreement, bounds up to Jade, and throws its hairy arms around her. She can feel the huge bulge between the creature’s legs as it starts dry-humping her thigh.

“Good boy, Malo! Good boy! Get hard for the barbie!”

The chimp screeches again and humps faster.

Abellard leers at Jade.

“Give him a blowjob and we can take the shorter route to the warren.”

His leer widens.

“‘Course, if you’ve had enough… you could always go back topside. If barbie’s had too much.”

The chimp screeches and keeps humping her leg.

Celia: Chimps are bipedal creatures. Their cock and balls are in the same relative place as a human’s. They make the same movements. The humping. The thrusting. It’s easy enough to reach a hand down her leg and grab the thing by the balls.

Her nails are long. Sharp. Filed to a point, like Veronica had taught her.

She uses them now. She uses them as the excuse she needs to dig into the chimp and sculpt its flesh clear from its body. It’s a quick, ugly, messy thing. She digs. Gouges. Rips.

GM: Precise fleshcrafting jobs take time and effort, Jade well knows, but there’s nothing precise or artful about this.

Just painful.

The chimp lustful screeches reach a suddenly agonized pitch as its cock and balls messily come away with a spray of blood, splashing into the water like another free-floating turd. Gerald gawks.

Then the chimp beats the shit out of her.

It comes without any pause or warning. The emasculated animal just hurls itself at her in a mindless rage, howling, biting, grabbing, slamming. It seizes her in its hairy arms and smashes her face-first into the sewer wall, screeching like a demon. Jade holds back her raging Beast and throws punches the way Reggie taught her, targeting its weak spots. She knows just the one. The creature’s screech as she drives a booted foot into its ruined genitals is especially satisfying. Unfortunately, the ape kicks back too. It kicks her into the wall, stomps her to the floor, underwater, and keeps kicking and stomping long after any human should have stopped moving from the sewage flooded into their lungs. Apes are much stronger than humans, she dimly recalls from a Tulane science class, and a steady diet of Nosferatu vitae can only have made this one even stronger.

Abellard just stands and watches. He isn’t laughing anymore.

He holds up the creature’s severed cock.

“You’d better hope this can come back on, barbie.”

Celia: Her nose is the first thing to splatter. It hits the wall when the demon monkey grabs her and crunch, there goes her perfect face. Her orbital bones are next. They collapse inward when the thing slams her down, again and again and again. Her face is in ruins. Tattered. Destroyed.

The rest of her is given the same treatment. One shoulder is ripped from its socket; her arm hangs, limp, at her side, useless to defend herself. The chimp takes full advantage. Sewer water fills her lungs. It makes her body heavy. She crawls away from the chimp when she can, through the filth.

Just like they want her to.

They want her brought low. Beaten. Submissive.

Ugly, just like them.

So she makes herself ugly. She makes the giggling coed’s blood work for her, but only so much. It starts deep inside, with the broken bones, the severed tendons, the muscles that have been twisted beyond human medical intervention. Her skeleton puts itself back together, a puppet pulled by the strings of a marionette. Joints click as they reattach. Her muscles bunch and curl. Her tendons, ligaments, fascia all stretch to adhere to their respective places, and with it they pull the ball of the humeral head back into the glenoid socket. Her clavicle rights itself, her scapula un-wings.

Her skin stays split. She is not beautiful. She is not pristine. She is not flawless. The gouges remain. The gashes are ugly, repugnant things. She is just another jade, shattered when it tried to play hard.

Jade cannot win this fight.

But Celia can, and Jade swallows her pride. She lets the girl come out so the lick can make it through to the other side. She halts at the feet of the monkey’s master, putting his legs between the two of them. Her shoulders stay hunched. Her grotesque face presses against the ghastly, wet pants of the Nosferatu.

She nods her head.

Yes, she can fix it.

GM: Abellard mockingly pats her head and rubs his flaccid crotch against Jade’s face.

“There’s a good slut! Boy, for a moment I thought you were gonna try something stupid like fighting us down here. That would’ve been pretty stupid, wouldn’t it, guys?”

Phlegmy guffaws answer the sewer rat.

Abellard makes a simian screech at Malo. The hooting monkey pauses in its tracks, but growls at Jade.

“We know all about the shit you get up to in your little dollhouse, barbie.”

He slaps the sewage-coated monkey dick into Jade’s hand.

“So that’s why I’m not trying to fix this myself. You also better hope antibiotics are enough to get Malo past whatever diseases he catches, given how this happens to be rather far from a sterile fucking environment. If I lose my podcast co-host we’ll have your dirty laundry spread out for the whole city to see.”

Celia: She could have run. Should have run. Gone back up the ladder, pushed at the manhole cover with her weak, useless arms. Been dragged back down and kicked around some more by the lot of them, raped by the monkey anyway.

She submitted. Her. It was an active choice, not a victory for them.

That’s what she tells herself.

Submit. Survive. That’s what she’s good at, isn’t it? Surviving. Reading the room. Knowing when she’s beaten, without letting them beat her.

It appeases the Beast and Beauty both.

She puts it out there, the impression that she has been cowed by the rats. It’s in the way she doesn’t flinch when Abellard rubs himself against her. The way she bites her tongue when they laugh. The calm, steady composure she keeps when he slaps the severed dick into her hand.

They know all about what she gets up to.

“Can you open the covering for my ghoul to join me?”

GM: The manhole comes off with another clunk.

Randy hits the tunnel floor with a yell and splash so like hers.

Support: Randy sputters in the filth, his cute chauffer’s uniform that he hadn’t thought was going to get dirty tonight absolutely ruined, his white gloves rendered immaculately disgusting.

He immediately retches, contributing to the sewage with his own half-churned waste.

Hopefully, not onto a Nosferatu.

GM: Phlegmy laughter goes up from all around him.

Support: After a few moments, he slowly slogs to his feet, shit-spattered and wretched.

“You called?” he says, voice tight, lips constricted to minimize…spillage.

Celia: Jade holds out a hand to him. She’s seated at the feet of the one who had appeared above, the same greasy piece of shit that he had seen stomp on her hands.

Her eyes warn him to keep his fucking mouth shut.

About that.

About everything.

GM: She looks as ugly as any of the sewer rats, too.

Celia: Beaten, most likely. Bruised. Battered. Bloody.

GM: Sewage-caked.

Support: Randy takes in the scene, his face greenish.

They linger on his domitor’s shit-stained lips, her befouled everything, the broken lines of her body.

Then his eyes darken with anger.

He takes her hand.

The other clenches in a fist.

What might be a turd squelches beneath his grip.

Celia: She pulls him in. Her hand slides down his arm to his shaking fist. Her fingers work against his skin, a soft, soothing gesture. It’s message is clear: no anger. Not here.

She presses the detached chimp dick into his hand. Tells him to hold it. Her hands make quick work of the buttons on his chauffer pants, pulling them down to expose his backside.

Those nails of hers dig into the cheek of his ass, right where it crests against the back of his thighs. Muscle, skin, fascia. It all comes off when she pulls her hand away.

Support: She can see those eyes, those beautiful blue eyes, so unlike Em’s and yet somehow so similar in their adoration of her, as she does it. She sees them simmer on her placating gesture. Sees them cross, askew in confusion, as she presses—is that a dick? Is that that monkey’s dick? What the fuck—Malo’s chimphood into his hand. Sees them blink as she depantses him, bares him to the monsters.

And she sees his eyes go wide with pain as she rips his flesh from him bones.

The noises he makes are not words or even proper screams so much as they are squeals, full-throated noises of agony he bites his tongue to keep from opening and letting the shitwater down his gullet as he splashes backwards into the septic waste. Blood and shit and his own screams compete for flavor on his tongue.

She catches a glimpse of herself in those eyes of his as he thrashes. They find their way to her like faithful needles on a compass find their poles. There is confusion, and agony, and more than a little fear in Randy’s eyes, but the anger is gone.

It is replaced by concern.

He is worried about her.

Celia: She only takes a handful. That’s all a good dick is, anyway. A handful.

The blood hits her nose. His blood, so familiar to her. She’s glad for the dead girl in the wet room. Glad that she had given in to the baser urges of the Beast, that she’s not knocking them aside now to get to him and lick what gushes from him.

A snap of her fingers draws him near. She presses a hand against the wound she’d made, sealing it. The skin is lumpy, lopsided, the muscles and sinew and tissue all akimbo beneath that severed skin.

“Go,” she tells him, eyes darting upward toward that open manhole cover. Go. Get out.

Support: He whimpers, gasps.

And blinks at her.

He stays.

GM: “Twue wuv!” exclaims Abellard, clasping his warty hands over his heart.

Celia: They’ll kill him.

One wrong move and they’ll kill him. This is their house, their rules. Why wouldn’t they want to take him away? Why wouldn’t they want to defile him, too, for his nice hair and his chiseled jaw?

A jaw she chiseled.

She scoffs at his words.

GM: “Okay though, since you want to.”

The sewer rat looks thoughtful.

“Pretty sure Malo’s gonna get sick from this, so we’ll just make things nice and even.”

He offers an ugly smile that would still be ugly even if he wasn’t.

“You can go ahead and just take a nice, long, drink, pretty boy.”

Celia: “He won’t get sick,” Jade says flatly. “There’s no reason to make the ghoul drink.”

GM: “Then there’s no harm in making yours,” Abellard leers. “Drink up, pretty boy! Glug glug glug!”

Support: He’s confused. He doesn’t know what the monster means. His mouth tastes like blood and shit, and—oh.

Shit.

He eyes the sewage sloshing over him. Watches his babe negotiate for his life.

He’s already exposed to it, right? It’s like the five second rule. And he’s been in here way longer than five seconds.

What’s the worst that can happen, right? He’s a driver. He’s a winner.

He looks into the greasy, monkeyfucking, pus-faced Nos’s eyes, and he takes a sip.

The sip turns into a chug.

There are bubbles.

His face turns… not face-colored.

Celia: She grabs the moron by the back of the neck and lifts his head above the water.

She doesn’t say anything. She smacks him, hard, across the face.

GM: Guffaws echo from all around the pair.

“Whoo! Look at that stamina!” cackles Abellard.

“I bet ken doll here can just do you all night long, can’t he?”

Support: Oh, you have no idea, Randy deliriously thinks.

Moments before vomiting.

Incessantly.

GM: The guffaws ring off the sewer walls.

Celia: The Nosferatu are being cruel, and petty, and mean.

Jade can be cruel, and petty, and mean too.

The extra flesh she had harvested from her ghoul is discarded. The extra big cock she had planned to make for the chimp is forgotten. These things will not know the difference.

None of them have even seen their dicks in years.

She puts the dick back on the monkey. She doesn’t make it bigger or longer or thicker. She doesn’t give it barbs or a second head or a bulbous tip. She just puts it back the way it was before. Attaches the insides, such as they are.

She ignores the ghoul and the rats while she sculpts.

GM: And just like that, Malo has a penis again. The chimp growls as she works, then hoots and beats its chest. Abellard slaps his palm in a high-five.

“Attaboy, Malo, attaboy! We’ll get you some more tail real soon!”

Malo screeches.

“I’d take you to the warren, normally, but at this point we’ve kinda had most of our fun already.”

“Watch the Toreador barbie doll debase herself like the monkeysucking slut she is and all that.”

“But, hey, you wanted to talk with Ramon.”

“Well, he’s right here. Been here the whole time.”

Celia: Of course he has. Jade fails to be surprised.

GM: Abellard cocks a hand to his ear.

“And since he’s such a gentleman,” the sewer rat leers, “he says you and him can talk right here. Or you can go clean up and he’ll meet you at your spa Malibu Dreamhouse in an hour.”

“Either way, I’m out. Thanks for the fond memories. I’ll forever treasure that look of the Toreador barbie swallowing a turd.”

“And getting humped by Malo. Ell-oh-ell.”

There’s two splashes, and Malo and Abellard disappear beneath the sewer water.

Celia: There isn’t a single reason why it would behoove her to respond aloud to the rat’s words, except to soothe a bruised ego and wounded pride. She keeps her mouth shut. Then he’s gone, and she’s left with the promise that Ramon is there, somewhere, listening.

She can deal with him now. Or let him come to her. As he would have if she had just waited an extra two nights, instead of coming down here to try to deal with them direct.

An old, echoing voice sounds inside her mind. She cuts it off before it can finish that two syllable word.

“See you in an hour,” she says to no one, since this is all probably a joke too. Another fucking game, from people who are too small to do anything but scurry beneath the ground. Big, bad Nosferatu picking on the neonate. A whole pack of them, too.

She takes the ladder back to the surface. The smell follows her out, clinging to her hair and skin and clothing. She strips from the offending garments right there on the street, tossing them into the nearest trash bin.

Maybe some rats will line their nest with it.


Sunday night, 6 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s a short drive back to Flawless. Randy looks pretty queasy, still. Alana looks positively mortified to see her domitor in such a state. She barely glances at Randy. She starts an immediate Vichy shower, if Jade doesn’t want to use a Swiss one, and lathers her domitor’s body with soap and sweet-swelling gels, washes, and scents to expunge the sewer’s filth. She croons sympathetic words as her trained hands meticulously scrub, scrape, and massage. She lavishes the Toreador’s body with adulation as though it is a temple.

“Oh, mistress… I am so sorry… they’re petty, hateful, disgusting creatures, who can only be happy when they’re destroying beautiful things… they’re as ugly on the inside as they are on the outside…”

Celia: The ghoul’s words to little to quell the blow to her pride. What had Savoy once said? Something to the effect of a Kindred can forgive you for hurting them, but not for making them look foolish.

That’s what the trip to the sewers had been. Blunder after blunder after blunder. Blinded by rage and pride, and no matter which step she took to correct the problem it was, apparently, the wrong one.

No wonder no one else likes the rats.

And rats they are. Truly. Vile, plague-ridden vermin. She had felt some small amount of sympathy for the things, some misplaced sense of affection that she’d reserve for a particularly ugly dog. That is gone now, burned away by the events of this evening.

Alana’s words wash over her like the torrent of water from the Vichy shower above. Her hands rinse clean the physical body, the broken skin, but they do not touch her where it matters. Inside. Her bruised ego retains the blemish of disgrace. There is no amount of massage in the world that can give that back to her.

“See to Randy,” Jade tells the ghoul once she is clean. “Wash him. Get rid of the filth. Let him know I’m waiting.”

Even with the particularly long showers to rid them both of the remnants of the sewers there is still time before her guest arrives for her to see to her ghoul. She mixes solutions while she waits. Pours liquid from one bottle into another, swirls it around to homogenize, sets it back down.

Jade is not yet dressed when Randy joins her in her suite. There is a fresh set of clothing waiting for her to step into them, but the Toreador is naked. Her flesh has knit itself back together. It is the pristine body of a twenty-year-old that he sees, all supple skin and gentle swells. She is not smiling. Not with her lips, not with her eyes. She tells him to sit on the table and, once he does, she seats herself on his lap.

It is not him that she wants. Not this petulant, disobedient race car driver. He is a ghoul, a toy, nothing but a pet. She wants Roderick. Donovan. Savoy. Someone older, faster, wiser, stronger. She wants to rage and scream and cry to someone who will not mock her for her failure this evening. She wants, just once, to not pair the indignity of losing with the vicious mockery of her kind.

Such a person does not exist. She can’t let her guard down around others like her. That’s the punishment in being predators: every moment they are waiting for a sign of weakness so they can pounce and rip out the throats of their former friends.

Nor can she show weakness in front of her ghouls. She can’t give in to the burning sensation behind her eyes. She can’t ask him to hold her while she weeps bitter tears and let him tell her that yes, their actions were unjustified.

There is no comfort in this world of darkness.

So she perches on his lap because he is bigger than her, because his arms can encircle her easily, and to have him sit on hers would be both impractical and silly. And, perhaps, she takes some small measure of solace from the simple action. She is silent for a long moment.

When she finally speaks her voice is soft. Empty. Neither accusing nor reassuring. She is the teacher and he the student.

“Tell me your mistakes this evening.”

Support: Randy doesn’t look good. The shower could only do so much. His face is pale and peaked, and she can smell his sickness on him like the whiff of rot from meat.

Even sick, though, he’s entranced by her, tries to smile roguishly as she puts herself on his lap.

Trembling hands pass over her in crude and clumsy attempts at foreplay.

“M-mistakes?” he says. “You mean. The girl. I’m sorry. I didn’t know that would happen.”

He tries to kiss her. With lips that drank literal shit less than an hour ago.

Celia: Her head turns away. He gets her cheek instead. Her hands encircle his wrists, pulling them from her body, holding them steady, denying him what he wants.

“What else?” she asks.

“Or should I list them for you? Should I explain how turbulent the affair in the sewer was, and how, by not leaving when I told you to, you made it worse?”

Her voice is sharp.

“Do you think that I’m stupid, Randy? Do you think that you somehow know more than me about my kind? Do you think that by disobeying my direct command to leave you did any favors for either one of us? And then you drank the water. The filth. The disgusting, foul sewage.”

“There was a reason I told you to stay with the car. You know what I’m capable of doing? Getting myself out of messy situations. You know what takes away from that? Needing to bring someone else with me.”

GM: Thinking she’s stupid.

Well, that wouldn’t be a first from men in her life.

Support: “I didn’t want you to be alone,” he whispers. “With them.”

Celia: “And that’s admirable.” She shifts, releasing his wrist so she can run a hand through his wet hair. “It is. I know you’re concerned for me. But, Randy, I can’t watch both our backs at once, and by defiling you they defile me. By listening to them instead of me, you put them above me.”

“You see the problem?”

Support: “I’m sorry,” he says. “I, uh. I’m sorry I drank shit, babe.”

Celia: “Did you know what I had planned for you tonight? I promised you something earlier. Fun. Me. Us. In front of ’Lana, even, I know how much that would vex her and amuse you.”

“This is what you get instead. Five minutes of an angry, naked owner on your lap, and you don’t even get to touch her. And if you didn’t look like you were about to keel over—if I didn’t think that what I had planned to remind you of this lesson would hurt me more than it would you in the long run—you’d get that tonight too.”

“So now I’m telling you again, Randy, to get out. Go to the urgent care center. Tell them what you did tonight. Tell them your friends dared you to drink raw sewage and you did. Get yourself some antibiotics. Get your stomach pumped, if they need to do that too. Rinse your mouth with as much Listerine as it takes to finally feel clean again.”

“And then come back here, face the punishment for your actions this evening, and we’ll move on.”

Support: “I… I can still… go down on you. If you want.”

He’s so desperate to please. To romance. Even now.

Celia: She slides off of him. That lithe, toned dancer body is out of reach. That prize she had dangled in front of him hours ago is snatched away. No touching. No sex. No feeding. No Kiss.

The look she gives him now is full of pity.

“Go, Randy.”

Support: He whines.

But he goes.

At the hospital, he tells them he did it to impress a girl.

He’s a shit liar, anyways.


Sunday night, 6 March 2016, PM

GM: Alana hovers over her domitor and picks out fresh clothes for her. Fresh scents and perfumes, to feel pretty-smelling again. Fresh cosmetics for her face, to feel pretty-looking again. She volunteers to shave Jade’s head at the end of the evening, “To fully get out everything, when of course it’ll regrow over the day. You have such beautiful hair, mistress. Such rich, beautiful hair. It’d be my privilege to style and pamper an all-new head of it for you.”

She doesn’t press for sex. She knows it is better, right now, to simply wait. To be the patient, sympathetic voice.

Celia: Alana isn’t who Jade wants, either. But with Randy gone, with the others out of reach, it is who she has.

So she lets the ghoul do her thing. Lets her apply a fresh face of makeup, powders, perfumes. Lets her doll her up in clothing she will never touch again after this. Concedes to shaving her head this evening; she’d been thinking the same thing earlier.

Once she’s ready, she tells the ghoul to send him in when he arrives through the private entrance. The one her Kindred clients favor. It’s out of the limelight, out of view of the main street.

She waits.

GM: He shows up. He doesn’t bother with a fake version of himself.

Ramon Acorda is tall, wide-shouldered and thick-muscled, with a build like a bull’s. His face is shaped like a rectangle, with a squashed nose, thick neck, and ear-to-ear mustache-less beard. His hands are large and calloused. They’re a working man’s hands.

For that matter, all of him is calloused. His face has the grayish look and texture of crack-riddled concrete, and his lumpish features are asymmetrical and off, like a crude hand tried carve his former face from that some block of concrete. Whiffs of a fine, dust-like residue periodically flake from his skin. He’s plainly dressed in a brown cloth jacket, worn-looking denim jeans, and heavy work boots.

“Mees Kalani,” he nods by way of greeting.

Celia: She isn’t sure what’s worse: the fact that up here they abide by the rules of civility, or that she could have gotten this same treatment and skipped the piss and shit shower if she’d have just waited. She had thought, by going to him, there would have been some measure of fair treatment.

She swallows her irritation. Like she swallowed that sewer water, and her anger at Randy. She is tired of the games. So young and already so jaded by the backwards politics that pass for Kindred society.

“Mister Acorda. Thank you for joining me. I presume your ghoul told you the gist of what I’m looking for?”

GM: “Si,” the Nosferatu responds. “Seecre’ roon. Undergroun’. Col’ storeege. Where do you wan’ te entrance?”

Celia: She gestures toward the table.

“Under there, if possible. Seamless. If not, another wall will do.”

GM: Ramon looks towards the table thoughtfully.

“How beeg you wan’ eet?”

Celia: “Large enough to move around in. Industrial cooler sized. Like a walk-in. I don’t know what’s under there, or if it will work with the foundation.”

“The table is on a hydraulic lift, if that helps.”

GM: Ramon considers it for a moment. “You probably know not many houses here hab basements. Te water table es witin a few fee’ of te surface for 6-9 months of te year, an’ abobe te surface for a few months depending on weather an’ elebation, si? Yust impractical. Gibe you water issues, guarantee. Eben powerful sump pump, humidity gibe you condensation. Possible issue for wha’ you wan’ to estore down tere.”

“Wha’ I can do es gib you someteeng, maybe four, five feet deep, an make rrt go under more tan one room, to geeve you space you wan’. Make eet a crawl-een, not walk-in. Tas your firs’ optieen.”

“Two, I yust gib you anoter roon, nex’ to tis one. Tall as you wan’ eet.”

“Tree, if you really wan’ ta freedge under here, ge’ a magia man. Tremere, Crone, Sancteefied prees’, whatever. Ask tem to cast el hechizo to keep te water a’ bay. I know a couple I can recommend. Obviously, tey not do tat for free. But tey do tat, I can beeld your freedge room, beeg an’ deep as you like.”

Celia: Jade considers the options. There are pros and cons to each, and she has no interest in the first. A crawl space is not what she wants. But neither does she want it above ground, or to have to bring in more people than what has already been demanded. Unless Pete…? She can’t imagine the detective casting spells for her to dismember bodies.

“What about a sub floor beneath the basement floor? Angled, so it sinks lower in the corners, pushes the water that way. Four pumps, one in each corner. Make the walls thick enough to block most of the moisture from the soil, and the sub floor for anything else that gets in. Would that work?”

GM: Ramon seems to think further.

“Could do tat. You a lady who know her way aroun’ houses.” He smiles faintly. “Te real question ees how long eet las’ you. 100-year, 500-year flood plans, mostly no’ an issue here een te Quarter. Katrina mostly deedn’ touch tis place, because it ober sea lebel. Tree fee’ ober. Howeber, you hab to understand te city ees seenkeeng. Pretty slow. Bu’ ebentually, te Quarter will be under sea lebel. Tas when your floodeeng problems ge’ serious. More serious. Eben eef tey build up de lebees, and de ceety doesn’ ge’ flooded again, you still below sea lebel. We seenkeeng ‘bou two eenches a year. So, call eet 30, 40 years by de time your basemen’ be under te water line.”

“So, I can make your sub-floor basemen’. I jus’ wouldn’ coun’ on eet lasteeng more tan a couple decades. Eef you fine weet tat, no problem. I beeld.”

Celia: “And the ‘magic word’ you mentioned earlier, can that be applied at a later date or it needs to be done before the construction begins?”

GM: “Later. But eet weell take a stronger ward, probably, once your basemen’ under te sea lebel. You should talk to a magia man to know for sure. I’m yus’ a handyman.”

Celia: She nods.

“Your fee?”

GM: Ramon quotes the figure. It’s a substantial markup on similar construction work, perhaps little surprise given the Kindred-exclusive nature—and the fact that Ramon promises he can finish faster than any kine contractor. Flawless can afford it, though budgets will be tight for a bit.

Alternatively, Ramon is willing to take payment in information (little surprise for his clan) or an owed favor.

Celia: She asks if Ramon has a particular piece of information in mind.

GM: He does not, beyond anything of general interest to Kindred society.

Celia: “I’ll be in touch,” Jade tells him. “Tomorrow or the evening after. Thank you for your time.” Because even if his clan humiliated her, it never hurts to be polite.

Nor does it hurt to offer the proverbial olive branch. Nothing but her pride, anyway, and what’s that in exchange for silence?

“Will you let your friend know that if his ape desires a more refined tool, I’d be happy to offer my services. He can come to me; there’s more material to work with up here.”

GM: “Si,” the Nosferatu answers. He will be in touch and let Abellard know.

That’s all one can sometimes do, Jade knows well. It’s a lesson she’s learned from her mortal and Kindred lives.

Just keep smiling like everything is fine.


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Story Twelve, Emmett III, Lamarck I

“Zis is really low, Emmett.”
Lamarck Albrecht


Date ?

Emmett: How, Em thinks, Do I get more juice without bothering you?

He swoops low over the nebulous region where the Quarter spills over into the Seventh Ward, leapfrogging from building to building on translucent wings, searching for his quarry. Only so many vampires in this town, he assumes. He hopes.

Not that you’ll tell me, obviously. But I assume there’s a way.

GM: I’ll tell you, just not for free.

Emmett: I’ll tell you what. Tell me and I’ll let you decide what we do to Cash Money. Hmm?

GM: I’ll tell you what. Do something for me, and I’ll take you out to a bar for drinks. That you’ll pay for. Doesn’t that sound like a treat?

Emmett: Name your price and I’ll counter. No more blank checks.

GM: Sucks to be you then.

Emmett: It sucks to be us. Look, I want at least some of what you want. You want to set somebody on fire so we can make them beg for us to piss on them, I’m amenable. But the shit that costs us both means I fight you, and that ain’t fun for either of us. Come on, tell me what you want. Play with me. What do you want?

GM: Actually, it is fun for me.

Emmett: He searches the trash-strewn streets, desperate for his quarry.

GM: Anything that makes your afterlife worse is fun for me.

You want to know how to get juice back, you’ll owe me a favor.

Emmett: He doesn’t answer him, yet.

Just searches for the vampire.

GM: Em may be glad he can fly.

The Seventh Ward, or at least this version of it, looks completely flooded. Stagnant, brackish waters thirstily lap at ruined houses. Shadows and formless shapes slink within the inky depths. Cars, garbage, and the odd hideously water-bloated corpse floats through. The floodwaters don’t go as high as in the 9th Ward. Em remembers news coverage showing people standing on the roofs of houses with water lapping practically at their ankles. Here the water only goes about chest high. The same blurred, luminous figures from the hotel wade obliviously through it.

There is no breeze against Em’s face as his spectral wings slowly flap through the gloom. Just constant, miserable downpour from the void-like sky. The water looks almost like oil, at times. Low, gurgling cries occasionally waft from its umbral depths.

Em passes over flooded street after flooded street. It’s easy to search the buildings. They’re already half-translucent, like dirty glass. He can see the luminous figures going about their lives inside. Many are asleep in their beds. Some are eating. Some are fucking. Some watch TVs. Shattered screens show nightmarish, bestial-faced figures laughing to captive audiences about the end of the world. Anytime now.

Kill yourself and get it over with.

Kill yourself. It’s not so bad.

Kill yourself. You’re just going to die anyway.

Everyone is going to die.

Everyone.

Emmett: He watches the bestial figures from time to time. They’re funnier than most talk show hosts.

It’s funny. He always knew the world was like this, underneath. Now he gets to live in it. Except, you know.

Maybe he should be more melancholy, or more sneering in his vindication. Instead, he feels oddly at peace with this, this not-quite-hell he now inhabits. The Shadowlands.

It makes him feel better, maybe, that he and Ginger and Courtney and Hannah and all of them end up here.

Maybe he isn’t so bad, after all.

Yeah, right.

He almost dips low enough to skim a foot in the floodwaters, but lifts up at the last moment, squatting on the roof of a waterlogged SUV before launching back into the air.

Somewhere in the Seventh Quarter, a vampire dwells. A dead man luckier than him.

Em will find him. He has to.

GM: Yeah. They just don’t hide it, here. It’s all out in the open.

We should land a news anchor gig. There’s potential here, with these guys, but we could do better.

Emmett: Maybe I’ll keep doing my Isaiah White bit and give some old lady a heart attack. Would you like that?

GM: Em’s only answer is his darker self’s laughter.

He knew before he even asked.

He floats along a little longer. He stops when a figure leaps out from behind one of the houses’ TV screens. He’s a bogeyman. Tall. Dark. His too-large mouth is bared in something between a snarl and a laugh, showing razor-sharp rows of ivory teeth. His pupil-less eyes are solid black. His midnight skin seems to strangely glisten against the backdrop of the flickering TV, like it’s been coated with oil. His viciously clawed hands are bared wide, like a pouncing cat’s, as a serpentine hiss issues from his mouth.

His form is as ashen and dead as Sami’s.

Emmett: Bingo.

GM: The glowing figure in the couch screams and all but falls off.

He screams they had a deal. He screams he’s useful. He screams about corner profits. He screams—

And then he just runs.

Emmett: Interesting.

GM: The bogeyman gives chase. The glowing figure grabs a gun and points it at the bogeyman. He laughs. The gun explodes into his chest. He keeps laughing.

Emmett: Em briefly glances around the place’s interior. Looks for a name, some clue as to the owner’s identity. He keeps Astride in sight, though.

GM: The man’s demise is as quick as it is brutal. The bogeyman plunges clawed fingers into the man’s kidneys, twists, and keeps plunging until Em can’t see the ends of his fingers anymore. Teeth flash as he rips a second smile from the man’s throat all the way to the top of his head. He drinks thirstily, lets the corpse topple to the floor, then licks his fingers. He takes the gun and then blows open the dead man’s head. He keeps firing until all that’s left has the texture of gory oatmeal.

He laughs some more when he’s done and re-licks his fingers.

Emmett: “Yikes,” Em says aloud. The solitude might be one of his favorite parts of the afterlife. “Talk about playing with your food.”

GM: The bogeyman ignores Em completely as he walks out of the house like nothing happened.

Em sees several pieces of rotted, ancient-looking mail on the cracked and scuffed kitchen counter. They’re addressed to Kione White.

There’s an ashen-hued figure standing over the man’s no longer glowing body. His build, clothing, and facial features are identical. His eyes are closed and his face is blank. He’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: Hmmm.

He doesn’t want to waste too much time, but more companions are hard to turn down. He digs his hands into Kione’s mucus, cocoon-like shell and tries to rip it apart.

“Up and at ’em,” Em mutters.

What was that word Fizzy had tossed out? Fresh out of a… something.

GM: The man’s eyes don’t open, but his mouth parts in a soundless scream as his features contort with agony.

Lamarck: “Vat in ze Lord’s name do you think you’re doing?” booms the German-accented voice of a man pushing him off the cocooned form.

There’s a man of about forty looking sternly over him, his shirt covered in a mixture of blood and soot, a large leather sack weighing on his shoulders.

His woolen trousers are ripped in places and Emmett can see bone squelching in windows of torn ligaments and musculature. His mustache is trimmed to some sort of regulation, and everything about his face is precisely pointed at Emmett.

He is mostly unadorned by jewelry, but wears a beautifully sculpted and painted ring around his neck, a complex sigil formed at its center, from gemstone.

“Mein Gott in Himmel, look vat you’ve done. A hole hast been torn im-proper-ly in zis poor vun’s caul.” He taps his foot against the floor, looking very concerned.

Emmett: Em starts to fall, but floats back upright. “What the fuck? Where did you come from?” Then he starts to shake his head. “Um, sorry. I’m kind of in the middle of something. Uh…” he glances over his shoulder at the door. Astride’ll get away. “Walk and talk?”

He starts walking.

GM: The man stops silently screaming as Em removes his hands, but his face still looks pained.

Lamarck: “Hmm. All right.”

The German-sounding man hefts the cocooned body over his shoulder and walks beside Emmett.

“Do you know vat you’re doing here, mein freund? I esked you a qvestion, I expekt an answer,” he asks with far less fury.

Emmett: “Following a vampire,” he says, walking quickly outside White’s apartment and trying to catch a glimpse of Astride. “Sorry if I’m distracted. Emmett Delacroix. And you are…”

GM: The vampire wades through the chest-deep waters like they’re not there. Other luminous figures are fleeing the street.

Lamarck: “Herr Lamarck. And are you literally outside of your mind, Herr Delacroix?”

Emmett: Em points. “That’s my man. Try and keep up.” Phantasmal wings erupt from his back and he beats into the air above the street, flying low above the waters. “I’m certainly not inside of it, at the moment. Kind of a lot going on. You been dead for a while?”

Lamarck: With a great rushing of wind, Lamarck spirals through the air using a pair of rotted, oil-dripped bat wings and once parallel with Emmett, switches to beating them in the air and matching his pace.

“Qvite some time, ja. Vat of you?” His attire reminds Emmett of some of the civilians in World War II flicks.

Emmett: “Oh, you know. Feels longer than it’s been. Still learning the ropes.” He glances sideways at Lamarck as he beats his way towards his ash-colored prey. “Never gotten somebody out of a—did you call it a caul?—before. Sorry if I did it clumsily. Seemed selfish to leave him.”

Lamarck: When he turns, he sees Lamarck start to smile, perhaps to reminisce. Perhaps because Emmett is just that likable. But it disappears as quickly as it came, and turns hard and concerned. “You are new,” he asserts.

“Hast no vun explained vat a caul ist? Dit you not see ze terror in his face when you were tearing at it? Oh dear, zat must mean you are completely unaffiliated.”

Emmett: “At the moment,” Em admits. “You’re not with the Hierarchy, are you?”

Lamarck: He looks very nearly offended, and with his free hand points to the gemstone laden circlet around his neck. “I am vun of ze Unharrowed.”

He pauses, flapping his wings.

“Hast no vun told you about ze great Consortium of ze Unharrowed?”

Emmett: He shakes his head. “I’m an, ah, infant. I spent some time in a Giovannini prison and just broke out. Still don’t know much.”

He wonders where Astride’s headed. He doesn’t seem too concerned with keeping a low profile, judging by the fleeing mortals around him.

GM: Astride gets into a rust-corroded car with dead headlights and mangled tires. He starts driving through the water.

Emmett: Em alights on its roof, his wings folding behind him as he crosses his legs, and gestures for Lamarck to sit with him.

“Perhaps you can recruit me,” he smiles. “If that’s the kind of thing you’re into.”

GM: Em sinks through it like it’s made of smoke.

Lamarck: “—incorporeal,” Lamarck tries to warn.

Emmett: He floats back up again, looking disgruntled. “Whoops.”

“Normally we can stand on things. Don’t know why it should be any different to sit.”

Lamarck: “Because wir seeing it does not mean es ist ours. It belongs to ze Skinlands. Verstanden?”

“Du hast a lot zu lern, mein freund. Vy are you following zis vampier ven you are so new?”

Emmett: “Doing one a favor so she’ll do me one,” Em says, smiling ruefully. “I know I have a lot to learn. But that’s why it’s lucky I’ve found you. What would you tell me about cauls? How to open them? And your people, the Unharrowed?”

Lamarck: “Ah,” Lamarck nods intently. “Of course. Vampiere tent to tink in favors. But zey do nothing but lie. Unwise to rely on zem.”

Emmett: Em nods. “Me and this one have history. Figured I’d give it a try, and if she doesn’t keep up her end…” he shrugs. “The afterlife is long.”

“I mean, you know that already.”

Lamarck: “Es ist only as lang as you respekt it and ze nasty tings zat exist vith-in. Lest you risk, diving into Oblivion.”

Their dead teeth seem to chatter at that word, as if from a cold wind.

“But you vould like to know about cauls, then. Unt dee Unharrowed?”

Emmett: “I would,” Em smiles. “It’s rare to meet a casper that’s so, ah, friendly.” But this ghost seems anything but little.

Lamarck: “Vy of course,” he smiles, one of his teeth looks golden, other closer to black. Some however, are pristine and white.

“Und who knew? Casper is still a thing, huh? I remember reading zose komicstreepen before I ex-pired.”

Emmett: “I… didn’t know it was that old,” Em admits. “I guess it sounds German. Nifty. Anyways, I’m saying I appreciate it, and if you aren’t going to turn around and enslave me or something similarly shite, I’d be happy to stay in touch. I’m hanging with a bunch of other fresh ghosts right now, and I think we’re all looking for some guidance. Any tips you can give us about this side of the grave would be helpful.”

He pauses. “Do you know how to get, um, energy? The stuff that lets us use powers. I’m running low.”

Lamarck:-I am Amerikan-” Lamarck cuts with a much darker tone.

Emmett: “Okay,” Em says. “Didn’t mean anything by it.”

Lamarck: He laughs, it is hearty. “Don’t vurry. Sometimes our passions get ze best of us, ja?”

“How many ozer ghosts do you have? It’s irresponsible to leave you all unaffiliated. I couldn’t shlumber wiz zat on mein mind.”

Emmett: “Just four, including myself,” Em says. “I know what you mean about passions.” He smiles ruefully. “I take it loners don’t last long, huh?”

Lamarck: “Ah. Gut! I can just induct you all into the Consortium in vun ritual. Perhaps him as vell,” he says referring to the body in the sac. He nods as they fly, following the rusted car as it trudges through the water.

“I’m zumthing of a loner myzelf aktually. My secret is shtaying abzolutely unapolegetically positive!”

“Now, you asked me about the energy. You are simply tired. It can be regained viz appropriate rest ven you are wiz ze things you really care about.”

Emmett: Hey, Gasper. Coochie-coochie coo. Cunt.

“What kinds of things do you mean, there?”

“Also, just to be clear, if some of us don’t want to join, will you be able to take no for an answer?”

Lamarck: “I’ll give an example. I used to work a taxi cab hier in ze city. It vas compakted at an auto-graveyart. I like to slumber zer to recoup. You are young. Perhaps you have a schwester, or a bruder, or a fader, or a muter. Sleep bezide zem. You might feel better.”

“Und das ist Amerika, Emmett. Es ist a free-country”

Emmett: Em nods, grinning. “All right. Okay. I think I can swing that. Thanks for the tip. What’s it like in the Consortium? Am I saying that right?”

“You said you’re a loner. What does that mean if you’re also not unaligned?”

Lamarck: “Vell, you see,” he says, the wind rushing by, “ze Consortium respekts the individuality of every ghost. Or casper! As you call it. And as a result, you can be a part of it vizout being tied to any other’s vill.”

“We are the Unharrowed. You do know about harrowing, ja?”

Emmett: “I do. That sounds mighty attractive to a man like me. Being free.” His wings beat him higher into the filthy air. “What does it mean to be Unharrowed? And what does the Consortium demand of its members?”

Lamarck: “Vell, ven your shadow—” he whispers that word, “—vishes to punish you, zey may drag you into a pit called zie harrowing. To be unharrowed is to be free of the pit. Dee Consortium demands only zat we support each ozer from being pulled into zee pits.”

He gestures to the gemstone ringlet around his neck.

“Zat is vy ve ver zis. It zupports our invisible ties. Zee ropes ve pull to zupport each ozer.”

Emmett: Em leans forward, not having to feign his interest. “How does one wraith help another?”

Lamarck: “It is zimple, zo not easy. Wiz sie same force ve use to en-er-gize our souls from sie vons ve care about, ve pull each ozer up and out of zee pit, which vee call the nihil.”

Emmett: Finally, some answers. Em’s still focused on Astride, but Lamarck is quickly becoming a better reward for his outing.

“You seem like you’ve been around a while. What are these tricks we can do?” Em holds out a hand. A small flame flickers above his palm, first glowing radioactive green, then aubergine purple, then yellow as a banana, before forming itself into a fleur-de-lis of all three colors.

“One ghost, she called me something. A sandman.”

Lamarck: “Vau. Ab-so-lute-ly vau. If I vasnt’ holding zis enfant I vould clap. Beautiful arcanos, Emmett.” He’s smiling ear to ear at the performance.

“Ah. Of course she did then. A zandman ist a casper, like yourself, who brinks all ze kolor of ze outer vurld into our own. Ze entertainer! Ze main event. Emmett Delacroix! Ha! Ha!” he announces, punctuating with laughter.

Emmett: “Arcanoi,” Em repeats. “Well, thank you very much. It’s not very useful, but it certainly does wonders for my mood. Can arcanoi be taught? Seems like they’re kind of important for futzing about with the… skin place. Skinlands.”

Lamarck: “Vy of course zey kan be, through time und instruktion. Und vizin the group of the Consortium you are indukted into, zer is a qvuiker process of teaching through sharing. Through ze ties ve are connekted through! Beautiful, no?” He is beaming as they fly through.

Emmett sees how grey the rest of the city looks in contrast to his conjuring. It is as dramatic as it is saddening.

“Und, Emmett. Your power is ze only beauty vir haben hier. Zer ist little more important in ze Shadowlants zan zat.”

Emmett: “Perhaps in the Shadowlands,” Em demurs with a smile. He isn’t immune to flattery. “But I’m still rather invested in making things happen on the other side. Which I suppose is why you have found me where you have.” He eyes Kione. “How does one open a caul safely? Is there some trick to it? I wasn’t trying to hurt him.”

Lamarck: “Of course you veren’t trying to, Emmett. But you saw his face. Terror. Ab-sol—-ute terror. And vurse zan zat. Ze potential onset of a harrowing for both parties. Zey are enfants, in ze amniotic sac vich ve call ze caul. Ve treat zem viz ze same respekt and delicacy ve vould treat a newborn.” He has a serious look on his face, some half-parts of nostalgia and pain.

“Zo, all participants in removing ze caul must be protekted from ze potential nihil.”

Emmett: He bows his head. “Thank you for stepping in when you did. It seems I owe you a great deal already.”

Lamarck: “Ha. Ha, Emmett. Zo shtuck on deals. Too much vampier business on your mind.”

When he’s finished chuckling, he adds, “But yes, you do indeed.”

Emmett: Ah, not so charitable after all.

“Oh, I just like to make sure I’m mindful of those who do me a good turn,” Em says easily. “I’ll tell you what. If you aren’t up to anything else tonight, stick with me. We’ll follow the bloodsucker ’till dawn, and talk during the boring bits. Then I can take you back to the place me and the others are holed up, and you can give them your spiel about the Unharrowed. How does that sound?”

Lamarck: “Oh of course, I’m heppy to exp—plain it to zem. But zis enfant is ektually qvite heavy and ve can’t leave it alone while ve search, it vould be kidnapped,” he says grimly.

“Ve know ver your vampier ist going zo, to ze spawning grounts. Not safe for a lone casper. Und don’t vurry, ve have veys of finding ze vampier zimply, vons ve’ve seen zem. Arcanoi.”

Emmett: “Spawning grounds?” Em slows, but doesn’t stop his flight. It’s clear that he isn’t very sure about abandoning the tail.

Lamarck: “Ze spawning grounts are places of excessive angst. Vampiers of zorts are drawn to zeze places, to ze latent energy. Zey bolster ze Shadows of ze unaffiliated caspers who enter vizout protektion. Es ist a begging for a harrowing or ze hijacking of your corpus through a catharsis.”

Emmett: Em looks him in the eye, one dead man to another.

Finally he says, “I like you, Lamarck. I want to trust you. You seem like good people. But I can’t call you a friend if you keep lying to me. What’s your angle, here?”

He keeps flapping over the trashed car as it rolls towards its destination. “I don’t appreciate being told ghost stories. Not when I’m inside one.”

Lamarck: Lamarck sighs. “I’m zorry Emmett. I shpent a lot of mein life lying to keep people zafe. Unt to help myzelf survive. Force of habit.”

“Zer ist a lot of danger anyvere out hier in zese lants. Especailly for such young individuals who just broke out of Giovannini prison. Zey vill be looking for you soon. Vampiers are tricky. Und unforgiving. Much zafer to search during zer day.”

“Vie are much safer ven vie are togezer. Ze Hierarchy is stronk in ze area, keeps us far too on edge for comvert. Ze Consortium needs recruits, and I’m villing to help by recruiting you and teaching. But I can’t be out hier all nacht. Ezpecially not viz zis heavy enfant in my hants. So eizer I depart viz him alone or vie go back.”

“Leik you said, zer is alvays another day to earn a debt. But like I said, you only have von soul to lose.”

Emmett: Em nods evenly. “I won’t ask you to risk your soul or his. But I don’t like leaving things unfinished. Especially not when I gave my word on them. I’ll tell you what. How long does it take our kind to rest properly? I’ll do that after my business here is concluded, and I’ll meet you with my people when I’m up. Maybe before sundown, in Jackson Square? And bring the enfant, if he’s hatched by then. We might have a place for him.”

Lamarck: “It takes at least eight hours of rest with ze von you care about to recoup your energies. Potentially more depending on ze strength of your Shadow. Zat ist over eight straight houvers ver you und ze loved vun you shlumber viz are vulnerable to attack. If zumvun feinds you then alone, you are in trouble.”

He shakes his head once more. “Vich is vy es ist best to regroup as soon as pozible. You have to learn, a vampier need not fulfill zer vurd even if you honor yours. Only to each other’s. Wraiths are family. Zer ist nothing zat makes you shtronger zan family.”

Emmett: “I hear you,” Em says. “But I won’t break my word first. Will you meet me at Jackson Square at sundown, or not?”

Lamarck: He sighs. “You are so painfully new. Es ist far too hopeful to trust that you’ll have a chance to keep it. If you get caught. Oh dear.”

He starts to hum a slow moving tune, reminiscent and pregnant with regret.

“Zis enfant probably knows enough about your vampier to tell where you can find him. Und he vill want to get revenge for being murdered. Come back, ve’ll induct you all into ze Consortium. After zat, ve’ll bring him into zis wurld und zen vigure out vat he knows about your vampier.”

“You’ll keep your vurd und our safety. Please, Emmett, for all of our sakes. Otherwise… I don’t want to think about the possibilities.”

Emmett: Em hesitates. A part of him is still suspicious. Another part of him thinks he should see where this guy goes. And it’s not like he doesn’t have any information to feed to Sami.

“Okay. Shall I lead the way?”

Lamarck: “Right behint you, mein freund.”

Torn wings beat once more against the wind, and the pair fly into the darkness.


Date ?

Emmett: The pair and their cargo enter the Ritz-Carlton from the roof and plunge down the elevator shaft to Sami’s floor. Em pokes his head into her suite before he enters, crooning, “Honeys, I’m home.”

Lamarck: “Vau, you guys sure are living it up, aren’t you. Ha ha,” the second wraith chuckles as he enters, still carrying the burden of the enfant.

GM: “Home sweet home,” says Hannah. She and Ginger are sitting on the floor’s stained and moth-eaten carpet. Em wonders if they tried to sit on the bed or furniture.

They both look up at the newcomer’s voice.

Emmett: “Bought a friend,” he explains as the second wraith enters. “And a baby.”

GM: “Looks pretty big for a baby,” remarks Hannah.

“Who’s your friend?” asks Ginger. It’s not without a note of wariness.

Emmett: He gestures grandly. “Lamarck, this is Hannah and that’s Ginger. Ginger, Hannah, this is Lamarck. He seems trustworthy, as these things go.”

He fills them in on the basics. How Astride created a ghost, and Lamarck gave him some useful information about the afterlife, and talked him into returning with the “—enfant, is the word he uses. Baby ghost. Figure Kione here will be able to tell us some of Astride’s dirty laundry. And another ghost in the family only helps, if he wants to stick around.”

“Not to mention, you’ve been on this side of the grave for how long, Lamarck?”

Lamarck: He looks into the air with a nostalgic gloss over his eyes, before answering. “Over sevahnty years now. Se-vahn dekades dead.”

“Now I believe mein freund Emmett hier said zer ver four of you. Iz zer von missing or ist mein memory a little out of date?” he smiles.

Emmett: “Running an errand,” Em says. “Ought to be back by dawn.” He glances at the two. “How have things been here?”

GM: “Pretty boring, honestly,” says Hannah.

“But I’ll take that any day over Giovannini, spectres, or reapers,” says Ginger.

“Yeah,” agrees Hannah. “It’s an improvement.”

“We’ve mostly just been talking.” Ginger. “Getting to know each other.”

Lamarck: He has a worried look on his face at Emmet’s answer. “How’s your friend goink to know ven dawn ist? Zer’s no verking vatches in ze untervurld, you know. Es ist unzafe to be alone hier.”

Emmett: Em waves a hand. “She will know. Don’t worry over it.”

Lamarck: “If you zay so, Emmett. You know her better zan I. In any case, I assume you are all unaffiliated, zen, ja?”

Herr Lamarck encourages Emmett to share what he’s learned about the Consortium of the Unharrowed, and fills in key points wherever he feels necessary. He is precise, polite, and willing to answer any of their questions.

GM: Hannah and Ginger confirm they are unaffiliated. They also broke out of “Giovannini prison” with Emmett.

Both of them want to know more about the Consortium. They like what they hear.

“Vampires never really did anything to me,” says Hannah. “That I want revenge for, anyway. I’m just glad to be away from them. But, fuck, yeah. I don’t ever want to have another harrowing.”

Emmett: “No love for them myself, but that doesn’t mean I want to dedicate myself to their destruction,” Em agrees.

GM: “I’d rather just find Melody,” Ginger nods.

“And we hurt them pretty bad breaking out, it felt like,” says Hannah.

She looks at Lamarck. “So, how do we join the Consortium? And stop having more harrowings?”

Lamarck: Lamarck presents the ornately decorated circlet encircling his neck to the crowd. There’s a gemstone imprinted into the center of the band.

He explains, just as he did to Emmett, and as he discussed in his pitch, the power of sticking together as wraiths, that the invisible ties between established groups of Unharrowed can be pulled on through their circlets to pull the suffering wraith out of the nihil pits.

He explains that to join as a troupe within the Consortium, they all, including Lamarck, will participate in a group ritual where, standing in a circle, they each tell a story of the happiest moment in life, of their greatest passion, and then don their own circlets at once.

GM: “Can we do it again, after Courtney gets back, or do we need to do it together with her?” asks Ginger.

Lamarck: “Ve vill do it again, after Courtney gets back. But for all but her, it vill be a rededication versus an induction. Ze process is ze same. For me, both times vill be a rededication, az I’ve already been inducted.”

“Und of course, ve vill do the same for zis enfant und, ven ve find Melody, her as vell,” he assures Ginger.

“No vun in zis family vill be left behind.” He smiles.

GM: “That makes sense if you’ve already done it,” says Hannah.

“So who else is in the Consortium? Where is it?”

Emmett: “Why not wait for her?” Em says. “Seems more efficient. And the circlets—I don’t suppose you keep several on hand? How do we make them?”

GM: Hannah shakes her head. “No way. I don’t want another harrowing. We’ll do it again when she’s back.”

Lamarck: “Like I told you Emmett, be-fore we free zis enfant, ze present parties must be defended against ze potential incitement of a harrowing und ze opening of a nihil. Ve vould have to vait on Courtney to satisfy your curiosity viz ze vampier.”

Emmett: Emmett nods. “I see. I guess I’m still confused about how exactly the protection works.”

Lamarck: “Vell in a zense it is very zimple. Ven ze nihil pit begins to open beneath a member of ze Unharrowed, zer fellow members of zer troupe use ze energy within, projected through ze circlets using ze invisible ties betveen mem-bers, to pull at vonce on the wraith at risk of falling into ze nihil and shtop zer deszent. Verstanden?”

GM: “So it’s actually possible not to fall into… nihils, by being strong enough to pull yourself out?” asks Hannah.

Lamarck: “Theoretically yes, but ven ze nihil opens, it is ven ve are under a great shtress. Zat is vy ve have our families. Each Unharrowed family member can feel ven ze ozer is on ze verge, und can intercede togezer to shtop ze fall.”

GM: “Well, I’m all for doing this… ritual, if that’s what you called it, right now,” says Ginger.

“Who knows if our Shadows might try to harrow us again, before Courtney’s back.”

Emmett: Em agrees. “And the circlets?”

Lamarck: “In my pack,” Lamarck says, patting it with his palm.

Emmett: “No sense in holding up the show, then. Unless there’s something else we ought to know before beginning?”

Lamarck: “Just von zing. Ze ritual tends to leave a few temporary zide effekts for a few hours after it completes. For zome, zer ist a veakening of zer Arcanoi, for ozers, an experience of a high zimilar to zome of zee Zkinlands’ drugs. But ve are hier for each ozer, ve vill be all right.”

Herr Lamarck looks at each of the wraiths, then asks, “Everyone ready?”

GM: They nod.

Lamarck: Lamarck retrieves three equally ornate circlets, adorned with beautifully colored gemstones. He hands them to each of the wraiths, and then instructs them to stand in a circle, facing the collective center.

GM: When Em tilts his head just so, they’re plain and ugly steel. They’re hard thick things that chill his hands.

The other two wraiths both do so.

“Wow, are these pretty,” remarks Ginger.

Lamarck: “Zey say zat ze beauty you see in zese Unharrowed circlets ist a reflektion of ze beauty in your own soul.” He nods sagely.

“Emmett. Are you ready to join ze circle?” he asks calmly.

Emmett: The thing he sees gives him pause. But it’s too late for doubts. In for a penny.

“I died ready.” He steps forward and takes his place in the circle.

Lamarck: “Of course you did, our zandman!” he claps a few times as Emmett completes the congregation.

“Now ve each vill recite a memory of ours from life in vich ve vere at our happiest. I shall start.”

“After ze vehr, venn I escaped from ze New Orleanian internment camp I vas forced into, Camp Algiers, I found myself shtuck vizout vasser. Vizout food of any kind. Und as I was limping through ze bayou, about to collapse, zis beautiful pink schvein came to me viz a pale of fresh vasser to trink. I’ve never felt zat much gratitude ever in mein life. Und to an dirty animal, at zat. Unt yet, I did zen. Such is life.”

GM: The others actually seem to take some time to think on that.

“My first kiss,” says Ginger. “I was, I think 12. I’d been waiting what felt like months for this cute boy to ask me out, and then he finally did. I think one of my friends must have told him I was interested. So we went out to see a movie, he bought us several boxes of Junior Mints there, and gave me a kiss outside the theater. I was so nervous, we both were, but it was… it was a happy kiss. It’d just been a really sweet, wide-eyed date. Then he said he’d forgotten to open one of the Mints boxes during the movie, and wanted me to have it. I ate them later that night in bed. I thought of the date with each one.” Ginger smiles.

“I’ve been a blood doll, for vampires. They can make you feel incredible. But they never made me feel… whole, like I did then. Happy.”

“Putting on a nice dress,” says Hannah. “It was a couple years after I’d started transitioning, and they’d been… rough. My mom and I went shopping this day, and bought a this really nice dress at the mall. It wasn’t that fancy, or anything, I just felt so pretty in it. I really, really felt as though I looked like a girl. I was flouncing around in front of the mirror, then through the house. My mom had a friend over, this was actually the day after we bought it, and she said something about how happy I looked. How ‘full of life’, or something. I just felt so good about myself, and seeing her and my mom smile… they knew how happy I was, and they were happy for me, too. I just felt like I finally was, who I knew I was.”

Lamarck: Lamarck claps again for the two wraith’s stories, and then looks at the wraith stood across him. Emmett.

“Last but not least, Emmett.” There’s an excited tilt to his voice, and for a moment, he can see a gleam of hunger in the ghost’s eye. It vanishes quickly into calm and patience.

Emmett: Emmett is silent, for a while. At first, it seems like he’s digesting the others’ anecdotes. Then, as seconds become minutes, the silence stretches awkwardly, like a condom used as a water balloon. The Sandman stares into nothing, and even the dead cannot see where he sees.

The silence boils, then overflows. It’s been five minutes since anybody spoke. And when the first wraith in the room opens their mouths, tries to break the spell, Em speaks.

“When I was fourteen, I had a fight with my dad. I don’t even really remember what it was about. But it was bad. I mean, it was the worst fight we had ever had. We would have worse ones, later, and I would do worse things, later. But right then, it felt like I was the worst person I had ever been. I was screaming at him, and I was just trying to make him hurt, make him cry, the way you want to when you’re young and you think that’s what winning an argument means. But his face got red, like it always would, like ripe tomato red, and he just started screaming at me…”

The voice of Philèmon Delacroix roars through the room like a Katrina deluge, splatters over the dead assembled like a waterlogged grave.

EMMETT MILOUD DELACROIX, you can talk all the filth you like, you can lie and you can holler and you can break all the things you want, but don’t you ever think you can scream me into GIVING UP on YOU!”

Silence, for a moment. Em talks quickly. “He didn’t normally talk like that. Didn’t… enunciate, I guess. But it just kind of stopped me. And I was so surprised, I said sorry without realizing I meant it. And he said, it’s okay. He said,”

“I love you.” Phil’s voice is quieter when it comes out of Em’s mouth, but it’s somehow warm as the Skinlands.

“And I said,” Em whispers, “I said, I love you too. And that’s the last time I remember ever meaning that.”

There it is, finally.

The answer to Cécilia’s question, all those years ago. He didn’t have to be drunk to find it.

Just dead sober.

GM: The other two wraiths are silent at the end of Em’s memory.

Very, very silent.

Ginger looks like she’s about to cry again.

But that’s what Tante called him, wasn’t it?

Sandman.

Performer.

Emmett: “It’s a happy memory,” he says quietly, desperately. “It is. It is.”

It’s the best one he can think of.

The last one.

GM: “It means a lot,” Hannah manages. She sounds a little choked too. “To have someone who cares. Who won’t give up.”

“Yeah,” sniffs Ginger. “Your dad sounds like one in a million.”

Emmett: He waits for Gasper to say what he’s going to say.

To point out how Philèmon did give up, eventually.

Because that’s what Emmett Delacroix does to men who are one in a million.

He proves them wrong.

GM: Em’s Shadow is silent.

What else is there to say that’s not superfluous?

Emmett Delacroix doesn’t need his Shadow’s help to put himself down.

When has he ever needed help putting anyone down?

Lamarck: The old wraith standing across from him stares into Emmett’s dead eyes, though the painful happiness disguises them as anything but. He doesn’t smile like he did for the others. He doesn’t cry. Herr Lamarck just looks him straight in the eyes, and—

Clap.

Clap.

Clap.

The sounds echo throughout the room. Then it’s silent, and then the soft-spoken German-accented voice of the man who insists on being American breaks it.

“It’s time.”

“Everyone, unbuckle your circlets and place zem around your necks.”

Emmett: Em unbuckles the circlet. He places it around his neck. It’s cold. Metal in winter cold, right before you lick it.

Here goes nothing.

GM: The iron collar snaps shut. The pain is indescribable. Searing hot flames and surges of numbing cold rip through Em’s corpus and mind simultaneously. His knees hit the floor. Even Gasper is screaming with him, in between great heaving bouts of laughter.

HA… HA! YOUIDIOT! HAHAHAHAHAHAH! BOY, YOUHAHAHAHA… .! FUCKED YOURSELF-HAHAHAHA-OVERGOOD! WHAT… YOU’RE… BEAST AT! AHAHAHAHAHA!!!!

Hannah and Ginger scream too, writhing on the floor in agony as they clutch their collared necks.

HAHAHA! NO… MOREHARROWS! HAHAHAHAHAHA!

Emmett: Em chokes down a scream and grits his teeth through the pain. Never should have trusted. Never should have let himself believe.

He looks Lamarck in the eye. “’I… keep… my… word.”

GM: “Wha… the fuck… y… do… to us… !” Hannah gasps. Tears squeeze from her pain-narrowed eyes.

Lamarck: “Oh dear,” the old wraith says dispassionately, as he digs through his bag to retrieve coils of of steel chains. “It zeems you’re experiencing zome of ze more unpleasant symptoms.”

He starts by connecting Hannah’s collar to Ginger’s. Its a fluid motion, like he’s done this a thousand times before.

GM: Ginger just cries and weakly tugs at the steel around her neck.

Emmett: Em thinks, quickly.

G… asper… still… want… that… debt…?

GM: Ha… ha… fuck you…

Emmett: Along… for… the… ride.

GM: “What… the fuck…” gasps Hannah.

The metal feels so cold that it burs white-hot. Its mere touch has done something to him, Em can feel. It presses him to the ground with crushing heaviness. Every fiber of his being feels drained of strength.

Lamarck: “Your Shadows vill be resisting zese changes, perhaps taunting you. Zey are simply resisting the revocation of harrowings. Don’t trust vat you see, ja?” He connects a heavy chain from Hannah to Emmett’s collar.

He looks him in the eye. He seems to gauge him far longer than he did the others. Then he speaks.

“Of course you do, Emmett. Und I’ll keep mine. I’ll show you all how to properly remove a caul.”

Emmett: He looks Lamarck in the eye, neck knotted with pain. And winks.

“W… ell… played…”

He tries to conjure something small. A whisper in the older wraith’s ear.

“FrEe mE aNd I’ll be UseFul…”

GM: There’s another crackling tongue of hot-cold pain through Em’s corpus as he tries. His powers fail him. Utterly.

“Wh… why… ?” grits out Ginger.

Emmett: “The… camp,” Em says. “Rememb… er. The. Camp.” Staring at Lamarck.

GM: Her face convulses with pain. “Wh… wha… ?”

Emmett: He’s not looking at her.

Lamarck: “Zank you,” he responds cordially to the first pained expression from Emmett.

The shocked expressions fall on deaf ears. He’s heard it a thousand times before. He starts to turn back to the enfant, but at the second statement, he turns back and asks,

“Vat about it, Emmett?”

Emmett: Em makes a gesture, beckoning him closer. “Can’t… talk…”

Lamarck: “Ze pain vill become normal, don’t vurry. Most forget about it eventually,” he assures the chained wraiths.

And yet, he does get closer. The expression on his face is not smug, but oddly patient. Or perhaps not so odd; he has all the time in the world.

Emmett: Em struggles, pulling himself closer. Closer. Almost close enough to bite.

But he cannot bite. His only weapons are words.

So he whispers: “You’re… no… American.”

And he spits at his eye.

Emmett Delacroix has been many things. A whore. A liar. A rapist and villain. A criminal.

A dead man.

But he will hurtle into Oblivion before he is a slave.

You want to have FUN, Gasper?

Let’s have FUN.

GM: The ectoplasmic spittle doesn’t even get that far. It runs down his lips like drool.

But Em’s taunting words look as if they’ve gone far enough already.

Lamarck: He can see the man freeze for a second, and then his face contorts into something awful, and unrestrained by the limits of mortality, distorted into monstrosity.

The wraith tackles Emmett and rolls him onto the ground, bringing down the others with a great clattering of chains on the ground.

“I!” he bellows.

The calloused fist of a man who worked in the dirt all his life smashes into Emmett’s pretty face.

“AM!”

And another, sinking into his gut. And another, ripping out a chunk of his hair, pulling him by the scalp to stare at him in his dead, incensed visage.

AMERIKAN!”

Then Lamarck smashes his head into Emmett’s with an unrelenting fury.

Emmett: And as the ghost beats and smashes his corpus to ectoplasmic pulp, Em raises his voice and bellows, “GINGERHANNAH! RUNAROUND… US!” His voice is urgent and sharp, desperate and certain, hardened by pain and need.

The voice of a leader.

GM: A wailing scream splits the air as a black void yawns open beneath Lamarck’s feet. There’s a split second of shock, and then renewed rage over his face.

And then he’s just gone.

Emmett: “Unharrowed… my… ass,” he snarls. He starts abusing the shackle around his neck, smashing it and himself into the ground, trying to shatter it.

GM: His hands explode with burning, freezing stabs of agony. He can’t stop the screams from tearing out of his throat.

Emmett: But he can think of something else. He crawl and staggers over to Hannah.

“I’m… sorry… kid,” he gasps, and tries to undo her shackle instead.

GM: He tugs impotently and sees no way of getting it off, though there is a keyhole. Hannah just moans.

Emmett: He crawls to the kraut’s bag and rifles through it, looking for a key.

I need to stop getting captured by fucking Nazis.

GM: He finds one. It’s a slim, dull, skeletal thing, and cold to his touch.

Hannah and Ginger just lie there moaning in pain. His plan to forcefully overpower their captor looks like a pretty long shot.

Emmett: Well, that’s him. Casper the unrealistic, far-fetched ghost.

He starts by unlocking Hannah’s. He isn’t sure he can find his own keyhole.

GM: She gives a great, heaving gasp as the collar comes off. For a moment she just lies there, clutching her neck with closed eyes, then takes the key to unlock Emmett and Ginger. He can’t describe the feeling of relief as the pain dissolves with the collar’s release. He feels almost too stunned to move.

Emmett: Almost.

But not as stunned as he is angry. “Goddammit. Goddammit. Goddamn, fucking Nazis.”

He gathers up the collars, holding one and getting it ready.

“I owe you guys a hell of an apology. I should have known better.”

GM: Ginger slowly rubs her neck.

“I guess… unharrowed was too good to be true.”

Emmett: He glances at the spot Lamarck disappeared to. “Apparently.”

GM: The sack isn’t empty. It’s made out a strange, ashen material that Em’s can’t quite identify, but it’s solid rather than translucent to his sight. Inside are several more collars and lengths of chain, along with a cruel-looking knife.

Faint moans are audible to his ears.

Emmett: “Slaver’s complete kit,” he says. “Nifty.” He takes the knife, pausing at the moans and looking around.

GM: Em sees nothing in the dilapidated hotel room beyond the other two wraiths.

Emmett: He’s wary about the moans, but keeps the knife, tucking it into his belt.

“Well, you’ve had the bad news of the night.” He readies himself near where Lamarck was taken, holding a collar in one hand. “But the good news is, I think we’ll only have to wait a little while to show Lamarck exactly how it felt. Unless either of you have an objection to that?”

GM: Hannah frowns. “So what do we wanna do with this guy?”

“I mean, collar him, then what?”

Emmett: “Ask him some questions about how to help our friend here,” he points to Kione. “And then… I was thinking I’d fly over the Mississippi and drop him in. Already a lot of trash in that river.”

“There’s another option, but it is, ahem, morally nebulous. For my tastes.”

Not really, but probably for yours.

GM: “Like what?” Ginger asks.

“Dropping him sounds good to me,” says Hannah.

Emmett: “The same thing I’m pretty sure he was trying to do to us,” he says, giving one of the chains a rattle.

GM: Hannah frowns. “I’d rather just drop him. What would we even do with a… slave, anyway?”

Emmett: “I was thinking the same thing. It has a certain poetry to it, obviously, but it also seems like more trouble than its worth, unless he can do something out-of-this-world useful. And, you know. The whole ‘slavery is wrong’ thing.”

He pinches his nose. “Sorry if I seem callous. This is all my fault, and I’m just eager to make somebody else pay for it.”

GM: “I’d rather just dump him,” says Hannah.

Emmett: He nods.

GM: “I don’t know. If he could be useful, why not?” asks Ginger.

Emmett: Interesting, Ginger’s got some grit.

“Might be a pain to control,” Em says honestly. “‘Specially if he’s powerful. But let’s focus on collaring him, first. He might be strong, but don’t think he’ll be able to handle all three of us.”

He shudders, and lets himself start to mend that damage to his corpus.

GM: “I’m not okay with taking slaves,” says Hannah. “Why don’t we just collar him, so he knows what it’s like, then dump him in the river?”

Emmett: “That’s the more moral thing to do,” Em agrees. “And right now, morality’s about all we have. If you’re not comfortable with it, that’s enough of an answer for me. A clean conscience is a luxury. And luxuries are hard to come by around here, so we won’t deprive you of it without good reason. You good with that, Ginger?”

GM: God, you’re so full of it.

“Well, I guess. I suppose there’s not much we could’ve used a slave for anyway.”

Emmett: You mean we are?

“Still,” Em says cheerfully, “Let’s maybe not tell him that. No reason not to mess with his head.”

GM: “Okay. Let’s get him, then.” Hannah picks up a loop of chain.

Ginger does too.

They wait.

And wait.

And wait.

“This feels like a while.” Ginger.

They wait.

And wait.

And wait.

Emmett: “Took a while for Hannah to come back, too. Not like we have somewhere to be.”

GM: They wait.

A black void splits the floor. Susurrating moans lick the air. Lamarck collapses to the ground, screaming and writhing.

Lamarck: “Verdamte Sheisse!” he screams, blinking at the nightmare of the three uncollared wraiths before him. Then he sprouts devilish wings and jumps out towards a broken window.

Emmett: Well. He tries to.

“TRACK, BITCH!”

Emmett body slams into the wraith and has the collar around his like he’s giving the kraut a gift.

GM: The other two wraiths fall on him too, looping around the chains and hitting and kicking his sides.

It’s tickles, though, next to the collar.

Lamarck: “It… ahh!” He takes a breath at each kick, writhing on the floor. “Ahm sorry… ah! I ken… ahh,” he chokes. “Teach… you… ev—ahh-ry-ow-thing… P… lea..se.”

Emmett: Em hasn’t done this a thousand times before. But the first time pays for all. “Oh,” he says quietly. “Well, if you’re sorry.”

He drives a foot into the old wraith’s stomach.

“You want to be free, huh? Or would it be better if we enslaved you, like you were trying to do to us?”

GM: “Yeah? What can you teach us?” glares Ginger. She and Hannah have looped coils of chain around his arms.

“Hey, maybe how not to have harrowings anymore. That seems useful,” remarks Hannah.

“Since you’re so clearly cured of them.”

Lamarck: “Vell…” he says as the wings sprouting off his back shrivel into his back like autumn leaves. “For shtartz… I can show… you… how to remove… a caul,” he says, his muscles spasming as he forces himself to fight the pain.

“Und before… I ken tell… you… how to prevent harrovings… truthfully.” The last word comes out more as a hiss as his face contorts, veins pushing their way out of his neck.

GM: “How?” presses Hannah, leaning in close.

Emmett: Em puts a hand on her shoulder, looks down at the wretched older wraith. “I’ll take the collar off, Lamarck. We’ll have a nice proper chat. But I’m going to ask you something first, and I want you to answer me.”

The sandman narrows his eyes. “There a German word for irony?”

He snaps his fingers and a single bright, flickering bulb falls from the ceiling to dangle on a cord, swimming above Lamarck’s eyes like an interrogation room light.

Lamarck: The Amerikan squints at the light, then cobbles together a momentary smile at Emmett when he answers through gritted teeth,

“Ee-roh-nee.”

GM: “Sounds about the same,” remarks Ginger.

Emmett: “They’re not a very imaginative people,” Em says flatly. “And maybe don’t have a super strong appreciation of the concept. I’d say irony is, well, you trying to enslave us only to end up our prisoner.” He gets down on one knee so his eyes are level with the other ghost’s. “You try and escape, this conversation is over and the shackle goes back on. Nod if you understand.”

He waits for the confirmation, then makes sure the chains are secure, then unlocks the collar. But he keeps it close, ready to snap back on.

“The caul, first. Start talking.”

“And after that, you can explain who you work for and where you were trying to take us. If I think you’re holding something back, I’m going to run out of patience. I don’t have much to begin with.”

GM: Hannah and Ginger loop the chains around his arms and legs. The collar is the only object with a lock, so they use that to secure them.

Lamarck: For a few moments, all Lamarck can do is breathe as the collar comes off. The veins in his neck slowly relax as the pain dissipates, though there is a latent tension in his limbs as his muscles involuntarily flex against the cold steel of the chains.

Then, he smiles in just the same friendly manner he did when he and Emmett first got to chatting.

“Ze caul ist a komplex fabrik, an intermediary betveen ze Skinlants und ze Shadowlants. An enfant living in ze caul ist on ze border betveen zer rich past lives und zer fresh deaths. Zey are shtuck inzide zer psyches, playing out ze memories of zer lives in a great psychodrama.”

“Ez a result, ze enfant ist in a very vulnurable position vhile shtill in ze caul. Now, you could zimply rip ze enfant out from zer caul like a boar tearing ze skin off a baby deer. But, zis risks doing severe damage to zer mental shtate. Und ze act likely strengthens your Shadow.”

He looks Emmett in the eyes with a concerned look on his face and continues, “Of course, you know zis already, Emmett. I found you trying to rip his caul apart before I shtopped you. Ze poor enfant vas crying out in agony, zo you could not hear his screams.”

“Vas it vorth it to inflict zis torture? Vat made it necessary, Emmett?”

Emmett: Em raises an eyebrow.

Then he reaches for the collar.

Actually, one of the other collars. No need to be stingy.

Lamarck has a few moments before he retrieves it and fastens it around his neck.

GM: Hannah holds onto his arm. “What the hell? He just told us something useful.”

Emmett: “He’s playing games,” Em replies. “And stalling instead of telling us new information. I knew that already.”

GM: “Yeah, well, I didn’t.”

“So how do we get off his caul?” Ginger asks.

Emmett: He inclines his head apologetically. “Sorry. Like I said, short patience. Which is just about out, so, Lamarck—ah, great minds.”

He reminds himself to talk with Hannah later.

Lamarck: “No. I’m zorry. I’m sure Emmett had a good reason to force off ze caul. Zis enfant he found vhile tailing a vampier. Ze vampier had gored zis poor man to death,” Lamarck says, shaking his head.

“Emmett told me about how you had ze misfortune of falling into ze clutches of ze Giovannini vampiere. You must know zat zer vurd is vorth less zan dirt. Und zat’s coming from me. Compared to ze vays of ze vampiere, I’m Honest Abe.”

“Regardless, ze appropriate vay of removing a caul is to forge a psychic connektion to ze psyche of ze enfant, to enter ze psychodrama viz your mind, und to help zem decide to remove it from vizin. Ze process is revarding in many vays. Zer ist a zignifikantly lower chance of ze enfant becoming a brain dead drone, vhich, I’m sure it doesn’t have to be stated, vould get in ze vay of esking zis enfant qvestions about ze vampier zat killed him. Additionally, a successful removal of ze caul zis vay fills ze removal helpers viz strong emotional energies und earns ze helpers special insight into ze mind of ze newborn wraith und usually, zer eternal gratitude.”

GM: “So how do we do that? Forge that ‘psychic connection’?” Hannah asks.

Lamarck: “Vell. It’s a most personal experience. So ze method varies wraith to wraith. Some reqvire a great deal of meditation. Ozers prefer to simply lay hants on ze enfant und to close vuns eyes. But it is a fundamentally natural process for us. Vat matters ist dat ze wraith concentrates purely on inserting zemselves into ze psychodrama vizin ze enfant’s mind. Ze rest of ze vurk simply follows.”

“It can take anyvere from a few minutes to a few hours to komplete ze process, but multiple wraiths participating in ze caul removal shpeeds up ze process.”

GM: Hannah looks at the others. “Okay, guess we know what we’re doing next.”

Emmett: He regards her for a moment. Showing a lot of initiative, this one. He made the right call waiting for her.

“One of us should stay with him,” Em says. “But two of us can go in. Hannah, you’ve been inside a harrowing recently. Seems like you might have some useful experience. But it’s your call, if you don’t want to go in.” He glances at Ginger, than Hannah. “I’m not sure if he’s telling the truth, but I’m willing to try. Whoever stays behind… don’t be shy about using the collar if he seems to be acting weird. Remember, he was willing to do it to us.”

He pauses. “It might also make sense to finish questioning him first, together. But it would also be nice to see whether his info is good to begin with.” Em looks at Lamarck dryly. “Some offense intended, Lamarck.”

“Ginger, what do you think?”

Lamarck: “If you vere trying to zell me offense, you should’ve had it painted first. I’m not buying,” Lamarck quips, smiling.

Emmett: Em rolls his eyes.

GM: “Well, there’s not a whole lot else to do around here,” says Ginger. “Talking’s something. And he knows we’re going to check what he’s told us, with the caul, so his funeral if he wants to steer us wrong.”

Emmett: “Hmmph,” Em says. “Hannah?”

GM: “I’m okay going in,” says Hannah. “Though the longer we talk to him, the more likely Courtney is to get back. And I wouldn’t say no to having someone else, too.”

Emmett: He inclines his head. “That’s a very good point. Let’s talk to him for a while longer.”

Lamarck finds himself regarded by three of the dead hungry for answers. “What were you trying to do to us? And who do you work for?”

Lamarck: “Zat’s a gut idea, Hannah. Waiting for Courtney means more people vurking on ze caul removal. Ze more people vurking ze faster it goes und ze lesser ze chance of lobotomizing ze enfant into a mindless drone,” he responds.

“Vell, I suppose you might call me an independent contraktor, perhaps a bounty hunter even. I vas told to apprehend you und bring you to an interested client. Vell, not you in particular. Ze client vas given a tip about ze Giovannini prison breakout, so I vas on ze lookout for anyvun connected.”

GM: Ginger’s pretty face downturns in a slight frown. “Who was your client?”

Lamarck: “Ze Society of Leopold. Vell, a hunter from one of their subsidiaries. Zey’re an old monshter hunting organization. Connected to ze church.”

Emmett: “What did they offer you? And what did they want us for?”

Lamarck: “Vat everyvun does. Oboli…” He looks at their presumably confused faces for a moment before clarifying. “Ghost cash.”

“I make it a principle not to esk such qvestions from clients. But presumably zey vere interested in intelligence on ze prison breakout. Vampiere are a popular target for zem.”

Emmett: “And you chose to capture us instead of just asking because… ”

Lamarck: “Because I’m a bounty hunter, not an interrogator. Zey vant it from ze horse’s mouth, so to speak. Some of zem distrust wraiths. If I hadn’t brought you ready for interview, I vouldn’t be paid.”

Emmett: “What good is ghost cash, even? What the fuck do you buy with it? More chains? More collars?”

Lamarck: “Vell, sure. But zat’s just tools of ze trade. I told you I vorked as a taxicab driver back in ze Skinlants. Have you seen any vurking cars zat exist in zis vurld? Anything zat isn’t broken, any physical thing you miss from ze old days, costs cash.”

“I just vant my old cab back.”

Emmett: Em touches his chest. “Oh. Oh, heart. Oh, no, and here I thought you were just enslaving us for some silly, selfish reason. But if it was for a cab, I’ll actually go with you of my own free will.”

Lamarck: From the expression on Lamarck’s face, those words seem to hurt far worse than the pain of the collar.

He’s quiet for some seconds, before answering to the floor. “Efter seventy years in zis place, ven you’ve seen everyone you love crumble into dust, vun by vun how zey fall into ze earth, anything zat reminds you zat your life vas vonce vorth living ist a priceless artifakt. A cherished jewel.”

Emmett: Em tilts his head. “All cruelty aside, I believe you. And I’m mostly over it. But I’m sitting here and I’m wondering how we could let you go without expecting you to come right back after us.”

“Well, standing, since we don’t have any chairs.”

“Hey, maybe we should sell you to somebody for some oboli so we can buy some.”

“Or you could tell us about these Leopold motherfuckers and if we should trust them to pay us for the info.”

Lamarck: “Ez I said, ze less I know about my clients, ze better. On principle. But zey hunt all sorts of creatures of die nacht. Perhaps wraiths ez vell, zo I’m not sure zer. Zey might consider us demons. Or perhaps assume ve live in Hell. Zen again, it could be zey believe us to be zer ancestors.”

“Vatever es ist, zey vould likely not trust you, given zey esked for your capture und retrieval. Especially if you vere looking for a buck. Just ze vay es ist.”

GM: “Em has a point. How can we know you aren’t going to come after us again?” Hannah asks.

Lamarck: “Zat’s a very gut qvestion. Viz a very simple answer: I’m just trying to earn cash, und coming after you is more trouble zan it is vurth, clearly. Ez long as I make it out of here viz my vurk-tools, zer ist little reason for me to try to bozer you furzer.”

“Of course, freeing me und returning my tools vould be an appreciated favor, vun I vould pay in return by offering my seventy years of experience opening cauls to ze future attempt at bringing zis enfant into zis vurld. If you vould prefer ozervize, I’m also heppy to offer a favor of a future service.”

Emmett: “Ambitious of you to want to get out with your tools,” Em says wryly. “I’m pretty sure any scenario where we set you free involves us keeping them, or at least ensuring you don’t have them.”

GM: “Those things are torture devices,” Hannah tells Lam flatly. “Say goodbye to them.”

Emmett: He inclines his head. “My thoughts precisely. Rather unethical for us to leave you with them. Shadow-serving, even.”

Emmett: Man, you are the MOST convenient patsy.

GM: Gee, wonder where I get that from?

“Might be they’re worth something, too,” Ginger agrees.

Emmett: “That, too.”

Lamarck: “Zose tools are ze only things vich give me a chance in eternity to get my cab back. You’re taking away ze only chance I have at hope.” He looks desperate.

Looking towards Hannah, he adds, pleading. “You asked how you stop harrowings. Ze only way to do it is to against ze vill of ze Shadow. Yes, I did something wrong to you. But feeding your Shadow by taking revenge on me, by destroying an old man’s livelihood and obliterating his hope, zat vill do nozing for you but make your Shadow stronger. Make ze harrowings more common.”

Emmett: “That’s bad logic,” Em cuts in. “We can ensure you don’t do harm to others without it making us responsible for your misery, or feeding our Shadows. It isn’t vengeful to take away your collars. It’s the only responsible thing to do, either for ourselves or just because it’s the right thing to do. Consider them off the table. But I’ll tell you what.”

He gets down on one knee. “Forsake the slave trade. Give up your cruelties. We’re not letting you have them anyways. But stick with us, and treat us well, and we’ll do everything in our power to get your cab back, too. We’re all looking for something. If you can help us, we’ll help you too. But we’ll do it the right way, or at least a righter way.”

GM: That’s so cute.

Lamarck: Emmett’s extension of an olive branch does little to quell the pained expression on his face. “You’re so new… I’ve been seventy years dead. Zat’s how long it’s taken for me to even think about reclaiming vat vas vonce mein. Zer ist no ozer vay but through ze money.”

He looks Emmett right in the eye. “Und zer are gut reasons for me to do my vurk. Some people deserve some punishment. Serial killers, rapists, child molesters. Many of zem die easy deaths on zese streets, ozers in prison. Vizout my vurk, death vould be a reprieve to zem. No justice. Und if zey fall under ze radar, zeir disturbed souls become shpektors vich haunt ze afterlife, become far more disturbed zan zey ver even in life. Vizout my vurk, zat possibility is made painfully likely.”

Emmett: “That sounds an awful lot like a rationalization,” Em drawls. “Coming from a man who specialized in them while he breathed. Well, I shall assume that’s a ‘no,’ then. Can’t set you free, can’t trust you to stay. Bother, bother.” He drums his fingers on his leg. “I’m no good at these decisions. My vote is we let Kione decide. If he’s in any state to, when we pull him out.”

He shrugs. “Or, well. There’s always the elevator shaft.”

GM: Hannah and Ginger both seem to think.

Lamarck: “I helped you, Emmett. I gave you gut information. Knowledge you vouldn’t have known anyvere else unless you gave into ze vhims of your Shadow. Zat is vurth enough setting me free. Throwing me down en elevator shaft is just feeding into all of your Shadow’s desires for revenge.”

“You vanted to make a deal viz ze vampier of yours, ja? Und you need ze knowledge from zis Kione fellow to make zis deal. Before you make any decisions as to vat you are villing und not villing to do, you should remember zat if you make a mistake in ze uncauling of zis enfant, you could leave him brain dead. You need my help hier.”

Emmett: Em raises an eyebrow. “You also tried to capture us. Trying to cash in on goodwill is pretty ballsy. But that’s why I’m saying we free Kione and let him decide. Gives you an incentive to give us good info, too.”

GM: “I agree,” says Hannah. “You could’ve just asked us.”

“Me too,” echoes Ginger.

“But I dunno why it should be up to Kione, if that’s this guy’s name,” says Hannah. “And it’s not like it’s gonna be any different. Let him go or throw him down the shaft.”

“I don’t want him to come back for us,” says Ginger.

Lamarck: “Und I von’t. Especially not if you give me my tools back. If not, I’m essentially unemployed,” remarks Lamarck.

GM: “Screw that, you tortured us,” glares Hannah.

“Well, looks like that leaves just one thing to do,” says Ginger.

The wraiths’ eyes drift towards the elevator.

Lamarck: “Vell zen gut luck getting your debt, Emmett. Ven you damn zis enfant to eternal brain death.”

Emmett: “Sadly, so,” Em says. “And thanks, Lamarck. Good luck… well. Woth whatever you’re about to meet.” He fastens the collar around the other wraith’s neck. “I’ll see to it,” he tells the other two. “I brought him, after all.”

GM: Hannah takes hold of the collar. “Hey, do we really need to do that? Why not just toss him? He’s already chained up.”

Emmett: “That’s true. I guess I was worried about him flying.”

“But, uh. If he can’t.”

Lamarck: “Zat’s his Shadow speaking, Hannah, how do you know he’s even in control. Look at his eyes.”

Emmett: “Oh, you are just pitiful.”

Lamarck: “Seriously. Look at his eyes. You see the images swirling around zem? He may very vell have fallen under ze clutches of ze Shadow.”

GM: “What images?” says Ginger.

“Oh forget it,” she glares. “You’d say anything right now.”

Emmett: Em inclines his head to her wisdom. “And because we’re so nice, we’re not going to collar you before dropping you.” He starts dragging the protesting wraith.

Out into the hallway.

GM: He’s really, really heavy. Em’s classmates always teased that a girl could beat him up.

Lamarck: “For all zat I did for you, zis is really low, Emmett.”

“I mean, not as low as the elevator shaft.”

“But shtill, remarkably low, Emmett.”

Emmett: He perseveres.

“Yeah, I’m really torn up with guilt, Lamarck. You know, if you had at least pretended to be sorry, things might have gone better for you in there.” Drag. Drag. “Christ, should have laid off the… what’s a German food?”

“Sauerkraut. Ha, ha.”

“Or, you know. Not been a bounty hunter. That fucked with us.”

GM: “Maybe you could use some help?” Ginger remarks a little dubiously. “Bodies are heavy.”

Emmett: Drag. If the carpet wasn’t already scuffed to shit, he’d be nervous about it.

Lamarck: “You should, Emmett, far too weak to hold one body on your own.”

Emmett: “I have… my… pride,” he growls, and keeps dragging. “Lamarck, if you keep it up, I will collar you before you go down.”

Drag. Scuff. Drag.

They get there, eventually. Em ducks his head through the doors, just in time to see the elevator rising above him. He’s careful not to look down.

GM: The doors close through Em’s head.

That might’ve hurt if he was solid.

Emmett: He puts a foot on Lamarck and rolls him to the boundary of the broken and twisted doors.

“I’m not going to say I’m sorry about doing this, but for what it’s worth, I forgive you,” he tells the bounty hunter. Slaver. Whatever.

“Hope that wherever you’re going, you can forgive me too.”

Lamarck: “I’m going, apparently, down ze elevator shaft.”

“Gut game, Emmett. Gut game.”

He smiles weakly.

Emmett: “Think of the shaft as a metaphor. For a longer, darker shaft. Of the afterlife. And then find a way to forgive me. It’s the American thing to do.”

He smiles back, conjures a hat and doffs it.

And then he uses his foot to roll the bastard through.

GM: Em doesn’t have to see it to feel it. The call of those endless black depths.

It’s like that impulse you sometimes get from a high place. To just… jump.

But without the nagging instinct of self-preservation. Going down feels… right.

Emmett: He tears his gaze away, and walks away from the shaft.

Trying to ignore the distant scream.

Never done the right thing before, not gonna start now.


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Story Twelve, Caroline III

“We’ll always be there for you, Caroline.”
Cécilia Devillers


Tuesday morning, 8 March 2016

GM: Sleep isn’t like it was last day. It’s like it usually is. No gradual loss of awareness or sense of time passing. Caroline closes her eyes and then opens them. It’s light out, but not from any fluorescent bulbs. The drapes are drawn. Her head is still laid out against her new mother’s lap, whose dark eyes are now open as she smiles down.

“Good morning, my treasure. We have such a day ahead of us.”

Caroline: It’s… disorienting. Not only waking up to light, but waking up at all. Still, Abélia provides something for orient on, a northern star. Her eyes cut to the shaded window from which the sun peeks, then back to Abélia as the many possibilities play through her mind. The ability to stay awake during the day, the possibilities it opens for… well, everything.

“It sounds like you’ve got it all planned,” she answers lightly.

GM: Her new mother’s smile is radiant as she strokes Caroline’s hair.

“You and your sisters deserve no less.”

“I cannot lift Raphael’s curse from you wholly, my dear. Sol’s eye shall still burn your flesh, much as I might desire to cast it into darkness. But I may yet palliate its effects. Though dawn’s fatigue shall remain a millstone about your neck, you may, at least, find it less taxing to resist daysleep’s call within our home.”

Caroline: “It’s more than enough,” Caroline answers, turning her gaze to Simmone.

GM: The still-sleeping ten-year-old remains snuggled against her new sister.

Abélia’s fingers run through Caroline’s hair. “Ah, what a propitious moment this is for you to practice, my dear. Go on—tell Simmone it is time to rise and greet the day. You needn’t rely upon words.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls over Cécilia’s explanations from the previous evening as she studies her youngest sister’s sleeping face.

She forms in her mind the image of the sun creeping over the horizon, streaking the dawn’s sky in a vibrant array of colors. She adds in the soft chirps of birds awakening, the (barely remembered) feeling of sunlight softly creeping across her skin in the morning through the window.

And the slightest whisper of a name. Simmone…

The overlays the images with her mental image of the youngest Devillers, with the quiet bound she’d hardly even noticed when she came in the night before.

GM: "Oh, yes… you’re doing marvelously, Caroline… " their mother purrs.

Simmone’s eyes slowly crack open as she shifts in place, arms still wrapped around Caroline.

Caroline: Simmone. Her call is more languid, almost bemused, the second time.

It matches the expression on Caroline’s face as she watches the blonde stir, awaiting for her to awaken.

A flickering shadow appears in the sunlight creeping through, beyond it two azure flashes as two bluebirds dance with each other outside the window.

GM: Simmone opens her mouth and removes a hand to rub her eyes.

Marvelous, Caroline,” their mother proudly repeats. "You’ve taken to things so quickly. I can hardly wait to see what you’ll be capable of by the end of the day… much less the year. "

Caroline: Thank you, Mother. A pause. It feels… natural.

“Good morning,” Caroline murmurs to her youngest sister, her bemused gaze set upon her.

GM: “M… orning,” Simmone yawns as their mother sits her up. Abélia pulls the child onto her lap. Simmone doesn’t look at all surprised to see either of them there.

“Bonjour à vous en effet, ma douce. As-tu bien dormi?” Abélia questions, kissing her youngest’s head.

(“A good morning to you indeed, my sweet. How did you sleep?”)

“Bien, Maman.”

(“Good, Maman.”)

“Oh, je suis très content d’entendre. Caroline et Cécilia m’ont dit à quel point c’était effrayant la nuit dernière et quelle fille courageuse tu étais.”

(“Oh, I’m so very pleased to hear. Caroline and Cécilia told me how frightening last night was, and what a brave girl you were.”)

Simmone simply turns and nuzzles her head against their mother’s breast.

As Abélia holds Simmone back, Caroline feels a wordlessly palpable sense of pride and satisfaction at her last statement before their mother says aloud, “I’ll get your sister’s teeth brushed, my dear. Would you like to pick out some clothes for her? We’ll be inside all day, so we can dress however we like… up or down, it’ll all be just for us. Everything we do today will be just for us. Doesn’t that sound simply delightful?”

Simmone looks at Caroline, then declares mischievously, “I want to dress… sideways.”

“Sideways!” Abélia repeats with an amused smile as she strokes her youngest’s hair. “Well, we shall just have to see what your sister thinks up. Do you think you can pull together something with a dressed-sideways look, Caroline?”

If the Ventrue assents, Abélia stays for a bit to show Caroline where things are in the walk-in closet while Simmone uses the bathroom. After the toilet flushes, their mother departs to “help brush her teeth.” Caroline finds a large selection of girls’ clothes in styles ranging from formal to casual, trending towards lighter colors (especially pinks) and skirts and dresses over unisex clothes. There’s also several neglected-looking McGehee school uniforms and an almost equally large selection of theater and holiday costumes that include seemingly every Disney princess Caroline can think of.

There’s even two vampire costumes.



It would be comforting to think the high-collared, lacy-sleeved, black and crimson gowns (replete with a bat wing-shaped cloak) make Caroline the less obvious predator.

Caroline: The costumes draw an amused chuckle as Caroline goes through the wardrobe. In fairness, some do dress so obviously.

GM: The task is easy enough going, for which she may be thankful. It feels like she’s been woken up at 4 AM after going to bed at 3. Every part of her wants to rest.

Caroline: She ignores it in a way she could never ignore the call of daysleep. Or perhaps ignores is too strong a word: instead she forces past it. It doesn’t matter how tired she is, not really. Tired is a state of mind, a feeling that can be surpassed.

She digs out a pair of dark leggings with the word ‘DANCE’ in big bold letters of the same for printed sideways down their length, and mirrors it with a matching shirt that proudly declares ‘I LOVE PARIS’. After a moment she adds a too large hoodie by far that Simmone can, if inclined pull her head through a sleeve.

Not Caroline’s most creative effort, but comfortable for a day loafing in the house.

GM: There’s a flush from the toilet. Abélia and Simmone emerge from the bathroom shortly thereafter.

“Oh, what a splendid outfit your sister has picked out for you,” Abélia remarks contently as she raises her youngest’s arms and removes her nightgown. “That should be very comfy to spend the day in. Can you say thank you to her?”

“Thank you,” Simmone says.

Abélia dresses the naked ten-year-old. “Oh, don’t you look perfectly scrumptious in this,” she purrs once the oversized hoodie is alll the way on, hugging her daughter close. “I don’t think I should like you to ever grow up. I want you to be mine forever.”

“I want to be yours forever too, Maman!” Simmone beams, hugging her mother back.

Abélia rests a hand upon Caroline’s shoulder and smiles at her, as if to include her in the moment.

“There’s a glass in the bathroom, my dear. Can you fill it with some of your blood? That should buy us some time until we can decide on a more permanent recourse.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles in the moment, but that request—even coming from her mother—slams into her like a runaway train.

A thousand arguments against ghouling relatives come back to her. The memory of Adler’s wrenching (if, Caroline suspects, exaggerated) testimony about her mother’s death. The idea of Simmone struggling against the cravings that her servants fight—a fight she’s woefully unprepared for.

She opens her mouth to object, the argument already forming in her mind. The tasteful response in the moment that will invite a longer dialogue later. She looks into Abélia’s eyes.

Abélia knows better than Caroline the potency of vitae. The dangers of it. The costs associated with it. She’s the source of most of Caroline’s knowledge. The idea of arguing the point starts to crumble. It’s so much like arguing with one’s professor.

And it’s just to buy some time, right? Not a permanent fix unto itself…

GM: Abélia’s expression turns sympathetic as she touches Caroline’s cheek.

“You love your sister very much, my dear. This is plain to me. You wish only to do what is best for her. Your knowledge of what tragedies the Blood can cause has been bitterly won. You do not wish those same tragedies visited upon our family.”

The edges of her dark eyes crinkle as she smiles again.

“And yet, for all this, my words are unnecessary—such is your faith in me. A mother could not ask for a better daughter.”

She places a tender kiss upon Caroline’s forehead, somehow despite being the shorter of the two, then looks into the Ventrue’s eyes.

“I shall honor that faith, my treasure. You and your sister shall be so very happy.”

Simmone doesn’t even look curious over what Caroline and their mother are talking about. She simply hugs Abélia’s torso.

Caroline: Caroline releases the bite she had unconsciously on her lower lip and forces a smile into place. It’s a small request. It just requires trust. Trust that her mother knows what’s best for her sister.

Her gaze settles on Simmone and her mind dances back to the lives all of her sisters lead, interrupted in their beauty only by the stark, bitter, intrusion of a soon to be deceased elder ghoul.

“Thank you, Mother,” she answers. Breaking from the embrace. “I’ll see to it.” And who knows, perhaps the added confidence the blood might bring will bring her sister out of her shell.

GM: “Thank you, Caroline,” Abélia purrs when Caroline returns with the partly red-filled glass.

“Drink this, ma puce,” she says as she passes it to Simmone. The ten-year-old does so.

Abélia bares her breast before Simmone can even say “more.” The girl all but falls over it and sucks ravenously.

Well over a minute passes. Abélia’s cheeks seem to hollow, her presence becoming somehow smaller, but she makes no move to break Simmone away.

Caroline: Despite her trust, the scene makes Caroline uneasy. She gathers the discarded glass and breaks to thoroughly wash it out in the sink.

GM: By the time she’s back, Abélia is dabbing off Simmone’s mouth. Caroline’s new mother smiles at her serenely as if to say all is well.

“Can you say thank you to your sister, ma duce? She’s just done something very, very kind for you.”

Simmone doesn’t ask what it is. She just hugs the Ventrue around her torso.

“Thank you, Caroline.”

Caroline: “You’re welcome Simmone,” Caroline answers, bending to wrap her in the hug. The smell of her vitae in the girl’s veins is like an overpowering air freshener—sweet but sickly all the same.

“I’m going to go knock on Cécilia’s door to borrow something to change into, I’ll meet you downstairs?”

GM: “You might ask her without knocking, my dear… practice makes perfect,” Abélia smiles.

Caroline: “Of course,” Caroline smiles back as she slips out of the room.

And she’s not wrong. Caroline can feel the connection there, but it’s unfamiliar. Much like the power taken from the bishop.

She reaches out along that thread, that connection, to Cécilia. It’s like traveling a vine full of flowers: she instantly recognizes Cécilia as the only other one fully in bloom—the rest are still closed, in waiting.

Cécilia? Are you awake? she reaches out, mentally probing and grateful for the past experience with Poincaré using mental communication.

GM: The Ventrue leans into that bloom and breathes deep. It’s easy to do here, she feels. The entire house is utterly saturated with their mother’s essence. Simply to breathe within its walls is to take that essence in.

Yes. Maman said to expect you soon.

You’re a fair bit taller than me, but we have pretty similar figures apart from that, so most of my clothes should fit. What’s mine is yours.

Caroline: Caroline’s laugh comes through the connection behind images of cool spring nights with dew on the plants and a wind carrying the coying humidity against her skin.

She arrives at Cécilia’s door, pushing the idea of a knock through the connection ahead of her. A sharp rapping rhythm.

GM: Cécilia is walking, hale, and healthy when she opens the un-knocked door. She greets Caroline with a hug and exclaims how happy she is to be doing “such a sisterly thing” as lending clothes to one another.

“There’s plenty of serious things for us to talk about later, of course… " she adds more somberly, “but Maman says we can save that for later, and I for one agree with her. Last night was serious enough.”

Caroline: “It was,” Caroline agrees, returning the hug and following Cécilia into the room. “She says she has big plans for today.”

GM: “Always,” Cécilia smiles knowingly. “But I think a lot for today are mundane. With all eight of us staying inside all day long, she wants to be sure we’ll enjoy ourselves.”

She leads Caroline to the walk-in closet and lets her take her pick from the large selection of tasteful clothing. Cécilia is wearing a casual white and baby blue top and skirt set. Not dressy, but not sweats and pajamas.

Caroline: “Good thing too, I didn’t pack my sunscreen,” Caroline quips as she pages through her sister’s wardrobe. “How’s your hand?” she asks.

GM: “Oh, it’s better than good. No scars at all. Thank you so much for that.”

“Yvonne had to get surgery to remove hers. That wasn’t much fun for anyone.”

Caroline: “We can hope that won’t be necessary in the future,” Caroline answers. “For many reasons.” She stops her search on an emerald top for a moment, then frowns and continues on until she finds a lighter blue one.

GM: “It goes with your eyes,” Cécilia agrees.

“And I certainly hope not. But let’s talk about lighter things. Do you still use the shower every night?” she asks curiously. “Given how Kindred don’t produce any natural fluids or odors.”

Caroline: “Usually,” Caroline answers, setting the top aside. “I enjoy the warmth. And I guess it’s habit.”

GM: “Very true. I wouldn’t want to give them up either.”

Caroline: “It’s the little things, I think, that help keep me connected.”

She picks out a long light and flowing white skirt and holds it up against a darker red one for her sister’s opinion.

GM: “Hmm, I like the white. Darker tops with lighter pants or skirts make you seem taller,” Cécilia notes. “You could pull off that look better than me, with how tall you already are.”

Caroline: “Point,” Caroline answers. “It drives my father nuts when I look taller than him,” she admits. “Something about not wanting to look weak.”

GM: “Like father like son. Luke’s made a couple remarks about how I can be taller than him in heels.”

“But you don’t need to worry about that here,” Cécilia smiles. “I think Maman would like to see you standing strong and tall.”

Caroline: “He would,” Caroline laughs. “But I suspect he broaches the topic more tastefully.”

GM: “Yes, he doesn’t tell me off about it, or even ask me to dress down. I can just tell it twerks his nose a little.”

“I don’t want to do that, but I don’t want to wear just flats either. And I’ve told him so, which he understands. I’d just be a little shorter in his perfect world. Or maybe he’d be a little taller.”

Caroline: “The latter,” Caroline answers immediately. “I don’t think he’d change anything about you.”

She continues through her sister’s closet before deciding shoes are unnecessary. Besides, Cécilia has smaller feet.

“Honestly, back to your earlier question, one of the things I miss the most is working out and—since I’ve sort of rediscovered it—sparring without fear of losing control. There are so many things I’d like to practice, to try, without fatigue, with how fast I am, that I can’t exactly try on anyone.”

GM: “What about ghouls?” Cécilia asks.

Caroline: “I’ve thought about it. The older ones, maybe, but even then the danger is always there—for them.”

GM: “What about other Kindred? Even if one of you loses control, the worst that’s likely to happen is torpor, isn’t it?”

Caroline: Caroline gives a wry smile. “Most Kindred tend to regard torpor as a pretty big minus—but yes. I’ve made some inroads there.”

GM: “You’re right, it must be for most of them. Maman always speaks of it as if it’s a passing inconvenience—I suppose her blood is strong enough to revive most any Kindred.”

Caroline: “It’s far more passing than death,” Caroline offers. “But not having been on the receiving end, I can’t speak to it specifically.”

She has no intentions of ever being, either.


Tuesday morning, 8 March 2016

GM: Caroline uses the shower and joins Cécilia downstairs momentarily. The rest of the family is already assembling in the dining room, with Yvette and Yvonne playing on their phones while Cécilia talks with Adeline.

Caroline well remembers her last ‘talk’ with the twins. Yvette had angrily exclaimed she was being “’orrible, just ’orrible!” to Sarah. She’d mentioned how Becky Lynne’s niece had finally broken down crying in the bathroom at school during lunch, and (unheard of for her) had cut the rest of her classes. Yvonne had been more conciliatory, but the three had stopped showing up for fencing lessons after that.

Yvette wordlessly gets up from her seat, hugs Caroline and declares, “Fuck Sarah.”

Caroline: There’s a flash of guilt there. Sarah, who did nothing wrong. Who was trying to help her. She wonders what will become of all of that, what might still become of it, with the truth about Adler having come out. With what the future holds for Caroline specifically.

She shoves it aside behind a sad smile and hugs Yvette back. “It’s in the past.”

Her gaze sweeps over the other sisters.

GM: Her other sisters.

“Fuck ’er,” Yvette repeats. “Ah’ll spread it through the school, ‘ow she’s a retard now. ‘Ow getting shot messed up ’er ’ead. She’s really broken up, it’ll be easy. Ah’ll get ‘er to drop out. _’Caroline, Caroline, Ah don’t understand wah she’s being this way!’”_ she mimics in a high-pitched, sniveling tone.

Caroline: Caroline lays a hand on Yvette’s shoulder. “I know you’d do anything for me, but you don’t have to do that.”

GM: “Well Ah don’t ‘ave to, but Ah’m going to!” Yvette retorts. “Fuck ’er for saying no to you!”

Caroline: “It was for the best,” Caroline answers with a faint smile. “In many ways.”

She looks her sister in the eye. “Trust me when I say it’s better for her to go her own away, and that I don’t wish her any ill.”

GM: Yvette seems less than convinced, but eventually (or at least temporarily) relents under pressure from her other three siblings, who all cite that everyone but her wants to move on. Yvette does say she isn’t going to be friends with Sarah anymore, though.

“Just fuck ’er.”

“Language,” Cécilia mildly chides.

Caroline: Caroline laughs at that. “There are children present,” she piles on.

GM: Or at least soon present. Abélia arrives downstairs with Simmone and Noëllle in short order. Yvette rolls her eyes at the shirt and says, “Ah thought we all knew Paris isn’t all of France.”

“We do. So it’s no harm for her to wear around us,” Cécilia smiles.

Breakfast is a light affair of avocado toast. The younger four girls are initially upset when they have to get and make it themselves. The family housekeeper is “taking the day off.”

Caroline: Caroline is happy to make it for the younger girls, taking lighthearted direction from them.

It’s been a long time since she cooked.

GM: Cécilia initially suggests they all prepare breakfast together in the kitchen. Abélia says that’s a splendid idea; they can make conversation while she and Caroline prepare the younger girls’ breakfasts, though Cécilia and Adeline soon volunteer to help too. Caroline may be glad for the chance to foist off the task to them. The experience of scooping out and preparing the mushy fruit for kine consumption and digestion proves as enjoyable to the vampire as cleaning up dog poop.

In short order, the family are munching around the kitchen counter on plates of whole grain toast with lemon juice, salt, and black and pepper. Abélia declares contently that “I have an announcement to make, girls. Two, actually, in fact.”

Caroline: The Ventrue takes a spot at the end of the counter watching the rest of the girls eat, the whole room in her peripheral. There’s the mild disgust at the sight, but overwhelmed by the general fatigue of being awake during the day combined with the deep-flowing affection towards them.

She cleaned up her dog’s droppings. Making her sisters food—which she recalls too faintly enjoying herself—is a small concession.

GM: “The first is that Caroline is moving on from her clerkship at the Supreme Court to bigger and better things. She’s prohibited from saying very much about the particulars at this point, and she may be away for some time—but she is very, very happy to have landed this opportunity. It’s absolutely everything she’s ever dreamed of. All of us could hardly be more happy for her.”

“Oh, Caroline, that’s wonderful!” Yvonne exclaims.

“Oui, congratulations!” adds Yvette.

Similar sentiments come up from the others, more knowing from Cécilia, less understanding from Simmone.

Caroline: Caroline graciously accepts the congratulations.

GM: “But you’ll come back?” Simmone adds.

Caroline: Caroline cups her youngest sister’s face. “Of course. I’ll always come back.”

GM: “Maman said she was going to,” says Noëllle. “You’re such a baby.”

“‘Ey! Ah’m not-”

“Girls,” Abélia smiles, laying a hand on both their shoulders. “Both of you love your sister very much. Doesn’t it make you feel better, Noëllle, to hear from her that she’s coming back?”

“Oui,” the thirteen-year-old grants.

“As to being a baby,” her smile widens as she lifts Simmone onto her lap and wraps an arm around Noëllle, “what more splendid a thing could there be? You shall always be my mes bébés, no matter how old you turn.”

“Why, this brings us to our next piece of good news. Cécilia and Adeline are to be moving back in with us. Won’t that simply be marvelous, to always have them around now?”

The four younger girls immediately and enthusiastically agree, Simmone most of all.

“Ah wish you’d never moved out-”

“Yes, the ‘ouse feels so empty when you aren’t ’ere-”

“And you’re over all the time anyway-”

“What made you change your minds?” Yvonne.

“Convenience was the big reason,” Cécilia answers. “Like Yvette says, we’re always coming over. Especially with you two getting older, we don’t want the house to feel empty for everyone else. You’ll be off to college next year, after all.”

Caroline: Lies. Caroline knows. Maybe not entirely, but she knows the truth. They’re not safe. A killer who’s already put them in his sights once is still alive. The thought makes her tremble with fury.

She’ll find him.

It doesn’t mean it’s all lies—but that it’s colored everything even here, among them…

GM: Not lies, Caroline. Just not all of the truth.

We both know there’s plenty Maman hasn’t told them, for their own safety, even before this.

Caroline: Cécilia’s answer blunts Caroline’s irritation, but only just.

I know. I just hate the idea of him hurting you any more—even indirectly like this.

GM: I do too. But maybe that hurt, and growing past it, will be the catalyst for something better. That’s how we met you, after all, and everyone seems so happy at this news.

Caroline: I guess there are benefits too, Caroline agrees. More of an opportunity to develop a relationship with Adeline.

GM: You have one already, Cécilia replies contently. With her and Noëllle. They just need to be reminded what it’s like.

Simmone asks if Caroline is going to be moving back in with them too. Noëllle points out that’s not happening if Caroline is going to be ‘away for some time.’ Their mother simply says, “Your sister won’t be moving in with us right now. But once she’s back, we can expect to be seeing a good more of her. Isn’t that wonderful, girls?” Everyone agrees emphatically. Yvette makes a joke about millennials moving back in with their parents. That draws some laughter, though Adeline points out more reflectively,

“We might make jokes about that now, but for most of human history, living in extended families was completely normal. People wouldn’t just wait to move out from their parents’ homes until they had their own children. They’d live with their parents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives for all of their lives.”

“They did?” asks Simmone.

“Yes. I read a fascinating article about that in The Atlantic recently,” Adeline continues. “It wasn’t until after World War II that the concept of the nuclear family became accepted as normal, but even then, many families weren’t really nuclear. People were closer to their communities and moved away less often. Neighbors often doubled as extended families. It hasn’t been until relatively recently that we’ve seen those communal bonds fray, around the same time the nuclear family collapsed. Fewer than 20% of households conform to that social model now. People are more alone and more isolated than ever.”

“That is true about the nuclear family,” says Yvette. “Ah mean, we don’t technically fit it, with not ’aving a dad. And Ah know so many people at school with divorced parents.”

“Are people really more alone, though?” asks Yvonne. “So many millennials ’ave been moving back in with their parents, like you and Cécilia.”

“The trend actually has been reversing, for that reason,” says Adeline. “People were at their most alone in the 2000s before the recession. But since millennials are also putting off having children, it might balance out.”

“That’s so sad,” says Noëllle. “What can we really do about it?”

“Putting off kids, or being close to their families?” asks Yvette.

“Both, Ah guess,” says Noëllle.

“I think that to some extent, the era of the nuclear family might be over due to changing economic conditions,” says Cécilia. “I had a professor at Wellesley who described modern humans as ‘economic hunter-gatherers.’ We’re highly mobile and have adapted to packing up our lives and moving across the country in search of new professional opportunities. In the 1950s, though, we were ‘economic farmers.’ People were more likely to stay in the city they were born because jobs were more centered around production of physical goods. In Confederacy of Dunces, there’s a clothing factory here in our city that the owner has inherited from his father. What’s it it called-”

“Levi Pants,” Adeline fills in.

“Yes, Levi Pants. But during the intervening decades, it’s likely that Levi Pants outsourced its production to China. Economic output is now increasingly based around data or other specialized knowledge sets that aren’t as tied to a single physical location. If someone wants to be a doctor or programmer, they can be a doctor or programmer anywhere. But Levi Pants needed a large number of factory workers here in New Orleans—until, of course, it no longer did. Until peoples’ jobs become more tied to the cities of their birth again, which doesn’t seem likely, I think it’s inevitable that the nuclear family will continue to fragment.”

Caroline: Caroline taps a finger against her lips in contemplation before offering her own thoughts.

“20%? I hadn’t realized it was that low. That’s an interesting take on it. I read somewhere that there a big part of the nuclear family was as much a social response to World War II as anything else. You had a great many young men who were significantly more worldly and independent following the war—and a great many women as well who had been heavily involved in industry. The nuclear family model provided both greater ‘freedom’ from previous social norms and let them establish their own social norms, while also encouraging women to leave the workforce to allow men to reintegrate back into society in those now vacated roles.”

She shrugs. “Rather than try to swim against the currents of social change, they redirected them into a notionally conservative model that put women back ‘in their place’ at home and encouraged household independence. You can see a great deal of that in the media of the time—old magazine articles and commercials—that are all about reinforcing that a woman should be subservient to men, that they needed to quit their jobs and marry now before they were considered too old. ‘No one wants an old spinster.’ It’s pretty disturbing stuff, reading those articles today—‘how to best please your new husband’ and the like, but the media is just as polarized on the other side in how it infantilized women to their husbands—the same women that had held jobs during the war and managed households while their husbands were away for literally years.”

She lets off on the biting tone before continuing, “I think though that the economic answer is an awfully compelling one for both the rise and fall of the nuclear family. Some cynical economists have observed that when you’re a nuclear household you need far more of every type of goods than in a large communal household—so it drove consumerism, especially in the form of industrially produced goods that the manufacturing sector was particularly aligned to produce after the war. At some point in the ’70s and ’80s those same consumerists realized that a household with two incomes would have vastly higher purchasing power, and instead of selling things like ovens and refrigerators they could sell luxury goods too—which drove the two-income family and really was the beginning of the end for nuclear one as it drove families apart, spiked divorce rates, and embittered the entire millennial generation to the idea of marriage.”

Caroline looks to Adeline. “You raise an excellent point, though—which I think neatly dovetails with it—that the nuclear family had retained its roots in many ways with their communities. Even as you saw the family group shrink, you still had church functions, bowling leagues, book clubs, and the like springing up to fill the gap. With the rise of the two-income house, however, and then the subsequent single-parent one, you’ve seen a significant rise in social isolation as people simply don’t have time to maintain those same communal structures anymore.”

She wonders what some of the more socially involved Kindred might have to say about the varied theories on that—Coco in particular—but the thought is swept away as she continues with a faint laugh,

“My father would insist that I throw in that government intervention also had a part to play, especially in the lower-income and borderline-income households, when it created aid programs designed to help those in need that created financial incentives for not getting married or leaving your spouse. It meant families that might have been ‘forced’ or at least ‘encouraged’ to stay together instead split up.”

She smiles across the table at Cécilia.

Of course, if one wanted to be very cynical, they might observe that the same individuals that enjoyed the economic drivers behind the nuclear and two-income family have found a more effective model in permanent debt ‘slavery’ under student loans, car loans, interest payments, and the like that present an eternal well. But I think that topic might be a little dark for Noëllle and Simmone.

“Never being chained to any of those economic influences is a real gift,” she closes more positively.

GM: “Yes, it is,” Adeline agrees. “And it’s worth noting that the nuclear family is still very much alive and well at higher income brackets. It’s not as universal as it used to be, but it’s still accepted as the social norm. It’s only when you go to places like the Ninth Ward that the wholesale disintegration of the nuclear family becomes evident. The 20% statistic I cited is an average and can be misleading when considered out of context—which is also that people from lower income brackets used to have comparable marriage rates to wealthier people. That only really started to change by the ’60s, when-”

“Ah think your dad’s right,” Yvette interrupts. “It’s disgusting ‘ow those people ’ave so many kids without getting married. If they don’t ‘ave anything else in their lives, they could at least ’ave each other. They’re basically, well, animals.”

“I’m not sure that’s a completely fair assessment,” Cécilia observes mildly. “As Adeline points out, marriage rates among the poor used to be much higher. Those went down in the ‘60s due to the ’moral deregulation’ of the period. Poorer Americans were more likely to depend on cultural supports for marriage than their more affluent peers, who had greater economic stakes in marriage through home ownership. Marriage, in many ways, is now its own form of privilege.”

“Ugh, Ah’m so tired of ’earing ’ow privileged we are,” says Yvette. "It’s not like our lives are perfect… "

As the other talk, fluttering laughter meets Caroline’s declaration.

The desperate, the despairing, and the isolated make superior vessels to slake your thirst, upon my dear. It is a better time for your species.

An interesting viewpoint, Maman. Has consumer debt made feeding easier for the Kindred?

Every society requires an underclass, my dear. To feed upon its elites is rarely practical. The shared economic prosperity of the postwar years made feeding less convenient for Cainites than in earlier times. Although the loosening of sexual morals during the 1960s was heralded as a boon to the children of Caine, the rise of second-wave feminism and the demise of Jim Crow threatened to make kine society more egalitarian than ever. Wiser minds foresaw the threat posed by this. Economic chains would serve to keep the underclasses in their place, rather than social ones. The economic conditions of the postwar United States were always a historic aberration.

Abélia strokes Simmone’s hair.

Let the kines’ families splinter. Let debt payments replace the crack of an overseer’s lash. Isolated and wantful, they are easier prey for you.

“…Ah’ve seen some of those old magazine articles, too, about ways to please your ‘usband, they’re just awful,” Yvette remarks.

“Caroline, aren’t you ‘ungry? You ’aven’t ’ad any toast,” says Simmone.

Caroline: “I’m never very hungry in the morning,” Caroline admits to Simmone, eying the mashed fruit and charred bread with veiled distaste. She can scarcely believe she once ate like that. Shoveled food into her mouth like any common herd animal, chewed it up into a disgusting mush. Swallowed it, pieces of it clinging to her teeth, to her mouth, to the back of her throat.

It’s not a lie—not even a white one. Caroline doesn’t hunger anymore—not for food. She only thirsts.

“Besides,” she laughs. “I talk too much—and it’s rude to talk with your mouth full.”

The heiress turns to Yvette.

“It’s an attempt to leverage concessions,” Caroline answers in agreement to her sister’s complaint about privilege. “It’s always the nature of those with less to envy those with more. Given the moral decline of the U.S. and the general lack of spine in most, they’ve simply decided it’s better to extract by moral extortion and exaltation than by force. One could draw a very unflattering parallel between the rise of the welfare state and the decline of crime and the continued social creep across generations.”

“It’s not enough to enshrine equality in law—they want their own privilege enshrined not only in law, but also in our social conscience. They would have you castigate yourself for their misfortunes and hate your parents for their successes.” She pauses. “And many do. You only need look at how many affluent teenagers and young adults are sucked into those messages. It’s like a cult offering them redemption from imagined sins, and those lacking conviction eat it up.”

“That’s nothing to say you can’t feel sympathy for those less well off—or even that you can’t want to help them—but you don’t owe them anything simply because Maman has made wise choices for our own family and their own parents poor ones. The same kind that complain about the rich not paying their fair share are the kind that are refunded more every year in taxes than they’ve ever paid—that donate less to charity in their entire life than the same people they vilify do in a month. The whole thing is madness.”

I wonder, Maman, how does he feel about that? Caroline asks probingly. There is no ambiguity about whom she speaks of.

And that beside, isn’t there is a line that must be walked—you can only push people so far before they have nothing left to lose, before the fear of your lash is overshadowed by the certainty of their dread. I think the bishop might have learned that lesson a little too late.

GM: “Yes, exactly,” Yvette agrees. “And Maman and Cécilia do so much to ‘elp them, with all their charity work. Ah don’t see them doing anything to ‘elp themselves. Ah’m tired of being blamed for it, and seeing so many girls at McGehee ‘oo just won’t shut up about privilege. We ’ave problems too.”

“Well, it’s not like they can do much to ’elp themselves,” says Yvonne. “Beyond shifting the debate, and saying ’ere’s why everyone owes them even more.”

“Ugh,” says Yvette.

Fluttering laughter greets Caroline’s statement.

One must occupy the people with thoughts besides revolution, my dear. Foreign or domestic adversaries are the objects upon which their rancor must fall. All empires require external threats to provide cohesion, lest enemies rise up from within. Every state that succumbed to revolution did so once the hatred of its common people toward the ruling elite eclipsed their fear and hatred of all else—just as your hatred of the bishop finally eclipsed your fear of the consequences for his destruction.

Your sire has spent much of his reign persecuting followers of an enemy faith, yet he has devoted but scant effort towards convincing the common Cainite that this faith is to blame for their travails. Another would-be prince has thus positioned himself as a demagogue able to claim he represents the interests of the common Cainite. We shall see what comes as those interests grow increasingly opposed to your sire’s.

“Oh, girls, I can hardly bear to see those frowns upon your pretty faces,” Abélia smiles. “Come now, let us speak of happier things. You all look done with breakfast—so how should we spend our day? We could play hide and go seek, watch movies, host a play or tea party, do a treasure hunt, play some music, make some art… how shall we occupy ourselves?”

“Could we go swimming?” asks Noëllle, who’s started petting one of the cats that’s wandered in.

“Or go ’orseback riding,” suggests Yvette.

“Or go yatching?” asks Yvonne, who’s picked up another one of the cats.

“Or go to the zoo?” asks Simmone.

“Perhaps another time, my dears,” their mother answers them all. “I’m feeling a bit fatigued today, truth be told. Let’s stick to indoor activities… surely there’s something our bright imaginations can think of to do in this old house?”

Caroline: “Perhaps we could reconnect with the past?” Caroline offers innocently. “We could look through some photo albums.”

Caroline: “It’s why we take those pictures anyway, right?”

GM: “That does sound fun,” agrees Cécilia. “We do have so many, after all.”

“We could take new ones, too.”

“’Oo’ll we ’ave do that, with the ’ousekeeper not ’ere?” asks Yvette.

“We could take them.” Yvonne.

“Sure, but ones of us all.” Yvette.

“We could have Jeremy or Daniel or one of the other security.” Adeline.

“Ah don’t want them… " Simmone.

“It’d just be pictures.” Noëllle.

“No! Ah don’t want them!” repeats Simmone.

Caroline: “You’d prefer Mr. Shah?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Oui. ’E’d be nicer.”

“’E might ’ave a ’ard time with a camera,” Yvette observes.

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “We can hold off on an everyone photo for now, or do one with a timer.”

GM: “But you ‘ave to run for those, and they’re not as good,” says Yvonne.

Caroline: “There will be another chance,” Caroline offers. “Unless you have a better idea?”

The Ventrue briefly considers offering up her varied ghouls to the task, but her mother clearly doesn’t want strangers present today, and she knows well their fatigue after the last couple nights. The work she has at their feet for today. They need some time off. Time to rest. Tired people make mistakes. Mistakes now could get her killed.

GM: “If it’s meant to be, my dears, it will be,” Abélia remarks serenely. “Perhaps a solution shall fall into our laps. Caroline, Cécilia, why don’t you two dig up the photo albums while the rest of us clean up here?”

Caroline: Caroline smiles. “Of course, Maman.”

She slides around the island she stand behind and slips away with Cécilia, grateful for the opportunity to get away from the meal.

Her new sisters are easy to get used to. Food is another story.


Tuesday morning, 8 March 2016

GM: The clink of dishes follows the two as they leave.

“Maman told me about Simmone,” Cécilia mentions once they’re out of earshot.

“I trust that she and you think it’s for the best. But I’m worried, still.”

Caroline: “Me too,” Caroline admits. “There are effects beyond just stopping aging… and even if there weren’t, it will eventually draw attention. But she asked me to trust her.”

GM: “I think Maman can take care of those things the most easily. I’m primarily worried about the psychological effects.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. "There are ghouls that have been eternal children before. Still are, in the city. I could ask, at least for the long term… "

“In the short term… it might be good. Might give her more confidence.”

“Especially if she’s pushed a little.” Caroline gives her sister a meaningful look.

GM: “Maybe that would be the right thing to do,” Cécilia admits. “It feels like it’s one step forward, two steps back with her, so much of the time. She was getting better for a while—you remember how we took her to your birthday party all without Maman. But ever since Maman died, Simmone’s refused to even leave the same room as her.”

“In many ways, she’s developmentally stunted. You’ve seen the tantrums she’s thrown. Those are behaviors I might expect from a four-year-old. But she’s ten.”

Caroline: “Maman seems to want it,” Caroline admits.

“She’s said she wants a child on her knee indefinitely.”

GM: “She said that to me, too. Her logic was that if Simmone is having such a hard time growing up, then maybe she shouldn’t have to.”

Cécilia looks uncomfortable.

“Maman has always made us happy. Always kept us safe. I don’t doubt her, or even want to doubt her. But growing up is a part of life.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Is it? Is growing old part of life too? Is suffering? Pain? Discomfort? And what does that make me? Or her?”

GM: Cécilia pauses at that, then closes the door to the library they’ve since entered and sits down.

“Maman has asked me several times if I’ve wanted the Embrace. She’s said there are ways she could arrange it.”

“I’ve told her no.”

Caroline: Caroline takes a seat beside her. “That’s not the wrong choice.”

She bites her lip again, then continues, “She didn’t tell me how everyone else came to be her daughters, vice how I did. I gathered it was different.”

“I gather too, you understand what she is, beyond Maman?”

GM: “I suppose that depends,” Cécilia answers thoughtfully.

“I know much of what she can do, much of what makes her what she is. But there’s much of her I don’t understand. Perhaps even couldn’t.”

Caroline: “She’s not of this world,” Caroline fills in. “Not human, at least not now, in any sense we might understand it.”

She mulls over the irony of that statement for a moment. “To revive her is to conjure her forth, as a magician might.”

GM: “I’m not certain if she was ever human,” Cécilia admits. “She might have been, once. But if she was, it was so long ago I’m not sure it makes a difference either way.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I don’t at all doubt her desire for our prosperity—it would be a cold and brief Requiem without all she’s done for me—but it’s entirely possible that her conception of what a human life should be, should consist of, is… very skewed by that perspective.”

“She wants Simmone to be happy, but that might be so far as it goes. She might not see beyond her welfare in that way. Similarly, she wants the same for you. Wants your success. Your prosperity. Wants to offer you anything you might wish—including immortality… at least of a sort.”

“To be human is to be subject to a great many hardships, a great many ailments, that will never touch me.”

GM: “Yes. Unquestionably,” Cécilia agrees. “But there are reasons the Kindred envy the living, too, which Maman might not consider as consequential.”

“Perhaps your Embrace was the right thing for you. I think it can be for some people. But I don’t think it is for most people. I think the Embrace demands a special character and significant degree of mental resilience.”

Caroline: “I’m not saying you should have said yes,” Caroline reassures her. “Only that I think in offering she sought to offer you something.”

She pauses to bite her lip again. “Were there others… before us?”

GM: Cécilia thinks.

“I don’t know, to be honest. I do know that Maman has a sister. Our aunt. She wants you to meet her, in time.”

Caroline: “Have you met her?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yes. We all have. We go back to Avignon for summers, usually, every year. That’s where we see her.”

“She doesn’t seem to like children very much, though. She always seems very tired.”

Caroline: Caroline can sympathize. “I wonder if she’s afraid of losing us.”

GM: “Her, or Maman?”

Caroline: “Maman,” Caroline answers. “Whether we’re the first or last.”

She shrugs. “How did we all come to be?”

GM: “To be honest, it hasn’t ever occurred to me to ask,” Cècilia admits. “Maman might be willing to answer your questions there, if it would make you happy. Truly. I know above all things, that’s her foremost concern.”

“But, as you say, her perspective may be skewed by her distance from humanity. In trying to shield Simmone from pain, she might inadvertently be shielding her from joy too.”

“I cherish my childhood and look back on it happily. But I wouldn’t want to still be a child. The pains of growing up were worth it.”

Caroline: “Do you remember when the others were born?”

GM: “Yes, I was already a teenager by the time Simmone was born. But, Caroline, I think what’s happening to her now may be more important than what happened to us then.”

Caroline: “Do you want to talk to Maman about it?” Caroline asks. “Or are you asking me to hold out?”

GM: “I think it would be helpful for her to hear those concerns from us both, if they’re ones you also share.”

Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue over her teeth. “They are.”

GM: Cècilia looks relieved. “Good. I’ll bring them up.”

“I suppose there’s some silver lining in that one month of delayed aging isn’t really that long, in the grand scheme.”

Caroline: “No more than other things that have happened. But Cécilia, it’s going to be painful to drag her into adulthood at this point.”

GM: “It is. But I don’t think growing up is ever painless.”

Caroline: “No, it isn’t,” Caroline agrees. “We all get our scars.”

GM: “You sounded like you’d had some thoughts earlier, so far as how?”

Caroline: “The blood will make her bolder. Make her feel stronger. If I’m gone, take advantage of it while you can. You might even consider it again, if that goes well. A month or two of delayed aging is nothing beside the psychological side.”

GM: Cècilia thinks. “You’re right. Maybe that could help. I admit I don’t know as much about ghouls as I do about Kindred.”

Caroline: “I know… a fair bit. And I’ve seen the reactions among my ghouls. I think she’ll be spared a fair few of them, because she’s younger, but I’m not certain how that works out.”

GM: “I suppose what’s done is done, and we can simply try to make the best of what has.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “She needs to go back to school. Or at least back out to deal with other people more frequently. Theater productions, dance studios, whatever works best.”

GM: “School could be… a challenge, though I’d like to get her up to that point by spending longer amounts of time away from Maman. Though maybe more time with non-family members would be a good idea too, even if Maman has to be around.”

Caroline: “She needs a friend. Other than the family. Maybe one of the bodyguards. Someone softer than a lot of the others that makes her feel safe.”

GM: “She had friends at school. She was actually very popular. But it’s been long enough that a lot of those friendships have faded away.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And they’re not likely to react well to her current… well, trend of behavior.”

GM: Cècilia nods in concurrence. “Hmm. We still have her dance teacher come by for lessons. They get along pretty well. Maybe doing those more than once a week.”

Caroline:“Maybe bringing along another student too—a partner.”

GM: “Oh, that’s a good thought. Maybe someone who doesn’t go to McGehee.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “She likes attention, perhaps dance competition would suit her well too. There are all kinds of local events that start as young as she is.”

GM: “I’ll ask about those at her next lesson. It’s actually scheduled for later today.” Cècilia thinks for another moment. “What about your people? Do you have any, or any with children, who might get along with her?”

Caroline: Caroline thinks for a moment. “No especially good candidates. One of them has a younger brother. Sister too, but I think she’s closer to Autumn’s age than Simmone’s. I could ask her about them. Another has a daughter… but I think she’s actually well-known to Simmone.”

“Well, Roger perhaps. His daughter is a little older, I think, but might be willing to hang around in Simmone’s shadow.”

GM: “Oh, she sounds perfect, then. Simmone could use someone she can maybe ‘upstage’ a little.”

“Autumn’s siblings too, if they’re the right age. Asking definitely couldn’t hurt.”

Caroline: Caroline nods slowly. “I’ll find out. Involving them carries a mild amount of risk, though.”

She elaborates, “Entwining the lives of ghouls with the family. They haven’t had the best… well, life expectancy to date.”

GM: “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. If you think we’d be putting them in danger meeting Simmone, then maybe we shouldn’t.”

Caroline: “No, just… it’s a slightly awkward relationship, with their parents as well… servants that are often desperate to please.”

She bites her lower lip, then gives a small laugh. “I actually think Maman might rather like the dynamic. She seems more old-fashioned like that. Servants’ children running with their masters’.”

GM: Cécilia smiles back. “You might be right there. I think she would.”

“It’s not really a dynamic we’ve had thus far. The family help has been either a little young to have children, or… well, incapable of having any.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow at that.

GM: “You’ve seen our driver.”

Caroline: “He doesn’t seem especially happy,” Caroline answers.

GM: “He hurt Maman in the past. She believes his suffering is right and just.”

“I don’t agree with her there, admittedly, which she knows. But her mind is made up.”

Caroline: “You have a kinder heart than most of us,” Caroline muses. “You forgive.”

GM: “That’s kind of you to say. Admittedly, I’m not completely sure what he did, so that forgiveness is easier for me.”

Caroline: “I don’t forgive. Not easily. Not frequently.”

GM: “Would you like to?”

Caroline: The Ventrue considers for a moment, staring into space. “Maybe. It’s something I admire in you. But it’s not in my nature.”

“I’d sort of like to believe that the world can only have gentle hearts if it also has harder ones around them.”

GM: “Maybe so. It’s true I’ve been more sheltered than you and haven’t had to make the same sorts of hard decisions.”

Caroline: “It’s not about hard decisions. Just hard people. Too much Malveaux in me.”

GM: “I’d also raise that you’re more sheltered now, too, than you used to be. If that’s something you want to change about yourself, I think you could afford it now. But only if you wanted to.”

“Our family has its share of hardness. Maman and Yvette don’t forgive easily.”

Caroline: “Ying and yang, maybe. Yvette and Yvonne are like the sides of a coin in that way.”

GM: “Yes. I think they draw out each other’s best qualities. And blunt each other’s worse ones.”

Caroline: “We’ll see what the future holds. I fear the future among the city’s Cainites will leave little room for kindness, mercy, or forgiveness.”

GM: “Those qualities can be luxuries,” Cécilia nods.

Caroline: “What else is bothering you?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Hmm. I’m in the position, actually, of executing something close to a will. Or maybe better to say, honoring someone’s last request.”

Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks.

GM: “I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but Emmett Delacroix—you might remember us talking about him with Luke at the Orpheum—was a boyfriend of mine in high school.”

Caroline: The name makes Caroline wince. “How did you end up talking to him again?”

GM: “After we broke up, I learned he’d been lying to me about who he was. He’d claimed to be an ambassador’s son and related to a movie star. He’d also arranged for Adeline to get embarrassed in public so he could swoop in to the rescue. Which sounds awful, and it was. But he later came clean when he didn’t have to. I think he was really just scared I wouldn’t accept him for who he was. He had a genius for making films. This simply amazing creative vision.”

“He was executed by the state of Louisiana not that long ago, in any case. I visited him while he was still on death row.”

“He was guilty of some fairly serious crimes. I don’t know the full circumstances of those, but it seemed to me like he’d more than paid for them. He’d lost his legs. He was a shell of the person I remembered.”

Caroline: “He was in the Dungeon,” Caroline offers quietly. “When I was.”

GM: Cécilia blinks. “I’m sorry?”

Caroline: “Someone brought him down there, when I was down there. In that pit.”

GM: “Oh. Maman told me some of the story there.”

“That’s… that’s simply terrible. For him and for you. Beyond terrible.”

Caroline: "Yeah… " Caroline nods. “We met, he and I, before that. Not for very long. I didn’t like the feeling I got off of him, so I asked Roger to pull his record.”

GM: “Oh?” Cécilia remarks. “That’s comforting to know he was telling the truth.”

“Yvette believed he’d sexually assaulted you. He denied it when I asked about that.”

“I did believe him, as he didn’t have much reason to lie at that point, and you couldn’t have told Yvette the truth about that night.”

Caroline: Caroline shuffles uncomfortably. “That night is… complicated. What happened to both of us there was complicated. Victim and victimizer is a blurry line. But no, she got… well… the easy lie.”

GM: “I understand. I don’t blame you. You couldn’t have told her the truth.”

“She was true to herself, though. She had Jeremy bribe the guards to abuse Em further in revenge for what she believed he’d done to you. She wanted them to… hurt him in the same way she believed he’d hurt you, let’s simply say, before killing him. Jeremy fortunately didn’t seem like he was going to let that happen.”

Caroline: More cruelty at him, her fellow victim of the Dungeon, because of her. She can tell herself he was a bad person, that he deserved it. But she’s not sure it’s really true.

GM: Cécilia looks at her. “I forgave Em for what he did to me and Adeline. But I can understand if you can’t for his other crimes. Yvette mentioned a scheme of his to get you pregnant and blackmail you.”

Caroline: “He’s dead now,” Caroline answers noncommittally.

GM: A look flickers in Cécilia’s eyes. “Yes.”

“I do think I was able to make his last days more comfortable. I left him some pens and paper, so he could write scripts for his movies.”

“The conditions on death row are just unspeakable. They’re kept in bare cells in total isolation, for potentially decades. I don’t know how someone doesn’t go crazy.”

Caroline: “For most of the people on death row, I don’t think that’s something anyone is worried about,” Caroline answers pointedly.

GM: “I think you’ll disagree with me, but I don’t think there’s any point in punishing them further, at that point. They’re soon going to face a higher justice than any human court.”

“Or not so soon, potentially. I was frankly amazed Em was executed after only six months.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I just don’t know that they’re worth anyone’s concern. Plenty of more deserving people suffering.”

“That’s a quick turnaround, though. My father was trying to make it happen for years.”

GM: “Yes, from what I understand state law makes execution by any means besides lethal injection illegal, but the state couldn’t reach an agreement with any supplier for the drugs. Maxen Flores spent years negotiating with the pharma companies even after he took over from your father.”

“I suppose the state was in a hurry to make an example of someone after all those years they couldn’t.”

“I might also disagree with you so far as those people’s worth, but that’s a discussion for perhaps another time.”

Caroline: “Indeed,” Caroline answers. “He asked you to do something, though? Beyond trying to make his end less… well, miserable.”

GM: “Yes. He’s sent me the scripts he wrote for his movies.”

“They’re very good scripts, too. It’s… it’s such a shame how his life turned out. I’d really encouraged him to apply to film school while we were in high school.”

“I’ve been having someone send the scripts to various film companies, in any case. I haven’t been trying to make money off of them. I’ve mainly just wanted to get them out.”

“His last one, though, is written to be more of a moneymaker than the others. And he’s requested that the proceeds go towards a nonprofit set up to combat companies like Endron and Malveaux Oil.”

“Obviously, I’m not about to help establish an organization to hurt my fiancé’s company. So I’m just thinking about what to do with any money the script makes.”

“I thought about maybe using it against Endron, what with their being major pollutants and rivals of your family’s, but that seems a little… politically minded, and not fully in line with the spirit of his request.”

“My other thought was simply donating the proceeds towards a less divisive charity that everyone supports, like the Red Cross. But that seems a little milquetoast. I think he’d wanted to do something for his father, who’s an environmental activist.”

Caroline: Caroline smirks when Cécilia raises her concern over just targeting Endron. That’s what she’d have done.

“Maybe something more specifically focused on his life circumstances?” she offers.

GM: “Oh, that’s a happy thought. Maybe scholarships for film students?”

Caroline: “Or opportunities for post-release felons,” Caroline suggests.

GM: “That’s another good one. Or improving conditions for death row inmates. Maybe all three, depending on how much the rights sell for.”

“Those are some really good ideas, Caroline.” She smiles. “You should have gone into charity work.”

Caroline: "I attended enough functions for the family that I must have picked up a thing or two along the way. It’s unseemly, really… "

GM: “You might pick up some more things there, actually. Maman mentioned she was planning on firing the legal counsel retained by our charities, and hiring your firm.”

Caroline: “That would be… quite a windfall. She should retain at least one other, though, to bounce conflicts of interest against.”

GM: “Hm, you should mention that to her. But it might be a hard sell.” Cécilia smiles faintly. “It’s simply no question to her, about supporting blood over non-blood.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “There was also something else to do with Emmett. Do you remember Mark Stines?”

Caroline: Caroline reaches back. “He was the head of legal for Malveaux Oil that got murdered.”

GM: “Yes. Luke told me he was a former JAG officer who’d really whipped the department into shape.”

“And it was such a brutal murder. I remember reading about it in the news. How he’d been… mutilated, before he died.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. She remembers her uncle’s rage about it.

GM: “Luke said it was the whole reason your family hired Roger.”

She remembers both her uncles’ rage.

Caroline: “Yeah. Before there had been security, but it wasn’t quite as refined. Roger had just come out of the Middle East. He gutted everything.”

GM: “Emmett asked that some of the money from his script go to supporting Stines’ wife and children.”

“It… stood out to me. It seems surprising he’d have had any personal relationship with the family. And the murder was a pretty long time ago.”

Caroline: “He’s assuming a lot, that there will be enough money to go around,” Caroline points out, even as she thinks back to Stines.

GM: “Yes,” Cécilia nods. “But the thing which stood out to me is that it was Emmett’s last request, from death row. You spend those on things that are very important to you. And I have a hard time seeing him being especially close to the family.”

“Yvette, when she first visited Em, got him talking for a while. And she told me that he’d told her he was the one to murder Stines. The story was so… well, I’ll simply say there were lurid enough details I wasn’t sure whether it was real or Yvette had maybe blown up the details she’d gotten from Em, because she was so upset.”

“But it feels a lot more plausible now, with Em wanting to make some kind of restitution to Stines’ family.”

Caroline: That confession takes some of the tension out of her shoulders.

She knew he was a bad person. But there’s a difference between knowing and ‘knowing.’

GM: “I’m not sure how much it truly means now, with Em dead, and Stines’ family having had eight years to deal with their grief. But he was an important man at the company Maman says you’ll be running behind the scenes, so I thought I’d simply let you know.”

Caroline: “I appreciate it,” Caroline answers quietly, contemplative.

GM: “It also means the man who was sent to prison for the murder was actually innocent.”

“He was, I think, still complicit. But he wasn’t the one to actually commit the murder.”

Caroline: “Emmett was a conman. A career criminal. That’s what Roger gave me.”

GM: “That sounds consistent with what Yvette had to say and my own experiences.”

Caroline: “I think the truth of everything he did in life probably went to the grave with him.”

GM: “Maybe. But if that man could be innocent, I think it’s worth looking into. And legal matters like these are your area.”

Caroline: Caroline rolls the idea over. “I can have someone start digging, but that case is awfully cold. And no one is going to want to touch it, to reopen that wound.”

GM: “I understand. Thanks for still looking into it.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: “Well, I think we’ve kept the others waiting for long enough.” Cécilia gets up and removes some albums from a shelf. “Maman must have distracted them. I’m surprised no one came calling.”

Caroline: “She has a way,” Caroline answers. She rises lethargically to follow Cécilia. Her typical effortless grace is absent this morning as she forces herself out of the comfortable couch that practically begs her to close her eyes for a little while.

GM: Cécilia looks at her with some concern. “If you’re tired, you could sleep until evening. Maman will come up with an excuse. You’ll still be able to spend time with the others.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head. “This time is a gift. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’d cherish it while we have the chance. It’s just… sort of like the worst hangover you’ve ever had.”

GM: “Is there anything that could make it easier for you? Would blood help?”

Caroline: "If you could make that big blazing ball of hatred in the sky go away… " Caroline jokes. “But no, it’s just a price paid.”

GM: “Well, thank you for paying it. I know it means a lot to Maman and the others.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles.

“It means a lot to me too.”


Tuesday morning, 8 March 2016

GM: It’s a short walk back to the house’s living room. The drapes around the floor to ceiling windows are pulled fast. Some part of Caroline cannot help but silently whine whether they are thick enough, but no sun gets through. The lit chandeliers and tableside lamps make the place almost feels like it’s night out. Everyone has piled onto two adjacent couches, with Simmone sitting on Abélia’s lap. They’re looking through social media pictures on their phones and passing them around.

“Oh, just in time,” Abélia declares contently. “We’ve looked through all these recent photos… now we can delve into the past.”

Cècilia sits down as the others scoot aside and hands her mother the first album. “These ones start in 2005. Just when we moved over.”

“It’s funny to think it’s been close to eleven years. Sometimes it feels like it’s been so much longer, and sometimes like it’s been no time at all.”

“Chronos plays many tricks on us, my dear,” Abélia smiles as she opens the photo book. “He’s really quite a liar.”

Caroline: Aren’t we all.

GM: “Ah, here’s the first one of us in the States,” Abélia says. “Look at how young you all were! Simmone is just a little baby.”

“Where’s that we were?” asks Noëllle.

“That’s the Windsor Court,” Adeline says as their mother passes the photo book around.

“So many hotels were closed, but I remember that one doing everything it could to keep its doors open.”

“More than open.” Cècilia. “President Marshall stayed there when he came to the city, as I remember.”

“Ugh, Marshall was an idiot.” Yvette.

Caroline: More than you know, she reflects, knowing what she does of its owner, even as she takes a place looking over Abélia’s shoulder.

GM: “Freedom fries,” echoes Yvonne.

Caroline: Caroline laughs. “Yes, you have such strong memories of his presidency.”

GM: The photo shows all of the family sitting together at a table in the hotel’s Polo Club Lounge. It’s reminiscent of a private English club, decorated with dark woods and overstuffed leather furnishings. Abélia looks much as she does in the present. Cécilia is a teenager with younger features, but just about the same height. Adeline looks in middle school. Yvette and Yvonne are just little kids. Noëllle is a toddler sitting on Cécilia’s lap, and Simmone is still just a baby in the crook of Abélia’s arm.

“I remember talking to a couple of the Secret Service agents who were there,” Cécilia remarks. “They were very friendly.”

“You were a little shy to,” she smiles at Adeline.

“Yes. I did visit their website, though. It had a ‘for kids’ section. I remember it saying to study hard and get good grades if you wanted to join the Secret Service someday.”

“Yvette didn’t even want to talk to them. She convinced me not to,” Yvonne remarks amusedly.

Freedom fries,” Yvette repeats sarcastically.

“But we don’t even call them that,” says Noëllle. “They’re just frites.

“Yes, but Americans do.” Yvette.

“They changed the name to freedom toast, too.” Yvonne.

“Oh mon dieu, did they really?” Yvette scoffs.

Caroline: Caroline laughs lightly. “Would you like me to put your hair up in a freedom braid?”

GM: “Jesus Christ, did they seriously rename that too?”

Caroline: Caroline laughs harder. “No, but I enjoyed watching you get worked up about it.”

GM: That draws some laughter from the others. Yvette rolls her eyes. “Ah bet you were all over freedom fries, with your dad,” she retorts.

Caroline: “It’s important to defend American values,” she retorts. "Things like liberty, egalitie, fraternity… "

GM: “Yes, we did those better. And we basically conquered the world after our revolution.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles, letting the joke go.

GM: “America arguably did that too. They just took longer,” Adeline observes.

“I had a college professor who liked to tout ‘the Sixth Fleet’ as evidence of American imperialism. He had this funny way of saying in a very exaggerated voice, ‘the Sixth Fleet. Have you heard of the Sixth Fleet? The Sixth Fleet makes sure Mare Nostrum stays alive under today’s empire.”

Caroline: “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.”

GM: “As an interesting bit of trivia, he also pointed out that the U.S. actually has a comparable number of foreign military bases to Rome and the British Empire at their peaks. That’s all the more notable given how much warfare has changed over 2,000 years, or factors like the size of the territory held, or smaller contemporary forces being able to hold much more territory. All three empires still had a little over 30 bases.”

“Hmph,” says Yvette. “‘Ow many did Napoleon’s empire ’ave?”

“I’m not sure,” answers Adeline. “But under 30.”

“What’s Mare Nostrum?” asks Simmone.

“It’s Latin, my dear. For ’our sea,” explains Abélia. “The Romans ruled all of the land around the Mediterranean. It was ‘their sea.’”

“And as my professor liked to explain, the U.S. keeps a fleet stationed there.” Adeline. “So it’s ‘their sea’ too.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “‘Eastern American Bathtub’ doesn’t have quite the same ring.”

GM: “Latin makes everything classier.” Yvonne.

Caroline: “The root of so many languages, too.”

GM: Abélia turns the book’s page. “Oh, my. The Krewe du Vieux.”

“Oh mah god, are those people dressed as sperms?” Yvette laughs.

“Look at ‘ow many there are. There’s families dressing up as sperms together.” Yvonne.

“Why are they doing that?” asks Noëllle.

“It was to protest the mayor’s handling of Hurricane Katrina,” explains Cécilia. “The Krewe du Vieux had a lot of material to work with that year.”

“But why sperms?” Noëllle.

“Because ’e’s jacking off, duh,” snickers Yvette.

“Ah know that,” the 13-year-old defensively insists. “Ah mean why’d they make fun of ’im doing that.”

“Be kind to your sister, my sweet. Save your mockery for those deserving of it,” Abélia smiles, patting Yvette’s hand.

“As to the Krewe, I believe they were mocking the mayor for his statement that the city was a ‘chocolate city,’ as well as lambasting his general performance in office.”

Caroline: “Added benefit of being shocking,” Caroline adds. “Everyone loves to make a statement.”

GM: “Ah’d ’ave wanted to be one of those sperms,” Yvette laughs.

Caroline: “To shock people?” Caroline smirks.

GM: “And make fun of the mayor. ‘E was an idiot. I think ’is wife’s on food stamps now!” she snorts.

“Yes, ’e actually want to jail.” Yvonne.

Caroline: “No less than he deserved,” Caroline answers.

GM: “He was very corrupt,” Cécilia nods. “That’s nothing new in Louisiana, but I suppose they were looking to make an example.”

“Yes, Ah’m amazed that actually ’appened,” says Yvonne.

Caroline: "They had to, when the entire country was watching. Internal problems are one thing, but when you let them out all over the national news… "

GM: “Yes, he’d appeared in all those photos with President Marshall, too.” Adeline. “People had rallied around him during a time of crisis and felt betrayed. By his corruption as well as his mismanagement of the disaster response.”

“That’s funny to think though. ’E’d been so on top of the world one day, showing up in pictures with the president.” Yvonne.

“Fortuna is a fickle companion, my dears,” Abélia smiles. “Be certain never to place yourself entirely within her care.”

Caroline: “The higher you climb, the further you can fall,” Caroline chimes in.

GM: “Ah guess you should be careful.” Noëllle.

“Or lay a mat.” Yvonne.

“A mat doesn’t make a difference from ’igh enough.” Yvette.

Abélia turns the book’s page. “Ah, and here Caroline is with the rest of us. This was the first time we’d seen her in quite a while, wasn’t it?”

Caroline sees a photo of them all watching a parade from a VIP balcony. They’re tossing beads and other plastic trinkets to the crowds below. Caroline’s lifting up Yvette so she can get a good toss while Cécilia holds Yvonne and Abélia holds Noëllle. Adeline throws from the side. Simmone is still in a stroller.

Caroline: Caroline’s blue eyes glitter as they settle on the image of her. This past recalled by all but her.

Still, she can imagine it, almost hear her sisters’ happy laughs. The feel of the plastic beads in her hand.

GM: It’s a smaller parade than normal, she can also tell. Mardi Gras was a much humbler affair in 2006.

“What’d you do for Katrina?” Noëllle asks. “Didn’t everyone ’ave to leave the city?”

“A lot of displaced people went to Houston and Baton Rouge. But Caroline actually lived in Baton Rouge already, back then,” Cécilia explains.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It wasn’t until after Katrina that most of the Malveauxes moved back towards New Orleans. It made sense then—property values were low, lots of room for growth.”

GM: “Yes, I remember there being a lot of plans to completely rebuild the city. It was an opportunity like developers hadn’t ever had before,” Adeline remarks. “Though not much seemed to come of it.”

Caroline: “Too much red tape in the way,” Caroline observes. “Too many historical preservation societies and regulations.”

GM: “That’s just so stupid,” Yvette says.

“Amelie got in trouble for damaging an ’istoric site, though,” Yvonne points out.

“Oooh, that’s right,” Yvette smiles. “Ah guess Ah forgot next to all those other things ’e did.”

Caroline: “It has its value. There’s a lot of history here. A lot of what makes New Orleans unique.”

GM: “Ah guess. Though Ah wonder ‘ow it’d look if developers ’ad been able to do more.” Yvette.

“It might look closer to how the Pavaghis want it to, actually.” Adeline.

“Sarah ’as such awful taste in guys,” Yvette laughs.

“It’s creepy with ’ow much older ’e is, too.” Yvonne.

“I think he was simply there for her at a vulnerable point in her life, from the sound of things,” Cécilia says. “It’s very easy to fall for someone who swoops in to the rescue like that.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “We all want someone there for us.”

GM: “You don’t think it’s wrong, though?” Yvonne.

“Sarah’s old enough to consent. In the law’s eyes, at least, neither of them has done any wrong.” Cécilia.

“Ah’ve never wanted to date someone that much older than me.” Yvette.

“Your boyfriend’s in college.” Noëllle.

“’E’s 19. Way younger.” Yvette.

Caroline: “Statistically worldwide women marry men around seven years older,” Caroline observes.

GM: “Worldwide a lot of women get murdered for ’aving sex before marriage too,” Yvette retorts.

Caroline: “That’s a depressing topic,” Caroline replies sourly.

GM: “Ah’m just saying statistically worldwide a lot of women ’ave it pretty awful.”

Caroline: “True, but the propensity towards dating an older partner in women continues even here. I think George Clooney was in his fifties when he was rated the ‘sexist man alive.’”

GM: “Oh, we studied that in one of mah statistics classes.” Yvonne. “’Ow Oscars winners tend to ’ave lots of older men, but the women are always young. It was for an example with box plots.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “And sexism. A shame it takes men so long to fully develop.”

GM: “The silliest woman can manage a clever man; but it takes a very clever man to manage a foolish woman,” Cécilia quotes with a smile.

Abélia only gives a fluttering laugh as she pages through the album.

“Come come, my dears. Let us speak of happier things and look back on happier times… "

There’s a lot of them. 2005 starts with photos of the family, sans Caroline, together at the Windsor Court. They lounge around at the rooftop pool, treat themselves at the spa, and even play with a litter of white-furred young kittens (the Court accommodated pets). Those pictures prompt Simmone to say she wants the cats; Abélia calls for them, and it’s not overlong before several hop onto the couch. Simmone pulls hers, Guimauve (“Marshmallow”) onto her lap and rubs the flopped-over persian’s belly as they look through pictures. The cats are completely pliable and willing; Simmone and Noëllle even stack another one, Glinda, on top of Guimauve, and roll her over to amuse themselves as they pet the felines.

“It’s really a shame what happened to the Court,” comments Adeline. “I’ll always prefer living in a real house. But the staff was beyond stellar and went to so much effort to keep the hotel running smoothly.”

Caroline: There’s a faint chill as Caroline reflects on how closely the family lived in proximity to Smith, but it’s undercut by the present.

“Some people just want to watch the world burn,” she laments with Adeline.

GM: “I think they were mostly just selfish. I read about that wave of scandals, and how the owner had to sell. It’s just a shame the new owners weren’t simply willing to turn over the hotel to new management.”

Caroline: “At least we got to enjoy it when it lasted.”

GM: You know we weren’t in any danger from him, Caroline. Maman made things very clear and reached an accommodation.

She’d never have brought us there if she wasn’t completely certain we’d be safe. From what she said, Smith was actually a very gracious host.

Caroline: And I know how it worked out, Caroline admits. I only met him once, and perhaps my feelings are colored by those of another.

GM: Desperate times drive men to desperate measures, my dears, Abélia observes. Mr. Smith, like Icarus, flew too close to the sun. Many were the hands willing to use such ambition towards their own purposes. In serving oneself above all else, one may easily be swayed into the service of others.

Caroline: An empty pursuit must be filled by something.

GM: Mr. Smith’s most worthy endeavor was his hotel, and he at his most worthy when pursuing that endeavor. He was a devilishly charming host and accommodating to our needs in ways no mortal hotelier could have been. I do not think the city will soon find another Cainite of his caliber. I look back upon our time within his domain fondly, and salute his memory.

The family reminisces over the Court a bit longer. There was that friendly old doorman, and the hostess—Adeline recalls her actually being French, and feeling more comfortable around her than the other staff. Yvette focuses more on the negative and the men implicated in the recent sex scandals. Yvonne brings up the hotel’s art collection, which she says looks very impressive from the photos they have. Abélia confirms that yes, it had a museum-quality collection worth an estimated $10 million. It featured paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and furnishings by more than 60 artists dating from the 17th to late 20th centuries. Many of the artworks were of British origin with an emphasis on works that depicted the Windsor Castle and life of British royalty. The collection included original works by William Powell Frith, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Jacob Huysman.

When Yvonne asks how her mother knows this, Simmone chimes up that “Maman knows everything,” much to the laughter of those present.

Abélia then says that many of the art pieces were put up for sale. Some of them were purchased by museums she and Cécilia are involved with. Other pieces have disappeared into the hands of private collectors.

“Didn’t you buy one of them, Maman?” Cécilia asks.

“Why yes, my dear, I believe I did—a little keepsake of our time there. It’s at the Ogden. I need to bring it over to our house, still.”

Caroline: “There’s always an opportunity amid every sorrow,” Caroline chimes in. “If you can find it.”

GM: Speaking of, my dear, would you care to involve yourself further with the museum? There’s the Chairman’s Circle for individuals, or perhaps corporate membership for your law firm… patronage of the arts is a time-honored tradition among rulers, be they living or dead.

Caroline instinctively knows what such entails.

She recalls that Vera sits on the museum’s board of trustees, although her aunt never made much of an effort to involve the rest of the family.

Caroline: That could be very useful, Caroline muses. Particularly the opportunity to host after-hours events there. I think the firm might be more directly applicable, especially if my name is wedded to it, in time.

GM: Oh? Is your name not? Cécilia asks curiously.

Caroline: My ‘death’ seemed a likely outcome in the immediate future. Given that, I thought it better to keep my hold of it more indistinct. There are documents that tie me to it, but none publicly available. Nothing to make a mess if ‘Caroline Malveaux’ tragically passed away.

GM: Oh, that makes sense, then. I’d wondered why you were still clerking for the court.

Caroline: Appearances. It was also problematic to explain to the family where the money came from for the start up.

GM: Such appearances shall likely cease to persist, my dear, as your allegiances become known to interested powers… Antoine Savoy has but little reason to help maintain the Masquerade of his rival’s childe, nor to grant her access to that within his domain.

Caroline: A shame, he is very charming. Much like the serpent from the Jungle Book, I think. Mind not the coils as they encircle you in their warm embrace…

GM: Your future may hold many things, precious child. Hypnos eagerly waits to embrace your sire, while his gaze passes over the lord of the French Quarter. Far more allegiances are written in mud than stone. But in the immediate term, your one-time benefactor is unwise to depend upon.

If you need any help setting up your Masquerade, of course, we’ll do whatever we can, Cécilia adds. You could link the firm’s start-up capital to us, if you want to publicly tie yourself to it. Which doesn’t seem like a bad idea. What is Caroline Malveaux-Devillers doing now that she’s passed the bar, after all.

Caroline: What is she doing indeed, Caroline asks. Let’s see what my sire has planned, that we don’t tread upon that newly-planted earth. A beginning is a very delicate time.

GM: Yes, that’s true. There’s definitely no harm in waiting a little to see how things unfold there, Cécilia agrees.


Tuesday afternoon, 8 March 2016

Abélia continues to flip through the photo album and comment aloud as the three silently converse. Yvonve asks where the pictures are of Maman and Cécilia helping with the relief efforts. Abélia says those are ‘political’ photos, for the most part. These ones are just of the family.

The Windsor Court photos eventually give way to ones of everyone moving in to the Walter Robinson House, newly restored following Katrina (and fortunately undamaged by the storm, like much of the Garden District). There’s lots of the girls swimming in the pool or playing in the yard with Ulysses and Penelope, the family’s now-deceased cats who produced the current litter of Persians. Caroline is in a number of photos, though not all of them: according to Cécilia, she’d usually come over “every other weekend” and for holidays like Mardi Gras.

Caroline: It makes sense, with the bulk of the Malveaux family still living in Baton Rouge at the time. Caroline very much included. The pictures make her almost jealous of the life she might have had. Almost.

GM: They’ve just moved to pictures of the family’s first trip to Grand Isle when Abélia tilts her head. “Ah, someone is at the door.”

“Caroline, Cécilia, why don’t you see who it is? I shouldn’t like to displace Simmone and the cats.”

I sense great pain, my dears, and equally great longing. Tread carefully.

Maman? Is there danger to the others? Cécilia asks.

Caroline: Not here. Not now, Caroline answers with a hint of viciousness.

She flashes a smile to the others. “Of course.”

GM: There is no bloodlust. Perhaps words shall avail you over force of arms.

You shall come to no harm while I yet draw breath, my dears. Death will be a mercy to any who might threaten you in this place.

Caroline: It begs a question as to who could come here, who would think to come here, with that intent. Still, Caroline’s not afraid.

She does take the lead in front of her sister, however. Her fragile human sister.

GM: We will take care of it, Maman. Peacefully, ideally. But Caroline and the guards can manage by force, if need be.

Cécilia rises to follow Caroline. They make their way to the house’s atrium when she says grimly, “I’ll need to open the door. You should take cover.”

Caroline: Caroline reluctantly continues past the door, to the next bend, where she can watch Cécilia without being exposed to the light as the door opens.

GM: Cécilia turns the knob. Caroline’s eyes painfully burn, like she’s watching a nuclear explosion up close. Light floods over her sister. Light, pure and clear and bright and wholesome, like Caroline hasn’t seen in what feels like a lifetime.

Then it’s gone just as abruptly as Cécilia quickly closes the door. And Caroline knows shadows and darkness once more.

Caroline: She recoils. Pulls further into shadow, into the house, but keeps her eyes on her sister.

GM: It’s Daniel Hayes. He looks mildly surprised at Cécilia preemptively opening the door, but states, “There’s someone out front, ma’am. She looks sketchy. Claims she knows Miss Malveaux-Devillers.”

“What name did she give?” Cécilia asks.

“Megan Wilkins.”

Cécilia frowns. “Do you know someone by that name, Caroline? I don’t.”

Caroline: “I do,” Caroline answers, stepping forward, further out of the darkness. “She works for Jocelyn.” Her ghoul, her only one.

“Did she say what this was about?” Caroline asks Hayes.

GM: “That it was ‘a matter of life and death,’” the Blackwatch merc answers. “She asked if she could bring her car in.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Why don’t you show her in, and we can deal with the car in a moment. Can you have someone keep an eye on it while we talk?”

She’s not especially threatening.

GM: “She didn’t want to leave the car, ma’am. But we can force her out.”

Caroline: The Ventrue’s frown deepens. "She’s done something rather rash… "

“So what’s her request? To pull the car inside the fence, then she’ll come inside?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yes, ma’am.”

Caroline: She ponders for a moment. I don’t think she’d have the means to make a bomb or anything like that.

“Bring the car in,” she tells Hayes. “Then bring her in.”

GM: “Yes, ma’am,” Hayes repeats.

GM: Cécilia nods for Caroline to retreat. The door opens and closes.

“What do you think this is about?” her sister asks. “Maman said great pain and great longing-”

Cécilia is cut off by a blood-curdling, agonized scream from outside.

There’s more shouts of alarm, perhaps from the guards.

Thudding footfalls, approaching the door.

Cécilia yells for Caroline to get back.

It slams open and then shut.

Jocelyn, half-carried by Hayes and Jeremy, all but collapses into the house. Smoke pungently wafts from her blackened, still-crackling flesh as she writhes and screams. She’s completely naked and the sun has had little mercy for her so-exposed skin.

Meg wails and falls over her domitor.

Caroline: The sight and sound of Jocelyn, seared and blackened, screaming in agony, is like a kick in the gut. It tears at Caroline, rips at her like Meadows once did. Pulls her to action almost instinctively.

She flips over the edge of the rug and uses it to smother the last of the smoke and flame.

GM: Hayes simultaneously throws off Meg and throws Jocelyn to the floor to make her stop, drop, and roll. Jeremy runs deeper into the house, then runs back with the pitcher of ice water that every Southern family keeps in their fridge and douses the Toreador with it over the head.

CAR… OL… L… INE… !” Jocelyn screams.

Hayes pulls out a phone, all but certainly to dial 911.

“No, don’t,” Cécilia preempts sharply.

“Ma’am, she needs a hospital,” Hayes states incredulously.

“Y’all got a burn unit in this house or what?!” Jeremy barks.

More exclamations go up from the two men as Jocelyn tries to crawl towards Caroline.

Caroline: The streams tear at her. Pull at something in her. Something that meant the worst. It rips and tears inside her. She stares at Jocelyn’s charred form, remembering too well her brief experience with the sun’s kiss.

“Oh, Jocelyn… what have you done.”

GM: “Car… ol… l… ine…” she repeats as the two hold her fast. "H… elp… "

Caroline: “Let her go!” she demands, kneeling before the Toreador.

GM: The men let go. Jocelyn shakily wraps her blackened arms around Caroline’s waist and buries her face against the Ventrue’s belly. The smell of cooked flesh and burnt hair wafts up Caroline’s nostrils.

“It… h… urts… "

Meg cries and runs her hands over her domitor.

“Don’t call 911!” Cécilia repeats as Jeremy pulls out a phone.

“Ma’am, you crazy?!” the ex-cop repeats.

Caroline: The yelling between the two rips Caroline’s attention away from what really matters to her. She lets out the Beast, cowering and whining though it is in the day, to begin to smooth the edges of Jeremy’s and Hayes’ concern.

“Don’t,” Caroline responds to him. “It won’t help her right now, and it’ll hurt all of us. Call Fuller. Tell him I need my medication. He’ll know what it means.”

She looks down at Jocelyn’s frail form. “I can take care of her.”

GM: “Trust us, please,” entreats Cécilia.

Hayes looks torn for a moment, then requests, “What’s his phone number, ma’am?”

Jeremy looks less torn as he dials a number that takes him only three taps. “Hey, we got—I don’t know, a burn victim?!”

Caroline: She looks up at Jeremy with a flash of anger. “Hand her the phone.”

GM: Yet the Ventrue’s will is not what it is with the sun’s wrath invisibly bearing down. The stubborn man throws off the mental command with an, “Yeah, address is 14-”

Jeremy dives out of the way as the chandelier abruptly snaps from its holder, hitting the floor with a resounding crash. Broken glass and crystal flies everywhere. Miraculously, none touch either of the Devillers, but Meg shrieks and Hayes yells as stray fragments open red lines across their skin. Cécilia snatches up the dropped phone.

Maman! Are you all right!?

I am… well, sweet child… knowing you are safe…

“I’m sorry… that was a prank by my brother. No, no… it’s just a loud sound system. I am so sorry… we promise it won’t happen again.”

But Maman, you’ll burn through your body. You already nursed me and Caroline, and Simmone for so long this morning…

What is done is done, my dears. Tend to this crisis. I shall keep the others preoccupied.

Jeremy stares at the sisters, then points at Jocelyn and yells as he advances towards Cécilia, “You blind?! She needs a hospital!”

“Jeremy, she’s going to be just fine! Please tr-”

“Like hell she is! The fuck’s she doin’ naked!?”

Jocelyn gives a broken smile as she stares up at Caroline. Even her gums and tongue are shriveled up and black. "Caroline… I knew… you cared… I knew… you still… cared… "

Meg weeps over her domitor. “J-Jocelyn! Drink from me! Please!”

Caroline: The yelling security, operator on the line, Jeremy advancing on Cécilia, Meg’s pathetic sobbing, Jocelyn’s charred body and withered, blackened bands holding to her, the savagery of her self-immolating manipulation. And of course her throbbing head, the weight of the sun on her shoulders as never before. And the bond tearing at her, telling her so urgently she must help Jocelyn. Must forgive Jocelyn.

It threatens to swallow Caroline in the moment.

It doesn’t. She stands, Jocelyn’s hands wrapped pathetically around her calves, the charred face laying on her feet.

“Mr. May, you will recall whose home you are in and in whose employ.” Her voice snaps like a whip across the room. She tosses her phone to Hayes to keep him occupied. “Under Fuller. Tell him to bring along Ms. Widney as well.”

She turns back to May. “You are here to protect this family. You are failing in that.”

GM: Jeremy finally balks as the force of the Ventrue’s words, backed by both Man and Beast, washes over him.

“All right, ma’am, if callin’ 911 ain’t the thing to do here, then… what in heck’s name can I do for her?”

Hayes looks like he’s wondering the same thing as he dials the number and repeats how “Miss Malveaux-Devillers needs her medication.” He doesn’t say anything else, but he doesn’t take his eyes off the trio as he hangs up. Blood steadily trickles from his cuts.

“…yes, things just got a little heated… we’ve turned it off. We’re so sorry to have bothered you, again. I know every minute could save a life… yes, of course. Goodbye.” Cécilia also hangs up.

Caroline: “Help carry her further inside,” Caroline answers. She reviews her knowledge of the home for the best place to shelter Jocelyn. Her irritation with the Toreador threatens to bubble over, but fades and is replaced by something else.

It’s her own fault. She should have had someone read into the supernatural outside. Even if she couldn’t have ever expected Jocelyn to do something this rash, she should have been more prepared for something.

“Find something we can put her on, a rug, a towel, something so you aren’t actually touching her when we move her.” Caroline knows well how easy it is to tear seared flesh from the muscle underneath.

GM: Cécilia delicately makes her way past the glass and retrieves a broom to start sweeping it aside. Hayes and May retrieve a bedsheet they get Jocelyn onto, who continues to moan for Caroline. One room seems as good as any to move the injured Kindred. Cécilia volunteers her bedroom. Meg, still cut and bleeding, begs Caroline to “give her my blood!” Jeremy and Hayes look at her like she’s a lunatic.

Caroline: The Ventrue snatches Meg as the two security guards turn a corner and snaps at her, mouth full of teeth,

“You have shattered the peace of my family with your stunt. Do not continue to tear at the fabric of the Masquerade in my home.”

GM: Meg visibly flinches under Caroline’s gaze, defensively raising her stick-thin arms as she whisper-begs,

“P-Please. Ma’am. I just… I just want to help her! She wanted to die! She was, she was going to, to kill herself… she… she… "

Caroline: “So you brought her here to immolate herself in front of my family?”

GM: “You’d save her!” Meg begs. "If, if it wasn’t here… no one, no one would’ve… "

Caroline: “No one would have cared,” Caroline fills in.

GM: The ghoul just gives her a crushed look, then softly cries, "I c-couldn’t stop her… I, I tried, I w-wanted to… "

Caroline: Caroline feels again that surge of anger towards Jocelyn. Her childish, outlandish reaction.

And also an unnatural thrill at the lengths she’s gone to.

GM: "She’s, she’s… you haven’t seen her… " Meg begs. "She’s, she’s just… she spends all night, all night just crying… she doesn’t do her art… she hasn’t taken any pictures in, in forever… she doesn’t do anything… just lies in bed… "

“Roxanne and Wyatt, they’re the only… only Storyvilles left… and she just told them to fuck off… "

Caroline: “I didn’t want to see her,” Caroline replies acerbically.

GM: Meg actually falls to her knees and clutches the hem of Caroline’s skirt as she half-exclaims, half-begs, “You’re killing her!”

Caroline: “She’s killing herself,” Caroline snarls back.

But she knows that’s not entirely true. Remembers her part in this. Remembers how she’d hoped it would make things easier.

GM: Tears leak from the ghoul’s eyes. "P… please… help her, please… she just wants to love you… she loves you… "

Caroline: “What a pleasant way of showing it,” she half-snarls, whirling to follow the men carrying the charred vampire.

“Come along,” she snaps back at Meg.

GM: Meg gets up and meekly follows behind.

Caroline: Caroline has the men set Jocelyn down upstairs, away from the rest of the family. “Don’t tell anyone about this except Fuller when he arrives,” she instructs them firmly. “Get the car moved.”

She pauses before they depart. “She’ll be ok. But even if she weren’t, bringing the police and paramedics charging in here would never be a better alternative. Not for a stranger.”

When Jeremy objects she looks deep into his eyes. “Jeremy, trust me when I assure you, I know what I am doing.”

She needs to wipe this memory, but after earlier just doesn’t trust herself. Not while the sun is up in any case.

GM: Caroline? How would you like to handle this? Cécilia asks.

Caroline: But people have bought silence other ways as well, for lesser wrongs.

GM: The guards outside might have seen things, too.

Caroline: I need them quiet for a while, just until nightfall… until I can wipe it. Fuller will help mop it up with Widney when they arrive.

GM: If it’s too much trouble, Maman has… ways, of obscuring things. But I’m concerned what exerting herself right now could do.

If she’d been at her full strength I think she’d have seen this coming, too.

Caroline: She saw enough, Caroline replies. We just need time. I need time. She suspects the others will keep quiet for now… talking about the secrets of the rich and powerful is fantastic way to end up in a bad way.

Do you think they’ll keep quiet? she asks, not trusting her judgment.

GM: Jeremy is… stubborn. We wouldn’t be the first employers of his who’ve let him go for doing things his own way. And Daniel wasn’t very happy with the work Blackwatch made him do or the people he worked with.

But I think they’d be a lot more cooperative if they believed Jocelyn was going to make it. If I were in their shoes, I know I’d be rushing her to the hospital. Burn victims need professional care.

Caroline: I don’t think they’ll react well to miraculous healing, Caroline answers.

GM: You’re right that’d also be hard to explain. Hmm. Maman could intervene, if there’s no other way. I hadn’t realized the day weakened Kindred so much.

Caroline: I could try again… Caroline admits.

GM: Maybe that’s for the best. Jocelyn must seem like a girl who’s about to die or be scarred for life, to anyone who doesn’t know what she is. I don’t think Jeremy and Daniel are going to be okay with that.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods wearily.

“Jeremy,” she calls after the departing bodyguard. “There actually is something you could do.”

GM: “Ma’am?” he asks gladly.

Caroline: She reaches out again with her will, trying to pacify his mind. She almost feels bad, for his eagerness to help.

GM: The man’s face goes slack at her command.

Caroline: She smooths over his memory of Jocelyn’s arrival, sanding down the rough edges of the badly burned vampire and leaving only the arrival of one of Caroline’s friends with a twisted ankle.

She hadn’t wanted to walk up to the house and needed a hand on the stairs.

GM: Jeremy seems to buy it and apologizes to Caroline for his previous behavior.

“Your family hired me to do a job, ma’am, and I threw a real hissy fit. I’ll make up to y’all for it. Swear I will.”

Caroline: Caroline eyes the supposed killer of her family’s tormentor, then smiles.

“I just might give you the chance.”

Jeremy is taken care of. Can you stop Hayes at the door so I can work him before the two get to talk again.

GM: Yes. We’re in my bedroom with Jocelyn.

“Carol… ine… !” calls out her one-time lover’s voice.

Caroline: The Ventrue steps back into the bedroom with Hayes and Cécilia.

GM: Jeremy still wants to “lend the little lady a hand” and follows after Caroline until told to go back outside. Meg trails after her. Jocelyn, lying on the bed, moans for her lover. Hayes does not look happy and is saying something to Cécilia about “being through with that kind of work.”

Caroline: Caroline sends Jeremy back downstairs and rounds on Hayes. She bids he follow her back into the hall and like Jeremy before him leans hard onto his mind, straining against the tyranny of the sun to wash away his anger, his concerns, his fears. A sprained ankle and some scrapes were nothing to get worked up over, were they?

GM: Nothing indeed, when there’s no need for a hospital trip then. Hayes takes Meg away to clean and dress her wounds over the rail-thin ghoul’s protests. Caroline and Cécilia are left alone with Jocelyn.

Caroline: The Ventrue bites back her growing hunger, tries to bite back her anger toward Jocelyn. Isn’t sure which feeds the other more strongly right now.

There’s a scowl plastered across her face, drawn in a lean and hungry way. She doesn’t even know what to say to Joceyln as she stands over her again.

GM: The Toreador shakily gets up and embraces her. The smell of burnt hair lingers in Caroline’s nose.

“Oh, Caroline… "

“You… saved… me… "

Caroline: I’m fairly certain that was the building, Caroline thinks, but narrowly bites back.

“Why are you here, Jocelyn?” she asks instead.

The smell of burnt flesh is nauseating, beaten back only by Caroline’s lack of respiration. Its presence in Cécilia’s room is an insult to the sanctity of the house.

One night. Not even one night and my problems are already following me here.

And Jocelyn is a problem.

GM: Jocelyn just stares at her for several moments. Red wells from the corners of her eyes.

“I love you… "

“I never… never said it… "

Caroline: “So you set yourself on fire in front of me?” Caroline doesn’t quite shriek, fingernails biting into her palms.

GM: "I… I had to… after what you said, how you never… never wanted to see me, ag… "

Jocelyn doesn’t finish the sentence. She buries her head against the taller Kindred’s shoulder.

“But I knew… I knew you still cared… I knew… "

“And if you didn’t… then fuck it… rather brighten a sunrise… "

Cécilia doesn’t say anything as she stands to the side, but her expression looks pained for them both.

Caroline: That thought both stills and sets her dead heart racing. The bond pushes and pulls on Caroline with her lover’s (however she might once label her ‘former,’ the blood knows better) declarations of devotion alongside the morbid thought of Jocelyn’s sudden destruction.

She wants to wrap her in her embrace and simultaneously shake her with fury. Wants to sink her fangs into her throat (and God does she want to do that for so many reasons right now) and throw her out the window to burn away.

At this point she doesn’t even know how much is real and how much is the bond.

GM: "Caroline, you asked… asked how you could make me happy… I was a bitch… I just wanna go back… to how things were… that’s what’d make me happy… "

Caroline: “You can’t keep doing this,” she almost growls. But she places her arm around her former lover all the same.

GM: "I don’t want to… I don’t… I love you… " Jocelyn cries, sinking into those arms.

Caroline: “You hurt me today,” she grinds out. “You hurt my family. You endangered other things I care about. What if I hadn’t been awake when you came in on fire?”

GM: Jocelyn blinks dully.

“I… I’m sorry… I just hurt, I hurt so bad… "

Caroline: “How did you even know I was here and not the Giani Building?”

GM: “We are okay, Caroline,” Cécilia quietly offers. She looks at Jocelyn for a moment. “Maman is… still okay. The girls aren’t hurt. I’m unhurt. It’s mainly Jeremy and Daniel who were upset.”

“I… I tried there, first… " Jocelyn mumbles, then pulls back to look Caroline in the eye. Red still leaks from the corners of hers. "Does… does it matter… "

“Do you l… love me, Caroline… ?”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t know the answer to that question. But she knows what’ll happen, depending on which answer she provides. Knows how Jocelyn will react.

Knows that she’s ultimately to blame.

To cast her away is to destroy her. Destroy her for no crime greater than her affection for Caroline.

To take her back is to burden herself with her. To twist the knife in her, to embrace responsibility for her.

She knows the wiser choice. Knows what she should do. Ultimately Jocelyn is ‘just’ another relationship. She has other suitors. She expects she’ll have more still after the truth comes out. More politically viable ones, too—Jocelyn’s blood is too thin, her influence too weak, her temperament too volatile to be a good long-term match.

That’s what her father would tell her.

GM: Do you need some time to think about the answer to that question? Cécilia asks. We can give you that—some time, and space.

Advice, too, if you want to talk things over with Maman. Relationship advice is what moms are for, after all.

Caroline: I know what I should do, Caroline answers.

GM: Then we will support you in your decision, whatever it is.

Caroline: Her sire too, she expects, will be none too impressed by Jocelyn.

And yet… she’s done this. She’s destroyed the young (how much younger she seems, though they’re close in age) artist’s unlife. Not entirely, but how much has her Requiem spiraled apart since Caroline entered it.

She knows she should be strong. Should make the harder, right choice.

“Of course,” she answers.

GM: Jocelyn’s blackened, sun-scarred face lights up.

“You… you do… ?”

She doesn’t choke on her next words. She’s dead. More red just leaks from her eyes.

“Say it. I want to hear you say it.”

Caroline: “I wouldn’t have pushed you away if I didn’t,” Caroline answers.

GM: Jocelyn squeezes her.

“I want to hear you say it,” she repeats.

Caroline: “I love you.”

The words slide out more easily than Caroline might have thought. Much easier than the ones she should say, lubricated with the bond. They’re not even a lie.

Just not the whole truth.

GM: Jocelyn sobs, but there’s a happiness in the sound too.

A desperate, lonely, ravenous happiness.

She holds Caroline tight. She doesn’t say anything else.

Caroline: Caroline holds her back for a moment.

“You need to rest… you need to eat… Christ, you’re a mess.”

GM: Jocelyn gives a choked-sounding laugh.

“I’ll be… I’ll be better in the evening… "

She rubs her head against the crook of Caroline’s neck and smiles that same charred, broken smile.

“It’s all… better… now… "


Tuesday afternoon, 8 March 2016

Caroline: Caroline boards up Jocelyn and puts her to sleep for the rest of the day up in Cécilia’s room—a problem to be dealt with later. If her nerves weren’t already bloody nubs before, they are now. She helps herself to a change of clothing from Cécilia’s wardrobe when she’s done—the others smell like burnt flesh—before withdrawing.

GM: Cécilia is glad to provide and closes the door behind them.

“You could tell her that you erased my memory, once she’s back up. She’s probably going to be worried about the Masquerade once she’s feeling better.”

Caroline: “Or I could erase hers,” Caroline answers. “All assuming she even wakes tonight. She’s going to burn through a lot of blood trying to undo what she’s done to herself.”

“I didn’t get the feeling she had a lot to begin with. It’s possible she could throw herself into torpor.”

Wouldn’t that be convenient. For a time.

GM: Cécilia’s face flickers. “I’m not sure that’s setting up your relationship for success, Caroline, to… well, violate the sanctity of her mind. It’s one thing already to tell lies.”

She looks at her sister concernedly.

“How are you feeling? About her, and all of this?”

Caroline: “Angry. Frustrated.” She runs a hand through her hair. “Guilty.”

GM: “Do you love her?” Cécilia asks.

Caroline: “I care about her,” she deflects. Walking with Cécilia away from the bedroom. “But whether I love her or not may not really matter.”

GM: “I think it may matter a lot. But I understand if that’s a hard question to answer right now. You do care about her, and she put you in an extremely difficult place, emotionally.”

Caroline: “We’re awful for each other,” Caroline answers. “She can be such a child. And if—when—he acknowledges me, the politics of all that will eat her alive.”

GM: “Maman thinks it’s a matter of when, not if. For good or ill, he isn’t a prince to do things by half-measures. Or who likes dealing in non-absolutes. She thought he’d either destroy you or wholly accept you.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, clearly reassured by the thought.

GM: “I know how important that is to you. I don’t want you to have to worry about it.”

Caroline: “I’m not,” she lies transparently but reassuringly. “Just a mindset shift.”

GM: “You could go to sleep, so it’ll come sooner and you can finally get it over with,” Cécilia offers. “Maman and I can take care of Jocelyn.”

Caroline: “I need to fix her,” Caroline doesn’t quite whisper. “I did this to her. I need to make it right, before… well.”

GM: “Before you see your sire?” Cécilia asks.

Caroline: “Before it’s too late,” she answers.

GM: “I think this is a conversation we should have with Maman. In person.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I didn’t want to strain her for it earlier.”

GM: It’s then that Caroline notices Meg. Still hunched in place not far from the bedroom door.

“H… how is… ?” the ghoul squeaks.

There’s bandages over her.

The coppery aroma wafting from beneath is impossibly tempting.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t quite recoil from Meg, but she jerks away.

“When did that happen?!” she snarls.

She can feel her dead heart all but racing.

GM: “Wh-wha… ?” Meg stammers helplessly.

Caroline: Her vision narrows, tunneling in on her. “Did she make you do it?”

GM: Imagine, perhaps.

But it’s been a too-long time since she felt that.

Caroline: Perhaps. But she can practically hear Meg’s heart beating. Pushing that delicious blood through her…

GM: “Wh-what, I don’t, don’t know what you mean, m-ma’am,” the ghoul stammers, shrinking back further.

Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

Cécilia briskly walks towards Meg, pulls her up, and half-leads, half-pulls the ghoul back into the bedroom.

“You can take care of Jocelyn. It’s not safe for you to be close to Caroline with those cuts… "

Meg looks at Caroline furtively, then disappears after Cécilia. Caroline’s sister re-emerges without the ghoul shortly later.

“I’m so sorry, it completely slipped my mind she was still out there and had fresh wounds.”

She frowns with concern. “I can feel how hungry you are. Don’t worry, Maman can nurse you.”

Maman. Can you get the others somewhere else? Just for a little while?

Caroline: “It’s fine.” Caroline’s retreated into the corner, to a chair in the dark.

But it’s not. The smell of the blood still lingering in the room is infuriating. The Beast knows it’s somewhere. Knows a vessel was just here.

“More manipulation,” she growls. “I don’t think Meg started attending courses on a whim.”

GM: Cécilia frowns in confusion. “I’m sorry, courses?”

She shakes her head, then takes Caroline’s hand. “Come on, let’s get to Maman. Or would it be easier if I brought her up here to you?”

Caroline: “She was never my type before,” Caroline answers.

“College students,” she fills in after a moment.

GM: “Ah. Your feeding restriction.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I asked Fuller to bring someone by.”

GM: “Would it be easier on you if Maman came up here, if you’re not feeling well?” Cécilia repeats.

Caroline: “No, I can come down,” Caroline answers, rising.

GM: “All right, if you’re sure.”

They return to the living room. All of the others are gone except for Simmone. Abélia rises from the couch, her face welling with sympathy and shared pain. She wordlessly pulls Caroline into her embrace.

“Oh, my sweet, precious Caroline… " she murmurs, stroking the Ventrue’s hair, "I am so very, very sorry. This was to be a special day for you, and trouble has followed you to our door… "

She sinks to the floor, pulling Caroline with her so gently the heiress doesn’t even feel her legs fold. The top of her mother’s dress falls away. Midnight black wells from her nipple.

“We’ll make it better, my sweet… we’ll make it all better… "

“Now, first… let me feed you.”

Caroline: It’s almost profanely intimate, this tender thing Abélia offers. Drinking in darkness, suckling from her mother, all tinged with the eroticism always associated with feeding.

She wants to be bashful. Wants to hide it, at least from Simmone. But she’s so thirsty.

GM: That thirst is sated and more. It’s all that it was the last time: a whirlpool that irresistibly drags everything in. It tastes like midnight. It tastes like the ocean’s deepest, blackest depths: bone-crushingly heavy, and yet oddly welcoming, as if Caroline were one of the boneless fish so at home in those strange seas. It’s sweet like honey, thick like molasses, and fast-flowing like water. It rolls down Caroline’s gullet in a thick, comforting stream. It warms her. Fills her. Sustains her.

She feels her mother’s hands stroking her hair as she steadily sucks from the breast’s soft nipple.

“Drink, my treasure… drink all that you need… "

Simmone crawls up and starts suckling from their mother’s other breast.

Caroline: Caroline sucks greedily, soothing the Beast’s ravenous hunger, taking the edge off it. It’s better than blood. Maybe better than sex. She wants to keep going, keep drinking. It’s a balm against the Beast. A reprieve from the fatigue of the day’s fury. Nothing else matters, it all falls away.

But there are other things. Other worries. She recalls Cécilia’s earlier concern—about the strain on their mother already. About how much of this new form she’s already given.

She breaks away with a gasp of air, filling her dead lungs and suddenly parched throat with air rather than the ecstasy Abélia offers. It’s like the gasp of a drowning woman coming up for air, an aggressive, almost violent thing.

GM: Yet though Caroline pulls away, her sister does not. She continues to suck. And suck. And suck. Their mother looks so small and thin, but she makes no move to separate herself from Simmone.

Caroline: “Darling.” Caroline’s cold hand sweeps the hair back behind Simmone’s ear. “That’s enough.”

GM: Simmone doesn’t pause. Her head continues to bob back and forth.

Caroline: “Simmone.” Her fingers cup the younger girl’s chin.

GM: There’s no pause. There’s not even acknowledgement. Caroline found it hard enough to break away, even with her strength of will. What chance does the underdeveloped ten-year-old have?

Abélia topples backwards like an expired wind-up toy.

Simmone doesn’t even try to catch herself as she falls forward. She just keeps suckling.

“Maman!” Cécilia exclaims, dropping to their mother’s side. “Simmone, you’re hurting her!”

Caroline: Caroline’s firm fingers on Simmone’s chin become a vice as she turns her sister from their mother. Her eyes are hard.

GM: Simmone flails and gives a shrill, wordless scream as she tries to pull away.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t relent, turning Simmone to face her. “You’re hurting Maman,” she tells her disapprovingly.

GM: “J’ai soif!!!!” she shrieks.

(“I’m thirsty!!!!”)

Simmone starts loudly crying.

Caroline: “Tu es gourmand,” Caroline corrects less harshly.

(“You’re greedy.”)

“Look at Maman!” she instructs. “How weak she is. Do you want to hurt her? To hurt all of us?”

GM: “J’AI SOIF!!!” Simmone screeches, still crying and flailing.

“Simmone, please don’t!” Cécilia exclaims, holding their sister’s arms in place.

She’s a ghoul, Caroline, I think the addiction is all that’s talking now… and we’ve always given her everything she wants…

Caroline: That cannot continue, Caroline answers. It will not.

Not while she’s there. She pulls the thrashing girl away from their mother and wraps her arms around her as she flails.

GM: Simmone screams and shrieks and blubbers and cries.

“J’AI SOIF!!!”

“J’AI SOIF!!!”

“J’AI SOIF!!!”

Cécilia casts a pitying, pained glance at their sister, then lays her hands on Abélia’s shoulders and closes her eyes.

She’s still in there… her body hasn’t discorporated yet. But she’s put it into stasis, to conserve what strength it has left. That’s not very much…

“J’AI SOIF!!!” Simmone sobs.

“J’AI SOIF!!!”

“J’AI SOIF!!!”

Caroline: Caroline simply holds her sister, holding her tightly to her breast as the thrashes while passing calming reassurance through their shared blood.

You’ll be all right. It will pass. You aren’t hurt. Relax… rest…

To Cécilia, She’ll need a new one. A stronger one. I had no idea she would drain so quickly.

GM: I was surprised too, but she’s given a lot. She nursed you yesterday. Me too, when I was asleep, and more deeply than you—I could barely even walk before she did. She nursed Simmone again this morning, and Simmone also took a lot more than you did. She dropped the chandelier back then with Jocelyn, and shielded us from it. She nursed you again, then Simmone again, and Simmone kept taking…

She’s aware, still. You can talk to her… it’s just easier if you’re touching her.

Simmone wails, then sobs, then whimpers, then goes limp and closes her eyes.

Cécilia approaches Caroline and holds out her arms to take Simmone.

“Let’s take them up to Maman’s bedroom. Why don’t you carry her so you can talk? She isn’t very heavy, not at all.”

Caroline: Caroline passes the now more docile Simmone to Cécilia and carefully takes up Abélia’s limp form.

Maman? she probes tentatively.

GM: Cécilia sags a bit to shoulder the motionless girl, but remarks, “At least I’m not wearing heels like you did at Commander’s Palace. I don’t know how you managed.”

Caroline: “I cheated,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Oh, I know. But she still weighs a good 60 or more pounds, even with perfect balance,” Cécilia remarks as they start for the stairs.

“I guess I’m lucky we’re also on the lighter side.”

Caroline: Dead muscles don’t tire, Caroline answers. “It makes some things easier.”

GM: I am here, child.

I’m so proud of you both, looking after your sister so well.

Caroline: I needed to look after you better, Caroline answers. You’re going to need a new body much sooner than we’d planned.

GM: There’s the sound of a fluttering laugh at Caroline’s first words.

I know this form’s limitations, my dear. Your and your sister’s hungers must needs be sated.

Caroline: Hungers, perhaps, but not desires, Caroline counters.

GM: Your happiness is my highest purpose, sweet child. Desire the moon and stars themselves, if your heart yearns for them. Maman shall provide.

Your other sisters are swimming in the pool. I have kept the noise from all this tumult from disturbing them—fret not on their accounts.

Caroline: Happiness must sometimes give way to good, to purpose, Caroline offers, probingly. It requires growth, of some kind.

GM: Your happiness is its own purpose.

Your happiness is my purpose.

Your happiness is good.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue. It’s a conversation for later, with more parties to it.

I’ll find someone, to restore you to your full strength. Soon. She already has someone in mind.

GM: There is a ghoul within the house already. Does her life mean aught to you?

Ah… but perhaps that, too, is a conversation to have following another.

Caroline: I have another in mind, Caroline answers. One deserving of a traitor’s death.

GM: The four arrive at the master bedroom. It’s decorated in the classical style with whites, golds, and soft yellows, and large enough to have its own fireplace, couch, and multiple chairs with plenty of space left over. The curtains are tightly drawn even as the lights glow to life.

Cécilia lays down Simmone on the bed, pulls back the comforter, and tucks her in. She lays her hand on Abélia’s shoulder as Caroline sets down their nigh-weightless mother.

Waste not, want not. Very practical, my dear.

Caroline: Is there anything we can give you other than that? she asks.

GM: Time. To discorporate this body so soon after the destruction of my prior one shall risk further unhappiness to your and your sisters’ minds.

Bring your traitor here. Leave them bound, bled, and alive within the circle. When the time is right, I shall draw them fully into myself.

Caroline: How long? she asks.

GM: Until your minds’ troubled waters are smooth and calm.

Caroline: Caroline gives a grim smile at that.

GM: Your will and spirit are stronger than you believe, my dear. Though a mother always worries, I worry least for you… in this matter.

Caroline: Caroline nods. It will be done, then.

GM: But I do worry for you in another. Let us discuss Jocelyn.

You poor, poor thing.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, then slides over, bids Cécilia join in.

I made that mess. In more ways than one.

GM: We are all of us responsible for our own actions, my dear. Though others may influence and even determine our external circumstances, we alone govern our response. We are the captains of our souls.

Jocelyn has hurt you. Deeply. Yet you care for her, still. You have had many happy times together. You desire her continued safety, prosperity, and happiness.

Caroline: Truth Caroline doesn’t deny. The wounds from the last time she saw her were scarcely scabbed over before Jocelyn tore them open, deeper than before. But those wounds only exist because there was something to be harmed.

GM: Yet she has hurt you, too. She has hurt that which you care deeply for.

Caroline: I cannot have someone in my Requiem so reckless, so disdainful of the consequences of their actions on everything I care for, she states.

GM: Yes. In her rages, she lashes out and destroys that which you would would build and preserve.

Is that your biggest problem with her, Caroline, or are there others? Cécilia asks.

Caroline: She bites her lip. She will never been an equal, she answers after a moment. And that gap between us will only ever grow. In status, in power, in influence, in blood. That imbalance too will endanger her, make her a target. A weakness to be exploited.

GM: How many steps removed from the Dark Father is that blood? inquires Abélia.

Caroline: Ten? Eleven? Perhaps Twelve? Caroline doesn’t recall ever asking her specifically. But she knows she’s further than Caroline. Significantly further.

GM: Ah, twelve! The blood of Caine runs as water in these nights!

Such worms were left to shrivel and die in times of old.

Caroline: She was not the least of her krewe, she reflects on Gwen’s thin-blooded childe. But none were strong in the blood. At least one was thirteen steps…

There’s a flash of anger at Gwen, who set this entire matter off.

GM: Pfah. Better such wretches were never sired to blight their founder’s lines. Your kind may well exhaust the ‘eternal’ curse of Caine in their hubris and selfishness.

Caroline: The line continues… if abnormally. I have one of the thin-bloods in my care.

GM: Oh, my dear! For what purpose? Abélia exclaims.

Caroline: Caroline rolls the question over.

She was with child when Embraced. Her Embrace was what split Jocelyn and I in the first place. One of her krewemates did it in the moment. She rolls the thought over again before continuing, The child still lived within her.

Perhaps it was simply pity. Perhaps because there should be some lines not crossed by my kind. The alternative was their execution.

GM: Oh, my poor, poor, sweet child… you know not what you do!

If you have any care for your standing, the regard of your sire, the warnings of your grandsires, or the prophecies of old—cleanse your house of this filth, lest the taint fester and spread!

Caroline: The force of Abélia’s reaction shocks Caroline.

The seneschal knew. He suggested that I should foster her, until the birth…

And there was something else… something that happened between her and one of the hounds. She saw something, said something, that deeply shook him.

GM: You invite doom upon your house, my child! Harbor not Gehenna’s harbingers beneath your door!

Philip knows the words of your forebearers better than I—he is given overly much to sentiment. His lover does not share that weakness.

The last generations cannot be permitted to spread. Such abominations must be exterminated where they are found, for the good of all your race.

Caroline: It is a stopgap, Caroline answers defensively. Until the child is born. That is not so far away…

She is hardly the only one to prowl the city. And she does little enough prowling.

GM: Oh, my poor, sweet Caroline… better that such a child is never born at all! To bring such an obscenity into the world, whose first breath reeks of the grave, is to blight the whole of the world.

Your sire understands this. His scourge undertakes a more vital mission than too many of the young ones realize.

Caroline: Caroline all but flinches under her mother’s admonishment, weathering each word as though it were a blow.

You bid me murder a pregnant woman.

GM: Every one of the last generations slain is a victory. Every one of their screams that greets the pyres is a respite to all your race. Every child strangled in a warmthless womb is a kindness done. I implore you, my treasure—suffer not this doom upon your house. If conscience stays your hand, allow your Maman to see to this matter.

Caroline: Why? she demands. Why is it so?

GM: Silence.

Maman? asks Cécilia. Caroline raises, I think, a valid question. We haven’t spoken about any of this. Surely if she is to be complicit in the death of a pregnant woman, she should at least know why.

Oh, my poor, innocent, precious daughters, it is not well to speak of such things.

Is there harm in simply speaking of it, Maman?

Words always carry the power to harm, my Cécilia.

Caroline: You would not speak them in this matter, Caroline fills in.

GM: There is an almost soft, hapless sigh.

Gehenna.

Caroline: The end of the world, Caroline fills in. At least of my kind.

GM: Their existence invites doom upon us all, my child.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue. She simply doesn’t agree either.

Jocelyn’s blood. She changes the subject. Is only the beginning.

GM: There is another sad sigh from her mother, but Abélia replies,

If her extended bloodline is no cause for embarrassment in of itself, your sire may tolerate her as a private amusement of yours.

Caroline: But nothing of meaning.

GM: She shall never share your throne, but she may share your bed.

Caroline: Caroline’s seen plenty of those arrangements among the kine.

GM: Yes, my dear. The dead are not so different from the living, in truth.

Caroline: I might spare her that, Caroline muses. I should have spared her all of this, but I was greedy.

GM: Is there anything to spare her from, at least there? asks Cécilia. Would she want to share your throne, and not simply your bed?

Caroline: How many people have you loved, deeply, that you might share? Caroline asks back.

GM: Share in what sense, I suppose? The situations and expectations are similar with Kindred, but there are some important differences.

Yes, my dear, concurs Abélia. There is no inherent impetus among your kind towards marriage or partnerships… and lovers of co-equal stature to your own may be a great deal more tolerant of amusements that pose no threat to them. Monogamy is a construct of your living culture.

Caroline: Caroline muses. She hadn’t considered that. Not in truth. She thinks of how viciously possessive she was at the idea that others were with Jocelyn.

But then, she can acknowledge her own worst tendencies.

Other Kindred will use her, she continues on.

GM: Other Cainites will seek to use our family, the Malveauxes, and all that you care for.

Other Kindred may already want to use her, Cécilia points out. If they find out you were in a relationship. They might figure you still have feelings for her. Keeping her close has drawbacks, but advantages too. It’s easier to protect her.

Caroline: You would dismiss all factors but the personal then, Maman?

GM: External factors may be altered and planned accordingly for, my dear. External factors are malleable. But feelings of the heart are what they are.

What does your heart feel for Jocelyn?

Caroline: Anger. Frustration. Affection. Desire. Responsibility. Most of the former of late—these last meetings have been bitter things.

GM: Your heart is conflicted. If the world were as you would have it, sweet Caroline, what place would Jocelyn have there?

Caroline: I would see what the future might hold for us, Caroline admits.

GM: Then let’s try to build that future, Cécilia says. You’ve mentioned being angry at Jocelyn a lot of times, and I can see why. What could she do to make up for those times, or simply stop doing in the future?

Caroline: Hurting herself to get my attention. Playing the victim.

GM: Do you think she’ll continue to if you get back together?

Caroline: It’s worked for her, Caroline answers.

GM: That’s tricky, then. How do you think we could get her to stop?

Caroline: Threat? Boundaries? Something might be better than nothing for her.

Or rewards… a better incentive. I have what she wants.

GM: So you do, my dear. To discourage such behavior in the future, it must cease to be rewarded.

Caroline: You’ve given me much to think about, Caroline tells her mother.

GM: It warms my heart to hear that, my dear. Whatever you decide, remember: you deserve happiness.

Caroline: Is there anything else? Any other matters requiring immediate attention?

GM: Would you like us to hold onto Jocelyn for a while? Cécilia asks. If you just need space to think about things, or simply want her kept safe?

Caroline: Caroline considers it. Better for her to awaken. I need to know what else she may have done, and we may not have many more opportunities to talk after the next few nights.

GM: All right. She might slide into torpor, but I suppose you can revive her anytime.

Caroline: She’d enjoy that, Caroline answers. I’ll remove her tonight either way, and put some of my security in place. Until we can get you back on your feet.

GM: So sweetly devoted a child. Your father was blind to the treasure in his lap.

Caroline: Rest, Mother, Caroline tells her. Let me take care of you for once.

GM: Your father was blind to the treasure in his lap, Abélia repeats.

Cécilia rolls up the covers to tuck their mother in. Simmone turns, eyes still closed, and wraps her arms around Abélia.

Caroline: Caroline closes the door behind them as she and Cécilia withdraw.

“I’m sorry. I know you tried so hard to build a body that would last.”

GM: Cécilia nods. “Thanks. I’m glad it was able to last her this long, at least. We knew it wasn’t going to be as resilient as one of her usual bodies. And I do feel good knowing we can both contribute if we’re ever in a situation like this again.”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods, but it’s a lie. She’ll be contributing in the future.

She bites her lip for a moment. “What’s the dark secret, Cécilia? The one about us that Maman told you.”

GM: “I’m sorry?” Cécilia asks with some confusion.

Caroline: It seems a good time, as private as they’re ever likely to get.

“The twins think there’s something awful about them, or about us,” she fills in. “They wouldn’t tell me what, but they were horrified by it.”

GM: “Oh? When was this?”

Caroline: “My birthday,” Caroline answers.

GM: Cécilia’s face flickers. "Oh, no. Those poor two… "

“Maman has a lot of secrets. There’s plenty of things she hasn’t told them, and me, for our own good.”

Caroline: “Something she told you,” Caroline answers.

GM: “What else did the twins say? There’s… more than one which could have upset them so badly, to be honest.”

Caroline: “That they were monsters. That if I knew what they were I’d hate them,” Caroline continues.

GM: “I’m sorry. This sounds terrible, but… I don’t know which truth about us that might be.”

Cécilia’s face flickers again. “Those poor two. Whatever they heard, Maman hasn’t told them for a reason. There’s a lot about us they need more time, more perspective, before they can understand.”

Caroline: “Is it better for them to know a dark truth with no context or one with some?” Caroline asks. “Either way, they know something.”

GM: “You do have a point. Though context can be harmful too.” Cécilia seems to think. “Maman should decide what to do from here. Right now I suppose it’s moot until we get her a new body.”

“We’ll tell the others she’s not feeling well. That’s technically true. And once she talks with them, perhaps we can better know what to talk about with you.”

“There are a lot of things she hasn’t gone into with you yet, that she intends to. Maman wanted today to be a day for family, rather than… heavier topics.”

Caroline: “They were ashamed, Cécilia. Ashamed they knew. Ashamed they had found out.”

“I don’t know that confronting then with it is a good idea. Just… something I wanted to start moving. They shouldn’t sit in only darkness for too long.”

GM: Cécilia nods firmly. "You’re right to. That’s terrible for them. And for it to have lasted all these months… "

Her face flickers again before she declares no less firmly,

“Maman will make it right.”


Tuesday afternoon, 8 March 2016

GM: Adeline, the twins, and Noëllle get back from swimming in the pool outside, wrapped in towels and hair still damp. They’re all distraught by Cécilia’s news that their mother isn’t feeling well. They want to stop by her bedroom, but Cécilia says she’s resting with Simmone and could use space.

Abélia’s ‘illness’ seems to put a damper on everything. None of the younger girls seem to have many ideas, or enthusiasm, for how to spend the rest of the day. Yvette gives a tired, “Don’t feel like it,” when Adeline suggests working on homework.

Caroline: Caroline suggests a mellow actively, picking out a movie to put on, seemingly content to spend a quiet afternoon with them.

GM: Yvette acerbically calls the movie a stupid idea. “It’s the afternoon. What are we even supposed to do all day?” Noëllle starts to say it’s “not that bad,” but her twin continues to rant what a moronic idea spending all day indoors is. “Why are we even doing this?” Adeline tiredly tells the two not to fight. Yvette sourly remarks “You’re not Maman,” and Yvonne takes her side. Everything feels worse without Abélia.

Cécilia interjects that the twins can “burn off some energy” practicing their sparring with Caroline. “It’s been a little while since you three have done that, hasn’t it?” she suggests. “We can watch a movie after you’re tired out from that.”

The teenagers seem to relent at that idea, but are in a glum mood throughout the session. Noëllle goes to her room to talk on the phone with friends. Cécilia and Adeline, the latter of whom is seemingly still sore at the twins, spend the time getting some “work from home” done.

Caroline: Caroline is slow, lethargic as they practice. She apologizes to the twins towards the end of the lackluster session.

“It was my idea,” she admits as they put away equipment. “To have people stay in today.”

GM: The twins don’t seem to notice. She normally has to hold a good deal back from the human teenagers, after all. Today she just didn’t have to be as conscientious of it.

They both give her curious looks. “Wait, wah’d you want that?” Yvette asks.

Caroline: “I just wanted to spend some time with everyone. It could be a while before I have a chance to come back, and you two are going off to college soon. It just seemed like one of the last chances we had to have everyone together for a while.”

GM: Both her sisters instantly look guilty.

“Oh, we’re so sorry-” Yvette apologizes.

“-Ah guess we ruined it being bitchy… " Yvette.

Caroline: “You didn’t ruin anything,” Caroline reassures Yvette. “It would have helped if I planned some things, it’s just all moved very quickly, and Maman agreed sooner was better.”

GM: "And maybe if we’d gone outside to do stuff… " Yvette suggests.

“Well, and Maman didn’t get sick.” Yvonne.

“Oui. Bad timing, Ah guess.” Yvette.

Caroline: “Maybe,” Caroline admits. “But we both also liked the idea of it just being the family.”

GM: Cécilia asks Caroline to “come help get things ready” for the movie in the kitchen. The twins initially want to help, but she suggests they go pick out what to watch. Cécilia has fixed a somewhat late but large lunch for everyone that looks like a combination of leftover and freshly prepared foods: spinach salad with strawberries, clementines, pistachios, dried cranberries, dairy-free cheese, and a honey lemon olive oil dressing. The main course is warmed-up grilled salmon with tomatoes, onions, ginger, and pepper. Two bottles of red and white wine clear the palette, along with some bread and more dairy-free cheese for anyone still feeling hungry.

“We can say you were hungry after skipping breakfast and already helped yourself here,” Cécilia offers. “I don’t imagine throwing the food up is much fun, even if you can hold it down.”

She then lays her hands on Caroline’s arm and closes her eyes. The Ventrue feels her pangs of hunger recede, although color starts to bleach from Cécilia’s cheeks.

Caroline: Caroline blinks at her sister. "You didn’t have to do that… " she says tenderly.

GM: "It’s fine… " Cécilia says slowly as she sits down. “I don’t need to be too physically active today, and you might need it more.”

“You can also learn to do that… to give of yourself for us, and to ask us to give for you. They’ll help. Even the ones who don’t understand. Some part of them knows.”

Caroline: “Thank you.” She lays a hand on Cécilia’s arm.

GM: “You’re welcome. We all want you to be strong.”

“Oh,” she thinks after a moment, “we should get some of that food up to Megan… I’m sure she’s getting hungry, not to mention bored.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll bring it up to her. I need to step away to call my people anyway.”

GM: She finds Meg curled up in bed with Jocelyn. She instantly bolts up when Caroline comes in, like she’s been caught doing something she shouldn’t.

The anorexic ghoul stares at the dish of hearty food the Ventrue offers and looks like she wants to cry. She mumbles thanks. She shifts back and forth on her feet several times. Caroline isn’t sure why she’s doing that.

The heiress calls Fuller and tells him to cancel picking up a vessel. The ghoul assents without complaint. That was always Audrey’s bailiwick.

Caroline: Business taken care of, Caroline turns her attention back to Meg, studying the pale anorexic girl as she eats.

GM: The ghoul hasn’t touched the food.

“I’m, I’m sorry, I don’t like being watched when I… " she mumbles.

Caroline: “When you throw most of it away?” Caroline asks piercingly.

GM: Meg cringes at the suggestion, but doesn’t deny it.

Caroline: “You want to look good for her,” Caroline observes. “Have you thought on how much better you look to one of us when you’re more than skin and bones? Or how much more helpful you would have been to her throughout all this if you weren’t starving yourself?”

GM: "But I’m fat… " she protests.

Caroline: “You’re anything but, and even if you were, if you throw away or throw up the food my sister made for you I’ll make you re-eat it.”

GM: The ghoul looks horrified. She meekly eats as Caroline watches. She looks sick but full by the time the plate is cleared.

Caroline joins her sisters back in the living room. Cécilia has removed the painting that’s kept over the TV (“Maman doesn’t like to have screens in our life all the time”). Yvonne apologizes to Adeline for her earlier behavior. Yvette follows suit after her twin does. Lunch seems to put everyone in better spirits. Cécilia doesn’t seem concerned about Simmone’s appetite; when Caroline telepathically asks, she answers that Maman’s blood “is very filling.” Simmone won’t even be hungry.

Everyone watches a 1976 movie called The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane that Yvonne suggests. The plot focuses on 13-year-old Rynn Jacobs (a young Jodie Foster), a child whose absent poet father and secretive behaviors prod the suspicions of her conservative small-town Maine neighbors. It’s attained cult status, with writers and academics having interpreted it as a statement on children’s rights and variously placed it in the thriller, horror, mystery or other genres.

Caroline excuses herself midway through to “use the bathroom.” She finds Meg on her knees by the toilet, sticking fingers down her throat.

Caroline: The Ventrue stares down at her piteously. She peaks over the ghoul’s shoulder at the toilet bowl.

GM: There’s mushed, toilet water-sogged, only partly digested tomato salmon and fruit salad.

Caroline: It’s even more repulsive the second time.

Caroline scowls down at Meg. “What did I tell you?”

GM: "I’m… I’m sorry… " the ghoul whimpers.

Caroline: “What did I tell you?” she demands again, forcefully.

GM: Meg bows her head before Caroline. "I’m sorry… I’m so sorry… "

Caroline: “You’re sorry you got caught,” Caroline snaps. “You’re not sorry for what you did, or you wouldn’t have done it, would you?”

GM: The ghoul clutches Caroline’s leg as she begs, her voice quavering, "Please… I’m so fat… she hates how I look… "

Caroline: “I don’t care. I told you what would happen. Didn’t I warn you, Meg?”

She cups the ghoul’s face with her pale hand. “Didn’t I warn you?”

GM: Meg starts crying. "I’m sorry… I’m sorry I threw up your sister’s food… I was wrong… "

Caroline: “You’re going to be a lot more sorry.”

GM: Meg cries harder. "Please… "

Caroline: “Are you ever going to disobey me again?” Caroline asks the pitiful ghoul.

GM: "No… I swear, no, I won’t, I won’t ever… " Meg implores.

Caroline: “Liar. But I bet you’ll think twice after this.” She stares into the ghoul’s eyes. “Don’t resist.”

Caroline flushes the food away even as she invades Meg’s mind, as she rewrites her memory of this event. Of being forced to eat her own vomit out of the toilet.

GM: Meg looks sick. She curls up in fetal position and rocks back and forth, her mouth silently gasping open and shut like a fish’s.

Caroline: “You’re leaving,” Caroline tells her when she’s done. “I’ll call you when you deserve to see her.”

GM: She gets up, enough, to trail after Caroline on her knees. "Please… please, I’ll stay here, I won’t both, bother anyone… "

Caroline: Caroline looks down at her. “It’s a little late for that, don’t you think?”

“You already bothered me.”

GM: Meg looks confused at Caroline’s question.

She looks ready to cry again at what she hears next.

“I’m sorry… I won’t bother anyone else, I swear… "

Caroline: “Meg, did begging work for you last time?” Caroline asks scornfully.

GM: "No… but, please… "

Caroline: “Do you know what would have worked?”

GM: “Wh… what?”

Caroline: “Obeying.”

GM: Meg starts crying again. "I won’t, I won’t ever, ever disobey again, I swear… "

Caroline: Caroline’s gaze bores into Meg’s.

“Go home, Meg. Pick out clothing for Jocelyn—something she’ll like, that’s soft, and loose, and covering. Bring it back here. One of my people will let you in through the side door. Do not bother my family again.”

“And Meg, if I ever catch you puking again I’ll make you eat and eat until you’re three hundred pounds.”

GM: Meg’s initial look of gratitude at getting to do something for Jocelyn swiftly gives way to an expression of pure horror.

She babbles a reply before leaving to do as instructed.

The movie lasts a while. All of Caroline’s sisters declare how much they liked Jodie Foster when it’s done.

Caroline: “She was in Taxi Driver around the same time,” Caroline points out. “Which I think was her big breakout.”

GM: “Yes, I liked her a lot there,” Adeline nods. “I think she had a stronger presence here, though, even beyond being the main character. She’s someone you can’t help but root for.”

Cécilia concurs and suggests putting on a second movie to fill more of the day. She leaves the others to pick a title while she and Caroline go to check on Abélia and Simmone. Their mother’s state is unchanged, though Simmone is awake and wordlessly clinging to her side. She’s not even playing on her phone. Caroline can’t say how long she’s been doing that.

Cécilia checks if there’s anything they need. Simmone needs to pee, but is unwilling to leave their mother. Cécilia looks a bit hapless for a moment, then retrieves a pot from downstairs and tells their sister she can pee into it.

I wish she’d be a little more like a young Jodie Foster, sometimes.

Caroline: Caroline is less tolerant, suggesting a better compromise might be for them to leave the master bathroom door open. Simmone can watch their mother from the bathroom.

GM: Simmone doesn’t even respond. She just clings to their mother.

Cécilia joins in with Caroline, entreating Simmone that “Maman will be right there, the whole time.” Simmone just keeps clinging. She’s eventually coaxed away when Caroline leaves the door open and Cécilia holds her hand the entire time she’s on the toilet.

I’m glad we didn’t have to clean the pot, Cécilia thinks once she’s settled back.

Caroline: Or the bed, Caroline observes.

She’s getting worse. I don’t know what to do, she admits.

GM: It’s what’s been happening to Maman. Every time something’s happened to her, Simmone has gotten worse.

I think she’s right not to assume a new body so soon.

Caroline: It just worries me, having her so weak.

GM: It worries me too. She’s not going to become an independent adult at this rate.

Do you think we should have that conversation with Maman now, or later?

Caroline: It’s worse than that… this is how a toddler reacts, not a preteen.

She muses, I wonder if she isn’t soaking up a lot of the pain everyone Maman reincorporates.

GM: Maman is… she can be stifling, in some ways. It’s easy to get dragged into her orbit. To always be going to her for this or that, basing your life around her. She has a way of insinuating herself into everything.

That can be a good thing. It is a good thing. She keeps us grounded and our family together.

But she has a very strong… I suppose force of presence. It can be easy, too easy, for people to get enamored by her, to involve her in every aspect of their lives.

Someone as young and sheltered as Simmone, who doesn’t have a very developed sense of self, and who spends so much time around her… I suppose can get swallowed up.

She’s always been very babied by the family. And the shooting last year, on top of recent events, have caused her legitimate trauma that makes everything else worse.

Caroline: The Ventrue gives a not-quite sigh.

I don’t want to have that conversation now, it feels almost like taking advantage of Maman as weak as she is, but I think we need Simmone to have some time away from her, even if it’s just today.

GM: I don’t think Maman would mind. Remember that she is so much more than her body. It being incapacitated like this is more like you or I communicating through a phone with a shorter wifi signal range than anything else.

Taking Simmone away from Maman seems like a big step, though. I liked your suggestion of exposing her to more people outside the family, initially with Maman.

Caroline: I just mean downstairs, vice letting her sit here curled up with her all night.

GM: All day, you mean.

Caroline: Caroline catches herself. Yes. Habits…

GM: I guess that’s funny. I’m sure you were corrected at first, by other Kindred, to use ‘night.’

We could try to separate them, in any case. That did take a lot of time and progress after the shooting, though. Maybe start her off with something more modest, like… not hugging her for hours, and playing on her phone like a normal girl.

Caroline: I’d like to try downstairs, with the rest of us. I feel like that shouldn’t be too much… should it?

GM: I don’t know. Simmone was terrified not to be in the same room with Maman for a long time, because something bad happened to her when they were apart. And twice in one day now, she’s had Maman either go missing or get really hurt. On top of all the blood she’s had to drink.

I think anything is better than her just lying in bed with Maman for hours. But if you want to make up for lost ground, we can try that. I’d certainly like to have her around the others again.

Caroline: You have more experience with this than I do, if you think it’s better to start slow, we can do that.

GM: I do have more experience, but I’m not sure how much we have to show for it. Maybe we need to try something new.

But on the other hand, there have been extenuating circumstances… I suppose things never are clear with family, are they?

I’m just glad you stopped me from letting her pee into a pot.

Caroline: Few things are.

Caroline looks at her youngest sister seated beside their mother once again.

“Simmone?” she asks.

GM: ‘Seated’ is a generous way to put it. She’s lying sideways in bed, arms and legs wrapped completely around their mother, face planted against her breast.

“Quelle?” comes a dull response from the bed.

(“What?”)

Caroline: “We’d like you to come downstairs and watch a movie with everyone else. Will you do that with us?”

GM: “Non.”

(“No.”)

“Simmone?” Cécilia preempts.

“Non merci.”

(“No thanks.”)

“Nous aimerions vraiment, vraiment. Tu peux choisir le film.”

(“We’d really, really like you to. You can pick the movie.”)

Caroline: “Tout le monde sera là,” Caroline piles on.

(“Everyone will be there.”)

GM: The pair work her for a while. Simmone doesn’t want to leave Maman. She asks why the others can’t just come up here. Caroline and Cécilia finally settles on the idea of setting up a camera in the room and connecting it to Simmone’s phone, so that “you can see Maman and have her in your hand the entire time.” Simmone is extremely slow to let go of Abélia and clutches the phone like a lifeline, as well as Cécilia’s hand, whose lap she sits on throughout the movie. She picks Frozen for everyone to watch. She stares at her phone periodically, but seems to enjoy her sisters’ company, who all seem glad she isn’t spending the day in bed (Cécilia tells them most of the truth). By the time the credits roll, Cécilia considers the effort “a good start to recover that earlier ground.”

Caroline: Caroline largely agrees.

GM: Yvonne shares a college-themed parody of the signature song that gets everyone laughing, though Adeline admonishes her nearly-college-age siblings to never have that attitude about grades. Yvette rolls her eyes. More wine gets everyone in a good mood, though Simmone still goes back to bed with their mother. Cécilia encourages her to look at more funny videos on her phone.

Caroline: Baby steps, Caroline admits.

GM: Yes. Though I suppose I can understand why Maman wants to let her stay ten forever.

Caroline: Oh? Caroline asks.

GM: Just after the amount of effort today’s been. I don’t agree with her. But I can understand.

There’s still a good chunk of time until night falls. In the absence of any alternative ideas, everyone spends it on schoolwork or career work, leaving Caroline to her own devices.

Caroline: Caroline lets them scatter throughout the house as they please. She checks in on Jocelyn and makes arrangements to let Meg back in.

GM: Jocelyn remains sleeping like only the dead can. Meg delivers the requested clothing. She wants to see her domitor.

Caroline: Caroline lets her do so and brings her up to Cécilia’s bedroom, where she’s largely withdrawn to after everyone split for the afternoon.

GM: She remains until and if Caroline kicks her out. Time passes. Caroline is struck by just how many hours in the day there are. The others eventually invite her back down to help make dinner together.

Cécilia keeps it a relatively simple affair of (dairy-free) cheese fondue. Easy to make for a lot of people. Some roasted vegetables, as well as bread and various other things lying in the fridge, make for good dipping material.

Caroline can’t get out of eating this time. Cécilia has already helped her excuse two meals in the day.

Caroline: She doesn’t object or complain, though she eats lightly. The food is ash, worse than, but the company is better, and she can feel the power of the sun beginning to wane at long last.

GM: Indeed, even as night falls and the sun’s invisible but blistering glare recedes, Caroline finds Jocelyn has failed to awaken. Her charred and blackened skin looks better after the day of rest.

Caroline: It’s far from a surprise. Judging from Meg’s description of her activities before trying to immolate herself in front of Caroline, the Ventrue doesn’t think Jocelyn had a ton of blood available in the first place. She considers awakening her, but decides to hold off for a better opportunity, where the starving vampire won’t be in the same house as her sisters.

In return for the ‘invite’ back into the home and opportunity to see her domitor, Caroline pries any additional details as to Jocelyn’s activities since their breakup from the ghoul.

GM: Jocelyn seems more defined by her lack of activities than anything else. She mostly lay in bed watching TV and doing nothing. She fed on Meg.

She also told the other Storyvilles about Gwen. And Evan. They took it badly.

Jocelyn told them about both at once when she was in a “really bad mood.” She did it over the phone. That’s the only thing that saved her from the resultant frenzy that ended the call. Jocelyn laughed that Roxanne was going to “completely self-destruct over this.”

Meg doesn’t know what’s happened to her or Wyatt since that fateful call. But the Storyville Krewe seems like it’s largely disintegrated.

Caroline: “Misery loves company,” Caroline observes.

GM: "I guess… " Meg agrees.

Caroline: True nightfall brings with it a descent of Caroline’s servants on the house. The Ventrue is very eager to hear about their activities throughout the day.

GM: They have a number to report. The signs of destruction in the house’s atrium are conspicuously absent.

Kâmil has spoken with Dr. Grémillon at Tulane Medical Center, who has pledged the Krewe’s cooperation with covering up the death. He’s said he will pick out first responders and a physician to blame for Claire’s fatal medication prescription. He’ll look into different drugs that could be responsible and stand up to a sustained investigation. He’s requested Claire’s existing medical records to assist in this and related details of the cover-up. It’s remarkable, Caroline may briefly think, how the same news from more important people gets them treated as fellow responders and crisis managers rather than troublemakers to bring before the sheriff.

However, given the high-profile nature of Claire’s death, as well as her ties to hunters, the Krewe wants to coordinate details with Donovan and Bishop Malveaux. Dr. Grémillon wanted to set up an in-person meeting between Harlequin, the sheriff, and the bishop, which Kâmil concurred as to the necessity of. Details have already been shared with the three Kindreds’ heralds to brief their domitors on (though Donovan has likely already been informed by Congo).

But they still can’t find the bishop.

Even his herald doesn’t know where he is.

Kâmil has informed several of Donovan’s and Camilla Doriocourt’s ghouls as to this fact, who have begun to search for the erstwhile Ventrue in earnest. They haven’t found him. They, and Kâmil, are considering the possibility of foul play. The timing is suspect.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip in thought for a few moment before observing that it sounds as though there are really two different problems in play—the bishop’s absence and the Masquerade cover-up with Claire.

One of these things she has experience with (meager though it might be) and the other of which she has no place in.

Caroline: If there’s truly a concern that some ill might have befallen the bishop, she suggests that perhaps seconds may stand in with the Krewe in this matter, while the sheriff seeks out the bishop—she doesn’t expect the coverup of Claire can wait much longer.

That she has a less acrimonious relationship with, for instance, Hound Wright would be a small benefit too while coordinating this matter.

GM: Kâmil states that Wright will likely not be invited to the meeting, given his minimal involvement in the extended operation to subvert and bring down Claire’s hunters. Donovan and Bishop Malveaux were the ones jointly responsible for that—at least, as Caroline knows, until she took matters into her own hands by murdering Claire and the bishop and going over the sheriff’s head.

However, Bishop Malveaux’s absence makes obtaining Claire’s medical records more difficult. The seneschal would likely be pleased if Caroline were able to do that, vice a member of Vidal’s court having to indebt themselves to one of the medically connected Kindred in D.C.

Caroline: The Ventrue considers. The family certainly maintains copies of those records. It’s also likely they could be obtained illicitly—she’s heard that cybersecurity in hospitals is notoriously bad.

GM: The ghoul states he had been unaware as to that fact, but repeats that his domitor would be pleased were Caroline able to retrieve the records. If she doesn’t, someone else will need to.

Caroline: Caroline agrees that she’ll have her people look into it tonight.

GM: Gisèlle, meanwhile, went to Luke’s apartment, per Caroline’s request to scope out the site and assess what actions would be needed in the cover-up. There wasn’t a great deal for her to do until the body is ready to move into place.

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes alight at that. Perhaps not for the casquette girl, but Caroline and her own people lack Gisèlle’s extensive powers. She looks over whatever the rest of the ghouls came up with in terms of approaches, cameras, paths, security, and so forth.

How they get ‘Claire’ into the building convincingly is as important as what they do with Luke, and how they frame things thereafter. It’s not enough to get in ‘unseen’ anymore. They have to be seen in the appropriate places.

GM: Gisèlle has seen to all of that. She has less technological expertise than Caroline’s younger ghouls, but planning around security cameras was within her means. Her activities simply essentially consisted of low-risk intelligence gathering. Moving the body into place and doctoring memories will be where the ‘action’ is. Caroline’s brother lives in a posh high-rise protected by mortal security, but the casquette girl does not seem to think they will pose much inconvenience.

The hard part, after all, will be after the body goes public.

She still does not speak to Caroline. Flashing images within the Ventrue’s head wordlessly show her the ghoul’s observations and conclusions.

Ferris reports that the liquidation of assets associated with Audrey Morrow has given him something to tide his people over with and quell their discontent until payday. He’s tentatively given them word that they can come out of hiding, move back into old homes or purchase new ones, and start repatriating family members (where applicable) they’ve moved out of the city. The past few months of living on the lamb have been trying on them all.

Widney says she’s “salvaged” several of Elysian’s now-former escorts and has arranged for them to continue seeing Caroline as an exclusive client. She’ll be essentially paying them for their blood.

Caroline: Caroline is happy to hear both reports.

GM: Ferris delivers the requested dossier on Michael Hill. He’s originally from Columbus, Ohio, where he was born to a working-class family and enlisted in the Air Force out of high school. He met his spouse while serving overseas in Germany and moved to New Orleans with her (she had family there) when they were ready to settle down and start a family. He joined NOPD and has worked as a detective there for a little over ten years. He’s done so while attending Loyola University as an undergrad, where he majored in criminal justice, and later its associated law school. He recently passed the bar exam. He has no prior experience working in a law office, though Caroline knows that ex-cops are valued at many firms. And, of course, he was willing to tender the Devillers evidence of Yvette’s crimes against Amelie in return for a bribe. In his personal life, he has two daughters around high school age and a long-time relationship with Detective Ralph Moore, who is still on NOPD.

Caroline: Plenty of work remains to be done, along with new problems this evening. She wants Jocelyn brought down and transported back to the Giani Building with them.

They need to pick up a source of blood as well along the way as well, for when they wake her up. Fortunately her tastes are less particular than Caroline’s.

She inquires as to when the meeting is with Harlequin and the sheriff, and as to what part she has to play in it.

She passes on to Ferris the bit about her mother’s medical records and inquires as to whether or not Ramsey can provide, or if he had access to begin with (or knows where they might have been kept).

She reads the dossier on Hill on the way back to the Giani Building.

GM: Before she takes off, Cécilia gives her back her dress (she adds, “I’ve put it through the laundry”) and shoes from last night. She’s decided to cancel Simmone’s dance lesson for today (“I’m sorry you won’t be able to see that”), but is hopeful for how Caroline’s idea to introduce her to more children her own age may pan out. The family also all wants to say goodbye, especially if she’s going to be gone for a while. Everyone except Simmone and their mother is there, along with most of the cats, to see her off with many hugs and well wishes for her future.

Caroline: It’s a bittersweet moment. One she hopes isn’t actually a true departure. There are other matters she would speak with her mother about. Other things that need be seen to. But better to say a farewell than to be denied it.

GM: Cécilia does silently ask her, as she exchanges hugs with the others, whether there’s any things she’d like to ask of or otherwise pass along to Maman.

Caroline: For now, the matter with Simmone.

She bites her lip. I’ll do my best to come by again, for her. It’ll probably be late though. Do you want me to wake you?

GM: Yes, please. If we don’t know how much time we’ll have, I couldn’t imagine turning any more down.

Caroline: Another hug, and predictably French kisses on the cheek.

It’s cruel, to have this so briefly, then to potentially be spirited away. But it gives her something to look forward to on her return. A reason to strive to return.

And they’re never really gone, never that far away. Especially Cécilia.

GM: That’s right. It won’t be as clear, unless you really push yourself. But we’ll always be there for you, Caroline.

Her sister’s next word seems to spring not from a single voice, but six.

Always.


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Story Twelve, Celia II

“Look, you’re in a bad place right now.”
Emily Rosure


Sunday evening, 6 March 2016

GM: It’s around 8 the next night that Randy picks up Jade for dinner. She’s already ‘done up her face’ to be her old self tonight.

Celia: She’s hungry.

She paces, agitated. No clients this evening, no one for her to snack on. Alana had cleared her schedule for dinner and the meeting. She can’t even feed from the ghoul; she’d taken enough yesterday. Needs her to be hale and healthy to oversee the operations.

She texts it to Randy, too. That she’s hungry. With a smiley face. And a little pizza emoji. Hopefully, he brings dinner. If not, he gets to be dinner. She needs to eat prior to this meeting with her family.

Or maybe snack on Emily. The girl’s used to it by this point. All those feedings during college. Her Beast purrs its approval at the thought. She can feel it stretching inside of her. It wants out.

Support: There’s a girl in the passenger seat when he pulls up. She’s drunk, giggly, and according to Randy “knows a hot set of wheels when she sees one.”

Celia: Jade tells Randy to wait outside. She turns on the charm for the girl, flirts with her on their way back to Jade’s suite, tells her she’s pretty, funny, so insightful. All the things girls like to hear, the kind of stuff that would have worked on her if she were still a breather. She invites her into that specially designed room she has, the one that’s all steel and no escape. Puts her up against the wall.

She bites.

GM: The girl giggles and laughs the whole time. She doesn’t object at all to being taken inside the reinforced “dungeon room,” as she laughingly calls it. “This is so, just so. This is a room!” she giggles. “This is the room!”

Jade can feel her inner monster tearing to get out as she sinks her teeth into the probable coed’s neck and drinks thirstily. The blood is hot and sweet with the girl’s lust. Jade’s clan does so love sweet things. Everything is sweet. So very sweet. This is just the sweetest girl. In the sweetest room. The room! Ha ha ha! Jade hears herself giggling when she pulls away from the needfully moaning coed.

“Just what a… room!” the girl giggles.

She’s fucking hilarious.

Celia: She is. She is hilarious. Jade’s drawn in by the giggles, drunk on the sweetness. She doesn’t even want to stop it’s so sweet. Someone’s purring. Is that her? Is that what she sounds like when she feeds? It’s cute! The girl is cute. Jade is cute. Everyone is cute, even this steel room, it’s all cute.

She likes cute things. She’d told Randy he was cute once and she’d decided to keep him. Maybe she’ll keep this girl, too. Inside of her, though. She doesn’t need another vessel vying for attention. So she keeps drinking. Keeps going as the girl’s giggles get lighter and lighter, until it’s just Jade holding her up against the wall. Purring. Sucking at her neck until nothing else comes out.

She makes a pretty corpse, she thinks as she lets the girl fall.

GM: She’s finally stopped smiling, too.

There’s just that same blank-featured look as the corpse’s eyes stare sightlessly upwards.

Celia: She’s still giggling as she cleans herself up. She wipes the blood from her chin, licks it from her fingers. Kneels down to lick it from the girl’s neck, too, to be thorough. It’s so silly how the holes close, even after death. Her tongue did that. Like magic.

She leaves the body in the room and locks the door behind her when she goes. Good thing this is a spa! She’s got a whole station where she can redo her lipstick. Pretty pink for a pretty corpse. She touches up her foundation, too.

“You’re so pretty,” she says to her reflection.

GM: Her reflection beams at the compliment.

Celia: She checks her clothes for blood. Nothing, not even a spot. Isn’t that funny? She’s so efficient! She’s going to drain the girl later. Her hair was so long and blonde, it’s going to make the best extensions. She can’t wait to cut it off.

She’s all smiles as she totters outside to find Randy. She takes his arm and lets him lead her to the car.

“You’re so chivalrous,” she says to him, batting her lashes.

Support: “Yeah, I’m like a knight,” he says. “Sir Randy of the track.”

He flushes despite himself at the eyelashes.

“Did you, um. Have a good drink?”

GM: The girl hasn’t come out.

Support: She’s probably resting.

Celia: “She was wonderful,” Jade tells him. She’s beaming. Her cheeks are even a little flushed. She looks more human than most of her kind, but there’s a little extra tonight. Maybe a sparkle in her eye. A looseness to her face that he hasn’t seen in a while. None of the anger from last night is there.

She leans over the center console as he drives, whispering in his ear. Her hand slides up his thigh. She tells him to take a detour, just a quick one, long enough for her to show him how grateful she is for his love and admiration. A flick of her fingers has his pants undone, then her hand is inside. It’s quick and dirty, and she finds a napkin to wipe off her hands when it’s over. She kisses his cheek, then reclaims her seat after tucking him back away and zipping his pants again.

So thoughtful. Really, she’s the best. She’s so good to her toys and her family.

She even points out a parking spot for Randy when they get close.

Support: Randy’s all too happy to take a detour. He’s even happier, if confused, about what follows. He fumbles a wipe for her out of the glove compartment. He uses them on Ruby.

He’s wary, but he’s happy she’s happy.

And she found a parking spot. He hates looking for parking.

God, Jade’s the best.

Celia: “You’re really cute,” she tells him as he parks. “Like. Really cute.”

She thinks that girl might have been on something, but she wants to let Randy know what she thinks of him. It’s like that time she and Stephen had gotten that bottle of vodka and mixed it with… well, she doesn’t remember. But it had been a fun night. Maybe. She can’t really remember. She misses him, though. What they had. That had been real. Everything that came after is a cheap imitation. It’s kind of sad, really, but she’s trying not to think about it. She rests her head on his shoulder.

“We should race soon. Like. Real soon. I did some research,” she tells him, “about racing, and apparently you can add nitrous oxide to your engine and press a button on your wheel and go vroom vroom.” She mimes shifting gears. She’s never driven a stick before, so it looks kind of silly. She giggles.

“I like you,” she tells him. “Even though you’re, like, a ghoul or whatever. I was supposed to be what you are. They killed me instead.” She’s not sure if she ever told him this story. “I hope Momma didn’t make tacos. I miss tacos. Crunchy.” Her teeth click together.

Support: “I’m sorry,” he says, awkwardly. “I like you too.”

Then he says, maybe less helpfully, “I like tacos.”

He doesn’t touch the nitrous oxide thing.

Celia: “I really want a taco. Like. Anything that’s not blood. I mean. Listen. It’s great, okay? Like, it is. And everything else is awful. But also, like, there’s not… texture. No mouth feel.” She turns her head to look at him. “You know? Imagine drinking soup forever.”

Support: “Sounds kind of gross.”

“But you, uh. You like it?”

Celia: “I mean…” she draws out the word. “It’s all I got.”

“You know how you feel when I give you mine?”

“It’s like that.”

Support: So, perfect.

Flawless.

Even when you know it isn’t.

“Once,” he says, “my mom made me and my brother tacos. After we had been fighting, all week. I think I had broken his nose.”

Actually, Reggie had broken his.

“But she made tacos because we both loved them. And she was sick as hell of us fighting. That’s what she said, ‘sick as hell.’”

Celia: It just makes her want tacos more, really. She wonders if Savoy ever wants tacos.

“If you’re twins,” she asks, “how come you fight so much?”

Support: “So she made them, served us a plate full each. And then she dumped them out the window. And we both started sobbing. Just bawling.”

Celia: “Oh.”

Support: “Because we’re twins,” he says, answering her other question.

Celia: “That’s… huh.”

Effective.

Support: “We were so busy being mad at her we forgot to be angry at each other.”

Celia: “You still don’t like him,” she points out.

Support: “Yeah. But I forgot for a while.”

“And I love him. He’s just a pig. Fucking wannabe cop.”

Celia: “The difference between a cop and a criminal is one bad judgment call.”

Support: He begins to snort, but catches himself. “If you say so.”

Celia: “I heard it in a movie.”

Support: “Ah.”

Hopefully not the same one she got that nitrous oxide shit from.

Celia: It was.

“I had a cousin who wanted to make movies.”

Support: “Sounds like a cool dude.”

Celia: “He was. He was my favorite person for a while. Then he died.”

There’s a pause.

“I miss him.”

Support: “I’m sorry.”

He thinks about asking how he died.

But it’s probably a boring story.

Celia: Probably.

“You remind me of him, sometimes. Not in a weird way.”

Not that she’s ever fucked Randy.

Support: “Uh, not in what kind of weird way?”

Celia: “I just mean, like, that’s not why I took you.”

Support: “Oh. Yeah, I thought you thought I was cute. And also, I’m obviously pretty badass.”

Celia: “Obviously,” she agrees.

“We should go inside,” she says after a moment. “Don’t mention my cousin.”

“He showered with Emily once, it’ll be awkward.”

Support: “Oh. Um. Okay. Can I shower with Emily?”

Celia: “She’s still with Robby.”

“Anyway, don’t you have a girlfriend?”

Support: “Oh, yeah. You know. Technically.”

“Kind of like how Jim Jameson is still married? I think?”

Celia: She thinks about telling him that she was once in his position. It had caused problems for her, too. But he’s a boy. It’s different.

“I think, once you’re that old, everything is kind of forgiven.”

“Anyway, his new wife is like… my age.”

Support: “So, it’s a happy marriage.”

Celia: “For him.”

Support: “I mean, presumably she gets paid out the wazoo. For the wazoo. Whichever wazoo, she’s getting paid.”

A pause.

“…so, we going inside?”

Celia: “We were discussing showering together, I thought.”

Support: “Oh. We were?”

Celia: “We were. You were telling me that I’m prettier than Emily. That you’d rather shower with me. Remember?”

Support: “That… sounds like something I would say.”

Celia: She looks at him. Crosses her arms. Waits.

Support: He looks confused. Poor boy.

Celia: It’s the first rule of psycho girlfriends: always tell them they’re the prettiest.

Support: “You’re gorgeous,” he says. “Flawless. I mean. Duh.”

Celia: “I was going to let you do things to me later,” she says with a heavy exhale that might be a sigh.

Support: “Oh, come on, babe. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me. I’d drive into traffic to see you naked. Come on.”

Celia: “You can’t just say it. You have to mean it.”

Support: He looks at her, hurt. “I mean it. I’d do anything for you.”

He leans forward, tries to kiss her.

Celia: She ducks her chin, lets him kiss her cheek.

“Remember that deal I made, when we met? Impress me tonight, Randy, and this?” she gestures to her body. “Yours.”

Support: “How high are your expectations?”

Celia: “With the sex?”

Support: “Um. With the dinner.”

Celia: “Don’t embarrass me. But you’re coming with me to the sewers tonight. That’s where the real magic happens. That’s where you call me Miss Kalani, or Mistress. Never ‘babe.’ Never ‘Cici.’ Never any of the other adorable pet names you have for me that I love so much.” She touches a hand to his cheek. “They’re like me down there. But worse. So much worse. And they can’t know who I am outside the mask I wear, so we both have to play our parts.”

Support: “Okay. I’ll… I’ll be smart. Smarter.”

“Should we go have dinner with your family?” Randy asks, touching her too-cool hand.

He’s hungry.

Celia: She’s not. The girl he brought her saw to that.

But she nods. Kisses his cheek for good measure.


Sunday evening, 6 March 2016

GM: The address of Celia’s mother on 1110 Burgundy Street, the lower residential end of the Quarter, is an 1880’s one-story house with blue doors and a small brick courtyard. The main house has two bedrooms, where Diana and Lucy sleep, while Emily stays in the adjacent one-bedroom carriage (at least when she isn’t over at Robby’s or the hospital).

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Celia and Randy knock on the house’s front door together. It’s answered by Emily. The Toreador’s onetime roommate looks good. A little tired, maybe, typically of med school. Or maybe more than a little. There are traces of bags under her eyes. But there isn’t that same feeling of despair, like a pit she was exhaustedly scaling while knowing her hands would give out before she reached the top. She feels like she’s where she wants to be and going where she wants to go. She feels at home.

She still has great hair. Better, even, with the kind of care that Flawless can take care of it. She’s casually dressed in blue jeans, sneakers, and a long-sleeved tee.

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“Celia, hi!” she exclaims, wrapping her friend up in a hug.

Celia: “Hey, babe,” Celia throws her arms around the other girl. She doesn’t mean to sniff her hair, but she does. Covertly. Or at least she thinks she’s being covert.

It’s kind of obvious, honestly, and she doesn’t look the least bit sorry about it.

“Mmm, Em, you smell amazing. Is that the Shu Uemura?”

GM: Emily pretends she doesn’t use that $49-a-bottle volumizing stuff, but once Celia got her started on that habit it was hard to break.

“Uh, glad you like it,” she laughs at the sniffing.

She rubs Celia’s back, then removes herself before greeting Randy with another hug and some small talk.

Celia: “Where’s your boy?” Celia asks Emily while she pounces on Randy. “Mom told me y’all getting serious.” She wiggles her brows.

Support: “Don’t tease her, babe,” Randy smiles. Then frowns. “Wait, are we serious?”

Celia: “Are you planning on proposing?” Celia asks him, brow arched.

Support: “Um… am I?”

Celia: “I guess we’re not serious.” Celia pulls Emily away from her not-so-serious boyfriend. She drapes an arm around the girl’s shoulder, lets loose a long-suffering sigh. “Boys,” she says, “am I right?”

“Maybe you and I should run off together, Em. Watcha think?”

Support: Randy looks a little like a kicked puppy, but he seems to take it in stride pretty quickly.

Chicks, man.

GM: “I’ve heard worse ideas,” Emily says with some amusement. “Maybe if med school makes me take yet another exam with buzzwords I haven’t spent any time studying. We can elope.”

Celia: “Whaaaaat?” Celia whines. “Elope? Are you kidding? Do you know how good we’d look in a pair of white wedding dresses? Girl, I have been planning your wedding since I met you.”

She leans in, voice lowered in a stage whisper. “But seriously if you want to elope we can elope.”

GM: “Like I said,” Emily answers wryly. “Just one more bullshit exam.”

“Keep the dresses picked out.”

Celia: “Excellent.” Celia winks at her. “Did Mom make tacos? Randy was just telling me he wanted tacos.”

GM: “Sweetie? Are they here?” calls Diana’s voice.

Celia: “Also, Em, you know if you need me to sleep with your professor for a good grade I will one hundred percent put Randy in a dress.”

GM: “Yeah, Mom, they’re-” Emily calls back, then cuts off with an abrupt giggle.

“You would look adorable in a dress, Randy.”

Support: “Luckily, not the first time I’ve heard that.”

His mother used to put him in dresses, when he was a baby. She often liked to show him the pictures.

He manages a good-natured smile. He’s happy Celia’s happy.

Celia: “He’s adorable regardless.” Celia holds out her hand to him.

Support: “Probably not as adorable as Celia, anyways,” he adds. He feels very clever.

He takes her hand with that same confidence he has never had a right to.

GM: Emily smiles as Diana comes out with Lucy, the latter of whom is now dressed in a puff-shouldered pink dress and mary janes that look like they were picked out for “having company over” instead of a fluffy bathrobe. Emily, mindful of the fact that Diana prefers women to “dress like women,” has bought pants for the six-year-old to wear, but those never seem to get worn during days when their mom helps Lucy pick out clothes.

Diana hugs Celia and Randy in turn. “Hi, sweetie! Hi Randy! Oh, we’re all so glad you could make it! Lucy, you want to give these two a hug?”

“Hiiiii,” says Lucy, outstretching her arms.

Celia: “Hey babycakes.” Celia picks the girl up and swings her around. “How’s my favorite little Lucy-Goose doin’ tonight, hm?”

GM: Lucy giggles and holds out her arms like an airplane. “Vrrrrm! I’m an airplane!”

Celia: “Mom,” Celia says to Diana, very seriously, “did you make tacos?”

GM: “Tacos?” Celia’s mom looks a little surprised by the question’s seriousness. “Afraid not, sweetie, but I think you and Randy will both just love what we have tonight. Lucy helped! She’s a real chef!”

“I helped! Vrrrrrrrrmmm!”

Celia: “Vroom vroom,” Celia agrees. “What did you make, little chef?”

GM: “Biscuits with chocolate gravy!” Lucy exclaims.

“There’s a side entrée to go with the dessert,” Emily adds wryly.

Support: Randy chuckles, eying his ‘babe’ out of the corner of his eye after her little taco bit. “Probably came out real good, if she’s got you two’s genes.” Did that makes sense? He thinks that made sense. That’s sweet. “That’s a great engine noise, Lucy. Sounds like the real thing.”

It is too bad there aren’t tacos, though.

Celia: “I s’pose we should get inside and dig into those biscuits. And let Robby know we’re running away together,” Celia adds, winking at Em. She sets Lucy down, taking Randy’s hand once more in her own. She’d meant to kiss his cheek earlier. Had she done that yet? She does it now, anyway, and follows the others in.

GM: There’s a knock from outside the door.

“Oh, perfect timing,” Celia’s mom says as Emily moves to open it.

Celia: “Oh, was he not here yet? I just assumed he was being rude.”

GM: “Oh no, just a lil’ later than you two,” Diana says, smiling to mask the briefly uncomfortable feeling in the air at Celia’s statement.

Celia: Is it uncomfortable? She thought she’d been doing the whole snarky joke thing. Oh well.

People are so touchy these days.

GM: “Hey, babe,” Emily says at the door.

“Hey, Emi,” comes Robby’s voice.

Emily’s boyfriend is tall. He’s closer to 7’0" than 6’0", but thin and lanky, with unruly black hair, larger glasses, and a very short beard that looks more like a week’s worth of stubble. He’s dressed up a little nicer than her with a button-down instead a tee to go with his jeans, but hasn’t gone so far as to put on a jacket or tie.

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His girlfriend giggles as he picks her up mid-huge and swings her around not altogether unlike Celia with Lucy.

Celia: Celia shares a look with Randy.

GM: Robby gives Emily a peck and sets her down before saying hi to everyone else. Diana gets a hug, then Lucy, who giggles that he’s “Tall as an airplane!”

“Hey, Celia. Randy,” he nods to them both in turn. Celia gets a hug back if she initiates one. The two guys likely don’t.

Celia: Of course Celia wants a hug. She’s so human right now it’s painful. She wonders if Robby will take her for a spin, too.

GM: She just gets a normal hug. A tall hug he has to stoop down for.

Support: Ugh, he’s never sure whether to shake their hands or go for a fist bump.

He goes for the former with Robby. Seems like the kind of prick who sets store by that kind of thing.

“Nice to see you, Robby.”

GM: Robby actually looks somewhat unsure what to do either, having settled for just a nod, that then gets invalidated when they shake.

“Yeah, you two,” he nods again. “You still, uh. Sorry, what do you do again?”

“Robby, gimme an airplane ride!” Lucy exclaims.

“Say please, Lucy,” her mom smiles.

Support: He lets Celia describe it. Safer that way.

GM: “Plllllease?” asks Lucy.

Celia: Celia pecks his cheek, too, and smiles at him. Then she returns to her ‘boyfriend.’

“He races,” Celia supplies. The duh is left unsaid, but still heard.

GM: “Oh, like NASCAR?” asks Robby. He picks up Lucy and spins her around, well above any of the others.

Support: “Professionally, for a living,” he adds. “And less professionally, for fun.”

Celia: “I’m actually thinking about buying him a Ducati if he wins his next one. Isn’t that right, babe?”

Support: “Kind of. Not that famous yet. Grew up watching it, though.”

GM: “Oh, wow. That must be so exciting. Really exciting. I’m just a boring accountant,” says Robby.

Lucy shrieks and flaps her arms. “Vrrrm vrrrm vrrrrrrrm!”

“Robby isn’t boring. He fences with HEMA,” Emily adds helpfully.

Support: “Oh, you don’t have to do that, really. Ruby’s more than enough for what I do,” he says, while his eyes signal the exact opposite.

“And, you know, it has its problems, but boredom isn’t one of them.”

“Oh, for reals? Always wanted to learn to fence.”

Along with Kung Fu. And Krav Maga. And jet-skiing.

Celia: Good thing he has forever to learn.

Support: Yeah. Good.

GM: “It technically isn’t fencing. That involves the foil, epee, or saber,” says Robby. “What I do is historical European martial arts. That’s what HEMA is an acronym for.”

Celia: “Sounds super,” Celia says dryly. “You must be good at handling swords, hm?”

Support: “…huh.”

That actually does make it sound boring.

GM: “They’re a bunch of nerds who dress up like knights and go around swinging swords and axes,” says Emily.

Celia: “Did he show you his preferred technique, Em?”

GM: “Yeah, he practices techniques with me all the time.”

Celia: “I bet.”

GM: Diana gives a faintly disapproving frown.

Celia: “Maybe we can, like, double up sometime?”

GM: “Faster! Faster!” says Lucy.

Celia: “Show me something new, hey Robby?”

Support: Randy coughs. “What were you making, Mrs. Flores? Need any help in the kitchen?”

Celia: “Randy is real good at stick.”

Support: “Okay,” he murmurs.

GM: “Mind the kid please, y’all,” Diana chides. “And that’s so kind of you to ask, Randy, yes we could! We were in the middle of setting the table when y’all showed up. Dinner’s already cooked, so all we gotta do now is tuck in.”

Celia: Celia just smiles.

Support: “No problem, ma’am.”

GM: Lucy makes more noises and flaps her arms.

Support: He goes to do so, but looks over his shoulder at Celia and mouths ‘need talk.’

Celia: Celia is busy watching Robby.

You know what they say about tall guys.

GM: “Okay, Lucy, end of your ride,” says Robby.

“Airplane comin’ in for landing! Towers on alert!” exclaims Diana, holding out her arms for Robby to deposit Lucy into.

The six-year-old makes touchdown noises.

Support: Randy finishes the placemats, makes eye contact with Celia, then flicks his eyes to a nearby hallway.

Celia: Oh. She excuses herself.

GM: “Oh, y’all want to wash up? Bathroom’s thataways, Randy,” Diana points out.

Somewhat superfluously. There’s only one hallway. The house isn’t big.

Celia: The walls are probably thin, too.

Support: “Thanks,” he says, and heads that way. Hoping she follows.

Celia: She does! She doesn’t even giggle to give herself away.

Maybe a little giggle.

Support: He waits to wash his hands and let the sink slightly drown out his words as he whispers to her, “If I told you there was something in that girl you drank, would you be, um, calm about it?”

Celia: Celia locks the door behind them. She stares at him. Her eyes are a little bigger than usual. Maybe she’s just widening them at him.

“Randy,” she whispers back, “you could just put something in me, you know. We don’t have to pretend this is about her.”

“But are you saying,” she says after a second, “that you drugged me?”

Support: “Maybe. Accidentally. Which, I uh, I realize might have been avoided by not finding the highest girl I could find so I wasn’t late.”

Celia: She should maybe be angry about this. But, honestly, everything feels pretty swell right now. Her Beast is snoozing, drunk on that sweet girl it had gorged itself on earlier.

“She was so cute,” Celia tells him instead. “You’re cute, too. Did you not bring me in here to fuck? Because, like, I might not be wearing panties right now.”

Her skirt is kind of short, too.

Support: Maybe the right thing to do here is to just—

No. Probably not.

“We might be able to do more than that, if we, um, got out of here,” he says. “For longer, even. More vigorously. Since you’re distracted, I mean.”

Celia: “Yeah, but.” Her eyes are a little wider than normal. “But listen. Last time I left one of Mom’s dinners she was kidnapped and raped, and that’s awkward. So if you didn’t bring me in here to bang—like if you’re just being a tease right now—then we just gotta… gotta play it cool.”

She makes a motion with her hand. One of those ’let’s be chill’ motions.

Support: “…hard to argue with that,” Randy says, because it is.

“Okay, well, if you just… can try to avoid saying anything you would be mad at me for saying, this might not be so bad. I can get us out, if I have to. Just… chill, right?”

Celia: Chill. She can be chill. She nods, showing him how chill she can be. So chill. So chill, leaning against the sink. So chill when she touches his chest, the fabric of his shirt, the scruff of a fresh beard on his face.

Then she’s in his arms. Or he’s in hers. It doesn’t matter, really, because her hands are on him and she’s leaning in, cheek pressed against his chest. She rubs her face against him, like a cat marking its human. She can hear his heart thud. There’s no hint of fang, just a small purr. It’s an entirely human sound. Everything is alive for her. Electric.

Her touch doesn’t last long. A few seconds.

“Chill,” she repeats in a whisper. Then she’s gone, back out the door and down the hall to find her breather family.

They can all be human together tonight.

Support: “O… okay,” he whispers.

Then he has to make sure his erection isn’t visible.

Then he follows her.

GM: Dinner is chicken pot pie. It’s baked in a large dish with flaky golden crust and little slits for steam to rise out from. There are also sides of roasted green beans with a contrasting chewier texture and sweet-tasting fruit salad: strawberries, bananas, oranges, grapes, bluberries, and kiwis, with a dressing of vanilla, honey, and poppy seeds.

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“Y’all washed up? Oh, good,” Celia’s mom smiles, then folds her hands in prayer. She’s joined by Emily and Lucy. Robby sort of awkwardly just holds his hands together on the table.

“Bless us, Oh Lord, and these Thy gifts we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord.”

There are several “amens.” Robby just nods and doesn’t close his eyes when the others do.

Support: Randy joins. He’s not a barbarian.

Celia: Celia pays lip service to the God that her mother worships. It’s no different than what she does with the Sanctified, really.

But she grins at Robby when everyone else has their eyes closed.

GM: Robby smiles back and looks a little relieved. Celia’s mom starts carving up the pie. It’s got chicken, carrots, peas, celery, yellow onion, and a creamy white milk sauce with garlic and thyme.

“I’m so glad we still get to have moments like these,” she says as she serves. “Between med school for Emily and runnin’ a business for Celia, getting everyone’s schedules to work out is like herding cats.”

“Herding cats?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Pussy cats,” Celia says, popping the P.

GM: “That means something really hard, sweetie. Pussy cats are pussy cats. You can’t make ‘em do anything they don’t feel like.”

Celia: “You know what else is hard?” Celia asks the table at large.

GM: “What’s that?” asks Robby.

Support: “Mmm,” Randy says as he swallows a mouthful of cream-and-bread smothered chicken. “Probably getting cats to walk away from a dinner like this. Everything’s delicious, ma’am.”

Don’t say what you’re about to say don’t say it…

Celia: Celia points her empty fork at Randy.

“Bingo.”

Support: He lets out an audibly relieved sigh.

GM: “Why thank you, Randy, I’m so glad you like it,” Celia’s mom beams. “Lucy helped! She made the pastry dough, all by herself.”

“Huh?” Lucy asks at the ‘hard’ question.

Celia: “Pastry dough,” Celia says to her. “Real hard. Good job, champ. All that kneading.”

“Speaking of kneading. Robby, are you coming in for a massage sometime soon? All that… athletic action with the swords and all?”

GM: “Oh. Yeah. I did lotsa kneading!” Lucy makes the attendant hand gestures.

Celia: Celia makes her own hand gestures.

Support: “You should,” Randy says, blitzing over the innuendo. “She’s great at what she does, Celia.”

GM: “Yes, you definitely should!” Celia’s mom echoes. “I go in at least every week, and they are just some of the most relaxing hours you will ever spend, anywhere. Celia will turn you into jello in her hands.”

“Emi’s mentioned,” says Robby. “I have been in, a few times. Celia wasn’t there. It definitely felt great. I’d thought spas were just for women.”

Support: “Me too, but then you try it.”

Celia: “Misconception,” Celia tells him.

Hadn’t Gui said that too, years ago? She’s sure he did. That’s how it had taken off among the Kindred.

Support: “Like daiquiris. Or… something else women do that men can also enjoy. Fruit salad, maybe. Could you pass the fruit?”

GM: “Help yourself!” Celia’s mom declares as she passes over the dish.

“We should set you up with a session with Celia,” says Emily. “She doesn’t do the same massage work as a massage therapist, but honestly, she’s better at it than any of the other girls.”

Celia: “Emily’s is more medical based,” Celia agrees. “Mine is more focused on… relaxing. Feeling good. Unwinding. That kind of thing.”

GM: “Sign me up then. The massage I had was already great,” says Robby in between a forkful of pie. “It’d feel just heavenly, I bet, after a really long sparring session.”

Celia: Sparring.

Celia giggles.

GM: Everyone is tucking in to the food by now, except for her. Pushing it around on her plate.

“I say something funny?” asks Robby, a little puzzled.

Celia: “Just thinking about you dancing around with a big sword in your hand.”

GM: “Yeah, that’s HEMA,” says Emily. “Basically a bunch of D&D nerds who actually know how to fight.”

Celia: “Do you two roleplay?” Celia asks Em, looking between the pair of them.

Support: Randy coughs. “Like, Dungeons & Dragons.”

GM: “I’ve run a few World of Shadow games for her,” says Robby.

“Yeah, I liked that more than D&D,” says Emily.

Celia: “World of Shadow?”

GM: “Oh, I thought D&D was satanic?” Diana asks, covering Lucy’s ears.

Celia: “No, Mom, Satan is satanic. No one has thought that since the ’80s. Did you let her read that book about the wizard kid yet?”

GM: “Oh, I thought that it was. That’s a relief,” her mom says, uncovering Lucy’s ears.

Robby looks about to start strenuously disagreeing, but holds off when Celia seems to clear the matter up.

“Sorry, Wizard kid?” Diana then asks. “Oh, you mean that series. I don’t know, I’ve heard some concerning things about it. I figure better safe than sorry, when there’s so many other books. Like Narnia. Lucy loves Narnia, don’t you, Lucy-Goose?”

Lucy nods. “Yeah! The girl’s named after me.”

Celia: “Didn’t that author, like, sell out his comrades in the First World War or something? And then start banging his friend’s mom?”

GM: Diana covers Lucy’s ears again with an admonishing look.

Emily coughs.

Celia: “Are you two…?” Celia gestures between Emily and her mom.

GM: Diana looks confused.

Emily doesn’t. She gives Celia a ‘hey adult humor around the kid?’ look.

Support: “I liked the movies,” Randy says lamely. “With the, uh. Lion.”

GM: “Aslan! Mommy, stop covering my ears!” says Lucy.

Support: “Aslan, that’s right.”

He kisses Celia on the cheek suddenly.

Celia: Celia is momentarily stunned into silence.

GM: Lucy giggles.

“Yeah, he’s basically Lion Jesus,” says Emily. She looks at Celia as she eats.

Celia’s mom smiles at the apparent affection between the lovebirds.

Celia: Celia gestures toward Robby.

“You were saying earlier?”

GM: “Well, World of Shadow is sort of like D&D,” says Robby. “Except the setting is more horror and urban fantasy than high fantasy.”

“Yeah, it was interesting,” says Emily. “Darker stuff more reflective of real world issues. Less escapist.”

Support: Man. That sounds so, so boring. Nerds.

He’s lucky the strangest thing about him is his vampire girlfriend.

Celia: “Like what? Politics? Ghosts?”

GM: “Yeah, that sort of stuff,” says Robby. “Classic horror monsters. You know, vampires, werewolves, wizards, demons.”

Diana looks alarmed at ‘demons.’

“You’re sure that’s not satanic?” she asks. “I heard some really concerning things about that company, what was it, Black Dog, back in the day.”

“Yes, Mom, we are sure,” says Emily.

Support: “I mean, demons are in the Bible,” Randy says, maybe less helpfully than he thinks.

GM: Diana has covered Lucy’s ears again.

The six-year-old looks a little annoyed.

Celia: “So are wizards. Jesus walked on water, that’s kind of wizardy.”

“Didn’t he turn blood into wine, too? You think Jesus was a vampire?” She’s looking between Diana and Robby.

GM: “Ah, maybe we can save this subject for after dinner, y’all,” Celia’s mom says.

Celia: “Didn’t people eat his flesh? So like a cannibal, too.”

GM: “Okay, let’s definitely, please!” says Diana.

Support: Randy laughs and kisses her cheek again. Chill, his eyes say.

Celia: Cannibals, Celia mouths at Robby.

GM: Robby looks sympathetic, but nods at Lucy.

“So, Randy, what’s going on in your life?” asks Emily. Clearly changing the subject.

Support: He’s all too happy to talk about the current circuit of races he’s leading in. A lot of it is specific car talk, though, which he looks to Robby (as the other man at the table) to help explain.

He does make sound effects for Lucy, though.

“It’s a good season, when I’m not spending time with Cici,” he laughs, touching Celia’s arm lightly.

Celia: Celia smiles back at him. She rubs his hand where it touches her arm. She hadn’t known much about cars and racing when they’d gotten together, but apparently there’s more to it than the movies or NASCAR make it out to be.

“He just got a new sponsorship with one of those energy drink companies.”

It’s a little more legit than running around Europe with guns taped to the front of his car or drifting around back roads in Tokyo with kilos of coke in the trunk.

Though there’s some of that, too.

Support: If Tokyo was Tremè and Europe was the Quarter.

And the coke was actually a biker’s old lady, for a variety of awkward reasons.

“Yeah, energy drinks,” he agrees. “Stuff’s called Blue Milk. I think it’s a Star Trek thing?”

GM: “Star Wars,” corrects Robby. “That’s what Luke drinks in the first movie. Blue milk.”

“Well congratulations to you, Randy,” smiles Diana. The smile looks somewhat blank at Robby’s ‘blue milk’ explanation. “I’m sure that must be very good for raising your profile.”

“Yeah, congrats,” Emily echoes.

“That’s weird an energy drink can call their product blue milk,” says Robby thoughtfully. “The term’s copyrighted.”

Support: Randy shrugs, happy to hide the lie behind all-too-real ignorance.

Celia: Celia leans in close to her boyfriend, whispering the word ‘nerd’ into the shell of his ear.

Support: “I’m not so attached to the product, but its nice to be noticed by a company lime that. Reputation and brand is kind of everything, in my circles.”

GM: “What are you whispering about!” ‘asks’ Lucy.

Celia: “Secret adult things,” Celia tells her.

GM: “What secret things?”

Support: “Very secret,” Randy agrees. “But if you want us to include you,” he leans down and whispers into her ear, “There’s chicken pot pie on your nose.”

Celia: Celia nods her agreement.

GM: Lucy touches her napkin to her nose.

Support: “All better!”

GM: Lucy looks at her napkin confusedly.

“But where’s the chicken..?”

Celia: “Randy probably ate it. He’s a growing boy.”

Celia dumps her plate onto his, at that.

GM: “On my nose…?”

Celia: “He’s very quick.”

Support: “Oh,” he says glancing down at the sudden abundance of food. “Maybe not that quick, but I’ll do my best.”

Celia: “Everyone in the racing industry knows him as Speedy Gonzales.”

Support: “Also copyrighted, sadly.”

Celia: “Randy, don’t make me take you outside.”

GM: Lucy touches her nose again.

“There wasn’t any chicken on your nose, sweetie. They’re pullin’ your leg,” Diana explains. “And oh please, you two, there’s plenty still left to go around! You’ve barely touched your plate, Celia.”

Celia: “Dieting,” Celia tells her mother. “Randy is going to pop the question soon, I can feel it. Have to fit into a wedding dress.”

She looks pointedly at Robby as she says this.

GM: Diana’s look at her daughter’s boyfriend is positively glowing.

Robby just gives a sort of awkward smile.

“She normally put this much pressure on you?” Emily asks Randy.

“Would you like me to make you something lighter, sweetie, like a salad?” Celia’s mom asks her.

Celia: “It’s okay, Momma,” Celia tells her. “I had a protein shake earlier.”

GM: “You sure you wouldn’t like some apple slices to munch on, at least? They’re one of the lowest-calorie foods out there, and I feel bad with you just sittin’ there not touching anything while we all eat.”

Celia: “I’m saving my calories for later,” Celia tells her. She winks at Randy.

Swallowing.

That’s what she’s implying.

To him, at least. The rest of them probably think dessert.

GM: “Hey,” says Emily, “I think there’s a jar of that fat-free, sugar-free hot fudge spread in the kitchen somewhere. You want to help me find it, Celia?”

Diana thinks. “I honestly don’t think we have any of that, sweetie.”

“I’m pretty sure we do,” says Emily. “I just can’t remember where it is.”

Celia: “Sure,” Celia says, rising from her chair.

GM: “Oh, let me!” her mom starts.

Emily not-so-subtly puts her hands on Diana’s shoulders to sit her back down.

“Mom, you cooked all of this. Enjoy it. We’ll be right back.”

“I helped!” says Lucy.

Celia: “You sure did, Goose.” Celia retreats to the kitchen.

GM: Emily follows her. She gets very close to Celia and inspects her eyes.

Celia: Celia tugs her even closer.

“Hi,” she murmurs against her neck. “You’re very cute.”

GM: Emily disentangles herself. “Your pupils aren’t dilated, but you’re on something. What is it?”

Celia: “Emmy,” Celia whispers, loudly, “I think he gave me something. It’s been a while since we’ve banged. Am I being weird?”

GM: “Yeah. You’ve been totally inappropriate this entire dinner. You’ve flirted with everyone who isn’t a six-year-old.”

Celia: “Oh.”

She studies the ground.

“Sorry.”

“Are you mad at me?”

GM: “I’m mad at your boyfriend. He seriously fucking gave you something?”

Celia: “I don’t know. He brought the shake to me.”

“Em, Emmy. Listen though.”

GM: “When was this?”

Celia: Celia pulls her close again.

“You’re still very cute.”

GM: Emily disentangles herself again. “When did he give you that shake?”

Celia: “Uhhhhh….”

“But listen, Em. Do you remember that friend I had? Also named Em? Doesn’t he kinda look like him sometimes? Like when you’re on his lap.”

GM: "Sure, I guess. Did you have the shake a few hours ago, maybe? Or was it before lunch?

Celia: “Emily.” Celia’s lower lip quivers. “Emily. They killed him. He died. And every time I look at Randy I think about him. And it hurts.”

GM: Emily frowns. “They killed him? What are you talking about?”

Celia: “I’m talking about Em.”

GM: “Wha—who killed Em, Celia? How did that happen?”

Celia: “The state! My dad! I don’t know, whoever signed the execution orders. So Randy is all, ‘why do you care about this guy so much,’ and how am I supposed to tell him when no one knows, Emi?”

GM: “Wait, Em was executed? What the fuck?”

She hugs Celia. “Jesus. I’m so sorry.”

Celia: “I didn’t even get to know him.”

Celia clings to Emily. Rubs her back. She feels really good. Being wrapped up in her arms is like wearing her favorite sweater. Are breathers always this warm?

“They stole him, Emi.”

GM: “He seemed like a good dude,” says Emily.

She leaves the ‘why did they execute him’ unspoken.

Celia: “I can’t talk to anyone about it. Everything hurts. Everyone I love dies.”

Stephen’s public death had been an ordeal, too.

GM: Emily squeezes her. “We’re still kicking. Me, your mom, Lucy. We all love you so much, Celia.”

Celia: “But you’re all going to die at some point.”

GM: “Sure. So will you. Everyone dies.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t tell her what she’s thinking. That she already did. Years ago.

GM: “Chances are Lucy will outlive you, though.”

“We love you,” she repeats with another squeeze. “And it makes me mad as fucking hell that your boyfriend might be a scumbag rapist who’s drugged you.”

“So, here’s what I want us to do.”

Celia: “He didn’t rape me, he turned me down in the bathroom.”

GM: “Wait, what?”

Celia: “What.”

GM: “What do you mean, he turned you down in the… oh, Jesus.”

Celia: Celia giggles.

GM: “Jesus,” Emily repeats.

“Did he just forget about this family dinner or what, and figure he’d have you all to himself?”

Celia: “Are you gonna take me upstairs?” Celia trails a hand through Em’s hair.

GM: “There isn’t an upstairs, hon. There’s just one story.”

Celia: “Why doesn’t she have an upstairs? That’s so typical. Ruining my pickup lines.”

“Tell her,” Celia whispers, “tell her she’s fired.”

GM: “Yeah, you’re definitely on something. So, here’s what I want us to do. I want you to spend the night and sleep it off. I think you’re on ecstasy, from how you’re acting, but that’s often slipped in with other drugs. You might also be on rohypnol or who knows what, so it’s not safe for you to be alone where you might pass out.”

“And definitely not safe for you to go home with your possibly rapist boyfriend.”

Celia: “He’s not a rapist!” Celia repeats.

GM: “Possibly rapist. I also want you to pee into a cup so we can test a urine sample for whatever you’re on.”

Celia: “I didn’t know you were into that kind of thing.”

“Should we get in the shower first?”

GM: “A solo shower might not be a bad idea. Clear your head a bit.”

Celia: “Naked?” Celia wiggles her brows.

“Me and you? Yeah?”

GM: “Solo means just you, babe. I’ll wait outside the door in case you’re on roofies that make you pass out.”

Celia: “Mmmm, can’t. Got a thing to do later.”

“But if you were joining me I’d make time, babe.”

GM: “Celia, the only thing you need to do right now is go to bed. It is not safe for you to be on your own right now. We don’t know what other drugs you might be on, or even for 100% whether this is ecstasy.”

Celia: “Randy!” Celia calls, loudly. “Can you come in here?”

GM: “Randy’s going to say whether he gave you the drugs or not. And whether he gave you anything or not, you’re still high as a kite. You’re gonna sleep it off around people who love you and won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

Celia: “Yeah, but, I have a meeting. So I can’t.”

“Also, if you’re not gonna let me get in your pants then I’m not really interested.”

GM: “Uh huh. Who’s the meeting with?”

Celia: “Ramon.” Celia rolls the R for a much longer time than is necessary.

GM: Emily snaps her fingers. “Oh, Ramon, right.”

Celia: “You’re really pretty when you’re mad.”

GM: She pulls out her phone, taps the screen, holds it to her ear.

“Hey, Ramon. This is Emily. Look, Celia’s feeling pretty sick right now. She can’t make…”

Celia: Celia snatches the phone away.

“Don’t listen she’s been roofied byeeeee.”

GM: Emily snatches the phone back. “She can’t make the meeting. What? You understand? Oh, thanks so much, Ramon. You’re the best.”

She hangs up.

“Okay, Ramon said the meeting’s off. You can sleep it off.”

Celia: “You don’t even know who Ramon is!”

GM: “I wouldn’t have his number on my phone if I didn’t know, now would I?”

Celia: “You know who we should call?”

“Daddy.”

“Tell him I got knocked up again. By a black guy. No, wait, by you. Tell him you’re a black man. Transitioning. And then we can go upstairs and do it.”

GM: “Yeah, let’s file that under ‘go bungee jumping without a bungee cord’ as far as good ideas. Hey, Mom!” she calls.

“Mom, we need to talk with you!”

Celia: Celia claps a hand over Emily’s mouth.

“Mom, she’s kidding.”

GM: Emily pulls the hand away as Diana arrives.

Celia: “Emily said she’s pregnant.”

GM: “I’m not pregnant,” Emily cuts off as Diana’s eyes widen. “Celia is on drugs that I think her boyfriend might have given her.”

Celia: “I’m not on drugs, I told you, it’s Klonopin because my friend died, Jesus Emily.”

GM: Diana looks mortified and swoops in to hold her daughter.

“Oh my lord! Sweetie, how are you feeling!?”

Celia: “I have to go, Mom, Emily is—” oh.

GM: “She’s on ecstasy, I think,” says Emily. “Maybe roofies if he gave her something else. She said she’d not had sex with him in a while.”

“Should we take her to the hospital?” Diana asks.

Emily shakes her head. “Good idea in principle, not so much in practice. We can have her sl…”

Celia: “Fucking. Stop.” Celia yanks herself away from them.

“I was drinking. Okay? I drank before I came over here because I had a terrible fucking day, I keep thinking he’s going to propose to me and he doesn’t, my friend died, my ex died, like why am I not allowed to have a goddamned fucking Tequila Sunrise without everyone getting their fucking panties in a bunch?”

“I’m leaving. Goodnight.”

GM: “Oh. I guess that explains the normal pupils,” says Emily.

Celia: Celia doesn’t say anything. She stalks off to find Randy.

GM: Emily lays a hand on her. “Celia, wait.”

Celia: “No. I’m not staying.”

GM: “Okay, you can go! I just-”

Celia’s mom abruptly hugs her tight. She doesn’t say anything. Just holds her close and strokes her hair.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. I’m so sorry those awful things all happened.”

Celia: “I have to go.” Celia wriggles free from her mom’s grip.

GM: “Celia, wait!” her mom calls.

Celia: “What, Mom?”

GM: Her mom wraps a hand around her shoulder. “We just want to be there for you. We love you. Let me make up your bed. Put you to sleep. Cook you breakfast in the morning.”

“I can talk to Randy. Ask how serious he is,” says Emily. “We can… wait to talk about the drinking. Right now we just wanna help you out. If Randy is part of why you’re drinking, then maybe a night apart is something you could use.”

Celia: “Oh my God.” Celia crosses her arms. “Look. It’s not a big thing. I am having an off night. I love you guys, but staying here is not conducive to me fixing my stuff. I’m sorry I ruined dinner. I’ll make it up to you guys. But I have to go.”

GM: “You didn’t ruin dinner, sweetie,” her mom says, “you just-”

“Can’t be around Lucy when you’re drunk,” Emily says, as much to their mom with a more critical look before turning back to Celia. “Look, you’re in a bad place right now. Okay. Let us help you fix that.”

Celia: Celia makes a noise that might be a snort and might be a huff.

“How dare I have one off night, you’re right, you didn’t drink yourself into a stupor in undergrad ever.” Remember that night, Emily, when Celia showed up to help you and let her mom get kidnapped, raped, and tortured because you were having an off night?

Oh, that’s right, Celia isn’t so much of a cunt that she throws it in her friend’s face.

“I love you. Goodnight.”

She doesn’t wait for them to respond. She turns and walks away, grabbing Randy on her way to the door.

Support: Randy, meanwhile, has been having a great time. The food’s great, Lucy’s pretty cute when she isn’t having her ears covered every five seconds, and he understands like half of what Robby’s talking about even if it’s pretty dull. All in all, best family dinner he’s had in a long time.

He’s so preoccupied explaining to an insistent Lucy what a V8 is that he doesn’t immediately come when Celia calls him, and it’s a few moments later when she’s suddenly dragging him out the door.

“Oh—nice seeing y’all have a good night—!”

As the door shuts behind them, he wipes some chicken pot pie off his nose (oh how the turntables) and says, “That wasn’t too bad,” with entirely too much earnestness.

GM: He didn’t even get dessert.

Celia’s mom calls after her. There’s a final, “I’ll see you later at the spa, sweetie, sometime soon! We love you!” before she’s gone.

Celia: He’s in trouble.

He’s in so much trouble.

She doesn’t tell him he’s in trouble because whatever drug he gave her is still in her system, and it’s very slowly working its way out, and there’s some tiny part of her that is still giddy. That part of her has the Beast locked up tight in a little cage inside her chest. It’s more like a kitten right now. One of those kittens in a teacup with a flower on its head. It’ll still bite a hand that tries to touch it, but ignore it long enough and it might ignore you, too.

“So much for chill.”

It is, hopefully, her final giggle of the night.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett II
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Story Twelve, Emmett II

“It suits me.”
Sami Watts


Date ?

GM: Courtney and Ginger spend a little talking with Em, though mostly ‘Em’ talks. He’s a glib conversationalist. Really funny and entertaining. He conjures more illusions and has the women alternately laughing and smiling at his stores and anecdotes.

They’re with him. He can tell. He was always good at turning on the charm with girls.

Or, he supposes, they.

He.

Same thing.

This is getting old.

Emmett: Oh, is it?

GM: What’ll you do if you get the reins back?

Emmett: Hmm. You know, let’s try something. I bet that if you could drive forever, you wouldn’t be asking. Have fun. I know you fought real hard for it.

GM: You know what we do when we get bored, Em?

We get juvenile. Think we told that to someone once.

I’m leaning between ‘harrowing’ and ‘play eeny meeny miney moe to decide which of these losers to have some fun with.’ Unless you have a better idea.

10… 9…

Emmett: There’s nothing for it. He’s still seething at the obstructiveness of his own Shadow, the way his own soul has fouled his prospects once again. So, so close, yet so far…

And yet.

There’s nothing to be done, is there?

We’ll wait for Hannah. Thanks to you, it’ll look awkward if we don’t. But to pass the time we’ll see what they can do, spook-wise, and then… He considers what will sound good to Gasper. Then we start back to the city. If we can find it. We put Courtney on Cash Money, and then we go to Sami. Use her as a bank. Maybe teach her a little lesson about how she still needs us. You down?

GM: This must be how other people felt dealing with him.

Emmett: Yeah. How poignant.

GM: I like the second part.

I don’t see ghost hauntings Q & A lasting until the girl with a dick gets back.

You think he had an operation? You know, got it chopped off?

Emmett: Dunno. Doesn’t matter now that she’s dead. Are you saying leave her? They’re gonna take some convincing.

GM: They can stay or leave. I’m through being bored here.

How like him.

To burn another bridge if it means his amusement.

Emmett: How like him indeed.

Time to try something.

All right. I’ll invent a reason for us to get going, maybe some spooky lights in the distance. Then, we find our way to New Orleans.

It’s not the first time he’s lied to himself.

But it is the first since dying.

GM: I’m you, fuckface.

I know everything you know.

Emmett: Ah, well, worth a try.

GM: 8.

7.

Emmett: You gonna give me back the reins so I can do that? For real this time?

GM: 6.

Emmett: Yikes, I gave you a suggestion. I’m willing to do it. If you’re set on fucking things up even more, go for it. But I’m down to salvage it if you are.

GM: 5.

Emmett: I told you. We scare the losers off with a light show in the distance, lets us play the voice of reason by getting us away. Then we get to New Orleans, get them to rendezvous nearby while we pay Sami a visit. That sounds fun, doesn’t it? Maybe we’ll give her some chills. Plus, then we can start practicing on chumps in the Quarter. It’ll be like old times.

GM: The colorless ground screams as a black void rips open, then snaps shut. Hannah falls out.

Emmett: HA!

He instinctively reaches out to try and catch her.

GM: She staggers into his arms. The dead woman doesn’t shake, breathe faster, or look paler, though. She just looks numb.

Ginger lays a hand on shoulder. “Hun, you okay?”

“Y… yeah,” Hannah answers slowly. “Fine.”

Emmett: He hugs her briefly. “We’ve got you. Can you walk?”

Guess that’s a yes, then, huh?

GM: There’s no warmth. No sense of vitality. Just cool ashen corpus against his own. He barely feels her clothes.

“Y-eah,” Hannah says.

“So, what now?” asks Courtney.

Hannah looks around. “Where’s the others?”

“They left,” answers Ginger.

“Good,” Hannah glares. “I want to find my mom. I also want to find Melody.”

“Maybe we should split up?” asks Courtney.

“Seems dangerous.” Ginger.

“I dunno how we’d find each other again, either.” Hannah. “Is there any way of telling time?”

The dead women look up at the almost pitch-black sky.

“Maybe we should just go where we wanna go together.” Courtney. “Safety in numbers and all.”

“Yeah. I reckon why not.” Ginger.

A glowing, luminescent figure with blurred features walks straight through Hannah. Her corpus parts and reforms like water.

“Oh my god, that’s weird.”

Emmett: Em stares at the figure. “Is that… Hannah, are you doing that?” he waves a hand in front of it

GM: The figure walks straight through him.

It feels even stranger than it looked.

“I think those are people,” says Courtney. “Living people. I’ve seen them around.”

Hannah shakes her head. “I’m not. That I know, anyways.”

Emmett: He remembers the glowing figures from the Quarter. “I think you’re right. And you, Hannah, about safety in numbers.” He tries to examine the glowing figure’s features.

“I have an idea about where we can go. I have an ex who hit it rich a little while back. Could be useful to have that kind of money around, for taking care of our interests on the other side and all.”

GM: They’re hazy, like he’s viewing them through a thick current of water, but they look more rectangular than round. Maybe male.

“Money sounds fine to me,” says Courtney.

“Couldn’t hurt,” says Ginger.

“I dunno how much it’ll help,” frowns Hannah, “but okay, I guess we could go there first.”

Emmett: “Well, you want to look after your mom, right? Money’s not a bad way to do that,” Em reassures her. “It’ll also give us a place to stay. Use as our hideout, that kind of thing. So we don’t lose touch.”

GM: “Well, okay. Your ex is gonna help us like that?”

Emmett: “She might take some convincing,” Em admits. “And, you know. Some spookiness. But I figure it’s a place to start.”


Date ?

GM: It’s a harrowing, nerve-wracking journey through the blasted city. Ghastly shrieks echo discordantly in the distance. Shadows to flicker in Em’s peripheral vision, their inky depths concealing horrors untold. Miserable rain pours from overhead. Everything is dark, wet, and bleak as the grave, but Em doesn’t feel chilled or discomfited. There’s just a hollow emptiness where he feels like he should.

The glowing white figures are everywhere, walking obliviously past the ashen-hued ghosts. They do all of those things that living people do. Walk. Talk. Answer phones. Yell. Embrace. Em sees a tall one stooping to wipe the face of a small one that’s shaking their head.

Emmett: He makes up voices for them to amuse his companions.

GM: Em sees another one, buying a penis-shaped glob of animal fat from a vandalized pirate-themed hot dog stand that might’ve been the one where he worked. Em can see the fat man’s arteries swelling through his veins. He’ll die, after eating enough of those.

They’ll all die, one day.

Maybe they’ll wind up here.

There are some chuckles at Em’s antics. The mood is maybe a little less bleak.

But there are still no moon and stars in the void-like sky.

The Ritz-Carlton where Em last heard Sami was staying (hey, that’s the same building as Talal al-Saud) is, or at least was, an elegant 14-story five-star hotel located just off Canal Street, the historic divide between the French Quarter and Central Business District. Em remembers the website boasting hundreds of rooms, thousands of feet of meeting space, spa and fitness, a restaurant, and whatever the fuck else.

It doesn’t matter.

It’s a blasted, bombed-out husk of the glass and steel palace he remembers. The cracked chandeliers are missing their crystals and pitted with rust. The furniture is rotting and thick with dust and cobwebs. The statues look eroded by thousands of years of wind and rain. Wetness drips through holes in the room. The portraits are unrecognizable smudges. The large windows are smashed in and caked with crud. The plants in the garden are black and withered husks.

There are the same luminous figures, though. Sitting on rotted furniture, reading moldering newspapers and scrolling through broken phones. Talking across gutted-out reception desks. Carting around decayed luggage bags.

Em and his companions walk through the translucent front doors like they’re made of smoke. Doormen don’t stop them. Doormen don’t notice them. Doormen don’t squint at him suspiciously and ask whether he belongs here.

They’re dead.

Emmett: He whistles. “I may have been thinking too small. Lots of ways we could use a place this big. Lots of important people coming and going. Plus, who doesn’t want to live in a hotel. Or, you know. Reside. Whatever.”

“Haunt a hotel, I guess.”

GM: There’s another one those low, ghastly cries from the distance.

Em isn’t sure whether it’s human.

Emmett: “Gonna want to keep a low profile, though,” he says, more quietly.

GM: “I heard about something called haunts…” Ginger starts, but that’s when Em notices her.

She’s duller than the other figures. Muted. But her features are clearer to his sight. Sami Watts always knew how to stand out in a crowd.

She’s dressed differently than Em remembers. The dress she’s got on is more suggestive than revealing. Form-hugging, but respectable. It’s what someone who doesn’t need to chase money anymore would wear.

She seems to be chasing something else, though. She’s got her arm linked around the waist of a male-shaped figure.

His arm is linked around her waist, too.

She’s smirking up at him as they say flirtatious-sounding things. They both seem a little tipsy as they make their way towards an elevator.

Emmett: He points and says, “That’s her. You three want to tag along or wait in the lobby?”

“Ah, who am I kidding. Her place, our place. Let’s go.”

GM: The three follow after him.

Emmett: He follows the couple into the elevator. “So, I wanted to bring this up earlier, but now’s a good time to ask. Any of you guys know what cool ghost tricks you know? Possessing people, sprouting wings, poltergeist shit, any of that?”

GM: The door closes in Em’s face. Nobody says to hold it.

He walks through like it’s made of smoke. The others materialize through after a moment.

Emmett: He could get used to this. Actually, he already is.

GM: It goes up. Em doesn’t feel it move. He just goes up. He can see the yawning shaft through the half-translucent floor. It seems to go on for miles. The pitch-black depths are impenetrable.

Something about them calls to him.

The other three stare down.

Emmett: “Don’t look down,” he says cheerfully. “Nothing good down there.” He leads by example.

GM: “Not much good up here, either,” remarks Hannah.

Emmett: “We’re up here. That’s good enough for me.”

He leans forward, so his mouth is against Sami’s ear, and though he doesn’t use his throat to talk, he tries to make a sound she can hear. Just a simple, faint sound. His voice, from seven years ago. “Sixty seconds,” he tries to make his voice hiss in her ear.

Then, in his head, he starts counting.

GM: The other mention their “tricks” on the way up. Courtney and Ginger can both twist around people’s feelings. Ginger can twist around her corpus. Make herself look different. Courtney can also “drain people. Ghosts. Whatever we are.” Hannah can “turn solid. Make things happen in the, I guess real world.”

Sami ignores him completely. She flirts some more with the man she’s with.

Emmett: Oh well. Other tricks, then.

He’s curious what Ginger means by twisting her corpus. As for feelings… he wonders if they think that between the two of them, they could scare her friend off. But he doesn’t ask them too, yet.

GM: Ginger takes hold of her nose, then twists it to the side like it’s made of soft clay.

She then pulls it until it’s about a foot longer. It gets thinner when she does that.

Emmett: He whistles. “That is a party trick and a half. Not sure what you could use it for, but that’s damn unsettling.”

GM: “Jesus,” Hannah mutters.

“Huh. You could give a boob job with that,” remarks Courtney.

Ginger puts her nose ‘back.’

“I can make myself look different, like I said. Turn myself into something scary, maybe, or just a different face.”

Emmett: Em nods thoughtfully. “I bet you could. Might be handy.”

When the elevator door opens, he follows the pair to their room. “Do you think you two could stir up some drama between them, once we get inside? Probably better if she’s alone.”

GM: The three say they can try.

The pair make their way upstairs to a hotel suite that might be the lap of luxury in the real world. Here it looks like the kind of place homeless drug addicts might go to sleep. More rot, dust, and decay. Sami pours the man a stale-looking drink from a grimy bottle, flirts some more, and pushes him onto a rotted and threadbare couch. They kiss. They fondle.

Then she sinks fangs into his neck.

The man shudders with pleasure. He moans and tells her she’s incredible.

Sami just drinks.

And drinks.

And drinks.

Red smears her lips. Em can make out that color.

She doesn’t let so much as a drop go to waste.

He doesn’t think he’s ever seen a more perfect illustration of what either of them is.

Emmett: “Oh,” he says. “That’s interesting.”

He should be surprised. But somehow, it just makes sense.

If anything, he’s jealous.

Of course. Of course she gets to be sexy and beautiful and a vampire. Dammit.

GM: “They’re… everywhere,” Ginger mutters.

Emmett: He sighs and claps. Slowly.

He tries again. Maybe the voice is too obvious.

But somehow he thinks the sound of a slow, slow clap might work better, bleeding across the gulf that separates them.

GM: Sami ignores the sound completely.

Emmett: “Ah, guess my party tricks don’t work in the real world,” he pouts. “Let’s see if I can try something else.”

He glances at the large-looking TV in her room. It’s shattered, here, but probably not in the real world. He’s always liked TVs. He tries to make it talk.

Sami, he tries to make it say. I missed you.

And boy, does it.

The television bursts alive. It’s not the usual hotel channel, the usual scenic overlooks of New Orleans and snapshots of Mardi Gras festivities. Instead, it opens on the news. Isaiah White.

“Great weather today, but not so much in the Shadowlands. Emmett Delacroix says he misses you, Sami. He misses you very, very much, even if you are a vampire now. Next, is the new Action Bill and the Danger Squad movie the hottest show in town: or liberal propaganda?”

Static flickers. Eyes the color of coal stare out at her. Then Isaiah White keeps talking about the movie, and how ‘blackwashing’ is just the latest Hollywood trend among left-leaning producers.

GM: Sami pauses in mid-drink. A low growl goes up from her throat, like a cat’s.

The man underneath her moans.

“C’mon, don’t stop!”

There’s a second growl, then Sami buries her face in the man’s neck. The slurping noises are faster, ruder, and there’s discomfort now to the man’s cries. Sami pulls open some of his clothes, licks the wound, then pulls back and say perfunctorily, “Get out.”

“What—just like that?” the man scoffs.

“Just like that. Get the fuck out of my suite.”

“Hey, baby, don’t be-”

Out,” Sami snarls, and there’s a feral cast to her eyes that seems to give the man pause.

He gets out.

Sami looks back at the TV.

Her fangs protrude.

“Come out, now. We’re alone.”

Emmett: He tries to, the way he did in front of his mother. Tries to squeeze himself into being, like he’s wringing a tube of toothpaste where he’s the blue stuff.

He wafts out of the TV like it’s about to start shooting sparks. He floats slightly above the floor, almost on tiptoe. His arm is probably the first thing she notices. It’s hard to miss.

But then, so is his smile. It’s sharper than it was in life.

Maybe not quite as sharp as hers, though.

He waves softly with his dead hand.

‘Hi,’ he mouths.

GM: The vampire looks at him.

“Heard in the news how you died.”

Emmett: He shrugs.

GM: “Figures this would happen.”

Emmett: He gestures at her. Raises an eyebrow.

GM: “Yeah,” she says.

“It suits me.”

Emmett: He nods.

GM: “Could’ve suited you, I think.”

Emmett: He looks pained. Crosses his heart. Then waves a hand over himself and shrugs.

GM: “What it is, I guess.”

“You popping in just to say hi?”

Emmett: He shakes his head. Points to himself. Then to her. Links his hands together.

He tries to conjure a white flag. If he succeeds, he waves it around a little.

GM: The room’s colors suddenly fade. Everything is black, white, and rotting again. Em no longer feels like he’s slogging through molasses.

Sami looks around.

“Your reception’s breaking up,” she says dryly.

Emmett: He sighs and conjures the flag again. Sees if she can see it.

GM: She stares ahead blankly.

Emmett: Isaiah White stares out of the screen again. “It’s expensive to make long-distance calls. Do you want a friendly ghost of your very own?”

Static makes his voice jump. It sort of seems to smile in the middle of the screen.

GM: Sami looks back at the screen, then walks away. She walks back with a pen and piece of printer paper. She sets it on the table and writes out all the letters of the alphabet, then finally the words ‘yes’ and ‘no.’

Emmett: “Clever girl,” Em says aloud. “Hannah, you want to—“

GM: “You’re doing the same tricks as me, honestly,” says Hannah.

Emmett: “Hmm. Not sure I can play Ouiji.”

GM: “Lets you spell out things you can’t say, right?” says Hannah.

Sami leaves the pen on the impromptu board and looks around.

Emmett: He tries rolling it over to the ‘yes.’

GM: “Yes, what?” Sami asks expectantly at the pen’s movement.

Emmett: Pinching his nose, Em starts spelling.

W-a-n-t-r-v-n-g-e, he writes.

C-s-h-M-n-y.

GM: Sami rolls her eyes.

“He refuse to keep selling you coke after you couldn’t pay?”

Emmett: H-a-h-a

He pauses a moment and writes, c-u-t-o-f-f-m-y-l-e-g-s

GM: Sami looks at the improvised board’s message.

He doesn’t see a whole lot of sympathy.

“Boo hoo. I’ve wanted to kill him since 2007.”

Emmett: I-k-n-o-w

s-o-l-e-t-s

GM: She rolls her eyes again.

“You think I wouldn’t have by now if it were that easy?”

Emmett: y-o-u-l-e-t-m-e-l-i-v-e

GM: There’s a black look on the vampire’s face as her lips pull back from her fangs.

“Uh, wrong button?” says Courtney.

Emmett: s-c-r-t-c-h_m-y-b-a-c-k

GM: “What the fuck can you do that’s even useful?” she snaps. “You can’t even send a message from beyond without my help.”

Emmett: i-l-l-s-c-r-t-c-h-y-r-s

He looks at Hannah and says, “A demonstration?”

GM: She looks unsure. “Okay, what are you thinking?”

Emmett: “Move something. Break a lamp, or something.”

Meanwhile he writes, i-c-a-n-w-a-t-c-h

s-p-y

s-c-a-r-e

h-a-u-n-t

b-o-o

GM: “I can’t really break things,” Hannah admits. “Just… what you did. Let them see me for a bit.”

Emmett: “What else can you do? Try something.”

Aren’t you glad you got rid of Turner for us?

GM: Yep. It was funny.

Funny how bunched up your panties are.

Emmett: Em chuckles. “My Shadow’s trying to be cute, guys. He thinks we need to scare her to make a point.”

GM: “I dunno how much we can scare a vampire,” Ginger frowns.

“Yeah. She’s… not doing what other people did,” says Hannah. “I tried to appear, in front of someone. She just lost her mind.”

Emmett: Em bites his lip. “Well, any kind of theatrics can help make a point.” He rubs his nose.

GM: “Scaring people is easy. Maybe you missed what’s in my mouth,” says Sami with another eye roll. “But spying. That could be useful, if you don’t fuck it up. There’s some other licks who’ve made that work with ghosts.”

“Giovannini?” frowns Hannah.

Emmett: I-do-m-i-s-s-ur-m-o-u-t-h

“Maybe. Probably.”

w-h-a-t-w-o-u-l-d-u-l-i-k-e

GM: “Don’t really do that anymore,” Sami says. “Fucking is just going through the motions. Eating is sex now.”

Emmett: h-o-t

GM: “Wonder how many ghosts she’s made,” says Hannah.

“She’s on our side. Ish,” shrugs Courtney.

Emmett: w-h-o-n-e-e-d-s-t-o-b-e-w-a-t-c-h-e-d

“I’ve made ghosts,” Em says quietly. “Way I see it, on this side of the grave we take what we can get.”

“And like she said. She has reason to hate Cash Money. She can be talked into helping, I think.”

He looks over at Hannah. “Or helping your mom. If you want her involved with that.”

GM: “It feels like there’s some touchy history there,” says Ginger.

“Maybe…” Hannah responds to Em’s question. She stares at Sami a bit longer.

“I feel like she’s better at fucking people than helping them,” observes Courtney.

“Yeah,” agrees Hannah. “But at least we’ve got lots of people we want to fuck, right?”

“His name’s Henri Astride,” says Sami thoughtfully.

Emmett: “Any bullies you want to get back?” Em asks, half-jokingly.

GM: “He’s always getting into trouble.”

Emmett: Then he turns back to Sami, his attention rapt.

GM: “Fucking things up. Kinda like you.”

“Sorry. Lot like you.”

Emmett: h-u-m-a-n

GM: “A lick.” She clarifies after a moment, “Vampire.”

Emmett: “Ooh, I like that word,” Em says.

f-r-i-e-n-d

f-o-e

GM: “They had nicknames,” nods Ginger.

Emmett: f-u-c-k

GM: “Complicated,” Sami just says. “Spy on him. Get me some dirt on him, without stirring up more shit. And I’ll scratch your back.”

Emmett: o-u-r-b-a-c-k-s

“I’ve heard of this guy,” Em mutters. “Haitian. Organized crime connection. Murderer. Psycho. Actually, makes sense he’s a vamp.”

He looks over his shoulder, abashed. “I had an interesting life.”

GM: “Sounds like a real charmer,” says Hannah.

“Sounds like another guy,” says Courtney.

Sami eyes the seemingly empty room.

Emmett: “He’s both,” Em says simply.

GM: “Your backs, then,” she says.

Emmett: The pen lies still on the table. “Okay,” Em says, cracking his knuckles, taking pleasure in being able to make a noise he never could in life. “I can go vamp-watching for the rest of the night. Do you three want to stay here? Maybe on her?”

GM: “How you figure that?” asks Courtney. “Doesn’t seem like we can enjoy room service. Or that staff’d much care if we camped out in a room.”

“Going out on our own seems dangerous,” says Ginger.

“We can tell time, though.” Hannah. “I can ask her when it is.”

Emmett: “I’m fine with company or not, just want to know where everybody is, or at least where we’re going to be.”

“Why don’t you?” he asks Hannah.

GM: Hannah stares a moment, then the pencil asks,

W-h-a-t-t-i-m-e-i-s-i-it

“Little after 10,” says Sami. “You miss the clock?”

The room has a clock. The face is smashed and the hands are still.

Emmett: “I think I can find Astride by midnight, especially if he’s less bright than a human, like her,” Em says. “I don’t think we should all go. And besides. Might be good for one of us to stay with her. Dirt goes both ways.”

GM: Courtney nods at that thought. “How dumb is she?”

Emmett: “I mean her aura. Or whatever. That glow.”

He chuckles, amused. “You think she’s dumb?”

GM: Courtney shakes her head. “Was wondering why you did, actually. The ouija board was quick thinking.”

“What if she leaves?” asks Hannah.

Emmett: “She wasn’t smart enough to cut me out of her life,” Em says seriously. “But other than that, Sami always had a brain.”

“I imagine you would follow her,” Em says a little dryly. “But I also get wanting to stay here, if it’s safer. Presumably, she’ll come back here before the sun comes out, unless TV lies. We can meet here at sunup and decide how we want to spend the day, then.”

GM: “Yeah, that occurred to me,” the other ghost counters. “I’m just wondering if she’ll come back here. You and me are the only ones who can talk with her. So if you’re spying on the vampire, we’d all have to follow her. And in Dracula the count isn’t burned by sunlight. He just loses his powers.”

“Didn’t know that,” remarks Ginger.

“It’s a good book,” replies Hannah.

“Have confab on your own time,” says Sami. “I’ve got places to be.”

Emmett: Em shrugs. “We can meet back here, regardless. Fourteen stories of hard-to-miss. I’m really fine with whatever. But she’s about to scram, so let’s decide.”

GM: Hannah moves the pen.

A-r-e-y-o-u-c-o-m-i-n-g-b-a-c-k-h-e-r-e?

“Probably.”

Ginger looks out through the half-translucent, smoke-like walls. “Honestly, I wouldn’t mind staying here. Just doing nothing for a while. I’m… beat.”

“Okay, then I’ll stay too so we can tell time,” says Hannah.

Emmett: “There’s sense in that, then,” Em agrees. “I’ve got some energy, though. Courtney, do you want to come with me, stay, or follow our long-toothed friend?”

GM: “I think someone should follow her,” Courtney nods. “I’ll do it. Not like we need to talk with her when we’re spying.”

Emmett: “Okay, ladies,” Em says, doffing a hat he didn’t have a moment ago. “Good luck and fair weather, and all that. I’ll see you with the sun.”


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Caroline II
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Story Twelve, Caroline II

“Much tidier just to kill her, ma’am.”
Roger Ferris


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Caroline: There’s much to be done, like there always is. Caroline heads out into the night to meet with the seneschal’s servants.

GM: Kâmil informs her that he called Congo while she was occupied. He has been unable to locate the bishop.

“His Excellency is known for his dislike of electronic communications.”

Caroline: “One can hardly blame him, but we have lost much of the night already,” Caroline observes.

GM: “Yes. Herald Congo says we are to begin without His Excellency.”

Caroline: The Ventrue runs her tongue across her fangs in contemplation. “Then we will do so in the least obtrusive way to his domain for as long as is possible. I’ve given thought to your words, regarding the Krewe of Janus. I would not ignore the resources they present in this matter.”

“It is my intention to frame Claire’s death as the byproduct of an interaction between two or more medications. Doing so will require the coroner’s office to sign off on that conclusion following an autopsy that cannot happen, a paper trail of prescriptions and medical records, and ideally someone deserving to take the ‘fall’ as it were for their malpractice.”

“I can arrange most of these matters, but it would be… easier, and less cumbersome if they were willing or able to exercise their influence at Tulane Medical to support that narrative.”

GM: “A prudent course, bayan, to provide your family an outlet for their grief.”

Caroline: “It’s a believable narrative, one less convenient for our purpose than the typical accident. Perhaps enough to muddy her death for her allies.”

GM: “Less convenient, but perhaps more efficacious, bayan. Gisèlle or I may both secure an audience with Regent Harlequin or Mr. Gremillion.”

“As our master does not wish your true lineage revealed, either of us may attend in your place, if you wish, and present you as a servant of His Majesty in this matter. Your involvement is plausible given your known relation to and continued involvement with the family.”

Caroline: “As well as my status as a tenant under the seneschal?” Caroline fills in as much as asks. “It seems wiser if I am involved to meet with Regent Harlequin, which opens other doors to complication.”

GM: The ghoul nods. “Regent Harlequin and his broodmate are equally known for their powers of induction.”

Caroline: She nods. “Better to keep distance for now, until the prince and seneschal have made their arrangements and desires known.”

GM: The ghoul assents to this, and says he will (if Caroline desires) seek to schedule an audience with the regent tomorrow night, so that Caroline may see him without delay—should the prince and seneschal also approve of such.

Caroline: Caroline recommends instead he seek a meeting with the regent’s ghoul tomorrow during the day, asserting that they’ve lost a significant amount of time already, and that a day meeting will attract less attention while also allowing them to move forward before Claire is reported missing. Caroline does not expect the latter will hold another full day into night.

GM: Kâmil states he shall do so.

Caroline: She inquires as to what Gisèlle discovered with the family’s security.

GM: The casquette girl merely points at the singled-out guards.

Images flood Caroline’s mind. She sees one of the two, a shaved-headed and midnight-skinned man, bending to drink from the wrist of a pallid figure with a crooked smirk.

She knows that man. René Baristheaut.

Caroline: It’s remarkable, she reflects briefly, how infrequently she ever knew the man that hunted her as his childe.

She contains the impulsive over reaction. She knows that René was recruiting shooters prior to his capture and final death. It’s not shocking that shooters from that same limited pool would find their way into other work.

GM: The other figure Gisèlle points at is a short-haired woman with a blank expression. Caroline sees her lying in a bed, her belly simultaneously swollen and deflated, screaming a soul-deep wail.

Bullets gorily mow down young women who look like Caroline’s new sisters. The older woman does not rush to their sides, but sticks her gun in her mouth and pulls the trigger.

Caroline: The Ventrue flinches at that image, jerking her head away sharply. It replays again and again, and a scowl works its way across her face. Scum. Filth. Pretending to protect her sisters.

She’ll clean house soon enough. Tonight they’re not important, not if the girls are staying home.

“The Giani Building,” she instructs Green as she climbs back into the SUV.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline runs several ideas past the elder ghouls as they ride past.

She expects that the sooner Claire’s body is discovered, the better, but she’s fair from certain as to the best method of arranging that discovery. Ideally she would leave the body in her hotel room, staged to look as though she’d passed in her sleep, or in the bathroom, or elsewhere in keeping with the narrative that some medication interaction had ended her life. Given that the hotel is in the French Quarter however, Caroline suspects doing so would be…. unwise. She’s open to possible suggestion on how else to frame such a thing, suggesting perhaps the idea that it could be during a visit with her half-brother Luke, though doing so would infringe on the bishop’s domain more explicitly and require more… aggressive efforts to ensure he interpreted events the ‘right’ way

GM: Kâmil agrees the French Quarter is undesirable. He is unfamiliar with what homes the various members of the Malveaux family own, but perhaps there is a suitable one within the prince’s territory?

Gisèlle remains as silent as before.

Caroline: Caroline nods, observing that Luke is both a logical individual for her to visit in the city, more easily accessible to Caroline than other members of the family, and that his apartment is in the CBD.

GM: “A potentially efficacious solution, then, bayan,” the ghoul concurs.

Caroline: Caroline is pleased the elder ghoul agrees with her plans, but after musing for a moment directs ‘Ms. Green’ to take them to Ericson’s home, rather than back to the Giani Building.

Her mandate from the seneschal was to put her affairs in order and to clean up the mess with Claire. The former requires more personal attention than the latter—at least until the Krewe is involved.

GM: It’s a 13-minute drive from the Walter Robinson House to New Orleans’ Lakeview neighborhood, where Autumn previously informed Caroline that her ghoul’s family had purchased a home. That makes the third time she’s been to the area recently.

Lakeview-13.jpg
Lakeview is an affluent suburban neighborhood situated on the southern edge of Lake Lake Pontchartrain, far north of the city’s downtown hub. A steady rain plunks against the dark lake’s rippling surface. Staring into that black expanse is like staring off the edge of the world.

A decade ago, those edges overflowed. Dozens of homes clustered right against Pontchartrain’s waterfront made Lakeview one of the worst-flooded areas in the city during Katrina. Rebuilding efforts were a much higher priority in the upper-income, majority-white neighborhood than the Ninth Ward, however. Caroline could hardly guess that Pontchartrain’s hungry black waters once devoured everything her car drives past. Now, the neighborhood is merely still and peaceful after having bedded down for the night. Golf courses sit empty, and no ice cream trucks, dogs being walked, or tricycle-riding children are visible on the vacant streets. Rows and rows of seemingly cloned McMansion houses endlessly stretch sideways and behind Caroline, stopping only at the edge of the lake. It doesn’t even feel like she is in New Orleans. There are identical development lots to this one in countless other suburbs throughout the country.

Nerea Ericson’s house at 7461 Jade Street isn’t as palatial or close to the waterfront as Uncle Matt’s and Aunt Vera’s (these days, really just Vera’s) 12,000-square-foot mansion. But it belongs to a family whose spouses clearly both make six-figure incomes. It’s a two-story brick affair with a rear courtyard, family-friendly backyard, and two trees growing directly in front of the house in a distinctive little touch.

Lakeview-13.jpg
Lakeview-13.jpg
Lakeview-13.jpg
Caroline: The Ventrue first tries calling the fencer turned lawyer. Most attorneys keep their phones on for client emergencies—and such calls are not so unusual, even if they aren’t terrible common.

GM: It’s as she’s pulling out her phone that Gisèlle points to another car not so far away from theirs. Roger Ferris and Brett Goodman are inside.

Caroline: The Ventrue gets out of their SUV and walks over to Ferris’.

GM: She does so a few moments before Ferris also does. The ex-CIA agent is to the point. “Brett and I are here to kidnap her children, ma’am.”

Caroline: Caroline arches an eyebrow. “No doubt with good reason.”

GM: “I’ve been looking into your people. Too many of them aren’t loyal or trustworthy. Ericson’s near at the top of that list.”

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t argue the point, and instead gestures to the interior of his vehicle to discuss the matter, vice the street.

GM: The ex-CIA agent has been whispering, but assents after reminding her that Goodman is ignorant of the existence of vampires. The former con artist greets Caroline cheekily but gets down to business at his boss’ direction. Ferris explains his plan to cement Ericson’s loyalty by “recovering” her children after an apparent kidnapping. She will likely be profusely grateful to Caroline.

Secondary objectives include getting her “accustomed” to working alongside Caroline’s people as part of the recovery efforts. “Rabinowitz says she doesn’t play well with the others.”

The kidnapping can be blamed on anyone they’d find convenient to inflame Ericson’s ire against. Ferris wants to foster a siege mentality of “us against the world” within the former Olympian. He wants Ericson to feel like the only people she can trust and rely on are Caroline’s.

“We’ll let her stew for a while after the children go missing. She can go to the police and get frustrated when they don’t do anything. She’ll come to us on her own time.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her teeth. “You think that superior to the alternative?”

GM: “People like Ericson get investigated when they turn up missing or dead, ma’am. It’s already going to be all hands on deck covering up your stepmother. I’d also sooner retain her as an asset than not.”

Caroline: “That’s dark, Roger,” she observes. “I’d simply meant fired, with anything especially sensitive deleted ahead of that.”

GM: “What’s deleted can be recovered, ma’am. I’d sooner tie up loose ends. How many of your associates know she’s yours?”

Caroline: “Too many,” she admits. “Though we could make her relocation a precondition. Few of them, I think, have reach beyond the South. I don’t need—and can’t afford—disloyal people.”

GM: Ferris nods. “She’ll probably get stubborn over uprooting her life again, but it’s nothing we can’t overcome.”

Caroline: “The hardest part would be a replacement with similar skills, but I intend on cleaning house now as is. Bishop’s loyalty was always tenuous, and Ms. Morrow’s likewise.”

GM: “You could bring in one of the other attorneys. We’ll do it right this time. But none of them are also Olympic fencers. Doubt we’ll ever find a replacement with the same skillset.”

Caroline: “True, but similarly, few have the same vulnerabilities that she does. Her family—and their ignorance—will always be a weakness someone else could exploit just as we can.”

GM: “We could get rid of them. Most of your people have someone in their lives though. Rabinowitz has her family. Widney has her grandmother. Fuller his girlfriend. Green her daughter. Tracking them down isn’t hard. Rabinowitz wishes she’d thought to use a pseudonym after she was first brought in. Learned that lesson too late.”

Caroline: “One perhaps we can pay forward to the next batch. Still, Ericson is uniquely…. troublesome for the combination of young children and willful husband. She’s fighting two wars.”

GM: “Only people of yours who don’t have anyone are Bishop and Morrow. And I suppose Goodman.”

“Hey, I have lots of people,” the con artist smirks. “But none tying me down, no ma’am.”

Caroline: Caroline knows very well just what kind of people Goodman has, and what kind he’d like to have. Or specifically who he’d like to have.

GM: “Ericson does have more dependents than they do, though,” Ferris continues without replying to Goodman. “The children consume a lot of her time and attention. She’d be more useful if it was just the husband. Killing them could unhinge her though. A spouse is easier to lose. Cleaner to just send them away. The kidnapping could convince her that’s in their best interests.”

Caroline: “He could be valuable on his own,” Caroline muses.

GM: “I’ve looked at his record. Fencing and a professional career. His wife’s isn’t substantially better. I don’t think it’s in our best interests to remove him. An adult spouse is less impediment to Ericson’s usefulness than two young children.”

Caroline: “I rather meant bringing him into the fold might be easier, generate less potential resentment… or perhaps not. I don’t know how that would affect their dynamic at home.” The two elder ghouls might have thoughts on the matter, though…

GM: “It could more fully cement their loyalty to you, ma’am, if they were both working for you directly. And keep their own relationship more stable. Not many married people like being unable to share their full life with their spouse.”

“If we’re getting them to send away their children, though, largest challenge is convincing them not to simply move away too.”

Caroline: “Is that why you have three ex-wives?” Caroline asks, half seriously.

GM: “Partly,” Ferris answers, fully seriously. “They weren’t part of my work. Didn’t know that world. They didn’t have sympathy after I bitched for long enough.”

“All in how you do it,” Goodman smirks.

“Brett, if there’s one thing you know absolutely nothing about, it’s married life.”

The smirk doesn’t slip. “Won’t argue there.”

Caroline: The moment of levity is a welcome relief from the dark subject at hand.

She waits a moment for the smirk to slip. “I don’t object to your conclusions or plans in principle. In this case, however, given… well, many factors, including the timing and other matters likely to attract attention and require significant resources, I’m going to take an alternative option.”

She continues, “I intend on dismissing Bishop and Morrow. I’d like consideration on replacements in the firm—my initial leaning is Ms. Bowden. I assume you spoke with Autumn regarding other difficulties with the rest of my staff. If not, do so. I’d like plans on ways forward with each of the problems she’s raised.”

GM: “I have, ma’am. I had several conclusions.”

“First, people need to be brought in with more care than previous ones. They need to be made loyal through normal means in addition to your special incentives. They need to be instilled with a sense of hierarchy and acclimated to how this sort of life works. If they’re employed or otherwise financially dependent on you, that’s preferable.”

“Many of your people have military or law enforcement backgrounds that already instill respect for hierarchy, which is reinforced by your status as their employer. When they don’t have that, like Morrow or Ercison, they need to be broken in. Like Rabinowitz already was.”

“She says there are associates of yours, and some associates of hers, who specialize in that. For a nominal fee, they can take any person and make them properly receptive to your expectations. I was and remain concerned about potential tampering and issues of trustworthiness. Rabinowitz says it’s not a significant issue or the market wouldn’t exist. I’d nevertheless be more comfortable with associates of Rabinowitz’s than associates of yours, should you choose to enlist an outsider’s services.”

Caroline: “Interesting, from within her own demographic?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Yes. She said a number of them are independent, and want the sort of payment you can imagine.”

Caroline: “Short-term or long-term?”

GM: “She said that depends how long you enlist their services for. Obviously, the more broken-in you want someone, the longer it takes. And I’m sure they’re like lawyers who’ll find any excuse to bill extra.”

“She said the trade-off is they’re less reputed than associates from your own demographic. They take longer and can’t break someone as completely.”

Caroline: “I expect she recommended Ms. Widney for that sort of conditioning?”

GM: “She thinks Widney is untrustworthy and should be liquidated as an asset. In lieu of that, she recommended Widney for conditioning too.”

Caroline: “Who else?”

GM: “Ercison. Morrow, if we keep her. Bishop’s a special case.”

Caroline: “Bishop is unlikely worth the effort,” Caroline observes.

GM: “So far as him. You only need one attorney who’s fully brought in. Anything more is redundant and presents an opportunity cost. I don’t need to remind you the number of people you can fully bring in is limited.”

“Ercison or Bishop need to go. Ercison’s asset is her fencing experience. You won’t find many other lawyers with that. Bishop’s assets are his experience, which is more extensive than Rabinowitz’s. He has no family ties, though with some work we could get rid of Ercison’s. He lastly has knowledge of his prior employer. I’m not sure how useful an asset that still is.”

“Bowden lacks Bishop’s experience and Ericson’s fencing skill. I don’t see her offering anything beyond a clean slate.”

Caroline: “He is, unfortunately, not trustworthy,” Caroline points out.

GM: “Neither’s Ericson. We have to work on either of them. We’d need to condition Bowden too, if you wanted her. That’s happening no matter which lawyer.”

“Wait, Bowden? Denise Bowden?” asks Goodman.

“I didn’t think you knew many lawyers,” says Ferris. But his tone doesn’t sound surprised.

“I think I might have banged her once,” says Goodman. “Yeah, I’m positive I did. The lawyer chick who gets around with everybody.”

Caroline: “Truly your conquests are legendary,” Caroline replies dryly.

GM: “Nah, those are my other ones. That Bowden chick really gets around. She wasn’t hard.”

Caroline: “She’d hardly be the first of my employees you’d slept with,” Caroline observes more pointedly.

GM: “Oh really? Who was the other one? Or ones.” Goodman grins. “Pretty easy for me to lose track.”

Caroline: “Back to the point, Ericson brings the most to the table, but that’s also true in baggage. Bishop brings less, and Bowden the least of all three. What was your feeling on Widney?”

GM: “Interlinked with my feelings on Rabinowitz. I’ve begun instituting a hierarchy among your people. ‘Palace intrigue’ has been rampant. Widney and Rabinowitz both think they’re your right hand. Or should be your right hand. They’re jealous, insecure, and hate each other.”

“Rabinowtz has been sabotaging Widney and setting her up for failure. Widney has been refusing to listen to Rabinowitz’s experience and implement her suggestions. The latter is partly Rabinowitz’s fault. Widney might be more receptive to input if she felt she could trust it. She considers everything from Rabinowitz suspect, and not without basis.”

“Widney’s also been telling her grandmother too much. Rabinowitz said so and Widney confirmed it. I haven’t had time to find out the full details of what she’s been spilling. I don’t think it’s as bad as Rabinowitz claims. She has a reputation as a good butler. Client confidentiality seems important to her. But I can see things slipping past.”

Caroline: “One needs to go,” Caroline summarizes. “It sounds as though the relationship is too poisoned to fix.”

GM: Ferris considers. “I thought about that. Both are considerable assets. Be a pain to lose either.”

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement.

GM: “Their bad blood is a chink in our armor, though. It needs to get fixed before somebody exploits it. Or one of them gets rid of the other.”

Caroline: “Widney’s problems don’t all go away with Autumn. Autumn, I fear, would express the same hostility to anyone she perceived as replacing her,” Caroline observes.

GM: “Widney has an ingrained sense of professionalism and respect for her employer. I think it’s simply that expectations on what she is and isn’t allowed to talk about haven’t been made sufficiently clear. Might take orchestrating the grandmother’s death and leading her to believe it’s her fault. Might also just take a lecture.”

“As far as their respective assets. Widney has financial expertise and can ably coordinate the daily and nightly administration of a lot of things. In a pinch, we could get by without her, but that’s not desirable in the long term.”

“Rabinowitz does cover-ups, which you’re always going to need someone for. The media relations thing is you throwing her a bone.”

Caroline: “She has to grow,” Caroline justifies.

GM: “She does. I think you’re right to have tossed it. But it’s not a developed asset that factors into your immediate decision whether to keep or liquidate her.”

“Before my people and I joined yours, I’d have said Rabinowitz was indispensable to you. That’s no longer the case. We can do cover-ups. She also has experience that we don’t. In time, we’ll acquire that, and she may eventually become fully redundant. But until we do, she’s more useful than any of my existing people.”

“Always nice to know you care, boss,” Goodman smirks, though he doesn’t sound the least bit surprised.

“She also has connections to other people from her demographic that none of your other people do,” Ferris continues. “I’m not sure those are replaceable. But I’m also not sure how directly useful they are to you, either. I think she’s been ‘slow’ about introducing your other people around. I’d do that too if I was her. And less professional, of course.”

He might be joking.

Caroline: “Honestly, I’d rather keep both. I guess the operative question is whether you feel your structural changes can get a handle on the two.”

GM: Ferris thinks.

“Structural changes should help. Your liquidating the less useful people should send a message too. Rabinowitz told me about Rivera, but that was different.”

Caroline: “He crossed a line,” Caroline agrees. “Several, really.”

“And I mishandled it from the start,” she admits.

GM: “Morrow, Ericson, and Bishop present similar problems to his. But we’re dealing with them preemptively this time.”

“I’ll see what I can do so far as getting Widney and Rabinowiz to play nice. I’ll bug their phones in case they get ideas. Or have any. Anything you can think to do yourself, do it. Bad blood like that doesn’t go away easy. I can be a lot of things to them, but I won’t ever be you.”

Caroline: “We’ll see. I’m told I may not be immediately available for an indeterminate amount of time following the resolution of this matter.”

GM: “Oh, who’s telling you that?” asks Goodman.

Caroline: “Something comparable to a very high profile internship,” Caroline clarifies, both for Ferris and Goodman, but for very different reasons.

GM: “Oh, congrats. You’d been pretty on the outs,” he remarks.

Caroline: The understatement of the year.

GM: “Speaking of bugged phones. You should consider fully bringing in Ramsey,” Ferris pivots. “You know as well as me what she’s had access to. She’s personally loyal and financially dependent, but I wouldn’t feel bad about another leash on her. There’s a lot that a cybersecurity expert might do for you.”

Caroline: “The thought had occurred to me,” Caroline agrees. “More a question of how and where resources are spent though. Physical security has eaten a lot to date, and I expect it to eat more going forward.”

GM: “Moving up in the world means you should have to solve fewer problems with physical violence. I’ll take Ramsey on my team over another heavy hitter any day.”

Ferris glances out the window towards the sleeping house.

“For another day. Brett and I were going to leave with Ericson’s children unless you want to belay that.”

Caroline: “Hold on that one,” Caroline decides after a moment. “The timing, after her refusal to respond may seem too coincidental. Let me speak with her. If it goes well, that’s a new opportunity without the poisoned fruit at the start. If not… well… that problem resolves itself.”

GM: “I don’t think you’ll be able to turn her loyal just by talking, ma’am. But as you say.”

Caroline: “I don’t either,” Caroline agrees, darkness in her blue eyes.

GM: The phone rings. Not many people would answer a phone call this late, but as Caroline well knows, attorneys are among those few.

“Mf… Caroline…?” grogs Ericson’s voice.

Caroline: “We need to talk, Nerea.” The Ventrue’s tone isn’t imperious, isn’t angry. It’s just… tired. Maybe disappointed.

“Meet me outside.”

GM: Caroline can picture Ericson tiredly running a hand over her face. “What is it… that can’t wait ’til morning?”

“Evening,” she amends.

Caroline: “I’ll be waiting on the porch,” Caroline answers. “I met you more than halfway on this one.”

GM: There’s a tired sigh.

“Caroline, it’s 4 AM. On this what?”

Caroline: “Don’t make me let myself in.” Caroline hangs up.

GM: Time passes. Ericson doesn’t come out.

Caroline: Caroline takes the time to quickly check the porch for a spare key in the usual spots: under the mat, above the door frame, in the potted plants.

Sometimes it is that easy. She remembers Jessica once telling her a huge percentage of the burglaries she saw involved a key.

GM: Apparently, it is that easy. The key is under the welcome mat.

“You shoulda let me talk to her,” Brett had smirked.

The house isn’t entirely bereft of security, though. A Cadabra Ring video doorbell watches the vampire, or at least tries to, with an unblinking black eye.

The lights inside the home are off. Caroline can make out a tastefully decorated interior with various smarthome amenities like an Alexa light switch and digital thermostat. A few stray children’s toys litter the floor around the living room couch.

Caroline: Caroline leaves her retainers behind as she enters the home. The darkness is no impediment to her.

She reflects on how rarely she’s had cause to visit any of her ghouls’ homes.

GM: Never, in fact, until now.

Caroline: She stalks forward in search of her wayward servant.

GM: Caroline’s search of the house eventually finds Ericson fast asleep in a bedroom by herself.

Caroline: That’s interesting.

But not that surprising, she admits to herself. Being someone’s ghoul can’t be healthy for relationships.

It bites the edge off her anger over Ericson ignoring her.

GM: The sleep mask-wearing woman breathes softly in her sleep.

Caroline: Caroline watches her for a moment before approaching, taking in the room, its details. Whether the other half of the bed looks rumpled, whether there’s anything on the other nightstand.

GM: The king-sized bed has room for two, but is occupied by only one. Ericson still sleeps mostly on the right. The left is unrumpled. Each side of the bed has an adjacent table, but the one on the left is bare.

Caroline: She moves over to the ghoul and lays a hand on her shoulder.

GM: “Wha, whazzit, hon…” she groggily starts.

Caroline: “This isn’t a good look,” she tells Ericson quietly, standing over the ghoul.

GM: It takes a moment, but then her former fencing partner pulls off the mask, switches on the bedside lamp, and stares in bewilderment.

“What the fuck are you doing in my house!”

Caroline: “Well, you wouldn’t met me at mine, or outside,” she answers calmly. “That left relatively few options.”

GM: Ericson stares at her. “You’re crossing a huge line. Get out.”

Caroline: “You don’t even know what the lines are,” Caroline answers. “But then, that’s why I’m here.”

She steps back and gestures to the empty bed. “That’s new.”

GM: Ericson’s stare hardens. “Get out of my house. I’m not asking again.”

Caroline: “Stop it,” Caroline snaps, a hint of anger peaking out. “You have all the power of a child arguing with their parent—which is to say only the power to throw a tantrum, and I’m in no further mood to humor you.”

GM: Ericson gets out bed, pulls out a sword from one of the dressers, and levels it at Caroline.

Caroline: “Do you want out?” Caroline asks bluntly staring into the ghoul’s eyes and regarding the sword-wielding woman with all the concern that she might a child with a toy.

GM: Ericson makes a grab for the Ventrue.

Caroline:Freeze.” Caroline snaps out the word like a striking serpent, her will bearing down on the ghoul like a mountain.

She disarms the ghoul, commands her to remain still, and goes to explore the rest of the house.

GM: The outlines of two small children are asleep in separate bedrooms. The outline of a larger male figure is asleep in what looks like a converted guest bedroom.

Caroline: The Ventrue returns to her wayward ghoul and restrains her more conventionally, borrowing cuffs from Ferris as needed, before sitting down to discuss their future together—and apparent lack thereof.

She casually skims the ghoul’s mind as she asks about her home life, why she ignored the call this evening, and her general feelings about ‘their’ relationship, liberally applying presence as needed if the ghoul proves especially taciturn.

GM: Ericson tries to scream after Ferris arrives to cuff her down spread-eagled to the bed. She tries to shout threats, tries to burst free, and ignores all of her domitor’s questions.

Caroline’s mental scan reveals feelings of outrage, anger, and increasing fear that are rapidly overpowering the blood bond’s instilled fixation.

Nascent feelings of lust and attraction burn shamefully underneath, too, like smothered coals.

Ferris tsks. “I still think she offers more than Bowden or Bishop, ma’am. But she needs to forget all of tonight if we’re going to make her loyal.”

Caroline: “That’s a lot of effort for someone whose life is falling to pieces and may become more unreliable. I suppose of the family was out of the way that might help. Car accident is the easy go to. Bang, bang. No more husband, no more children, in the way. Drunk driver,” Caroline observes, standing over the bound ghoul.

GM: Ericson’s shouted words come out as a muted, “No! No! What do you want!?”

Caroline: “Now you want to talk?” Caroline asks. “We had a similar conversation once, not that long ago. I’d hoped the bond would make you a little less strident.”

Caroline’s anger cools as Ericson becomes more willing to talk. She asks about many things. About Ericson’s home life. About what’s happened with her husband. About her desires, as they relate to Caroline, and her ghouldom.

It becomes clear in the questioning that Caroline’s inclination—and intention—is to cut Ericson loose, but also that she doesn’t want to do so haphazardly. She seems genuinely interested in the ghoul’s answers, and if she proves willing to talk, proves willing to remove restraints from the ghoul to make her more comfortable.

GM: Ericson plays along, giving Caroline whatever answers the woman who threatened her family and tied her up seems like she wants to hear. As soon as she’s untied, she physically attacks her domitor with a stifled cry.

Mortal, unarmed, and wounded from combat against other champions, the one-time Olympian was easy enough to subdue. Hale, within reach of a sword, and augmented by the Blood’s powers, she might well give the Ventrue a run for her money… if the conflict came down to one of arms. If she could even remember that her domitor can make her freeze with a word. Like the Ventrue does again. Ferris re-affixes her restraints.

Ferris thinks the ghoul has been turned completely against Caroline. If she wants “any degree of cooperation,” Ericson can’t remember any of tonight.

Further probing of Ericson’s thoughts reveals feelings of fear, hate, and outrage. The tugged and stretched blood bond appears to have finally snapped. Ercison is not accustomed to this sort of abuse. She has not been “broken in” like Autumn and other longtime ghouls.

The handcuffed, spread-eagled woman tries to shout, struggle, and whisper-scream what Caroline even wants.

“Why are you doing this!?” she cries.

Ferris repeats his assessment that Ericson could make superior ghoul to Bowden, after she’s suitably broken in (“one lawyer’s as good as another. We can get rid of the children easy enough, but we can’t turn Bowden into an Olympian”). It’s up to Caroline, though, and he adds that “Bowden isn’t damaged goods like this one.”

“I recommend mentally programming her to die in a car accident, ma’am, if we go that route. Wrong turn at a bad time.” Ericson is a partner in the firm, after all. The other lawyers need to buy her out if she’s going to leave the city. “I’ve been talking with Widney about finances. There are some significant new expenses that have come up. A partner’s severance package won’t help in paying those.” He thinks Ericson and her family will “be stubborn” at the idea of uprooting their lives all over again to move back to Atlanta. Her memories of Caroline go back months, too. And she’ll still have an inconvenient vitae addiction.

“Much tidier just to kill her, ma’am.”

Ericson’s eyes are huge with terror. She thrashes against her bonds and tries to scream.

Caroline: Caroline agrees with Ferris on all points. “Damaged goods. Too damaged. Honestly what I get for being too gentle at the start. Maybe I should have split up her family or conditioned her in the first place. A lesson learned.”

GM: “Too gentle at the start, too rough at the end,” Ferris concurs.

Caroline: She looms over the struggling woman as she states, “I want you to know this, want you to understand. Your children are going grow up without a mother because of your stupid fucking pride.”

“I came here to talk to you about giving you a way out of this life, because you seemed to hate it. Even after you pulled a sword on me, I was still planning on letting you go. I was even going to try to fix your fucked up marriage and relocate you and your family as painlessly as possible while trying to keep you from simply being snatched up by another lick.”

She glares down at the Olympian. “But you’ve made it too much damn trouble. You did this. So you can reap what you sow.”

She bores down with her will against the ghoul. “But don’t worry, you won’t remember this conversation. Any last words?”

“No, never mind. I don’t care. You’ve already shown nothing you say can be trusted.”

GM: “No! Noooooo!!! Don’t do this to them! Please! I’ll do anything! Anything!” Ericson screams, her voice shrill with panic. “Take the money! Take the severance, take it all! We’ll leave, we’ll never come back! Please!”

Caroline: “No, you won’t.”

She turns to Ferris. “Start scrubbing any evidence of this visit. Make sure you don’t miss the doorbell camera.” She doesn’t want him to watch what comes next.

The Ventrue brutally invades Ericson’s mind, smashing apart her memory of this evening’s conflict. She replaces it with an uneventful evening and plants a seed of pending commands for the ghoul’s death the following morning.

A simple thing, to take a life. So trivially simple a thing, to shatter three more. The blood on her hands runs thick and red, and when will it end? With every death, it gets easier. With every death, it seems that much more sensible practical, that much more practical, that much less of a headache.

GM: Ericson can’t stop her former fencing partner. Not with words and not with swords. The most she can get in is a final verbal riposte, spat words of final defiance, before the invisible guillotine comes thunking down:

“You were always second best to me!”

Caroline: Not anymore, Caroline silently spits back.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Caroline: It’s the little things that get her, always. That get most people, she reflects later. What was the saying: ‘a single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic?’

Even a single death, even one of someone she knows, even one that’s purely for personal gain, can seem like a statistic in a fury. When they’re snarling in your face and just won’t fucking listen to you like they damn well should. When you’re angry, and hurt, and frustrated to begin with, with your own life on the line and their obstinacy in the way. It can be a rounding error, another life crushed beneath the ineffable weight of her Requiem.

Right up until their crying child is in front of her, demanding their mother’s attention. The cries like nails on a chalkboard, like little needles into her cold dead heart. A mother she just sentenced to death for being an inconvenience.

It’s one thing to make any sacrifice for your family, or to survive, or even to make any sacrifice on the way to power.

It’s another thing to do so callously. Not because it’s unavoidable, or even difficult. But because it’s easy. Easier to be a monster to someone whom she brought here, whom she initiated so poorly into this life, and whom she’s known for years. Someone with people that depend on her.

Caroline already can barely stand to look at herself in the mirror. She’s not willing to go further. Not tonight. Not for this reason. Not because it’s the easiest option.

She tears down her buried orders from Ericson’s mind. Blurs the memory of this visit. Begins reinitiating her into the Blood. And she puts the crying child back to bed.

Later, she tells Ferris they’ll find an answer. Perhaps conditioning Ericson via one of the numerous Kindred and ghouls that might provide such a service. Perhaps slowly initiating her more deeply into the horrors of this world. Perhaps even eventually cutting her loose—there are means to wipe away more of her memory than a few nights. Those may be more available to her soon. But she does have some standards. Will have some standards. They’ve severed enough loose ends these last nights that Ericson is one they can afford to grow out. For now.

It doesn’t make her a good person, she reflects. Or even not a bad one. It just makes her a little less awful.

As awful as she needs to be.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Ferris briefly remarks as to the “efficiency” of Caroline’s mental powers on the drive back to the Giani Building. “I’d have done more than kill to have access to those when I was working for your stepmother. Or in Jordan.”

He still thinks the best answer, if they want to secure Ericson’s loyalty, is to arrange her children’s kidnapping and rescue. Gratitude can be a powerful thing. Getting accustomed to relying on Caroline even better.

He brings up several further matters during the 17 minutes in the car.

“I spoke with your sister Cécilia earlier. She mentioned the police detective who prevented Yvette’s online habits from getting her into trouble recently passed the bar exam. He’s about ten years NOPD experience. Air Force enlisted before that. She thought to offer him a job at your firm in thanks, if you were looking for more lawyers.”

“Seems to be a vacancy even if you weren’t.”

Caroline: “We’ll see.” Caroline is clearly not eager to bring in another ghoul right away, but after a moment she amends, “Build out a dossier on him, and we can schedule an interview.”

GM: “Ramsey would be my first recommendation so far as ghouls, versus employees. But as you say, ma’am.”

Caroline: “Someone read into tech has value,” Caroline agrees. “Though there’s some Kindred-specific tech stuff that has made me… well, fairly wary of trusting it, in truth.”

GM: “That’s the reason I’d recommend Ramsey, ma’am. I don’t trust it. Keeping sensitive things offline is good. But you can’t fight, or avoid, what you don’t understand.”

Caroline: Caroline offers no disagreement.

GM: “Other thing I’ve talked over with Widney is finances. You have a very big new expense.”

“My team are used to salaries. Fat salaries. They didn’t stay working for the Malveauxes because of my scintillating personality.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. “I can think of several means of offsetting it that were not previously available. Your people will get paid.”

GM: “Your bishop had your uncles fire them all after he decided to come for me. Part of his little purge. Your stepmother and I knew that was coming. He’d have killed or flipped them all if we hadn’t.”

“But everyone took a hit financially. Had to abandon lots of homes and other assets. And your stepmother by herself couldn’t pay us what the family used to.”

“I’ve been stringing them along with promises. Back pay as well as bonuses in compensation for the lean times, once we’re clear of those.”

“Your stepmother was confident she could arrange it once the bishop was out of the picture. Think she planned on using assets seized from you to help pay everyone.”

Caroline: “How typical that my inheritance from her is more problems.”

The sourness in her voice is from more than simply Ferris’ newest concern.

“Is there anything else waiting in the wings with her?”

GM: “Not that I’m aware of, ma’am. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there was.”

“I had a stepkid with one of my wives. She hated me too, by the end.”

Caroline: “She didn’t murder you, so small victories,” Caroline answers cynically. “Talk to Widney. We’ll liquidate as necessary. I lean towards all investments currently vested in Ms. Morrow as a start on satisfying those debts.”

GM: “She knew I’d have killed her if she tried,” Ferris answers humorlessly. “Her mother too. No one stays reasonable after losing a child.”

“Liquidating was one idea Widney and I talked over. We had a few others.”

Caroline: “Such as?”

GM: “First is getting people back on payroll for the Malveauxes. Simplest, though not without complications.”

Caroline: “It’s a good long-term answer, but meddling immediately sends all the wrong messages,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Yes. Have to be subtle if we did. Risk versus reward.”

“Second option is going to your mother’s family for help. She’s already putting together a security force.”

Caroline: “We’re shifting either Fuller or Green to oversight on that, as an aside,” Caroline answers. “They’re about to have some openings.”

GM: “I’d recommend Fuller. He has a level head. Green’s mouthy and doesn’t have much leadership experience.”

“Widney also thought that was a more attractive option than I did. The Devillers have some financial issues of their own.”

Caroline: “Do we?” Caroline’s blue eyes glitter.

GM: “Your stepmother had me look into them. Your other family’s been shifting a lot of money to paying off the mortgage on the LaLaurie House as fast as possible.”

“They still have a little while before they’ll own it in full. That house was a big purchase even for them.”

Caroline: “Priorities,” Caroline agrees again.

GM: “I don’t know how much they’ll be able to help so far as my people. But vacancies in their security is promising.”

“Third option is putting people on payroll for the Giani Building’s staff. Phimlee and Cleveland seem tractable. But have to be subtle there too.”

“All of my team are a big staff bump, and not typical rent-a-cops. Stand out. There’s been a lot of strangeness at the building in recent months already. Pavaghis could notice. Might have already.”

“They have a master too. Don’t know who. But your stepmother and I have looked into them. Attempts by Kindred to seize control of the family have turned ugly.”

Caroline: “There are plenty of beings that go bump in the night that aren’t part of the conventional power structure,” Caroline offers. “Reclusive elders and so forth.”

GM: “Your mother, too. Your stepmother was awfully curious what she is. Wasn’t able to have me investigate that in much depth. Always other things.”

Caroline: “That isn’t a matter that requires further investigation,” Caroline answers bluntly.

GM: Ferris seems to consider her for a moment before replying, “As you say, ma’am.”

The rest of the drive passes uneventfully. Ferris pulls the SUV into the garage alongside the one driven by Goodman and the elder ghouls.

Widney and Autumn both have things they want to talk about, but the remaining hours in the evening grow short. Kâmil and Gisèlle silently await their next directives.

Caroline: Caroline has a great deal of business with the ghouls as a whole.

The effort towards covering up her stepmother’s death continues apace. The plan remains unchanged—they’re going to stage her ‘death’ at her brother Luke’s apartment in the Central Business District following complications from a combination of medications. The location needs to be examined and prepared for the event. That includes a fair amount of groundwork being laid—walking routes for security cameras (and creating doctored footage that will stand up to scrutiny of her stepmother’s arrival), identifying points of entry and routes between the Giani Building and the apartment—much of it to be done by either ghouls or Ferris’ security team.

She’s also acutely aware of the high probability that mortal hunters are still in play with this event. She inquires of Ferris whether he was involved in the original ‘breach’ of her panic room in the earliest days of her Requiem, and if so who else was involved. If not—and even if so—she expects that Claire has at least one more unit of hunters answerable only to her that she’s kept separate from both Gettis and Ferris. Her stepmother was both cagey and canny—too much so, she estimates, to entrust either her security or her plans to an agent she repeatedly planted deep among her foes—to say nothing of decades to build such relationships.

She suggests it was probable that many of her Claire’s devices are in ‘their’ hands—and that they’ll use Claire’s death—or at least the attempt to cover it up as a means of either gaining more information, or directly counter-punching her killers. The Ventrue is acutely aware of the mortal threat presented. She dearly would like to either tease out and destroy—or tease out and compromise such a tertiary group.

For the two elder ghouls the looming meeting with the Krewe of Janus to secure their involvement in the matter is the largest immediate concern. They need the medical coordination to create a convincing paper trail. One that will stand up to examination, especially as—she admits—there’s likely to be extensive scrutiny over this matter. In particular, she expects a wrongful death suit will be filed, and that it will both settle more quickly and with less headache if the responsible parties are well-insured. The entire matter will require initial ‘first responders’ to her collapse, documentation for her arrival at the hospital, a post-mortem toxicology report, support from the coroner’s office for their ‘fake’ corpse, and so forth. The elder ghouls are quite correct that managing it all without an error slipping past her and her people—no matter how meticulously they approach it—would be a mammoth task—and that it’s only marginally less monstrous even with the Krewe’s aid.

She also proposes that when it comes time to actually plant the memory in her brother’s mind if his mother’s death, that the casquette girl might be better suited to it than Caroline. Not only will it avoid the appearance of directly meddling in her elder’s domain, she’s also happy to admit the centuries-old ghoul almost certainly has greater finesse. She has no desire to brute force such a painful memory.

There’s also the secondary matter of liquidating Ms. Morrow’s assets, and beginning to funnel initial payment to both Roger (no doubt already begun) and his loyal team. The liquidation can wait, but she needs assets frozen immediately.

GM: Ferris answers that he was not present for the initial breach of Caroline’s haven, although he and Claire both concluded Caroline was Kindred when he picked up Aimee the previous night. Ferris had pretended to be dominated when the Ventrue ordered him to deliver the ghoul to another address.

Caroline recalls the ex-CIA agent stating that he knew there were further unaccounted-for hunters under Claire’s direction. The Barrett Commission, of whom Claire was the regional leader (Ferris believes their national headquarters are in D.C.), tend come from the ranks of corporate, political, and military elites. They prefer not to get their hands personally dirty and often bankroll other hunter organizations, such as NOSTF, to do that sort of work.

In keeping with Caroline’s assessment, Ferris and Claire both agreed Ferris should not know the local Commission’s membership. He was too close to the front lines. This sort of clandestine cell structure is common among hunter organizations.

Ferris does not believe that Claire included any of the Barrett Commission’s members in the breach of Caroline’s haven. Rather, he believes she involved a tertiary group whom Claire was personally allied to. There are numerous hunter organizations active in New Orleans, some whom are allies, some of whom are enemies, and some of whom simply stay out of each other’s way. Some hunters are willing to work with Kindred (a few are almost friendly), more hunters will do so on a provisional basis, and other hunters will not (knowingly) work with vampires under any circumstances. Hunter organizations have vastly different goals, methodologies, ideologies, backgrounds, and internal and external relationships. Paranoia and distrust run rampant.

“All of that is good news for your people, ma’am. I can’t even imagine what they might accomplish if they were able to effectively work together.”

“But that isn’t happening. You might think of them as separate intelligence agencies, and not even of nominally allied countries.”

Ferris can identify suspected and confirmed members of many of these organizations. He cites numerous names: Ashwood Abbey. The Cainite Heresy. Les Mystères. The Lucifuge. The Maiden’s Blood Sisterhood. The Night Watch. The Orpheus Group. The Arcanum. Task Force: VALKYRIE. The Society of Leopold (recently rechristened the Society of St. Leopold), also known as the Malleus Maleficarum. The Long Night. Network Zero. There are more than even these, some of which Ferris knows, many whom he’s certain he doesn’t know, and numerous independent hunters and hunter cells not affiliated with a larger organization.

“As I’ve said, ma’am, all of these organizations have vastly different goals and methods.”

He cites a few examples to help impress this fact upon Caroline and further her understanding of hunter culture.

“Terrel & Squib, for instance, doesn’t care about vampires or have any interest in fighting them. They’re a pharmaceutical company that wants to find out what happens to people’s souls after they die, because they think they can make money off it. Clients can also pay them to take care of ghost hauntings.”

“Yuri’s Group, which doesn’t have a presence in New Orleans, is an extended support group for Iraq War veterans who saw too much. They only take offensive operations in defense of their members.”

“The Talbot Group tracks down children who’ve been abducted and transformed by night-folk and tries to turn them back into humans. Their focus on vampires is also minimal, or at least has the highest failure rate.”

“The Faithful of Shulpae hunt vampires and other night-folk in order to cook and eat them. They think that’ll turn them into gods. They don’t have much, if any, presence in New Orleans.”

“Hototogisu is a multinational corporation headquartered in Tokyo. I hear they’re so large, knowledgeable, and well-funded they’ve managed to exterminate the most powerful of Tokyo’s night-folk and actually forced the survivors to work for them as employees, using their powers to increase the company’s bottom line. Ones who don’t follow regulations or who fail to meet profit quotas get liquidated. Hunters who threaten their profits by attacking ‘employees’ also get liquidated. I’d love to know how they were able to pull that off.”

“Ashwood Abbey are bored aristocrats who hunt night-folk to get their thrills. They don’t object to what the Kindred do or even see them as competitors, like the Barretts do. They kill and torture your kind because it’s fun for them. Savoy has made significant inroads with the group and been successful in turning them against Vidal’s and the Baron’s people.”

“Just one of the ways he’s flexible where Vidal isn’t. The prince wastes resources fighting the Abbey and adds another millstone around his neck. Savoy turned them into assets and probably planted spies in their ranks by essentially throwing a few orgies. Cost him nothing.”

“These people and more are the sorts of individuals your stepmother had allies among. If I were her, I’d have invaded your haven with help from an organization that had nothing to do with Kindred. I’d want as few other hunters as possible knowing my stepdaughter was a vampire. Especially NOSTF or fellow Barretts.”

Ferris has some guesses as to specific organizations Claire has relationships with. He’s even had personal dealings with a few. In many ways, he knows more about groups outside the Barretts than he does about the Barretts themselves. Claire considered it a lesser security risk.

He’s not sure how many members the local Barretts have. Losing Claire, though, is a significant and potentially decapitating blow to the organization. It could lead to infighting or the Barretts being attacked or absorbed by a rival hunter group during this period of weakness.

Ferris always got a sense that Caroline’s stepmother didn’t face any significant rivals for power. That was probably good for the organization as long as she was around, but it’s bad now that she isn’t.

Claire’s devices, as Ferris reported, were all gone when he revisited her stepmother’s hotel suite. He thinks Caroline raises a valuable point that the other Barretts will be frantic to discover what became of those devices after they realize their leader is gone.

Caroline: Caroline is interested in the guesses mostly as to how they color his approach to countersurveillance. She instructs Autumn to get him up to speed on their prior investigation into her haven’s attack, likely suspects, and the raw data as well.

GM: Ferris says the Barretts will likely begin where anyone would: investigating Claire’s last known whereabouts and associates. It’s a simple trail from there to bribe hotel staff into talking about her last visitors.

“Could be they’ll even come to you, ma’am, if she’s been able to hide what you are.”

“Could also be the new owner of her devices will come for them first.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a toothy grin. “That would make things easier.”

GM: “I’d set a lure, ma’am. We’re already faking her last known whereabouts. Be more convenient if they came to the CBD than the Quarter.”

Caroline: Caroline agrees. “You know more about them than I do. What would be most effective? My presence at her apparent death?” She muses over the idea for a moment.

GM: “If you were present and they know you’re Kindred, then they’ll know they need to get those devices back as soon as possible. Might launch a preemptive strike at your haven. I don’t know what sorts of allies or resources they could bring to bear. Maintaining the narrative with your brother Luke seems more likely to catch them off-guard.”

“Better for the Masquerade too if you aren’t at the center of the investigation into Claire. Too many people will want to talk with you, and during the day.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: Maldonato’s ghouls, meanwhile, assent to Caroline’s instructions. They will discuss with Gremillion the most convenient doctor to frame for Claire’s death.

They (or at least Kâmil) agree that it would be most proprietous to have Gisèlle alter Luke’s memories. Neither ghoul voices any reservations over doing so in the first place. The bishop has not been reachable and this is clearly happening with or without him.

Widney has already taken steps to freeze Morrow’s assets and inquires if they should attempt to remove the ghoul from police custody procedurally. They do, after all, have a law firm.

Ferris expresses doubt that lawyers will be able to quickly get Morrow out if NOSTF is involved, but also doesn’t think it could hurt. It has the potential to tie up some of Gettis’ resources through use of ones Caroline has no other immediate use for.

Dawn, meanwhile, fast approaches. Fuller waits to convey Caroline back to the Walter Robinson House.

Caroline: Caroline muses on the matter. “Start the process legally. Perhaps it’ll expose individuals of interest, or bring her back to us.”

She has few other direct items for them tonight, save the admonishment that they get some sleep as well today: tomorrow night is likely to be more demanding than this one. Still, she sees a bright spot on the horizon.

GM: Widney says she will start the proceedings. She and Autumn immediately seem about to jealously one-up the other with declarations about Caroline’s work being more important. Ferris preemptively interrupts with a castigation that competing against one another in this area will make them more prone to needless errors they can’t afford. Autumn says something about a trick of the blood that allows ghouls to subsist without sleep. Ferris says it’s moot.

Like always, they work with what they have.


Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: It’s a brief drive back to the Walter Robinson House. The same hired guards remain at their posts outside the historic property. Caroline realizes Abélia never gave her a house key as she walks up the front steps, but the door silently swings open at her approach.

Caroline: By the time they arrive she can feel the building weariness that always accompanies the dawn. It sets in as early as ever. She wonders how much has to do with the events of the last few nights and how much is general weariness.

The restored home just feels right. It’s safe and welcoming, like she imagines returning to a childhood home is, even with the eerily opening doors.

GM: The interior looks much improved from Caroline’s last visit. Fallen pieces of furniture are righted. Off-kilter paintings hang straight. Wrinkled drapes and rugs are now smooth, though stairwell’s broken-off banister piece remains missing.

Three white-furred Persian cats sit motionless at equidistant points from the front door. None stir or blink until the door clicks firmly shut behind Caroline.

As one, the three animals pad silently towards her and rub their necks against her knees.

As one, three fanged mouths part.

“Welcome home, dear child.”

“Welcome home, dear child.”

“Welcome home, dear child.”

Caroline: She bites her lip at the sight of the waiting felines, but breaks into a genuine smile at their approach and welcome. She kneels to pick one up, running her hands through its soft, warm fur.

Her father hadn’t ever wanted a cat (‘looks weak, voters are more sympathetic to dogs’), but it’s been so long since any animal didn’t react to her with terror that she’s far from picky.

The friendly greeting is a reminder of Caesar, last handed off to Autumn, and in mortal terror of her when she last saw him. That memory is like a foul odor in the wind—and gone just as quickly as it arrives when she runs her fingers though the Persian’s long fur with almost childlike glee.

She’s taken aback when they speak, but recovers quickly and scratches the held cat behind its ears. “Thank you, Mother.”

She kicks off her heels by the door as she advances into the home.

GM: The cat purrs beneath Caroline’s touch and arches its head as she scratches it. The heart-shaped name tag under its collar reads ‘Mr. Shah.’

The other cats lead Caroline to Simmone’s room, rubbing against her legs as they go. Her new mother lies in bed with her youngest sibling, who’s snuggled up against her breast. Though Simmone’s chest steadily rises and falls with her breaths, Abélia’s remains completely still.

The walking cats leap up onto the bed.

“You can join Simmone and I, my dear,” says the one in Caroline’s arms. “With all that’s been going on, I’m afraid there’s been no time to set up your room yet… but we shouldn’t wish you to spend your first night here alone in any case.”

“Don’t fret about the drapes. Sol’s eye shall not harm you here.”

Caroline: Caroline looks down on the sleeping girl in their mother’s arms and continues to run her fingers through the cat’s fur. “They won’t be disturbed when I don’t stir?”

She doesn’t even raise the point about the sun—Abélia wouldn’t so needlessly endanger her—but a beginning is a very delicate time.

GM: “Blood is not disturbed by its own,” the cat purrs in Caroline’s arms. The other two rub their necks against her flanks.

“You can wash your face in the bathroom, my dear. We’ve left out some sleepwear for you, too… with all there’s been to trouble you, I’m certain you’ve had other things on your mind.”

Caroline: She’s right. Caroline hadn’t thought of clothing at all. She’s still in the white gown she met her sire in, the one she so sharply remembers so sharply getting bathed in her mother’s blood. That blood has long since faded, but the memory has not.

“Thoughtful, it’s been an eventful evening.” Caroline lets the cat slip from her hands onto the bed as she walks towards the bathroom. “I’ll be back shortly,” she tells her mother’s still form.

GM: The cat settles itself upon the bed with the other two. Caroline finds a folded white nightgown laid over the rim of the tub in Simmone’s Little Mermaid-decorated bathroom.

Caroline: The Ventrue actively tries to avoid watching the mirror as she washes her face and slips out of the gown in favor of the nightgown.

The water is warm, delightfully so, and she soaks it up in her cold dead hands as she splashes it across her face. As she avoids the mirror she takes in the decorations, reflects on her mother’s comments about her youngest sister, on her desire to give her what she wishes: eternal childhood. On her desire to give all of them what they wish.

It leaves only the question of that. She cuts off the water and heads back to the bedroom.

GM: It’s as Caroline sits down upon the bed that her mother’s body abruptly rises. Its eyes don’t open. Its face doesn’t change. Its chest doesn’t rise and fall. Simmone, still seemingly asleep, clutches her arms around its neck.

The body doesn’t speak. Its hands simply start to slowly pull back the blankets and tuck Caroline in.

It disentangles Simmone as it does so, latching her arms around Caroline’s shoulders, and her face against the Ventrue’s bosom. The body pulls the comforter up to Caroline’s neck and lays her head upon its lap.

“Oh, my sweet, precious Caroline,” purrs the cat as the body strokes her hair. “You are such a treasure. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have you here with us tonight. To have you in our lives.”

Caroline: Having Simmone cradled against her breast stirs unfamiliar but not completely unwelcoming feelings of things Caroline thought were long gone. It’s been years since she shared a bed with anyone but a lover—and the less said of children, the better.

Similarly unfamiliar is her mother’s so calm, so gentle touch. Her gentle but firm words of affirmation. So different than anything she remembers from Claire, or even her father. Always pushing. Always critiquing, always instructing. She didn’t feel like an afterthought, but rather…. an investment, perhaps? A means to an end, rather than an end unto herself.

She isn’t certain if Abélia’s commentary is ‘more’ normal or less. From anyone else the words might feel patronizing, the affirmation something she turned up her nose at (she doesn’t need to be coddled)… but with Abélia it’s different.

She believes it.

GM: A faint chuckle sounds from below Caroline’s head, where one of the cats feels like it’s lying. The body’s hands continue to stroke her hair.

“Intimacy nourishes the soul, sweet child. It has been too long since you shared a bed.”

“It has been too long since you were loved.”

She feels the body’s slack lips place a tender kiss upon her forehead.

“Sleep now, my treasure. Know those times of want are far behind you, so long as Maman and your sisters are here…”


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

“That’s what you’re here for. To be used as I see fit.”
Celia Flores


Friday evening, 4 March 2016

GM: Flawless.

Seven years and five ‘best __’ awards later, Celia’s dream on 838 Royal Street is alive and thriving, even if the dreamer herself hasn’t been for equally long. She’s getting the treatment room ready for her 8 PM client as the intercom crackles to life.

“Your mom’s here,” announces Natalie. “She’s also, um, brought Lucy. Is that okay for her to do?”

Celia: No, Celia thinks but doesn’t say. She lets loose a long suffering sigh at her mother’s antics. She’d told her. Multiple times, she had told her: no kids. The response had always been the same: no childcare, don’t want to leave her, she’ll sleep in the corner, she’s so quiet. It had gotten to the point that Celia no longer books her mother at a time when anyone else will be at the spa. Not that anyone else works this late anyway; they take the occasional client past 8pm, but mostly it’s just Celia by herself.

She plasters on a smile as she hits the intercom. People can hear your smile.

“I’m always happy to see my baby,” she says into it. “But generally no, Natalie. I’ll be right out, set them up in TR.”

She finishes the last of the prep, products right where she needs them, and leaves the door open behind her. This late, the spa is winding down. Landen should be finishing with their last client any minute now, and Piper is probably already at the bar.

The walk to the Tranquility Room is brief. She passes through the rows of gauzy curtains to find her mother.

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GM: Diana has more wrinkles than she did seven years ago, but for the most part, the 42-year-old wears her age well. Very well, and largely because of Flawless. Celia may have wondered more than once what her mom would look like by now without seven years of regular treatment sessions. She’s dressed in the spa’s complimentary fluffy robe and slippers as she sips sweet tea with Flawless’ less-than-welcome client.

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Lucy Flores is a six-year-old girl who shares the rest of her family’s fair skin and several of her relatives’ brownish-blonde hair. She clearly didn’t get that from Celia, though she usually wears it in an unrulier fashion than Diana, so it’s perhaps plausible that could’ve come from her ‘biological mother.’ She’s a bit thin for her age, and missing a recently lost baby tooth, but the worst that seemed to come from Diana’s fretting over an older pregnancy was bad eyesight that takes a fairly thick prescription to correct. She’s dressed in a child-sized bathrobe that Flawless doesn’t have. Celia’s mom must have brought it from home so she could “share in the spa experience.”

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“Hi, sweetie! It’s so good to see you!” Celia’s mom exclaims, rising from the couch to hug her daughter.

Celia: Despite the unwelcome guest, Celia doesn’t need to fake the smile that she sends her mom’s way. There’s something about seeing the woman that reminds her of what it’s like to be… well, not alive, but certainly more humane than she is now. She crosses the room to hug her mother. It’s no more brief than normal. It had taken time for her to quell the thing inside of her to a manageable level, and when she had started the business every client looked like a snack. Now, though, she is more level-headed.

Or at least that’s what she tells herself.

“Hi, Momma. And hello to you too, little lady.” Celia releases her mother and squats down low to look at her ‘daughter,’ now at eye level. She opens her arms for a hug. “I see you’ve found a robe. Shall I ask Landen to paint your toes before they go?”

GM: Lucy looks a little sleepy at 8 PM, but when their mom pats her head she hops off the couch and returns the hug.

“Yes please!”

Celia: Celia scoops the little girl into her arms and spins her around.

“How about a bright, neon pink, hm?”

GM: Lucy giggles and holds out her arms like an airplane.

“Yes please! And blue!”

“It looks like we’ve got a buddin’ cosmetologist on our hands,” Celia’s mom smiles at the pair as she strokes Lucy’s hair.

“And I’m so glad Landen’s still here, I brought cookies! More for him, since he’s doin’ the little lady’s toes. I always feel like we owe y’all somethin’ extra, on account of us both showing up, and at such a late hour. You’re sure you don’t have any day appointments available, soon?”

“Them,” says Lucy.

Celia: Celia starts to correct her mother but Lucy beats her to it. She beams at the child and finally sets her back down on the floor.

“I’ll let them know. They’ll appreciate the cookies, I’m sure.”

GM: Their mom laughs. “Oh, that’s right. I’m sorry, that whole pronouns thing is still so hard for me to wrap my head around. The cookies are in the locker, anyway, they’re white chocolate chip and peanut butter. You want any right now, sweetie, or after we’re done?”

She then adds holds up a hand to her mouth and adds conspiratorially, “Or maybe now and after we’re done?”

Celia: “After we’re done, Momma. Thanks. Why don’t you head into the room and I’ll take Miss Lucy here to get her toes done?” Celia holds her hand out for the girl to take.

GM: “Okay, I’ll get myself settled in. I can’t wait to see how your toes look,” their mom smiles, patting Lucy’s hair again.

Celia’s ‘daughter’ takes her hand.

Celia: Celia waves at her mom over her shoulder and leads the girl from the room to find Landen.

“Pink and blue?” she asks her daughter. “Little rhinestones, too? Make your toes sparkle.”

GM: Lucy nods her head. “Yeah! And can I get my fingers too?”

Celia: “Mmm, we’ll see how much time they have this evening, yeah? But if they can swing it, I don’t see why not. You’ll be the envy of all the girls in your class.”

GM: Lucy smiles. “Mommy also says that I’m the envy. She said I was really good at ballet today.”

She started lessons just this year. Diana had been beyond thrilled.

Celia: “You know who was really good at ballet? Momma. When she was younger, she was a vision. I remember going to her recitals. Did you know,” she says to Lucy as they traverse the spa floor, “that I majored in dance at Tulane?” Not that she had finished, but the child doesn’t know.

She finds Landen and waves at them from afar, gesturing toward her daughter. A lift of her brows tells them what they need to know: yes, she’s paying, yes, it’s extra, yes, she’ll tip.

GM: “Mommy is good at ballet! I see her dance, and she says you’re really good too!” Lucy says as they find the cosmetologist.

Landen is slight and wiry. Their jaw is a little more square than most women, but it’s completed by a pointed chin that takes the harshness from their face, with lips that lack a prominent cupid’s bow but are nonetheless full. Their hair is bottle blonde—platinum, really—but they touch up their hair enough that their roots never show. They’re dressed for the Louisiana March weather in their usual skinny jeans and t-shirt—it’s already warm enough to only wear coats at night again, and for most other people to ditch the beanie.

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Landen meets their boss’ eyes for a knowing second, then stoops down to smile at Lucy at eye level. “Well hey there, little princess! Do you want me to do your toes again?”

“Yes please, blue and pink!” Lucy nods.

“Blue and pink, nice choice. Both genders!”

Lucy looks back up at Celia. “I have a question.”

Celia: “I have an answer.”

GM: “Why doesn’t Mommy have any ballet trophies?”

“She said I’d have tons.”

Celia: “Well…” Celia says slowly, “when Momma and Dad split up, she moved into a very small place. And she didn’t have room for all of her trophies, unfortunately, and they were disposed of. I think, sometimes, she’s still sad about it.” Celia crouches once more in front of Lucy. “But we don’t ask her about that because it was a very difficult time in her life. It makes her sad. And we don’t want her to be sad. So I’m glad you asked me, Lucy-Goose.”

GM: “Oh,” says Lucy.

That seems to hang in the air for a moment.

“I could make her trophies,” she says. “In art class. So she doesn’t have to be sad about it.”

Celia: “I think she might like that. You know what else she likes? When you ask her for tips on form and posture.” Celia taps a finger against the girl’s nose. “Now, you go with Landen and let them paint your toesies and nails, and I’m gonna go see to her, and we’ll meet up when you’re done, hm?”

“I heard,” Celia stage whispers, “that there might be cookies in it for everyone.”

GM: “Oh my!” exclaims Landen. “We better get started right away, Lucy-Goose, so we can be sure we’ll get lots of cookies!”

Lucy nods emphatically. “Okay!”

“And I’ll ask Mommy, Mommy.”

Landen quirks a momentary brow at that, then seems to mentally shrug it off.

Celia: Celia shrugs at them. Kids, right?

She leaves them to it. She waves her fingers over her shoulder as she retreats back into the proper spa area to find her mother who should, hopefully, be laid out on the table Celia had pointed out earlier.

GM: Celia’s mom is no stranger to the spa routine. She’s laid out and waiting.

“Sorry to bring her over like this, I just feel bad asking Emily to do much childcare right now, with how soon she’s graduating.”

“And of course, you know her, she’ll do it anyway even if you don’t ask her to.”

Celia: Celia closes the door behind her once she enters the room, and uses the provided sink to wash her hands before she gets started. She seats herself on the small wheeled stool at the head of the table and lays one hand over her mother’s forehead, the other against her chest.

“I know, Momma. Take a deep breath for me. And exhale. And another… and exhale.”

Her voice is low, soothing. It matches the music in the room, some ambient sound that is soft strings, piano, and breezy woodwinds with a BPM of 66. She lets her touch connect to her mother, listens for the beat of her heart. It’s a steady thrum beneath her fingertips.

She starts at the scalp, using fingers and nails to gently scrape and rub her crown and temples. From there she moves to the face, fingers gliding effortlessly without oil, and then she’s on to a series of neck stretches. One side, then the other, turning her head into the table and applying a light pressure to get in deep.

“Let your body be heavy,” Celia tells her when she feels resistance, when Diana tries to move her neck before Celia can. “Let me do the movement for you.”

There’s a point the body gets to before it breaks. They study it in school, range of motion, and there’s a soft tell and a hard tell. Celia has become familiar with them both. Her hands are light, deft, smoothing and stroking up her mother’s neck, then stripping the SCM with her thumb. She does one side and then the other, mindful of the way it feels; it’s not painful, but when someone carries a lot of tension or is constantly under stress, this is one of the areas where it accumulates. Do both at the same time and it’s reminiscent of being choked.

From the neck her hands move downward, fingers digging into the scalene, the traps, then over to the deltoids. She does one arm and then the other, kneading and pulling and stretching. From the arms she moves to the leg. This is where the real work happens, because Celia knows the old injury that has plagued her mother for years.

She starts at the feet. There’s a thicker cream she uses on the soles of the feet, one that doesn’t hinder her glide or the way her knuckles dig into the soft, fleshy pads of the soles. There’s a spot on the heel that helps relieve the pain all the way up to her hip. Years later and Celia is still caught, sometimes, by the sight of the three toes that had been cut off. She pays special attention to them, pressing her thumbs into the meat of the tiny muscles, before her hands travel upward.

Shin, calf, thigh. And that’s the real problem, she knows, the leg that was almost taken off by her ex-husband. Even now, years later, she can still hear her mother screaming. The scar tissue is ugly. She pauses, her mother’s body draped carefully to only reveal the leg she is working on, and Celia finally voices the thought that has been bouncing around the back of her mind since she first learned to do this.

“Momma.” She keeps her voice low. “Have you thought about what I said, the scar treatment?”

GM: Celia’s mother breathes deeply at her request. Celia remembers well what it’s been like to work on her mom over the past seven years. There was lots of stress, at first. Lots of tension in the muscles, in the aftermath of what Emily called “your second divorce,” the house hunting, the bankruptcy, the custody arrangements, the still-fresh terror of her former husband. Celia remembers that dark thought she’d had to “massage her wrong” and induce a miscarriage. Get rid of the rape baby.

But she took her own advice. To simply relax and let someone else “move” for her. And in time, so did her mother. The lawsuit paid out, and quite handsomely, on top of her ex’s child support. Diana Flores hasn’t had to worry about money in some time. She reconnected with her children (most of them), even if she couldn’t take them away from her husband, or do much for their hurts besides offer what balms she could.

And of course, there was Lucy’s birth. The sole child he never got to. That he has never even met.

The story is all there in the muscles.

In time, as life calmed, and as Celia grew experienced in her craft, her mother became like putty under her hands. Most of the time, these days, she doesn’t even ask for specific treatments when she books appointments. She trusts Celia to just “do your thing, sweetie.”

The story is all there in the muscles.

They feel tenser today.

“I have, a bit,” her mom says slowly. “I know I keep sayin’ that.”

“Emily brings it up too.”

Celia: There’s a certain skill that people hone when they do this type of body work. It isn’t quite the sense of touch, and it isn’t quite intuition, but it’s something that straddles both of those lines. Celia has spent the better part of the past seven years flexing and honing that muscle and now, as her hands move along her mother’s body, her gut tells her that something is wrong.

She continues to knead the quads beneath her, rolling out the IT band with her hands. One hand is anchored at her mother’s hip to keep it steady, the other glides along the band. The movement is slow. Contemplative.

“Somethin’ bothering you, Momma?”

GM: “It’s… your brother, sweetie,” her mom sighs. “Logan.”

“I told you about those fights he’s been getting into.”

Celia: “Mhm,” Celia says, prompting her to continue. She can’t help but stare at the scar tissue beneath her hands. It’s visible to her even in the dim light of the room.

GM: Celia’s mother stares up at the ceiling.

“He… hit his girlfriend. In a fight they had.”

Celia: She stops moving.

“What?”

GM: “He told me he said sorry, immediately,” her mom adds.

“Believe me, sweetie, it’s really torn him up.”

Celia: She’ll kill him.

How dare he.

How dare he.

“He…” She can’t get words out. She breaks the physical connection with her mother, hands curling into fists.

GM: “He’s very, very sorry,” her mom adds. “He’s cried about it, sweetie. He says he doesn’t know what came over him. He wishes he could take it back.”

Celia: A second later they’re back at it. Kneading. Gliding.

“Uh huh.”

She doesn’t sound convinced.

“You know what happens when you throw a plate on the ground and tell it you’re sorry?”

“It’s still broken.”

GM: “Well, yes,” her mother grants. “She’s stopped talking to him.”

Celia: “Good.”

GM: “They were such a cute couple together.”

Celia: “And yet he hit her. So what does that matter? You and Maxen were a handsome couple.”

The blow is low, she knows it before she says it.

GM: Celia’s mother stops talking.

Then she says what she says in response to any blow loved ones land on her.

“I’m sorry, sweetie. You’re right.”

Celia: God damnit.

“What did you tell him?” she asks after a moment.

GM: “I told him he should… give her space, to deal with things. Confess what he did, at church. And maybe see a therapist.”

Celia: “How did he take that?”

GM: “But your dad’s always told him shrinks are for women and… men who aren’t real men.”

Celia: “Of course he has.”

There’s a pause. Then, “Do you want me to talk to him?”

GM: “I think it could only help,” her mom considers. “He’s always looked up to you, for goin’ your own way.” She pauses. “But please be gentle with him, sweetie. Please don’t be angry. He isn’t your dad. He doesn’t want to turn into your dad.”

Celia: “I know,” Celia tells her. It’s the only thing that’s keeping her from fantasizing about ripping his throat out. He doesn’t want to be that person.

And she’ll do her damndest to make sure he doesn’t become it.

GM: “Lucy’s doing very well in ballet,” her mom adds, more brightly.

“I wish there were more openings in your schedule, to see her practice. She’s beyond adorable in her tutu. She wants to wear it to every class, not just plain ol’ leotards.”

Celia: “I wish so too, Momma. I’d love to see her dance.” That’s the truth, too. “She said she’s going to ask you for a few pointers, so heads up on that.” Celia can’t help but smile.

GM: “Oh really? Thanks for the heads up, I’ll actually have to think on what to tell her,” her mom smiles back. “I mean, she already knows how to engage her stomach muscles and align her spine, knows the English definitions of all her French terms, knows her knees and toes are supposed to point sideways and her feet are supposed to point every time they leave floor… she can’t physically do all those things all the time, yet, but there’s not much either of us can do about that except wait. She’s very talented.”

“I want her to do whatever makes her happy, of course. You and Isabel and Sophia all did ballet and went on to do other things, and I was fine with that. But I admit I’d love to be a pro ballerina’s mom.”

Celia: “How is Sophia, by the way? And Emily? I know she’s busy with school, and I’ve been wrapped up with, well…” she trails off. The vague gesture is there in her voice. She does not mention Isabel.

“Did you want to try that scar cream, by the way? Before I flip you?”

GM: “Oh, ah, do whatever you think is best, sweetie. You know I trust you. I’m play-doh in your hands.”

“Sophia sounded a little… subdued, last we talked. She has for a while. I think she’s really looking forward to graduating. But also maybe afraid to come home.”

Her mom smiles. “But I’m so proud of Emily. She’s going to be a doctor soon. Dr. Rosure. Isn’t that just like a gumdrop on your tongue to say?”

“She keeps telling me she’s not going to be a ‘real’ doctor for another four years. Residency and all that. But still. Dr. Rosure.”

Celia: “Did Sophia mention looking for something else? Somewhere else? One sec, Momma, let me grab what I need.” Celia finishes the muscles she’s working on, sliding her hands down her mother’s body until she reaches her feet. From there she disconnects, stepping away from the table to the cabinet to find what she needs.

She’s back a moment later, syringe in hand. She checks to see if her mom’s eyes are closed, and if not then she lets the woman see it.

“Numbing solution,” she tells her. “Going to put it here, at the thigh.” Celia bends low. The needle presses against her mother’s leg. Two of them, actually.

GM: “That must be some cream,” her mom says with a faint chuckle. Her eyes are closed. There’s a slight wince, but soon her leg relaxes as she loses feeling.

“She hasn’t, to be honest. You know your dad’s always told her that a woman’s degree isn’t… worth a whole lot. I think she’s depressed over her GPA, too. I’ve thought about trying to help her find a job, but I don’t know how much that might upset him.”

“I think he expects her to move back in. Until she finds a husband. I think he expected her to do that at Liberty. Only, she hasn’t yet.”

Celia: “They can’t even fraternize at Liberty,” Celia mutters.

GM: “I sure am glad you didn’t go there,” her mom nods. “Tulane was a very valuable experience for you, I think.”

Celia: She takes advantage of her mother’s distraction, though, and pumps a small amount of cream into her hands. It smells different. Eucalyptus, maybe, or spearmint. Her hands move across her mother’s leg. It’s similar to the deep tissue kneading she’d done earlier, though she focuses only on the outside of the scar tissue for now, flattening and smoothing it until it dissolves into her skin.

She’s quiet, thinking about her mother’s words while she works.

Tulane was a very valuable experience for you.

It was, wasn’t it? She’d learned about trust and betrayal. Loyalty and friendship. Love… and loss.

As soon as the thought enters her mind she cannot control the rush of… everything. The spiraling of her brain. The trip down her memory’s path.

She can barely think his name, but in the dim light of the massage room his face swims in front of her.

Stephen.

GM: “All that before how we got to see each other again, too,” Celia’s mom continues from the table.

She pauses for a moment, as if reliving some of the same memories as her daughter.

“And… Stephen. He was just… such a nice boy.”

Celia: “He was,” Celia agrees.

She’s focused on what she’s doing, though, rather than her mother’s words. She doesn’t want to think about Stephen or what he’s turned into; she doesn’t want to remember how it felt to have his fists hit her face, break her bones, shatter her… heart. Cold and dead though it is, he’d still managed to rip it out and stomp all over it the night he told her he could forgive her and then walked back on his words.

Celia stares down at the scar tissue. This, at least, is something that she can fix. Surface flaws. Not what’s really wrong, and not what’s inside, but the package will be nice. The anesthetic should have set in by now; she focuses on her work rather than her memories, beginning with the edges of the tissue.

“Randy is nice,” Celia offers. “He wants to come by sometime again. He likes your cooking. Has Emily spoken to you about her boyfriend at all? I keep wondering when he’s going to pop the question.”

GM: “Oh, you tell him he’s more than welcome! I’m always happy to cook for you both,” her mom beams.

Celia: “I’ll let him know.”

GM: Diana chuckles. “And you believe me, I definitely think I’ve established my mom credentials askin’ her when Robby’s gonna ask. She keeps saying she’s not even thinking about that until after med school, but you know, life never gets less hectic. We’re always busier than months in mittens.”

“I want him to propose already. I’d love for them to give me some grandbabies!”

Celia: Months in mittens?

Celia doesn’t ask.

“Don’t tell her, but I’m already half planning it.”

GM: Celia’s mom beams again.

“Well why don’t you just bring in me, and we can move half to full.”

Celia: “She’ll be in for a real treat when he finally proposes when we whip out these wedding books and it’s already taken care of.”

GM: “Exactly! Weddings are just such a hassle to plan, I honestly can’t think of a better wedding gift than to hear ‘this has all been taken care of, you just show up and say your vows.’”

Celia: “Think she’d accept if I just pay for it in lieu of a traditional gift?”

GM: Celia’s mom is always very relaxed on the table, after seven years of regular appointments, but her leg must be pretty numb by now.

Celia: Celia starts the real work, then.

The manipulation of the scar tissue.

The stretching and pulling of healthy skin to cover what’s dead.

GM: “Oh yes, I think she would. Med school does keep her so busy, and her residency isn’t goin’ to let up. Time is just the gift to give her.”

“Though I’d give her an actual present too. Nothin’ too big or expensive, just a little personal keepsake to go with the others she’ll get.”

“Cash is the gift you can never go wrong with, but it can’t go right like a really thoughtful, well-chosen gift either.”

Celia: Her mother’s flesh is like clay in her hands. She manipulates it as she needs to, smoothing out what needs to be smoothed. She’s careful not to fix the whole thing at once; she’s gotten good about knowing how much to do in one sitting. Keeps people coming back, for one. And keeps it believable.

“I’ll call her. See how things are going. It’s been too long.” It hasn’t, really, but Emily is still Celia’s best friend, despite the differences in their mortality.

“Leg okay?” she checks.

GM: “Why don’t we have her and Robby over for dinner, too, if you’d like some quality time? Talkin’ over the phone is just no substitute.”

Celia’s mom doesn’t move or flinch under the anesthetic. That’s one blessing she enjoys as one of the kine. Reshaping someone’s flesh, Celia knows intimately well, is far from painless.

But has that not always been the price for beauty? The corset constricts. The high heel blisters. The wax… Celia has seen how people react to that. And the ballerina, of course, puts their body through hell in so many ways.

Beauty takes effort. Beauty takes pain.

But at least sometimes, there is a pill for that. Or shot.

Celia runs her fingers along her mother’s leg and watches the skin flow like mud in its path. She’s careful to keep the alterations small, for now. Believable. A touch here, a touch there. Stretching the nearby, hale skin over the scar tissue. It’s like using the smudge tool in Photoshop.

Yet beauty takes pain and effort for all involved. Celia can feel the eternal thirst, always there, burning away behind her throat as the Beast growls in her ear. It must fed. It must always be fed.

Celia: “All set,” Celia announces at the end of it, in a voice that is decidedly chipper. She has been dead long enough to know when she needs to feed, and she will not stretch herself thin while her mother and daughter are on the premises. Perhaps Landen… no, she can always return to Savoy’s holdings if she’s really in need, one of the dolls there will quench her burning desire.

“I’ll step out and let you get changed. Meet you outside, Momma.”

Celia heads to the door.

GM: Her mom hesitates for a moment, then looks down at her leg. “Oh my goodness. Oh my… Celia, I can see a difference already…”

Celia: “Just wait, Momma,” Celia says once she reaches the door, “wait until we’re done. It’ll be as if it never happened.”

GM: Celia’s mom meets her back outside the door changed into Flawless’ fluffy white robe and slippers. She took a little while.

“I was just looking my leg over, sweetie,” she says slowly. “You… know I don’t really like to look at it. I’m amazed there’s a difference already. Just amazed.”

“You’re so talented. You really are, you just have such a gift.”

Her mom sniffles and hugs her. Celia can hear the thump-thumping of the woman’s heart, pressed so closely against her own. She can smell the luscious coppery tang of the blood coursing under her mother’s skin.

Celia: Celia is not feeding on her mom. She’s not. She just isn’t. That’s not happening. Not with Lucy here. Not with Landen here.

Not in general.

She gently disentangles herself from her mother, then makes a show of checking the time.

“Oh! My next client is here. I’m sorry, Momma, I have to get going, that scar tissue work took longer than I thought. We’ll talk soon, okay? Landen can take care of you and Lucy at the front desk. Love you. Bye!”

She waves as she retreats, ducking into the room Jade uses. She locks the door behind her.

GM: “O-okay, sweetie! I love you too, I’ll call about dinner!” her mom calls after her, sounding a little taken aback by the abrupt departure.

But it beats feeding on the woman.


Friday evening, 4 March 2016

Celia: Alone inside the room, Celia breathes easier. She will wait until her mother and daughter have gone, until Landen has closed up shop, before she emerges once more. There is blood to be had inside these walls that she keeps on hand for emergencies. Perhaps a taste will do her good. Clear her head for the rest of the evening.

She finds a bag of it and retreats further into the suite, where even her Beast cannot escape. It is cold. Sterile. There is nothing in here with which she can amuse herself, and the thing curled inside of her will not like it when it awakens. Jade doesn’t care. She shuts the door on them both and opens the bag with her teeth.

That, too, is cold. Vile. But she has work yet to be done, and her face must change before she can do it, and she will not risk a frenzy when it is so easily prevented. She drinks. It slides down her throat like liquid garbage. She gags and sputters and hates it, but she forces it down.

GM: Alana had suggested keeping a microwave in the room, when she’d heard how bad the cold stuff tasted. Replacing ones destroyed by frenzies would just be “cost of doing business.”

Celia: Jade is working on a different sort of solution to the bagged blood problem. She’s just still collecting materials. This is the reminder that she needs to get her ass in gear about it.

She needs bodies. Lots and lots of bodies.

Doesn’t she have a friend who produces bodies?

GM: Most of her ‘friends’ these night produce bodies, if she’s to be frank about it.

Though some more frequently than others.

Celia: Once her hunger is firmly under control she peruses her contacts on her phone, looking for the name of someone more likely to have a body they need disposed of.

GM: It doesn’t take much imagination there.

Reynaldo Gui and his associates would produce bodies even if he wasn’t a vampire.

Celia: She gives her favorite Ventrue cowboy a call.

GM: He picks up after several rings.

“Why hello, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: “Ah, Mister Gui, how’s my favorite handsome friend doing this evening?”

GM: “I’m still handsome. You’re still beautiful?”

Celia: “Nothing short of flawless, darling. A little birdie told me you might have something messy for me.”

GM: “I did have a breakout on my face, if I’m being honest. I was going to take care of it at home.”

“I wouldn’t want to show the world I’m anything besides handsome.”

Celia: “No one who knows you would think such a thing. But I have all the salves and creams that you need down here to make it vanish as if it never was. Why don’t you stop by and let me take a look?”

GM: A little while later, Gui is there in the Kindred suite of rooms along with a thuggish-looking ghoul. The latter opens a body bag with the corpse of a middle-aged African-American man who has a bloody hole in the back of his head. His eyes gaze blankly upwards.

He’s still got a set of glasses on.

Celia: Celia took the time to do her face before Gui stopped by. Jade is the one waiting for them. She has the ghoul put the body on the table and peers down at the man. She spends a minute unfastening his clothes to take a look at the skin. Middle-aged but black don’t crack.

“What’d he do?”

GM: Gui just offers a humoring smile.

“Do you want me asking what you want a corpse for?”

Celia: “Mmm, idle chit chat, can’t blame a Kindred for asking.” She looks away from the corpse, back at Gui.

“You do look ravishing this evening. When do I get to get my hands on you, hmm?”

Despite the years of flirting, Jade has not yet made a move on the Ventrue. She’d been scooped up by Nico and his krewe before the cowboy could get a firm hold on her, though since his banishment and her breakup with Roderick she hasn’t seen much of a reason to stay away. The mobster has been more and more appealing as the nights pass, no matter what her one-time lover had told her.

GM: The Ventrue wiseguy is dressed in a dark jacket and slacks, though without a tie and with the top buttons left undone, like usual. Unlike at church, he’s got the wide-brimmed cowboy hat on.

“I look ravishing every evening, but then so do you.”

He smirks and traces a hand along Jade’s cheek.

“Maybe next evening, lush. Tonight’s business. Never pays to mix that with pleasure.”

Celia: Jade heaves a long-suffering sigh, playful in nature. She looks up at him from beneath her lashes, lips pulled into a pout.

“I hate that you’re right. Next evening, then.”

It’s a reminder that they’re called stiffs for a reason. No one in her clan would mind mixing business with pleasure.

She offers to walk them out.

GM: “Being right as often as me is a terrible curse, but I live with it,” Gui answers.

She sees the pair out with some more light flirting.

The glasses-wearing man’s corpse lies motionless on her table.

Celia: Roderick had told her enough during their time together that she has a hunch these glasses have some sort of special prescription. They’ll get her in trouble if she isn’t careful with them. Have the cops show up at her door demanding answers.

Then again, this hardly looks like the type of man who can afford her services.

She gets to work, though. His clothes are stripped from his body and tossed aside. Anything without blood will be given to Alana to dispose of. She’s pretty sure the ghoul just launders them and delivers them in a big pile to the local thrift store. ‘Why would the cops check a thrift store?’ she is fond of saying.

It gets a little more messy when she has to dissemble the body. First she drains him. Cuts his neck, lifts one side of the table with the hydraulic press, lets the blood drain into the pan set beneath the table just for this purpose. Without the blood the body is lighter. She’d read somewhere that blood is about seven percent of the weight of the body. Decent-sized guy like this, probably about a gallon and a half.

She shaves his head of what little is left. Not long enough to use for extensions, no good for her there. But the skin, though, she needs that scalp skin.

She starts cutting after that. She’d watched a video once on how to skin a deer a long time ago. Working with humans is similar, though she doesn’t just take the skin. She cuts down to the bone at each of his joints with a knife as sharp as a scalpel. It almost is a scalpel, just larger. She’d gotten it for dermaplaning before she’d realized the blade was too big to effectively use on the face.

Waste not and all that.

Once the cuts are made she peels it back. It’s tough going. Maybe she should have someone teach her that flex thing. Maybe Donovan. Or Gui, if she’s going to bang him anyway. She can’t wait to sink her teeth into that cutie. Regardless, it’s tough going, and she spends the better part of an hour peeling the skin, fat, and muscle from the bones. She doesn’t get it all. There’s a layer of periosteum around the bones that she can cut free. More to work with later. It might not be what she’s looking for, but she’ll give it a go. Trial and error, so to speak.

The internal organs are dumped onto the floor. There’s nothing ceremonial about it. She’ll go through them later to find the connective tissue she needs, the collagen she can use for injections. Likewise the skeleton itself is dumped onto the floor. She’ll practice her bone work on it, maybe. Or grind it up into bone meal for someone’s garden. She mentally adds “buy spice or coffee grinder” to her list of things to do. She’d heard good things about Preethi.

Once everything is out she’s looking down at what is, essentially, a deflated human. Just a sack of beautiful dark skin.

GM: Jade knows her mom enjoys a spot of gardening.

Celia: Perfect. She’ll tell her mom to make it a big garden. Maybe a rooftop garden. Lots of bone meal for Momma.

She hums while she works.

GM: The skin is less than beautiful, if she’s to be quite honest. The subject is older, overweight, and doesn’t look as if he led the healthiest lifestyle. But she can fix that too.

She can fix anything to do with skin.

Celia: She starts to do so. It’ll take a while, and she’ll be hungry afterward, but she’s got a whole bucket of blood under the table she can use if she needs to.

She starts with the scalp. After shaving it is smooth and hairless, easy to work with. She leaves it mostly as is, though she pinches closed the eye holes, flattens the nose back into the face, smooths out the lips so they don’t take up half the face.

It’s like a black bag, almost. One of those boho bags girls throw over their shoulders with only the one opening, the kind that everything gets lost inside of so you’re standing there at the store while the girl in question fishes through her bag and tries to find her credit card for whatever inane purchase it is she’s trying to make, and the cashier just smiles and nods when she says “just a moment,” and then she looks back at you and apologizes and you just smile and nod, too, because really what else can you do?

She never understood how girls could stand it, really.

The gaping wound at the back of the head takes longer. It’s a series of pulling at the skin until it stretches far enough to cover the hole, then severing the ears completely to re-attach them at the back of the head to thicken and reinforce the skin back there. Leaks are bad for business.

She finds the pan of blood and pours it into the open neck hole until it’s almost full, then pinches it shut.

Flesh bag.

GM: Some clicking footsteps from outside precede a knock against the door. It’s probably Alana, unless Randy has started crossdressing.

Support: As if.

Celia: “’Lana?” she calls out. She looks down at herself, at the body on the table. Good thing there’s another door between here and the outside door. She’s a little messy, though. Not her usual immaculate self. She’ll have to start keeping clothes in here instead of her office upstairs. Or a rubber apron, like they use for the Vichy showers.

She closes the door to the wet room behind her.

Celia: Ah, yes, the robes! Of course there are robes waiting for her next client. There always are. She can wear one of those if she has to.

GM: It’s Alana. Jade’s first ghoul is a vision of beauty and the epitome of the word Flawless, from her long flowing hair to her toned, lithe body. Every inch of her is sculpted perfection—sculpted by Jade. Her cheekbones are high and reflect the light with the highlighter she’s wearing tonight. Delicate freckles dot her nose. Her eyes are large, black pools that people frequently fall into, and her lips are full with a prominent cupid’s bow. Her face is made up in the full glam that Jade has permanently sculpted onto it. ‘Permanent makeup’ has nothing next to what Flawless offers. Her hair tonight is a tan blonde that nicely complements her caramel skin, and has ever since Jade made it that color. She’s dressed in a low-cut, loose silky blouse, black leggings, and strappy heels.

She’s definitely one of the Toreador’s better works.

alana3.png
“Oh, mistress, you’re messy. Do you want me to clean you up?” the ghoul immediately volunteers.

Celia: “Alana,” Jade greets the ghoul. She abandons the idea of a robe. No need to do more laundry than she has to. Or rather, that Alana has to. She’s seen her in worse states.

“No, not right now. I’m still working on a project and bound to just get messy again. What is it?”

GM: “It was Mélissaire, mistress. She said that Lord Savoy wanted to see you three days from now, at the Evergreen. You had an opening in your schedule then, so I told her you could make it.”

Celia: “Ah. Yes. Thank you.” There’s a pause. Jade considers her, though her mind is already atop the Evergreen’s roof, wondering at her grandsire’s summon. “My mother wants dinner at some point with Randy and I.”

GM: “I can call them to set that up if you don’t want to be bothered, mistress.”

Celia: “Call him. I’ll let you know. Stay here a moment.”

Jade disappears into the treatment room. She’s back a moment later with the flesh bag. It looks less like a human face than it had prior.

“What do you think of this?”

GM: “It looks like a bag,” Alana says thoughtfully. She reaches out to touch it.

“So… smooth.” She sniffs. “Is that juice in it?”

Celia: “Yes.” Juice is just another word for blood, after all. “I’m working on a new line. You’re not any good at fashion design, are you?”

GM: “People could be good at anything for you, mistress,” the ghoul beams.

Celia: That doesn’t quite answer her question. She appreciates the sentiment, though. She reaches out to touch Alana’s cheek, running the tips of her fingers across the smooth skin. She really did a phenomenal job on this one.

“Draw something up for me, ’Lana. Something fierce. Neutral colors.”

GM: Alana’s smile only further brightens at her mistress’s touch.

“Right away, mistress. And can I say you look Flawless tonight. Like every night.”

Celia: There’s a good girl. Jade’s answering smile is positively radiant. She leans in to press a chaste kiss against the ghoul’s lips.

“You as well, darling. Bring those by when you’re done. I’ll be here for a while yet. Let me know about dinner.”

There’s a pause.

“I might implement your microwave idea after all. Oh, and find a grinder for me, will you? Something large.”

“And a pig,” she adds. “Live.”

“And maybe cold storage. See what you can work out, if there’s room in this suite for it. Not in the frenzy room, I’ve heard those giant refrigerators are expensive and I’m not interested in replacing them every single time a Brujah forgets to feed before he comes in. The space under the table isn’t large enough for the projects I have in mind. Though I suppose, really, it’s not the best thing to keep them on hand that long. Maybe a secret room? Not my haven… Alana, look for empty real estate nearby. See when the lease is up for the business next door. Or find building plans for underground. I know we don’t quite have sewers, but I’ll figure something out. Literal hole in the ground. Ha.”

“Actually,” she continues, nodding, “that might be brilliant. The drain already leads down. I’m sure we can find someone to rig it to get off the city’s system, catch the chunks, filter the blood. Entrance through the table itself? Ooh. Is that too cliché, ‘Lana? Secret entrances? You’d tell me if I were being a stereotype, wouldn’t you?”

GM: Alana glows under her domitor’s kiss.

“Yes, mistress,” to the dinner.

“Yes, mistress,” to the grinder.

“Yes, mistress,” to the live pig.

“Yes, mistress,” to the cold storage space options.

“I think it’s genius, mistress,” she beams at the secret entrance idea. “Of course I’d tell you. Who actually expects to look for something like that in real life?”

“Nobody does, that’s who. It’s just like vampires.”

“The fiction makes it an even better secret.”

Celia: “You really are my favorite, you know. Don’t tell Randy, the poor boy’s head would explode.” Jade pats her cheek in genuine affection. “Put an extra hundred in Landen’s tip jar for me, just pull it from the register. There’s a dear. I’ll be working a while yet. Then a scrub. You’ll scrub me down, won’t you ’Lana? Maybe a trade of services.”

There’s a suggestion there, a promise of massage or blood or sex. Nothing she needs to do to keep the ghoul in line, but she does so love to spoil this exquisite creature.

“Run along now, while I finish my work.”

GM: Jade did make her so exquisitely spoilable, after all. The aging, single, homely-faced, and almost 300-pound woman who laid down on that table never got back off it.

“Threaten to turn her back, if she gets out of line,” like Veronica had once suggested, isn’t a stick she’s had to use. At least yet.

Jade is also pretty sure Alana would consider scrubbing her down to be a service in of itself, if the ghoul’s desirous look is any indication, but there’s only another smiled, “Yes, mistress,” to all three orders before Alana bows her head and withdraws, quietly closing the door behind her.

Celia: She hadn’t had to threaten either of her ghouls with sticks, thus far, when the carrots she dangled before them had been reason enough not to give her any trouble. It’s there, though, in the back of her mind.

She once more locks the door behind the ghoul and heads back into the treatment room to continue her work, flesh bag in hand. She eyes it for a moment, considering, and finally lifts it to her mouth to pierce it with her fangs. She needs to get an idea of how it compares to biting into a real person.

GM: It’s distinct.

It’s not like biting a real vessel is. Having an actual person underneath you, a happy little toy making happy noises in response to your touch. The feeling of holding their life in their hands, sampling their unique flavor and resonance as they experience it, knowing they are giving of themselves to sustain you.

But it’s leagues better than plastic, or a ceramic cup. The texture of the smooth skin, the sensation of her fangs piercing flesh as she steadily sucks, is something she should be well-pleased to have replicated.

It’s the difference between an expensive vibrator with a good porn vid next to her fingers and a blank wall. It’s not the real thing, but it’s better.

The cold stuff is still liquid slop that makes her want to gag, though.

Celia: She doesn’t stop, once she starts. Even though it’s cold, old blood. Even though it’s vile. It’s blood. And she’s hungry, so hungry, and she knows she’s going to feed from Alana later, and she doesn’t want to risk tearing the poor girl’s throat out. So she feeds. It’s better than the plastic. Her Beast doesn’t even try to stir. It’s like a snoozing cat inside her chest: it swipes a lazy paw at her and goes right back to curling contentedly in the center of her.

She drains the bag, licks her lips clean. The head can be reused, that’s a perk. Maybe she can make designer bags. Emergency only kind of things. There are those gloves that keep their own heat; can she develop something like that?

Oooh, or make bags out of the heads of enemies. Trophies to keep around. Imagine taking down a rival or an old flame or just someone who annoyed you and getting to keep them as a juice pouch forever.

Delicious.

Who would she keep? Maxen, of course. Her lips curl into a sneer at the thought of the bald man. He deserves worse. She’ll turn him into a coat. A pair of boots. She’ll cut off his cock and make it into a headband. Gift it to Isabel so she always remembers Daddy’s love. Maybe she’ll just stuff the man and give the whole thing to her lost sister.

There’s a thought.

This body, though, has work to be done yet. She gets back to it.


Saturday evening, 5 March 2016

GM: The next night, Alana has procured a grinder and live pig for her domitor. Both are delivered into the Kindred rooms without questions.

Celia: Good ghoul.

Jade makes sure that she has the required time in her schedule to work with both. She had found a cooler in the meantime for the body parts, and she has Alana lead the pig into the treatment room with a little leash (“how thoughtful, Lana”) that she ties to the table. When it squeals in alarm at Jade’s approach she bites her wrist and dribbles her vitae into its open mouth.

“Settle, pig. Can’t have you making a mess. You don’t want to know what happened to the last guy who made a mess in here,” she tells it.

GM: The animal squeals in terror like only a pig can. Alana keeps the leash tied pretty short, because the animal pulls like mad to get away. Jade can draw in the kine like lemmings to their doom, but not all the skincare and beauty products in the world can hide what she is from creatures that do not ignore their own nagging instincts. Their own inner Beasts.

But then she feeds it her blood, and it starts contently gorging itself on the gory human remains.

Alana also has some basic information on the adjacent spaces to 855 Royal Street, just to mull over next to the literally under the table idea. Jade already knows the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is a tourist attraction and the Myth Gallery is an art gallery. She’d be unsurprised if her grandsire had his fingers in both. Royal Street makes them close neighbors to the Evergreen.

Celia: It’s really amazing what a little bit of blood can do. She strokes the pig’s back as it feeds on the entrails, pleased. She’ll need to find a home for it; she has no intention of keeping the beast here. Maybe another addition? Hm. She’ll ask Savoy if it’s possible to borrow a tiny amount of space from either one of the adjacent businesses. She’s seeing him the night after tomorrow, anyway. Maybe upstairs? She can hardly have the pig brought in and out, that’s bound to draw attention. Maybe she’ll mold it into one of those teacup pigs.

“I think I’m going to call him Sparky.”

“Anything underneath here?” she asks, meaning the business at large.

GM: “Just the usual sewage lines, mistress, as far as I can tell,” answers Alana. “We could hire a contractor to do the work you’re looking for. Didn’t you say there was a Nosferatu one who lives in the Quarter?”

“I think Sparky’s a wonderful name,” she smiles as she strokes the hungrily munching pig.

Celia: “Call him,” Jade agrees. “Bring him in for an estimate. Tonight, if he’s free.” The sewer rats are always free. She sets to grinding bone while Alana works and the pig eats. It’ll be another busy night.

GM: Alana always hates to disappoint her domitor. The Nosferatu isn’t free, tonight, she reports several hours later. He’ll be free in four nights.

“I bet he doesn’t have anything going on, and is just telling you that to feel important,” Alana huffs. “Because his ghoul said he could see you tonight… if you came down to the sewers.”

Celia: “How can I show him what I need done and get an estimate if I’m in the sewers?” Jade sighs, a habit she has taken to to show her annoyance despite the fact she doesn’t need to breathe, shaking her head at the girl. “You’re probably right, though. I just wanted a number to give Lord Savoy, though of course he probably wants something more eclectic than petty cash. No sense going all the way down there for nothing, darling. Tell him four nights is good.”

“Don’t mention the pretending to be busy thing. Let the rat keep his pride.”

GM: “That’s exactly what I told him,” Alana agrees. “He just said his boss would get it done. Somehow. I think they just want to see a Toreador in the sewers.”

Celia: “They think I can’t slum it? Ha. I could slum it. A little bit of filth doesn’t bother me. Do they know what I do?” She gestures toward the pig, the grinding bones, the body she had torn apart with her hands. Do they even know how hard it is to get blood out of the nail beds? How it stains the cuticles? But of course they don’t, no one does. That’s the point.

GM: “They don’t, ma’am. They don’t know anything except ugliness and filth!” Alana readily agrees.

Celia: “I’ve changed my mind. I’ll go. You stay here, pet, I don’t need them getting any ideas about what they’d like to stick you with.” Jade touches a hand to her ghoul’s cheek. “Call Randy for me though, tell him to wear boots. And nothing he’ll miss.” Where’d her wetsuit get to.

Jade leaves Alana with instructions to finish feeding the pig and grinding the bones. She tells her to get a shower ready for later this evening as well. Scented products.

Anything to get rid of the putrid stench she’s sure she’ll bring back with her.


Saturday night, 5 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jade takes the time to make herself presentable for the Nosferatu and their games. It’s a different sort of getting ready than she’s used to; rather than glam up she glams down. It won’t do to be caught in anything less than the best, even if she’ll be stomping through sewer water and other garbage besides. There’s probably some sort of etiquette around not wearing rain boots into the sewer—Mélissaire would know—but Jade doesn’t own rain boots anyway. She opts for leather pants instead. They’re an older pair, probably something she already wore once that she doesn’t plan on using again. She pairs it with black jump boots (she says she’d gotten them from an Army boy she fooled around with for a while, and they’re the kind of boot that shit just slides right off), and a dark shirt.


She passes time flirting with Alana until Randy arrives.

GM: “You look badass, ma’am,” Alana purrs as she slides onto Jade’s lap.

“So strong. So tough. So fierce.”

“I’m just your cute little toy.”

Celia: “Telling me I can’t handle the sewers,” Jade mutters. Her hands busy themselves on Alana, a distraction from the upcoming trip. She nips at the girl’s neck, though she doesn’t bite. “You are a very cute toy. You know what I’m going to do with you later, little toy?”

GM: Alana starts to make ‘happy noises’ as Jade fondles her breasts. Quiet at first, little inhalations of breath with just a note of trembling. She rubs her shapely rear (that Jade so carefully shaped into what it is) against Jade’s lap in a steadily clockwise motion. She smiles wickedly at the sensation of the leather against her skin.

“Whatever… you want… to me…” she whispers, nuzzling the vampire’s neck. “I’m such a… happy toy…”

Celia: That’s what she likes to hear. She nods encouragingly at the little toy on her lap. She’s never as rough with her as Veronica had been; her touches are gentle instead of cruel. It keeps them happy.

Her hands move down the girl’s stomach to her thighs, sliding up along her bare skin to dip two fingers inside.

“Look how wet you are, little toy. Do you want me to take care of that for you?”

GM: “Yes… mistress…” she whimpers, louder now. “Yes… please… but I have… ohhh… something… for you… first…”

Celia: She doesn’t stop. She likes the way the girl shivers on her lap. Her thumb flicks across Alana’s clit, once, twice, then traces slow circles around it.

“Oh?”

GM: Alana closes her eyes and makes happy noises, steadily breathing in and out as color rises to her cheeks.

“Yes…” she finally whimpers. “When you… called me pet… it made me think…”

She slides off Jade’s lap and bends low to the floor, giving the Toreador a very clear view of her ass before she pulls something out from underneath the seat. This seems as if it was planned in advance.

She holds up a thick black leather collar with attachments for a leash. It has a heart-shaped tag she’s written ‘Property of Jade’ on in neat cursive. There’s also an attached bell, like a kitten’s.

“Do you want to put it on me, mistress?” she smiles. “I’d love for everyone to know I belong to you.”

She demurely bows her head low and raises the collar in her palms, like an offering.

“And I know how much you want a dog… so you could give me walks, on a lead… and I could eat from a bowl at your feet…”

“And you could fuck me right now,” she purrs, “really doggy-style…”

Celia: Jade’s smile could light up an entire city block. She takes the leather collar from Alana and touches her chin to lift her head so she can fasten it around the girl’s neck. It’s a beautiful, beautiful sight, and she flicks her finger across the bell to make it chime.

“Oh, ’Lana,” Jade breathes, “you certainly know how to keep me happy.”

She drops to her knees and puts a hand on Alana’s back to bend her back over. She doesn’t have time to craft herself a cock, much to her chagrin, but she has the next best thing: fist and fingers. She slides in two, then three, and with her other hand reaches around to the front to pinch her nipples before finding her clit once more.

“You are such a good girl, Alana, such a good girl.”

She leans down to bite right into the cheek of the ghoul’s shapely ass.

GM: Alana’s smile is equally radiant as she basks under Jade’s praise. She shudders as her domitor fastens the collar shut and runs a long-nailed hand against it, as if unaware of what the large, thick, and snug thing would feel like with its home around her neck.

Then she offers a leash in her other hand. So Jade can jerk on it and hold her taut while they fuck.

Her ‘happy noises’ have a yipping, almost dog-like quality as they start, then become delirious under the ecstasy of the vampire’s kiss.

Support: Randy pokes his head in through the door. “Hey, sorry I’m late, Ruby was making some noise—oh. Sorry.” He doesn’t sound sorry or leave the room, however, absorbed in the sight before him.

Ruby is his car, too, which is probably even more embarrassing.

Celia: Jade’s eyes flick toward the door to meet Randy’s.

She doesn’t stop what she’s doing.

Support: He’s wearing his driver’s outfit that he’s so proud of. She picked it out for him. It makes him look like a chauffeur.

“Uh,” he says. “Is her mouth… open?”

There’s either a racetrack in his pocket or he’s happy to see them.

Celia: She crooks a finger at him.

GM: Alana’s eyes are half-glazed over with the ecstasy of the kiss as she moans with pleasure, but she still offers Randy a smug smirk as he comes in.

Even naked and fucked doggy-style with a collar and leash, yipping like an actual dog, she looks like she’s gloating.

The mistress loves her.

Support: He stares at her, jealousy and lust warring on his face.

Then Jade invites him over.

He grins at her.

“Is that a yes? Because she isn’t opening her mouth.”

Celia: Jade lifts her mouth from those two pinpricks long enough to admonish her pet for not making Randy feel more at home. She pulls her hand free and swats the girl for good measure, flat-palmed against her ass. Once, twice, three times. Stinging blows, but nothing extreme.

“Open up, Alana.”

Support: Randy’s making eye contact with the other ghoul as he, ah, prepares.

He’s happy with this compromise. Alana won’t be able to brag, this way.

GM: Alana’s eyes clear as the ecstasy of her mistress’ kiss so abruptly ends. She yelps at the spanks, then looks up at Randy.

The smug look dies.

Her cheeks angrily redden.

But she knows better than to protest. She opens her mouth.

Celia: “Good girl, Alana, you are such a good girl,” Jade croons at her. “You are the best little toy pet, yes you are.” Exactly like she’d speak to a dog. The fingers slide back inside. She returns to feeding.

Support: Randy isn’t a sadist. He doesn’t enjoy seeing other people in pain, per se. He’s not a monster. But her not wanting it does make it better for him. He joins with a smirk, stroking the ghoul caught between them’s chin and hair, knowing he’s ruining her experience.

Sometimes, it’s good to be the driver.

GM: Alana loudly moans as Jade’s fingers re-enter her while the vampire’s kiss resumes. When Randy does, she obediently sucks. Quietly at first, but since her mouth is full, she can’t make very audible happy noises in response to Jade anymore.

After a little while, she starts making choked coughing sounds, as though in pain. Randy’s hurting her.

Support: Randy stops and pulls out. She’s annoying, but it’s what he’d want her to do.

…ew.

GM: Alana immediately turns around and nuzzles her face against Jade’s hands, seeking reassurance as she softly cries. He’s hurt her.

Celia: Jade pulls the girl into her embrace. She checks the collar to make sure it isn’t too tight, makes sure there are no ligature marks around her neck, murmurs soft nothings in the ghoul’s ear as she cries.

“Oh, pet, did he hurt you?” Her eyes find Randy. She points at the door. “Outside,” she says tersely, “I’ll deal with you in a moment.”

GM: Alana just sniffles and nods. She buries her face against Jade’s chest.

Support: He walks out, head cast downward. He’s also looking at the ground.

Celia: “Oh, ‘Lana. You know you’re my favorite little toy, don’t you?” Her fingers pinch. “But that doesn’t mean you get to lie to me. If I want you to suck off Randy while I fuck you, you do it.” She nips at her again, kissing a teasing line down her neck. “I had such plans for you later, such good plans, but if you can’t submit to my other toy how do you think I can take you out on walks and show you off, ’Lana?”

There’s nothing but cool disappointment in her voice.

Her ghoul let her down.

She ruined a special moment for Jade.

GM: Alana immediately comports her face at her domitor’s displeasure.

“I’m sorry, mistress. I’ll submit to him. I had other ideas, that we could do. All sorts of ideas.”

Her tone isn’t quite suggestive, yet, but clearly seeking to mend the damage.

Celia: “Tell me what you did wrong, Alana. I need to know that you understand why you will be punished for this.”

GM: Alana demurely lowers her gaze. She truly does look submissive, naked except for the collar and lead.

“I lied to you and disobeyed you, mistress. Sucking off Randy wasn’t important. Obeying you was important. If I can’t obey you, and do whatever you want, you can’t show me off. You won’t want to show me off.”

“And that makes you less happy, mistress. That’s inexcusable.”

“All I want is to make you happy. I know I’m not always good enough to do that, or good enough for you. I’m not Flawless, like you are. But I want to be. There’s nothing I want more in the world than to make you happy.”

She prostrates herself on her hands and knees, lowering her face against the floor.

“I know that you know best, mistress. I know that you’ll do whatever is best, even if it hurts. I trust you. I love you.”

“I’m sorry I let you down. Help me never let you down again.”

Celia: “You know that if he joined us now I’d have made it up to you later. I had such plans for later, Alana, when we would finally have a moment alone, when I could take my time with you. And now what? Nothing. Now you don’t get that sweet release, and now I have to punish my little toy. Do you think I enjoy punishing you, Alana? Am I a harsh mistress?”

She rises. She keeps her booted foot on the leash, preventing Alana from lifting her head.

“Randy,” she calls out. “Come in here.”

Support: He comes back in. His white gloves are crossed and folded in front of his crotch.

He looks genuinely remorseful.

Celia: “Alana has an apology for you.”

GM: Alana’s face looks crushed at Jade’s words. There doesn’t sound anything faked in her tears this time before Randy comes in.

She steadies her voice and speaks up from the floor. She doesn’t try to raise her head.

“I wasn’t hurt. I’m sorry for lying to get you in trouble, and for disobeying mistress.”

Support: “Um,” Randy says. “Cool. That’s okay.”

He’s pretty sure he’s still somehow the ass in this.

Celia: “You have two choices here, Alana. You can let Randy finish what he started and fuck you, or I’m going to take that collar off of you and you won’t get it back.”

GM: Alana blinks for a moment.

But it’s only to process the cruel, cruel, question, not make the decision.

That doesn’t take any time.

“I choose for him to fuck me, mistress. I want to be your pet.”

Her voice breaks. She still doesn’t try to look up from the floor.

“Please. Please have him fuck me. I want to be your pet.”

Celia: “You heard her, Randy. Fuck her.”

Support: He’s surprised.

And also a little weirded out. It was kinky before. Now it’s…

Is rapey the right word? He doesn’t think of himself as a rapist.

And besides.

It’s not like he can say no.

GM: Alana doesn’t move. If Jade wants her to move, she’ll get off.

Support: She’s already naked. He takes off his pants in a few, short movements. He doesn’t take off his boxers, though. Just takes out his cock.

He doesn’t fuck her face because looking at her would be awkward. There’s no triumph for him in this, even if there’s shame for her.

Celia: “Finish inside of her, Randy.”

Support: He does throw in a few spanks, though.

Because what, he’s not allowed to have fun?

Celia: Jade keeps her foot on the leash. She watches.

Support: He obeys. In a small, pathetic way, he’s grateful she’s there to tell him what to do.

GM: Alana yelps as appropriate. She moves around a bit, to tug at the leash and give a show. There’s less enthusiasm than with Jade, but she doesn’t just lie there like a wooden board.

Celia: “Such a good girl,” Jade says, approving. “Such a good pet to take it like your mistress wants.”

GM: At her domitor’s encouragement, Alana smiles, desperately, through her tears. She moves around more. She makes moaning happy noises. She tugs at the leash, harder, and licks Jade’s boots.

She still cries a bit, though.

Support: Randy isn’t crying. But it takes him an awkward amount of time to finish, and he has a feeling he’s going to want to take it easy for, like, a few weeks.

But he finishes.

Like a good dog she’s played red rocket with.

Celia: Jade waits until he’s done. Until his body gives that telltale shudder and he makes the face that guys make where they’re trying to hold it in but they’re secretly enjoying themselves and then afterward they wonder what the fuck it was they were just watching. She waits until he pulls out and his cum drips from Alana’s body. She doesn’t dismiss him.

Finally, she lets go of the leash. She lowers herself to her knees to look at the girl and puts her finger beneath her chin to lift her face. She rubs a thumb across her face to dry her tears.

“You are such a good girl, Alana. I am so proud of you for making this special for me. I am so happy you’re mine. I love you.” She pulls her into her arms, presses a kiss against her lips. There’s nothing chaste about it. She presses Alana back until she’s laying down, trails a line of kisses down her body. She settles between her legs and licks her until she cums, too, and the taste of her two ghouls is on her tongue.

She bites her wrist. Holds it over her toy’s mouth.

“Drink, pet. Drink and know how much I love you.”

Support: Randy puts his pants on.

Clears his throat.

Celia: Jade ignores him. Her eyes are on Alana. Her attention is on Alana.

GM: Alana looks beside herself with relief at her domitor’s praise. She cries some more into Jade’s arms, but they’re happy tears. She kisses the Toreador hungrily, desperately back, and shakes her head as Jade eats her out to make the bell go ding-a-ling-a-ling. She makes happy noises, too, alternating between moans and yips, interspersed with cries of how she is Jade’s toy, Jade’s pet, and thanking her. Thanking her for all sorta of things, no doubt, but she’s too short on breath to go into specifics.

The coup de grace, though, is the slit wrist. Alana falls on it like a newborn, closed-eyed puppy after its mother’s milk. She closes her eyes too and sucks, in timeless, total bliss, until her domitor finally withdraws that life-giving font. There’s that momentary flash of disappointment, like always, when the feeding has to end.

Alana closes her eyes and nuzzles her face against Jade’s lap.

“Thank you, mistress,” she whispers. “Thank you, thank you, for everything. I love you so much. I have so many ideas, for how I can be such a good pet to you…”

Celia: Jade lets it go on for a time. Lets Randy linger, awkwardly, while Jade comforts Alana, while she feeds her, while she soothes her hurts with whispers and kisses and gentle touches.

Finally, she lets go of the girl.

“Prepare a shower for the two of us when we return. Get yourself cleaned up. Be a good girl and you can join us.”

She leaves Alana with a final kiss, snapping her fingers at Randy so he can fall in line behind her.

GM: Alana’s face falls again as she looks up at the clock.

“Oh… I’m sorry, mistress, I’m so sorry, but… we’re past the time their ghoul said he could meet you, to escort you to the sewers.”

“You and Randy can still see him tomorrow,” she adds. “After the dinner with your family, the night before you see Lord Savoy. You can also see him after Lord Savoy. I’m sure he has even fewer better things to do than Ramon.”

Celia: Jade pauses at the door as Alana speaks.

“Then clean yourself up. Randy and I are going to have a word.”

GM: “Yes, mistress,” Alana nods. She rises to her feet, leash still dangling from neck, gathers up her clothes, then bows and withdraws.

Support: “So,” Randy says after a moment. “What the fuck?”

Celia: Jade gives him a look.

“Take me home, Randy. We’ll chat.”


Saturday night, 5 March 2016, PM

Support: He keeps his mouth shut until he’s behind Ruby’s wheel and they’re zipping at unsafe speeds through the Quarter.

“What the fuck?” he repeats.

Celia: She’s silent. She doesn’t engage.

She lets it linger.

Silence.

No radio.

Just the sound of the car, the night, the wind.

Support: He snorts. “Okay, take that tone.”

Celia: “Stop.”

Support: “I wanted to, back there.”

Celia: “Stop the car, Randy.”

Support: He stops the car.

Celia: She moves. She’s not as quick as others like her. She doesn’t have that supernatural speed. But anger moves her, and just like that she’s on his lap with her thighs spread across him and the steering wheel at her back. It’s late enough that no one is around to see when her lips part and she bares her fangs at him, hissing. Her eyes flash.

It’s an echo of their first time together, only now he knows what she is. Her hand is at his throat.

“Don’t. You. Question. Me.”

Support: He clams up. A small noise wells up from the back of his throat.

“I’m. I’m just. Saying. S-sorry. Babe.”

Celia: “You think I was too hard on her.” Her lips curl back into a sneer. “You resent me for using you, perhaps. That’s what you’re here for, Randy. To be used as I see fit.”

Support: “I—I love you. I know what I am. Just your driver. I mean, I did it. I’d do it again. I love you, doll.”

Celia: “So does she. Do you think that’ll prevent me from ripping out your tongue if you annoy me?”

She doesn’t wait for a response. She doesn’t need to; he’s seen her do it.

“You do not lie to me. Ever. Understand that. She lied to me. She was punished accordingly.”

Support: “I can’t lie! I’m a shitty liar! You know that, Jade. Babe.”

Celia: “Do you think,” she hisses, “that I enjoy punishing my toys? That I enjoy breaking you? Have I not been more than fair? Letting you race. Leaving your mother alone. Letting you touch me.”

Support: His expression goes flat at the mention of his mother.

“The answer you’re looking for is yes,” he says finally. “But I don’t wanna lie to you. You just asked me not to, right? I get that you can do whatever you want to me. But… I’ve met your mom. Your family. You’re good people. I don’t get why you have to do shit like punish us. If you don’t want to. Because you’re such a sweet person, babe. That’s all. I just want you to be happy, Jade. That’s all. And I know you don’t enjoy hurting her. Is all. Is that… okay?”

It’s there in his eyes.

The worry.

The tortured, abused love.

Just like in Em’s.

Celia: She is very still for a very long time.

Finally, she says, “She lied to me to get you into trouble. If I cannot trust my ghouls, then I cannot trust anyone. Now she knows to never do it again. Now you know that if you lie to me you’ll face worse, as you’ve been warned. You enjoy a very, very lofty position at my side. Don’t fuck it up, Randy.”

Support: “I don’t want… I won’t lie to you, babe. Ever. I promise. I’d sell Ruby for parts first.”

“You can trust me.”

GM: Alana said the same thing. Or would’ve.

You can’t ever completely trust what comes out of a ghoul’s mouth, Savoy had chuckled.

Oh yes, they’ll do anything for you.

Any sacrifice.

Any stupid thing.

They’ll lie and cheat and do desperate, stupid, things, to feel close to you.

“That’s always the challenge of having more than one,” the French Quarter lord had remarked. “They get jealous. So you’ve got to discipline them, my dear. A firm hand to keep those tugging hearts in line…”

Celia: The fangs disappear, but not before they slice into her own lip. She’s purring instead when she leans in. When she finds his lips with hers. Gives him what he wants, the blood, like she’d given Alana.

She’s not a monster. She recognizes what she did to Randy. What she made him do. They’d both been punished this evening, though the boy had done nothing but possess a hardened cock.

She really does love them, she tells herself.

Support: Randy tells himself, too.

She loves him.

And he likes it.


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Story Twelve, Emmett I

“We make nice, and if we can all stand each other for more than an hour, we decide what to do next. Together.”
Emmett Delacroix


Date ?

GM: Freedom tastes good.

For the life of him, or perhaps the death, Emmett Delacroix cannot taste anything else. He does not taste his spit, phlegm, or tongue. His mouth doesn’t have that dry and stale sensation from not brushing his teeth last night (he rarely did, after leaving home). There’s just nothing.

But freedom has a taste.

And it is sweet indeed.

Spectral voices whoop and cheer into the starless night. Em would say it’s cold, but he doesn’t feel cold, and he’s not sure he’ll ever feel hot too. He does feel damp, at least, from the miserable black rain that seems to eternally pour over everything. Storm clouds rumble ominously overheard as tongues of lightning flicker through the gloom. They seem almost more like after-images than actual lightning: there’s something nothing bright about them. Just part of the sky that’s not as dark.

Black and gray stretches for as far as Em can see, interrupted only by the brilliant colors of his conjured fireworks. A woman’s voice from among the spectral throng hisses, “Kill the lights! There are things out there!”

“She’s right, kill the damn lights!” Fizzy echoes.

Emmett: He kills them.

GM: With the sole color in the achromatic hellscape extinguished, the group’s spirits seem to descend. Literally. Buildings rise to meet them. They look blasted apart and abandoned for years, like bombed-out shells from a World War II newsreel. Em’s not sure where they are. It doesn’t look like the Quarter anymore, and the buildings aren’t skyscrapers like in the CBD. The half-rotted, skeletal structures could be anywhere. Could have been anything. Garbage and debris choke the water-run streets. It looks like Katrina just hit.

Em’s feet make contact with the uneven ground with a light splash. He looks around at the other escapees.

Turner is there. Outside of her prison, she looks even uglier. She’s been shot in the head. The back of her head. There’s a gaping hole with dangling flaps of skin, skull shards, and attached, half-pulped brain matter, which also crusts her blood-matted hair. She’s dressed in a dark pocketed Blackwatch uniform with the company’s black-starred logo and heavy-looking combat boots.

Courtney looks much like Em remembers from behind the glass, but even in an achromatic world, her skin is looks deathly pale. Dark blood steadily drips from her slashed wrists. They’re vertical rather than horizontal cuts. The non-Hollywood way to kill yourself. Instead of her old stripper attire, though, she’s dressed in a simple tank top and denim skirt. She walks barefoot.

It’s been a while since Em saw Fizzy. He looks like shit. He’s covered in still-bleeding stab wounds, lots tiny ones, the kind you get from a shiv in prison. He’s dressed in an Orleans Parish Prison inmate’s uniform. Em knows how those things feel, even if it’s weird to see this one gray instead of orange. They’re always too big, like clown suits, always with holes or missing buttons, and only sometimes without stains Em didn’t want to know the origins of. The underwear was usually even worse. The ‘Jackie Chan’ slide-on shoes are uncomfortable and look like they pinch Fizzy’s large feet.

The first of the wraiths Em doesn’t recognize is a bombshell. She’s gorgeous. She looks around Em’s age, with a slim figure, long hair whose color is hard to determine in a colorless world, and large breasts that might be implants but are just within the realistic frame of possibility to be natural. Her pretty face is deathly pale, like Courtney’s, and dark blood drips from two deep puncture marks along her neck. Her eyes look slightly puffy as if from crying, and her running mascara gives her permanently black tears. She’s dressed in a clingy, low-cut mini-dress that’s slightly rumpled, and strappy platform-less high heels.

The second of the strangers is a man who looks maybe a little older than Em, with boyish features emphasized by his large eyes, thick eyebrows, and frazzled hair. He’s around the same height and slightly thicker than Em, though that isn’t hard. An addict’s dark circles ring his eyes. Blood drips from a puncture along his arm. Em knows the many needle marks and splotchy discoloration of a junkie when he sees one. The man’s dressed in plain jeans and a t-shirt. He’s also barefoot.

The last stranger is a teenage girl with a wide face, firm nose, prominent eyebrows, and mid-back-length hair that’s streaked through a lighter color towards the ends. Her hair looks a little rumpled, and her skin a little pale, but Em can’t see any readily apparent cause of her death, though her eyes are also puffy like the first stranger’s. She’s dressed in a long-sleeved tee, jeans, and socks without shoes.

Seven left, including him.

Seven out of the mob that destroyed Bobbi Jo and tore through that dread house.

Turner looks around them.

“So, what the fuck now?”

Emmett: Em himself doesn’t look so bad, in his opinion. He’s always looked good in gray. Death becomes him.

Except for the arm. Can’t do much about that.

He clears his throat. “I think we could do with a round of names, for a start. That’s the first thing they took from us. Names, death, and calling.”

He flourishes his gangrenous stump. “Emmett Delacroix. Killed by the state for crimes I did not commit. And there are people still alive who I have business with.” He raises an eyebrow at Turner. “Would you like to introduce yourself, or would you prefer me to do the honors?”

GM: Turner snorts. “You wouldn’t know honor if it punched you in the balls.”

“Oh, hey. That reminds me.”

She punches him in the balls.

It hurts, but not as much as it feels like it should. It’s like getting punched in the arm or leg.

Emmett: He grimaces, but raises an eyebrow and says, “That’s Turner, everybody. And that’s how she shows affection.” He smiles and looks at Courtney with a reassuring grin next.

GM: “Yeah, real affectionate, just like you’re real innocent.”

Emmett: “Oh, who would want to be innocent before they died? That’s like coming to the party sober.”

GM: “I was innocent. Of shit to deserve this, anyway.”

“I was loyal to my boss. Through thick and thin. I was loyal. She gave me this souvenir.” Turner sarcastically pokes her blown-out head.

Her colorless eyes brim with anger. “Since you asked about calling. Mine’s revenge.”

Emmett: “Then we’ve got at least one thing in common,” Em says, nodding. “I owe a few people some quality hauntings, too.” He looks again at Courtney.

GM: “Courtney. Y’all can probably tell how I died.” She holds up her vertically slashed wrists with an empty look. “Did it to make the nightmares stop.”

She doesn’t say anything a moment longer.

“Honestly, just survive. Maybe revenge on the guy who sent me here. And my bitch mom. Why not.”

Emmett: “Survival is legit,” Em reassures her, offering her his good hand. “We died once and wound up here. Reckon none of us are looking to find out what’s waiting on the next level down.”

GM: “What is this, fucking group therapy?” Turner snorts at Em’s motion.

Emmett: He waits to see if Courtney takes his hand before replying.

GM: She gives it a curious look, but finally takes it.

Emmett: “We were able to escape,” Em says, “Because we stuck together. You weren’t real fond of that plan, I recall, but we did it anyways and here we are. If anybody wants to go their own way, chance things on their own, I’ll be the last to make ’em stay. But the way I see it, all we have is each other.”

“We’re stronger together than alone. So sure, I’ll say the mushy gushy shit nobody else will. Because nobody else will. So my thinking is, we talk, we make nice, and if we can all stand each other for more than an hour, we decide what to do next. Together. And we survive, and bring the monsters that put us here through seven kinds of hell. Unless that sounds too soft for any of y’all.”

He throws in a little special effect, too. Nothing too flashy, just enough to punctuate his stump speech. Green flames blossom from his mouth as he says Hell, twist into a small campfire that crackles in the middle of their little circle. The light paints their faces.

He squeezes Courtney’s hand, and looks to the girl with marks in her neck. “We can see how you died, too. But I bet your name is something special.”

GM: The other ghosts stare into the fire. The green pallor it casts over their faces looks downright ghoulish, but it’s color, in a world that’s nothing but blacks and grays. Em sees the same look in their eyes as when Tante called him ‘sandman.’

“That all sounds… good to me,” says the teenager.

“I mean, fuck… what’s even out there?”

Emmett: “I’m the last to know,” Em says. “Other than vampires and other ghosts and the people who deal with ’em. But I know at least one of us who knows more.”

He makes eye contact with Fizzy.

GM: Fizzy looks back at him. “What?”

“You want me to go? Okay. Fizzy. Stabbed to death by some shrimp in the big house.”

Emmett: He smiles. “When you were cussing mad at me, last time we talked, you mentioned things. Thrall markets. Obli. Oblivion.” He lets the last word hang in the cool, lifeless air, lets it trickle down the spines of those assembled. “You’ve been dead for a while, Fizzy. S’pect you’ve learned some things.”

GM: The huddled wraiths don’t say anything at that hanging word.

But the fire seems a little smaller.

A little fainter.

A little less green.

“I dunno how long I’ve been dead for,” Fizzy says. “In case you missed it, time don’t mean a whole lot here.” He looks at Em. “And I was just a thrall, before the…”

He looks around the group.

“Oh, that’s rich. Y’all don’t know a fuckin’ thing, do you?”

Emmett: “I don’t,” Em says cheerfully. “Except that it’s better to know more.”

GM: Fizzy looks at the others. “Anyone who’s not fresh outta their caul, raise your hand.”

Only the other man does.

Most of the others look confused. Turner just glares.

“Oh, boy,” says Fizzy.

“Look, y’all want to know the 101 about being dead, there’s someone with answers who can really help you,” says other man. “Lots of answers.”

“I’m Roger Mayfield. Heroin OD, if you couldn’t tell by my arm. There’s other ghosts out there. Wraiths. Most of them’ll try to enslave you, just like the vampires did, but worse.”

“But there’s a group. The Undying Knights of St. Balacou.”

“I’m one of them. We’ve all been killed by vampires.” He looks at the woman with the bleeding neck, then back at the others. “And even you haven’t, you’ve all been enslaved by vampires. Spent a while in those glass cells, waiting until they’d do God knows what to us.”

“Or maybe you got to enjoy some time outside a cell, chained up and whipped like dogs.”

The hate in everyone’s eyes is palpable.

“My boss was a vampire,” says Turner. “They have this whole ‘Masquerade.’ Not to spread it around, what they are. Fuck that.”

“Fuck that,” Roger echoes. “If any of you hates vampires, wants revenge, the Knights’ll have you.”

Emmett: “One visited me in prison,” Em adds in. “Fucked with my head and turned it inside out until I couldn’t remember anything she did to me. And they’re powerful people, too. One that did it to me was a Malveaux.”

“The Knights, you know how to contact them?”

GM: This guy’s taking over. He’s gonna be the boss if we don’t slow him down.

Emmett: I’m on it. Don’t worry.

GM: “Yeah. I’ve met their leader. He’s seriously scary.”

“Where do we sign up?” asks Turner.

“Yeah, where?” asks the woman with the neck.

“I can get us-”

“Ain’t the Knights renegades?” Fizzy interrupts.

“Yeah, the Hierarchy doesn’t much like them. You got a problem?” asks Roger.

“Fuck no,” says Fizzy. “Hierarchy soulforged my brother.”

“Sorry.”

“Half wanted to do it myself.”

“Guess that’s brothers.”

“Yeah.”

Emmett: Em holds up a hand. “This is interesting and all, and we all want to know more, but y’all are talking about a lot of shit the rest of us still don’t know.”

GM: “Yeah, what’s the Hierarchy?” asks the teenager.

Emmett: “Let’s finish sharing names. I see some faces without ‘em still. Then we can learn, I don’t know, ghost history. Ain’t like we’re short on time, in the short term at least.”

GM: “I’m Ginger,” says the woman with the bleeding neck. “Y’all could normally tell by my hair, but… everything here’s in black and white. Besides fires and fireworks, I guess.”

“I was drained by a vampire. They did it to me lots of times before that, and normally it feels real good, but that time… not so much.”

Emmett: “That’s real fucked, Ginger,” Em says. “Do you know anything about the one that did it to you?”

GM: She shakes her head. “I don’t even know his name. But he and another one looked like they were gonna have a fight. And the one who… killed me, looked really torn up.”

“I guess they wanted to make it a fair fight. He drained my… best friend, right in front of me. Then he drained me. Because I wasn’t ‘her.’ Those were the last words I heard. ‘She ain’t her.’”

Emmett: He looks at her, his expression somber but sincere.

“And what do you want to do about it?”

GM: “Getting even would be nice, so the Knights sound just fine to me.” The woman glares for a moment, but then her expression shifts to one of worry. “But I’d really like to find my friend. Her name’s Melody. She was always there for me. He killed her and I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t know if she’s a… ghost like me, if the vampires in that house got her, or something else happened to her, or… what. I don’t know.” Ginger looks almost ready to cry.

“You stick by friends,” says Turner.

Emmett: “So we’ll find her if she can be found,” Em agrees. “Name like Melody, somebody ought to know what happened to her. We’ll see about it.”

He looks to the teenager.

GM: “Hannah Burroughs,” she says. “I died from… sleeping pills. Suicide.”

“I didn’t think you could still overdose on those,” remarks Ginger, dabbing at her eyes. Em doesn’t see any tears, though.

“You can’t,” Hannah answers. “OD enough to kill yourself, anyways. You have to mix them with other meds. I… did the research. And had some anti-anxiety meds.”

Emmett: “I’ve considered taking that road myself, more than once,” Em says. “But I would have found even more reason not to, if I had known what was waiting for me.” He smiles sadly at Hannah, and offers her the same hand he gave Courtney. “I can’t imagine you’re happy with what you found, either. But I’m still glad to meet you, Hannah.”

He glances around. “I should have asked earlier… ghosts have tricks. Y’all know that already, and you know mine.” He points to the waning campfire, and pokes it with a shadowy stick, making it billow back into substantiality. “Useful thing to share with each other, I figure. Know what we’re capable of. Especially if they can be taught.”

GM: Hannah takes his hand. “Wait, you asked what we all wanted to do.”

“I want to help my mom.”

Emmett: “I did,” he says, grinning. “And that’s a damn fine thing to want, I think.”

GM: “What I did… it’s gonna destroy her. Completely destroy her.”

Hannah looks like she’s about to cry too.

“I don’t know why I did that. It was so selfish. Just so selfish.”

Emmett: “Living people make selfish choices,” Em says, squeezing her hand. “I made plenty of my own. Fizzy’ll tell you that for free.” He looks around. “But to my way of thinking, if there’s any such thing as a new beginning, this is as close to it as we get. What happened, happened. It’s led us all to the same place, and that’s here. Now.”

GM: “I’m trans,” Hannah abruptly says.

“I hid it from everyone. I took the pills, after I was outed. But… fuck, what’s it matter now?”

Emmett: He smiles and says, “It means what you make it mean. You don’t have to keep secrets anymore.”

GM: “Means we’ll call you ‘he,’ I guess,” Turner shrugs.

“Oh are you fucking SERIOUS!” Hannah flares.

Emmett: He looks at Turner sharply. “Enough of that. She’s dead. Let her be who she wants to be.”

GM: “My boss killed a tranny once. I helped clean it up.”

Emmett: “You want to stay with us, you’ll avoid starting shit over nothing.”

He looks around. “Unless anybody else thinks this is worth fighting over, after what we’ve been through together.”

GM: Hannah throws a punch. Turner catches it, twists her arm around, and drives her face-first into the ground, knee on her back.

“No wonder you wanted to be a girl,” snorts the ex-Marine.

Exclamations go up from Ginger and Courtney. Fizzy and Roger both seem to consider what’s happening, then just cross their arms.

“Lemme—GO!” shouts Hannah.

“Say you’re a boy and I’ll let go.”

Emmett: Em looks Turner in the eye. There’s something dangerous there, something that cares not a whit whether he’s right or wrong. Something that knows only that it has to win.

“I know you like throwing your weight around, and I know you’re tough. We all know it. But you doing this is making us divided. It’s causing problems. And I think it’s sad that you’re trying to be more like your boss.” He glances at Roger, knowing Fizzy probably won’t be a good bet. “You think the Knights are interested in dealing with somebody that doesn’t know how to avoid starting arguments over nothing?”

GM: Roger just watches.

Turner drives her knee harder into Hannah’s neck.

“So the tranny my boss and me killed, she, and by ‘she’ I mean ‘girl pretending to be a boy’ was just fucking ugly. The hormones never work out right. Explains why you’ve got such a thick face, I guess. It was really funny how we killed her. Joked about whether it was a hate crime. I got to see her pussy up close when I was getting rid of the body, we stuck it in ice for a while, and boy. I just about lost my lunch. Do you still have a cock? Hey, why don’t you show us, since you’re so okay now with who you are and shit?” She grabs at Hannah’s pants and starts tugging them off.

Hannah gives a shrill scream. The ground screams too. It’s a dreadful, hair-rising sound that seems to come from all the earth at once. A black void yawns open. Hannah plummets through, still screaming. Some part of Em wants to jump too. There’s something in there. Something that calls to him.

Then the ground slams shut.

“Huh,” says Turner.

“What the hell did you do!?” Courtney exclaims.

“Oh, that’s just great, now there’s six of us!” glares Ginger.

Emmett: “Take out her anger at being trans on the kid, looks like,” Em says coldly. “Well, looks like the kid escaped. Maybe she’ll come back. Maybe not. But now there’s one less of us. Thanks, Turner. Good work.”

GM: “Weakest link,” shrugs Fizzy.

Emmett: “Sure, but now somebody else is.”

GM: Turner frowns.

“That wasn’t me.”

Emmett: “No, it was the kid. Escaping you.”

GM: “No. Saying that shit.”

Emmett: “What?”

GM: “I mean, don’t get me wrong, if you’re born with a dick you’re a boy, end of story.”

“But it doesn’t make any sense I’d say that out loud. Doesn’t help.”

Emmett: “Uh huh. Shadow?”

GM: “Shadow, what?” Turner glares. “There’s a lot of shadows around here, in case you missed them.”

Emmett: He looks at Roger and Fizzy. “You two know anything about that?”

GM: Fizzy shrugs. “Evil voice in your head. Everybody got one.”

The rest of the group surveys one another slowly.

Emmett: “Try to keep a handle on it, next time,” Em says, a bit calmer now. “It gets the better of you once, whatever. It keeps causing problems, you become a liability. And whatever else you thought of her, she hasn’t been one so far.”

GM: “And I’ll say the same to you, shitface. If it can get the better of me, yours’ll have you bent over taking it up the ass and begging for seconds.”

“He’s right, though,” says Roger. “The afterlife’s hard. We can’t cut anyone slack for their Shadow.”

“Everyone has one. They never shut up. Never stop trying to turn things to shit.”

Emmett: He don’t think much of you, does he?

GM: I don’t feel like he’s very good at the whole ‘thinking’ thing.

“I’ve had one. Telling me how worthless I am,” says Courtney.

Turner frowns.

“Where’s the other girl?”

“Other girl?” says Courtney.

“Yeah. The one who got out with us.”

The ex-Marine slowly surveys their lifeless surroundings.

“We were eight. Not seven.”

Emmett: Em’s frowning too. “Which of you hissed in my ear? About the lights?”

GM: There’s blank looks.

“I know I did,” says Fizzy. “Was right to. There’s things out there, which would see.”

“But things that might’ve grabbed one of us in the dark too,” says Turner.

“So we were boned either way,” says Courtney. “Oh my god.”

Emmett: “But there was a woman who said it first,” Em says. “Okay. So. New rule. Watch each other. There’s six of us. Watch your partner. Like kids in summer camp. Em eyes Courtney. “I’ll look out for you, if you look out for me.”

GM: “We need to get to the Knights,” says Roger.

“They have experience with this shit. And they have people who can weaken your Shadow, when it’s getting strong.”

That’s exactly what they wanted to hear, gotta give him that.

“Okay. Lead the way,” says Turner. “And we’ll watch each other, in pairs, until then.”

Guess that makes Roger here the leader.

Emmett: He nods, making the decision cooperative. “Turner and Mayfield. Courtney and me. Fizzy and Ginger.”

He frowns at Roger. “I’m all for going, but there’s things to know first. How long have you been with them? How do they treat newbies? And how much of our afterlives belong to them once we join up? I want to survive, but I want to be free, too.”

He also glances down. “I also think the right thing to do is wait nearby, see if Hannah comes back. I’m not optimistic, but it’s possible. It’s what I’d hope y’all would do for me. I won’t split the group over it, though, if I’m outvoted.” He doesn’t sound hopeful, but it’s the right image to send.

GM: “How long?” says Turner.

“Time don’t really matter here,” says Fizzy.

Emmett: “Let’s combine the two. Just long enough for Roger to answer some. If by the time we run out of questions, she ain’t here, then there’s probably not much to be done.”

“So, Sir Mayfield. What’s the story with the Knights?”

GM: The group seems to consider and then accede to that with a few murmurs.

“Every one of them’s a wraith, like us, who’s been hurt by leeches,” Roger says. “We want revenge. Against all leeches. You help other wraiths get some payback, they help you get yours. We protect each other against the Hierarchy and other wraiths that want to enslave or fuck us up.”

Emmett: “The Hierarchy. They’re, what. Ghost government?”

GM: “Yeah,” says Roger. “They’re everything wrong with government in the Skinlands, that’s the living world, but a hundred times worse. A thousand times worse.”

“They’re built off slavery. Brand new wraiths, enfants, people who’ve just died, get snatched up and sold as thralls. Slaves. They have wraiths, called reapers, who patrol the Shadowlands—that’s the bright and sunny corner of the afterlife we’re in here—looking for new wraiths to harvest. They clap them in chains soon as soon as they find them to sell at the thrall markets.”

Emmett: Em nods. “I’ve met some of those. Before the vamps whistled me up.”

GM: “You’re lucky to’ve escaped.”

Emmett: “The Knights—I was joking earlier, when I called you sir, but how much protocol do they have? Is it like the army, or more like a freedom fighters thing?”

GM: “Real freedom fighters are armies,” says Turner. “There’s a reason discipline and command structures exist, you know. Because it fucking works.”

Emmett: He shrugs. “So it’s a good question.”

GM: “Well, we have a leader who calls the shots. He’s been dead hundreds of years. Knows more about killing leeches than anyone. On ‘operations’ where we’re doing that, he expects wraiths to follow a command structure. But outside of that, your afterlives are yours. He’s not interested in telling everyone what to do. Just killing leeches.”

Emmett: Em nods in response to that. “Sounds pretty damn reasonable. What kinds of ‘operations’?”

He glances around, and invites others to ask, if they have questions. This isn’t just for him, after all.

GM: “Killing leeches,” Roger repeats. “Especially ones like the Giovannini who enslave wraiths like we all were. That’s the main thing the Knights exist for.”

Emmett: “Giovannini,” he repeats, tasting the word.

GM: “Sometimes we sabotage their quick—that’s human—slaves and allies. Try to draw them where we want them. Or set them after other leeches, to do our dirty work.”

“But mostly we just want to make them pay.”

Emmett: “You like them, a lot,” Em notes, looking him over. “That’s clear. How did they earn your loyalty?”

GM: “Hierarchy reapers got me, after I died. Were going to sell me on the thrall markets. Or soulforge me.”

“The Knights raided the convoy. They do that, sometimes, to pick up new recruits. Saved my afterlife.”

“The Giovannini got me later, when I was out on my own. It’s dangerous out here. There’s reaper patrols, Giovannini, spectres, all sorts of fucked up things.”

Emmett: “Spectres?”

GM: “That voice in your head. Your Shadow.”

“It’s always fighting you. Always trying to take control.”

“A spectre’s a wraith who’s finally lost that war. Whose Shadow is in control all the time.”

Emmett: Huh.

Interesting.

GM: Told you. There’s a lot more I can do to ruin your day than just talk shit.

And I will push you out of the driver’s seat if I don’t like where our afterlife is headed.

Emmett: Now, that’s just a toxic relationship.

GM: “Are they that bad?” asks Ginger.

“Worse,” says Roger. “The Hierarchy kills them on sight. It’s the one thing they have the right idea about.”

“I hate the Hierarchy. But I’d rather be a thrall than fall into spectre hands, any day.”

“All they exist to do is torture and destroy. They’re lost. Gone.”

“How’s someone become a spectre?” asks Turner.

“Their Shadow wins. Lots of ways that can happen. Though if you kill a wraith, that’s one of the fastest ways to do it.”

“So we can die?” Turner asks again.

“Yeah. Kill someone and they might come back. Or their Shadow might take over for good. That’s death for the dead.”

Emmett: “You said the Knights have wraiths who can mess with the Shadows,” he muses. “What’s that about?”

GM: “They’re called pardoners. I don’t really know how they do it, but they can rip out parts of your Shadow. It stains their hands. Turns them black.”

Emmett: “Sounds… painful.”

GM: “Yeah. It really hurts.”

“But less than the alternative.”

Emmett: Em files that away. “Do you know anything about where Hannah might be? I got sucked into a hole like that, before the Giovannini got me. Just before, actually. I had, like, this vision. A nightmare. My Shadow seemed real excited. Is that normal?”

GM: “Yeah. They’re called harrowings. That’s what happens when it’s trying to seize control.”

Roger’s pallid face seems to darken. “Sometimes it wins. Takes away another piece of you.”

True facts. I can drop you into another if I get cheesed off.

Emmett: Don’t get cranky, Gaspy. Who’s my little Shadow. Coochie-coochie-coo.

“So that’s where she is now?” Em asks, leaning in. “A… harrowing? Where will she be when its over?”

GM: “Your guess is as good as mine. They’re crapshoots.”

“Depends how well she does.”

“Or how bad.”

“So is she gonna show back up?” asks Courtney.

“He just said he don’t know,” says Fizzy.

“So it’s a waste of time for us to stick around, then,” remarks Turner.

“You’re the reason she’s gone!” glares Ginger.

“And if you have at least half as many brains as your boob job, you’ll want me rather than him around when we run into reapers or spectres or what the fuck ever.” Turner rolls her eyes. “The Knights are sounding better and better than you losers by the minute.”

Hey, Turner, do you have another cunt down there, or just the one in your head?

Emmett: Right?

GM: “Screw you then, go off with the Knights if that’s where you want to be so bad.” Courtney.

“Oh look, another useless person running her mouth. Glad to.” Turner looks at Fizzy. “Fizzy, you don’t look half-useless in a fight, if you want to come with me and Roger.”

Emmett: “Well, sounds like you won’t have to pick,” Em says brightly. “Knights seem like the way to go, Roger. Thanks for being patient.” He looks over the rest of them. “We can’t force you to come with us, and I don’t think any of us want to. But it sure sounds better than the alternative.”

He glances at Roger. “If there’s nothing we can do for Hannah, than Turner’s right, about at least one thing. There’s no sense waiting.” He eyes her. “Unless she feels like accepting responsibility, of course. But that’s not her style. So, let’s go.” He claps his hands together. “It’ll be nice to be part of something again.” He reaches out to Roger, offering him his hand.

GM: Turner grabs Em by the scruff of his shirt and yanks his face up to hers.

“I’m starting to get pretty sick of your bullshit.”

“You or the other literal dead weights don’t appreciate having a Marine at your backs, you can stay here and rot.”

“I got your back,” says Fizzy.

Emmett: He looks at her, looks up at those furious, violent eyes. And he smiles a Cheshire smile. The whole world vanishes behind it. “Elaborate, please. What bullshit? The bit where it was my plan that got you freed? Or the part where I pretend you aren’t acting like a child because you’re embarrassed your own Shadow got the better of you? I mean, hey, it happens. We all have bad days. I just hope you can hold it together long enough to actually get to the Knights, without losing your temper like a brat halfway there. I mean, you sure kicked Hannah’s ass, and I know you could kick mine.” He tilts his head. “I bet your Shadow really wants you to, too. Come on, Marine. Show me what Semper Fi means. You’re being real faithful, right about now. Or are you man enough to stop having a fuckin’ period?”

He doesn’t look away from her eyes. He wants to see everything inside them.

Emmett: He considers conjuring the noise of a mic dropping. He thinks better of it.

Who says he never learns?

GM: A noise plays.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wF7eUPb3-_g

YouTube

Sound Library

Mic Drop | SOUND EFFECT

Emmett: Whoops. Goddammit, dude.

He coughs, looking abashed. “Ah. Excuse me.”

GM: The words catch in his throat.

“What the fuck was that?” says Fizzy.

“Oh, that was me,” Em hears himself say.

Emmett: He conjures the word ‘SHADOW’ in big, flaming letters on his own forehead.

Or tries to.

GM: There’s no reaction on anyone’s faces.

“I’d say it was a sound effect to accompany completely humiliating Turner in front of you all like a little bitch,” he goes on, “but it’s not tasteful to brag like that.”

“Oh, did I? Whoops.”

Emmett: He tries to screw up his face and cross his eyes. He is not optimistic.

GM: There’s no reaction from anyone else.

“But I suppose it’s more tasteful than, you know, beating up the trans kid and sending her into god only knows what kind of nightmare.”

Emmett: You get that this isn’t making me want to rely on you more, right?

Although. Good point.

GM: “If she even survives.”

Emmett: He looks at Roger. Roger knows. Roger might be able to tell.

GM: His vision remains where it is.

“Semper fi. What a joke. Last I remember, we all fought as hard as any Marine and bled like any Marine to win free. We should be brothers, sisters, after that. And Turner’s the one throwing all of that away over what? Pronouns? Way I see it, she thinks she’s better than us.”

“I say she’s not. I say we’re all equal after what we went through. And I say we don’t need the Knights. Or Turner. Who’s with me?”

“I am,” says Courtney.

“Me too,” glares Ginger.

“Me not,” says Fizzy.

“Everyone who counts, then,” says Turner. She’s still holding up Em by his shirt.

Emmett:SHADOW!”

GM: The words die in his throat.

“Guess it’s your call, Roger,” says Fizzy, looking at the other wraith.

“Who you wanna bring back to the Knights?”

Roger looks between the two groups.

Emmett: Roger, don’t be fucking stupid.

GM: “You and Turner,” he says.

“Smart choice,” says Turner.

Emmett: Goddammit. Goddammit. Somebody THINK.

GM: She yanks Em closer.

“Sempi fi.”

Emmett: I was just TRYING to go with the Knights two seconds ago.

GM: “You’re right. It was your plan that got us out.”

Emmett: THINK.

GM: “So for that, I won’t stomp the shit out of you like the kid, and send you off to some nightmare I’d bet my life savings you deserve. Don’t expect to be so lucky next time though.”

She shoves him away.

“Don’t expect there to be a next time,” says Em. “Come on, guys.”

Emmett: DAMMIT.

GM: “…don’t we want to wait for Hannah?” asks Courtney.

Emmett: THINK.

GM: “You’re completely right, Courtney,” says Em.

“We’ll wait. Because she would for us.”

Ginger nods firmly.

Emmett: What. The Fuck.

GM: Fizzy rolls his eyes.

“Good luck, losers.”

Emmett: Fizzy.

GM: He, Turner, and Roger all set off.

Emmett: Fizzy, you know what a piece of shit I am.

GM: Em and his two companions are left alone.

The conjured fire crackles.

Emmett: Fizzy, THINK!

GM: “Didn’t like the vibe I got off her anyway,” says Ginger.

“I know lots of trans girls,” says Courtney.

“I mean, whatever. Be who you want.”

“Yeah,” agrees Ginger.

Emmett:FUCK!” he snarls. “Shadow!”

GM: His voice dies in his throat.

We never were too good at learning from experiences, were we?

I’m in the driver’s seat until I decide to let you back.

Emmett: Hey, Gasper. If this is how you’re going to play things, I’m never going to work with you. I’m going to find the first pardoner I can and have you ripped out of my asshole.

GM: Ha. Good luck.

Emmett: I don’t know much about how this works, but I’m pretty sure you can’t keep me out forever.

GM: You go ahead and bet on that then.

Emmett: Why, though? We had a good thing going. What the fuck do we gain from this?

GM: Me, actually. I don’t want a pardoner. You were thinking of one.

Plus this was fun.

Emmett: It’ll get us assfucked by a spectre. And I was thinking of one. Now I WANT one. You see how this works?

GM: And, you know, things would’ve change with the Knights. We wouldn’t have been in charge. He said what, his boss was centuries old?

Emmett: Oh, great. Now we’re the king of jack and shit.

You. Suck. At this.

GM: We’re the king of three wraiths. Hannah will be back.

Emmett: One of them. IS. US.

GM: Roger wasn’t ours. Turner wasn’t either. She hated our guts. Fizzy was just waiting to go south. There was that whole ‘got him and his brother killed’ thing.

Emmett: He could have been, and we could have found shit to work with. And she was powerful. We could have used her. You fucking moron. You’re doing the same thing you did whenever we had a chance in life.

GM: But Gasper said it himself.

He’s Em.

Emmett: I’m not less mad at you because you’re me, you bleeding cunt.

GM: Maybe you missed the part where she was hitting us in the balls.

These three, they’re nice and weak.

Emmett: Oh, did that hurt you? It tickled me.

GM: They’re dependable. They won’t survive without us.

Turner? She knew she could.

Emmett: Gasper, you can try and spin it no matter what, but you fucked up a chance for us to get actual resources and power. I hope you like driving. I’m going to enjoy kicking the back of your chair until you crash.


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