Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

======================================== NAVIGATION: CAMPAIGN SIDE ========================================
======================================== NAVIGATION: DASHBOARD SIDE ========================================
Story Twelve, Caroline VIII, Celia X

“Break a bird’s wing and you might someday release it to fly again. But for us? They broke our wings too young, too often. Now there’s nothing left for us but the cage.”
Caroline Malveaux-Devillers

Wednesday afternoon, 9 March 2016

GM: After Caroline has finished seeing to her varied affairs for the night, there is no further word from her sire. Kâmil advises that Caroline return to Perdido House to spend the day: he is not certain if the Giani Building is secure given the recent car bomb found in the garage. More assassination attempts may be forthcoming. Roger Ferris agrees with this latter assessment, but remains slow to recommend Perdido House as a haven. Its security might be par none, but there are so many other Kindred with access to the building. The ex-CIA agent does not trust what he cannot control.

Another option, however, just as readily presents itself in the Walter Robinson House. It’s about an hour before sunrise when a sleepy-looping Cécilia clad in slippers and a sleeping robe has Caroline over to talk about the night’s events “in person” and readily suggests she spend the day. After all, she’ll be able to stay awake and use the time productively, even if she can’t venture beyond the house. And where security is concerned, Caroline’s sister replies,

“Maman has put much of herself into this place. There is power here, even if she isn’t present—or perhaps better said, if her body isn’t present. Any night-folk who know what this place is would not invade it casually. And if she absolutely has to, if something truly dangerous follows you here, she can still rouse herself. It’s just likely to be her last act with that body.”

The day passes. Caroline’s younger sisters are getting cabin fever from being cooped up in the house, even spacious as it is, but Cécilia says that “should be over with soon. Maman says she’s found ‘another means’ to create a body.” The two spend much of their time in Cécilia’s home office getting work done as the sun passes overhead.

“By the way, I rescheduled Simmone’s dance lesson for this evening,” Cécilia says after hanging up on a phone call. “I’ve been in touch with Autumn, who said she’s bringing over her younger sister, and Simmone’s teacher said she could bring over her granddaughter, who’s six. She also had the idea to invite her daughter, who runs a salon/spa in the Quarter. She’s actually a friend of mine, Celia Flores. You might know her through your dads. Anyway, Mrs. Flores suggested that Celia could bring over a mini spa kit to pamper the girls and do their faces before the lesson. I thought that sounded like a really good way to add some variety to Simmone’s routine and get her socializing with people outside of the family. Would you like to stick around for any of it?”

Caroline: The Flores name sends a shiver of memory down Caroline’s spine. Not an especially pleasant one, but she smooths it out alongside the rest of Cécilia’s news.

Celia Flores, running a spa. Well, there could have been a worse fate for the daughter who cried wolf. Even when the wolf was real. She didn’t believe for a moment the denials over the tapes that came out. She knew too much about the ‘evidence’ created to discredit them.

“I’m glad Autumn was able to make it work,” she tells her sister. “I met Celia years ago, and again a few years later at Tulane, but we didn’t keep in touch. She seemed…”

There’s a momentary pause. ‘Nice enough’ doesn’t really seem to fit with the girl that asked her to teach her how to shoot. Presumably her own father.

“…pleasant. And I think you’re right that breaking the routine a bit and introducing new people will be good for Simmone.”

GM: “I’m glad you think so. Celia and I went to McGehee together. She was one of the only people who wasn’t talking behind my back, after that whole business with Elliot.”

“We’ve kept in touch since then. It’s a really nice spa that she has. I’m going to get my hair and makeup done there for the wedding.”

Caroline: “Of course I’ll stay to watch.” Her Requiem is increasingly crowded by competing demands, but for her sisters she’ll find time. Especially with her mother so exhausted. She’ll always find a way to make time. Like today. Her gratitude for the ability to fill the daily hours with her sisters is beyond measure.

GM: “Great,” smiles Cécilia. “I always felt so bad for Celia and her family. They went through so much.”

“I’m sure you know all about that scandal back in 2009. It was completely real. She came to me for help and I tried to place the family in a women’s shelter.”

“They ended up not needing that, and I guess things turned out okay for them. But I still feel like there’s more I could have done.”

Caroline: The bottom falls out of Caroline’s stomach. But she doesn’t lie to her sister. Hasn’t, and won’t start now.

She nods. “I know.”

She hadn’t looked up the videos. Hadn’t wanted to. The descriptions were bad terrible enough.

“My father had a role in covering up the whole thing.” A beat. “I helped.”

GM: Cécilia squeezes Caroline’s hand. “You were just in college. It was going to happen, with or without you.”

“I’m sure you’ve felt bad about that. But there’s nothing you could have done. You just wanted to be a good daughter to your father.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a bitter laugh. “Mostly without, to hear my father speak of it. He was bitterly disappointed with my ‘failures’ there. Looking back… that incident really changed a lot of things for me. Might have been the moment that I moved from beneficiary of the family’s wickedness to active participant.”

She looks at her sister. “We all make our choices. I don’t know that they’re wrong. If I hadn’t gone down that route a lot of things would have been different. A lot of them for the worse. At the end of the night I have a place, a purpose, and a family. I can’t say it didn’t work out for me, or that I wouldn’t do it again. It sounds like she landed on her feet though, and I’m happy for that too.”

GM: Cécilia nods. “She’s running her own business. She and her mom are raising her daughter together. While I’m sure they’d have preferred some kind of justice for their father and ex, their lives seem pretty comfortable.”

Caroline: “She has a daughter?”

That’s something Caroline hadn’t heard. Or maybe hadn’t wanted to. She does some math.

“She isn’t from…”

GM: “I’m not sure who the father is. He didn’t seem in the picture and it didn’t feel polite to ask.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Or any business, really.”

GM: Cécilia said the girl was six. That means Celia would’ve been around 20 when she had the baby.

“I think she’s mostly being raised by Celia’s mother. I can’t imagine it would’ve been easy to start a salon business with a baby to also take care of.”

“That’s how it seemed, anyways. When I told Mrs. Flores we wanted some other children around for the dance lesson, she brought up her granddaughter, and said that it would be convenient not to have to arrange childcare.”

Caroline: Her thoughts linger on Celia’s child. Maxen raped his daughters. Caroline knows it’s true. The thought of carrying her father’s rape baby to term brings repulsively conflicted thoughts to Caroline’s mind.

She hadn’t wanted to sleep with her father, not really, but Freud had not completely missed the mark with the Electra complex. She’d always wanted his approval, his attention, at almost any cost. It isn’t so difficult to imagine a twisted world in which a more predatory version of her father could do something like that. In which she, being young, could have gone along with such a depraved act.

Still, she hadn’t wanted to sleep with her father. The thought of it is nauseating.

Her sire, on the other hand… her sire, so much like her father in his grim distance, weighty responsibilities, and dire expectations. Her sire, who she most certainly does wish would sink his fangs into her throat, who she wants to hold her, to take her utterly… who she’d kill to stir from his grim throne to some kind of passion. The mental image of him, his marble-like skin against her own, his vice-like grip upon her flesh, rises with little provocation so readily… she still remembers the taste of his vitae when he presented his wrist to her, the fire that flowed into her. The same fire that had given rise to her Requiem, had filled and created her…

She releases Cécilia’s hand, realizing how tightly she was holding it, and runs her tongue across her fangs.

There’s no use in daydreaming about that, no matter how it might haunt her thoughts.

GM: Her sister seems to study her. She doesn’t ask if Caroline is okay. They seem past that. It seems like she already knows.

She doesn’t ask Caroline to let go of her hand, either. She just waits for a moment, then says, “You’re everything he could ask for in a childe.”

“I don’t know him, or how much he’s like your father, but I do know you. If he doesn’t think of you as everything he could have hoped for, then no childe could possibly make him happy.”

“And… Maman tells me there’s nothing improper about it, for sires to have romantic relationships with their childer. She says that not all of them choose to do so, but that it isn’t taboo, like it is between parents and children.”

“I don’t know if you want to act on those feelings, but they’re nothing to be ashamed about.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles as Cécilia parses her way through her thoughts. She sets a shaking hand down on the desk in front of her and waits a moment until it goes still.

She knows it’s the bond. Intellectually, at least. Knows that it’s inescapable. She’s less clear where it starts and where it ends—can she really lie and claim she wouldn’t have been attracted to her sire without it—but she ‘knows’ it’s twisting her thoughts.

Whoever said knowing was half the battle though was dead wrong. There is no battle, not any more than the shore can battle the beating of the waves. It just withstands it. And so does she. The quivering hand finally goes still.

“He accepted me. That’s more than I could have hoped for. More than I think anyone else could have achieved. The rest is…” She rolls her eyes, mostly in frustration. “Unavoidable. He wouldn’t lower himself like that.” No matter how much she might want it.

The heiress shakes her head, blonde hair spilling out.

“Maybe I just need to find someone to… work out that frustration with.” She amends halfway through with a knowing look. “Later.”

GM: “Later,” Cécilia agrees. “But not too much later. You might have forever, but it’s bad to deny yourself.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs again, more genuinely this time. “Oh, don’t worry about that. I expect to work out this problem sooner rather than ‘too much’ later.”

GM: “Oh? Have someone in mind?” Cécilia asks, smiling.

Caroline: The Ventrue smirks. “The first non-repulsive or overtly hostile lick within arm’s reach?”

GM: Cécilia laughs. “I suppose there’s something to be said for-”

Her phone buzzes.

“Oh, they’re here. Let’s let them in.”

Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016

GM: Celia heads across the house with Caroline to answer the front door. The Ventrue thinks she’s met Simmone’s dance teacher at a few long-ago political functions. She’s a 40-something woman who wears her age well, with a toned figure, vibrant complexion (perhaps little surprise given her daughter’s skincare business), and chin-length sandy blonde hair in a bob cut. She has especially great lashes. She wears a floral-printed ’60s-style shift dress with pink ballet flats.

The girl who must be Celia’s daughter is a slightly thin six-year-old with thick eyeglasses who shares her grandmother’s fair skin and blonde-ish hair. She’s dressed in a cream-colored dress with a yellow cake skirt that doesn’t look too little kid-ish around the older children.

“Mrs. Flores, thanks for coming by on such short notice,” Cécilia smiles as she hugs the older woman.

“Oh, it’s nothing! I’m just glad to have Simmone still dancing, with how graceful your whole family is,” Celia’s mom smiles back as she returns the hug. “And you really can call me Diana, you graduated McGehee a while ago now.”

“Habit,” Cécilia remarks. “And this must be Lucy,” she says as she crouches down to the six-year-old’s eye level.

“That’s right,” Mrs. Flores says as she touches the child’s back. “Lucy, this is Cécilia, that very talented former student I told you about. Can you say hi?”

“Hi,” returns the six-year-old.

“It’s very nice to meet you, Lucy,” Cécilia says, shaking the girl’s hand. “I bet you love having a grandma who can give you dance lessons.”

“Yeah, it’s nice,” Lucy smiles.

“And this is my sister Caroline,” Cécilia says, rising to introduce the Ventrue. “I think you two might have met before?”

“I think so! It’s been a while, but Nathaniel Malveaux’s daughter, right?” Mrs. Flores remarks.

Caroline can imagine the kine woman’s instinctive nervousness around her, without the effort of will to send blood pumping through her turgid veins. Celia’s mother probably would not want to hug. But she puts on a smile and spreads her arms for the corpse that is not a corpse.

Caroline: Caroline can’t imagine any of her kine relatives would want to approach her, much less the near stranger. She knows what she looks like these nights. What’s left of her soul. Not that it matters to her sisters. Just another reason only a fool would label them as kine.

Keeping the blood moving is costly. Traitors and the requirements of her station make it a painful expense. But she’d rather not terrify her sister’s teacher, much Autumn’s sister or Celia’s daughter. God knows Celia has enough reasons to fear Caroline. So she pays the price, hides the corpse that she has become behind the blood of her latest victim—if not still warm than certainly still very much fresh.

“Years ago,” Caroline agrees, looking at the older woman. She looks less like a victim than she’d perhaps feared. Feels less fragile than she’d expected in the brief hug.

“Not the least among the things I’ve been called,” she flashes a dazzling smile. “We’re so happy you could bring along this little lady,” she gestures to Lucy.

She doesn’t know what she expected a child born of incestuous rape to look like. Less normal, perhaps. Less innocent.

GM: Then again, she hardly looks the part of a dozens-time undead murderer either.

“Me too,” Celia’s mom replies. “Lucy’s always happy to make new friends, and it sure makes childcare a breeze to just bring her along.”

“You have another daughter in med school who lives at home, right?” Cécilia asks.

“Yes, so she can’t babysit too much these days. You would not believe how hard they work those students.”

Caroline: “I was in Tulane’s pre-med pipeline before I sold my soul to become an attorney,” Caroline answers. “You might be surprised at what I’d believe.”

GM: “You’re really tall,” Lucy remarks to Caroline.

Her grandmother laughs and pats her head somewhat chidingly. “And you’re really short, little lady. We come in all sizes.”

Caroline: She squats gracefully, balancing on her heeled toes in a way she doesn’t think she’d ever have been able to manage in life. “And you’re very observant, young lady.” With the heels she’s well over six feet.

“How old are you?” Caroline asks, trying to bury herself in the mundane moment.

GM: “I’m six an’ a couple months,” says Lucy. “My birthday’s in January.”

“What’s an attorney?”

“It’s another name for lawyer, sweetie,” Mrs. Flores answers. “That’s what David is studying to be.”

Caroline: “An attorney is someone that helps people with a lot of boring law stuff,” Caroline answers very seriously. “We write things for people, go to court for them, and help them when they’re accused of breaking the law.” And sometimes when they actually do so as well.

Perhaps more than sometimes.

GM: “Oh,” says Lucy. “That doesn’t sound boring.”

“Trust the expert,” Cécilia smiles. “But they make the world go round in so many ways.”

Lucy doesn’t look sure what to say to that, but remarks, “I have aunts and uncles and mommies who do everything, I have so many. My mommy Celia makes people pretty, my mommy Emily’s a doctor, my uncle David’s a lawyer, my aunt Sophia’s a, I dunno, my uncle Logan’s in the Army, and my aunt Isabel’s in Africa.”

Caroline: “That’s a lot of aunts and uncles to help take care of you,” Caroline observes. “You must feel pretty fortunate.”

Africa. Right. She supposes there are worse cover stories.

GM: “It seems like it’s a bit until the others get here. Would we all like to sit down, or maybe start the lesson?” Cécilia asks.

“Better if they all start the first one together,” says Mrs. Flores. “Dependin’ on how regular a thing this is going to be.”

Caroline: “Can we get you settled in, then?” Caroline asks. “Something to drink?”

GM: “Oh, yes please. Sweet tea for us both, if you have it,” says Mrs. Flores.

“All right. Why don’t I go wake Simmone, actually, she was napping. Caroline, I’m sure you can manage some tea?”

A fib. She’s been clinging to Abélia’s body all day except for food and bathroom breaks.

Caroline: A state of affairs that Caroline has not been especially pleased with, but while one of the most important to her, it was also one of the less immediately pressing.

“Of course.” She leads the Floreses to the kitchen and fishes out a pair of glasses—one a plastic one with a lid held over from a time when Simmone was substantially younger.

GM: Cécilia was just glad they didn’t need to use a pot for the bathroom breaks.

Caroline: “So, Mrs. Flores, it sounds like you’ve raised quite the brood. Lawyer, military, Africa? And, of course,” she looks at Lucy, “one of the city’s most renowned beauticians.”

GM: “Look at my nails!” says Lucy, holding them out. They’re alternating blue and pink with sparkly polish.

Caroline: Caroline examines the proffered hand with only slightly exaggerated delight. “That’s very colorful. Did your mom do that?”

There’s another word she might use if Lucy was a little older: garish. But a six-year-old should be allowed at least some fun. The rest of the world will intrude soon enough.

GM: “Landen did,” the six-year-old says.

“He’s a cosmetologist at my daughter’s spa,” the dance teacher fills in.

“They,” says Lucy.

“Ah, that’s right. It’s a pronoun thing. I’m too old to wrap my head around it.” Mrs. Flores chuckles and makes a twirling motion around her ear.

She pulls Lucy onto her lap as she sits down. “Anyways, that’s very kind of you to say, Caroline! I sure am proud of them all.”

Caroline: ‘They’ do seem to have proliferated.

GM: “David’s in law school, technically, and Logan’s in the ROTC. Isabel’s in Sudan doing missionary work.”

Caroline: “All well on their way then. Fortunate that Celia provided you with a new one to dote on. I wonder if that’s half of why the family is so enamored with Cécilia and Luke’s marriage. I know my mother would have awful empty nester’s if she didn’t have a child on her hip.” She frowns. “Sudan is a dangerous choice, though. Do you ever worry about Isabel?”

GM: Mrs. Flores chuckles. “When you have that many kids, just one can feel like an empty nest of its own. But also a vacation.”

“And oh yes, I do worry about her. Like you say, it’s a very dangerous country! But she thinks it’s worth it to bring Jesus to people who need Him.”

Caroline: “I suppose we all have to follow our callings,” Caroline replies. “Is she at least in touch? I can’t imagine it’s easy from half a world away.”

GM: Isabel left town after those videos circulated. Maxen might still be in office, but there are scandals a man’s reputation can weather that a woman’s simply can’t.

“You’re right, it’s not. She stays in touch, though. My husband got her a satellite phone as a parting gift, and my kids say there’s some app you can use to save on international call rates. She and Logan talk a lot.”

Caroline: Interesting.

GM: “He’s hoping he might get stationed at one of the bases in Africa. There have been a lot of those since what is it called, Africa Command, started up. But it’s obviously a shot in the dark where the military sends its servicemen.”

“That would just tickle me pink, though, if they could get to see each other regularly off in Africa.”

Caroline: “The world can be a lot smaller than one might think in that way,” Caroline half-agrees.

“Still, it sounds like they’re all on their way. What was that book, ‘Oh the place’s you’ll go’?”

GM: Mrs. Flores laughs. “That’s the one. You’re talkin’ to a schoolteacher. I know it cover to cover.”

Caroline: “I loved that book as a child,” Caroline smiles, then turns to Lucy. “Do you know which one we’re talking about?”

GM: “That’s the one with the guy on the disc thing?” says Lucy.

“That’s right, Lucy-Goose! He’s looking out across all the places he might go.”

Caroline: “We all come home eventually though,” Caroline piggy-backs.

GM: Mrs. Flores nods. “It’s a wonderful thing to have some real roots. It is just such a blessing to still have most of my kids right here in the city. And for you to have both your families right by, too!”

“So Logan and Isabel are gonna come back?” asks Lucy.

“They sure are!” her grandma answers. “It’s good for them to go out and see the world, but they know where home is.”

Caroline: “Oh, we scatter well enough as well. Ivy Leagues and Washington and France, but we always come back together. Family is what matters,” Caroline agrees.

At least, on her mother’s side. The kine on her father’s are a thorny issue in many ways.

She’s glad she’s not the only Sanctified to feel the same way, if Mrs. Flores’ comments on her daughter are to be believed.

GM: “It sure is,” Mrs. Flores echoes. “It’s so sweet how your sister is always at home like this, helping your mom take care of the younger ones. You just cannot do it without help once you have enough rugrats.”

“How Cécilia is always home, that is,” the dance teacher clarifies with a laugh. “I suppose ‘your sister’ isn’t very specific, with six.”

Caroline: “We all chip in, in various ways, but Cécilia is definitely the most mothering of the group. I think it comes with being the oldest.”

GM: “Yes, it does. Just the way of things. The oldest get a preview of what it’s like to be a mom or dad, the youngest get to be babies forever.”

Caroline: “And the middle children look for ways to stand out against either end?”

GM: “The middle children, I think, also have more freedom,” Mrs. Flores says thoughtfully. “Fewer people tellin’ them what they need to be, I suppose.”

“Oh, say! I wouldn’t normally bring up politics, bad manners and all, but I think it’ll be safe here. I just want to say I voted for your dad in the 2012 election,” the dance teacher smiles. “I’d have voted for him in the primary this year, too, if he’d made it to our state.”

Caroline ‘heard’ about how her father dropped out after New Hampshire. From the public speech he gave, that she’d viewed online like any other voter. Nobody in the family even told her that Dad was suspending his presidential campaign.

Oh well. They hadn’t asked her to get involved with it, either.

Caroline: Hadn’t talked to her at all, in fact. Not since the last time they berated her. Insulted her. Threatened her. Hurt her.

You’d think, she reflects, that would make it easier to be out in the cold. But it doesn’t. They cut her off. Severed her, like a gangrenous limb. Or perhaps more accurately like a hangnail or stray hair for all the pain it seemed to cause them.

Her whole life trying to be the perfect daughter. Her whole life trying to please her father, to be worth his time and effort, and he threw her away without so much as a phone call.

Westley fucking murdered people and got better treatment.

She could scream against the injustice of it, and cry out in pain at how all of her hopes and dreams were not only destroyed, but savagely ground underfoot by her family, but neither of those things would do any good. Neither would make her feel better. She cried her tears for the Malveauxes months ago.

This, here, now, however…

She has a better family. Sisters instead of brothers. A mother instead of a father. Acceptance instead of chastisement. Solidarity instead of secrets. Pride instead of expectations. Love instead of the mad, burning hate she saw in her uncle’s eyes the night they cut her out.

And there’s her sire. Her sire, in place of her father. A figure of power, a dark god among the damned. For all the secrets and fear there, between them, there’s yet a hope of what is to come. The possibility of a place she might have never occupied in life for her father, and renewed purpose.

She puts on a smile, buries the pain in those thoughts. “That’s very kind of you to say. The field this year was, I think, just a little too crowded. There are worse things for the party though than to have too much talent.”

GM: “I’m glad your sire said the family is yours again, at least,” Cécilia had said earlier when the topic came up. “I’m sure that doesn’t magically fix everything, and I completely understand if what they put you through still really hurts. But if there’s anything I or Maman or any other others can do to help with them, just let us know.”

“And social attitudes are shifting, too. Opposition to gay rights is getting to be an increasingly unpopular position that conservative politicians are relieved to foist off to the courts, I think. So that could make sorting things out with your dad’s family easier, a few years down the line, if right now turns out not to be a good time.”

Mrs. Flores nods. “There’s definitely no shortage of candidates to still choose between! I hope he’ll run again in the next primary, though, he’ll still have my vote. At least eating all those corn dogs in Iowa helped him build his national brand.”

“Who’s he? Who’s eating corn dogs?” asks Lucy.

“Nathaniel Malveaux, sweetie,” Mrs. Flores answers the child on her lap. “He’s our senator. His job is to go to Washington D.C., that pretty city where the White House is, and write laws for us. Laws that help keep everybody safe and happy.”

“Mommy Emily says he’s a… corp-ir-ite shill,” says Lucy, slowly pronouncing the word.

“Divided household,” the dance teacher says to Caroline with a half-apologetic laugh. “You want to tell this future voter why she might want to support your daddy?”

Caroline: Yours again, Cécilia had said. She supposes they are hers, but she’s not certain they’ll ever be hers the way she once wished. The dreams of holding to the family, of pretending to be one of them, of keeping her place as the perfect daughter, seem as childish as those of a girl dreaming of Disney princesses. To take them for her own had required she break them, or maybe break her, and whatever shifting social mores might be, she doesn’t think what she broke will ever set right.

She isn’t even sure she wants it to be. The Devillers have shown her what family can be, have filled that hole she spent her whole life trying to shove so many hopes into. And her sire… what does her father offer next to him? It’s his blood, much more than her father’s, that runs in her veins now. What he offers is true power and purpose. It makes the kingdom among kine she imagined she might inherit seem one made of glass and sand in comparison—an illusion of power in a world whose truth she was blind to.

Sorting things out… there are things to sort out. How her dominion of the family will be executed, how she will make them a worthy domain, and herself worthy of the domain she has been given over them. She fears that will involve more pain yet to come, and until that is resolved it may be easier as they are now. And years down the line… years down the line, how will she explain the same face, even as everyone ages? Living among the kine cannot but be a temporary thing for the damned. Some day, one not so far off, Caroline Malveaux-Devillers will have to disappear.

Her gaze rests in the now on Mrs. Flores, and the easy answers lie on her lips. Lies she’s told a thousand times, some of which she might even believe. Lies she can’t tell, at least not to the smiling woman before her. Mrs. Flores, whose abuse the family covered up. Whose abuse she helped cover up. This woman who went through a very personal hell because it was politically convenient, but is still here smiling, buying the lies, selling what she’s been sold to her granddaughter.

“Maybe someday,” she says, forcing a smile into place, “but not tonight. I know better than to jump in the middle of a family feud.”

GM: It’s all-too easy to imagine Claire’s response to that. It might be something along the lines of,

My god, Caroline, you can’t even sell the family brand to a willing audience? To an honest-to-goodness party legislator’s grandchild and ex-wife? Optics matter. Campaign season is never over, just less busy. You need to act like there are journalists everywhere if you don’t want to be caught with your pants down someday. And, of course, actually promote your father around potential voters. Can’t you even do that bare minimum for us?

Mrs. Flores smiles apologetically.

“I’m sorry you had to hear that, even secondhand. Emily’s very opinionated about these things—but my daughter Celia isn’t, don’t worry, politics won’t come up around her once she’s here.”

“Mommy Celia makes people pretty,” Lucy chimes.

“That she does, Lucy-Goose! Super pretty!” Mrs. Flores tells her granddaughter, bopping her nose, then looks back up at Caroline. “I know your daddy’s worked so hard to get where he is, and has done so much for the people of our state. Really so much.”

“I don’t know if you remember this, you’d have been in maybe grade school, but your daddy took you and your family to see a Nutcracker show I was in once. And after the cast had all taken our bows, he showed up with my husband to congratulate us all—by name. We all look identical in tutus and with our faces made up, so that isn’t exactly easy! And he was just so warm and had such specific praise for each girl. I doubt he was a ballet enthusiast, but that told me he was the sort of man who gave his all to something. That when he was there in that theater, he was there, just 100%.”

“And some of times when I saw him afterwards, at functions with my husband, he’d bring up that show or others I’d been in, ask really thoughtful questions about them, and just make me feel like I was the center of his world. I think it’s important for us not to lose sight of that human element, even if we disagree over policy.”

“He sounds nice,” says Lucy.

“He sure is, little Luce! Just such a nice man,” the dance teacher smiles at Caroline. “Like I said, he’ll have my vote no matter what office he’s running for.”

Caroline: “I’m certain he’ll be happy to hear it.” Caroline forces another smile into place. “So much of politics is reaching out to individuals, and I’m sure he’d be pleased to hear that he made such an impression on you. I know how hard he works at it.”

GM: “I bet he does! I know how busy that kept my husband, and I’m sure it’s a whole ‘nother league at the federal level like your dad’s now at.”

“Are we gonna have sweet tea?” asks Lucy.

There’s a knock from the front door.

“Oh, looks like Steph or Celia are here!” says Mrs. Flores.

Caroline: Caroline leaves the pitcher on the table. “Please, help yourself. I’ll bring them.”

The heiress’ heels click across the kitchen as she departs.

GM: It’s Autumn. She’s there with a younger girl around 10 years of age. She has neck-length brown hair, brown eyes, and a slightly large nose and thick eyebrows. Caroline’s newly-sharp eyesight can make out a dental retainer in her mouth. She’s dressed in blue jeans and a lighter top with a panda bear on it.

“Hey, Caroline. This is Stef,” she says, introducing the girl.

Caroline: “Autumn, I’m glad you both could make it.” Caroline greets her ghoul as though the other woman isn’t her blood-addicted slave.

GM: “Hi,” says Stef with a shy smile.

“Your house is really nice.”

Caroline: “Why thank you, Stef, I think so too,” Caroline answers, silently assessing the girl. She’s a good fit for what she has planned for Simmone. “Why don’t you come in? I was just chatting with Mrs. Flores and her granddaughter.”

GM: Autumn closes the door behind them as they step in. Stef wipes her shoes on the welcome mat again. She looks more than a little nervous in the palatial surroundings. As if afraid she might accidentally break something priceless.

Caroline: The undead monster lays a gentle hand on the girl’s shoulder. “The house wouldn’t be 150 years old if it was that fragile,” she smiles. “Come on, you must be parched, I know it’s warm out there.”

GM: “Okay. I, I guess not,” Stef smiles back.

Caroline: “Have you ever danced before?” Caroline asks as they walk.

GM: “Uh, not really…” the ten-year-old answers.

Autumn frowns a bit, as if just realizing the kid who already has a dance instructor, and that dance instructor’s live-in granddaughter, probably have a lot more experience than Stef.

“It’s okay,” she tells her sister. “You can probably start with beginner stuff. Gotta start somewhere.”

Caroline: “Mrs. Flores said specifically she wanted to wait until everyone got here to get started, so everyone could begin in the same place,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “Oh, that’s good,” says Stef.

As they reach the living room, Mrs. Flores and her granddaughter have already poured glasses. Lucy seems to have found one of the family cats, Mr. Shah, and is avidly running her hands through the Persian’s fluffy white fur. He proves a good icebreaker for Stef, who sits down next to Lucy to pet the feline as people make introductions.

Autumn and Mrs. Flores seem to already passingly know each other: Autumn mentions that she actually got to attend McGehee for her high school years thanks a scholarship her synagogue set up (“education’s really important to us”), though she never took Ballroom Dance. The dance teacher makes a mostly joking-seeming “tsk-tsk” at that.

Caroline: “McGehee is the best,” Caroline laughs.

“Well,” she amends, “at least in New Orleans.”

GM: “I hope you had a good dance teacher where you went,” says Mrs. Flores. “Your whole family’s just so graceful! It’d be like defacing a painting not to have y’all take dance.”

Caroline: “My interests took me in another direction,” Caroline answers with a hint of a grin. “But don’t worry, I still had good teachers.”

GM: “Oh, what’s it you do, ma’am?” asks Stef as she rubs Mr. Shah’s belly. “Autumn says she knows you from work.”

Caroline: “Well, that’s another story,” Caroline replies. “But I was very interested in fencing when I was younger. It wasn’t quite a dance… but it also was, in its own way.”

GM: “Oh, it very much is,” Mrs. Flores nods. “Historically, ballet emerged in Italy during the late Renaissance as a dance interpretation of fencing. There’s actually some really old fencing illustrations that look like the duelists are assuming ballet positions, all the way down to the turned-out feet. Go back far enough and the saber isn’t too removed from the tutu.”

Caroline: “In another life you might have been a fencer?” Caroline asks with a hint of mischief.

GM: Diana laughs. “Oh, I prefer to let the men do that sort of thing! Maybe in another life I’d have been a courtier’s wife, with one of those funny little cone-shaped hats.”

Celia: There’s another knock on the door.

Caroline: The heiress rolls her eyes. “You all couldn’t have planned this. I’ll be right back. Please, help yourself.”

Her heels echo on the hardwood floors, announcing both her departure and approach to the door.

Celia: A decidedly not nervous Celia Flores stands on the other side with her fingers wrapped around the handle of a silver box. It looks like some sort of bulky, hard-cased roller luggage, though with what Caroline knows of her purpose here that is, probably, not the case. The girl looks much the same as she remembers from that fateful night in college, though she’s aged. Aged well, to look at her; there’s not a sign of premature wrinkles, graying hair, or the ever-present hyperpigmentation or leftover scarring from the poor skin that took her in her youth. She looks positively radiant. Then again, she’s not yet thirty, perhaps they all look radiant at this age.

She has kept it casual this evening: slacks, blouse, flats that are reminiscent of pointe shoes, natural makeup. Nothing to draw attention from the little girls whose faces she will be polishing and painting before their lesson.

She has a pleasant smile on her face, though her eyes widen minutely when she sees who it is that answers the door.

“Why, Miss Malveaux-Devillers, I did not expect to see you here.”

Caroline: The heiress eyes the case for a moment, but turns her attention from it quickly to the kine before her.

“There’s nowhere I’d rather be, Miss Flores,” she laughs lightly.

So that’s how it is?

Celia: “Here I thought Momma had brought me in to pamper the little ladies.”

Caroline: “Please, come in.” She steps inside and gestures for the other woman to join her. “It’s been a long time. Years, I think.”

Celia: Celia’s eyes sweep the blonde. She’s a little one herself, next to Caroline in her heels. She does step inside, though, and lifts the case into her arms rather than roll it along.

“Too long,” she agrees. “How’s life been treating you?”

Caroline: Laughter dances behind Caroline’s eyes. She wonders how she must look to the radiant, living girl before her, but she knows the answer: like hell.

“Oh, you know,” she answers. “Life seemed easier in college. These days it seems like there’s always ten things pawing for my time.”

Celia: Celia’s lips part, giving voice to the laughter that Caroline didn’t utter. She does know. That pawing she mentions is more like clawing, scraping, the thing inside of her reacting to the presence of the one in Caroline. She is suddenly glad for the lessons given to her by her sire’s cousin to keep her own scent from spilling out and wonders whose toes she is stepping on by being here.

“I completely understand. Always feel like I’m being pulled in seventeen different directions.”

Not that college was any better.

“Emily, you might remember my roommate from…” she trails off, “well, anyway, she mentioned you left the pre-med program?”

Caroline: “Well, in part,” Caroline answers. “I finished pre-med, but decided to sell out for law instead of medicine in post-grad.”

“I don’t know that anyone I was in the program with will ever forgive me, but when I look at my old classmates beating their head against the wall in med school or residency… well. It wasn’t the right way forward for me.”

Celia: “I’ll be honest, I think you made the right decision. The stories she tells me about everything she gets up to in residency, the sleepless nights… that’s entirely too much for a person. But, hey, can’t complain about having a doctor in the family.”

“I’m glad you found something that works better for you. I had a… hm. Ex-boyfriend, I suppose, who went to law school.”

Caroline: “Oh? Anyone I’d know?” Caroline asks.

Celia: “He was a few years older than us, but you might know his dad if you’re in the field? Garrison.”

“He, ah… he passed away. A few years ago.”

Caroline: “Henry Garrison?” She winces. “I’m sorry to hear that. It seems like everyone has at least some tragedy in their lives.”

Like your dead sister.

Celia: “Thank you. Sorry to bring up such dark things, sometimes my mind just… well, you know.” She waves, a vague gesture. “Hopefully that’s the last of the tragedies for me.” She forces the air from her lungs in a sigh, then gives Caroline a small smile. “And hopefully none for you.”

Caroline: There’s a twitch there at the end of the comment. Please, set your dead boyfriend against the tragedy of my life.

“Are those the goods?” she asks, gesturing to the silver case in Celia’s hands as she closes the door behind her.

Celia: Thank god for small mercies. Even without the Beast roaring in her ears she’d be off-balance here; she’s thankful they’ve moved onto safer topics. Her fingers tap against the side of the case.

“They are! I wasn’t sure how many girls to expect, and you know at that age there’s not really a lot of skin concerns, so I just… brought a little bit of everything. Are you sticking around for a bit? Maybe you could join..?”

“Not,” she adds hastily, “that you need anything. You’re gorgeous, of course.”

Oh boy. She abruptly shuts her mouth.

Caroline: Caroline’s laughter is light and fluttering, girded in a smile.

“Should I take that as a professional opinion? To hear Cécilia talk, there’s not anyone else in the city she’d let do her makeup and skincare for the wedding.”

Celia: Celia beams at her, nerves swept aside. “I am beyond thrilled that she asked me to do her up for the wedding. Cécilia was one of my closest friends in high school, and to be able to do this for her… I’m honored. Truly. She will make the most beautiful bride. Did you get roped into helping them plan?”

Caroline: “Oh, there wasn’t very much roping involved,” Caroline answers. “I can think of painfully few things that could keep me away from my sister’s wedding—most of them very painful. Still, like always, she’s trying to make everything as easy on everyone around her as possible. I swear she had half of it planned out before he popped the question.”

Celia: “Don’t we all?” Celia laughs.

She tries not to think about the wedding she’ll never have.

Caroline: “I don’t know how you find the time. I don’t have a daughter and I still don’t seem to have enough hours in the day.”

Don’t we all? Did she? The only man she ever consider marrying with any seriousness was Neil, and that scared her more than it excited her. Scared her enough that she went and ruined everything.

Caroline runs a hand through her pale blonde hair, so much like that of her sisters.

“I should take better care of myself, though, for her. I couldn’t live with myself if I ruined her wedding photos.”

Celia: Celia’s lightness immediately dies with Caroline’s remark, replaced by something sharper, more assessing. She sets down the box and takes a step closer.

“May I?”

Her hand is lifted, as if to touch.

Caroline: “Of course, far be it for me to reject professional help.”

She wonders faintly if Autumn would mind doing her makeup moving forward. To make her look a little less dead. It seems more the type of thing she’d have experience with, and might even enjoy.

Celia: Celia closes the gap between them. The height difference is staggering, with her in flats and Caroline in heels, but Celia was a dancer for a number of years, and old habits die hard. She rises to the tips of her toes in her flats, balancing as easily on them as she had in her youth. It doesn’t close the gap, but it narrows it, and her eyes scan Caroline’s face as if looking through a microscope.

“As far as finding time, Momma has been a godsend with the childcare,” Celia tells her. Her lips barely move as she speaks. “There’s the three of us raising her, so it’s been easier.”

Caroline: Perhaps it was a bad idea. She wonders what the woman will see in her dead face.

Celia: Her touch is light on Caroline’s chin. She slides her fingers up, over her jaw, and then sweep back around across her cheekbone. She seems to be looking beyond the skin more than at it, though after a moment of intense scrutiny—and a longer moment of the wild scratching and snarling inside of her—she drops back.

Caroline: The Beast doesn’t like being touched, but Celia’s touch is light. It beats the hugs most kine insist on.

Celia: “You have good bone structure. Good base. Skin… needs some hydration.”

That is a tactful way of saying ‘dead,’ she thinks, though of course Celia isn’t supposed to know that.

“I could get a routine together for you, if you like.”

That’s something she’d offer to someone who isn’t a corpse, isn’t it? So normal.

“But as far as ruining wedding photos, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. A little color here, some black in the waterline to darken there…” She shakes her head as if to cut off the train of thought before she ventures too far down it. “Like I said, Caroline, gorgeous.”

Caroline: Caroline lets out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. At least she won’t have to mind-rape the other girl to explain away that something is dreadfully wrong with her.

She taps a finger on her lower lip and wonders if such a regimen would do any good. It might, she considers, though she’d have to tailor it for things that help day of, vice over time. It’s not so different than her sire shaving every morning. Image is important.

Celia: She’s seen that look before. She’s spoken to others, like the two of them, about what can still be effective after death and what can’t. She supposes she could offer the services of Jade, though that seems… dangerous. She smiles politely all the same.

Caroline: “I may very well take you up on that,” she agrees after a moment. “As long as my mistreatment of such a regimen wouldn’t offend your professional sensibilities.”

Celia: “I expect my clients to lie to me. It’s like telling the dentist that yes, of course you’re flossing.” Celia winks at her.

“I can show you some things after the little ones are done, or, if you’d prefer a different atmosphere, I can bring you in to the spa. Do a full service, really get into it.”

Caroline: In the French Quarter. That seems like it’ll end well. For some reason, she doesn’t expect the same warm welcome she’s received in the past.

“We can talk during their lesson, if that works for you?”

Celia: That went over about as well as she expected. She wonders if Cécilia is going to have her do everything here, if Caroline is in the wedding. She’ll need to figure out the logistics of that.

“That works beautifully for me. Anything I don’t have with me I can have sent over. Are you living here now? I remember you said you had an apartment near Tulane last we spoke.” Years and years and years ago.

Caroline: “Oh, I spend the night sometimes, but I have an apartment near the French Quarter. I like remaining grounded with my family, but there are certain things that I don’t feel the need to share with my little sisters—or my mother—if you know what I mean.” Caroline offers her own wink.

Her eyes sweep the shorter woman up and down. “And I’m sure you do.”

Celia: Did she just…?

Celia averts her eyes, a small smile pulling at her lips. It brings to mind a certain awkward family dinner where she had felt the need to share with her mother and Emily. She had, thankfully, been forgiven for her less-than-stellar showing that evening. When she looks back at Caroline her smile is nothing short of wicked.

“You’d win that bet.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue over her teeth. “Well, I guess I can take some comfort in not being the only daughter that didn’t keep her purity ring.”

Celia: “My own wasn’t proof enough?” She nods her head toward where she can hear Lucy’s laughter echoing through the house. “Pretty sure I had it on the night she was conceived. You’re in good company.”

Caroline: That conjures an wretched image for Caroline, of Maxen fucking his purity ring-wearing daughter, but she pushes past it. She picked the topic.

“Well, I mean, it happened once before, so I’d rather not assume.”

Celia: She is ignorant of the vision that plays for Caroline; her own features her mother bending, naked, to clean up what dripped out of her the night her father kidnapped and raped her. Someone’s hand in hers, telling her to breathe. Three toes on the soft carpet.

“I imagine the two of us get up to all sorts of things that would make our mothers’ heads spin.”

Caroline: You have no idea, Caroline thinks.

“Better to leave some mystery,” she agrees instead.

Celia: “Speaking of mothers, perhaps I should set up to get the little ones going before mine comes looking for me. Do you know where the best spot for that is? I don’t want to be in the way of their dancing.”

GM: Speak of the devil and she’ll appear.

Celia’s mother rounds the hall. “Hi, sweetie! I’m so glad you could make it!” she exclaims, pulling her daughter into a squeeze.

Caroline observes it all. The way Mrs. Flores’ face lights up when she sees Celia. How tight her initiated hug is. How long it lasts. How widely the dance teacher smiles. How she closes her eyes for just a moment. She looks as if seeing her daughter brings her genuine happiness. Like it actively, immediately makes her day better.

Even in her new family’s house, it’s hard not to think back to Claire. Her first mother. Her stepmother. Whatever.

All those years of stiff embraces and clipped words.

Or just as often, no embraces and sharp telling-offs.

Or bitter arguments and just not seeing each other.

Celia: Celia has to set the case down again to let her mother wrap her up in her embrace. Her smile is warm, face as open as the arms she spreads for the older woman before enveloping her in a hug. There’s nothing forced in her smile.

“I wouldn’t miss it, Momma. We were just coming to see you. Caroline and I got caught up swapping stories. Where’s my baby Goose?”

GM: “She’s in the living room with the other girl, Stephanie, and her sister Autumn. They found some kitties to play with,” Celia’s mom smiles back as she pulls away. “I’ve got your products bag with me, by the way, but looks like you came pretty well-equipped.”

Celia: Kitties. Cats. Of course there have to be animals. She wonders if they’ll respond as negatively to the thing inside of her as her mother’s two cats had. Her smile dims marginally.

“Why don’t I set up elsewhere so I don’t interrupt them. Is that where you’re giving the lesson?”

GM: “I usually give Simmone her lesson in one of the sitting rooms,” Celia’s mom answers. “I figured we could have you pretty the girls up first, so they can feel glamorous while they’re dancing. Though it’ll mostly be going over the five positions for tonight’s lesson, on account of Stef bein’ a beginner.”

Celia: What, house this big doesn’t have its own dance studio? She hasn’t been here since she was a teen, but she thinks she remembers the way to the kitchen. She says she can set up there, if that’s amenable, or one of the other sitting rooms. Out of the way.

Caroline: “The kitchen works fine,” Caroline answers.

She doesn’t linger on the sight of Celia and her mother. Doesn’t dwell on Claire. What she has is better.

Celia: “Perfect.”

Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016

Celia: Celia heads that way, case clutched in her hands, and sets up at the kitchen island. There’s something about sitting on the big stools that makes little kids feel like adults. She opens the case on the counter. Inside is a treasure of cosmetics and bottles of serums, ointments, and cleansers. Foundation ranging from ivory to ebony sits in tiny little bottles, blushes made of powder and cream, pencil and liquid liners. And the palettes. The eyeshadow palettes are what little girls live for: sparkles, rainbow, glitter. Every color imaginable, set in little pink carboard boxes with their tiny pans of multicolored pigments.

Celia pulls out a black bag that unfolds into what looks to be a toolbelt, which she fastens around her waist. Its pockets are filled with brushes of varying shapes and styles, tweezers, two tiny spritz bottles of clear liquid and one of blue. They’re all labeled in neat writing: water, alcohol, Barbicide. There’s a small mirror, too, so the girls can look themselves over when it’s all done.

It only takes a moment to get everything in order.

“Who’s first, then?”

Caroline: “Can I get you something to drink while you work?” the towering blonde asks as Celia sets up.

Celia: Nothing you have here.

“Oh no, thank you so much though.”

GM: There’s plenty for her to drink here.

But it probably wouldn’t be polite.

Cécilia and Simmone look to have come downstairs, while Caroline and Cécilia talked. It also looks like everyone finally got around to the sweet tea. Cécilia remains the same pale-skinned, high-cheekboned, and willowy-figured vision of beauty who she last worked on. She’s wearing a pale blue skirt and white blouse.

The 10-year-old sitting next to her (close enough by, in fact, to touch) looks like a miniature version of the woman, down to the same milky skin, pale long blonde hair, and clear blue eyes. She’s wearing a belted white knee-length dress that suits her complexion well. Compared to most preteens, there’s no awkwardness, no acne, no nothing: she’s like a swan that skipped its ugly duckling phase and is simply a miniature swan. Her hair is a little mussed, though, and her eyes are a little puffy. She’d look prettier, too, if she was smiling. She needs Celia’s careful hand.

Then there’s Caroline. That marble, statuesque icon, so tall in her heels. Her aristocratic bearing, lovely angles, flawless skin, and haughty eyes, rides the edge between elegance and allure, remaining refined enough to avoid the overtly sexuality of many beautiful women. Those eyes take hold next, lovely and precious diamonds, and just as cold as the stones they resemble. While there may be light within them, there is no real life: the light is a reflection off of them rather than a projection from within. They’re eyes Celia could spend a decade staring into for all their facets, and it would not be a lost decade. There is, however, so much else to see there, if she can look past the window dressing and break free of that gaze.

They’re all so fucking pretty.

So, so pretty.

Celia can imagine them under her hands. She could take their beauty and make them goddesses. There is so, so much to work with here. It seems almost offensive to have the plainer-looking Stef girl and her sister in the same room. It’s like hanging an amateur’s painting next to a Van Gough. It’s just in bad taste. Her mom’s and sister’s faces are tolerable, at least, when she worked on them, but it’s still a simply inferior grade of material.

But Celia doesn’t need to imagine something else.

She would very, very much like to have a drink here.

And it’s fucking obvious who should be first.

Celia: It isn’t fair.

How can mere mortals be this beautiful? How can Lucy, Stef, and Diana stand here in the room with these four goddesses—yes, Celia herself is a goddess, though not with this mask on—and even call themselves the same species? They are perfection. Divine. Sculpted marble beauties that put all others to shame. Could Veronica even hold a candle to this?

No. No she couldn’t.

Celia had said it to Caroline earlier when the woman’s jaw was clutched in her hand, when she was staring into the eyes of the monster beneath that exquisite bone structure: gorgeous. It is a wonder she was not caught then, like a fly in the bear’s honey. She sees now that the matching trio of them only serves to amplify what is already there. She cannot ignore it. She does not want to ignore it.

She wants it. Wants them. Wants their skin, their faces, their silken hair. Wants to touch and caress and lick and feed. Her Beast, that monster, wants this beauty. All of them.

Her heart would stutter if it were not so carefully controlled by the blood pumping through her body. A smile splits her face a second too late as she stares, transfixed, at the girls. She has finally been given a reason to live, and it’s here in this kitchen with her.

Smooth steps take her to Cécilia’s side in an instant, arms outstretched to bring her old friend in for a hug.

“Oh, Cécilia,” she says in a voice that’s more purr than not, “you are simply ravishing.”

GM: “Thank you, Celia,” Caroline’s sister smiles as she returns the hug. “I can’t wait to see how you’ll make me look for the big day.”

“Or I suppose ‘big night.’ We’re having it in the evening.”

Celia: “You will be the most breathtaking woman to have ever walked the world, I promise you that.”

That’s the advantage of having one of them in the family already, isn’t it? Celia doesn’t need to worry about the schedule. Caroline will do it for her.

She pulls the girl close during their embrace, nestling her face against the crook of her neck for a very, very brief moment. She can hear the pulse beating away beneath her skin. Fractions of an inch away. It would be so easy to just…

She wrenches control of her mind back from the Beast. Soon. Soon she’ll have this one, she thinks, and the other as well, and they’ll be a pile of beauty together. But there are others here, watching, and Caroline’s presence complicates things considerably. She pulls away with a final smile, then looks to the miniature version of Cécilia. No less beautiful. Like a little porcelain doll. Celia crouches in front of her, eyes level with the child. Her smile is warm.

“You must be Simmone. You were so little last time I was here.”

She’ll grow up to put her other sisters to shame, Celia is sure of it.

Sure of it because she can ensure it, she thinks. She can sculpt the child. Start young and it’s less work. They grow into their features. How stunning would she be if Celia were to get her hands on her now?

The thought causes her to reach out, stroking her fingers through the girl’s hair. So soft. So luxurious.

“Do you want to go first, Simmone, or should I do your friends so you can hang with your sisters?”

Get them out of the kitchen that much quicker.

Leave her alone with these treats.

GM: Simmone stiffens and looks a little apprehensive as Celia starts touching her hair.

“Okay, you can do them,” she says.

Celia: Celia’s eyes soften. Her mother’s words come back to her: the child is afraid of everything. She has fits and seizures. The shooting.

She’ll need to be gentle with this one. Coax her like she would a stray, offer treats and rewards for opening up. But, oh, what a rose she would be if tended by the right hand.

Celia reaches into her belt to pull out a pink bottle with a black squirt cap on it. She offers it to the child, very serious.

“Can you be in charge of the Fix Plus for me? It has a very important job at the end of makeup application: just a spritz over your whole face and it melds all the layers together. Think you can handle that, little fawn?”

Fawn. Someone had called her that once, hadn’t they? Innocent, like a doe. Not so innocent now, she reflects, but she keeps her thoughts contained within the charming smile.

GM: Simmone looks at the bottle for a moment, then reaches out to take it.

“D’accord. Okay.”

“Can we bring back the kitties?” asks Lucy.

Celia: “Sorry, Goose,” Celia says to her child, “can’t have the cats playing in the makeup. Clients with allergies. But I can do your face first so you can get back to playing with them, how’s that?”

She doesn’t so much as wait for a response before scooping the girl up to put her on the stool.

GM: “Oh. Is it not okay to have them in the room?” asks Stef.

Caroline: Caroline watches the exchange from across the island, beside Autumn.

Celia: “Prefer not. Dander and hair get everywhere. I’ll make it quick though.” She smiles at the other girl. It isn’t quite as wide as the one she’d used for the Devillers sisters. She doesn’t shine like the sun, as they do.

“Then you can dance and play with the kitties to your heart’s content.”

While I play with another sort of kitty. Celia’s gaze flicks towards Caroline.

GM: “Yeah, cats probably a bad idea,” Autumn echoes.

After all, she hasn’t seen them around her domitor.

Celia: That decided, Celia gets to work.

She doesn’t tut over the way her daughter looks, but her eyes don’t shine for the child as they do for the sisters. It’s not her fault, she can’t help but think, she didn’t ask to be born plain. And she is. Plain. Celia’s beauty had somehow skipped this generation. She’s cute enough, for a kid, but there’s a little too much of him in her for her to ever say the girl is anything but normal.

She tries not to dwell on it.

She asks Lucy and Stef what colors they’d prefer and gets to work with her brushes and paints. They don’t need foundation or concealer—no one at that age does—so she doesn’t bother with it. Instead she gives them loud, sparkly looks, the kind of thing she enjoyed when she was a child that no sane adult would ever wear, going bigger and more glamourous at their urging.

She is an artist, and they her canvasses. Ordinary canvasses. Not the pristine, flawless kind she’s itching to get her hands on. Still, it doesn’t take long before the girls are done, each with a scented lip balm of their own to take with them for touch ups, and her eyes once more turn towards the ladies of the house.

“Children like color,” she says, almost bashfully, as her eyes find Cécilia and then Caroline.

GM: Lucy is cuter than Stef, at least. Her features have more attractive proportions. There’s also the fact she’s younger. Lucy squeals with delight and Stef smiles by the time Celia is finished.

Caroline: The Ventrue gathers up one of the cats and carries it out of the room at Celia’s direction, enlisting Autumn to hep with the second, then settles in to watch the artist work.

GM: Her mother, Autumn, and Cécilia all applaud the Toreador’s handiwork.

“Children and adults,” Cécilia agrees. “They look simply perfect, Celia.”

“Yes, they look just gorgeous, sweetie! Ready to knock ’em dead!” her mom smiles.

“Yeah, lots of color,” says Autumn.

Celia: Celia might flush under the praise of her longer-named friend. It’s hard to tell beneath the layers of foundation, concealer, and contour. Perhaps her cheeks are always that rosy. Her eyes shoot towards Caroline’s face as well, as if seeking similar praise.

“Simmone’s turn.” She turns to regard the girl, offering another one of those smiles. She’d let her spray the Fix Plus onto Stef and Lucy and she’s hoping that it at least calmed the child enough to let her touch her.

GM: Simmone seems to enjoy spraying on the Fix and feeling like part of the process. Cécilia looks pleased as she lifts her younger sister up onto the stool.

Caroline: “How’d you first get into doing cosmetics?” Caroline ask Celia as she works.

Celia: “I think I saw one of those pretend kits at the mall when my mother took me. I was very little.” Celia leans in to look over Simmone’s face. Her touch is whisper-light against the fair skin. “I asked Momma if she’d buy it for me and she did, and since then I’ve been… a bit mad for it, really. Poor skin in my youth, spent a long time correcting it. Not like you, Simmone, yours is pristine. A little angel all our own, aren’t you?”

“What do you think, Caroline? Blue, for her eyes? Purple would bring it out as well, though she’s so fair it might look mottled…” Brown would be a good color to bring out the blue, Celia knows. Tans and golds. It would make her eyes sparkle. But neutrals are not colors that kids generally enjoy. There’s no color there. No life. No vibrancy.

GM: “Celia loved to do face painting when she was little,” her mom confirms, smiling. “That, what, $10 kit was the best investment of our lives.”

Caroline: “Something you did together as mother and daughter?” Caroline asks. “Or, I suppose, mother and daughters. You’re fortunate enough to have a sister too.”

She turns her head as Celia works on Simmone. “What about a silver? It might work well with her hair, give her an ethereal look.”

GM: Simmone seems to think, then nods.

“Good choice,” says Cécilia. “The best makeup complements what’s already there.”

“Yep. We definitely got a lot of mileage out of that kit,” Celia’s mom answers. “Still do, too! These days, of course, Celia’s the one who does all the face painting. Leavin’ it to the pro and all. She pretties me up at least once a week. I won’t ever set foot inside another spa or salon in my life.”

“I’m not gonna either!” exclaims Lucy.

“Celia’s gonna do alllll my hair and face stuff, forever!”

Caroline: That could have been me. The thought runs through her mind, watching the mother and daughter interact. A normal life—even with the twisted beginnings. There’s a hint of jealousy that she’ll never have a child of her own.

Celia: Silver. Silver can work. Silver is second to gold but Celia can make it shine.

Her work begins. The world fades out around her. She nods at opportune moments, as if listening to the chatter of the children, but her attention is focused on the task in front of her.


It starts with primer swiped across the girl’s lids with a gentle touch. She lets it sit while she dabs a spot of color on her cheeks and blends it out in a deft hand. Then white across the lids. Pure white, no pigment, no mixing or muddying of colors. Base coat, to blend, to make anything she puts on top of it that much more striking. Her hands reach without her eyes even moving from the girl’s face for the small black palette, the only one of the bunch that hadn’t been opened yet. It sits innocuously in her belt, and when she opens it up it’s easy to see why: this is no kiddy palette, no face paint, no chalky hues from drug store counters. It’s high end. Buttery. So pigmented that Celia only needs a tiny amount on the end of a wet brush to sweep across Simmone’s eyes. She selects another blush for blending, buffing the silver out until where it begins and the white ends are intertwined like a pair of lovers. There is no separating these two. Then a darker silver, graphite even, for the outer corners. A small triangle of color, buffed and blended until her eyes shine.

She isn’t done.

She uses a pencil to line the girl’s brows, a powder to fill them in. Not dark, but darker. Liquid color between each lash to darken the line above her eye. Rosy cheeks. A tinted balm on her lips: MLBB. My lips but better. The same Celia uses for herself, though this one shimmers.

She stares, once she is done. The girl has gone from child to ethereal being. She is no porcelain doll. She is fine china, a delicate nymph, innocence incarnate.

She is an angel, and Celia created her.

Caroline: Caroline watches Celia work over her youngest sister, watches the almost frantic energy with which she paints and draws and sculpts. Mostly though she watches Simmone’s reaction.

Watches to see how the withdrawn pre-teen handles a stranger’s touch. To make sure she enjoys it. When she sees her tense the heiress takes a seat next to her, one cool hand resting on her sister’s leg reassuringly. She’s safe here. There are no monsters here that can hurt her.

The only monster in the room is Caroline, and she could never harm her sister.

GM: Simmone is tense the moment Celia starts working on her. Cécilia lays a hand on their sister’s shoulder. Many of the others, at least, don’t seem to notice: Stef and Autumn have their phones out as the esthetician works. Lucy and Mrs. Flores both watch the whole process, though, the latter with glowing and all-too evident pride.

After all, she is creating art.

It’s liberating to have such a quality canvas to work with. There’s only so pretty she can make flawed mortals, after all, before the Masquerade comes apart at the seems: before they become like unto butterflies emerged from ugly cocoons, and people gasp over how such a jaw-dropping transformation could even happen. Kenya had to be reborn as Alana to become as pretty as Celia made her. The stupid, ugly kine tie her hands.

But sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes she can work her art to heart’s content, painting and pampering already perfect flesh to make it divine. Like she did for Veronica, who might have tasked her with improving perfection as a cruel joke, only to have her dead breath stolen away when Celia did exactly that. Simmone looks radiant. Immaculate. Cherubic. Pristine.


Applause goes up from Lucy, Celia’s mother, and Cécilia as she finishes, which Autumn and Stef join in as they come up. The Toreador is showered with compliments, not the least of which are Simmone’s, whose earlier tension seems to evaporate like steam out of a sauna as she stares, entranced, at Celia’s work.

“Je ressemble à un ange!” she exclaims to her sisters. “Hou la la, comment a-t-elle fait ça?”

“That means she’s very happy and impressed,” Cécilia smiles at her former schoolmate. “Would you like to take pictures for your Instagram? I know you have a pretty large following.”

Caroline: “La magie prend de nombreuses formes ma chère. Mais cela aide lorsque vous êtes déjà magique,” Caroline answers, admiring Celia’s work, but more than anything taking in Simmone’s obvious joy.

GM: “Oh, that’s an excellent idea. We should definitely keep some pictures!” Celia’s mom chimes in.

Celia: The French goes over her head, though Celia recognizes the word “angel” at least. She cannot help but preen under their praise. Her clan might think that art is brushes on paper canvas or music fluttering through the air, but Celia knows the truth: true art is that which touches and transforms the souls of people, and Simmone has blossomed beneath her attention. Celia touches and the girl blooms.

She is all pleased and happy smiles for her hostesses, her mother, the others. A photo is a brilliant idea. She pulls a new phone from her pocket and unlocks it with a tap of her finger on the print scanner, then lines up Simmone for a shot.


Photo taken, her eyes turn toward the two elder Devillers girls as the phone disappears back into her pocket. Her gaze smolders, locking in on Caroline.

“Your turn.”

Caroline: “Are you ready to get started with the girls, Mrs. Flores?” Caroline asks, breaking her gaze from Simmone.

GM: “I think so! They all look like stars, it’d feel almost criminal not to dance and strut their stuff at this point,” Celia’s mom smiles.

Simmone’s hand shoots around Caroline’s.

Caroline: The monster’s hand is there waiting.

“Qu’est-ce qui ne va pas chérie?” she asks softly.

GM: “Je te veux ou Maman,” she entreats. “Ou Cécilia.”

Caroline: “Bien sûr le plus cher. L’un de nous sera là avec vous tout le temps,” Caroline answers gently.

Will you take the first bit? she sends to Cécilia.

GM: Of course. I think it’s better if we don’t have too many people crowding the lesson, anyways.

Simmone’s hand relaxes.

The other women and children politely don’t comment.

Caroline: Caroline lets Cécilia lead the girls to their lesson.

GM: “All right, y’all, we’re gonna start today’s lesson with positions, which are ways you hold your body,” Mrs. Flores explains as she and Cécilia head off with the children. “Basic ballet moves all start or end in one of five positions, or a slight tweak of them, so…”

Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016

Celia: Alone at last. Or… well. She looks over at Autumn.

GM: Autumn remains behind with her mistress.

Celia: Her lips press together. She wonders if this chit is as devoted to her mistress as Alana is to Celia. She doesn’t mean to conjure up the images, but there they are in her head.

GM: Who cares about a stupid sister next to her domitor? She’s not anywhere nearly as pretty.

Celia: Her very presence dims the room. It’s an assault to Celia’s senses. She’d have to overhaul the girl completely if she wanted to make her better, a full face lift.

Too much work. Celia turns her back to the ghoul to get the eyesore out of her line of vision.

GM: “Hey, Cécilia was right. I think I’ve seen your MeVid channel,” says Autumn.

“I got some good makeup tips from it.”

Celia: “Oh?” That gets her attention. She doesn’t turn away from Caroline, but her lips pull up in a smile. “I’m happy to hear that. I spent a lot of time learning how to edit the videos to get everything just right. More of a full-time job than the hobby people make it out to be.”

Caroline: “It makes a difference,” Caroline agrees. “I can’t stand the trashy half-baked videos most people put out.”

“The ones that are actually professionally done sparkle like diamonds in the sand.”

GM: “Yeah, it definitely is a full-time job,” Autumn agrees. “Lot of people who hire full-time assistants for it.”

Celia: Her eyes sparkle like diamonds at the compliment. She doesn’t know if Caroline has ever seen her videos or followed her Insta, but she’ll take what she can get from this golden-haired queen.

“I was considering the same,” she admits, “bringing someone on before it wears me out.”

“Beauty is a full time gig,” she says with a long sigh. “Though you don’t seem to have to worry about that, Caroline. God, I’d kill for that bone structure.”

GM: “That’s not a bad idea if you want to keep growing your brand online,” the ghoul agrees again.

Caroline: “Bringing in an assistant was the best thing I ever did,” Caroline laughs. “There just aren’t enough hours in the day. I don’t know what I would do without her.”

She laughs lightly at the compliment, running a hand across her check and down under her chin. “We all have our crosses.”

Celia: “Hardly a burden,” Celia disagrees, “unless you’re fending off people with a bat.” Some use for that outside apartment, hm? “Perhaps I’ll see what my salon manager can whip up. But you…”

She doesn’t ask permission this time, not verbally. There’s just a gentle lift of her brows as her hands close in, the pad of her thumb soft against the Kindred’s jawline.

“If Simmone is silver, I’d drape you in gold. Put you on the pedestal where you belong.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue over her teeth, her Beast half recoiling at the touch even as Celia’s words wash over her, stroking her ego.

It’s a shame Celia isn’t in college still. That she lives in the Quarter. That she already has so many ghouls. The compliments agree with her.

“Where I belong? Do you always lavish these kinds of compliments on your clients?” She seems amused, but pleasantly so.

Celia: “None of them look half so good as you, Caroline.”

She’s emboldened by the touch. She takes a step closer. Her hand slides around to the back of Caroline’s head, fingers running through her hair. How had she never noticed this dazzling beauty during all those years at political events? Eternity stretches before them now. No time like the present to make up for all those lost years.

GM: Autumn studies her phone.

Caroline: She shouldn’t let the kine get this close. Not when it’s so obvious that she’s not alive. When her body is so cool.

“Not until after they leave your salon, I’m sure.” She studies the other woman, her eyes dancing with interest. Is Celia really coming on to her?

Celia: She makes no comment to the coolness of her body, the papery feeling of her skin, the fact that Caroline is nothing but a walking corpse animated by whatever dark sorcery keeps them all from the grave. Celia’s heartbeat is clearly audible, her skin warm where she touches the taller girl. Her nerves flutter, though she does not shy away.

“Not even then.” Celia leans in. It’s an invasion of personal space, though the movement itself is slow enough to give her time to back away should she choose. Her Beast is tense with anticipation. Fight, fuck, feed, that’s all it knows. All it wants. And Caroline is in its sight.

Her eyes ask for the permission her lips don’t give voice to.

Caroline: Oscar Wilde once observed everything was about sex, except sex.

Caroline never would have entertained a same-sex relationship in life. In death her tastes shifted, expanded and narrowed both. Sex was about blood, and her tastes were specific.

Celia’s blood doesn’t suffice. It’s still blood, but she knows it’s far from the satisfying fair she wants. It doesn’t stir her Beast’s interest in a more than passing way—like a shark watching a minnow swim by—not worth the effort.

But sex isn’t about sex, as Oscar Wilde observed. It’s about power. And Celia’s attraction makes her feel very powerful.

What’s the worst that could happen?

She leans back into the shorter woman, the hints of points forming on her fangs even as their chests brush against each other. She drops her voice. “And you like beautiful things. Live for beautiful things?”

Celia: Celia finds herself nodding to the question. She does live for beautiful things. Beautiful things are what brought her here, to this place; they’re what made her life go so far off track in the first place. The beautiful goddess on the staircase. The beautiful monster under her sister’s bed. And now, here, this exquisite creature as well. What had she ever been nervous about?

“You’re not just beautiful, Caroline,” the words leave her in a whisper, “you’re so much more than that. Alluring. Divine. Enchanting.”

As if realizing the truth of those words, her gaze drops from Caroline’s eyes to her lips. She wants her. Needs her. Purveyor of beauty, isn’t that what she had said once?

Caroline: She hopes Autumn is taking notes from this exquisite mortal. Divine. Maybe she can find room for Celia in her retinue after all.

She leans in further, their bodies pressing against each other, her lips beside the shorter woman’s ear as she whispers, “You have no idea.”

Her lips move down, gently brushing their way down the side of Celia’s neck. Not quite kisses.

Celia: Maybe she says something. Maybe there’s a noise she makes, something encouraging. Something happy, Veronica would say. It could be Caroline’s touch that sends the shiver down her spine, or it could be the closeness to the corpse. Who’s to say?

GM: The kitchen door opens as Celia’s mom walks in. “Oh excuse me, have y’all seen my pho…”

She shuts up the moment she sees the two kissing women.

Caroline: The Ventrue breaks off, without shame, slowly but deliberately disentangling herself from Celia.

Celia: The moment is immediately ruined when Diana’s voice cuts through the fog in her mind. Her head snaps in her mother’s direction. She looks down at Caroline, then back at her mother.

Maybe the floor will open and swallow her.

GM: Her mother’s hands go to her mouth.

Celia: Fuck.

Caroline: Troublesome…

Celia: It isn’t what it looks like? They were… gossiping? With Caroline’s lips on her throat? That’s plausible, right? Secrets are better when they’re whispered.

GM: Her mom’s mouth opens behind her hands.

Nothing comes out.

Caroline: “Mrs. Flores,” Caroline says as her gaze sweeps the room languidly, “I do believe that might be your phone on the end of the counter.”

She hopes Autumn was wise enough to make herself scarce.

GM: Caroline doesn’t see her ghoul nearby.

Celia: “Um. You… ah, phone? Did you… pocket..?” the words die as Caroline speaks for them.

GM: “…yes. Yes, I suppose it must…” Celia’s mom finally manages.

She crosses the room. She picks up the phone.

Celia: Maybe she should step away from the source of all this.

She should probably step away.

She does so. Slides around the counter to put it between the two of them. She doesn’t manage to meet her mother’s eye.

This is worse, she thinks, than the family dinner when she was rolling on ecstasy.

GM: Maybe her mom is looking at her. Maybe she’s not. But her footsteps sound. She makes it most of the way back towards the kitchen door before she turns around and looks between the two. Her hand re-covers her mouth.

She looks as if she’s about to cry.

Caroline: Fuck.

Caroline isn’t particularly attached to the obviously closeted Celia’s relationship with her mother, but it simply won’t do to have Mrs. Flores this upset when she goes back to the lesson with her sister.

GM: “Celia, baby… I’ll always love you… but this is not a healthy choice,” she whispers in a pained voice, slowly shaking her head.

Celia: She thinks about calling out to her mother. Thinks about what will happen if she doesn’t, if Diana causes some sort of something with the Devillers’ youngest daughter. Someone had told her about the monster who lived here putting a girl in a wheelchair for a stolen diary. She doesn’t want to imagine what will happen if her mother causes a problem.

“Mom, I… can explain..?”

“Is your lesson over?”

GM: “God will judge you, Celia.”

Tears start to trickle down her mother’s face.

“I will always, always love you. But God will judge you.”

Celia: “Momma. I didn’t… we didn’t…” Celia gestures between herself and Caroline.

She doesn’t know what to say. ‘It isn’t what it looks like,’ ’we’re both dead,’ ‘Kindred don’t see gender’ doesn’t seem like it will go over well.

Caroline: The Ventrue watches the exchange. It’s bittersweet, seeing another family with their own problems. Reassuring in some ways.

The Germans, she knows, have a word for what she’s feeling: schadenfreude. Pleasure from someone else’s misfortune.

GM: Celia’s mother is full-on crying now.

“Don’t do this to yourself, Celia. I love you. Please, please don’t do this.”

Caroline: The Ventrue reaches out through the midnight-black thread tying her to her family.

Please keep the girls occupied for a few minutes, Caroline sends to her sister. There’s a… small hiccup here.

GM: All right. I’d ask if I could help, but it sounds like that’s how.

Celia: Irritation surges through Celia. How dare she? She, who let a black man defile her. She, who carried two rape babies to term. She, who lived in squalor rather than stand up to the abusive piece of shit she catered to for twelve years. She dares judge Celia?

Her movements are quick and precise as she begins to pack up her belongings.

“It seems I’m overstaying. I’ll get out of your hair, Caroline. Please ask your sister her forgiveness for not saying goodbye personally.”

Caroline: Suddenly it’s there, in the room with the three of them. Overpowering. Overwhelming. Inescapable. A monster stalking among the kine. It pulls at their awareness, tears at their inhibition’s, wears at their objections.

Her gaze rolls to Mrs. Flores, meeting the older woman’s gaze even as it is drawn to her like a moth to the flame. “I must have missed something, Mrs. Flores.”

GM: Celia’s mother instantly looks towards her, mouth caught open in mid-response to her daughter.

Celia: It hits her. The wave that Caroline—for it can only be Caroline—sends out. Her knees threaten to buckle. Not from any desire to please, but from fear. Her mother is so fragile. So breakable. She knows what their kind can do. Her eyes are drawn toward the blonde almost against her will.

Caroline: “I’m not certain what you think you came in on,” she begins, reaching out with her will to smooth over the older woman’s perceptions and working her control into her mind.

She’s had more than enough practice to know that the best lies are the ones that someone won’t strain against. That have something in common with the truth. A twisting of feelings and perceptions instead of a complete overwriting of it. Move the pieces around.

“But Celia had nothing to do with the kiss you saw Autumn and I sharing when you came in. She was in the restroom and only just got back.”

GM: Mrs. Flores closes her mouth with a glazed look to her eyes.

Her features slowly calm.

Celia: Her eyes close. She’s next. She’s next, she’s next, she’s next. She has to be next. There’s no way Caroline can explain what she just did to her mother. She thinks Celia is like them, the kine, the ordinary folk. To not worm her way into her mind now would be a slipup. At best, her mind is wiped of this display. At worst, everything else is found out.

She could run. She should run. Back to the Quarter. Back to safety.

Leave her mother here with these monsters. Her daughter, too.

She is a terrible, terrible person.

She looks down at the bags. They don’t seem as important now.

Caroline: “You should go back to the lesson,” Caroline tells the dance teacher suggestively.

Celia: If she finishes packing and heads to the door will anyone notice? Maybe she can use the cover of her mother’s exit to bolt.

And be chased down outside. All those guns. She’d seen them on the way in.

The last of her tools are zipped inside the bag.

GM: Mrs. Flores blinks slowly as the impression sinks in.

But the esthetician can’t help but note.

Her face is messed up from the crying.

Celia: She doesn’t look at Caroline. She can’t look at Caroline.

“Momma,” Celia calls out. “You’ve smudged, a little. Why don’t I fix that for you before you go back.”

GM: “…oh. Okay, sweetie,” her mother answers slowly.

“Yes. Yes, please.”

She keeps her gaze fixed on Celia, but her eyes still seem to slide towards Caroline.

Celia: There’s nothing pleasant about this get-together now. She should have left the moment she’d seen Caroline at the door. Her mind races: excuses to leave, rationalizing what she’d seen Caroline do, something that will keep the Ventrue out of her mind. Her very presence is calling to Celia, even while she does her damndest to ignore it.

Fixing her mother’s makeup is quick work. She wipes away the black lines of mascara and smudged liner and fixes the tear tracks and puffy under eyes with concealer. She doesn’t say anything while she works, aware that Caroline is right there and probably listening. A fresh coat of waterproof mascara finishes the job. It takes less than two minutes.

“Call me when you get home, Momma, okay?” Celia kisses her cheek. Some assurance, at least, that the woman will make it out of this.

GM: Celia’s mom hugs her back. Her hugs are normally very tight and long, but there’s an almost…

It feels like the hugs she gave when she was in the hospital.

“Oh, but wait, sweetie,” she manages with an utterly at odds and almost fake-feeling smile, “I baked you some snickerdoodles, to take home… they’re in my bag.”

Caroline can’t recall Claire ever baking cookies for her.

Caroline: The Ventrue watches patiently as Celia tends to her mother’s makeup. Wonders what must be going through the kine’s mind. She’s smart enough not to make a scene at least, so Caroline will give her some props. On the other hand, the fun of the moment is gone, sucked away. It’s her own fault. It always is.

The heiress let her amusements get in the way of her family, in the way of her duties, and it ended badly. Like it always does. Stupid. Unbecoming.

She should have known better. Did know better.

Celia: “Why don’t we go get them, Momma? I’m on my way out. I can’t wait to dive into the snickerdoodles.”

There’s no good way out of this. Will Caroline make a scene if Celia bolts? Of course she will; she’d shown that she is already willing to force her way into the minds around her. Isn’t this how it had gone last time, too? I’m fast.

Not fast enough.

“It’ll just be—”

Caroline: “Perhaps you should wait a moment, Celia. You can grab them on the way out later as the lesson wraps up,” Caroline interjects, her presence still oppressive in the room. “There’s a few things we still need to talk about.”

GM: “Ah. All right. You can grab ‘em when we’re done, sweetie,” Celia’s mother demurs.

Celia: Oh.


That decides that.

“Of course.”

GM: “Thanks for fixin’ my makeup, sweetie. You make me look flawless as always,” her mom offers with a weak chuckle.

“I should… get to the lesson.”

She sees herself out with a final, half-averted glance back towards Caroline.

Caroline: Caroline waits for the elder Flores to depart the room and gestures to the high stools on the opposite end of the island from her. “Please.”

She moves around the kitchen, fishes a pair of long-stemmed wine glasses from a cabinet, and a bottle of white from the refrigerator. She deftly pops the cork and pours for each of them.

Celia: Celia takes a breath she doesn’t need that does nothing for her. She watches her mother disappear out the door. She doesn’t quite meet Caroline’s eye, though she moves around the island to the offered stool. She hovers rather than sit, eyes still downcast. How long can she stare at these countertops?

Caroline: She slides one of the glasses across the island to Celia and sighs, the overwhelming presence receding to just her radiant one.

“She doesn’t know?” she asks at last, swirling the wine in the glass.

Celia: Doesn’t know that she’s dead? That she sold out her family? That she regularly visits with a monster?

No, that can’t be what she’s asking. Celia has done nothing to arouse her suspicions. She focuses on the glass. Caroline wouldn’t be offering wine if she knew. It hits her, then.

She thinks I’m gay.

She seizes the excuse, shaking her head as she sinks finally onto the stool. This, at least, is safe. She wipes at nonexistent tears to keep her hands busy.

“No,” she says. “She… none of them do.”

Caroline: The heiress nods. “I can see why. She didn’t seem to take that very well.”

She takes a sip of her wine.

“That’s hard. Lying to family members about who you are.”

GM: At least she still said she’d love Celia.

Dad still hasn’t so much as called.

Celia: “I never wanted to hurt her, but what she wants… it’s just not me,” Celia says. There’s a hint of a flush on her cheeks. She looks so young, despite the fact that they are the same age. So uncertain. “Sorry, I… it’s not worth getting upset about, right? She’s just old fashioned.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “I think it’s perfectly worth getting upset over. Getting rejected for who you are by people that you love is never easy.”

“Trust me, I know.”

Celia: She does know, doesn’t she? For all that she’s done and been, Celia hasn’t really had to face that issue just yet. Carefully concocted lies have let her avoid the worst of it. She sniffs, staring down at her wine glass.

“I shouldn’t have been so forward, it was…” she can’t say the word. “Silly. I don’t even… I barely know you.” She gestures vaguely toward where Caroline sits across from her.

Caroline: “What’s that phrase? It takes two?” Caroline answers.

Celia: “Something about a tango,” Celia supplies.

Caroline: “Another woman I think said two, ‘to make a thing go right.’” Caroline smiles weakly.

Celia: “Was that a woman? I’d always assumed it was a very high-pitched male. Like, ah, Michael Jackson as a child.”

Caroline: Caroline laughs more genuinely. “More well-known for the remake, but the original was Lyn Collins.”

“But that’s neither here nor there. So, are you just going to keep things hidden forever? That part of yourself?”

Celia: “I was planning on it. I have a… cover.”

She thinks of Randy. She thinks, too, of this entire persona that she wears, and the one she didn’t don tonight. How different they are.

“I mean… you know what it’s like, you said, it’s… it’s not worth it, right? There would be too much fallout.”

Caroline: A nod. “There can be. My father hasn’t spoken to me since he found out. Mind you, it wasn’t in the best of ways, and he had other considerations.”

Celia: “I wish my father wouldn’t speak to me. Or send my brother to speak with me. Or play his mind games. Trade you,” she offers.

Caroline: Caroline pauses, then seemingly decides to go ahead. “Is she his?”

Celia: Anything she was about to say is abruptly cut off. Her entire body shudders at the question, face closing off. For a long moment, she doesn’t speak. Anything she says here can have far-reaching consequences. For herself. For her daughter. For her mother.

She shakes her head, emphatic. “No. No, of course not.”

Perhaps it’s telling, how her eyes don’t meet Caroline’s. How long the pause was. How eager she seems to assure Caroline that Lucy is, in fact, not Maxen’s daughter.

Caroline: Caroline falls silent.

“I’m sorry,” she says at last.

“For everything you went through with him. For everything your mother went through. For everything your sister went through.”

She sets down her glass.

“I’m sorry.”

Celia: “I can hardly lay the blame at your feet. You didn’t turn him into what he is. You didn’t do anything worth apologizing for.” She trails a finger around the stem of her glass. She still hasn’t looked up. “But… thank you.”

Caroline: “My father had a part. In covering it all up. I’m sure you must know. Many people played a part in covering up his excesses. Many people benefited from them, from the holds they gave others over him.”

“I had a part in it. I benefited from it.”

“If nothing else, I knew about it and did nothing.”

Celia: Her words are met by silence.

This is not the conversation she had expected to have.

How long had she blamed herself? How long had she thought that it was her fault, all of it, every decision she had ever made, starting with that one dangerous idea that she could stand up to her father? Choosing Emily over her mother. Emmett over Stephen. Monsters over men in uniforms. And then him, the man in the shadows, the voice in her dreams. Him above it all. Untouchable on the pedestal where she has placed him. No one else comes close. But here, now, Caroline offers the words of an apology for a long ago crime. Celia had known that he couldn’t do it himself, but to hear the girl so blatantly admit what she did, what her father did.

Her response, when it comes, is a hollow laugh.

“You warned me. That day in school. Entire teams, you said, tens of thousands of dollars. How many others? How many others sat idly by while that man terrorized my family? How many people benefit from the corruption at the heart of our party?”

She shakes her head.

“Don’t tell me. It doesn’t matter. If you want to make amends, Caroline, truly make amends, give back whatever it is you benefited. Start a fund. A shelter. A scholarship. Something. Just give it back. That bastard does not deserve to win.”

Caroline: The Ventrue shakes her head. “That’s the logic everyone uses.”

“That it’ll be better on the other side, that you can do more in the future. That you can make up for it. But you never really make up for it. You just keep falling further and further into darkness until it swallows you up. One day you look up and you can’t tell who the monsters are because you’ve become one.”

Celia: “So we do nothing? Let the darkness win? Become the monsters willingly?”

GM: Dad always said the Democrats were just as bad.

Or worse.


Caroline: “I don’t know what you should do,” Caroline answers. “I won’t pretend to tell you how you should live your life. We all have to make our own choices.”

She gestures between them. “This is mine. Well, one of them.”

Celia: “Apologizing for long ago transgressions over wine?”

Pretend that makes it all okay.

Caroline: She shrugs. “People matter more to me than principles.”

Celia: “And yet you crush them on command.”

Caroline: “Depends on the people,” Caroline admits. “A stranger? Absolutely. Perhaps more than ever.”

She takes another sip of her wine. “I’m sorry, this must be very uncomfortable for you. Honestly… well. It’s as selfish as anything.”

“I don’t get very many opportunities to talk with other people that understand what it’s like. Hiding who you are. Issues with fathers. Family problems in general.”

“It’s not easy wearing a mask.”

Celia: She almost laughs. How well she knows that feeling. Perhaps, if Caroline had stayed in the Quarter, they might have been something like friends. If such a thing can even exist in their society.

“Truer words have not been spoken.” Does she want forgiveness? She will not have it from Celia. “Wear it too long and you don’t know what’s real anymore.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “It has to come off eventually, or you start to become the person you’re pretending to be.”

GM: Are things all right, Caroline? Mrs. Flores feels a little off.

Caroline: She walked in when Celia and I were being very…. friendly with each other.

GM: Oh, I see. I would ask that you not feed on the Floreses, if it’s not any trouble. Celia is a friend and her mom has taught us for years and years.

Caroline: She came onto me, Caroline answers defensively.

GM: She did? That’s strange. There’s puzzlement, but not doubt.

Caroline: Her mother was unpleasantly surprised. I thought it better for everyone if she remembered something a little less… personal.

GM: There’s some feeling of apprehension across the bond. Caroline remembers Celia not wanting to tamper with her fiancé’s mind either.

I’ll admit that makes me uncomfortable. If this is who Celia is, I think that might be best left between her and her mother how they deal with it.

Caroline: Maybe, Caroline sends. But I keep enough secrets of my own that I can respect someone else’s.

She doesn’t add that she won’t let her own lack of self-control cause a scene at an event for her youngest sister. Cécilia can read her well enough to read between the lines.

I was gentle.

GM: Okay. Do you think this is going to be an issue in the future, so far as Celia?

Caroline: Not with me, comes Caroline’s clipped response.

GM: I’m sorry, I meant from her. Caroline feels the apology as much as she hears it.

I’m okay if you and she are interested in each other in that way, too. But Celia shouldn’t act on it while she’s here in a professional capacity.

Though maybe that could have been more clear to her. I don’t think it was established that we were paying her. Her mom had just suggested that she come along.

We do pay Mrs. Flores for the lessons, so things are pretty professional between us.

Caroline: Call it a moment of weakness, Caroline answers. I shouldn’t have let it come that far.

GM: You’ve wanted to find someone after Jocelyn. You deserve to find someone, too.

Celia: “Indeed. Sometimes I wonder who I am anymore.”

Now seems like a good time to go. While Caroline is… distracted? Something is making those wheels turn inside her head (her pretty head, Celia still thinks), and Celia would prefer to not be her focus. Too much rides on keeping this identity secret and she’s been careless enough with it, especially considering the location. Vidal’s personal territory. What was she thinking coming here? Hadn’t she pressed her luck enough by venturing into Tulane? Perhaps some good will come of this: she can use the interaction as an excuse to never, ever come back.

She rises.

“For what it’s worth, Caroline, I would have very much liked for this to happen.” Celia gestures between the two of them. She sounds sincere. “There are just too many complications were we both to remove our masks.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a fluttering laugh. “You have no idea how right you are.”

Her expression turns contemplative. “You haven’t asked what I did to your mother.”

Celia: Shit.

“I assume, as a senator’s former wife, she understood the implicit threat in… making a public scene, and that your words reminded her of the proper decorum.”

Caroline: “If it was that easy, my life would be far less complicated,” Caroline answers.

“Your secret is safe, at least one more night, from her.”

Celia: She’s going to cause a scene. This fledgling is going to cause a scene and reveal things she shouldn’t, and it puts Celia at risk. She studies the granite countertop. She tries to keep the wariness from her voice.

“Then you have my thanks.”

Caroline: The Ventrue looks at Celia’s case. “It would have been better if you’d finished, but I can fake something with what Cécilia has on hand. I hope you’ll forgive me for a passable job with your name on it.”

Celia: “The… makeup?” Her brows draw together. “You want me to finish your look.”

Or she wants an excuse for Celia to stick around. That shouldn’t exhilarate her as much as it does. She tells herself the feeling fluttering through her is from being found out in this area, not the quiet promise behind the other’s words.

Or it’s a threat, and Caroline thinks she can quietly dispose of her. Ha.

Caroline: Caroline taps her fingers on the counter. “If you’re willing, that would be best.” It’s the little details that mess with people’s memories, that unravel the entire tapestry.

Celia: She is willing. That’s the worst part, isn’t it, that she knows staying inside of the Garden District is nothing but trouble, but… her mom is here. Lucy is here. She can’t just leave them, not when the only other witnesses to their presence tonight are a ghoul and Caroline’s sisters. And it’s… Caroline. Months old. She’d been intimidated by the blonde when they were mere mortals, but this? Here? She should be at home here. She’s been at it far longer. She’s faced down bigger, scarier things than Caroline Malveaux-Devillers and survived to talk about it.

What’s the worst that could happen?

“I can stay.”

Her jaw moves as she considers her words. Finally, she asks, “Are you going to hypnotize me as well?”

“I’ve seen those shows, you know. On Webflix. Power of suggestion and all that.”

Caroline: “Yes,” Caroline admits without shame. “It’s better if your memories and hers match.”

Celia: She could remove her eyes. Keep her from ever using that particular ability again. It would be a simple touch to get it right, and her hands will already be near her face. How many people will she need to mow down to get to the door once Caroline starts screaming? Let it happen, maybe. She’s played that role before. It will protect her secrets, at least. ‘Celia’ would be safe.

“I remember walking in on you kissing Autumn,” she says slowly. “I was on my way back from the restroom.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t argue the point with her. There’s no value in it. She could reassure her, tell her that she’s not going to go digging in her mind, but she doesn’t think those things would have been terribly reassuring to her.

Caroline considers eavesdropping on the woman’s thoughts, but she’s already hurt her enough, will already violate her privacy enough.

“We can be quick, if this is making you uncomfortable. Well… more uncomfortable.”

Celia: “What if I don’t want to forget you?”

Caroline: “It was better that your mother walked in,” Caroline answers.

Celia: What will she be giving up? Almost kissing Caroline? That’s not so bad, is it? She has other beautiful monsters to occupy her thoughts at night. Her hands move on the countertop, unrolling the makeup bag. The products are waiting within.

“Because you don’t find me suitable, or because you do?”

Caroline: Her eyes linger on the kine. God, it feels good to be desired. But Caroline has already basked in that glow once, and flying so close to the sun has left her more than pink.

“Both?” Caroline answers after a moment. “It would be a beautiful disaster, but it would still be a disaster.”

Just like Jocelyn.

Celia: “I’m more durable than you might think. The scandal with my father saw to that.”

He had told her it had made her strong, the years of abuse. She suspects he just didn’t care enough to make it stop.

“Perhaps that alarms you. The children of abusers often grow up to abuse others, don’t they?” She lifts her chin, though her eyes remain on the products before her. “I wouldn’t hurt you.”

Caroline: “Rather the opposite, I suspect,” Caroline replies.

She’s persistent.

Celia: “You’re worth the risk.”

Caroline: “Am I? You were alone with me for five minutes and we reduced your mother to tears.” The wavering that was present at first is falling away.

Celia: “You forget I’ve known you most of my life. All those years with our dads at events. Do you think tonight was the first time I’ve had these thoughts? You’re brilliant. Captivating. Enchanting. More than that… this,” Celia gestures between the two of them, “you get it. You know. I don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not around you because you know what it’s like with our families.”

“Even if I have to give up the rest of it… I wouldn’t want to give up that connection.”

“Would you, now that you’ve found it?”

Caroline: Years? Caroline wonders what it’s like to carry a torch like that. She supposes she’ll find out.

“You don’t have to pretend around me, Celia. Won’t have to,” Caroline answers.

But that’s a lie, isn’t it? She’s still wearing a mask here. And a mask under that one.

Celia was right. You wear a mask so long, you forget what’s underneath.

Celia: The island is the only thing separating the two of them. That, and the lies they’ve both told, a mountain of them that separates the two: alive. Normal. Two girls from fucked-up families trying to make it in this world. Would it be easier if she were to just admit the truth of things, or would that result in being dragged before the proverbial throne to be dealt with as an interloper? Even Caroline’s offer—won’t have to worry about pretending—doesn’t set her at ease. She wishes that it did. That she could take off the mask, the one under that, the one under that. That her brain would cease compartmentalizing everything she looked at into two categories: threat vs non-threat. Get the upper hand. Survive. Fight, fuck, feed. That’s all the Beast wants.

Celia would be set at ease though, wouldn’t she? If she were truly the human she pretends to be now.

She forces herself to breathe. To keep up appearances. She picks up a brush, a bottle of liquid pigment, and slides around the counter. Within reach. Right into the arms of the waiting monster. As if this is nothing more than chatter at the salon. As if her dead heart isn’t beating in time to her thoughts, pitter-patter inside her chest. Liar, liar.

She pumps the top of the bottle onto the back of her hand and dips the brush into the foundation. She hesitates, not yet touching it to her skin. Her eyes finally meet Caroline’s.

“Can I confess, then?”

Caroline: The island is too wide to reach across easily, so she comes around.

Not too close, but not so far away.

She tilts her head. “There are worse things you could do,” Caroline answers, settling into another of the stools, her eyes on Celia.

Celia: That response draws a smirk from Celia.

“I can think of plenty worse things.” Actually confessing, for one. “I’m afraid that if I told you the truth you wouldn’t like me very much.”

Caroline: That draws a smirk of its own. Oh yes, what darkness do you hide Celia? She’s certain the other woman can scarily imagine the darkness inside Caroline.

“Taking the words out of my mouth now?” Caroline asks, her blue eyes amused.

Celia: “You’ve got me,” Celia grins, “I’m hoping to trick you into confessing something devious. Is it working?”

She looks down at the brush in her hand. She reaches for a bottle instead, pumping a small amount onto her fingers, and with a raised brow closes the distance between them. The gel is cool to the touch and smells faintly of oranges. Celia applies it to Caroline’s face with a light touch. Moisturizer. It won’t do much in the long term for dead skin, but it’ll allow everything else to go on that much smoother. She had said she’d set Caroline up with a routine.

Caroline: “Devious?” Caroline doesn’t shake her head while Celia works, but she’d like to. Her eyes are distant, looking past Celia as she continues, “Necessary, mostly. Turning a blind eye to your father was hardly my gravest sin. I wanted to play the game, wanted to be part of the club. They played hard.”

“You made the right choice, getting away from it.”

Celia: Celia is quiet a moment, eyes focusing on what she does, on the color she mixes on the back of her hand to match Caroline’s complexion. Brush back in hand, she makes the first swipe across the Ventrue’s jawline. Then another, just above it. And all around her face, dipping back into the puddle of color whenever the bristles run dry.

“That night at Tulane,” Celia says, finally, “when you stopped that girl from calling the police. Did you know, even then, that it was my father who did that to me?” The broken arm. The bloody dress.

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “Not then. But I did when you came back in the morning. Or at least suspected.”

Celia: Something like grief clenches inside her. People had known and done nothing.

“When I was twelve he took my makeup away from me. He told me that boys would look at me differently, like it was my fault. My mom, though, she had stockpiles of concealer that she smuggled in before the divorce. I thought, at the time, she was just indulging her daughter. Now I know what he was doing to her. To Isabel. To Sophia, and the boys.”

She paints a picture with her words alongside the one she paints on Caroline’s face, blended and buffed and polished until there’s no telling where her skin ends and the makeup begins. Truth and lies, who can tell the difference?

“Getting out was the best choice.”

“He wants to meet her. Lucy. His ‘granddaughter.’ My brother told me when we spoke last.”

This, at least, is not a poison-filled lie. This is something she hasn’t brought up with Emily or her mother, hasn’t had the courage to. But Caroline’s family, to hear her tell, is just as broken. Maybe she knows the proper course.

Caroline: “You don’t owe him anything,” Caroline answers softly.

What pathetic advice, coming from her. Caroline, who spent her whole life trying to please her father. Who’s spent her Requiem trying to impress her sire.

“Unless you want something from him.”

Celia: “For a long time I just wanted his death. To make him suffer. To take away everything he loved and watch it burn. To ruin him, so he’d be cast out.”

Caroline had told her that. Create enough scandal and his own party would turn their backs on him. She’d even managed to do it.

“And now Logan… Logan says that he’s proud of me. That he’s impressed by what I’ve created with the spa. That he misses me.”

What she’d give to hear those words about him.

“How can you want someone so much when they’re the one who destroyed you?”

Caroline: “When you associate love with abuse long enough, abuse feels like love.”

She knows the feeling too well.

“Childhood trauma is like any other childhood injury—if you don’t fix it when you’re young, it stays with you forever. Like a bone never reset.”

“Break a bird’s wing and you might someday release it to fly again. But for us? They broke our wings too young, too often. Now there’s nothing left for us but the cage.”

Celia: “I read a poem once about a girl whose mother offered her a sugar cube. She put it in her mouth and crunched down, and it was salt. That is what abuse is: knowing you are going to get salt, but still hoping for sugar for nineteen years.”

“Your wings, too, Caroline?” Spoken more softly than before, though no pity in her voice. Just gentle understanding.

Caroline: “We are what we are,” Caroline answers. “I won’t pretend we had the same experience. Just the same outcome.”

Well, almost the same. Celia’s still breathing. Has her daughter.

“If you need his approval… after everything… well.” She smiles, but it’s not a happy smile. “Who am I to blame you?”

After all, she always has…

Celia: She had maybe expected a story from Caroline. Something to bring them closer, to bridge the distance between them. Two girls from the same background, and here they are on opposite sides of a war that began long before either of them were ever conceived. Perhaps Celia does her a disservice by withholding the full truth.

But her comment, wings, gives life to the Toreador’s hands. They are not a blur, but each motion that she makes now is precise. It starts with the eyes. She had said, earlier, that neutrals would not do for children. But Caroline is not a child; Caroline is a woman grown, a woman died, a predator in her place. If Caroline’s family took her wings then Celia will give them back to her.

She begins. White across the lid, then bronze, then gold with warm undertones, no yellow to detract. Darker brown—the color of the bare branches in the dead of winter—in the corners, then beneath the eyes. Smudged, blended, turned up toward the brow’s tail. No black; black will wash her out. Black is too severe, too angry. This Caroline is not angry. This Caroline is a sculpted goddess who has waited long years to be acknowledged, who will destroy everything in her path and do it with a smile, who will fight, tooth and nail, to take what is hers. She is severe, but she will not look severe. She will look alive. She will look as she should were her heart to beat in truth, not this pale echo.

A pot of taupe pomade fills in her brows, tiny little strokes that mimic the growth of her hairs. Bronzer, where the sun should touch but never will. Contour at the sides of her chin, the hollows of her cheeks. Celia sculpts her face as easily with powder as she would with her own fingers. Less permanent, no less striking. Blush along the cheekbones to lift her face. Then the highlight: cupid’s bow, beneath the tail of her brows, the bridge of her nose, a light dusting just above the blush.

Blend. Blend, blend, blend. Blend until it is smooth. Until each color fades into the next. Until there is no telling death from life, truth from lies, love from abuse.

And the wings. They start at the corners of her eyes and lift up, a clean line of dark pigment sharp enough to cut a man.

She finishes with color on the dead girl’s lips, swipes it on with a deft flick of her brush.

She had promised to drape her in gold, and so she has. Her eyes sparkle out from her face, given light and life by the powders and creams Celia set upon her. Some women apply makeup, dresses, or accessories and think they are wearing it, when the truth is it is wearing them. Celia does not make that mistake. She has taken every perfection of Caroline’s and amplified it tenfold. It is Caroline on steroids. Caroline on the pedestal Celia promised. Caroline, golden queen.

She holds out the mirror and her breath, waiting.

Caroline: Caroline waits as the other woman (what a joke, she’s not a woman anymore) falls into silence in her work. She’s seen the look in Celia’s eyes before. The focus. An artist at work. It’s something she can admire.

She wonders for a moment if she’s said something wrong, and then perhaps if that’s for the best. There’s no future with a kine. Cannot be any future with a kine. Even if she weren’t the childe of the prince.

So she waits, the shorter woman’s firm but gentle hands on her face, her delicate brushes. She thinks the last time she had an experience like this was before her prom. It just always seemed…. indulgent. And it is. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t enjoy it.

She worries for a moment that Celia is caking on too much, going over the top, but doesn’t interrupt. She waits, until she sees the finished product.

For a moment she doesn’t recognize herself. She’s grown accustomed to seeing the same face every night in the mirror, but darker. More monstrous. Changing for the worse, but not changing at all.

This face is someone else’s. It’s not the face of the haughty heiress she was in life. It’s not the face of the naïve fledgling. It’s not the face Caroline, who has scrapped and clawed and fought her way to her teetering, precarious position on such a high ledge.

And yet… it is her face. It’s fierce and regal. It’s refined and sharp. It’s the face of an empress, not an heiress. Of a goddess, not a warrior. The face of who she wants to be. Of who she’s always wanted to be in the eyes of everyone.

It’s a face she wants to see in the mirror every night.

She holds the mirror in a death grip.

She explores a smile and likes the look of it, before finally lowing the mirror to look at Celia once more.

“It’s breathtaking,” she finally admits to Celia.

Celia: She recognizes that look. Veronica had worn the same the night she’d tasked Celia with the impossible: improve perfection. She had done it then. She has done it again now.

Her smile spills across her face, unrestrained, to lift the corners of her eyes in something that might be true joy.

“It’s you.” Celia reaches forward to touch her finger to where Caroline’s heart should beat. “What’s in here.”

Caroline: Caroline knows that’s not quite true. That what’s inside her is the pitch black of bubbling tar, blackness that might one day swallow the stars. But the sentiment matters. That someone sees her as more than what she is.

She’s silent for a long moment.

Then, “Thank you.”

Celia: It’s an easy transition for her hand to move from heart to the back of her neck, the same position that got them into trouble earlier. The stool is sturdy enough for two, and Celia has always liked laps. She slides onto Caroline’s without a word of warning. As if she belongs.

“You’re welcome.”

Caroline: Celia can feel the tension in Caroline as she makes contact, feel the steel enter her spine, the stiffness of a corpse.

This is a bad idea, but the kine is so soft, so eager.

She promised herself she wouldn’t succumb, but look at how the kine looks at her. Look what she’s done for her.

Caroline bites her lower lip, the fangs too obvious. One hand circles the other kine’s back, rests on her hip.

She doesn’t remove her.

She told Cécilia she wouldn’t do this. Told her this wouldn’t be a problem.

“This is a bad idea,” she breathes in Celia’s ear.

Celia: “It is,” Celia agrees, though she doesn’t make a move to displace herself. She settles in instead, one arm around Caroline’s shoulders, the other lifting to stroke the back of her hand across her cheek.

“Someone could walk in at any moment and see me draped over a beautiful Kindred and wonder why they aren’t so lucky.”

Caroline: Caroline’s dead heart skips a beat, but she doesn’t immediately react.

Ghoul? She could see it, a Toreador as enamored with Celia’s talents as Caroline is. They’re famous for abandoning their ghouls when the next thing comes along, too. It would explain her lack of shock, how hard she came on when she knew what Caroline was.

She can see it. She’s certainly put on a hell of an audition if she’s looking for a new domitor.

But no ghoul has ever been quite so comfortable around a strange lick before, have they?

The fangs are out now. Her other hand reaches up under Celia’s arm to stroke her neck, to caress her throat.

“What a wicked game you’ve played…. how long have you known?”

Celia: Her eyes close at the touch, breath stuttering to a halt before it begins again. A better reaction than she could have hoped for. Caroline either has exceptional control, or Celia’s lack of predatory smell has kept her Beast in check.

“I didn’t mean to deceive you. You opened the door and I panicked,” she admits.

Caroline: Several possibilities flow through her mind. That the timing on this is too coincidental, but are dismissed just as quickly. Cécilia has been planning for some time. This was no impromptu opportunity. The margins on inserting a dagger into her family here are too small.

She turns her senses to the girl in her arms more fully, more fiercely. Sends the Beast sniffing about. She has to know.

And just like that the illusion falls to pieces. Or, perhaps, she tears it to pieces. The woman might be fooled, but the Beast recognizes its own. She doesn’t have a harmless kine in her arms, but another predator. Another monster.

An oh-so alluring one.

If the woman was conflicted about what to do, the Beast is not. It knows what to do when it sees another predator: its list is short. The decision is easy.

This lovely thing that wanted her kiss so. That flattered it, that tempted it. It gets what it wants.

Caroline’s arms tense around Celia, no longer caressing, instead controlling. Establishing what the Beast always wants: control.

Her fingers tighten around the other vampire’s throat even as she traces a fang down Celia’s back, hard. Hard enough to part skin with its razor sharpness, to set the room alive with a smell far sweeter than Caroline had previously imagined.

“And all this?” she hisses, pausing to lick lightly at the flowing vitae. “Was this foreplay for you?”

Celia: She knows the moment the jig is up. It’s there in the way Caroline’s arms tighten around her, the sudden stiffness that wasn’t there moments ago. Celia goes absolutely, perfectly still, even while her Beast rages inside of her. It’s mindless, it wants out, but Celia has survived this long by keeping it tightly lidded. Still, when her skin splits she lets its growl be heard.

“You told me not to pretend with you.” Her voice is husky, fangs long in her mouth.

Caroline: “I meant it,” Caroline answers with a hint of iron, her fingers digging into Celia even as she runs her tongue along the length of the wound she’s opened, lapping up the slow-flowing vitae. Those fingers dig into the other vampire’s throat, into her hip, around to her inner thigh. Almost clawing at her.

“Did you?”

Celia: Her body shifts at Caroline’s touch, thighs parting beneath her steel fingers to drape herself more fully across the blonde. Pliant. Willing. The tension leaves her shoulders, head tilting—if it can—to let her get at what she wants. The noise she makes might be a whine; she wants to play, too.

“Every word.”

Caroline: The Beast wants to throw her down, to take her violently on the island. To discover if she’s as willing as she seems. She fights it.

Something nagging at the back of her mind. Her sisters are here. Celia’s mother. Her daughter. People could walk in.

The should stop. Every word.

There’s a flash. They’re in another room. A door slams shut behind them. She shoves Celia off her, down—she’s falling—but she lands on something soft. A bed. The fangs in Caroline’s mouth loom.

“Show me,” she hisses as she falls on the dark-haired beauty.

Celia: Falling. She remembers the sensation of falling. The world going out from beneath her. The rush of wind, her dress floating, strong arms around her. This bed is softer than the water that shattered her. Softer than the rooftop.

Show me. Another way of saying ‘prove it.’ A challenge from this goddess that towers over her.

She loves a challenge.

Quick as a tabby, she’s out from underneath Caroline, clawing and hissing and springing onto her to sink her teeth into any available skin. Clothing rips beneath her hands, hangs in tatters from her frame. She’d learned the art of Kindred fucking from Veronica, mistress of pain, but Celia had never liked the pain. She’d liked the control. The power. Been drawn to it, ensnared by it. The Beast recognizes it, respects it, wants it.

Wants Caroline.

She comes on like a storm.

Caroline: She finds Caroline waiting. Caroline, who has never not been in control with another Kindred. But just as obviously inexperienced. Instinctual.

Are they fighting? Are they fucking? More the former. She writhes under Celia’s kiss and heedlessly sinks her fangs into her whenever she wants.

Inner arm. Wrist. Inner thigh. She drinks like she’s dying of thirst from the source. She pulls hard on Celia’s hair to bare her throat and triumphantly penetrates her. Conquers her.

She offered herself up, and Caroline can’t resist. Doesn’t want to resist. But like all good worshipers she’s rewarded in turn. A wrist. A thigh. An inner arm. Finally, the Ventrue bares her slender pale throat, pulling Celia to her breast and nuzzling her against herself.

Celia: Fighting, fucking, pain, pleasure: it all blurs together once the fangs come out, a chorus of snarls, growls, and hissing their constant companion in the otherwise silent room. They are two beasts set upon each other, woe to all in their wake. Caroline wants to be worshiped? Celia will be her priestess and offering both.

When it’s over she’s covered in the typical bite and claw marks, her body stained red with blood. Hers, Caroline’s, it doesn’t matter; she’d ended up on her back, not a match in a brawl even against this fledgling. Some part of her nurses her wounded pride, but most of her rides the high. Her Beast is sated, glutted on blood and sex and not holding back with someone as durable as she. Now, curled on her side with an arm and leg draped over the blonde, her entire body vibrates with the purr rumbling up from her chest. Her lips move against Caroline’s throat, tongue lazily lapping at the flow of vitae dripping from an open cut beneath her jaw.

Caroline: The Ventrue isn’t even left panting at the end, like she might have been as a mortal. She just lays there, as still as the corpse she is. There’s actually something peaceful in not having to breathe.

“That was…. fun,” she finally murmurs contentedly.

I might have lied when I said it wasn’t going to be a problem.

Celia: Celia nestles closer to her partner, worming her way beneath the blonde’s arm to settle against her more fully. For all that their Beasts don’t play well together, Celia is more hands on than most. Her lips haven’t stopped their movement against the slender, pale throat of Caroline, even now.

“Fun,” she agrees, nipping at her ear. She trails a hand down her body. “I suppose we missed the dancing.”

GM: Is there something I or the others can do?

Caroline: It’s a little late for that. There’s a mixture of amusement and shame in the response. You should know, your friend is dead.

“Oh? Were you disappointed?” Caroline asks.

Celia: “Not at all. I’d miss a thousand dance recitals if it lead me here.”

Caroline: Caroline purrs in amusement. It’s easier to stay in the moment than to think of the future.

GM: There’s a flash of horror.

Oh—Caroline! You could be in danger, she has a very large social media following!

Caroline: “Wicked, but I suppose we are wicked things.”

She seems to manage it well enough, all things being equal.

Celia: “Is it wicked to lavish you with admiration?”

GM: Mana… ah.

That was a mean prank.

There’s amusement, though, in the tone.

Caroline: It’s so rare that I get to see something fluster you.

Caroline laughs, lightly running her hand down Celia’s back. “Never. My Requiem would be easier if everyone did.”

Celia: “Tell me who withholds their affection and I shall cut them down to size,” Celia says, smirking.

GM: Ha. I suppose so. It’s no wonder Yvette looks up to you so much. That would have made her laugh.

Celia is Kindred, though? I suppose we all have our secrets.

She’s likely affiliated with Savoy, to have her salon in the Quarter. I wonder why she’d come all the way out here? This is the prince’s territory.

Caroline: We all do unreasonable things for family, Caroline answers. I wouldn’t hesitate to tear into the Quarter for any of you, and if she’s just one of the many associated with him, coming here would be far less risky.

“You’re going to fight my battles for me?” Caroline smirks. Toreador. Definitely Toreador.

GM: Of course. And I for you. But I’m not sure it makes sense, for just Lucy’s dance lesson. She might be here for something to do with you.

Caroline: As if she couldn’t taste it on her tongue.

Celia: “Do you need me to?” Celia glances between herself and the taller, more defined Kindred against whom she is curled. She touches a fingertip to the muscles in her arms, as if to prove her point. “I think you don’t, not on that front. But wars are fought with more than swords, aren’t they?”

Caroline: Caroline had been fast. Very fast.

“Are you going to go singing my praises?” she muses.

Celia: “I’m more physically artistic than musically inclined.” She splays her fingers out across Caroline’s stomach, as if to remind her. “Would you like me to choreograph a ballet for you?”

Caroline: “That sounds like a great deal of work. We had our own dance here.” She looks around and almost giggles. “And we made a mess.”

The timing does beg certain questions, Caroline agrees. But there are easier places to hurt me than here.

“I need to clean up before Cécilia breaks herself away.”

GM: That’s true. But when your getting hurt could be on the line, I don’t want to make any assumptions.

Celia: Celia lifts her head to appraise the room. Clothing scraps are strewn across the floor and the comforter upon which they lie is smeared in blood. She drops her head and nuzzles up against Caroline after a moment.

Then the dismissal. She tries not to pout.

“Do you think they heard us?”

GM: I don’t want to hurt Celia. She is my friend. But you’re my sister. I don’t think it would be a good idea for her to leave until we know more about her.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline answers. There’s a look of musement. “But not for your lack of trying. Are you sure you’re not a singer?” She runs her tongue across the Toreador’s chest, still smeared with their mixed vitae.

Celia: “My preferred medium is people.” She shifts, flat on her back, stomach and throat exposed to the Kindred above her. Her eyes dance in amusement. “But I confess, sometimes I sing in the shower.”

Caroline: A smile spreads across Caroline’s blood-streaked face. “You confess? Am I your priest?”

She rolls over to straddle the smaller Toreador and leans over her, tracing her tongue up to the exposed throat once more.

Celia: “I thought I was worshiping you here.” Her back arches, head tilting back so she can lean into the touch.

Caroline: I don’t know that will be necessary.

“Oh, but I like the confession game,” Caroline moans, raking her teeth across Celia’s skin again.

Celia: Her breath leaves her shivering body in a hiss. “Will you make me pay penance if I confess my sins? A Hail Mary for each time I coveted something I could not have?”

Caroline: “I think we can come up with more appropriate uses of your tongue than a Hail Mary,” Caroline answers.

Celia: “Then I confess, Caroline, to wanting you. Here, like this. Atop, beside, beneath; it makes no difference to me.” Celia reaches for her, touch light against the Ventrue’s cheek. “I wanted you and I knew it was a bad idea, as you said. Does that make me a sinner?”

Caroline: If only it were that simple. But she knows it’s not. Knows they’re both still wearing masks.

“Yes,” Caroline answers between nibbles on her neck. “Is that why you came here?”

Celia: Celia squirms. Her hands fall back above her head, ready to be pinned by this creature above her. She makes a motion with her head that might be a shake, though she doesn’t move so much as to dislodge Caroline’s lips at her throat.

“I didn’t know you’d be here,” she says honestly. Her breath comes in short pants. Caroline can hear the flutter of her heartbeat. “I came for my family, and because your sister asked it of me. I could not think of a way to refuse that would not betray what I am. But for all those alarm bells ringing in my head, I could not stay away once I saw you.”

“I’d have left and been sorry for it, but you asked me to stay. How could I refuse?”

Celia: “Do you remember,” she asks, “when I came into Tulane with that weapon, and you were standing at the desk? And I thought, this is it, I’m going to be ruined. But you worked your charm in a way I could not. You had steel in your spine and voice, even then. I thought that I could hide behind tears and weakness and stupidity, and it worked for a time. But you? You cut through the weaker people as if they were naught but cobwebs. We speak of masks and, I confess, I donned yours. I borrowed your strength, your clarity, your poise and stature. One part Caroline, I think, each time I play that role.”

Caroline: She’s either well and truly enamored with Caroline or is a well-practiced liar. Maybe both.

Who is Caroline kidding? Celia is from an even more fucked up home than she is. Of course she’s a good liar. The best lies are the ones the other person wants to be true.

Does she even care if Celia is lying? Does it matter here? She’s enjoyed herself. Enjoyed the Toreador’s company. Even if reality calls.

She nips a last time at her throat, takes a long pull from her, then laps the wound closed.

“You can have that piece of me,” she says at last. “Take it. My gift to you, Celia.”

Celia: There’s nothing pretend in the noise that builds in the back of her throat as Caroline sinks her teeth in, the way she writhes beneath the blonde’s lips until they’re pulled away and her body collapses back onto the bed, limp. She gazes up at Caroline with wide eyes, biting her lower lip.

“Is this goodbye?” she finally asks.

Caroline: “Is it?” Caroline rises. Looks around. The only piece of her clothing that might be salvageable are her heels.

She turns her gaze back to Celia. “You’re welcome to join me in the shower. After that….” She bites her lower lip. “I may be going out tonight, but I’m not going anywhere, so that’s very much up to you.”

The blonde runs a hair through her bloodstained hair. “Do you want to see me again?”

Celia: “Yes.” The answer is immediate.

“To both,” she clarifies. Celia isn’t ashamed of liking who she likes. She’d enjoy a shower with this beauty, another reason to stay close to her, to nip and touch and play and bite. She needs a shower as well, covered in blood as she is, though that is not her most pressing concern at the moment.

“Can I? See you again?” She doesn’t put into words what they both must be thinking.

Caroline: “Not here,” Caroline answers. “This was reckless. By both of us.” She runs her tongue across her fangs. “But I have a place of my own.”

Is there anything good that can come of this? Probably not.

But Celia is intriguing. It’s like looking into a carnival mirror, another warped version of herself. And there are still so many lies and secrets between them. It’s a challenge. And Caroline can’t turn down a challenge.

Celia: Celia’s face betrays her: uncertainty, though not regret. “I… I didn’t mean to cause problems for you, Caroline. I mean that. Here, or elsewhere. It was reckless, and I’m sorry for my part in that. I wouldn’t have come if I wasn’t assured of their safety. My family, and yours. I would never hurt your sisters.”

She pushes up off the bed, still small beneath the blonde but not laid out before her. Her arms encircle Caroline’s waist, hands flat against her back.

“I would like to see you again. Your place, if… if that’s safe. Edge of the Quarter?”

Caroline: “The Giani Building,” Caroline answers, one hand stroking Celia’s hair. “Right across Canal Street.”

Celia: Her eyes close. She turns her face into the touch. Her lips brush against Caroline’s wrist.

“It’s a date.”

Caroline: “I’ll give you my number, before we go. And my assistant’s number. If you have a ghoul they can set it up.”

What the hell is she doing? Celia is the enemy in more than one ways. But she doesn’t feel like the enemy.

Celia: Another trip into Vidal’s territory. Another chance at being snatched by his goons.

Caroline is worth it.

Her smile lights up her face. “Then I suppose we should get into the shower before you sisters come knocking and we give them a fright.”

Caroline: Caroline leads her off by the hand.

Wednesday evening, 9 March 2016

Caroline: The water is almost scaldingly hot. Hot enough to make Caroline feel alive, to put heat under her skin for a little while. It’s also spacious enough for two. Especially two willing to get a little more intimate.

It runs pink coming off them.

Celia: Heat seeps into her muscles. It makes her pliant and indulgent, and though the space is larger than the norm, especially considering Celia’s petite frame, she uses it as an excuse to stay curled against the blonde, body slick with whatever luxury products they keep inside this mansion. Her hands work it into a lather, gliding and stroking and kneading the length of Caroline’s body.

It’s a shame, she thinks, that each of them left enough blood on their bodies to swirl down the drain. A shame too that Caroline’s face is not permanently altered beneath the cosmetics, that the powders and creams will be washed away with the rest of the evidence of their tryst. Maybe one night Celia will offer to make that look as eternal as the Kindred herself.

One night, but not tonight. Tonight she has spilled enough secrets, and her ability to sculpt flesh need not be something she offer on a silver platter to every monster who tops her. And what a surprise that was, to go head to head with a months-old fledgling and still end up on her back. Fast, strong; she wonders what other secrets Caroline is hiding.

Caroline: Caroline seems to enjoy Celia’s touch, enjoy the attention, and simply lets the Toreador work her over. It’s as close to surrender as Celia’s seen since they started. Her expression shifts from contented to troubled as the water runs off them, shifts from pink to clear.

It’s tugging. It’s always tugging, but more so with the heat of the moment gone. There’s too much time for her to think, to worry.

Celia: Celia has not gotten where she is in life, and in her Requiem, by being ignorant to the moods of others. Even if she could not read Caroline’s face she would be able to feel it in her body: the tension in her muscles beneath Celia’s fingers, the resistance that she meets. Nothing like knots or nodules, just energy in the muscles that makes them stiff. She doesn’t pull away, instead resting her chin on Caroline’s chest and peering up at her through the spray of water.

“You seem agitated.” Not quite a question, though the curiosity is there in her voice, the silent promise to listen.

Caroline: “Every night of my Requiem,” Caroline answers lightly.

“And you’re not?” she asks skeptically.

Celia: “Every night? No. Some nights more than others. Some nights I am so agitated that I cannot stand it, that I want to rip my claws into my brain and chest to find this Beast that seeks to control us all and see if I can tear it out.”

“Other nights I’m content to enjoy a fuck and a shower and let my troubles swirl down the drain… until such time that they are rudely awakened by the fact that I haven’t brought a spare change of clothes.” Celia gives the blonde a rueful smile.

Caroline: God, she’s either a fantastic liar or…

She isn’t sure what else. But she does know Celia’s a talented liar.

She laughs, a hand sweeping over Celia’s hip as though taking her measure. “House full of girls, I’m sure we can find something you’ll like.”

“Or I could make you leave in nothing…”

Celia: “There’s a cruel joke. My mother’s distress is what got us into this; imagine if she were to see me streaking across the lawn.”

Caroline: “Would you have just walked out, if she hadn’t come in? Left me blissfully unaware of you?” Caroline asks.

Celia: Yes. That’s the safer option, isn’t it? Don’t let anyone else know what she is. Keep everything safe.

“I meant what I said when I was going to leave, you know. That I wanted to, but it would cause problems.” She doesn’t need to mention whose territory they are in, or the fact that she lives in the French Quarter.

“It doesn’t… need to cause problems. I didn’t think you’d be here. Not that…” not that saying so sounds any better. “I just came to make my mom happy. And see Lucy dance. Her recitals are during the day, I never get a chance. Not that kids their age are graceful, but…”

GM: She’s probably missed most of the lesson by now.

Caroline: She’d like to believe that. But the timing… and other things… would it be easier or harder to believe though, if those other things weren’t true? Is she really that sure?

“So you would have just vanished out of my life and left me none the wiser?” Caroline answers, seemingly disappointed.

Celia: A frown mars her face. The water is no longer welcoming, beating down as it is upon her. She doesn’t know what the lick wants her to say.

“Caroline… this, with us,” she gestures between them, hand grazing the underside of her breast as she makes the motion, “it’s… God, no, who could walk away from you? It’s not possible.”

Caroline: “Are you sure?” The shower is spacious, but Caroline looms close enough that their dead flesh touches. Threatening or intimate? There’s no heat in her voice.

“It seems like you want to. Want this to be a one-off instead of recurring event.”

She leans in, nuzzles her lips against Celia’s throat, and whispers, “I could live with that, but don’t lead me on.”

Celia: Teeth at her throat. Teeth. At her throat. Hiding just behind the tiny bit of flesh that contains them. Predators don’t nuzzle their prey, and Celia isn’t prey. Out of her element in this domain, certainly, but not some rabbit in the forest.

Rather than pull away she only tilts her head, exposing more of her throat to fangs that lurk inside Caroline’s mouth. Celia’s hand travels the length of her body, coming to a rest at her hips. She gives a squeeze.

“I could have left once we’d finished in the bedroom,” Celia reminds her, “and I told you that I’d like to see you again.”

Caroline: “So did I,” Caroline whispers.

“But words are easy, and there are a dozen good reasons you could disappear. So let me show you.”

The Ventrue’s fangs dip into that gracefully extended neck, and her kiss finds Celia as she takes long, fevered pulls from the Toreador. Directly from the Toreador.

Celia: It’s not the same as in the bedroom. There’s no mad scrabble for power, no biting, hissing, or scratching. Celia’s lips split the moment the two pin pricks of fang cut into her skin and she makes a noise that is entirely human; the breath leaves her lungs in an arduous sigh. Her eyes close, head tilting forward to rest against Caroline’s body as she drinks. She moves her hands up her body in gentle strokes.

This. This more than anything is what she’s searching for in her Requiem. Intimacy. It had been easy to resist the call of her blood in the bedroom, but she knows the reason for the deliberate biting and drinking. Show me, Caroline had said.

Her body responds to the challenge, fangs extending in her mouth until all she need do is sink in. A crime to do so, a crime not to. The echoes of exclusive resonate through her mind. So, too, does the image of her head rolling across the floor if she’s caught here.

She doesn’t see another way out. She sinks her teeth in and drinks directly from the source.

Caroline: Caroline writhes against Celia. This is so much better than the scrambling, fighting, clawing blood-drawing fucking that is Kindred sex. No asserting power, just locked in each other’s kiss. Not that this can happen without that first. Without their Beasts knowing the terms between each other.

She remembers the last time. Remembers every time. The raw shiver of need it brought on. The kiss is better than mortal sex ever was, it sets her entire body on fire, could take away her breath, if she still had it. Here in the shower, with the hot water, with both of their bodies warm to the touch, she can almost pretend they’re alive.

It’s all she can do to stay latched onto Celia in turn. To create this perfect system. Give and take in equal measure, not a drop wasted.

Her hands roam the other Kindred even as she grinds herself against her, wants to be inside her, to have her inside of herself, to be as close as she possibly can.

She doesn’t know how long it goes on. Doesn’t care. In the kiss she doesn’t have any worries. When it finally breaks it’s like being born, being thrust out into a harsh world, to sever such intimacy.

She doesn’t want it to end, but it has to. She leaves Celia with something, though. A gift for this moment.

She looks down into the Toreador’s eyes. “Thank you.”

Celia: She’d been unsure. Hesitant. But locked in Caroline’s embrace, both of them experiencing the ebb and flow of shared blood, it dissipates, dissolving into nothing. She rides the wave of red, the bliss that comes with the viscous platelets across her palate. Rich, thick; unexpected, but so much better than she could have imagined.

Maybe it’s the collar snapping into place around her neck, or… there, the burning, as it travels through her body. Not like last time. Last time she was human and it took her by surprise. This time it’s a gentle, rolling warmth from Caroline to Celia. She could lose herself here forever and still be content. She’s still enraptured by the blonde even as the kiss fades away into nothing.

She doesn’t want to go. She presses closer, lips moving across her flesh, reveling in this new… gift. Wings beat inside her chest. She wants to dance. To run. To make it last forever.

They have forever, and already a promise to see each other again. Celia presses a final kiss against Caroline. No teeth, just lips, like the humans they once were.

“Thank you.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia IX
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia XI

Previous, by Caroline: Story Twelve, Caroline VII, Emmett VI
Next, by Caroline: Story Twelve, Caroline IX

Previous, by Celia: Story Twelve, Celia IX
Next, by Celia: Story Twelve, Celia XI

Story Twelve, Emmett VIII

“We’re only monsters if we choose to be, Em.”
Cécilia Devillers

Date ?

GM: Emmett returns to Sami’s suite at the Ritz-Carlton. There are more glowing figures in the lobby and fewer inside their rooms, but the ruined and dilapidated structure otherwise appears much as it did last time.

The others are not there, but Sami’s hourglass is still in place. Sand slowly trickles down from the upper chamber. Presumably the others will be back when it runs out, if he cares to wait.

If something hasn’t happened to them.

Emmett: He tries to judge how much time he has left to wander. He can think of places he could be, in the meantime.

GM: There’s more sand in the upper than lower chamber.

Emmett: Ah, excellent. He can afford to get mentally raped twice over with that kind of surplus, and still have time to brood after.

Instead he pops out the wings and takes flight, searching for a lick.

He starts near Kione’s place and starts flying in wider and wider circumference around it. Smart money is that Astride keeps his bed close.

GM: Miserable, soul-numbing rain weeps over Em’s exposed form. Ominous shapes seem to lurk in the clouds above and it does not feel safe to linger. Em soars through the cheerless gray skies for what feels like hours. It’s easy to search, though, from a birds-eye view when walls and roofs are transparent. He eventually espies the vampire’s slumbering form not in any building, but cocooned deep beneath a destitute-looking patch of earth in the Seventh Ward.

The site nearby looks like a gang hangout.

Emmett: “Huh,” Em says, paying more attention first to the site than to the bizarre accommodations performed by the vampire to have somebody, or more likely several somebodies, bury him every night. Em can’t imagine it being particularly comfortable, either, and it confuses him why any lick that could be as comfortably situated as Sami or Caroline or Celia appeared to be would choose to live under the dirt.

He notes the address, ponders for a moment the last time he saw somebody from around here. Em might never have gotten anything done in a long, long life of misadventures, but he had made a lot of friends.

He just had a way of losing them, too.

GM: As Em recalls, Henri Astride runs a collection racket in the Seventh Ward and the poorer areas of the Quarter, though that’s a generous way of describing them. They don’t have a name. They’re a crude bunch of dog pack-minded thugs who employ equally crude methods to extort money from businesses and individuals too terrified to stand up to them. Their ‘protection’ is not always consistent, but most everyone on the streets is terrified of ‘the Haitian’ and knows he is not to be crossed. He’ll kill you for so much as looking at him funny. Em thinks he might have done time with one of the Haitian’s crew in OPP, though the faces of psychotic brutes like these tend to blur together.

Emmett: He weighs his options for a moment, then focuses on Astride and tries to dip a toe into his dreams.

After a few minutes of frustration that are better left undescribed, it occurs to him to literally dip a toe into the other dead man’s head, at which point he falls right in.

GM: Astride is quite far beneath the earth. Em sinks in. It feels right, like a breath of fresh air after all day cooped up in a non-circulating room.

The same cannot be said for the vampire’s dreams.

Corpses are strewn everywhere in charred, smoking piles. Some are fresh. Some are desiccated. There are mountains of them. The stench makes Em want to gag.

Red is everywhere. Oceans of blood, submerging all. Astride lazily floats through the current with a content and fanged smile upon his face.

He casually reaches out and rips open a passing swimmer’s throat. The man gurgles pathetically as terrified screams echo from all around. The vampire doesn’t so much as open his eyes, but his smile widens.

Kione’s body is among one of the submerged corpse piles, too. It looks the same as all the others. Astride still smiles as he floats past it, but that’s all he does.

The smile finally dies, though, as a face emerges from the red sea: a bald and ebon-skinned man whose eyes gleam like polished ivory. They suck in the light, but reflect none. All is taken by him. All is consumed. He smiles through the flowing blood, displaying two so-sharp fangs. It is a dead smile that does not reach his eyes. His distant manner reminds Emmett of a prince: authoritative, self-assured, regal. He radiates an air of nobility that feels altogether distinct from the Malveauxes or Devillers. Some part of the deceased conman wants to bow and pay obeisance. Emmett can feel the vampire’s fear, even within his dream.

That is, until the ebon man pins a felt patch upon Astride’s chest like a medal. Em feels the vampire’s unbeating heart swell with pride.

Emmett: Same bogeyman that haunts Sami’s dreams, Em notes. Curious. If only he had a name to go along with the face, or a place to find him, it might actually be worth his while.

But what’s this? A role model, too. Somebody he wants to impress. And that patch… something in the vague recesses of his mind opens wide. Where did he learn so much about a Haitian revolutionary group that named themselves after bogeymen but operated more like the Gestapo? Em’s not sure, but he knows what he knows. Maybe he even paid attention in history class without meaning to; sometimes he doesn’t notice himself learning things. He considers such invasions of information to be grave failings on his part.

Em, formless and invisible, takes his leave. The corpse-stench of the dream makes his corpus’s nose itch.

Next, he heads to the place his cousin told him about. It shouldn’t be far, if the info’s good.

Date ?

GM: Em was as impacted by Katrina as any middle- to upper-middle class white boy was likely to be.

Got out of town when the mandatory evac order was issued. Stayed in a hotel for a while. His family’s house in Carrollton suffered minimal flood and wind damage. Life was hectic for a while, and Katrina was the only thing people talked about at the dinner—Dad was furious over Tulane’s President McGregor was firing tenured faculty, killing Newcomb College’s quasi-independency, and chartering that helicopter flight to Houston on the university’s dime. There was a lot to be angry about. All before the actual federal incompetence, the civil rights violations at Camp Greyhound, the disproportionate impact upon low-income communities of color, the…

There was a lot to be angry about in the Delacroix household. Righteous anger against the injustices of the world.

But for the most part, things weren’t too bad for Em. Sure, they had to boil water before drinking it. Fresh meat and produce was at a premium. There were curfews, school closures, and inconveniences aplenty.

But, as Phil and Tanya always told her m, he wasn’t going hungry. He hadn’t lost his home, his famy, or his life. He was still on track to live himself a good life.

“You’ve got a lot to be thankful for, boy,” Dad said.

But it wasn’t that hard to imagine the people who didn’t. Em saw the pictures of the Ninth Ward. The houses flooded up to their attics. The elderly couples who’d died of heat and deprivation inside of those. Phil and Tanya had helped rescue people stranded in their own houses. They brought back stories.

“You’ve got a lot to be thankful for, boy,” Dad said.

Emmett: He did, didn’t he? But it was still exhausting. Still depressing. And more than anything, still frustrating to be told over and over how lucky he was not to be poor or black or dead.

Especially now that he’s dead.

GM: But he might still be lucky.

As Em’s spectral wings propel him through the air, he sees the 9th Ward looks exactly like it did in the photos a decade ago. Houses look like little tiles. The floodwaters reach all the way to their rooftops.

They’re pitch-black waters, roiling and seething under the relentless rain. Trees are dead and barren. Skeletons and rotted corpses lie face-down on the roofs, some clasped in one another’s embrace. The smell of rot and mildew hits his nose even from so high above.

Celia’s provided address looks like it’ll be as wet as any of the others in the Ward.

Emmett: Yuck. But he doesn’t think he can drown. He dives lower, looking for street signs and addresses. When he finds the right one, he plunges in through the roof, holding his breath anyways.

GM: Finding that address takes some time. Em’s sight does not penetrate the water like so much smoke and illusion. Sounds issue from it. Moans. Whines. Feverish babbling. Death rattles.

“Help us…”




Emmett: He’s wary, after what happened with Lamarck. He ignores the voices, for now, and tries to illuminate the darkness under the water with the lights of his own illusions—warm, orange flames that shed illumination.

GM: The voices’ feeble cries grow steadily fainter as Em leaves them behind.

Good on you, Em! Let’s look out for #1!

The illusory flames seem to help, a bit. Enough to make out numbers painted over underwater doors. Some of them are no longer even numbers at all, but swastikas, Klan crosses, and other obscene symbols, or just unrecognizable smudges.

The water isn’t still underneath its already roiling surface, either. Bizarrely, it appears vastly more furious underwater. Em spots snapped-off street signs, tree branches, assorted debris, and even cars flying to and fro. It looks like a hurricane raging under there.

After what feels like hours of searching, Em reaches Celia’s provided address. Like its neighbors, the house is flooded all the way up to its roof.

“Ah, loo—ngh! What we have here!” exclaims a harrowed but cheerful-sounding voice from below. “Two fr—ngh! Enfants! Not even reaped! Th—s is a good d—s work, n—ow isn’t it?”

Emmett: Ah, Reapers. Things are so much less scary when you know the proper name for them.

…no, no they aren’t. But still, at least he knew the name.


He extinguishes the phantom-light and ducks his head under the surface, making sure to hold his breath first.

GM: Em sticks his head under the water and feels air. Down becomes up. Up becomes down. He looks up and sees night sky in all directions, but the stars are cold and distant, and disturbingly out of alignment. Rain pours down over his face as a screaming hurricane smashes past.

Emmett: Alley-oop. Swapping gravitational axes is much less daunting when you have wings. Em even puts a little spin and flip on it until he sees the hurricane. His wings beat furiously against the howling winds as he flings himself past the watery cyclone’s path, rain soaking through his corpus. That was close.

Careful not to make too much noise, he creeps up on the voice, trying to suss out how many slavers he’s up against.

Otherwise, he won’t know how much to exaggerate their numbers when he tells the story later.

GM: As Em flies towards the upside-down house, his surroundings shift. The night sky turns on its axis. The upside-down house becomes a sideways house. The ill-kept lawn grows into a forest. Blades of dead, shriveled grass shoots towards the night sky like hurled spears. Blackened vegetation explodes everywhere until Em can barely see the stars. He bobs and weaves and shoulders past the shoots in his path to observe out the translucent house.

There’s several ashen-hued figures. There’s a man and a woman, floating in place with tranquil expressions past their cauls.

The other two are Dr. Brown and his rotted friend.

Emmett: Oh, joy. Familiar faces. Brown must be responsible for a wide bout of territory.

GM: “Good corpi here! Barely damaged!” he exclaims, digging a steel collar out from his coat pocket.

“Let’s get you two out of your cauls, why don’t we…”

Emmett: He’ll have to find a way to get the good doctor alone at some point. But for now, he’ll settle for these two.

Their tender operation is suddenly interrupted by a faint, but definite noise. A terrible noise. A noise Em knows scares dead men, because it’s stayed with him, ever since it chased him in the hospital.

Faint, at first. Then louder.

Something wicked this way comes, doctor.

GM: “Hr… tht…” gurgles the drowned woman through bloated lips.

Dr. Brown holds a hand to his ear. It’s hard to make out much past the sound of the rapidly growing vegetation. He frowns as the house tilts 90 degrees again, sending him and the woman running up the walls.

“Ah, fudge. Shades!” he ‘curses.’

“Shd… fght…”

“Discretion is the better part of valor, my dear. You fight if you want to. I’m leaving them with enough not to complain over.”

Emmett: Fudge? Goddamn, this man is dead and he doesn’t swear?

GM: He grabs the falling female enfant and dives through the still-rotating house’s wall.

The woman stares for a moment, then dives after him, leaving the male one behind.

In the distance, the still-growing blades of shriveled grass stab through the stars. Fire races along their already blackened husks as smoke fills Em’s nostrils.

Emmett: Well, you win some, you lose some, you don’t get collared by ghostly rapist slavers.

He flaps his way into the house once the coast is clear, examining the man’s face before he tries something he hasn’t before—willing himself into the dreams of the slumbering wraith.

GM: The smell of smoke and burning vegetation draws steadily closer before it and Em’s surroundings dissolve.

He’s in the same shitty house again. The man, a brown-haired and brown-eyed Caucasian in his 30s or 40s, is fucking a shrieking vampire with beautiful features who’s had her arms and legs gorily sawed off. Corpses litter the floor around the bed.

Emmett: He glances at the vampire’s face.

GM: The screaming creature is still perfectly pulchritudinous, a divine goddess; Em can imagine her otherworldly looks being compared to Aphrodite herself. She is in full glamour: hair, makeup, nails, clothing. Every inch of her is painted, sculpted perfection, from the shade of her foundation to the wing of her eyeliner to the fresh-looking coat of polish on her nails. Her polish does not chip. Her mascara does not run. Her lipstick does not smudge. Even after the mtulation she’s suffered, everything remains in its place.

Her hair is dark and often worn loosely curled or piled atop her head in the latest fashion, her bulging dark eyes framed by long lashes, smoked out shadow, and impeccable liquid liner. Her waist is trim, even with her legs gone. Her cheekbones are high, her nose aquiline; all of these features are enhanced by the easy way Em can still picture a smile taking to her fury- and agony-sculpted face.

Even as she is, it is easy for Em to imagine her gathering people around her like moths to a flame. Poise, grace, a gentle curving of her lips when she smiles: Em can picture it all past her screams. Some jealous, petty mortals surely must whisper that she has had work done. But that’s the key to good work, isn’t it? When it’s bad it’s obvious, when it’s good you cannot tell. And Em cannot tell what, exactly, has happened to make her into this exquisite creature.

She’d be flawless—if it weren’t for the screaming man fucking and mutilating her.

The man tenses and pumps faster and faster, screaming obscenities at the howling vampire as he blows his load, filling her dead cunt with his seed. He sticks a heavy gun into her mouth and pulls the trigger. Her flawless features explode into messy shards of bone, blood, and gore.

Emmett: Yikes. And I’ve had some bad sex dreams.

Em clears his throat as he wafts into the dream, wearing a suit he could never afford in life. “I’m sorry to interrupt. It seems like you’ve got a lot going on. I can just watch, if you’re into that, but I think I’d feel overdressed.”

GM: The man looks up from the ruined corpse with a haunted expression. Looks towards Em, who the bed now faces.

“It’s not enough,” he slowly mouths as he pulls out his cock. “It’s never enough.”

He gathers up the corpse and cradles it in his arms. A tear leaks down his face as he strokes his hands through the gore-streaked hair.

Emmett: “Not enough for what?” Em produces two cigarettes from his breast pocket, lights one, and offers the other to his new compatriot.

“You’re dead, by the way. Good time to start.”

GM: The man runs through the air where the destroyed vampire’s head used to be, as if stroking her cheek. “Brianna. Brianna, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

But the telltale smell of smoke from the cigarette proves prescient.

It’s a whiff at first, then overpoweringly strong. Burning pain sears through Em as his surroundings dissolve in a haze of smoke and heat. He’s back in the house. The fire he saw start outside, and smelled inside, has finally reached inside.

Tongues of flame lick at his blackening corpus, which is melting before his eyes like hot wax. Smoke billows everywhere. The cauled enfant’s face remains still and oblivious to the raging inferno.

Emmett: “Shit. Shit shit shit.”

Damn his stick arms. Regardless, he tries to haul the cauled enfant out of the burning house and past the ‘water’ barrier, if it’s still even water. He simultaneously mends his corpus, willing the burns’ pain away with some of those happy feels he remembers getting from Jenna.

GM: It’s not a moment too soon as the roaring inferno consumes the house. Em can feel heat blistering against his broads as he desperately flaps and kicks through the sprawling undergrowth. More than blistering. Gasper’s laughter rings in his head as the flames race about him.

He doesn’t even see the water barrier. One moment, there’s just more undergrowth, the next he’s ‘falling’ out of the waters’ surface at a 90 degree angle, and it’s rising up to meet his face as residual flames race along his crisped and blackened corpus. The cauled and motionless enfant ‘falls’ into the water with a splash.

Emmett: “You bastard. You better hope you’re more fun to talk to than it is to see you get gnashed to bits by Abélia.”

Still, after willing his corpus better, (again), he takes care to help the enfant into this fresh hell. He sinks his hands past the newborn wraith’s caul and tries to do… whatever exactly it was he did last time.

GM: It’s similar to last time. Em can hear something through the caul like the pulsating of a heartbeat, but it doesn’t seem to come from the other wraith’s chest. He thinks he can hear voices again, too. A babble too faint and indistinct to make out the words of, but the tone is angrier.

Em hurts, again. There’s grief and rage, horror and exhaustion, enough of it to sink him like a stone into the surreal ‘waters’ he and his charge float through.

He’s suffocating. He can’t breathe. He can’t see. He’s being torn apart. There’s pain, everywhere—

But he can see, and he is being torn apart. It’s an elderly black woman. She’s thin and emaciated, like a walking skeleton, clad in a rotted flower-printed dress. She smells horrible, like a corpse left to rot and bloat in a hot attic for days. She has no eyes. Pinpricks of black fire burn from her empty sockets. Tiny flames run downwards rather than upwards, like a crying girl wearing cheap mascara.

And she’s eating Em, arms wrapped around him like a lover as she sinks her teeth into his corpus with mindless, ravening hunger.

Wow Em, look at you! Always a hit with the ladies!

Emmett: Why can’t things ever be simple? Em can’t fight his way out—he dazzles her instead, sends a thing made of shadow and spite to distract her so he can slip her grasp.

He has come too far. He will strangle infants and sell their shades into slavery before he dies to this thing, one more time a victim.

He whirls away from her, evading instead of engaging , his winds adding great advantage to the endeavor.

A desperate, foolish plan occurs to him, even as his corpus aches where her mindless gluttony takes her.

“Hey, pretty,” he snarls at the ugly spirit. “If you catch me, I’ll let you kiss me.”

Sparks fly from around him, making him impossible to miss.

Then he dances with her.

She isn’t as graceful as Celia, true, but she makes up for it in her eagerness. He taunts and encourages her at every turn, not tiring himself about by trying to evade her in the long run but instead cutting it close, flapping around her like a too-courageous fly. He sets off firecrackers next to her ears and summons dung-flavored smoke to jibe her on, coaxing her forward.

He lets her chase him, and chase him, and chase him.

He lets her chase him to the monster’s mouth.

GM: The blackfire-eyed crone shrieks hideously as the phantasmal shadows assail her, stagnant floodwater leaking like drool from her rotted mouth. She drops Em with a splash to flail and gnash at the darkness.

When it dissolves like so much smoke and the winged wraith flaps away, she swims after him, still shrieking as black tongues of fire drip from her eyes. The enfant slowly recedes, becoming just another piece of storm-tossed detritus.

She swims. Once her shoe-less and half-rotted feet hit dry land, she runs.

The 9th Ward’s flooded post-apocalypse gives way to the burnt and blackened ruins of the French Quarter, then the bombed-out shells of the CBD’s high-rises. He finally passes the rotted husks of the Garden District’s once-grand old homes, surrounded by those hungrily grasping, claw-like protrusions that are live oaks on the Shroud’s other side.

Em notices something else, too, as he runs. The sky is pitch dark again. Moonless and starless. Cheerless gray has given way to black void. He does not want to look at the sky. He feels like he could fall upwards, forever, if he were to stare overlong into that yawning emptiness.

The woman is implacable. Her bare, rotted, water-soaked feet pound over over discard needles in the 9th Ward with a gruesome crunch. Specks of black blood follow her as she runs. She doesn’t let. She doesn’t shut. She screams the entire time, this warbling moan. Em sees nothing in her eyes but that same black fire.

Maybe she’s hungry. Maybe she’s thirsty. Maybe she’s just angry.

But she looks empty. Staring into that slow-burning black fire makes Em think of those days when he did nothing except lie in bed in his apartment, too depressed to shower or shave or eat.

To depressed to do anything but rot, and wonder if this was all there was.

He knows what it is to feel empty.

Then they’re at the gates of a too-familiar house.

And just like that, ravenous tendrils of living darkness burst from the front doors. The ghastly shade disappears under them like a fly into a spider’s cocoon. Her shrieks die. The tendrils retreat. The doors slam shut.

Em thinks of venus flytraps, and painful emptiness left forever unfilled.

Ha. That never gets old.

Emmett: It might after the tenth time.

He coughs and bows to the house. “Do you hunger yet more, madam? How many might I bring you to show my dedication completely?”

GM: Pseudopods of inky, dripping darkness continue to slowly caress the enveloped, snow-white house. Faint screams issue from within.

Yeah, speaking as someone who also gets stronger whenever you do that, I’d want more than two.

Emmett: Good to know, wise one. Thank you for your advice.

“Then you shall have more, madame. All I can provide…”

Em walks inside, his corpus sallow and colorless. He needs to slumber next to a loved one.

He only knows one who might have him.

“Would your daughter see me?” he asks, pitiful and helpless. He has nowhere else to go.

GM: The rows of skulls lining the ground ripple beneath Em’s feet as he approaches the house. A wave of inky darkness streaks towards him. He’s flung beyond its gate and hits the pavement with a crack. The horrid spiderweb, tentacles, pseudopods, whatever it or they is, squeezes tightly over the house’s front door.

Em may be small and pitiful.

But the house’s owner is vast and pitiless.

Aww. Poor Em! You were thinking of asking for a new family, weren’t you, for our ’heart’s desire?’ If Caroline could get adopted, why not us, right?

But Maman sees through us just like good old Uncle Ron, I bet. Sees how everything we touch turns to shit.

You’ll never be good enough for her. For Cécilia. You’re just… the help.

Emmett: You’re probably right.

He straightens up, brushes cobwebs from arms. When he’s this low on juice, he can’t muster any dreams with color in them. Only manifestations of his own malaise.

Better, then, not to think on it. Not to dwell. Let the Shadow yammer.

He will simply do what he has always been best at, and act.

Date ?

Emmett: He prowls the hospice where Clarice died. Not many happy memories here, but there are lots of dying people. Maybe there’s one or two ghosts, too.

GM: Em makes it several steps away from the house.

I’ve got a better idea.

Yawning blackness screams around Em as he plummets through the void in endless free-fall.

He lands on the grass in a familiar setting. He’ll always remember this place.

Giacona Manse.

Emmett: It’s useless to argue, so he doesn’t.

I forgot how pretty this place was.

GM: The gang’s all there. Showerz. Cash Money. Jermaine. Dino.

The gang. There for the gangbang. That’s almost funny.

Emmett: And the victim?

GM: Her chin’s in his hand. Her eyes stare blankly past his. He remembers that look. He remembers what he remembered upon seeing that look. “Looking but not listening,” as his dad called it. Completely checked out. Wanting to just turn off her brain and stop processing. Wanting to just hit a fast forward button, acknowledge the lost minutes of her life, and then never think about them again.

“You gonna fuck her now or what?” scoffs Showerz.

Em feels the weight of another gaze on him, too. But it’s not hers, this time. It’s Abélia’s. A knowing smile traces the raven-haired woman’s lips as she runs a hand through Simmone’s hair, who’s seated upon her lap. She holds a hand to her mouth and giggles, her eyes not leaving the scene with Sami and the five men.

Emmett: Here he is again, dressed for a date with his bolo tie and his “I’m a bad, bad man” suit and his ego and his shitty snapping cell phone.

There she is, the girl who made him hurt when he was at his most dangerous.

And there’s the monster he blamed for pushing him here.

He holds Sami’s chin, for a moment. Then he says, “No. I’m not. It’s played out, rape. Bit beneath me at this point, to be straight.”

He turns to the others.

“I don’t think I’m better than any of you. I just think y’all don’t know how ugly we are. I’m not hurting her. The novelty’s all gone.”

GM: “Speak for yourself, I’m one handsome motherfucker,” smirks Showerz.

Emmett: “Why do we let this guy hang out with us? Isn’t he into shitting on people? That seems like something we should make more fun of him for.”

“Or Dino, for being a fucking pussy who got killed shooting a porno.”

“Which, I guess, is more just a Mafia thing. Wasn’t there a guy on The Sopranos named Pussy? Maybe he was just friends with Dino.”

GM: Dino’s snarling face turns black with anger. He cocks his fist, then he collapses in a heap as Cash Money empties a bullet into his brain. Blood, brains, and bone splatter over Em’s feet as his ears ring. The others yell and clamp their ears.

Showerz gapes at the corpse. “What the—fuck, man!?”

“He’s right,” says Jermaine. “We should make fun of you.”

Emmett: “Oh, and the cop,” Em goes on, rolling with it. “Don’t get me started on Detective Disco, over here.”

“You’re ’80s like a used needle full of AIDS, Ricky.”

GM: Jermaine throws a punch, catching Showerz in the throat. The man gags and collapses.

Cash Money hungrily descends on him, ripping off his clothes.

“What the FUCK man!?” he wails.

Emmett: “Which I don’t actually mind. It’s kind of the funniest thing about you, except that you wouldn’t be anything but a life insurance hawk if you hadn’t been your uncle’s favorite nephew to fondle. Which I guess is less funny than it is pathetic. Maybe that’s why you make me want to puke instead of laugh.”

GM: Cash Money punches Showerz in the throat. He flips the man over and bares his ass to Em, even sticking his fingers up the man’s hole to spread it extra wide as he screams.

Jermaine, though, just hands Em a gun.

“You keep it this time.”

“The prick or the bullet, cuz.”

Emmett: “I… have never been great at subtext. Who are you asking me to shoot?”

GM: “Me,” he says.

“We’re all monsters.”

“And you’ve got a better cousin now.”

Emmett: “Oh. I never really processed how I felt about killing you, you know. It wasn’t actually…I mean, it was personal. But it wasn’t about you, J. If we ever meet again. I hope you get that.”

He points the gun at Jermaine.

Then he tosses it over the palatial manse’s wall.

GM: “Figured you’d do that,” says Jermaine.

“Means you can’t stop this.”

He turns and throws a punch into Sami’s mouth, sending bloody teeth flying. He punches her again, and there’s a crunch that leaves his fist red.

He wraps his hands around her throat and squeezes. She chokes and sputters, weakly clawing at his fingers as her face turns blue.

Emmett: “But I can do this.”

He holds up his phone. It’s dialing. A real 2007 phone, there’s no picture saved in the contact. Just a name.

Just RON in capital letters.

“Speed dial,” he explains. “He actually picks up most of the time when I call, you know. Let me ask you, Jermaine. Your dad and I, we were tighter than you two ever were. But I bet you didn’t ever want him to know what you were capable of. You can stop him from hearing. Or you can kill her. But I bet you can’t do both.”

He holds the ringing phone just out of reach, tantalizing.

Em always had a knack for keep-away.

GM: “Nope. But I can do one, then the other.”

He lets go of Sami, then tackles Em for the phone.

Emmett: He keeps it away for as long as he can, ducking and evading the bigger man-boy’s grasps, and doing all he can to keep their eyes on him, the clown, the dancing idiot.

Sami’s smart enough to run when she’s given an opportunity. He knows that from too much experience.

GM: And Em does lead his increasingly swearing and frustrated cousin on a merry chase. Jermaine can’t catch up. Em didn’t put actual effort into many things, but track was one of them.

Sami runs, too. She always did look out for #1.

But Cash Money, with his long beanpole legs, not to mention a groin area that hasn’t been gangraped by four men, easily catches up to the fleeing teenager. The puffy-lipped, content-as-a-cumstain smirk he flashes Em is all-too familiar as he wraps his hands around Sami’s neck and squeezes. Throttles the life out of her as she gags and flails.

“Shit you can do, Em. Face the facts,” Jermaine says as he stops jogging.

“Guess you’ve got a nice head start though. We’ll come for you after we’ve put the bitch out of her misery.”

Emmett: A lead they aren’t expecting him to sacrifice for no fucking reason. When he comes at them from behind, screaming that he’s taking one of them with him, there’s no accounting for it. Nor for the look on his too-wide eyes, the calcified defiance of a dead man. The words coming from his throat cannot be called screams; they are too ferocious, too willing to bear any torment, too spiteful of any humiliation.

Em has died already. He has lost to his Shadow already.

He’s not scared of his own mistakes anymore.

He runs at them, and he needs no gun to look like a monster. He knows he is one.

GM: Em’s a scrawny, thin-wristed little thing. Stines said that about him. That he basically was a girl already, a “helpless fuckable little girl,” just without the pussy and tits.

But his dad once said that bullies (“whether schoolkids or politicians and corporations”) don’t care if you’re bigger than them. Just whether you’ll give them enough fight to feel some hurt.

Cash Money reacts like any bully faced with the prospect of actual hurt does.

He turns and runs.

“Are you fucking kidding me,” snarls Jermaine.

“Guess I’ll beat the shit of you myse-”

He’s cut off as Sami sticks a leg in his path, tripping him.

She gives a manic, raw-throated screams and falls on the larger man with the same animalistic fury she destroyed Dino’s manhood with in the real version.

Emmett: He watches, much the same.

Dino and Showerz dead. Cash Money fled.

And Jermaine?

Jermaine’s death isn’t much prettier in this world.

He turns and regards the watching mother and her daughter.

“I do learn from my mistakes. I just have to make them a few times.”

GM: “That’s all it takes, sometimes,” says Cécilia, lifting Simmone off her lap. Green eyes regard him thoughtfully.

“We’re only monsters if we choose to be, Em. The right thing isn’t always hard to see. Maybe we’ll talk again.”

“Let’s burn this place,” snarls Sami, her clawed hands coated up to their elbows in blood. She splashes gasoline from a can all over the house’s walls.

Emmett: He burns it with her. This time, though, he lets himself play with the tommy guns.

He does have some regrets, after all.

GM: Rat-a-tat-tat, they go in his head.

The place goes up in flames. Sami doesn’t try to run outside before tossing the match, and somehow, Em doesn’t feel the need to either as they hold hands. The inferno roars around them, but Em’s heart is calm. He feels so light. He’s floating. The flames are warm and bright. There’s a shining white light. He floats towards it…

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia VIII
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia IX

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia V, Emmett VII
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia XV, Emmett IX

Story Twelve, Celia IX

“Here you are in front of me and there isn’t any time left.”
Celia Flores

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Jade spends some time seated on her grandsire’s lap. He strokes her cheek, pets her hair, and murmurs sweet nothings in her ear. Such sweet-sounding nothings they are, too: like verbal cotton candy soaked in honey, air-light and gooey with sugar.

“Sir, you had a remaining order of business to discuss with Miss Kalani,” states Preston.

“Ah yes, that’s right, Nat,” replies Savoy as he gives Jade’s head a conciliatory pat. “Always a shame when business can’t be combined with pleasure… but the past doesn’t ever rest easy in the Quarter, does it? Tonight, my dear, there is another we ghost might summon from the past to build our glorious future!”

Celia: All too soon the petting and fondling comes to an end. Preston’s words cut through the barely concealed temptation of sinking her teeth into her grandsire like a bucket of ice water. She tucks her fangs away and begins to disentangle hrrself without a sound, disappointment curling quietly in her gut. One night, she thinks. One night she’ll get him alone so they can consummate the desire she has harbored for years. Better, maybe, that it isn’t tonight in the wake of such hedonism that took place below.

Jade is not an afterthought.

Jade presses a final “kiss” to his cheek before she withdraws from his lap, smoothing her dress down her legs as she reclaims her chair.

“Which ghost is that, Lord Savoy?”

GM: Savoy motions to Preston. The Malkavian taps against her tablet, then turns it around so Jade can see the image filling the screen. It’s of a young woman sinking her fangs into a blissed-out-looking man in a dark club setting.

The woman’s features are indistinct, but not indistinct enough to hide the fact that she’s Danielle Garrison.

Stephen’s sister.

Celia: Oh no.

“Garrison,” she volunteers. She can’t take her gaze away from the slightly blurry photo. Dani. He couldn’t have wanted this for her. She wouldn’t. Does he know? No, he can’t; he’d have swooped in already, wouldn’t he?

“What information do we have on her?” Jade finally asks.

GM: The photo isn’t blurry. It’s dark, but it’s distinct enough to make out the vampire’s face.

“Let’s start with this,” Savoy chuckles, tapping the tablet’s screen. “The picture came out rather nicely, didn’t it, for a Kindred who didn’t know she was being photographed?”

Celia: “It did,” Jade allows. She doesn’t want to focus on what it means, doesn’t want to think the word, but it’s there in the back of her head: thin-blood. Dani the thin-blood. Not even a real vampire, just a pretend, a fucked up, not-as-good undead thing. Christ. She wouldn’t wish that on anyone. Not even the cunt locked up downstairs. It’s the worst of both worlds. Her brother is the childe of the primogen and Dani got stuck like… this. She remembers that family dinner, the way Dani had shrugged and stammered about not knowing what she wanted to do with her life, how she’d seemed like she was used to walking in her brother’s shadow. Even in death she hadn’t been made his equal. It’s a crippling blow. Or will be. To both of them. Jade wants to sigh, wants to press her fingers against the bridge of her nose to stave off a nonexistent headache. She just stares, at a loss.

She sits back in her seat, eying him over the tablet. She’d asked what they knew because she’d assumed that they were sending her after the girl. Perhaps she’d overestimated her worth. Why send her when anyone else would do?

GM: “I’d like you to take this picture to Roderick, my dear,” says Savoy. “I’m certain he’ll be very upset to discover that Danielle is now Kindred, and a thin-blooded Kindred, no less.”

“I’d like you to ask him how safe he expects she’s going to be in Mid-City.”

Celia: “Of course, grandsire.” Another ghost indeed. Will he shoot the messenger, she wonders, or just beat her into another bloody pile? She doesn’t bother to tell Savoy that she hasn’t spoken to Roderick since the night they terminated their relationship. Jokes on her for even thinking about him this evening; it’s like his very name drew this to her.

“May I ask… how long ago this was taken?”

GM: “Yesternight,” answers Preston.

“I’d like you to offer Roderick his sister’s protection in the Quarter, as well our aid in taking down Hound Agnello and Will Carolla,” continues Savoy. “So much the better we’d already planned on removing the former! That, on top of Mr. Durant’s discontent over the trial’s outcome, and his general dissatisfaction with Vidal’s rule, should be just enough to do it.”

“In return, I’d like him to stay where he is and to supply me with information on his sire’s and the Cabildo’s activities.”

“And of course,” smiles the French Quarter lord, “you’ll get to have him back.”

“Better you don’t give away that my people took this picture. In fact, if you can manage it so that Roderick feels Danielle is receiving my protection without my knowing who she is, even better. This should be all your idea—and Danielle your two’s secret.”

Celia: “It will be done as you say, Lord Savoy.” Already her thoughts are moving towards how to spin this. What to say to him. “Madam Preston, when you have a moment I will need a copy of that photo, as well as where it was taken. Roderick will want to know if anyone has, ah, claimed her, and what else we—I—know about her state. He’s very thorough.”

She pauses a moment, then asks, “did you already take her into custody, or shall I track her down as well?”

GM: “Oh, no!” Savoy chuckles. “We wouldn’t want Roderick to feel as if we’re strong-arming him, now would we? No, Danielle is off in the wild. We have her under surveillance, just in case there’s any need to mend up the Masquerade. But she seems as if she’s been Kindred for a little while, now. Knows how to feed, hasn’t left any messes behind. It’s to be completely up to Mr. Durant how he handles his sister and approaches me. I’m sure that between your two’s brains, he’ll realize the best option.”

“Miss Garrison remains unclaimed by any Kindred,” states Preston. “We have yet to verify her sire’s identity. Doubtless, there are few sires who would wish to claim such a feeble-blooded wretch for themselves.” She gives the photo a cursory glance. “The photograph was taken at the Beach on Bourbon nightclub. She is either ignorant or uncaring of Lord Savoy’s territorial boundaries.”

“Mr. Durant doesn’t need to worry about his sister being punished for her ignorance. Or pushed to the ghetto.” Savoy chuckles. “Isn’t that what the thin-bloods call their slice of the Quarter, Nat? ‘The ghetto?’”

“It is, sir. Among other less flattering sobriquets.”

“Well, he needn’t worry about her winding up there! We can do much better for a Kindred providing a service as valuable as Mr. Durant’s, if Miss Kalani can persuade him to see things our way.” He smiles at her. “Another word of advice, my dear, though I’m sure it’s already occurred to you—don’t be so crass as to bring up spying on the Cabildo directly. He’s a smart boy. He knows what he has to offer.”

Celia: Her smile is wry.

“Yes, sir. Of course. Thank you, Madam Preston.”

Word games with Roderick. How fun. Perhaps this time he will stick to his tongue instead of his fists.

Her smile fades after a brief moment. She’d asked him, years ago, to join her here. He’d made a comment about not approving of Savoy’s business dealings. The Mafia. He has to know. Why else offer Corolla and Agnello?

She doesn’t want to ask what the situation will be should she fail. She is sure that Danielle will go the way of Roxanne, and the blame will be at her feet for it.

Best not fail, then.

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Celia: Jade wastes no time after leaving Savoy and Preston to get to work. It isn’t so late that she fears the sun rising before her plans are set, though she knows she has a tricky evening ahead of her with the ghouls Savoy had loaned her and the facial reconstruction she will need to do. That plus drilling into them what they need to know to pass for the two for the meeting… It’ll take a while.

She pulls out her phone for the second (fifth?) time this evening, scrolling through the contacts until she once more lands upon his name. Roderick Durant. She’d avoided him since that night he’d told her with his fists that they were over. Not completely, of course—they’d shared looks at Elysium—but neither one of them had broached the subject or sought to mend the bridge.

She’s glad that she hadn’t thrown the bar crawl party. Glad she hadn’t been so petty as to flaunt her domain in his face. Glad she hadn’t thrown herself at Gui any more than usual as a cheap ploy to get back at him. Except tonight, when she’d finally given in and let the Mobster share her with Pietro.

There goes that blossoming romance. “You’ll get to have him back.” She tries to ignore the way her dead heart leaps at the thought.

Celia struggles with whether or not she should call or text for a moment. Finally, she settles on a text; it’ll let him get back to her at his own pace, and she can work in the meantime. In case he’s busy. Or a dick. Or any other—her mind ceases its spiraling before it can go too far down that path.

She types and deletes at least a dozen messages before settling on something simple:

Hey… I really need to talk to you. HMU ASAP.

GM: For all the thought and anxiousness behind Celia’s simple text, there is no immediate response.

Could be he’s busy.

Celia: Busy. Ignoring her. Sure, sure.

Why would he want to talk to the ex that he beat the shit out of, right?

Not that she’s staring at her phone or anything. She’s busy collecting the two ghouls that Savoy set aside for her and locating the bodies of the hunters.

Because she’s got other things going on in her unlife. Obviously. Like finding out if Pete cracked the other phone and if there’s anything she needs to let the ghouls know.

It’s all just a distraction from the lack of sound and vibration coming from her phone.

GM: Pete has not cracked the other phone, though only because he doesn’t have it yet. When Celia turns it over, he traces his hand over the screen and then taps in a PIN.

“You can give Tantal his makeover while I look through this,” the Tremere says. “Make sure you modify his vocal cords, too.”

Celia: Celia tries not to stare at Pete as he unlocks the phone with what appears to be a simple handwave. She thought she’d done something impressive to get into the other, and here he is just outdoing her with a gesture.

She’s glad she didn’t make it sound like getting into the pattern-protected phone was hard.

GM: The large-framed ghoul shows Jade off to a walk-in freezer on the Evergreen’s third floor called the Red Room. The French Quarter lord’s revels can get out of hand, sometimes. Other times there are kine he specifically wants dead. This is where the corpses all go, or at least get temporarily stored. Jade recognizes the bodies of the two hunters she slew.

Celia: She’s glad, too, that Tantal is the relative height of the hunter she’d killed. She still doesn’t know how to modify bone, so switching his height would be tricky. She has him lay out and starts her work, beginning with the face. She warns him that it’s painful and waits for his acknowledgement before she starts to sculpt his flesh. Her fingers dive into his skin: his jaw lengthens, nose cracks as she twists it into a new position, lips thin to resemble those of the fiercely scowling man who’d held her down and fucked her.

Vampire slut echoes through her mind, but she pays the words no heed. She’s been called worse.

She coaxes hair from the ghoul’s head and colors it appropriately, using her fingers to lengthen and thicken the strands, curling them gently to mimic the coiffed waves of the boy. Then deeper changes: muscular changes. She doesn’t cut him open, but she does press more firmly against his chest, his arms, his legs, putting everything in its proper place, with occasional rests to let the ghoul catch his breath. A brief respite before she’s back at it again, poking and prodding and chiseling. Her attention is focused mostly on the face; the body need only be approximate, but the face… that’s where it needs to be perfect.

GM: Tantal lays his coat underneath his head as he lies down and lets Jade get to work. The ghoul is a big guy. Well-muscled. Bigger than the hunter, actually. “I’ll wear loose clothes,” he says in a distinctly high-pitched voice, as if noting that fact.

“I’ll try not to scream like a bitch then, ma’am,” he replies to her warning as he lies still. He might or might not be joking. He doesn’t scream, but his jaw clenches and a vein bulges along his neck as the Toreador agonizingly twists and re-shapes skin and muscle like it’s silly putty. The bald ghoul has no hair at all, so Jade has to transpose it from the hunter’s corpse. She supposes that’s faster and results in a perfect likeness anyway.

Big, bald, white guy. He could actually pass for a crude Maxen, in the same way Randy passes for a crude Em.

“Guess I’m lucky you didn’t need to change my eye color, ma’am,” the deeper-voiced ghoul and now-hunter lookalike pants out with a grimace when Jade is done. He’s at least not sweating much in the cold storage room.

Celia: The fat comes off of him in droves. Pounds of it. Buckets of it. From his legs, his stomach, his face, even the back of his head. The hunter wasn’t something special to look at, but at least he wasn’t this hulking monstrosity. She leaves the muscles that she can lest she physically take his strength from him while she carves. The excess goes into a fresh garbage bag. Crude, but effective, and it’ll be waiting for him when he comes back. If he wants it back. She doesn’t know why anyone would want to weigh that much, but she supposes it’s not really her call. Not her body. Not her ghoul.

She’d had him talk to her while she worked the vocal chords to get the voice right, and by the time she’s done it’s a very close rendition of the man in the house.

“Eye changes are worse than most,” Jade agrees as she checks him over. “You have to know the anatomy perfectly, and in the middle your subjects go blind.” ‘Subjects,’ she says, not ‘victims.’ As if they’d asked for it. She touches a hand to his shoulder when everything is set.

“Do not leave the Evergreen except to go to this meeting. There’s a possibility that others are looking for the man with this face, and I’d prefer not to take chances with you. Stay where it’s safe, Tantal. Clear?”

Not that she thinks he had paid any heed to her desperate message. She tries to give him the benefit of the doubt; she’s been locked in the Evergreen since she woke up. Maybe it hadn’t even worked.

Still, doesn’t he have a phone? A way to communicate outside of face to face interaction? She knows some of the old ones can beam thoughts straight into your head. Is she not worthy enough to check in on?

No, a small voice tells her, just like she isn’t worth a text.

She wants to throw her phone across the room.

She doesn’t. She’s not a child.

She quizzes Tantal on the things she’d told him instead, the behaviors she’d picked up during her brief time with the hunters. Reminds him of his new name and the fake name as well.

GM: Tantal stares at the wet, fat-filled trash bag.

“I like my body, ma’am,” he says in his new and deeper voice. “But when it looks like… that. Don’t know I want it back.”

He nods in response to her statement on leaving the Evergreen.

“Warden’s briefed me. I’ll stay put. Catch up on the game.”

He answers her assorted questions until her phone gives a heartbeat-skipping buzz.

What’s going on?

Celia: Jade follows his line of sight to the bag full of fat. It is distinctly unappealing; she doesn’t relish splitting his skin back open to stuff it inside. It’ll liquidize at room temp, too, so she has to do the service in the cold storage room again. Doesn’t much bother her—reminds her of someone, really—but she’d watched him shiver the whole way through. Maybe she’ll have someone pick up some anesthetic so he’s only cold instead of cold and in pain.

“If everything goes well tomorrow maybe we can sculpt a new body for you.” She doesn’t make any promises, but it’s no skin off her back if the ghoul wants to look different. Could sculpt him to be more muscular if he wants, instead of all that fat…

Her planning is interrupted by the chime and buzzing in her pocket. She glances at the text.

She hates texts, she decides. How are you supposed to determine what someone else is feeling through text? How do you know if that’s a polite “what’s going on” or an angry “what’s going on” or an I miss you and I’m sorry I beat you up again “what’s going on?”

Probably not that last one. He’s had ample opportunity to say that to her if it were the case. Years of opportunities. He knows where to find her.

She ignores it for a minute. Makes him wait.

“Good. Glad to hear. Any questions?”

“Make sure you’re, ah, full up when you go in.” Jade taps a perfectly manicured nail against her wrist. She thinks she might like the big guy, doesn’t want to see him end up on the wrong end of anything. Her fault, too, she’d have no doubt. She touches a hand to his shoulder in the excuse of checking her work one more time.

“Please be careful, Tantal. They’re supposedly… dangerous.” And his domitor might never forgive her if something goes wrong. So much for glorious future.

It’s pretty spectacular, she thinks as she does look him over. Good likeness. She still has that job to do for the archon, the face that’s seared into her mind, but she thinks that she’s gotten really, really good at recreating faces rather than drawing on her own imagination.

“Shall we find the warden, then?”

The phone is burning a hole in her pocket. She doesn’t know what to say. Something coded, obviously. But not a lie. He has a thing about lies.

As if I’m not about to lie and manipulate him when we meet.

Where is she even supposed to meet him? Not here. Not there. Her place? Could tell Pete to check on her after a set amount of time if she doesn’t show up again, just in case Roderick thinks this is the kind of thing to smack her around over. Maybe she should have Randy teach her how to throw the right hook like he’d offered. He can show her and Logan both.

She nods. Yes. She’ll finally learn. Not that it helps her tonight.

She still needs to put him back together. He’d been sleeping when she left, but she doubts he’s going to complain overmuch if she takes the opportunity to give him back what she had taken. And she’s awake. That’s what matters. Be more firm, her kind are fond of saying. Maybe a firmer hand will keep him from doing dumb things in the future. Like drinking sewer water.


For the second time this evening her nails lengthen, filing into tapered points with edges as sharp as any scalpel. A quick flick of her wrist has the skin of the hunter’s backside splitting open before her. She peels it back with one hand, using the razor edge of one claw to scrape away the fascia and fat from the gluteal muscles beneath. Like the white, pulpy part of an orange; she flicks it aside as she goes, the stringy stuff landing on the dead man’s back. Another slice of her nails severs the tendons connecting the glutes to the ilium, then the sacrum and coccyx. She’s careful there, makes sure to leave all the connective tissue behind. She hadn’t actually taken that much from Randy, just a handful, but she’ll take more than she needs from here to avoid an unnecessary trip back.

She finds another bag to slide the muscle into and pinches the hunter’s flesh closed. His butt sags without it, like a woman who’s never done a squat a day in her life.

The entire process doesn’t take longer than a few moments, and she finally looks back to Tantal.

“If he’s amenable, and if you’d like your size back without the extraneous adipose tissue, I could graft some of these muscles onto you. Fun experiment, see if it affects your strength at all.” She lifts her brows.

GM: “Wouldn’t say no to more muscle, ma’am,” the still-shivering Tantal answers after they exit the Red Room. He still looks pretty beefy, with the fat suctioned away, but Jade supposes there aren’t many security-type ghoul who wouldn’t want to be even larger and stronger.

“I like being my size. But thinking of you sticking that bag of fat back inside me makes me want to lose my dinner.”

He shakes his head at her question on questions.

“I’ll ask the warden for a hit, ma’am. In case things go sour.”

Celia: “No reason to put it back in if it’s no difference to him, then. Like an instant bypass surgery combined with years in the gym.”

Maybe she should graft some muscles onto herself before she faces the Brujah again.

Christ, this is going to go poorly, she’s sure of it.

Still, she pulls out her phone while they walk, pausing to dig a piece of sinew out from under her nail before she starts typing.

Batman v Superman. Got an early copy. ;)

She’d thought about saying trouble or urgent or family, but she hadn’t wanted to alarm him. Or leave a trail. He’ll just have to trust that she isn’t breaking four years of silence for no reason. He knows her enough to know that it’s code, doesn’t he? He’s smart enough to figure it out.

GM: Your place midnight tomorrow? comes her ex’s answering text.

Celia: That had been surprisingly easy. Maybe he wants to see her. Or maybe he thinks she actually has the movie. Should she get the movie? She can probably find it by tomorrow. Lots of places out there to do so.

Let’s watch this while I twist your arm.

Cool. Cool cool.


…but what is she going to wear?

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Pete says it’s fine if Celia replaces Tantal’s former fat with added muscle bulk when she sees him next.

“You won’t need to give the other renfield a makeover. He knows some shadow dancing.”

Celia: Celia nods in answer to his statement. She fidgets for a moment. No matter how long she’s known the guy she always feels like she’s done something wrong when she sees him, as if her mere existence is one giant fuckup and he’s been sent to admonish her for it. Does he know what Savoy wants her to do?

She doesn’t bring it up yet.

“Find anything useful on the other phone?”

GM: Pete nods. “Some other targets they were planning on going after. Mid-City Anarchs.”

Celia: Stephen.


“I’m supposed to see him tomorrow,” she adds, “so if he’s dead that kind of…ruins that.”

GM: “I said ‘planning.’ Future tense.”

“Those two’s plans count for about as much as an empty blood bag now.”

Celia: “Lord Savoy has plans for him,” Celia says, “if his identity has been compromised it’s the kind of thing I need to know before I waste my time bringing him to heel.”

GM: “Roderick wasn’t one of them.”

Celia: Thank god.

“Thank you, Warden.” There’s a pause while she fidgets. Then, “is, ah, Celia safe, or is that still being… looked into?”

She’s stalling. It’s fairly obvious to anyone who knows her.

GM: “Being looked into. I take it from the stalling that you and Lord Savoy talked about your sister.”

Celia: She forces the air out from her lungs in a sound that might be a sigh if she wasn’t dead. She nods. Picks at a loose thread in the seat of her chair. Finally, she looks back up at him, and when she speaks her voice is quiet. She has no doubt Savoy will know everything she says here.

“He wants me to be the one to lay her out.”

GM: Pete gives that a long look.

“I can’t imagine him insisting if you didn’t want to do it.”

Celia: What can she say? That his favor is worth more than her sister’s life?

“I owe him a lot.”

GM: “Well, you’re hardly paying him back. It isn’t skilled work. Anyone could do it.”

Celia: Is that meant to make her feel better? She sinks lower in her seat.

“Felt like it was important to him that I… prove myself, or something.”

GM: “Prove what?”

Celia: She fixes him with a look. He has to know what happened last time. Why their stunt with Maxen didn’t work out.

How does she ask him if he’s going to think less of her if she does do it? There isn’t a real way to win here, and she’s afraid that even having this conversation means she isn’t sure.

But she is sure, isn’t she? Savoy has asked her to kill others in the past and she’s done it without batting an eye. Why would this be any different?

Because part of her thinks it’s a test as to her true loyalties. As if she’d ever pick her sister over him. But she’d picked her father once, hadn’t she? That’s what it looks like to him. Only she hadn’t picked her father, she’d picked her sire, and that makes all the difference.

It’s going to get back to Savoy that she came to his warden. He’s going to think she’s weak. Unable to put her family behind her. Then what? He’s magnanimous for an elder, she’ll give him that, but he’s an elder all the same. If he weren’t her grandsire he wouldn’t give her the time of night, she’s sure.

Snake in the grass, Donovan had said, but isn’t Donovan the same? Another would-be prince using her to his own gain.

“I should talk to her,” she finally says, “one last time. Sister to sister. Like you said.” She pauses. Waits for him to say… something. Absolve her of this guilt, maybe, or offer to show her to the room, or offer to take it off her hands, or something.

Maybe she shouldn’t have come to him.

But she doesn’t know where she’s supposed to lay out Isabel. If there’s a spot for it. Or if it means just take her head off. Or… what. She hadn’t wanted to ask. Preston has a way of making it seem like she should know these things already. As if she’s killed another lick before.

Pete doesn’t see the way they look at her. Like she’s useless. Vapid. God, how good had it felt when they’d praised her for her work with the hunters? And now her stomach is all in knots again, worried it won’t work out, worried she’d been captured for nothing, worried one or both of the ghouls are going to die and it’ll be her fault, all her fault, and how can she say that to Pete? How can she tell him that she feels like she doesn’t belong, that every time he looks at her she thinks he’s judging her, that no matter how much time passes she’ll always hear her dad’s voice in her head calling her stupid, and her sire’s voice inside her head saying advantageous byproduct, and Roderick’s voice inside her head calling her a whore?

She knows what they think of her, with her Instagram feed and her salon. She’s not ignorant. There’s a reason she buries herself in her work.

But it hurts.

Maybe she should just cut out her heart like her sire did. Cut off the rest of her family. Refuse to feel. He doesn’t seem bothered by the fact that people talk a bunch of shit about him, though it’s never in his hearing.

She wants him, she realizes. Not Pete. Not Roderick. Not Savoy. Her sire. He won’t care that she has to kill her sister. He won’t judge her for it. He’ll probably tell her it’s the right move.


It doesn’t matter. Savoy asked her to do the thing. She’s going to do the thing.

She knows what she wants from Pete and it isn’t going to happen. Coming here was a waste of both their time.

GM: Pete fixes Celia back with a look.

“You know, I think you do what you do, most of the time, because someone else is saying you ought to do it.”

“Or you think that’s what they want you to do.”

“Would your mom have kept her toes if I hadn’t been there to browbeat you?”

“You don’t seem to be hurting too much for money these days. That sure would’ve been a shame if she’d lost them for absolutely nothing in the end.”

Celia: “I was going to get the money for it. I wouldn’t have just left her crippled.” Not fair that he brings that up now. She’d been a newborn. She was still adjusting.

GM: “Go be who you are, Celia. I’m not going to stop you.”

“She’s ash anyway, after all.”

“It’s definitely not like making her old man rape her was.”

Celia: Celia rises to her feet. Her knees threaten to give way beneath her, and the knuckles where she grips the back of the chair she’d been perched on are white.

“Yes, Warden Lebeaux,” she says to the floor, “thank you.” Her body jerks in what might be an aborted curtsey before she sees herself out.

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Jade has to get Tantal to unlock the interrogation room’s door for her, but true to Pete’s words, her sister hasn’t gone anywhere. She’s exactly where the Toreador last left her.

Celia: She had thought of this moment for years. Roxanne—Isabel—helpless in front of her. All the nasty things that she would say. All the terrible, cruel, petty, mean things on her mind. How her sister was a disappointment. How she was a slut. How she would never be anything other than the failure that she is.

But now that it’s happened, now that Isabel is here in front of her, the words don’t come.

It’s over. This is Jade’s moment of victory. Her triumphant conquest over Celia’s long-hated sister. She reaches for those feelings, that chest-pounding, heart-thumping joy, satisfaction, relief.

There’s nothing.

Nothing inside of her.

She is empty.


Where there should have been the sweet taste of the win there is only ash in her mouth, lifeless and dull and as gray as the rest of the world around her.

Her heart is hollow. Her feet are leaden. Every step she takes is an eternity down a hallway that stretches and stretches in front of her, lengthening no matter how her feet eat up the ground.

Until she’s in front of Isabel and can see the damage that she has done to her sister. Here because of her.

She hadn’t been lying to Logan when she’d told him that she had written Isabel letters. They had always come during her darker periods, when she’d felt as if nothing would ever be bright again, when her eyes had threatened to leak and her jaw would not cease its trembling and no one in the entire world would have been able to take away the ache inside of her. They were written on her bleakest nights, empty promises that never once were kept, hatred and vitriol and filthy accusations. All of them fed to a candle that took her words away.

Except for one.

One of them she keeps close to her heart. One of them isn’t anger. One of them isn’t inferno personified, destroying everything that it touches.

Her nails lengthen. She touches the tip of her index finger to the flesh above her sternum, just next to her left breast, and draws it down. Her skin splits in its wake and she makes a noise that’s halfway between a hiss and a sigh. She peels back her own skin and fat and muscle to find the tiny piece of paper tucked inside.

She pulls it out. Seventy-something percent of the human body is made up of water, but Jade isn’t human. She’s Kindred. There is no water inside of her body, no spit, no tears. Everything she has is blood. It is blood that covers this tiny slip of paper, blood that smears the letters on the page. Like the blood that’s on her hands. For all that, it’s still legible, her slanted, flowery script written in dark ink.

She reads it to her sister.

Dear Isabel,

I remember when we were children we used to lie in our beds and make wishes on the glow-in-the-dark stars plastered to our ceiling. You wanted to be an astronaut, you said, or a zookeeper, or race dog sleds in Alaska. I wanted to be a teacher or a writer or a concert pianist, and we said we’d always stand by each other.

I remember when we used to play dress up, you’d let me put sparkly pink eyeshadow on your face, and we’d take turns being the princess or the knight. We didn’t know then that Dad was the dragon we needed to defeat.

I remember when we first moved into the big house and you and I would sneak into each other’s beds at night and read those old books about mermaids and talking lions and witches who were good instead of evil. I remember the night I lost my makeup you smuggled me in a tinted lip balm. It was the only color I wore for years.

I remember when it changed.

I remember when we learned that monsters are real.

I remember the fear of growing up in that house, what it was like to walk on eggshells around Dad, how any moment we expected him to snap. I remember the boys crying, I remember Sophia crying, and I remember us crying when we were sure that no one else was looking.

Strong, they call us, to survive that kind of life. We were children. We didn’t need to be strong. We needed to be safe.

I have made countless mistakes these past years. I lit the flame beneath your feet rather than rescue you like I was supposed to. I let one incident of teenage emotions put a knife between us that will never come free.

I’d always thought that there would be time to mend it. That you and I could be sisters again. That I could apologize for all of my mistakes…

Celia looks up from her wet paper.

“But here you are, Zee. Here you are in front of me and there isn’t any time left.”

GM: Roxanne growls, at first, when she hears the door open. Lips pull back to reveal fangs. Perhaps it’s Peter Lebeaux come back to pump her for more info. Or Jade to spew more venom.

From the way her jaw falls open, though, her sister was probably the last person on earth she was expecting.

She’s silent as Celia reads her letter. Perhaps giving the Toreador time to finish. Perhaps incredulous over the words she’s hearing. Perhaps trying to think of a way out.

Celia: Celia is silent when she finishes. For long moments she waits for her sister to say something. Anything.

They’re just two girls from the same broken home, on opposite sides of a war that started long before they were ever born. Isabel hadn’t chosen this. Celia did, sort of, and in her choosing had damned her sister.

GM: Isabel finally starts to talk.

“Look. You hate me. I get it. I’ve had a long time to piece together what happened that night. You made him him rape me because you found out I tattled over Mom.”

“Dad was out of jail less than 24 hours after getting arrested. It didn’t even make the headlines. There was no way Mom was going to keep us. Just no way. And this was going to make him madder than he’d ever been. I was terrified of what he was going to do. To me. To David, Sophia, Logan. You.”

“So I told him where to find us. I’m not proud of that. I wanted to get away. But that wasn’t happening. It was either get on his good side or wait until he got us back anyway, and did God knows what.”

“I was the good girl. That was how I survived, okay? I didn’t have Mom. I didn’t have you. All I had was Dad. The others were too young. So I tried to make him happy. And every minute was like walking on eggshells. I couldn’t ever let the mask down. Ever.”

“But it didn’t work. He never looked at me the same way again, after that night, even after Donovan edited his memories. He didn’t hit me, because that might hurt the baby. He kept me locked in my room 24 hours a day. He installed bars on the windows. There was a slot on the door, for Luana to slide in meals. I had to piss and shit in a pot, and slide it out for her. If I didn’t use it right before she showed up, the whole room would smell like piss and shit, until he knocked down the wall between my bedroom and the bathroom, and sealed up its door.”

“He even got a treadmill so I could exercise. I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life in that room. It was like being in a max security person. I never got to talk to anyone. I couldn’t use a computer. I couldn’t even look out the window. He kept the shades bolted to the wall, and had the bars installed over them, so the neighbors couldn’t see anything was weird. All I could do was sit in bed, re-read the same books over and over and over, talk to the baby in my tummy, and go crazy.”

“I went crazy. Sometimes I’d scream and tear things up or bang the walls. He’d tie me down to the bed and leave me there for 24 hours, without food, without the piss pot, until I could tell him I was calm again. And then he’d take away a book, or a stuffed animal, or some other object. And that was even worse than not getting to eat, because every time that room got emptier I’d go even crazier.”

“I tried to go on a hunger strike, once, and he force-fed me. Then he installed a sieve on the toilet, so I couldn’t try to dump meals in there. I guess Luana had to pick up the poop. He eventually got rid of that and just installed a lock on the bathroom door, and I could only use it twice a day, after my plate was empty. Luana would unlock it from the other side.”

“That lasted nine months. When my water broke, he let me out. He brought me to the hospital, and the doctors all thought I was crazy because I was laughing and babbling and running my hands over everything, because I’d finally gotten out of that room. I kept trying to get up from the bed, so the nurses tied me down, and when I wouldn’t shut up they stuck a gag in my mouth. So I had a gag and cuffs on the entire time I was in labor. I couldn’t even hold him, when he came out. They didn’t even let me see him. They just took him away. Then they gave me a bunch of drugs, and when I woke up I was back in my room again, tied down to the bed.”

“And I wanted to die.”

Isabel gives a broken laugh from the St. Andrew’s cross.

“Look. You want revenge on me, for what I did. Dad got it. He already got it for you. He already fucking got it for you.

Celia: Celia had never gone back for her. She’d gone back for Mom. For Emily. For Stephen. Christ, she’d gone back for Em. But not once for Isabel. Hadn’t even checked up on her. Oh, sure, she could lie, tell herself that it wasn’t safe to go back to find out what happened, that she was afraid of what Donovan might do. And maybe there’s some truth to that.

But deep down, she knows.

She knows she didn’t go back because she didn’t care. Because she was angry. Because she wanted Isabel to hurt as much as Celia was already hurting.

That’s the joke then, isn’t it, that they were both already hurting and trying so hard to stay strong and cling to their pride that they didn’t let the other one in after that night when Isabel had found out what sort of justice Maxen doles out to people who defy his rules. Spanked until bloody.

Some small, unseen part of her had thought about fixing Isabel’s toe, too. Had wondered if they’d doctored her memories. But, no, why would they have? Why would he have? She was nothing. Is nothing. She’s not the prize race horse. Just the… byproduct.

Nausea swells within her. It’s an alien feeling to the Beast. Purely human. It starts in her stomach, a clenching of jaw and gut, but nothing comes up. The Beast clings to its closely guarded resource like Celia had clung to every semblance of safety she could find when she was still alive.

“It wasn’t supposed to be you,” she says after a moment. Her voice doesn’t tremble or crack, but it’s soft. So soft. Like if she speaks too loudly her sister will crumble away with the wind from her breath.

“That night, it wasn’t supposed to be you. It was supposed to be me. Maxen hurting me. Raping me. Getting it on film to distribute. Then I saw what he had done to Mom, and I remembered your text, and I saw the way you offered to help him. And I wanted to burn the entire world down.”

She’d let the hatred fill her until she was nothing but a vengeful spirit doling out her own justice, Maxen-style. Take what they love.

GM: Her restrained and blindfolded sister is silent for another moment.

“It’s why he Embraced me,” Isabel says. “Good Christian girls don’t get pregnant by their dads.”

“It was the only way out of that room. So I said yes, I did it, yes, I’d seduced him.”

Celia: It takes her a moment to realize that the Embrace was meant to be a punishment. Isabel had always been more into the faith than Celia; even as a lick she’d apparently been… fanatical.

“How did he know about it? Your sire. If you were trapped in your room.”

GM: “He’s close to Donovan. It came up between them. When he was looking for a childe.”

“He wanted someone who deserved it and wasn’t attached to their kine life.”

Celia: “Why didn’t he take your memories?”

GM: “I don’t understand.”

Celia: “You said he changed Dad’s. Donovan. Why would he let you keep yours if he took Dad’s?”

GM: A broken laugh.

“Because I was never going to leave that room alive.”

“I think he fed on me while I was there. Why not, right?”

Celia: “Do you remember that birthday party when Dad’s dad interrupted? And later that night you and I snuck downstairs? You woke me up because the light was on.”

GM: “I… think so?”

Celia: “You were young. Six, maybe.” Does it matter? “I saw him for the first time that night. Shaking hands with Dad. Making a deal. Everything went to shit after that.”

GM: “That’s what we do. We’re damned.”

“Though you’re only half.”

Celia: “Sure. But I guess my question is… if you knew that he was behind all of this, why would you stay on that side?”

GM: “The same reason I stayed on Dad’s side. Safer not to cross them. Him. And at least they let me out of the room.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment.

“They told me you want to turn me.”

GM: “I was panicked. I was furious. I was hurting. I was saying anything.”

“Meadows killed Evan.”

Her voice breaks. “I never even had a boyfriend when I was alive. He was my only one.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I… know what it’s like to lose someone. D’you know why…?”

GM: There’s another broken laugh. “Because she’s fucking insane and she kills licks for absolutely no reason. Who even knows what goes through her head.”

“And now my whole krewe’s dead. All dead.”

Celia: “If they let you out, what would you do?”

GM: “My friends are all dead. I don’t… don’t even know.”

“Maybe leave the city and start over.”

Celia: “You wouldn’t be able to come back. Ever. No contact with Dad or Logan or any of them. Is that what you want?” Freedom. Complete freedom from her mortal and Kindred lives. A new beginning.

GM: “I haven’t spoken with any of them since I was turned. That’s the Eighth Canon of the Catechism.”

Celia: Celia nods, even though her sister cannot see.

Jade can get her out of the city. She knows people. Knows people here and other places. Get her into Texas, at least; Emerson does runs there all the time. From there Isabel will be on her own. She’s pretty sure Alana kept the purse of that co-ed she’d killed. Could change her face. Make up for being the one to ruin her life by giving her a new one.

“I’ll speak to Lord Savoy.” Celia takes a step toward the door. “I’m sorry, Zee, for what happened between us. For not being there for you. I wasn’t a good sister to you, but I can… I can do this much, at least.”

GM: “Lord Savoy won’t listen to a renfield. That’s just how it is. Talk to someone… someone lower down.”

“But, do that. Get me out of here, and we’ll be even.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t tell her the truth, even now. She just nods. Says okay, that she will, and closes the door behind her.

Long moments pass. Not nearly long enough for Celia to have made good on her promise before the door opens again. Footsteps across the threshold. The door closes. They don’t come any closer.

Silence for a moment. Then,

“Saw your sister crying in the hallway.” Jade’s voice.

“Seemed to think if she let you out of here you’d just leave and not bother any of us again.”

She steps forward, circling around to where Roxanne’s back is displayed. Her eyes move across Roxanne’s destroyed body. She reaches out, her hands warm against the Ventrue’s skin. She’s mindful of the open wounds, mindful of the scrapes and cuts and other hurts beside. There isn’t a lot of area for her to work on, not really, not with Roxanne as beat up as she is, not with her body vertical instead of horizontal. But what there is safe to use she touches. Her fingers splay across her back, pressing against her skin. It’s a soothing gesture, meant to calm, and maybe if Roxanne weren’t strapped to a cross about to die she’d enjoy it.

She’s always been good with her hands.

Letting go of Roxanne is a big risk. Even asking Savoy to let her go is a risk. So Jade needs to know the truth. The impression leaks out of her: trustworthy. It’s a subtle thing, combined with the touch, and even though Jade had previously belittled and goaded her, what’s not to trust? She’d been angry at the attack on her girl, that’s all, surely Roxanne understands anger; we’re all friends here. Why would she be touching her if they weren’t friends?

And it feels so good, too. So soothing, so soft. Deep enough to touch the muscles she’d hurt in her fight against Meadows. Deep enough to assuage some of that pain from being held on a cross for hours.

It takes some time. Long minutes of work. Jade’s consciousness projects forward, though she doesn’t enter the other lick’s mind. No, it isn’t her mind she’s reading; she’s not some telepath to break into people’s thoughts when reading their bodies will do just as well.

It’s an energy that passes between them. A feeling of relaxation that takes Roxanne from this room and puts her at ease. Jade can feel her hands working over Roxanne’s back, but her mind delves deeper. Into that waiting sea of energy. Into the spinning disks of light inside of her. She can see, even from this distance, that they are out of order; they spin lopsided or not at all, their flow halted by the world around her.

Jade can fix it.

She starts at the base. The root chakra, base of the spine. Muladhara. Like all things in their life, its color is red. Red for blood. Red for life. Red for survival. All hierarchies put survival at the very bottom. Food, air, water; those are all base needs. So it is that Roxanne’s body—all of their bodies—start with the need of survival. Without this falling into alignment the rest of them will suffer, too. And this one is just a lump of brown clay, a log of fire that has been charred beyond recognition.

Jade doesn’t touch it physically, but mentally she sends the signal that makes it start spinning again. Your needs are being met, she tells it, you are safe. Meadows cannot harm you here. Warmth flows from her hands to set the newly rounded sphere to spinning again.

She moves on. The lower abdomen, the sacral chakra. Svadhistana. Orange follows red, though this one too is nothing but a dying ember. It is the home of wanting. Sensuality, sexuality… but pleasure, too. Desire. On humans it’s simple things, but with Kindred it encompasses both man and Beast. Passions, dreams, cravings—it touches on them all.

Jade sends her energy spinning along it. The color starts to shift from burnt sepia to something brighter. But not full, not yet. Jade doesn’t know what her sister desires. That’s what she’s here to find out. Blood is the expected answer. It’s always blood. But beyond the blood there is more, and that’s what Jade searches for. She sends her name—her real name—spinning along those pathways. Celia. Family. Loyalty. Something to meditate on while Jade moves higher.

Higher, into the solar plexus. Manipura. Yellow. This is fire, truly, the resolve and determination to get what you want, to set your sight on something and go for it. Roxanne does not lack color here. This is no disk inside of her, no sodden lump of nothing; this one burns brightly. Jade does not need to meddle here.

Higher still, into the heart. Anahata. Green. Love and compassion. Healthy relationships. This is air, but Kindred do not need air to survive. This chakra does not spin. It is a bleak, black disk. Her heart is solidified calcium. There is nothing here.

Except… except maybe there could be. Jade was named for the color of a goddess’ eyes, and what do these goddesses do if not bring life back to dead things? She sends a pulse along it. Thump, it says, a half-hearted thing. Her mind rips through her options—her family, her dead lover—and settles on the God she professes to serve. Love comes in all forms. Jade lets her know. Damned, certainly, but a wolf sent to guard and thin the flock. Another pulse. Thump-thump.

It sets itself to spinning. Slow, sluggish, but movement all the same.

It is enough. She moves on.

Her energy and focus drift higher, from the heart flowing up into the throat. Vishuddha. Blue, but what a blackened blue this is, its color filled with oily slicks of the lies and deceits that are all around them. Jade presses deeper into that circle of light, letting it surround her, letting the blackness fade away until she finds the shining thing within. The sliver of truth that Roxanne—Isabel—wants to speak. Deep inside, where no one can see it, it’s spinning and shining. Jade wants to let it out. The snaking tendrils of falsehoods become brambles around the rose garden, and Jade blasts them away with a thought. There can be no release if you are wrapped within your lies.

Higher still, into the third eye. Ajna. Indigo. Inner thoughts, intuition. It’s a murkier place up here; man and Beast struggle for dominion. But Beasts belong in a cage, don’t they, when they are not serving their purpose. Jade makes it happen. The mental image of a lion inside a zoo—they’d been to this zoo, doesn’t her sister remember? It’s so familiar. The lion cannot hurt her behind its bars. Let the man free.

And finally the crown chakra. Sahasrara. Violet, but a dead and withered thing. Spiritual connection, peace, union, bliss… Jade can fix this one too. She burrows inside, connects their energy together, lets Isabel see and feel the light coming from her.

Outside their bodies, they are just two girls inside a room, one tied to a cross, the other rubbing her back.

Inside it is more. So much more.

It is from inside this place, where all has finally been righted, that Jade finally speaks to Celia’s sister.

“What did you hope to accomplish by going to see your sister in the Quarter?”

GM: Roxanne snarls at Jade’s initial touch, but the sound soon dies as the Toreador’s practiced hands work her magic.

She works her ways up along each chakra like a flute. Emily had thought it was a load of “alternative medicine not-even-pseudoscience mystic bullshit” when the topic of chakras came up between them. But Emily also isn’t a vampire, so her perspective on the world might be somewhat more limited.

Jade is, and hers isn’t. Strung up on a cross isn’t the same as laid out flat on the table, but it’s a change of pace, and in some ways even helps the Toreador spatially conceptualize the flow of energy from low to high. Vampires may be dead creatures, but they’re animated by energy, the same as object or entity that engages in sustained activity. Jade intimately knows that energy’s ebbs and flows.

More than knows. Directs. She can see almost see the shifting colors as glowing lights as the wounded Ventrue moans with equal parts pleasure and relief under Jade’s expert touch. It’s such a tempting message that the Toreador’s hands have to say. You are safe. You can let down the walls. You can just relax.

It’s her craft. Her calling. To make people just relax.

Star mode helps a lot, too.

When Roxanne speaks, her voice is tranquil, monotone, and far away, as though coming from the depths of a luxuriously soft bed.

“I wanted to Embrace her.”

“I needed to rebuild my krewe. I’d failed them. I’d shown Prince Vidal I was a failure.”

“I was angry at her, too, for what she did to me. Meadows made me feel so helpless. I wanted to be in control. I wanted to make someone else suffer.”

“She deserved to suffer for what she did to me. She destroyed Dad’s love for me. She crippled me. I still can’t walk right from that toe I’m missing.”

The words are spoken without anger or pain. They’re in that same calm and tranquil place Jade’s hands have taken her.

“She is a bad person who deserves to be damned. But she can still serve God’s will.”

“She would have gone to Hell when she died if I hadn’t Embraced her. She’d still go to Hell, if I had. But she could do something good.”

“And I was lonely. My krewe were all dead or traitors. They were my friends.”

“I could have a childe. She could have a sire. She could see everything she’d done wrong in her life, and make it right again in her Requiem, with my help. We could be a family again.”

“I could get revenge on her at the same time as I fixed everything between us. I’d have my cake and eat it too. I couldn’t not do it.”

The words all come in that same calm and peaceful monotone.

Celia: Jade’s hands continue to work over Roxanne’s back as she speaks. Now that the energy has been restored, now that everything is in balance, her focus is on the touch. The play of muscle beneath the skin, the soft and hard tissue that she finds underneath, the little nodules of pain that she can press on to take away.

She does it all while the Ventrue tells her of her plan to Embrace her sister. Sweet revenge, wouldn’t it be, to take Celia from her mortal life and make her pay for everything that she has done. Damn her to the same fate. And what a terrible fate that would be—the illicit childe of a nobody.

Only Celia is already dead. She’s already paid the price for betraying her family, the sheriff had seen to that. This is just another example, another thing she has to do to make up for all the bad she’s done: put her sister down.

She created the mess, now it’s time to clean it up.

Her next question takes a moment to form.

Jade doesn’t need to know what Roxanne’s plan is if she gets out. She isn’t getting out. There is no freedom for her. It had all just been another game, another web of lies. A chance for a sister to come clean before her death, but Roxanne had tried to manipulate her instead, to play on the human sympathy that no longer exists within Jade. Some small part of her wants to ask about Celia’s family, too. What Dad thinks happened that night. But it doesn’t really matter, does it?

She asks something different instead. A long shot, considering Roxanne’s status—or there lack of—in Kindred society.

“The prince,” she says, purposefully vague to encompass anything her sister might know, “his allies, their plans.”

GM: “He is as God,” Roxanne replies tranquilly.

‘The Lord lays his hand upon my heart and I know the last gift I am to give.
To my childe I entrust the keeping of the lance that had begun my enlightenment O those many nights ago.
I know that it is now his blessing and his burden, and I praise the Lord for these things.’

“He meant Prince Vidal. Only Prince Vidal. Prince Vidal has been touched by God.”

“He is not Ventrue. He is not Kindred. Not to us.”

‘You shall honor the Dark Prophet and give thanks for the perfection of his sinfulness and the miracle of his transformation. Say to the Lord: My God, all praise is due to you for the miracle of transformation that you bestowed upon the centurion. Blessed are we who know the truth of divinity in the world because of the blood of the Christ that gave the centurion sight and life! May we ever walk in his ways and follow his example, by your power and will. Amen.’

Celia: Yikes.

“And what does Prince Vidal have in store for those who would move against him?”

GM: “Annihilation.”

Celia: No shit, Roxy.

“Do you know of his plans to stymie these would-be usurpers?”

GM:‘Do not let yourself be lulled into complacency by faith in the Purpose and the teachings of the Dark Prophet. For serving the Purpose cannot be accomplished by mere mouthing of doctrines and groveling to one’s betters. No, God’s Purpose is a burden and a charge, and he who claims to exemplify Damnation without effort or proper works is not in communion with the faithful.’

“Prince Vidal is not Kindred to them or us. They cannot withstand him. For he is of the Blood of Longinus, not the Blood of Caine.”

“Do you understand?”

“The Second Generation walks among us in the Final Nights. He walks among us.”

“I do not fear for him. I fear only my own failure and inadequacy before him.”

Celia: Jade says nothing to this. She steps closer. One hand continues to massage Roxanne, kneading and stroking her muscles. She keeps her in that mental state, only half-aware of her surroundings. Kinder this way. Merciful. She can give Celia’s sister this much, at least.

The other hand snakes around Roxanne’s body, pressing between it and the cross. Her fingers don’t grow claws; they don’t need to, not when the tips of them serve just as well at getting inside the body.

She had never learned how to do the bone work. The archon had disappeared before their supposed lesson. She cannot simply move the bones that stand in her way, that encircle the organ she seeks like a protective pen. But she knows the body’s anatomy, knows the path that she needs to take. Maybe it will give Roxanne some solace that, in the end, she died like Jesus. Nailed to a cross. Blade cutting into his side. Only the blade is not a blade, just a hand, snaking its way up under the ribcage from beneath the sternum, diving past the dermis to the tissue, fat, and muscle within. There’s no thump-thump to give away the heart’s position within this body, but Jade doesn’t need it. She knows what she’s looking for. Deep inside the chest cavity, her fingers close around the dead organ that hasn’t worked in years.

She leans in to press a final kiss against Roxanne’s cheek.

“The Lord be with you,” she whispers.

She pulls the heart free.

GM: Jade’s nailed hand swims through the thick fibrous pericardium like butter. She feels the inert and lifeless heart around her palm. An unlife literally in her hands.

Then, just like that, she wrenches it out.

The heart rots and blackens before her eyes. A smell like rotten eggs fills the Toreador’s nostrils as Roxanne’s eyes bulge, then turn gray as the whites dry out. Her muscles stiffen against Jade’s arms. Nutrient-filled blisters appear over her pale skin, along with an unsightly dull sheen. The Ventrue’s skin sags over her body like a too-large coat as her mouth falls open. A blackening tongue lolls out. The seemingly days-old corpse limply sags in the cuffs of the St. Andrew’s cross as death catches up with Roxanne in an instant.

Finally getting her like the monster a younger sister once asked Celia to check under the bed for.

Celia: Jade fades away as soon as Roxanne is dead, leaving Celia staring at the remnants of Isabel’s life. Torn and bloody, from all the people who had stood against her, who had hurt her, who had abused her. Evidence of their mistreatment on her skin. Evidence of Isabel’s own misdeeds on her flesh: in the tongue blackened by her lies, in the heart rotten by her sin.

Only the sulfurous stench of decay remains, a mockery of what she might have been. What they might have been had their feet trod different paths.

Celia searches inside of herself again for the for the guilt or shame or grief… and finds it curiously absent.

Her heart is gone. If she were to reach into her own chest to find it she’d come out empty-handed. Ash; it’s been dead far longer than the rotten corpse in front of her. When she speaks, her voice is soft—a final act of reverence for the sister-who-was.


Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett VIII
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Caroline VIII, Celia X

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia VIII
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline VIII, Celia X

Story Twelve, Celia VIII

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

Tuesday night, 8 March 2016, PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omg super cute you lady are beautiful love the pics


Si nos costaba quitarnos lade nosotros imaginate esa AJAJAJAJA

Name of the song

Amazinggg :DDD

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

Echas mucho produ


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

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

So pretty! :D

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or at least hungrily anticipating that promised night.

Hungry probably more so than tired.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always flawless!

Celia: She really is, isn’t she?

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

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

Perfection incarnate. Flawless.

Tuesday night, 8 March 2016, PM

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

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

Maybe Celia could.

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

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

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

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

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

“On your marks,” smirks the Ventrue.

“Get set…”

He raises his hands.



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

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

The hunt is on.

And so is the party.

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

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

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

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

First, though, she has to catch it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jade slips away in pursuit of another vessel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He always has preferred the taste of stolen things.

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

She edges nearer.

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

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

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

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

But he looks busy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The blood smells like blood.

But the thump-thumps sound like two sets.

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

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

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

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

They freeze like deer in headlights when they see Jade.

Celia: Jade flashes a smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some flies try to resist the spider.

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

“Yeah… sounds… good…”

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

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

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

GM: The woman must be most people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He liked it when she screamed. When she cried.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can we… can we help him?”

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

She pauses at the question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it does. To her.

Just not to him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: The hypocrisy is staggering.

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

Christ. No wonder licks are so fucking miserable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah, you bet I’m in the mood…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not her problem, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The woman said no.

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

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

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

The bitch is hers.

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

“What the fuck…!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He swiftly nods.

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

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

“There’s a good boy.”

She got what she came for, anyway.

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

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

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

Celia: Or both.

Both is good.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A thief, a mobster, and a whore.

It’s a perfect pairing.

GM: An unholy trinity.

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

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

Pietro smirks.

His eyes roam over Jade’s form.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“True,” replies Pietro.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: The other Toreador laughs.

“I guess someone knows me.”

“Shep Jennings’.”

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

GM: “Jealous?” smirks Reynaldo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You think he faked it?” muses Reynaldo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The opportunity is ripe and all that.

GM: They don’t hesitate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or lick.”

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

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

The Ventrue chuckles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: Jade flicks her tongue across her lips.

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

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

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

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

“Like what?” Pietro.

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

“Like what?” repeats Pietro.

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

GM: “Bella.”

Celia: Jade waves a hand.

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

“Pretty old renfield, isn’t she?”

Celia: “That’s what I’ve heard.”

GM: “Yeah. Older than me.” Pietro.

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

GM: “Yep.”

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

“That’s bullshit.” Pietro.

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

Jade twists to look at her older clanmate.

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

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

“He did. From Lord Savoy.” Pietro.

He considers Jade with an amused air.

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

Celia: “You know I’m game.”

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

Celia: “No.”

GM: “It’s an urban legend.”

Celia: “Enlighten me.”

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

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

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

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

GM: “Oh, but they have heard of me.”

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

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

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

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

GM: Pietro laughs.

“My god, no!”

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

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

Celia: “You do love a challenge.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Vinny Cardona.”

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

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

GM: “He is,” says Gui.

“But he’s a cop. Upright sort.”

Celia: As if there’s such a thing.

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

Celia: She looks back to Pietro.


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

Celia: “Your family?” Jade asks Gui.

GM: He shakes his head.

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

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

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

Celia: Jade gives him a nod. She understands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So what’ll you do?”

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

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

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

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

Jade lifts one shoulder in what might be a shrug.

“I can handle him.”

GM: Gui raises an eyebrow.

“You? The sheriff?”

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

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

Celia: Jade shrugs again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: He strokes her hair.

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

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

GM: “We’ll deal with that.”

Celia: “I want the Blackmatch.”

GM: “The capo?”

Celia: “Mhm.”

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

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

GM: “Few things last.”

Celia: Jade sighs at him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Oh, he most surely is.”

Celia: Jade sits up.

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

GM: “Go ahead,” says Reynaldo.

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

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

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

GM: “All right, lush.”

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

Sealed in red.

“You’ve got yourself a deal.”

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: Send her to the hunters.

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

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

Is she a terrible sister? A truly terrible sister?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She blinks back whatever emotion that might bring forth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not this. Not these monsters that wear human faces.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry for what she took away.”

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

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

Jade is just better at it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He lifts Jade’s chin to meet his eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

GM: The other two vampires drain their glasses.

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

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

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

Celia: Jade smiles prettily for him.

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

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

She tells him, briefly, of their plans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jade leans forward in her chair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “‘A Touch of Luck.’”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Savoy smiles widely.

“Exactly, my dear. A very large pie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: She’s not even being sarcastic.

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

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

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

Celia: “Of course, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: And they call her a whore.

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

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

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

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

“Miss Melton. The Gangrel.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “I always enjoy being pursued.”

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

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

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

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

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Ayame Prelude
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett VIII

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia VII
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia IX

Story Twelve, Ayame Prelude

Wednesday morning, 11 November 2009, AM

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


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

Or prince, if you’re a lick.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Us ghouls? We take it.

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

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

Yeah, I know all about that.

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

Learned my lesson, though, didn’t I?

Never forgot to call him “sir” again.

Monday night, 5 April 2010, PM

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

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

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

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

You ever see a lick feed from a dead body?

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

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

Except that last guy.

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

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

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

“How deep does this place go?”

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

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

When his mouth comes towards me.

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

Like a dog.

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

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

Only it’s not me he’s after.

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

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

So I do.

Saturday night, 10 April 2010, PM

Ayame: Angel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then he let me drink.

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

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

Tuesday night, 13 April 2010, PM

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

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

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


Anyway, it’s like this.

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

“Sorry dude immortality doesn’t sound fun.”


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

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

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

Like what do you say to that?

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

Friday night, 16 April 2010, PM

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

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

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

Fuck burning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then it’s time.

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

But it’s not a game.

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

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

I do it.

I kiss him.

Right on the mouth.

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

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


Date ?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Angel.


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

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


The complete annihilation of the self.

Date ?

Ayame: I wake to the sound of chanting.

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

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

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

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

A presence floods my mind.

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

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

You are not the usual sacrifice.

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

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

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

Ignorance stills my tongue.

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

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

I am strong, he hears me say.

You are nothing.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia VII
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia IX

Previous, by Character: -
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Ayame I, Celia XII

Story Twelve, Celia VII

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

Tuesday evening, 8 March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this is a wonderful way to wake.

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

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

Celia: Needy, needy, needy.

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

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

“What happened after I fell asleep?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just not tonight.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Vroom… fuckin’… vroom!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warden Lebeaux is waiting.

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

But until then, the pile of hedonism calls too.

Tuesday evening, 8 March 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “There’s a terrifying thought.”

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

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

Celia: She gives him a flat look.

“How do I prevent that?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Find anything? To worry about?”

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

“She’s been moved to the Evergreen.”

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

He speaks before she can ask.

“She’s okay, then.”

She sounds relieved.

GM: Pete gives her a look.

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

Celia: “I didn’t… that wasn’t me.”

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Smart.”

“Is she… what happened to her here?”

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

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

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

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

GM: Pete gives her a look.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her lips press together. She shakes her head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: The Kindred cop heaves a deliberate sigh.

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

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

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

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

She’ll win him over eventually.

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

Celia: “Of course, warden.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Retinol.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Pete allows himself a faint smile.

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

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

For a month.

Tuesday evening, 8 March 2016

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

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

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

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

“Mr. Savoy,” Roxanne spits.

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

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

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

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


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

“No,” says Roxanne.

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

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

He pauses for a moment.

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

Roxanne is very still at the word ‘sister.’

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

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

Roxanne remains silent.

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

He pauses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Fuck you,” the Ventrue spits.

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

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

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

“In more ways than one.”

Roxanne howls and snaps at the offered wrist with distended canines, only for the Tremere to pull it away. She howls and roars and strains. Pete waits for the frenzy to subside, then holds the wrist close again.

“It… was Caitlin Meadows,” Roxanne relents. “She killed Wyatt Jenkins.”

Pete lets her drink.

She sucks vitae ravenously, but he doesn’t let her feed for long. The Ventrue’s despair is plain as the wrist withdraws.

Celia: As interesting as it is to learn of the death of another by the scourge, she doesn’t know Wyatt on a personal level. Just rumors that he has a penchant for making off with mortals and that he’s one of her sister’s krewe. She can imagine a number of reasons Meadows would have to murder him.

No, her curiosity is more intimate in nature. Why Roxanne was in the Quarter to begin with. What brought her to Flawless. Whether or not she knows that her sister is among the Damned, though she finds a clever way to word this to protect the secret if not. If she admits to being there for a nefarious purpose, she asks why: what did Jade do to her that makes her hatred this intense?

She supposes she’s curious about the coterie’s feud with Meadows as well, and she tacks that on, more to keep abreast of current and political situations than any personal investment.

GM: Roxanne says that Meadows killed her lover, Evan Bourelle. The Storyvilles wanted revenge on her.

Pete asks why they think Meadows is to blame. Roxanne answers that Caroline Malveaux-Devillers, another blue blood who “works for me,” dug up the information.

Pete asks why they were stupid enough to go after the scourge, and how they could have possibly expected to win.

Roxanne says nothing, then screams obscenities as she gnashes her fangs, madly trying to throw herself upon the Tremere detective.

Pete lets Jade take over the questioning.

Roxanne screams and raves what a “filthy whore” her sister is, and how she “deserves it, deserves every last bit of it! IT’S HER FAULT! IT’S ALL HER FAULT!”

“So you were going to kill her, is that it?”

“HA! Ha ha ha HA HAH HAAAA!” Roxanne shrieks.

“I was gonna TURN her! Yes! I’ll say it out loud! HA! Why! The! Fuck! NOT!?!”


She throws herself in the direction of Jade’s voice, laughing hysterically as the metal cuffs dig into her bruised flesh.

Celia: “Why?” The only question she can get out around the lump in her throat. The only thing she can think to ask.

GM: “’Cause she made ME one!” Roxanne spits. “She can see what it’s LIKE!”

“Ha ha hahaHAHAHAHAH!”

Celia: “Your sister had nothing to do with your Embrace.”

GM: “She’s sooooo stupid! She’s a dog walking on its hind legs! She’s a college dropout! She’s so fucking STUPID!”

Celia: “So you’d want to spend eternity with her?” The sneer is audible.

GM: Roxanne giggles.

Celia: “That means your death as well, you imbecile. Are you so eager to meet your lover again?”

GM: “She’s so fucking stupid! Dropout dropout dropout dropout!”

“She was a dance major too! Ha! How can you flunk a dance class?! Ha ahahaHAHAHAGH-!”

Celia: The stake slides neatly back into her body.

GM: She cuts off as the wood sinks into her heart. Her mouth is still silently laughing.

Celia: She should feel something. Disgust. Anger. Guilt, maybe, or pity for the girl who used to be her sister. She sinks into herself to find it. She reaches, but nothing’s there.

Her heart is empty.

Numb eyes turn to regard Pete. Her lips haven’t even flattened into the thin line of disappointment; there’s nothing on her face but a flat, blank affectation.

“She violated the Second Tradition. She would have violated the Third. She is a breach waiting to happen.”

GM: “Sure seems like it,” says Pete. “Evan and her friends must have meant a lot if they turned her this way.”

He heads outside the room with Celia and closes the door behind them.

“It’s soundproof. You know her better than I do.”

Celia: Celia’s laugh is as hollow as the rest of her.

“She was like this before she was turned,” she says to him once the door is shut.

GM: “Do you think they caused this, or…?” he starts, then trails off.

“Like this in what sense?”

Celia: “Unhinged.”

GM: “Abuse can do that. You had your mom as an anchor. Doesn’t sound like she had much of anyone.”

Celia: “She had Daddy. That’s all she needed.”

GM: “What she thought she needed. The results rather speak for themselves.”

Celia: “There’s nothing to be done about that now. She’s a danger to our society.”

GM: “I’m curious if she could be rehabilitated and perhaps converted. Seems like she’s hit rock bottom. Fat lot that Vidal has done for her.”

Celia: “She is a ticking time bomb, Pete. You can’t rehabilitate that. The first chance she has to get out she will, and she’ll be coming after me.”

GM: “Might be you’re right. Always easier for things to turn to shit than to turn around.”

“I’m going to question her some more before Lord Savoy gets back. Have you had enough?”

Celia: “What’s left to find out?”

GM: “I haven’t heard her full version of events. You never know what little details of interest may come up. But I’m not sure you need to see any more of her in this state.”

Celia: “I will not let it be said that the thing in there chased me from the room.”

GM: “By my count driving a stake into someone’s chest is rather the opposite of being chased.”

Celia: “I’d love to know what other issues in her life she blames me for.”

GM: “Her blame isn’t completely without basis. That tape’s circulation destroyed her mortal life. She’d be fair to blame me for that too, though.”

Celia: “I know what I did to her.”

GM: “We all have a breaking point. Everyone can snap.”

“In any case. I’m going back to question her. If Lord Savoy decides she can’t be rehabilitated, I can ask him to give you two a last moment.”

Celia: “I have a question. Before you go. For you.”

GM: “What’s that?”

Celia: “I was looking into an addition at the spa.” The change in subject is clear: she has completely written off her sister. The deranged maniac in the next room is nothing to her. “One of the Nos mentioned something about a spell to keep out water for a room under sea level. Is that something you can do?”

GM: “It is,” says Pete. “Storage space?”

He doesn’t press the matter of her sister further.

Celia: “Yes.” Technically.

GM: “Okay. Tell me when it’s ready.”

Celia: Her face becomes no more animated as they talk about this than it had been in the room. Her tight jaw is the only indication that she is less than fine.

She nods.

“I’m going to wait for Lord Savoy.” Her eyes flick toward the door, then back to him. Maybe he sees the way her lower lip trembles for a fraction of a second before she presses her tongue to the roof of her mouth to stop it. Maybe he dismisses it as a trick of the light.

Maybe he knows what’s going on inside her head.

She blinks at him. “I’ll be upstairs.”

GM: Pete just looks at her for a bit.

“Okay,” he repeats simply. “Two last things before you go.”

“Well, three. The roof isn’t accessible when he’s not here. Party’s on the first floor. Probably be a while before he’s back on the roof.”

Celia: Maybe she’d been hoping someone would steal her from the roof. Or shove her off it.

GM: “But there’s a guy I know, if you’re still looking to set someone up with your mom.”

Celia: “Yeah?”

GM: “He’s single. Retired cop. Current P.I. My former partner.”

“He’s… a lot of things. But he’s a decent guy. Doesn’t have any family or kids of his own.”

Celia: “He’s not like us?” She has to check.

GM: “He’s a renfield. Independent. No domitor. Stays out of politics.”

Celia: “You trust him?”

GM: “He keeps a lot of secrets. I never knew he was on the blood until after my Embrace.”

A pause.

“I trust him where it counts. He was one of the guys I got to stand watch outside your mom’s hospital room, back when that went down.”

“You might not remember him. She probably doesn’t.”

Celia: It’s enough for her. She nods again. She might even smile, though it’s brief.

“I’ll see if I can talk her into a date. I could change your face, you know, if you wanted to come with me. Double up. Or observe from afar. Like a stakeout.”

Definitely smiling now.

GM: “I trust you can look after your mom. And I more than trust that a gorgeous Toreador can find a double date all on her own,” Pete says dryly.

“His office is 5666 Canal Street, if you want to meet him yourself.”

Celia: “Breaking my heart, Pete. Your friend got a name?”

GM: “Lou Fontaine.”

Celia: She nods and tucks that name away for future research. She’s never heard of him, but she hasn’t heard of a lot of ghouls, so that doesn’t surprise her. The Internet can tell her more.

“And the third thing?”

GM: “Watch your back.”

Celia: She waits. There has to be more than that.

GM: “There’s been a number of disappearances in recent months. Inside and outside the Quarter. Uptick in reported hunter encounters. For whatever reason, seems like they’ve been busier lately.”

“So watch your back. And watch what you say over phones.”

Celia: “Thanks, Pete.” She touches his arm. “I know you think…” She shakes her head. It doesn’t matter. “Thanks. I’ve always appreciated you.”

He’d called her gorgeous, so she knows he appreciates her too. She doesn’t tell him he slipped, though.

Tuesday evening, 8 March 2016

GM: Celia finds a text waiting on her phone from Emily as she returns to the accommodations with her ghouls.

Mom told me what’s up with Randy. Sorry what he’s putting you through.

Celia: Jade should calm down before she goes to the party. She should find a way to take the edge off. A bout with one of her ghouls, maybe, but they’re so fragile. She wants someone more sturdy to rake her claws down. Someone like Roderick, who she never minded putting her on her back.

But he won’t come here. Won’t respond to a text. They’d had no contact since that night in her haven. She knows it. Knows that asking is a waste of her time. That she shouldn’t even be thinking of him right now. He won’t come running because she had a bad day; their long ago promise to always be there for each other is nothing but an empty gesture that neither has broached since.

Maybe Gui is downstairs. She knows Veronica is. She could always see if she brought the thief around. Her two favorite Toreador, always good for a laugh. Or a fuck. Abellard’s words come back to her at the thought—spend as much time on your back as you do looking in a mirror—and then Pete’s snide comment about the Toreador, too. Her lip curls.

She scrolls to the text from Emily. Is nothing in this family secret?

Thanks, Em. We’re working on it. Mom gave me some good advice. Hey, speaking of, I might have a friend to set her up with. She includes the cat emoji with the star eyes.

GM: Oh awesome! Who’s the guy?

Celia: Former cop, ha!

GM: Well she said she liked a guy in uniform.

Or at least formerly in uniform lol

Celia: What kind of cute things you think they’re gonna do? Minigolf?

GM: Maybe dancing actually? Something inside Mom’s comfort zone that she knows she’s good at.

Celia: Oh yeah you’re right, that’s a good idea. Bet I can convince her to get a new dress, too.

This is gonna be fun.

GM: Yeah I bet you can she likes shopping.

She does. It’s her one ‘guilty pleasure’ besides the spa visits. After so long shopping at thrift stores following the divorce, she’s enjoyed being able to afford nice clothes.

I’ll try and see if I can watch Lucy that evening. Med school is just so brutal.

Celia: Almost over though.

GM: Residency pretty brutal too. But yeah. Finally get to introduce myself as doctor.

Celia: Dr. Em.

You gonna make Robby take your last name?

Mister and Doctor Rosure.

GM: Haha. Not thinking any further ahead than surviving med school right now. I knew it was intense but it’s just been beyond crazy this last year.

Celia: Anything I can help with?

GM: Eh it’s been a good crazy too. Think I’ve found a mentor with one of the doctors.

Celia: Nice! What do they have you doing?

Wait is this like a Grey’s Anatomy mentor??? ;)

He cute tho? Lolol

GM: Hahaha NO she’s a woman and has as many kids as Mom anyway

Ok that was kinda sexist of me having kids doesn’t mean you want sex less

Celia: You’ve got a terrible role model in that department.

I don’t think she appreciated those passion parties

GM: Ugh don’t we know it


I still can’t believe you gave her vibrators for Christmas

Celia: The woman needs an orgasm before she dies.

GM: Like I thought the lingerie was already risque

Yeah I’d bet real money she’s never had one

Celia: Soon she’ll be old and dried out.

GM: ;(

Celia: And it’ll be bottles of lube.

GM: I don’t get how someone can have more kids than fingers on their right hand and never have an orgasm.

Celia: Religion: not even once.

GM: But yknow I kinda feel like virginity is a state of mind as much as it actually is whether you’ve had sex

Celia: That is the weirdest thing you’ve ever said to me.

I’ll let my dad know I’m still pure.

GM: I’m just saying it seems utterly bizarre someone can have as many kids as her and still never orgasm or barely even know what a vibrator is. It’s incongruent. It’s like she’s still a virgin mentally even if she isn’t one physically

I guess that’s religion and being a Republican tho

Celia: Did I ever tell you about that kid who told me he was still a virgin because he didn’t get off? Like he didn’t enjoy sex so he just didn’t count it.

GM: Yeah you did. Feel like your dad would still count any sex you had even if it was bad sex. Yay double standards

Celia: I spoke to Logan the other day. He said Dad is ‘proud of me.’

GM: Fuck him and fuck what he’s proud of

Celia: Pretty much.

GM: If Logan was even telling the truth

Your dad thinks I’m a ‘mongrel’ tho I know that’s true

Celia: Oh yeah he mentioned you two chatted. And that he hung up. :/

GM: Hitting your girlfriend is not okay. Not gonna tiptoe around it.

Celia: I told him the same. Can’t believe he did that.

GM: I used to think him and the others splitting time with Mom and Maxen was a good compromise. Except it’s like getting your bones broken, letting them heal, then breaking them again, ad infitum, and trusting the ER doctor to fix you up every time because they’re such a good doctor, then getting mad you’re always in pain

When the answer is to stop breaking your bones and not always needing a fucking doctor. Prevention always better than cure

Maxen is completely toxic. He’s breaking their bones as fast as Mom can fix them

And no matter how well she does it’s always gonna hurt and there’ll be cumulative long term damage

I don’t know what else we coulda realistically done at the time but letting him stay in their lives was horrible for them

Celia: Nothing we could have done. But they’re out now. They’re all at college. I’ll see if I can find David a job or different internship, I’m working with Logan, and Soph is… well, you know.

The less they see him the better now.

GM: I’m just so fucking thankful he never got his hands on Lucy. Genius idea what you did there.

I love that kid so much. She’s growing up right.

Mom there to be sweet, us to toughen her up.

I kinda wonder if that’s why Mom isn’t dating. If she thinks we have a great thing going and doesn’t want to jinx it bringing someone else in

Celia: Eh. Maybe. It’s not like bringing someone into the picture is going to have Lucy calling him “dad” though.

We’ll talk to her and see how it goes I guess. I don’t think she NEEDS someone to be fulfilled, but I’d like to see her get back out there again.

Healthier role model for the kids when they are with her.

GM: Agreed. Think you were right ~7 years ago tho. Someone older w/ grown kids or w/o kids is best

Celia: Well if this guy is a retired cop he’s older. Friend told me he’s got no kids. Think it’s perfect.

GM: Can also say from personal experience it’s never too late to start thinking of someone as a parent

Celia: Awww you’re right.

GM: :)

Yeah retired guy sounds great

Celia: I’ll hook it up.

Celia closes out of the message with Emily. She’s no less wound than she was when it started; it had done little to take the edge off, only reminded her that she, too, needs someone in her life. Unlife. Whatever.

For all that she hasn’t been around him in years, Roderick Durant sure has been on her mind lately. She scrolls through her phone to stare at his name in her contacts list.

She’d left him alone. All this time. Hadn’t gone back to the Anarchs. Hadn’t pushed her way in. Hadn’t called or texted or seen those games of his for herself. Was that why the Nossies were so rude to her? She recalls he was “in” with them. Maybe it was payback for… what, breaking his heart when she was 19 and still alive? That’s a stretch. They’re just dicks. A society of raging dicks, that’s what Lebeaux had once said.

She makes a noise. Might be disgust. For the months after she’d spent almost every night at her haven, the one she’d taken him to. Pretending to paint, to practice her face in the mirror, writing, reading, waiting. Waiting for him to show up. Waiting for her sire to show up. Waiting on boys.

Well, she’s done waiting. She doesn’t need either one of them. She’s going to go fuck Veronica or Gui or Pietro or maybe all three, throw in Lord Savoy himself for good measure. Maybe she’ll give that twat Preston a tumble, see if the bitch ever unwinds and lets her hair down. No, that’s unkind of her; Preston had seen to it that Jade knew what she needed to in order to get by with the older licks, and once she’d gotten it down they hadn’t had any issues.

She sets her phone down and changes into the dress Alana had brought for her. Short, tight, black: it checks all the right boxes.

GM: Alana is more than happy to help her into it. The ghoul is still naked except for the leather harness’ crisscrossing black straps.

“You can’t seduce Pete if you always show up in such boring clothes, mistress,” she purrs as she helps her domitor dress.

Celia: “What makes you think I want to seduce Pete?” Jade asks, amused, as if she hadn’t just been thinking the same.

GM: “Why wouldn’t you want to?” Alana only laughs.

Celia: Because he’s the only lick around whose good opinion means as much to me or maybe even more than my sire’s.

Jade just offers the ghoul a coy smile.

“I’ll take it under consideration. Did you happen to find out if Madam Alsten-Pirrie brought her lover?”

GM: “Not for sure, mistress, but last I heard they haven’t been fighting. It seems pretty likely he’ll be by if she is.”

She strokes Jade’s exposed underbreast. “I just love the cut of this dress. Pete and Pietro would too, I bet.”

Celia: Even when they’re not fighting they’re fighting. Jade can’t help but smile at her ghoul’s persistence. She is not seducing Pete. The poor lick will have whiplash if she bounces from trying to set him up with her mother to trying to claim him for herself.

“I have a task for you, starting tomorrow. New phones. Three of them. I’m also going to need you to use mine during the day to keep up appearances. This… fiasco with the hunters has shown me just how delicate our little ruse is.”

She touches a hand to Alana’s cheek, trailing a thumb across her lips.

“How would you like to be me for a week? Put in some appearances.”

GM: “I’d like to do anything you’d like, mistress,” Alana smiles at her touch. She kneels and rubs her head against the Toreador’s leg like an affectionate dog.

“Different phones. Actually being around during the day. You’re so smart.”

Celia: “You know you’ll have to act like Celia if you take this role.” Jade looks down at the ghoul. Even she isn’t that submissive. She runs her fingers through Alana’s hair. “We’ll practice later, pet. Stay here with Randy; poor boy looks so forlorn over his missing cheek. Be a good girl and I’ll come get you shortly.”

GM: Alana rubs her head against Jade’s leg again, closing her eyes. “Yes, mistress. I won’t let you down.”

Randy is konked out on the bed. It’s easy to overlook that her servants are diurnal by nature.

Celia: Poor boy. She’ll fix him soon, she promises herself. As soon as she can get back into the spa and collect the necessary materials. What a waste of a trip to the sewers; it irritates her again just thinking about it.

“The warden told me that you and Randy hid the phones from him, ’Lana. Where are they?”

GM: At least she has the materials. Two mostly fresh bodies.

Alana looks marginally alarmed that the Tremere saw through her.

“Under the mattress, mistress. I thought you might want to look at them first.”

Celia: “I do,” Jade confirms, moving toward the bed. “Very clever of you. You’re not in trouble, sweet, don’t look so shaken. He didn’t accuse you of lying, only mentioned he thought it odd they didn’t have any.”

She lifts the corner of the mattress to find the phones and pulls them out. She could just hand them over to Pete, she knows, but… last time she’d handed him evidence he’d refused to tell her what it was he’d found, and she’d almost died for these stupid phones. She isn’t going to take the chance that they leave her in the dark again.

Make yourself useful, they’d said to her.

So she will.

She presses the button in the bottom center of the screen to wake the phones up. Enter PIN, greets her from one, while the other displays a 3×3 grid of dots for her to trace over. This one, at least, will be easier to get into than trying to hack a PIN-protected phone.

If only they took a print, she thinks mournfully. It’d be so easy to nip down to the cooler and take off a finger to get inside instead of trying to guess a PIN or draw a pattern. How many combinations of four digit numbers are there? Ah, yes, thousands.

Jade doesn’t have time to try thousands of PINs. Nor is she willing to hand these phones over to the warden without doing a cursory search of them herself. His earlier words come back to her: while you’re busy on Instagram there’s a war going on around you. Fuck you too, Pete, for thinking she’s so busy with her page that she doesn’t understand what’s at stake for the rest of their kind. She had been captured. Kidnapped from her business. Not by someone older, stronger, and wiser than her. Not for venturing into Tulane without permission. No, she’d been abducted from a place that is supposed to be safe. Supposed to be hers. Kidnapped, missed her meeting, stabbed, body parts cut off, fucked by that piece of shit.

Fuck them if they think their phones are going to hide further secrets from her. Fuck Pete if he thinks she’s handing these over without getting into them on her own. Every snide comment anyone has ever made about her—pretty but stupid, spend as much time on your back as you do looking into your mirror—comes back to her. She’d killed two hunters. Not only that, she’d given them misinformation; if they had spread the word it’s full of lies, sending them running after someone else’s dogs.

She pulls at the thing inside of her. The monster that has taken over. Lets it come sniffing to the surface on a tightly held leash. She controls it, not the other way around. Seek, she tells it, and it does, drawing her eyes to the residue on the screen.

Residue left behind by the oils in human fingers. Pattern-protected phones are less secure than their PIN-protected counterparts. Unless the hunters had wiped them off recently—and it doesn’t look like they had, filthy as the screen is—the pattern will still be there. Seared into the phone.

Light, she thinks, taking the phone to the floor lamp in the corner of the room to view the smudges left behind.

She’d heard once that to protect your phone with a pattern is just asking for trouble, and now she sees why: under the light it’s easy to distinguish the prints left behind from human hands. They’re clustered toward the bottom of the screen, where the virtual keyboard usually hangs out and people spend most of their time. But there, in the center of the screen, is the information she’s looking for: a clear pattern that had been traced over and over and over again. Stupid design, really, to have the unlock so much higher than the rest of the keyboard, but she supposes there are flaws in every design.

Except hers. Celia and Jade are both flawless.

She winks at her reflection in the black surface of the phone before she traces her finger across the pattern, following the tracks left behind by the hunter.

GM: Flawless in visage.

Flawless in deed.

The Beast’s eyes make out what Jade’s can’t. The phone’s screen looks like it was smudged, perhaps by one of the hunters’ hands, perhaps by Alana’s. But there’s still enough of an oil-based residue under the light for Jade to re-trace the pattern. Her own fingers leave no residue behind. She supposes that makes pattern unlocks more secure for Kindred than kine. Just another perk to being dead.

The Solaris comes open with a light click.

Celia: Something like pride flares up inside of her as the phone opens. She makes a note of the pattern for future use, though perhaps she’ll just change it to a PIN code. Her fingers flick across the touch screen, swiping from right to left to take stock of the apps on the phone, looking for anything… unusual. Not that she expects to find something as obvious as “Hunter Info—Please Click Here,” but some people are less than intelligent. Case in point: this phone’s lock screen.

She can only assume that if the hunter was stupid enough to use a pattern she is stupid enough to leave other clues as to their identity lying around. Jade navigates to the settings and turns off the location data, then begins a methodical search: text messages, call logs, internet browser, photos, any other messaging apps she has on her phone, social media, banking. Anything that will give Jade a clue as to who this girl is or who she’s working with.

GM: The phone’s contents may at once be more and less than Jade may have hoped.

There are no banking apps, but there is an Instagram app that’s open to Celia Flores’ thousands-followed page. That’s it, so far as social media. The recent browser history consists of searches for Celia Flores. There are some pictures taken of Flawless and the license plate of Celia’s car. There’s also a text message which says that “we’ve picked up groceries” and asks where and when would be best to drop them off. The nameless contact replies with an address in Bridge City along with “1 PM tmrw.”

Celia: She checks the time stamp from the messages.

As an avid user of Instagram, Jade knows that in order to use the app on the phone there has to be an account created and summarily logged into. She presses the icon down in the lower right hand of the Insta feed’s screen to take her to the girl’s account to see what she can find.

If there’s nothing on the account, at least she had to register with an email address. She can check that, too, while she’s in the phone. See if there’s any incoming or outgoing emails that the girl forgot to delete.

If not, well, she’s at least got something. An address and a phone number.

Is it weird that she’s flattered they knew who she was?

GM: The account looks like a dummy one created with a dummy email.

However, a backup email address exists for the dummy email in the event of a lockout:

GM: Alana rubs her head against Jade’s knee again.

“You’re so smart, mistress, getting into their phone like that.”

Celia: Perfect. Jade finds a piece of paper and jots it all down. There’s more she could look into, she supposes: date of creation for the dummy account and if it followed anyone else, perhaps as a way to mark targets; recent browser searches; the address itself in Bridge City (also who the fuck even lives in that cesspit across the river?).

It’s enough for now. Pete might be pleased she’d managed to get into the phone for him, at least. Pat on the head forthcoming, like she does for Alana when the girl rubs against her.

The memory of that sugar-laced blood is thick on her tongue. Artificial. Like Alana’s affection for her, she supposes, and the thought… well. She doesn’t dwell.

“You did well today, ’Lana,” she tells the girl. “I’m proud of you. Even in pain you didn’t betray your mistress.” Her nails lightly scratch across the surface of Alana’s scalp.

GM: Alana glows under the praise, like always.

“Beauty takes pain, mistress. So does anything worthwhile.”

Celia: “The night before last I woke up to the strap-on again,” she says at length. “Is that what you wish from me? To take you in truth?”

GM: She leans in to her domitor’s touch.

“I’d love nothing more, mistress,” she purrs. “Besides going to the party with you, for everyone to see how you own me.”

Celia: “You know what they do to your kind at these parties,” Jade says fondly, stroking her hand down the ghoul’s cheek. She sets the phone aside and pulls Alana onto her lap. “Prettiest girl at the party,” she whispers in her ear, “do you want them all to use you like I do?”

GM: Alana nuzzles her domitor’s breasts.

“Whatever makes you happy, mistress. I just want them to see I’m yours.”

Celia: “What I want, pet, is to take the cock from the would-be hunter and fashion it to myself so I can fuck you.”

“Then we’d both have been fucked by the same cock; what’s more special than that?”

GM: “I can’t think of anything, mistress,” Alana beams.

Celia: “But we can’t do that tonight,” Jade says, tilting Alana’s face towards hers, “so I’ll save that thought for later. We’ll make an evening of it, when we’ve both recovered from this ordeal. Tonight, then, I’ll bring you down, and we’ll play mum about the escapades with the hunters, and I’ll let them play with you. As you wish. A reward, for services rendered.”

GM: “Thank you, mistress,” the ghoul smiles. “And can I say how how amazing an actress you were, back with those hunters. You were so fragile and innocent I almost believed it too.”

Celia: Jade is not immune to praise, even if it comes from one she’s so handily collared. A smile spills across her face, radiant.

“Often these licks think that aggression is the only way, that a display of strength or brute force will get them out of everything. Sometimes a more delicate touch is needed to survive an ordeal. You disarm them by playing human.” She presses her lips to Alana’s throat. The flutter of the girl’s heartbeat is there, right beneath the surface. She wants to drink… but, oh, she’s already done so; she won’t leave the ghoul weak before her appearance at the party. Let the others have their fill of this beauty. She settles for nipping at her neck instead, teasing with lips and teeth.

“People reveal who they truly are when you play at being stupid.”

“I think, perhaps, I’ll try out for a movie soon. I’d like to grow my brand beyond the online crowd, and… I had a dream…” Jade shakes her head. The details don’t matter to the girl on her lap. She won’t tell her of the dream. “Get me a meeting with the man from Zodiac, won’t you, pet?”

GM: “Yes, mistress,” Alana nods, even as she presses her own lips to the leaning-in Jade’s head in turn.

“And you’re right, like always. There are so many guys who look at me and think ‘airhead,’ just because you made me beautiful. But it can be useful for them to think that.”

Celia: “Always use the tools you’re given. You’re much more cunning than an airhead.” Jade trails her lips higher along Alana’s neck. Her teeth don’t split the skin despite her desire. “Silly them if they underestimate us because of how we look.”

Her hands traverse Alana’s chest, pinching and pulling at her nipples so that she makes the sound Jade enjoys so much. Happy noises.

GM: The ghoul obliges with all-too evident happiness. Soft little gasp-like moans. Her nipples stiffen under her domitor’s touch, and Jade can tell how wet she is, too.

Celia: “You’re dripping, pet,” Jade whispers in her ear.

GM: “I can’t help it, mistress, with how hot you are,” Alana breathes back.

Celia: Her fingers slide inside the girl, curling upward to find that spot inside of her that makes her shudder. Her thumb traces circles around her clit.

“I can’t wait to show you off,” she tells her, “everyone is going to know you belong to me, they’re all going to want a taste… you make your mistress so proud, pet. Such a good girl.”

GM: The ghoul’s moans deepen as she breathes heavier, her breasts rising and falling.

“Yes… mistress… I’m your property… your happy toy…”

Celia: It crosses her mind to tease the girl. To draw it out, make her mourn the loss of the fingers dancing inside of her. Leave her begging and panting for more. Jade likes it when she begs.

She doesn’t, though. She presses that spot with the pads of her fingers until her ghoul is well and truly spent, until she can feel the walls of her pussy clamping down around her fingers; she keeps them moving even then, prolonging the pleasure for her favorite toy.

GM: Her toy squeals. Her toy moans. Deep and throaty. In short order, she’s a goopy, wet, orgasming, and finally spent mess on Jade’s lap, her cheeks flush with color. She tenderly rubs the back of her head against Jade’s neck as she half-whispers, half-pants,

“I… love you… mistress…”

Celia: Jade beams at her pet. Such a good little toy. She tells her so, that she’s a good girl, that there’s all this and more waiting for her down at the party, that she deserves every pleasure imaginable for her actions today. She strokes her hands up and down Alana’s body fondly, once more nipping at her neck. She breathes it into her ear, “Your mistress loves you too,” the half-lie dripping from her well-practiced tongue. Loves her like a toy. Like a favored pet.

She wouldn’t hurt her toy by telling her the full truth. Let her believe the beautiful lie. It’s sweeter that way.

Tuesday evening, 8 March 2016

GM: Jade passes some more time playing with her ghouls until the party is due to start. Alana begs to come with her domitor when Jade considers leaving the spent ghoul behind.

“Please, mistress. I love it when everyone can see how you own me.”

Celia: Jade nuzzles the girl’s cheek with her own. “I didn’t even get to tell you that I stopped at Hustler Hollywood on the way home from campus to pick us up new toys. Don’t you want your collared debut to be with all the things that mark you as mine?”

GM: The ghoul’s eyes shine.

“Oh, yes, mistress! I’d love to wear whatever you’ve picked out for me.”

Celia: “Then we’ll make a spectacle of it. The great unveiling. Do you up in all your glory, put little roses in your hair… oh, ‘Lana, it’ll be divine. Let’s not spoil it by letting them see you without.”

GM: “Oh, yes, mistress!” the ghoul purrs, rubbing her head against Jade’s breasts. “That does sound divine. I can’t wait to see what you’ve picked out for me. I’ll wait. Good things come to those who wait.”

“I had another idea…” she murmurs, rubbing her head lower against Jade’s stomach. “You could give yourself a cock, and make yourself bleed through it, when you want to give me juice. So it’d be like you cuming inside my mouth. Like a real blowjob.”

She rubs her face along Jade’s groin next, planting kisses over the Toreador’s crotch.

“It’d be an honor to suck you off like that, mistress.”

Celia: Jade runs her hands through the ghoul’s hair.

“I love that idea, ‘Lana. I’ll need to do some research to make sure I get the tubing right, but once we try it one time we can keep it going, and I’ve got plenty of material to work with now.”

What a thought. And Jade had always mused that she was the depraved one.

GM: Alana tilts her head enough so that Jade can see her beam.

“You could also give Randy his juice that way, too,” she suggests with an amused purr.

Celia: Jade had considered that.

“Come now, pet, the boy has it bad enough. He doesn’t get nearly the attention from me that you do.”

GM: “It’s an honor to suck you off, mistress. He needs to think of it like that. He needs to accept that any attention from our mistress is a gift.”

“It’s his business if he wants to go around sucking other people’s cocks, but if he really loved you, he’d be happy to suck yours.”

Celia: “Do you suck off other people, ’Lana?”

GM: She rubs her head against Jade’s crotch again. “Never, mistress. My body belongs to you. I don’t get to decide what other people do with it. That’d be like stealing, to let someone else fuck it without your permission.”

Celia: Jade pats her head affectionately. That’s a good girl.

“If Randy fails me again maybe I’ll have you show him how it’s done, then.”

GM: “Oh, I’d be happy to show him, mistress,” Alana purrs. “It’d be a real bonding moment, for us to take turns sucking you off.”

She looks up with a delighted expression.

“You could even give yourself two cocks, so we both could, at once! Like how moms with more than one baby sometimes nurse both.”

Celia: “I wish you would bond with him,” Jade says with an affected sigh. “You know I hate it when you two squabble.”

GM: “I’d love to bond with him, mistress. I can’t think of a better way than by helping you get off together.”

“You’re not like other licks, you’ve said. You can still enjoy it.”

Celia: “Maybe I’ll have him fuck me while I fuck you, then. You think he deserves it? Seven years and I’ve told him no every time.”

GM: “I don’t think he deserves to put his cock inside you, mistress. That would take something truly outstanding. But for good behavior, he should get to take your cock inside him.”

“He deserves to be fucked by you, not for you to be fucked by him.”

Celia: How amusing. She’d offered to let Randy fuck her the other night and he’d turned her down, then refused to listen to her in the rat’s territory. Maybe he’ll find a way to make it up to her. If not, Alana’s suggestion bears some consideration.

Jade tousles her hair.

“Keep an eye on him for me while I’m downstairs. Let me know if he wakes up and does anything particularly silly.”

Support: He stirs slightly in his sleep, as if to promise that he probably will.

Celia: Jade inclines her head toward Randy, as if to say ‘see?’

She makes to stand, moving Alana off of her, the phones she’d lifted from the hunters in her grip.

“I need to see the warden before I can enjoy my evening. Sit tight, pretty. And get some rest. You’ve a big day tomorrow.”

GM: Alana nods from the floor and nuzzles Jade’s knee. “Yes, mistress. Thank you for making the next party so special for us.”

Celia: A final smile for both her toys sees her from the room.

Tuesday night, 8 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jade doesn’t know how long she was occupied with her ghouls and the phones that are now clutched in her hand. Long enough for the party to start, but she hadn’t been paying particular attention to the minutes themselves. She looks for Pete first in the room in which they’d interrogated Roxanne and, failing that, his office.

GM: Sound is inaudible through the door where Roxanne is being interrogated, though Pete’s ghoul Eric is standing outside. The large, bald man asks if Jade wants to see “the boss” in his distinctly high voice, then knocks on the door. Pete reappears.

“Miss Kalani?”

Celia: Jade waits until the door closes behind him to speak.

“Sorry to interrupt, Warden Lebeaux. I have the phones for you from the two who grabbed me and additional information. Is now a good time?”

GM: “My conversational partner isn’t going anywhere.”

Celia: Of course not. She’s bound to a piece of bondage gear.

“I managed to get into one of the phones. I didn’t bother with the other, not without the proper tools. Have a name for both of them. A contact number for these ‘others.’ And… a, ah, meeting time and location. To hand me off. For tomorrow.”

GM: “Oh, really?” Lebeaux looks thoughtful. “Might be a chance to find out a lot more from these people.”

Celia: “I had the same thought.”

GM: “You could disguise us as those two pretty well.” He frowns. “Though probably at day. Ghouls, then.”

Celia: “1:00PM,” Jade confirms. “But… yeah. I thought a ghoul or two. Maybe some others to bring them in, if needed. And if they need a body, I could come up with something.”

Jade’s eyes don’t quite flit toward the door.

GM: The Tremere looks at her, then motions for Eric to leave. The ghoul does so.

“You want to hand your sister off to hunters?”

Celia: She almost says yes. She also almost says no. In the end she shakes her head.

“I meant one of their bodies. Altered. It’s dead, but… y’know.” Jade shrugs. “Shove a stake in it and they… might not know.”

GM: “They might not. Could also stick a bug inside it. But they’ll know they’ve been had, if these people aren’t rubes. Show up empty-handed and we might be able to stretch this out.” He thinks. “Granted, might not be able to anyway, depending on what they want. If their only interest is more staked licks, might as well get as much mileage out of a bug as we can.”

Celia: “Bug the stake itself, might keep it to use in the future.”

GM: “Smart. Make it a high quality one. They could toss the corpse, but stake less likely. And likely to be somewhere we’d want to snoop in the future.”

Celia: Jade nods. “Do you have a pair in mind to send? I’ll need some time to get them ready for tomorrow. And a body for the lick.”

This time her eyes do flick past him toward the door. “Anything, ah, interesting?”

GM: Pete’s initial response dies at Jade’s question.

There’s a… troubled, is perhaps one way to put it, look to his eyes.

“There’s no delicate way to put this. And maybe better you hear it from my lips than hers.”

“You’re an aunt.”

Celia: “…oh.”

“Wha…? Um.” She’s thrown. It’s obvious in the way she stumbles over her words. She opens and closes her mouth twice, then, “…my dad’s?”

GM: Pete looks as if he’s weighing his words for a moment, then just settles on,


Celia: Her fault.

Her fault.

Her fault.

The world pulls away from her until all she can see is Isabel tied to the bed, Maxen violating his daughter, her broken smile when he finishes.

She sways on her feet. Shakes her head. Swallows against the lump in her throat, but it doesn’t go anywhere.

“Um.” Celia blinks large eyes at him. “Where… where is it? The kid? Who has it?”

“I mean. Does he…?”

How many lives had she ruined?

GM: “Him,” says Pete. “It was a boy.”

Celia: A boy. A little Maxen.

Was he proud when the kid was born?

Another son. Seven kids. Seventh son. Isn’t there some sort of magic in that?

She thinks she asks Pete that same thing, forms the words without conscious decision.

GM: But does it count as a son or grandson?

Celia: Both.


GM: “Well, in Romanian folklore, a seventh son is destined to become a vampire,” says Pete.

Celia: “Oh, well, his mom and aunt beat him to it.”

“Does Maxen have the kid? I… assume he knows it’s his?”

GM: “The folklore varies by country,” he continues, as if to temporarily take Celia’s mind off things. “Sometimes it has to be a seventh son with no daughters in between. Sometimes it’s the seventh son of a seventh son. People had larger families in agrarian societies than they do now, so that wasn’t as rare it might sound.”

“The kid’s name is Ethan. He lives with his aunt Mary. She and her husband couldn’t conceive.”

Celia: Aunt Mary. Celia hasn’t seen Aunt Mary since her grandparents died. Some… weird family drama that set Maxen against everyone else, Celia was too young to remember.

“Do they know?”

GM: “Your sister said she doesn’t know if they do.”

Celia: “Two women in the same night and they both end up pregnant.” What are the fucking odds?

GM: “Well, that’s what can happen when you don’t use a rubber.”

Celia: “Is that why she blames me for her being that?” Celia points at the door.

GM: “You’d have to ask her that yourself. I didn’t.”

Celia: Celia reaches for the door.

GM: Roxanne’s inside. Still blindfolded, bolted up, and otherwise as her sister left her. It’s not as if their limbs get tired, so Celia supposes it’s less inhumane.

Celia: For a moment all Celia does is stare at her bound sister. How is it possible that it has come to this? That two sisters grow so far apart that they’re each willing to kill the other. How is it possible to hate someone so much when they share the same blood?

Family isn’t blood. The words echo inside her mind. Family is choice.

Isabel had made her choices. So had Celia. They’re not Isabel and Celia Flores anymore; they’re Roxanne and Jade, two broken girls from the same broken home.

She’d tried to protect her that night. Eighth birthday. Had sent her back up the stairs to hide under the covers like a good big sister should, had faced the monster on her own. Protector, right? Only that had died the moment their dad sold his soul to it. They’d both been marked that night.

She pulls the door shut behind her with a look at Pete. She needs a moment, the look says. A moment alone for the two broken girls.

GM: He just nods.

Celia: Once the door is closed her eyes seek the face of her sister. Her body is still mangled. Hungry, then. Has to be, or she’d fix all of this. Pete’s given her a bit, she’s sure, enough to keep her talking.

Jade strides forward.

“Heard Maxen knocked you up before you died.”

GM: Her face looks bad, still, past the blindfold. Flesh sliced down to the bone. Gangrel can fuck you up something fierce.

“What the hell is it to you!?”

Celia: “The girl you tried to kill belongs to me. I’m familiar with her story. What happened in that house.”

“Seems to me you’d be mad at the prick who set you against each other rather than her.”

GM: “Ohh, you’re Jade, is that right? Well it’s such an honor!”

“If you were a real Sanctified, you’d turn her right now!”

Celia: “Why?”

GM: Roxanne giggles.

“That’s my big sis! Guess she pulled one over even on you, huh?”

Celia: “Does it hurt knowing that your dad loved her more than you? ‘Lady of the house,’ wasn’t she? After your mom bailed. Didn’t love you anymore. Wow, that probably hurt. And then your dad picked your whore sister over you, huh? She was always prettier than you, wasn’t she. No wonder Maxen loved her most.”

GM: Roxanne screams and throws herself at Jade, the cuffs digging into her wrists as her fangs gnash.

Celia: “Oof. No wonder you carried the baby to term. Thought he might love you if you gave him a son?”

“Too bad he shunted it off to his sister. Shame, that’s what that is.”

GM: “You have no idea! No! Fucking! Idea!” Roxanne froths, tugging against the cuffs.

Celia: “I think I have some idea. Celia told me enough.”

GM: “She told you SHIT!”

Celia: “Oh?” Jade laughs. “I imagine you have a different version of events? Paint yourself as the hero, yeah?”

GM: “She’ll do to you! What she did to HIM! What she did to me! Just WAIT!”

Celia: “What am I waiting for, Roxanne? What did your whore sister do?”

GM: “Gimme a drink, if you really care!”

Celia: Jade laughs again. “I can make her hurt, you know. She’s disappointed me lately; give me a reason. Just one.”

GM: “Oh, just you WAIT! You don’t know what a snake that bitch can be!”

“I slapped her! Once! And she destroyed my whole life! Her fucking SISTER!”

Celia: Jade forces the air from her lungs in a sigh, long and heavy.

“I’m sure the two of you would have made up if you hadn’t died. The fact that you’re holding onto it when you’ve been given this new unlife is… kind of pathetic, really.”

GM: “Yeah? She’s my REAL sire!”

Celia: “She’s mortal,” Jade says flatly.

GM: “And that was a metaphor, stupid! You think she can’t fuck up your whole Requiem, that she won’t stab you in the back when you really need her, you just WAIT!”

Celia: If Jade weren’t Celia she might even be convinced.

“Your sob story is starting to bore me, Roxanne.”

Her nails shift while the Ventrue talks. They lengthen beyond the tip of her fingers, tapering into fine points. An ombre of maroon to black; Jade doesn’t do anything that isn’t pretty. Their sides are razor sharp.

She touches the back of one to Roxanne’s cheek.

“Scourge really fucked you up, didn’t she?”

GM: Roxanne’s fangs, already partly distended, just out all the way at Jade’s touch. A low hiss sounds from the Ventrue’s mouth.

Celia: Jade trails those cruelly pointed nails down the lick’s cheek and over her jaw, then to the soft skin of her throat. She doesn’t press hard enough to break the skin. Not yet.

“Your daddy, though. That’s an interesting angle. Still love your daddy, Roxanne? Even after he put a baby in you and made you carry it to term… then gave it away?”

GM: Roxanne clenches her jaw at the contact.

“As if a Toreador slut hasn’t put worse things inside herself.”

Celia: “That’s a yes.” Roxanne can probably hear the smirk in her voice.

“Do you think he’d stick it in me if I cut off your face and wore it over my own?”

The tips of her nails press against the underside of Roxanne’s jaw, as if she means to carve her now.

“Maybe I can give it to your sister, instead. See if your daddy’ll give your son a cousin. Or… sibling?”

“Or maybe,” she breathes into the Ventrue’s ear, “I’ll go carve up your son into tiny little pieces. Then you can forget about what a slut you were, spreading your legs for your daddy.”

“I saw the sex tape, by the way. Titillating.”

GM: The Ventrue gives another low hiss, though whether at the contact, the skin-digging words, or both is unclear.

“Too much of a coward to even say that to my face. Feel safe with your blindfold on?”

Celia: “Oh no,” Jade says, deadpan, “the bound Ventrue calls me a coward because she thinks it’ll make me take off her blindfold.” She makes a noise. Might be a huff, might be a laugh. “You really are as stupid as your sister says. No wonder your daddy doesn’t love you.”

“You know that your brother is one of my clients? He told me all about how proud your daddy is of your sister. Gushed about it.”

GM: “How typical of a Toreador to only look at the surface of something,” Roxanne sneers. “I’m still nine-tenths dead and probably in the middle of the Evergreen, you idiot. And while I don’t doubt I could crush a mind as stupid and vapid as yours like a beer can, with only you as my thrall I doubt it would even help.”

Celia: “You presume that I give enough of a fuck about you to give you whatever prestige you’re looking for by removing your blindfold. You’re sub-Kindred, Roxanne. Sub-human, even. I think the Nos’ pet ape ranks higher than you. You don’t deserve to look at me. You’re a whore, Roxie. Just your daddy’s little slut.”

“I was going to ask you for the passcode to your phone so I could let them know you said goodbye after we ash you, but I guess watching your family wonder what happened to you will be more amusing. Just another little cunt that couldn’t hack it after daddy went balls deep inside of her.”

“Though… I guess to wonder they’d have to care.”

GM: Frenzied howls tear from the restrained Ventrue’s mouth as she mindlessly throws herself at Jade, slavering and gnashing her fangs.

Celia: Ah, sweet victory. Jade’s smirk doesn’t quite reach her eyes as she turns away from the slavering sight of her sister. She opens the door and steps outside, yanking it shut behind her with a final click.

Her sister is dead. She’d died long before her Embrace, back in college when Celia had made their father beat her bloody. Something had snapped inside of her that there’s no coming back from.

Whatever victory she thinks she’s won, it rings hollow.

GM: Pete glowers at Celia upon seeing the smirk.

“Had a touching moment between sisters, I take it?”

Celia: Celia stares back at him. She tries to keep her face as neutral as she can make it, but she’s never been able to lie to Pete. She shakes her head.

“No.” Her voice is soft. The bitch that had gone into the room hadn’t come back out.

GM: “Well, thank you so much. I’m sure she’ll be just as cooperative now as I’d managed to make her before you walked in.”

Celia: A dozen snarky and self-deprecating comments flit through her head, but she bites her tongue rather than say any of them to him. She’d only be saying them to save face, and he… he’s right. She wilts. Like the weed she is, choking the life out of everyone around her.

She wants to tell him but she doesn’t think he cares. Society of raging dicks, right?

She offers an apology to the floor. It’s all she has now: shame and regret. She’d broken her sister. Rather than mend the bridge she’d torched it. And she’d let Pete down.

Why is that cut the deepest?

Maybe it would have been better if she’d let the stupid hunters keep her.

Celia has no idea why Alana thinks she’d want to chase after the warden. He’s like an older, more grizzled version of Roderick: just too… beyond her. Too morally good. The satisfaction she’d gotten from riling up her sister had faded as soon as she’d left from the room, turning to poison in her mouth. She doesn’t even think she’d felt anything in the moment, either.

Empty. She’s just… empty. As broken as her sister, only she hides it behind pretty dresses and makeup and multiple lovers. Debauchery and sin. As if that fills the gaping hole in her chest where her dad and sister used to be.

“I’m sorry,” she says again. “If you still want me to fix up the ghouls for tomorrow I can. I’ll be…” Celia gestures vaguely. It doesn’t really matter where she is. No one cares.

GM: She can hear it. In her dad’s voice.


Celia: Pete hasn’t said anything, though, and that silence is… oppressive. Worse than her dad’s voice inside her head. Worse than her sister’s screams. Worse than her mother sobbing. That weighty silence is killer.

She chances a glance up at him.

GM: “At least one I want is your grandsire’s, so I’ll have to talk with him.”

At Celia’s look, Pete effects a sigh.

“Odds are good Savoy isn’t going to let her leave the Evergreen. If that happens, might be she and Celia should have a face to face. If your mom hasn’t started hating your sister since we last spoke, maybe you should take a leaf out of her book. Last I checked you weren’t the one who got maimed, beaten, and raped as a result of Isabel’s choices.”

Celia: No, it was the other way around. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? That Celia is to blame for everything. Not fixing things with her sister. Not sheltering her from Maxen’s impossible standards. Abandoning her mom the night she needed her. Taking out her anger on her dad on the sister she’d already failed.

And then giving them up. All of them. For someone who doesn’t give a fuck about her. Who probably never will.


Her lower lip trembles as she looks at the detective. She tries to stop it by clenching her teeth together, flattening her tongue against the roof of her mouth, but then the burning starts in the corners of her eyes and the back of her throat. She turns away, pressing the heels of her hands against her eyes.

“I hate him. I hate him so much, Pete.” Her dad. Her sire. Herself, too.

Pete’s the wrong person to fall apart in front of. They all are, really. There was someone once, but she ruined that too.

GM: “I hear you. He’s done a lot to earn your hate,” Pete replies.

With her gaze averted, Celia can’t see what the look on his face might be.

“Look, stew over this and you’ll feel worse, since there’s squat you can do about him right now. Go do something nice for your family. You’ve got a mom, a grandma, and a gaggle of brothers and sisters. With that many relatives I’m sure you can think of something. You’ll feel better.”

“Probably best you avoid anything to do with your dad.”

Celia: Her shoulders don’t shake. She doesn’t need to breathe so there’s no hiccupping sobs or snot or spasming diaphragm. Just the faint smell of blood as it leaks from the corners of her eyes. She wipes at her face and her hands come away red.

It would be easier if she didn’t respect him as much as she does. Easier to just continue to be a shitty person, forget the consequences, mess up everyone around her and call it a night.

But she does respect him. She craves his approval as much or more than she has ever craved her dad’s. As much or more than she has ever craved her sire’s.

“Good job, kid,” she wants to hear him say just once in that gruff voice of his. Or have a conversation that doesn’t devolve into judgment. Christ, she’d take a pat on the back at this point.

Even now it’s like… like pity. It tastes of failure.

But Pete doesn’t want to hear about the misery and gut-wrenching guilt. They’ve all got ghosts. When she finally turns to look back at him she’s wiped the worst of it from her face. She nods. Tries to smile, even. It’s a faltering, broken thing. Like the rest of her.

“You’re right.”

Can’t tell him that every time she tries to do something nice she manages to mess that up, too.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia VI, Emmett VII
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Ayame Prelude

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia VI, Emmett VII
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia VIII

Story Twelve, Celia VI, Emmett VII

“You know how you feel utterly alone, sometimes, like nobody else can ever understand why you are the way you are?”
Emmett Delacroix

Date ?

Emmett: Emmett soars.

Above him, the sky yawns, the color of nothing. Below, the ruined city lays broken, the deathless things within reduced to specks and inaudible whispers. He likes it that way. His wings bear him higher, higher.

Soon New Orleans is so far below him as to render the ruins invisible, the destruction mundane. Up here, nobody can disturb him.

Higher, higher. He wonders if there’s such a thing as space, in the Shadowlands. Do ghosts burn in the atmosphere? Perhaps the planets, too, are hollowed-out husks of themselves, lifeless and remote in the Skinlands only to be even more dreary on the other side of the grave.

Eventually, he stops. His wings flutter and keep him airborne, but other than that, he surrounds himself with void.

He might howl, but then he’d have to hear himself.

At last, he is as a dead man ought to be.


But of course, soon he becomes bored. He conjures shapes to amuse himself, shadows and soft sound effects to accompany his low, ghostly theater.

Sandman, the dead fortune-teller called him.

And how did that old song go?

Somewhere, a sweet voice croons, almost more of its own volition rather than his.

“Mister Sandman, bring me a dream…”

What was that Caroline had said? “The sun’s been up for hours.”

His thoughts turn to Sami. His lover. His rapist. His victim.

The vampire.

His thoughts turn to her, and he wonders if vampires dream.

GM: The Shadowlands’ ashen skies are as gray as Em’s mood on those “worst days of my life” that he told Yvette about. The days that were just miserable and consisted of binging on Webflix, eating junk food, and lacking energy to so much as dress or shower. The days that were too miserable to even make for good stories.

That’s how gray the sky is.

Fat and miserable hail-like tears weep down over him. They’re cold. They hurt where they hit him.

It doesn’t even smell pure or fresh up here. It smells like mildew and rot. It smells like the entire world is decaying and he can’t escape it even up here. Bolts of lightning sporadically lance past in the distance. They don’t flash through the sky so much as burn through it, incinerating the clouds in their path and leaving only cheerless gray void behind.

Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream
Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen
Give him the word that I’m not a rover
Then tell him that his lonesome nights are over
Sandman, I’m so alone
Don’t have nobody to call my own
Please turn on your magic beam
Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream

Yet as Em ponders his question, the sky shifts. The rain intensifies. Becomes sheets rather than droplets, thick enough to swim rather than fly in.

It has color, too. Muted color, not as bright as he’d expect it to be. But the coppery aroma is overpowering.

What else, he supposes, would vampires dream about?

Sami is there, too. She’s naked and lazily floating through the sanguine waters, mouth open to drink everything in her path. Half-imagined faces and images sporadically form and dissolve, but none last for long. There is only the eternal flow of blood. Sami’s face is pretty still, but her fangs are too large for her mouth, and her features have a hard and predatory cast, like a jungle cat that just happens to occupy a human body.

Emmett: This is new.

But not unwelcome. A splash of color does him good, even if it is red.

He admires her form, but they’re both dead and all the fun is taken from it. Instead, he eyes the images that form like rapids in the rivers of blood.

GM: Emmett sees a bald and ebon-skinned man whose eyes gleam like polished ivory. They suck in the light, but reflect none. All is taken by him. All is consumed. He smiles through the flowing blood, displaying two so-sharp fangs. It is a dead smile that does not reach his eyes. His distant manner reminds Emmett of a prince: authoritative, self-assured, regal. He radiates an air of nobility that feels altogether distinct from the Malveauxes or Devillers. Some part of the deceased conman wants to bow and pay obeisance.

Emmett: His better nature, perhaps, with how easily he fights it off.

He can taste Sami’s fear of the bald vampire in the tinge it adds to the coppery stench.

A useful face to scare her with. It would go well with a name, but baby steps.

GM: The next figure is beautiful. She appears in the flower of late adolescence, and has delicate features, soft sun-blonde hair that falls slightly past her shoulders, and deep brown eyes. She smiles at Em, which together with her slight build and short-feeling height, give her a harmless appearance—the sort of girl who couldn’t intimidate a grade schooler.

Until her fangs poke out, at least.

Emmett: She looks like Cécilia, but for the eyes. Maybe that accounts for the secondhand envy that turns Em’s dead stomach as he looks at her.

Sami always was a jealous creature.

Inspiration takes him. He stares at the object of Sami’s bitterness, and conjures from the blood a scene he remembers: the hallways of McGehee, but formed from blood and viscera. It isn’t perfect, of course, but it feels like the place; here a corner of the classroom where she raped him, there a stretch of cheerful lockers made macabre by their new, crimson composition. Sami finds herself walking among schoolgirls made of angular contrasts, positive and o-negative, their faces indistinct yet a patchwork of features Em vaguely recalls from those many hours of auditions. They whisper incessantly as they part before her, giggling and scheming.

At the other end of the sanguine hallway is her rival, her features alone cast in haughty, disdainful relief.

She smirks at the vampire.

Whispers something to the indistinct girl next to her.

“Look!” her sycophant titters. “Sami’s naked in school!”

And she is, isn’t she? The hallway of phantom schoolgirls bursts with laughter, fluttering and merciless.

GM: The result, given the rest of the dream’s tenor, is perhaps predictable.

Sami goes berserk.

She leaps—no, pounces—at the Celia not-quite-lookalike like a panther and tackles her to the ground. There’s not an instant of hesitation as she rips open the blonde’s throat and ravenously drinks. The girl’s shrieks gorily cut off.

Emmett: The assembled not-schoolgirls’ laughter become higher and crueler.

“Look how sharp her fangs are! What a silly, beastly whore!”

And Sami hated that word.

She had told him that, once. She’d never told anybody else.

GM: The vampire looks up from her kill with a bestial howl of rage. Another schoolgirl dies just as gorily as Sami crashes into her, madly ripping and tearing.

Emmett: He looks, and smiles.

Be fun to mess with her some more, right?

Well, too bad.

He takes his leave.

GM: I’d think long and hard there.

Are you suuure?

Emmett: Not at all. If you have something interesting in mind, I might hear you. Or you can be unreasonable and we can fight again. I like my odds, you know. Have to win sometime. And now I know it tires you out. He studies his nails. So kind of a win/win, you ask me.

GM: Ah, but here’s the thing, Em.

You’ve made me so, so, so fucking strong, with all your dumb mistakes, I can fight you all day. I’m the fattest, happiest Shadow in all the Shadowlands.

And you know what else?

Every time you bring Maman a soul like you did there? I get even stronger.

So you wanna fight me, happy to oblige.

If I lose, whatever. It’s no loss.

But I win? You’re that much closer to being mine.

Emmett: But it is a loss, isn’t it? Forever’s a long time. The more I make you pay for fun, all the better. That’s what Cici was saying back there. War of attrition.

Huh. I really am smarter when you aren’t a part of me.

You want to play with her? I’ll arm wrestle you for it.

GM: Nah, you go ahead. We can leave her.

I’ll just take over when we see your little casper pals again. See what kind of trouble I can really cause.

Or maybe something more subtle around Cécilia than cum over her face.

If you’re so sure that whole ‘war of attrition’ favors you more than me.

Emmett: He lets it pass without comment.

Except to snicker.

I got all the subtle between us, cutie.

Date ?

Emmett: He leaves the dream almost without noticing that he is. Back to the storm, and the void.

He thinks for a minute. Though he can’t see it, the sun is out.

Which means every bloodsucker in the city sleeps, except the one he knows isn’t. Or maybe vamps don’t really mind staying up, after all.

And maybe the person he’s thinking of he’s figured all wrong.

But probably not.

Celia: The world does not change around him.

Perhaps he expects it to. A significant display of power should come with at least a change of scenery. A spark. An exploding star. Something, anything, that tells him he did it right. That there’s a bloodthirsty vampire in this dream with him. Everything he knows of her comes to mind: the blood at her spa, the fallen soul, the conversations they’d had about monsters.

Maybe he remembers her tapping her teeth that one time when she had tried to say it without saying it, after the night she’d called him up crying about bodies on the floor.

There is nothing.

Clouds float around him. Thick clouds that obscure the ground from his vision. Gray, dreary. He floats in one and out another. The water droplets inside the cloud freeze behind him, crimson in his wake. He can smell it: blood. It isn’t nearly as thick as Sami’s dream, just a twinge that tickles his nose, a spot of color in an otherwise achromatic land.

He floats.

Perhaps he is wrong.

Perhaps Celia is no more a vampire than he.


There. Something floating in the distance. Dark as the night around it. Darker, even, a spot of black; it sucks in the light around it, a black hole that nothing can escape. It would blend into the sky if not for the fluttering at the edges of its silhouette, silver from the light of the moon. Far off stars twinkle in the night above them.

What monster dreams of starry nights?

The fluttering fabric catches his eye, beckoning him closer. A dress, a gauzy thing of tulle that dances with every movement the floating thing makes. The girl to whom it belongs is draped in the dark thing’s arms, body bowed with one arm beneath her knees and the other at her back. Her feet are bare, head bent back, throat exposed. The dress is torn across her chest.

The thing has the vague form of a man, though his figures are blurry, indistinct. The shadows shift around him. And in his arms the girl Em is looking for.

Dark curls spill across her throat, float through the air behind her as their bodies drift along an unfelt breeze. The thing is at her neck, slurping. Red stains its mouth, her body; droplets of blood fall to the earth below, freezing before they ever hit the ground.

The thing stops drinking to whisper something in her ear.

“You’re safe now, baby girl.”

Emmett: And then it’s him, carrying her.

“Hey, Cici. It’s been a minute.”

Celia: Her eyes snap open at the sound of his voice. The dark figure is gone, another dream whisked away, and in his place…

“Emmett.” His name comes out as a whisper. She lifts a hand to touch his cheek.

Emmett: “Yeah,” he says, hollowly. “Look at you, huh?”

She touches his cheek. It’s a jolt when her fingers don’t go through his flesh.

“I went to your spa, earlier. But you weren’t there.”

Celia: Her fingers slide into his hair, eyes alight. Maybe it’s the moon. Or maybe she’s genuinely thrilled to see him.

“I thought they killed you.”

Emmett: “They did,” he says. “It’s not so bad once you get used to it. But you know that, anyway.”

He’s quiet, for a minute.

“You never visited.”

Celia: “I came. In the hospital. My grandmother told me you had been arrested, but you were…” Her eyes slide down him, as if looking for his legs. “I didn’t know how to fix you.”

GM: Her grandmother told him she sentenced him to death, too.

He made his own bed. He dug his own grave. He knew full well what not to do, and still did it anyway.

Emmett: He wiggles one foot. “Dying fixes a lot of things, turns out.”

They float there, for a while. Him carrying her.

“Would you like to go somewhere else? I can redecorate.”

Celia: The world is never as nice as it is in her dreams.

“We never got to explore the upstairs.”

Years ago. The date that wasn’t a date above his favorite restaurant. The memory of absinthe and rum dance across her tongue, like the two of them had twirled around the ballroom.

Emmett: “That’s true,” he says, and he twirls her neatly to her feet. He couldn’t pull it off in real life, but this is a dream.

When she lands, twirling under his arm, they’re on the same floor they danced over so many years ago. She’s dressed in the same clothes as then, too.

He leads her in a dance across the empty ballroom, the lights of the Quarter night outside the windows.

“I missed you,” he whispers in her ear. “Even when I didn’t know I was missing you.”

Celia: It’s all the same, though somehow more surreal than it had been in the flesh, and her arm is whole; it no longer dangles, broken and bound by a splint, and the steps she takes with him are not hindered by the smarting flesh of her backside. It’s a perfect replication. Mirror image, but better.

Even knowing who he is—the word cousin echoes through her mind—doesn’t make her maintain proper decorum. She holds herself close to him as they spin across the floor.

In her dreams she isn’t a monster; his whisper sends shivers down her spine.

“This was my last happy memory,” she tells him.

Emmett: “Well, now it doesn’t have to be. I can visit you tomorrow, if you like. And the day after. We can do whatever we want, in dreamland. I think that’s sort of my specialty.”

He spins her, and is content to dance in silence for a while; or near-silence. Soft music plays, swells with their movements.

“They made you a vampire,” he says, seconds or hours later, with her arms around his neck and his chin grazing her nose. “The night everything went to shit.”

“Is it silly that I’m jealous?”

Celia: She’s quiet as they dance, her eyes on him. His legs. His face. The eyes that she had found in someone else; she’d whisked him away rather than let go again.

She doesn’t deny his claim. When she smiles she shows teeth; an echo of a long ago smile, one where she had tried to tell him despite the warning of death.

“They killed us both,” she sighs, “but you stayed dead. I don’t want you to be dead.” Her lip trembles. She looks away. “We were supposed to be friends. Partners.”

Emmett: “I stayed dead,” he agrees. “But I’m here now.” His lips graze her forehead, and his fingers run through her hair. “We can be those things now. I was actually hoping that you would still want to be.”

They’re in his apartment, suddenly, splayed out on that too-small couch, limbs tangled.

“Do you want to be friends, cousin? Something else?”

His hand traces her thigh, slides under her dress.

“We’re alone, now. Me a ghost, you a lick. Nobody to judge.”

Celia: It’s a familiar scene. His couch, close together, his hands sliding up her thigh. The material parts before him. Something tells her this is wrong—cousins— but she doesn’t think she cares. Are they really still cousins if they’re both dead? She has imagined more heinous things than sleeping with her dead (ghost?) cousin.

This is how that night should have ended. Not with blood.

She remembers the rejection. It’s an old ache inside her chest. A blame for which she’d never pointed fingers. One moment of what she’d thought was happiness and then the soul-crushing rejection that had led to her entire world crumbling around her. Does he mean it now, or is he just playing games again?

Her fingers hook through his shirt, pulling him closer. Her lips find his neck, breath cool against the shell of his ear. She whispers that she missed him, then asks him what he wants.

Emmett: “To tell you,” her cousin says, as he waves away her clothing as if dismissing smoke. “I know what you did. The night we fucked.”

She’s naked, suddenly, in his arms. Pressed against him. It’s her dream, but his movie.

“I know you did to me what you did to Maxen.”

He doesn’t, actually.

But he’s pretty sure. And her face will tell him.

Celia: This isn’t the way the night is supposed to go. She’s naked but there’s nothing intimate about it; she’s exposed, vulnerable, looking up at him with eyes widened by surprise… and hurt.

“I didn’t.”

She doesn’t want this anymore. She moves to pull away, covering herself: an arm across her chest, a hand between her legs.

Emmett: He looks at her.

His face falls.

“I’m sorry. I must have been mistaken.”

The dream is still.

“I was going to say, that…”

“Well. I guess it doesn’t matter now.”

“I’m sorry I ruined your life, Celia. I ruined my own, too.”

“I’m sorry for scaring you. I thought… but it doesn’t matter. I was going to say, I’ve done bad things. Worse things, than that. And I know how much it hurts. The regret.”

“I’ll go. If you’d like.”

Go somewhere and rot, probably.

He stands, and she sees him as he is. The dead man, with the dead arm. The empty eyes. The dark wings.

“I’m sorry I… I’m sorry.”

Celia: His words keep her glued to the couch. She averts her gaze, but she doesn’t try to flee. Not like she had that night, when running made everything worse.

She listens. To his apologies, to his fragmented sentences, to the emotion beneath them.

To the boy that she raped just to prove she could.

“We were both broken,” Celia finally says to him. “You were just transparent about it, while I clung to some vague idea of pretend.”

Emmett: “But you broke because of me,” he said. “Should never have turned you down. I wanted you but didn’t want you to hate me. I should have kept you with me, that night. I’m sorry,” he says again, uselessly.

“Let me make it better.”

Celia: “You can’t put me back together, Em. Life doesn’t work that way. Once you crumple a flower it stays crumpled.”

Emmett: “But I can kiss it better.”

He reaches for her. Pulls her close, slowly.

“We can pick up the pieces.”

Celia: Flowers don’t have pieces, she almost tells him, just petals and stems and sometimes thorns, and when you pull them apart they die.

She’s wary. He’d been the catalyst before, there’s no denying the hand that he’d had in her fate. But she’d made choices, too. She can’t blame him for everything that had happened. She’s stiff, but doesn’t pull away.

“Why?” she finally asks. “Why me? Why now?”

Emmett: “Because you’re the only family I have left that wants me around,” he says, hating himself for not being able to think of a lie.

Celia: Not for her, then. For his own reasons.

No one ever wants Celia for herself.

The disappointment is clear on her face.

“Oh,” is all she says.

Emmett: “And that I trust.”

“And… might trust me.”

“And because I was telling the truth when I said I missed you, even though I couldn’t remember exactly why, beyond that you treated me like a real person when nobody else would.”

Celia: “What do you mean, you don’t remember why?”

Emmett: “I do now, but they… did things. To my head. To make me forget what we did. What I saw on the tape. What happened to you. I was a mess when I got out. I couldn’t keep what happened straight in my head.”

Celia: “They do that,” she says. They. Not we. “They’ve done it to me.”

She quits fighting against him. If he wants to pull her close again she doesn’t move to stop him, though her arms and hands remain firmly where they are against her naked body.

Emmett: “I should have known,” he says, and as he wraps an arm around her her body is draped in a blanket, protected, soft.

“You know how you feel utterly alone, sometimes, like nobody else can ever understand why you are the way you are?”

He lifts her chin to stare into her eyes. “We don’t need to feel that way anymore.”

Celia: She does know. She hates being alone. There’s no one to talk to about things, no one she can trust, no one she can turn to that won’t seek to use it against her.

She pulls the blanket tighter around her shoulders, sinking into it.

“Isolation is devastating to the human psyche.” She’d read that somewhere once, and she’s often wondered if their self-imposed isolation is what makes licks so awful to each other.

“You told me, once, that I could come back to you. But then you disappeared.” They both had.

Emmett: “Only for a time. When I could come back… well, I’m here now. And so are you.”

He squeezes her shoulder, to reassure her of his presence.

Celia: The gesture does what it’s meant to. Less wary, Celia curls against him, a position that might have become familiar had things not panned out this way.

“Are you back for good?”

Emmett: “If I have anything to say about it. I’m still pretty new to this.”

“This dream stuff, too. Can you imagine doing this all the time? We could have so much fun, and nobody would be able to touch us while we dream together.”

The couch doesn’t move, but the world around them swirls like wet paint that takes on new shapes and colors. A star-filled night on a ship manned by pirates in cute outfits, bright rags and scarves.

A castle with soaring turrets, a bayou creaking with the noises of insects.

The sun. Warmth on her skin.

He laughs, delighted. “We can go anywhere.”

Celia: The sudden appearance of the sun makes the thing within her chest snarl. Its claws scrape and grind against her insides, yowling its displeasure. She feels it rise up inside of her and pushes it back down with as much of her focus as she can spare; outwardly she doesn’t so much as flinch, though she does pull the blanket up over her head and tucks herself further into Emmett’s body. As if his slight form will shield her from the rays.

“Mermaids,” she says, “underwater.” Underwater, where the sun can only penetrate so far.

Emmett: ”Under the sea!” chirps a certain trademarked cartoon crab, and the sun’s rays are suddenly replaced by the faint feeling of water against her skin. They aren’t soaked, though, even though when she looks up she sees the titular mermaid of this particular movie zooming overhead in response to the dance number.

“Don’t tell anyone,” Em says, dead serious, “but this was always my favorite Disney movie.”

Celia: Celia’s hair can’t escape the blanket to float around her head the way it should beneath the water, but that doesn’t stop the smile that spreads across her face at the sight of the crab, mermaid, and fish swimming just in front of them. She thinks she hears them singing, but that might just be a trick.

“It had catchy songs,” Celia agrees, “though when I was a kid that scene when the witch got big always scared me. I also,” she confesses to him, leaning in to whisper in his ear, “cried when the dad lion died.”

“Do you think mermaids are real?”

Emmett: But it isn’t a trick.

Darling it’s better, down where it’s wetter, take it from meeee…

“They can be real when I’m with you,” he says.

Celia: She can make them real too, she knows. She’s thought about it. Going to the ocean and giving herself a tail.

“My dad took us all to the pool once. We played hookie. Iz and I were real young, maybe… I was six? Seven. And she and David and I pretended to be mermaids in the deep end, kicking our legs like flippers.”

“There’s a documentary about them. Mermaids, I mean. About their evolution and how they’re real. It’s not… I mean in the credits it says it’s fake, but sometimes it’s nice to pretend.”

Emmett: “Yes, it is,” he says, and they sit there watching the mermaids for a while.

“We can spend every dream like this.”

Celia: “Pretending? Or together?”

Emmett: “Both. And who’s pretending? There are mermaids there. Look, I can make them wave.”

Celia: “But they’re not real.”

“Are you real, Em, or is this one of those trauma dreams?”

Emmett: “I’m really dead, and I really miss our talks. Does it feel traumatic?”

Celia: That isn’t what she’d been referring to, but she supposes she shouldn’t admit to her (ghost?) cousin that she’s just killed a handful of people.

“It was never traumatic with you, Em. You always had a happy place in my memories. Even when things were… not good.”

Emmett: “That’s good. I always wanted you to be happy. Are you, now?”

The mermaids dance and sing as he hugs her close. They might not be real, but they might as well be.

“You can talk to them, if you want,” Em says. “We don’t just have to watch.”

Celia: Happiness. There’s a loaded question if there ever was one. She’s killed countless people. Taken a boy from his life because his eyes remind her of her dead cousin. Alienated the only lick who knew enough about her to love her anyway.

Christ, that’s the problem isn’t it. That she expects there’s anything real to be found in this society of selfish, self-serving licks who do anything and everything they can to get ahead. They laugh at her because she hasn’t been sucked into their bullshit game of fucking over everyone she can just for kicks and spends her time being adored instead.

How can she tell him that? How can she tell him that they broke her the night she died and she’s been trying to hold herself together and cover up her scars with concealer and false lashes ever since?

She extends a hand toward the mermaid, touching her fingers to her fish tail as the red head swims by.

“I have a daughter,” she says finally, as if that is an answer.

“She’s happy.” That’s what’s supposed to matter to moms, isn’t it? She wouldn’t know. Her womb is as dead as the rest of her.

“Where did you go, when you left?”

Emmett: “You mean when I died.”

The mermaid giggles at her touch and swims above them, fish-end dangling.

Celia: Maybe. She’d meant when he’d disappeared for years. She won’t admit to stalking him, though, or watching his apartment.

“Yes,” she says instead.

Emmett: “There’s a place that overlaps with the real world. It’s grayer and full of ghosts and quite boring. It’s called the Shadowlands.” He shrugs. “It’s where I live now, I guess.”

Celia: “That sounds… awful.”

Ghosts are real. Everyone says the Quarter is haunted, but somehow she’d never thought about it.

“No Heaven or Hell, then? Bible lied to us.”

Emmett: “Yeah, but you knew that already. And this place is kind of like Hell, if you squint.”

“Funny thing, though? It beats Death Row.”

Celia: “That’s… bleak.” Her grandmother had sentenced him. It weighs on her. That and being unable to visit. Barred from seeing him before they put him down. Just legless, in the hospital. Broken.

“What do you get up to over there?”

Emmett: “It’s a bleak world, Cici. And mostly, I… plan. I do things I’m not so proud of and try to get revenge on the people that did me wrong. Take care of the people I should have taken care of better. Like you, I guess, though you’ve done all right for yourself.”

He’s quiet for moment there.

“Can you help me?”

Celia: Has she? She’s glad he thinks so. She’s always hated disappointing people she cares about.


Emmett: “Your father. And my uncle.”

Celia: “Ron.” She’s never spoken about him to anyone else. Just Em. “What… what do you want me to do?”

Emmett: “Get close to him, if you can bear it. Maybe tell him you’re his daughter. He’s… he’s not a good guy, but after Jermaine, he went weird about being a dad. You might be able to get him invested in you. I have some relatives he might need to look after, some movies I might want him to publish. I might need to slide into his dreams, too. But it’d be helpful to have… somebody like you… in the Skinlands, too. Who can handle him.”

He squeezes her hand. “You don’t have to. I understand.”

Celia: “I haven’t approached him for twenty-seven years. He doesn’t know I exist.” The lie comes easily. They always do. “Do you… know the best way to bring that up around him? The best way to handle him?”

Emmett: Em considers for a moment.

“You’ll want to be patient, accommodating,” he tells her. “He has a whole procedure for testing people claiming to be his kids. He’ll have you take a swab in front of him, probably be pretty cold at first. But he’ll be grateful if you seem to understand that. He’s one jaded motherfucker, Ron. Showing him you get why is half the battle.”

Celia: “He raped my mom,” Celia says flatly. “I don’t suppose he’ll offer any sort of apology for that. She was sixteen. Sixteen.”

She exhales in a sigh, pushing the air between her lips.

“Should I go out for a movie, then, or approach him directly?”

Emmett: “Maybe he will, maybe not,” Em says. “But it’ll mean as much either way. If you don’t seem to hold it against him, he’ll be intrigued, I think. And approach him directly, for sure. Maybe say you want to collaborate. You’ve got all the social media stuff going on, right?”

Celia: “I’ve got a pretty large following,” Celia admits, “and… honestly, I love my mom, but I wouldn’t exist if not for him, so.”

“I suppose if he did want to collab he’d get a nation-wide audience instead of the locals. I’ve been putting off talking to him for years.”

Emmett: “Well, there’s another way to get his attention.”

“You can mention me.”

Celia: “Oh?”

“I know he’s your uncle, but… what, specifically, would you want me to mention about you?”

Emmett: “That you’re how you know you’re his kid. Because we were cousins, and I told you.”

Celia: “Doesn’t he… not like you?”

Emmett: “Not at all. Which is why you can bond with him over what a piece of shit I was.”

“I would keep my name out of it at first. Use it to grab his attention if he starts trying to roll you over.”

Celia: “What’s your plan? Use him or ruin him?”

Emmett: “Use him. My grudge can wait. And anyways, he kind of had a point. I killed his son.”

Celia: “Because, Em…” She turns to him, touching a hand to his cheek. “He was nothing but a squirt of cum in my momma’s cunt. You’re my family. My friend. And if you tell me, I can help. Will help.”

Emmett: “I know, Celia.” He touches her hand. “I’m trying to play a lot of hands right now. Things are difficult.”

Celia: “Em. I’ve been in your corner. Always. You don’t have to pretend with me.”

She doesn’t tell him the worst of it: that she was head over heels for him all those years ago. That if she hadn’t found out she was his cousin everything would have been completely different.

Emmett: He sighs. “There was a dead girl in your salon. Her ghost, anyways. You make a lot of ghosts?”

Celia: His question about the girl makes her pause. She draws back into herself, removing her hand from him.

“I… do what I have to,” she hedges, unsure of what answer he’s looking for. She doesn’t quite meet his gaze. Doesn’t admit to killing her.

“I do what she tells me,” she finally says, falling back on the familiar lie.

Emmett: “So do I. I’m not pretending. There’s a deal I made. Souls for power. If you kill people, I can—”

He frowns. “She?”

Celia: “Kill people?” she asks at the same time.

Emmett: “Who’s she? You have somebody you need to listen to?”

Celia: “I…” she hesitates. “You called me a vampire, but I’m… I’m not. But… what do you mean, deal for power?”

Emmett: He frowns. “Why are you sleeping during the day?”

Celia: “Tell me about your deal,” she presses, “and I’ll tell you about… me.”

Emmett: He hesitates. “I… okay. But I’m confused.”

“I made a deal with a… thing. That eats ghosts. And living things. And if I give it enough to eat, it’ll grant me my heart’s desire.” He shrugs. “Who knows if she’s telling the truth. But it’s all I have, right now. Perks of being a family friend.”

Celia: “What’s your heart’s desire, Em?”

Emmett: “Don’t know, yet.”

“I guess I’ll think about it when I get there.”

Celia: “Because I…” she pauses, flushing. In dreams she’s as human as any breather, and the pink in her cheeks is testament to that.

Emmett: “What?”

He runs a thumb across her cheek. “What’s wrong?”

Celia: “I went to your grave, you know. After you died. Because I couldn’t visit you while you waited for the needle.” Her eyes are downcast, but when she looks up at him he can see the sincerity there. “I thought about… ways to help. To bring you back. To… to get you a body that you could inhabit.”

Her eyes close momentarily, a long blink or staving off her emotions. She can’t tell him what she felt for him those nights they were together. But a new body, one that isn’t bound to him in blood? That wouldn’t be unnatural.

“I didn’t know that ghosts were real.” Keep up the lie. “And everything I’d heard was fiction. Hearsay.”

GM: It wasn’t much of a grave. White concrete cross identical to thousands of others, all spaced exactly 3×9 feet away from each other. DOC number, name, birth date and death date. Even the dead inmates at Angola still wear uniforms.

‘Marble’ proved a little high an expectation too.

Celia: She doesn’t need to tell him that, though.

She had gone regardless. And left roses.

Not that it matters.

Who checks the graves of dead people, really.

“I thought, maybe… maybe your heart’s desire is to come back.”

Emmett: “I don’t know if that’s in the cards.”

Celia: Her heart sinks. Maybe it’s always been broken.


“Ghosts, though. You want me to kill people.”

Emmett: “But that doesn’t mean I can’t become something… better. Stronger.”

“Something that can be with you.”

“And…I don’t know. Not if you aren’t…Not if that’s something you aren’t doing anyways. I thought you were a vampire.”

Celia: She wants to believe him. But he’d turned her down twice now.

“D’you mean that? That you… that you want to be with me?”

“Even if we’re… y’know.”

Emmett: He answers her with a kiss.

A proper one, too. Years pass, and they pass too quickly. Her mouth tastes like smoke and absinthe. When his lips break from hers, they hover close, still, so she can feel his words on her lips as he speaks them.

“Shit, Celia. I’m dead. Who cares, anymore? I’m here. You’re here. It’s just us, in your dreams. Why can’t we do what we please?”

Celia: Oh. Oh. It’s… everything she’s been thinking about for years now. What it might have been like if he hadn’t turned her down. His tongue curled around hers, his hands on her waist, her hips, everything.

She doesn’t mean to come apart at the seams, but she does, and he’s there to keep her from drifting too far. She’s breathless by the time it’s over, pressed close against him. Cousin, but more than that, isn’t he? Hadn’t he always been? Hadn’t she always denied what she felt for him, years later, tried to ignore the pull because it wasn’t right, wasn’t proper, but they’re both dead now, what does it matter?

Celia is curled against him before it’s over, perched on his lap with her arms around his neck, and when he finally pulls away he can hear the disappointment in her sigh.

“I kill people,” she finally asks, “and this… this is…?” she trails off. How can she admit it to him, even if he’d guessed?

Emmett: “It’s okay,” he tells her, seeing how she struggles. “It’s just us, and the mermaids. Or wherever else you want to be.”

A crab skittles around them, still whistling faintly.

Celia: She doesn’t need to finish her thought. She doesn’t know what she is asking anyway. Confirmation? A promise? Why label it? A ghost and a vampire wake up in a dream.

“If every dead person becomes a ghost, then there’s two of them you can take from the Ninth Ward.” She gives him the address.

“I killed them,” she says shortly. No further clarification, no justification as to why.

Maybe that’s what she’s been looking for. Someone to whom she doesn’t need to explain her actions. Someone just as messed up as she is.

Emmett: “Okay,” he says quietly. “That’s…helpful, actually. Thanks.” He squeezes her shoulder. “So if you’re not a vampire…what happened to you, Celia?”

Celia: There’s the flaw in all the lies she’s told: he was there that night. He’d seen her disappear from the apartment. Had seen what was on the tape; had he been the one to edit it, to scrub her voice from the footage they’d given to the detective? He’d had that movie thing going, once.

Lie, a voice inside her head says. Protect what she’s built. But it’s Em. He’d always helped her, had plotted with her how to take out Maxen, had come running when she’d called that night with the monsters.

She’d already told him she’d killed two people. He hadn’t even asked why. If they’d deserved it. Volunteered to do more for him, as if knowing that he were there to collect the souls of the dead made killing them for parts worth it. Their blood will nourish her, their souls someone else.

She bites her lip. Looks away from him. She’d already lied to him. Last time she’d come clean after something like this it hadn’t ended well.

“They call them licks,” she says, as if that explains it. “Or Kindred, I guess. ‘Vampire’ is apparently offensive.” The corners of her lips curl upward in amusement.

“But even licks don’t eat souls,” Celia says after a moment, “what other sort of monster are you indebted to?”

Emmett: He sighs, and the room sighs with him. Mermaids shudder, coral shifts.

“The one I told you about, long ago. Abélia Devillers.”

Celia: “You told me she isn’t human,” Celia recalls, “but if she isn’t human and she isn’t Kindred… what else is out there?”

Emmett: Em shrugs. “We have forever to name them. I’m not too caught up in it.”

He strokes her hair. “Mermaids are a bit old, now. Do you want to be puppies? Astronauts? I could take us to the moon, if you like. Then everybody in the world would wonder why the sky was so beautiful tonight.”

Celia: Trouble, she had told him once, and it crosses her mind again now. She flushes at both word and touch.

“I would like to see the moon,” Celia says to him, “and galaxies more distant than that. Or the rings of Saturn, or Neptune’s cloudy skies. Alien landscapes. Anything that isn’t New Orleans. You can do it all, Em?”

Emmett: “All.”

The couch spins, hangs suspended in space, with the light of the moon turning their faces white. There’s no sun in this galaxy, but the stars more than compensate. They glitter in a matrix of nothing, a grid of jewels without flaw.

Just like her.

“All the things you can dream of,” he tells her. “Every time you fall asleep. Forever.”

The world is a blue-green ball the size of her head. In real life, she knows she could never see it turn, but in her dreams, it tilts and lists on its axis like a gentle mobile.

He’s kissing her, again, but not just on her lips. On her neck, her ear. Her thighs, her womanhood, her toes and fingers. Ten tongues press themselves to her, twenty lips send goosebumps down her flesh.

“We can do anything together. If you’ll dream with me.”

Celia: For a moment the stars are all she can see, shining brightly in the distance. They light her face, her hair, her eyes. Eyes full of wonder, adoration… and there, burning in their depths as his mouth and phantom tongues descend, desire. The answer that she gives him is wordless: a parting of lips, a soft sigh, a complete surrender. Her to him, him to her; does it matter? They’re the same. Together they can be whole.

The stars in her eyes shift until he is all she can see. Yes, of course, of course she’ll have him. She’ll dream with him every night. Forever.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Caroline VII, Emmett VI
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia VII

Previous, by Celia: Story Twelve, Celia V
Next, by Celia: Story Twelve, Celia VII

Previous, by Emmett: Story Twelve, Caroline VII, Emmett VI
Next, by Emmett: Story Twelve, Emmett VIII

Story Twelve, Caroline VII, Emmett VI

“I don’t know what I want. Except that I probably won’t get it.”
Emmett Delacroix

Date ?

GM: So… I bet if anyone could help with that whole ‘souls’ thing, it’s our dear vampire girlfriend.

Emmett: Maybe. But the less she knows about what we’re up to, the better. I think it’s time we visited somebody else, anyways. Somebody I mostly forgot, until I died.

GM: Dunno, what the fuck do we have to keep secret from her?

She already knows Abélia is something spooky.

Emmett: We don’t want her to know we’re consorting with another monster to protect us of she turns on us. Which, you might have noticed, remains a very likely possibility once she decides it’s more useful to sell us than keep us running errands.

GM: Except then we couldn’t say we need her.

She pretends to be all smart and practical, like Roberts.

But she’s really more like us.

When has she ever been able to resist gloating?

Emmett: Right, that works in the short term, but the whole point of going to Abélia was to avoid actually needing her. And the first step towards getting her to realize she needs us.

GM: Oh. True.

Like, Cécilia. We get in her pants, Sami’ll be jealous.

I bet she still hates Cici over high school. Would she really let go of a grudge?

Cici though has probably forgiven her for everything. That’d piss her off so much.

Emmett: Great minds, huh? Yeah, so I’m thinking, we find a way to destabilize her current setup, lose her a few friends—especially that ghost-seeing bitch—and then once we have Cici’s Maman treating us nice, we swoop in to help her. You know, the classic. That way she ends up owing us, not the other way around. But we have to do it smart, or she’ll figure it out.

Seems like a smart way to do it might be to find Astride again, and eventually let him know he’s being followed, except maybe we tell him the Ouija bitch sent us after him, so he takes her out. Then we warn Sami he’s coming after her and help her fuck him up to score some points with her.

We need to find out Sami’s friends and enemies. That way we can start playing with her.

Bit difficult, though, if she’s making it harder for us to pop in on her in the shower.

…which, to be fair, I actually was planning on doing.

GM: Yeah. Well, there’s oggling Cici. She has her own place.

Em had looked it up.

Totally not stalker-ish behavior.

Emmett: Only once!

Or a few times.

GM: Huh. You know, I just realized that’d be our first time seeing her naked.

That’s just… morally wrong.

Like, for real naked, instead of that freaky dream.

Emmett: Yeah, it’s a real tragedy. Probably the real reason we’re still around.

Okay, well, since her place is on the way back to the hotel, no reason not to head there. I need juice, though. Especially if I’m going to heal the booboos. So, since we’re getting along so well, you want to tell me how to score some so we can stop going in circles, and maybe we can fuck around to have some fun with her? Otherwise I’m just going to have to sleep next to her and see if I feel better after, and that’s… less fun.

C’mon, think how fun it’ll be. More juice means more ways to fuck with people, too.

GM: Ha ha, I’m you, dipshit, fuck you.

That’s what we call ‘giving someone a fat lot of nothing.’

Let’s go ahead and sleep with Cici. I don’t mind.

Emmett: You’re me. So why don’t you want me to be able to do any of the things we both find fun? Or at least tell me what you need me to do for you to share.

GM: Okay, kill Dad’s mutts.

Emmett: Sweet. Tell me how to score some juice so we can heal first. Can’t exactly do it while I’m bleeding from fifty gazillion cuts, can I? It’ll just be pathetic.

GM: Oh hey, looks like we still have ADHD.

I’m not giving you shit until I get what I want.

Emmett: Dude, you get that I can’t lie to you, so you know I’m telling the truth when I say that I just want to heal first so I don’t have a harder time doing the thing you want, right?

GM: I don’t fucking care. You don’t get any more freebies from me.

You want to know how get more juice, go kill Phil’s dogs. Or do something else that I get off to.

Emmett: All right, never mind. I guess we’ll both be unhappy.

He wanders toward Cécilia’s place, bleeding to spite himself.

GM: You being unhappy makes me happy, genius.

Emmett: You’re adorable.

GM: Located steps away from St. Louis Cathedral, the Upper Pontalba building is one of the more (though still one of many) historically and architecturally significant structures in New Orleans, even if few enough non-natives who see it in photographs know its name. Often referred to as the “oldest apartment building in the U.S.”, the residential apartments command a coveted view overlooking Jackson Square. Tenants can watch all of the fortune-tellers, psychics, artists, street performers, drag queens, tourists, homeless, gutter punks, crazies, and all of the Vieux Carre’s usual cast of characters from the leisure of their iron-terraced verandas. Rent to dwell in the cultural heart of the Crescent City is likely far from cheap.

The lower floors are a shopping and dining concourse, including such destinations as the New Orleans School of Cooking (known for their freshly-made pralines and hand-made cypress roux spoons), clothing stores that sell the usual fare plus wedding dresses (is Celia going to get hers there, or somewhere else?), several gift and souvenir shops, and a handful of restaurants, including a Creole-Cajun cafe, an oyster house, coffee shop, and fudgery. Residents of the second-story apartments would appear to have little need to ever leave the building. They can see all of the French Quarter they like from just out their window.

Here in the Shadowlands, the potted geraniums are dead and wilted. The falling-apart, rotted building looks like it’s been abandoned for years. The food in the shops is spoiled and alit with noxiously buzzing clouds of flies. The clothes in the broken-windowed shops are soiled, ragged, and covered in dust. The hour seems late, or perhaps early, as few glowing figures are visible amidst the apartments.

Em walks through the upstairs units like they’re made of smoke. He sees people asleep in their beds. He sees a woman who’s tied up and gagged with tape in someone’s bathtub. He sees a few other people getting dressed. He sees a man masturbating to pictures of naked little boys on his computer. He sees a couple having an argument. He sees a man taking a shower. He sees another couple having sex. All of their private lives are on display for him to see.

Emmett: He stops for a moment at the woman, trying to gauge if the situation there is, ah, consensual.

GM: The motionless woman’s face is covered in welts and bruises. Her skin is dirty and sweaty.

Emmett: Yeah, probably not. Hmm. He notes the number of the apartment, looks around it briefly, and carries on.

He also notes the name of the pedophile a few doors down. You never know when some blackmail will come in handy.

And besides.

There’s a special, dark place in Em’s heart for pedophiles.

GM: Some of the half-burnt-looking mail on the grime-streaked kitchen counter is addressed to a one Theodore McKee.

Cécilia’s unit, meanwhile, has three glowing figures in it. Two male ones dressed in uniforms, and a young, pretty-looking female one with wavy hair who seems to be directing them.

They’re packing all of Cécilia’s broken, trashed, and decayed personal possessions into moldy-looking cardboard boxes.

One of the male ones grouses about the hour to his partner when the woman’s back is turned. His partner shrugs they’re getting paid extra. He doesn’t mind being up early.

He makes a lewd remark about the ways he wants to fuck the woman. His partner snickers along with him.

Emmett: Hmm. Movers? He listens to the men and then focuses on the woman, listening for a clue as to their purpose here.

GM: “God, I just want her to swallow my piss.”

“You’re sick.”

“So do you.”

“Oh yeah.”

Emmett: Helpful.

He recognizes the woman, after peering closer. Harmony. He remembers seeing her picture on his ex’s Facebook when she was hired as a PA, and then again at a local bar, and then again when he brought her home and got her to make pleasing noises. She didn’t talk as much about Cécilia as he would have liked, but Em’s always been eager for scraps.

So Cici’s moving house. Interesting. Mother keeping her baby bird close, maybe?

GM: She was a decent enough fuck. Wasn’t awful, wasn’t incredible.

Was an okay way to pass the evening.

Scraps are never as good as the real thing.

But they beat nothing.

And it was fun to think what Cécilia would think if she knew he’d fucked her PA.

Or what Harmony would think if she knew she’d fucked her boss’ ex.

The trio spend a while packing and moving the moldering boxes to a bust-up, half-rusted van with smashed headlights that looks like it could barely drive. Harmony tells them to leave everything by the front door, and not to come into the house. Cécilia has a younger sister who’s “very scared around strangers.”

“Lotta stuff to move,” says one of the guys.

“Well, I get paid hourly,” says Harmony.

Emmett: He waits for them to start down the hallway of the apartment with the kidnapped woman before he starts whistling.

It’a a severe, arresting tune. It’s a dirge of suspicion, and dread curiosity.

They can’t help but hear it as they pass the door that hides her.

GM: The dirge echoes in his ears. The apartment door seems to loom large within his vision, its suspiciously blank exterior hinting at unspeakable things contained within. Dust seems to blow towards it. Lights seem to flicker towards it. Everything seems to scream, GO HERE.

Yet three just walk on, boxes in tow, like they heard nothing at all. Because when do people pay attention to the awful things going on next door, he supposes.

As his 12th grade English teacher liked to quote, “Lord, what fools these mortals be!”

Emmett: And yet, they pass.

He closes his eyes for a moment.


He isn’t sure where the scream comes from until well after it’s past his own lips and pulling another behind it. He hops in front of their faces, the silent shrieks of the dead raging from his lips.

CUNTS! Useless, inbred, daft fucking _CUNTS!”_

But they do not hear him. Nobody does.

So he goes.

Date ?

GM: It’s a several minute walk from Celia’s possibly former apartment to 838 Royal Street.

This part of the Quarter starts to move away from the bars, clubs, hotels, and other tourist- and nightlife-catering establishments. It’s not the residential section just yet, but it’s on its way there.

It’s as decayed, ruined, and bombed-out as any section of the Shadowlands Em has been to. The old Spanish-style buildings look like they’ve been gutted by fire, with naught left but charred timbers. The streets are choked with garbage and filth: the Vieux Carre’s afterparty after any wild night. It stinks like fat, oil, grease, piss, vomit, and weed. There don’t seem to be many people out. The pitch-black sky overhead seems like it’s turning a cheerless dark gray.

Celia: From the outside, the building is unassuming. Like most store fronts in the French Quarter there are all sorts of rules and policies on what can and cannot be revamped. The spa owner has had to make do with what she could: flower boxes, gauzy curtains behind the floor to ceiling windows, lettering proclaiming the name in gold font across the top. It’s cute.

Inside is a different story. It’s like walking into a portal that takes Em from one place to another. Outside is the French Quarter, inside is… relaxation incarnate, maybe. There’s a set of double doors inside the outer pair that takes him to a reception area, though it’s nicer than any he’s seen. Products line the shelves. A desk sits empty along the wall by another set of doors. It’s easy to imagine a buxom blonde behind the computer with freshly painted nails tapping away at the keyboard. More doors, mood lighting, floor to ceiling curtains that offer a semblance of privacy to those who step inside. Couches, recliners, a table with refreshments waiting to be consumed, tea and cucumber water.

At least that’s what it should look like. But the exposed brick walls are crumbling, white caulk plastered on the floor. Overhead chandeliers are missing bulbs, their light guttering, casting dancing shadows across the floor. Some of them smile at Em, wicked smiles, poison laced apples waiting to be cut apart. The carpet has more charred marks than he’s seen outside of a burn unit. And the smell… all these spas pump incense into the air to relax their clients, but Celia somehow got it wrong. Raw sewage or dumpster fire, that’s what his nose tells him.

GM: Or perhaps blood.

It’s everywhere.

Thick, half-dried messy wet pools of it, leaking out all across the floor.

Celia: There’s a lot of doors in this place. Doors that lead to private rooms with rotting tables and moldy blankets, with tools that look more like something he’d see in a snuff film than an upstanding place like this. Some of the bottles feature a little skull and crossbones.

That blood smell gets stronger the closer he gets to the back of the spa, though. Another set of doors, high archway, though these are locked. As if that could keep him out. He slides right through the steel.

There it is. A morgue. A stone table in the center of the room. Cuffs to keep people detained, to quit their struggles on the cold slab. The edges of it are chipped. All of it is wet. Blood, guts, sinew, a veritable butchers block smack dab in the middle of a spa. The grimy floor is coated in the viscous red stuff. He might slip in it, if he had to worry about that kind of thing.

There are no tools here. No perfumes or powders. Just the clinging scent of death and decay.

Emmett: Seems his suspicions about the person he’s here to see were right.

Every bit as much of a monster as the ones who took her.

But this place seems empty. Lifeless.

He wonders if he can find a clue as to where she’s gone.

GM: There’s also an ashen-faced woman standing over a particularly fresh pool of blood, dressed in clubbing attire for the last good time of her life. Her eyes are closed and her face is blank. She’s swaddled in a mucus, cobweb-like thing that somehow looks simultaneously and thick and hazy. Its edges slowly drift through the air on a breeze Em does not feel.

Emmett: “Convenient,” he murmurs. He tries to will himself into the caul, the way Lamarck seemed to think they could.

GM: Em’s hands sink into it as if guided by a will of their own. It’s cold to the touch. The girl, who looks around his age or maybe a bit younger, doesn’t scream like Kione did. Em can hear something through the caul like the pulsating of a heartbeat, but it doesn’t seem to come from her chest. He thinks he can hear voices, too. A babble too faint and indistinct to make out the words of.

Em hurts. His heart is breaking. He is angry. He is sad. He is giddy. So, so giddy, and lustful. Fuck. Oh shit, he’s scared, better laugh it off. He laughs his ass off. It’s all so damn funny, and he could really use a good fuck. Distantly, some part of him becomes conscious that he’s peeling off the caul, cold layer by cold layer. It vanishes in a puff of golden haze. It fills Em up. Makes him feel full of warmth and vitality. Almost alive again.

Em sees that he is kneeling on the floor. He can see through the macabre spa’s half-translucent walls that the sky is now a lighter gray, the color of ashen smog.

The girl on the floor looks around slowly as her brow creases.

“Who… who are you?”

Emmett: It’s like the first hit of a new high, and as a lifelong hedonist he adores the flow of emotions that aren’t his, the heady mix of stolen vibes both good and bad washing away his problems for the briefest second of eternity, the smallest mercy of an afterlife full of nothing but grays and ghosts.

He would cry with wonder if he could cry. He lets his own wounds heal as he frees the girl from the prison-womb of the caul, and he’s suddenly full of so much juice that it don’t even tingle as they take his pain with them.

And then he’s holding her, the enfant, his enfant, because he knows she is his to do with as he pleases; and his heart is heavy again, because he knows what he is to do with her.

“Em,” he tells her, frankly, as he wobbles to his feet and brings her with him. “And I’m a ghost. I’m afraid something bad happened to you.”

GM: She blinks slowly as he picks her up.

Then she says it. Says it like someone would admit they were gay, in the ’80s.

“I… I’m dead.”

The word is heavy.

But not disbelieving.

Emmett: “Yep,” he agrees. “But so are most people. Including yours truly. Don’t try to think too hard about everything all at once. Let’s start with your name.”

Yes, tell me about yourself, as I prepare to do something terrible to you.

GM: “I’m… I’m Jenna,” she says in that same slow tone. “Jenna Crosby.”

She looks around the room, then holds a hand to her mouth.

“Oh my… oh my god…”

Emmett: “Jenna, huh? That’s a nice name.” He follow her gaze. “Yeah, it takes some getting used to. Don’t look there. Look here.” He spreads his fingers and from his palm sprouts a bouquet of roses, reds and blues and greens and yellows that catch the light like gems but look far too alive to be mere stones. Their stalks twist around each other and weave her name in a cursive of vines.

“There’s still color in this world, if you know how to find it. Can you walk and talk? I know a safe place. With more colors, and more Caspers. That is to say, you know. Friendly ghosts. Like you and me.”

GM: Jenna smiles a bit at the theatrical display.

The blood-caked floor and the gore- and viscera-coated table, though, tug at her eye.

It’s still red. Still fresh.

Still fresh-smelling.

“That sounds great,” she says quickly. “Let’s get out of here.”

Date ?

GM: Serendipity seems to draw Em along the path to 1415 Third Street, like a train whose doors have already closed and he can’t get off. He supposes he’s seen enough of the Shadowlands to be at least somewhat jaded, at this point, because Jenna jumps at every noise, flinches at every shadow, or stares in mute fear at the things they come across.

He supposes you can get used to anything, after long enough.

She’s full of questions. What this place is. Why it is this way. Who Em is. Why they’re here. What comes next.

“Is this… is this Hell?”

“I didn’t think Hell really existed…”

Emmett: Em’s a traitor and a liar and a rapist and a killer, but he’s not dispassionate. Anything but. His compassion is the stuff of religion. He’d look fantastic nailed to a cross.

She’s only going to be so long in this afterlife. There was something hideously unambiguous about how Abélia had talked about her hunger, and he has no doubts that whatever the process of Abélia eating Jenna looks like, she won’t be around to review it later.

Her afterlife will be brief. It costs him nothing to give her hope.

Nothing, except for the look on her face when she realizes the truth.

Lamarck really did have the right way of things, didn’t he? If it had just been him he might have kept his would-be slaver around. How little he judged. And how little it actually mattered, for all the good it did at the bottom of a long, dark shaft.

He answers all her questions, lying colorfully when convenient. The place he’s taking her is clean, he says. It stands out from the others. It looks a little scary, but it’s real and it keeps predators away.

There are predators, he assures her. Better she stay close to him, and hold his hand if she wants. Things aren’t so bad in the afterlife. See how he floats, skis in midair?

GM: “My boyfriend and I got into a fight,” Jenna says as she squeezes his hand.

“A really big fight.”

“That’s why I went out, to go club without him. I think I wanted to make him jealous.”

“But it all seems… so stupid now.”

Emmett: “What was the fight about?” Em asks, squeezing her hand back. It’s with his good hand, obviously. The other he’s wrapped in a midnight cast about his shoulder. Everybody trusts a cripple.

GM: “Money. Work. Stuff that just seems completely stupid now.”

“I guess it’s like they say. You can’t take it with you…”

Emmett: “They say that,” he agrees. “And they’re right. But they’re wrong about a lot of things, too. If this is hell, well… it could be worse. It isn’t heaven, but it doesn’t have to be torture. It’s just… hard, at first.”

GM: “That sounds a lot like life.”

The pair pass those twisted, hungrily grasping oaks. Em doesn’t see it happen. He didn’t even see them reach the house. The iron gates slam shut behind the pair.

Jenna looks ahead at the home.

For a moment, she just looks.


Then she screams.

Emmett: “A lot like life,” he agrees. “More than you know.” He starts to float, steadily, still holding her hand and releasing it as his feet rise above her waist.

His voice is still so calm, warm despite the inevitable chill of this place. It should make his words steam when he talks, but he draws no breath.

“In life, and after, you can’t always trust strangers. But I wish you could. You seem nice. For what it’s worth, if you tell me your boyfriend’s name, I’ll give him a message. Or your family. Whoever.”

He sprouts batlike wings and flaps into the air above her, safe from her ability to reach him.

He does look sorry.

But not as much as he looks tired.

GM: Jenna doesn’t get to answer.

She doesn’t even get to look shocked.

The house’s doors fly open. Pseudopod-like tendrils of living darkness shoot out like ravenous, grasping tongues. They smother her in the same oily, tar-like residue leaking from the walls. It reminds Em of the salivas some amphibious species spew over insectile prey they’ve caught, perhaps to aid in digestion.

Jenna is there. Then she’s not. The doors slam closed as she’s hungrily sucked inside.

But Em can still hear her screams, from inside the house.

They sound even louder than they did from outside.

Emmett: He coughs awkwardly.

And just like that, her anguish and betrayal has no bearing on his life, no inconvenience. No weight other than the thought he chooses to dedicate to it.

He really grew into a bastard while his eyes were on all the other monsters, didn’t he?

Wednesday afternoon, 9 March 2016

GM: Caroline is working in Cécilia’s home office with her sister.

Our larder’s first addition has arrived.

Bring it up to my body, Caroline, if you please—the power to see Abel’s children is yours, here.

A moment passes.

Ah, it seems we have a guest, too! Say hello to him instead, my dear, if you can spare a few moments from your work. I’m afraid I’m still in little shape to suitably entertain.

Caroline: A guest? The Ventrue rises wearily. Well, it would be rude not to entertain.

Date ?

GM: The front door silently swings open at his approach. There’s ‘normal’ things past it, rather than the pitch black void he entered last time.

The house’s interior is no less sumptuous than its exterior. The historic property is large enough to house all seven Devillers in comfort and privacy with seven bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a lavish ballroom, elevator, and foyer with an elaborate winding grand center staircase once featured in the Library of Congress. (Em recalls that tidbit from his last visit, a literal life ago.) There are also adjacent servant quarters and a stable for horses separate from the 1,500-square-foot, two bedroom, two bathroom carriage house. The home’s elaborate features include moldings with 22 carat gold leaf, 37 window trim, fine plaster cornices and ceiling centerpieces, marble mantels, custom designed rugs, and 16 ft ceilings both upstairs and downstairs. All the palatial rooms are furnished with choice antiques, many the work of long-dead artisans who were America’s foremost cabinet makers in the 19th century.


The chimney piece of the living room is designed to contain a wooden eagle found at the mouth of the Mississippi after a hurricane. Carved from cypress, it is believed to be the sternboard of a pilot boat built in Charleston at the time of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. Murals are painted on the ceilings of the living room, double parlor, and dining room, all painted in 1866 and executed with great delicacy after the manner of Robert Adam. The wallpaper in the dining room is the famous Züber 1834 “Scenic America."

All of it looks perfectly normal. Perfectly solid.

There’s no trace of Jenna.

“’I’m sure you must be weary, dear, with soaring up so high,
Will you rest upon my little bed?’ said the Spider to the Fly.
‘There are pretty curtains drawn around; the sheets are fine and thin,
And if you like to rest awhile, I’ll snugly tuck you in!’”

The female voice wafts from nowhere and everywhere.

Emmett: This place is danger. But rude to leave now.

Rude, and weak, and while he isn’t intending to bully her, he suspects Abélia will not treat him more kindly of he is weak.

His wings fold politely as he enters.

“As beautiful a home as I remember, madame.”

Wednesday afternoon, 9 March 2016

GM: Caroline excuses herself to Cécilia and walks to the home’s atrium.

It’s him, behind the now-closed front door.

Right there at the foot of the winding grand center staircase.

He’s considerably more handsome and better-dressed than he was at their last meeting. He looks like he’s shed a decade off his now-beardless face, and he’s dressed in a black sports coat, white button-up, and black slacks instead of a shabbily-fitting Orleans Parish Prison orange jumpsuit. Plus there’s how he has legs again, too. The insistent draft, though, distracts from the aesthetic. So does that odd faintness of his shape, the slight insubstantiality. He looks like he should evaporate when the fat Louisiana sun shows its face.

Worst is probably his arm—black and rotted and hanging around like somebody decided amputations were out of style last week—but it’s not his fault, he’s been dead.

The arm wouldn’t be so bad, anyway. If he would just stop smiling.

Emmett Delacroix.

The guy she framed, got executed, then mind-raped to remember nightmares until he shat himself.

And maybe killed Mark Stines, but it’s like she said to her sister.

Who will ever know what the truth is with Emmett Delacroix?

Caroline: There’s a moment of shock, then a moment of anger covering shame. He’s. Fucking. Dead. She made damn sure of it.

And yet, here he is, standing in her foyer. He’s definitely dead still, but she’d thought this a problem long buried.

GM: By all present appearances, Emmett still is pretty fucking dead. Caroline doesn’t hear any sort of heartbeat from the half-translucent figure. Or smell so much as a whiff of blood. The grandfather clock seems like a more appetizing meal than he does.

Caroline: Not that she has that much room to talk about dead things wandering around.

Emmett: He looks at her, too. “Huh. I wasn’t expecting to see you here. And as beautiful as ever, Miss Malveaux. Why, I’m only happy I’m less shabby than last time we met.”

GM: The same black, stinger-lord cord stabbing into Simmone’s heart stabs into Caroline’s.

Emmett: He smiles at the look in her eyes, the embers of shock and anger simmering like mild embers. “Are you also Mrs. Devillers’ guest? This is a far prettier cage, too, than Orleans Parish. Ah, memories. But you know what I’m like when I start reminiscing, of course.”

Strangled, mad laughter echoes in the middle distance.

His, from that night when she broke him open and sucked out what she needed.

Caroline: Caroline breaks free of the shock and lets loose a peal of fluttering laughter.

“Guest? Why would I be a guest in my mother’s home?”

“You always were a flatterer, though. You look better than when we talked last time. I’m happy to see that death agrees with you.”

Emmett: He blinks, but seems more puzzled than shocked. “Mother, hmm? I didn’t know your families were that close, even with your brother marrying in. That’s very wholesome, though. Is your, ah, sister here, then? I was wondering if I’d see her.”

GM: Which sister?

There’s apparently now seven total.

Caroline: A hint of irritation crosses her brow. Interesting.

Emmett: “Cécilia, that is,” he adds happily.

Caroline: “Is that why you’re here, Mr. Delacroix? To bother my sister?” There’s an edge to her words. “I can certainly think of better uses of your time.”

Emmett: “Bother?” he makes a face like a wounded puppy. “I would no more bother her than I would be buggered—that is to say, I rather think that I’ve had my fill of either while I breathed.”

His laugh is a soft, mischievous thing, that could mean nothing or everything. “But why so tense, dear lady lick? You aren’t scared of ghosts, are you? You don’t need to be scared of this one, at any rate. I’ve often thought about our time together, and what I would say to you when I saw you again.”

Caroline: “Is it everything you ever wished for?” the blonde-haired, blue-eyed statue asks.

Emmett: “In a sense. I always wished to hear it myself.”

He steps towards her, bows, rolls a wrist and suddenly holds a white flower, bulbous and luminous so that the entire room is suffused with its warm light.

“You have my forgiveness, Miss Malveaux,” Em says simply. “From one monster to another.”

Caroline: The monster doesn’t quite recoil at the flash of light, but he can see the tension coil through her dead muscles, see the whip-tight reflexes tensed.

That tension doesn’t fade with his apology. Instead she simply stares at the ghost.

Liar. Manipulator. Con artist.

All these things. And he comes into her house and offers her forgiveness?

For a moment she isn’t sure what to say, so she falls back on a safe option. One she learned from her mother. A laugh.

“Do I now?” Her tone has more iron in it than he recalls from their meeting when he was alive.

Emmett: “You do,” he assures her, her laughter lifting the corners of his mouth. “For the framing, and my execution. For the conjugal you paid me in prison and the things you did to my mind. There are no grudges, no gripes. I understand. You are forgiven, and what might have been bitter between us is dust. Are you so surprised to be forgiven?”

He twirls the flower between his fingers, and it floats close to the chandelier, casting its warm light over the pair.

“I suppose it’s only natural. Forgiveness is all too rare for the dead, hmm?”

“But it is yours, if you’ll have it. And please. Call me Emmett. Caroline.”

Caroline: “It’s a shame, really. How little of value I got out of that,” Caroline answers. “Breaking your mind.”

“Your memories of what happened in the Dungeon were buried so deep that even when I pried them out they were unrecognizable.”

“You were such a broken thing already, though.”

Emmett: “I might remember more, now. Death does that, it’s very handy.” He tilts his head. “Anyway, my egg’s all put back together now. Like Humpty Dumpty couldn’t be.”

He narrows his eyes for a moment. “You asked why I was here. I made a delivery to your mother. I always wanted to be a pizza boy.”

“There’s more to come, I hope you’ll tell her.”

Caroline: A grim smile. “I’d be careful there, Emmett.” She pronounces his name sharply. “I may have framed you and shattered your mind, but play the games you played with me and my sister with my mother, and you’ll find yourself missing far more than your sanity or life.”

Emmett: “Oh, why ever would I? She’d always win. No, I’m her humble servant. And Cécilia’s, of course. Even yours, Caroline, if you have need of a friendly ghost.”

Caroline: “I’m fairly certain I remember Casper being a child, not a rapist and murderer in life,” she answers, contemplative.

Emmett: “Well, they didn’t play those parts up, but it was all in the subtext. I remain a child at heart, much like poor Casper. And dear Caroline, do you mean to imply that rapacious murderers are unwelcome in your home?”

Caroline: “Not at all,” Caroline answers. “Only that those who would do harm to my sisters in any way will suffer for all eternity.”

There’s a predatory gleam in her gaze. “How’s your sister doing, Emmett?”

Emmett: The flower wilts above, and there’s nothing cocky or artificial about the somber expression that steals across his face.

“If you ask, you know,” he says simply. “You can threaten her, if it gives you pleasure, O host, but I am already your docile guest. Should you intervene in her woes, I would owe you personally and become an enthusiastic servant, and my forgiveness would overflow into friendship. I cannot stop you from hurting her to prove a point. I have already destroyed her life with my bluster. But the less time I must spend fretting over her, the faster I can fill your Maman’s… she used the word ‘larder.’”

Caroline: “Threaten?” Caroline rolls the word around in her mouth like it’s a favor to be appreciated.

“So you haven’t visited her in your death. That’s a shame, Emmett. Is there anything you really care about, or anyone, other than yourself?”

Emmett: “I don’t know what gave you that idea,” he corrects gently. “I have visited. Do you think I care for nobody, Caroline? If so, you truly must be confused by my presence here.”

He sighs and turns. “I came to thank Cécilia for her generosity in my final days, and for, ah, executing my dying wishes. If you would have me go, I only ask that you tell her as much, and that if she ever needs assistance of a ghostly variety, she need only ask.”

“You don’t happen to know where Lena’s kids got to, do you?”

“The mob said they’d kill them if I couldn’t pay, and obviously when I was inside it wasn’t as though I could. I don’t know if the mob did follow through, though. Knowing the Dixies, they may merely be slaves. I haven’t been able to find out yet.”

Their faces dance in the intervening space, conjured from shadow and soft light. Soft. Innocent. Noah has his eyes.

Staring at her, even as he turns away.

Caroline: “I had some ideas,” Caroline answers. “It’s been a low priority, and I had a concern that if she didn’t like the answer it might send her off the deep end again.”

Emmett: “I would know what my mistakes have cost me.”

“And her.”

Caroline: “It cost her everything,” she answers. “It might have cost them their lives, and nearly cost her the same. She’s obsessed with finding them, but… well, that’s easier said than done.”

“There’s another vampire I could ask about it, but…” She shrugs.

Emmett: “I know how to find the man who knows.”

“If you want a ghost like me to owe you.”

Caroline: “Oh?” Caroline asks.

Emmett: “Oh,” he agrees. “Bert Villars, the attorney. Ask him how to find a man called Bud. He was the shark.”

GM: Caroline has heard of the former, at least. One of the most sleazy and disreputable hucksters in the legal community. Carson held him in utter contempt. Whenever a pimp or crack king was facing criminal charges, Bertram S. Villars, esq. was there to represent him.

Caroline: “Why don’t you just hang around until you find them yourself?” she asks skeptically.

Emmett: “And whatever would you like in return, Miss Malveaux?”

“I can’t find Bud without talking to Villars, and haven’t found a way to suitably… interview him as of yet. And I have other obligations that prevent me simply watching Villars, including gathering souls for your mother. But rest assured, if you want somebody spied upon or secrets brought back to you, you could do much worse than making a friend like me.”

Caroline: The Ventrue muses for a moment.

“There’s a reason your sister isn’t in prison or dead,” Caroline says at last. “She’s already under my protection, and influence.”

Emmett: “Is she?” He turns and regards her. “Why?”

Caroline: “I had a use for a doctor. One that owed me everything, that no one else wanted.”

Emmett: He nods, satisfied by a selfish explanation. “If you are able to return her children to her, she won’t be the only one in your debt. I’ll be every bit as much your spook as I am Cécilia’s.”

Caroline: “Even if it’s in a pair of boxes. Or maybe ashtrays?” Caroline asks.

Emmett: “Obviously I have a preference. But at least if I know they’re dead, I can find their spirits.”

Em looks at her levelly. “Name your price.”

Caroline: “Leave my sister alone,” Caroline answers without hesitation.

“Cécilia has more than enough troubles in her life without a troublesome shade.”

GM: “Caroline, who are you talking to?” comes her sister’s voice.

Emmett: Her voice would quicken her pulse if he had one. Caroline can see the effect it has on him—his pupils dilating, his expression freezing slightly. It takes him a moment to shake it off before he regards the vampire with a raised eyebrow.

“If she wants me to stay away, I’m happy to. But it seems like a choice for her, doesn’t it? Will you really refuse to tell her she has a visitor? And besides, are you going to pretend I’m not a gift on a silver platter? You can’t watch her all the time, after all. But I can, if she wills it. I can guard her and warn her of threats before they come to her.”

GM: She rounds the hallway.

Looks at the door.

Cécilia frowns in puzzlement. It wasn’t that long ago that Em saw her, he supposes, but time crawled at a snail’s pace in solitary, and who knows how much has passed since he died. Cécilia still has an engagement ring on her finger that looks like it must cost someone’s mortgage, though, for what that may be worth. She’s dressed relatively casually in a white ruffled blouse, loose pale blue skirt that matches her eyes, and darker hemp ballet flats.

She’s still beautiful.

Emmett: He looks at Caroline, eyebrow raised.

GM: Cécilia just looks right past him.

Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes narrow. If Cécilia is here, it isn’t by chance.

“You had a visitor,” she answers her sister.

Emmett: He inclines his head to her, smiling with encouragement. “Have, technically. Should I appear or do you want to spare her the surprise?”

GM: Cécilia looks back from Caroline to the door, then raises a hand to her mouth.

“Oh… mon dieu…”

Emmett: He blinks. “Oh, wait. Can you all see ghosts? Is that in the genes, too? Like the blonde hair and those bottomless eyes?”

GM: A panoply of emotions seem to pass over Cécilia’s face. Her hand doesn’t lower.

“Oh my… Emmett, is that you?”

Emmett: He smiles sadly. “It certainly isn’t Elliott. Hello, Cécilia. I hope you don’t mind if I don’t shake your hand.” He glances down at his gangrenous, necrotized arm.

GM: “I don’t think we could, in any case…” she manages, lowering her hand from her mouth.

She regards him for a moment. Her face looks truly sad.

“Emmett, I’m so sorry. I’d hoped death would bring you peace.”

Emmett: “I was never the peaceful type,” he says. “And I have things that need doing. Don’t fret, or mourn. There are worse things to be than this. I came to thank you.”

He glances at Caroline, then back to her sister, those eyes becoming his world. The tremor in his voice is a crack children would avoid on a sidewalk.

“For the movies. And all of it. It made going to the chair a lot easier, knowing that somebody was… doing all that. Especially the environmental stuff. It must have meant a lot to my dad.”

GM: “You’re welcome,” Cécilia replies.

The tremor to her voice isn’t a crack. It’s more like a sad note on a harpsichord or some other delicate little instrument.

“I did have to change some things. The environmental stuff wasn’t able to happen,” she admits, “but I tried to honor the spirit of your wishes. I’m glad you were able to get out some screenplays, in the end.”

Emmett: Em raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t press. “Ah, well,” he says softly. “The afterlife is long.”

He regards the two of them together. “You two make a happy pair. I wish I would be returning on more pleasant business, but I’ll take what I can get. I’ll probably see you again sooner rather than later.”

His eyes meet Caroline’s. “I hope, in time, that you really do believe me when I say that the past is the past. That you are forgiven. And that you realize that in the grand scheme of things, we have more in common than we do differences.”

Caroline: “Deeds, not words, define us,” she answers. “But by either measure, there is little generous to say of us.”

Emmett: “Little,” he agrees, “but some. Give your Maman my regards, and please let her known that that was just a taste. I’ll have more, soon. Much more.”

GM: Cécilia raises an eyebrow, but says, “Are there any ways I could help you, Emmett?”

“I obviously don’t have your personal experience with the afterlife, but Maman has taught me a few things about it.”

Emmett: He hesitates. “I’m still new to it, myself. Part of why I sought out your mother was to get more answers. Do you know of… a way to the Skinlands?”

GM: “In the sense of gaining a physical body, you mean?”

Emmett: “Or at least escaping this place. The Shadowlands. It might be a pipe dream, but…” he shrugs.

GM: “As I understand things, it’s easier to go down than up, in the Underworld,” Cécilia answers. “The Shadowlands is the top-most ‘layer.’ There are deeper ones.”

Emmett: “But not a way up. To the living world.”

GM: Cécilia thinks. “You have to understand that the Shadowlands isn’t just a physical place. It’s a state of being, as much as anything. You can walk through walls, and everything you see is through a lens of decay, but you’re very much still here, in the same ‘plane’ of existence of me. You’re here now, seeing me and speaking with me. By some technical definitions, the Shadowlands isn’t even part of the Underworld proper.”

“So escaping the Shadowlands is really a question of… changing yourself, which is easier said than done. There are wraiths, I understand, who can become corporeal and even experience all the joys and sorrows of being alive. But it takes practice and doesn’t last for very long. There also stories about events like the Dia di Muertos, where the souls of the departed can cross over to reunite with their loved ones, because their feelings for one another are so strong. Or even how on Judgment Day, at the end of the world, the dead will all rise from their graves and walk the lands of the living.”

“But… I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you, so far as how to do that now, and for good,” Cécilia admits with an apologetic look. “I’m to understand that’s simply one of the great tragedies of being a ghost… being so close to the world you left behind, yet forever apart from it.”

Emmett: He is silent, for a moment.

Then he laughs. It’s a sad noise, resigned but not bitter.

“I had thought as much already. But I heard a rumor. Better no hope than false hope. Thank you for the book learning.”

“Hmmm. Does the term ‘sandman’ mean anything to you?”

GM: Cécilia seems to think. “It doesn’t, I’m afraid.”

“Maman says, though, that very few cosmic laws are truly immutable. There are always ways around them. Bargains, back doors, escape clauses, whatever name you might use. It’s just a matter of having the proper knowledge… and being able to pay the price.”

There’s caution in her tone, but also some measure of… hope?

Caroline: “You hope she can do it,” Caroline cuts in. “That she can give you that way forward.”

GM: “I suppose that’s also worth asking,” says Cécilia. “What do you ultimately want out of your afterlife, Em? Would you like to pass on?”

Emmett: “Everybody wants to pass on eventually,” he shrugs. “I want to ensure my family is safe, restored to a semblance of comfort, and my enemies thoroughly haunted. Maybe get some movies produced, too. I’m taking things one at a time.”

He regards her frankly. “I also don’t think I’ll be able to go until I’ve repaid you, properly.”

Caroline: “There are other ways,” Caroline observes. “To interact with the world in the flesh. Possession, for instance.”

Emmett: “I haven’t learned that trick yet,” he says. “I’m game, though.”

He eyes her. “For now, though, I rely on friends.”

GM: “That’s kind of you to say, Emmett, but you don’t need to repay me,” Cécilia answers. “Even if you think I deserve it, I’m very happy with my life. But you’ve been around. You’ve seen people in all sorts of situations I haven’t. I’m sure you can think of someone needier to help.”

Emmett: “It’s not about deserves,” Em says simply. “I owe you for kindness shown to me. Some part of me doesn’t want to go until I see my debts paid. All of them, kind and ugly alike.”

GM: “All right. If you want to repay me, I know there’s a man named D’angelo Turcotte who’s serving a sentence in Louisiana State Penitentiary for the murder of Mark Stines. Was he responsible for it?”

Emmett: “Yes,” Em says plainly.

“Though that’s no reason for him not to walk out early, if you wish it. Stines having been a brute, a rapist, and an attempted murderer himself.”

“I’m not sure how much faith you have in the legitimacy of our great state’s justice system, though. Although I stand before you a man executed for crimes that I suspect your sister can testify were not my own.”

GM: “Was D’angelo solely responsible for Mark’s death?” Cécilia asks. “Yvette said you’d both been complicit in it. I wasn’t sure how much of the story to believe when I heard it thirdhand, until you asked me to help you make restitution to Mark’s family.”

Emmett: “He pulled the trigger, but it was my plan,” Em says in that same plain straightforward tone. “Figure his family deserves something, though I regret nothing about the murder itself. What would you see done?”

GM: “All right. I suppose that is justice, if D’angelo did the crime and is doing the time. Maybe not perfect justice, but at least the same justice to which everyone else is held.”

Emmett: He smiles sadly. “Would you have me speak frankly, or nod in agreement?”

GM: “Frankly, please.”

“I know many people think our criminal justice system is less than perfect.”

Emmett: “The opinion of a dead man isn’t worth much,” he allows. “Maybe especially one who died as I did. But it’s not simply an imperfect system, Cécilia. It’s one that does what the people behind the scenes want it to do, and it’s built around filling prisons with bodies, whether the people they belong to are innocent or not.”

He shrugs. “It’s not a polite opinion, or one that most people would say is moral. But if you ask me, D’angelo’s misfortune is just that. Not the consequences of his actions, which were guided by my own, or the good of society. I walked free because I had secrets to sit on about Stines that the Malveaux family wanted to stay that way.”

He nods to Caroline. “I’m not saying a guy who called himself Murda-Cent proudly deserves to walk free. And unless I have a good reason, I’m not going to help him. But where he is is just where he is. Justice never really came into it, and if his own choices did, it’s only because he was unlucky enough to be caught.”

He shrugs, and the shadows of a prison cell cross the spectre’s face for a moment. “I don’t pity him. But I don’t have it in me to judge him, either. What that says about me, I don’t know.”

“Maybe just because I know where we end up, anyways.”

GM: “I don’t think it’s that unpopular an opinion, actually,” Cécilia states. “There are many activists, civil rights groups, public figures, private individuals, you name it, who believe our criminal justice system is badly broken and in need of reform. We could spend all day talking about the myriad of ways. All of those demonstrations around the killing of Mercurial Fernandez go to show that our prisons can’t even guarantee a right as basic as life to their inmate populations.” She frowns briefly at his name.

“At the same time, D’angelo did kill a man. Even if the process of his sentencing wasn’t perfect, or the sentence itself disproportionately harsh to what it would be if someone like me was charged with Mark’s murder, I think D’angelo is where he belongs. Any improvement in prison conditions or clemency in sentencing he should receive are the same that any other incarcerated person should receive.”

“As far as what it says about you, I think it’s simply reflective of a broader loss of faith in our institutions. Many people don’t believe they serve the public good anymore, or perhaps even ever. That’s a serious problem and not one that’s easily fixable.”

Emmett: “Ah, but I am not a good man,” the sandman replies easily. “Even less than I am an activist, or any of the other concerned citizens you mentioned. I simply observe that D’angelo, much like everybody else, is not where he is because he should be there, but because forces beyond his power have placed him there. His actual guilt is circumstantial more than it is…” he waves a hand and smiles sadly.

“My vocabulary ain’t what it could be. Maybe Caroline knows the right word. We assume, growing up, that things are the way that they are for a reason. Our society structures itself around that belief. But I’m telling you that things are what they are because people, and not-quite people, make them that way.” He turns his gaze to Caroline. “Would you disagree?”

Caroline: “The system is exactly what it was designed to be,” Caroline answers. “One in which the most dedicated, most intelligent, most willing to do anything rise to the top, where they compete with each other. The founders understood human nature as keenly as any of us—the best they could do was structure a society in which it played against itself, in which the oligarchs fought instead of collaborated. If you want to see the alternative, look at Russia.”

Emmett: He inclines his head. “Eloquently put. Tad political, bit academic, but it comes to the same thing. Our circumstances are determined not by what we deserve, but by power. Carlin put it best.” His voice changes, becomes cracked and passionate, oratory. “’It’s a big club, and you’re not in it!’”

“Except, you know.” He winks at Cécilia. “You are. You ask what I would accomplish in my afterlife? Maybe I’ll join.”

Caroline: “That’s where we disagree,” Caroline answers. “We deserve what we get. What was the Churchill quote? ‘Democracy is the worst system… except for every other one’?”

Emmett: He smiles at her. “Interesting. Do you have what you deserve, Caroline?”

GM: “Yes,” Cécilia immediately says.

Emmett: He tilts his head and awaits her answer.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline answers just as quickly, then glances at her sister.

After a second she continues, “Equal parts prince and pauper. But my wealth, where it matters, is beyond compare.”

“And I’m working on the rest.”

Emmett: Em inclines his head. “As we all must. But I’m happy to be shown I’m wrong, you know.”

Two children stand behind him, suddenly. Caroline knows them. They stare ahead, blankly, corpse-attentive. He drapes an arm over his nephew and niece.

“Give them what they deserve, what their mother deserves, and I’ll be the happiest fool in the city.”

The children melt into shadow when she meets their eyes.

“And your fool, at that.”

GM: Yeah, I can’t wait to see you hurt them.

Caroline: “Finding out what you want to know will cost me something,” Caroline answers at last. “Bring me something valuable to offset it.”

Emmett: He bows. “What would you find valuable?”

Caroline: “My stepmother,” Caroline answers after a moment. “She’s recently deceased.”

GM: Oh, you don’t need to worry about her, if you think she might try to hurt you, thinks Cécilia.

Maman doesn’t leave… loose ends.

Caroline: I’m more interested in what else she might have left behind, Caroline answers. She had a safehouse in the city.

Emmett: “Step? You mean Nate’s wife?”

Caroline: She doesn’t quite scowl at the questioning. “Claire Malveaux,” she clarifies more sharply than she intends. “She was a hunter. She had a safehouse in the city. I want to know where it is, and what’s inside.”

Emmett: “Er. Hunter?”

Caroline: “Hunter. She killed my kind. And, I suspect, yours too when she could.”

Emmett: “Bit redundant in our case,” he says affably. “And that sounds awkward. How’d she die? And how long ago?”

Caroline: “I killed her,” Caroline answers. “A few nights ago.”

Emmett: He blinks, then shrugs. “I didn’t get along with my parents, either.”

He inquires as to any other details she can share that might help him find her house. The places she frequented. People who knew her movements. That sort of thing.

Caroline: Caroline relates that her stepmother spent much of her time in the French Quarter, but also had associations with the Pi Alpha Kappas that could tie into any such safehouse. She provides the hotel and room number where her stepmother died.

“She was a powerful figure,” she finishes.

Emmett: Hey, you wanna haunt some sorority girls?

“Sounds like a place to start,” Em agrees. “Are there lots where she came from? Hunters, that is.”

Caroline: A dark smile. “Fewer tonight than a few nights ago.”

Emmett: “…huh.”

GM: You know, I think I’m gonna make you have a harrowing every day you don’t make progress finding our dear niece and nephew.

Emmett: Where’s that coming from? We’re literally making progress right now.

GM: Or maybe just blast a bunch of cum in Cécilia’s hair. Like, from a big illusory dick. What do you think she’d do?

Emmett: Probably get her mother to eat us.

GM: She wouldn’t.

But don’t worry. I’m pretty happy with what you’ve done here.

Emmett: Well, we definitely wouldn’t be able to wrap her around our finger.

GM: Just reminding you to keep it up, buttercup. We get juvenile when we get bored, after all.

And if it takes too long to find those brats, or you blow it off or half-ass it like a homework assignment along the way, and go ‘but progress!’, I’m gonna get bored real fast.

Like, I wonder what Cécilia would do if we made a giant dick appear in her mouth, and made it look like she was sucking whenever she talked. Or spelled out some floating letters in cum that said ‘WHORE’ and followed her wherever she went.

Emmett: “My Shadow’s whining at me,” he says suddenly, glancing at Cécilia. “Excuse me for a moment.”

Harrowing, you whiny, angsty bitch. Unless you’re scared of getting spanked. Tired of your complaining.

GM: What are you getting your panties in a wad about? I haven’t even done anything.

Yet, anyways.

Emmett: Too bad. Harrowing. Now.

GM: Uh, fuck you, I decide when you have those.

Emmett: Aw, is widdle Gasper scared of getting his immaterial ass kicked?

I’d go easy on you. Sing you a lullaby. It’d go, poor little Gasper, no ideas of his own. Doesn’t know how to do shit but groan.

He can feel his other side boiling, flexing, ready to pounce.

But he’s tired of it. And he’s done being pushed around.

GM: Huh. Someone’s in a mood.

Here’s the thing, though.

You’ve made me really fucking strong.

Emmett clamps down on his Shadow’s obnoxiousness like a bear trap over a hapless idiot’s leg.

Huh. You really are pissed off!

Here’s the thing though… I’ve got a lot of ammo to burn, all thanks to you.

And I’ll just keep burning it… until…

Caroline watches as enormous, hairy, stinky, sweaty penis shoots a full load of jizz all over Cécilia’s face. The salty-smelling cum dribbles down her cheeks and nose, spelling out the still-dripping words WHORE over her breasts.

Caroline: Fury flashes in Caroline’s eyes and suddenly she’s there, right in front of Em. She throws a fist at his face.

GM: Her fist passes through the ghost like he’s not even there.

Caroline: She looks down at her fist and scowls.

GM: Cécilia says nothing. Her face is very, very still.

After several moments, she speaks.

“You said your Shadow was whining, Emmett?”

Emmett: His silence speaks volumes. So does the expression on his face. The shame, the fury, and worst of all, the helplessness.

He turns, voice cracking. “I should go.”

GM: “Wait,” says Cécilia.

“That was your Shadow. Wasn’t it, seizing control?”

“I’d sooner we denied it any kind of victory, because that’s exactly what it wants. To drive wedges between you and other people.”

“Caroline also knows something of what it’s like to lose control. Don’t you?”

Sticky wet cum continues to dribble down her face as she talks.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t quite snarl, but her lip curls.

GM: The jizz-spelled word over her breasts morphs into two further ones:


Emmett: “That’s not an excuse,” he spits, and he sprouts bat-like wings as he walks. “If I can’t control it, I can’t be trusted. And I clearly can’t.”

GM: “There are ways to control it, and to beat it. How much do you know about Shadows, Em?”

“Have you had anyone to explain these things to you?”

Emmett: He stops at the door, wings twitching. He still doesn’t look at her. Denies himself the sight of his cruel prank.

“No,” he says, quietly.

GM: Em can’t see it.

But he can smell it.

Hear the sticky drip-drips.

“I think that would also frustrate your Shadow more than anything else, then,” Cécilia replies. “People who are ignorant are always easier to take advantage of.”

“That must be like… playing a sport without knowing any of the rules, while the rival team has also deputized themselves as the umpires. The whole thing would feel grossly unfair. Be grossly unfair.”

“Caroline, do you have any idea of what that would be like to experience?”

Caroline: Caroline fixes her gaze on her semen-splattered sister. Thinks on how that must feel. How it must smell. And here she is, calmly, rationally, comforting the shade of the man who lied to her, manipulated her. Of a murderer and a rapist.

She’s too good for Em. Too good for her.

Her knuckles pop around her clinched fist. “You know I do,” she answers.

And when she loses control it results in dead bodies, not dirty jokes.

GM: The words have shifted again.


“I do. But perhaps it’s worth something to Em to know that someone else does.”

Caroline: “I have a suddenly keen awareness for my kind’s lack of patience with it,” she replies.

But she knows that’s unfair. How many times has her will not risen to the challenge of the Beast? How many lives has she shattered for it?

“When we’re hungry, or hurt, or even just pissed off, our own monster comes out.”

“That’s was how I maimed and killed, mostly, in those first nights.”

GM: “Those were very terrifying and lonely nights, I’m sure, before you came into contact with larger Kindred society. Which offered horrors, traumas, and indignities of its own for you, I know, but at least other people who understood you and could provide context and meaning to your experiences. I’d guess that Em hasn’t come across larger Stygian society yet, or other wraiths would have either explained this to him or taken… measures to ensure his Shadow couldn’t cause further problems.”

“The latter perhaps being more likely than the former. I’m to understand many newly-risen wraiths get taken as slaves by older ones.”

Emmett: “There are pardoners,” he says. Still looking at the door. “I don’t know what to do without one. And every time I get close to doing something, or even tell the prick no… well.”

The mess on her face says it all.

GM: “I understand that it’s possible to get by without one, from what Maman has told me. Your Shadow can’t just take over whenever it wants. There are rules it has to follow.”

Emmett: “What rules?” He turns his head ninety degrees, still only looking at her from the corner of his eye.

GM: “Your Shadow has to expend some portion of itself when it tries to take over, or to fuel its other powers. If it does so enough times, it’ll be starved and impotent. Just an angry voice in your head.”

“It grows stronger whenever you give in to the worst parts of yourself. Whenever you do the things it wants. Or whenever you draw on it for power.”

“Maman tells me the Underworld is a harsh place, and that even wraiths who know they’re making their Shadows stronger often feel it’s the lesser of two evils.”

Emmett: “How do I weaken it?”

GM: “You already did, here. Your Shadow used some of its strength, maybe a lot of its strength, purely to play a juvenile prank. I’m sure it could have used that on something much more actively malevolent.”

Emmett: “Still. It has to have some weakness. Some way to bring the fight to it.”

GM: “Maman hasn’t explained as much to me there. But if giving in to the worst parts of yourself strengthens your Shadow… living up to the best parts of yourself seems like it could only help.”

Emmett: “I’m feeding your mother souls,” Em says bluntly.

“My only way forward is through the darkness.”

GM: “Forward to where?”

Emmett: “Somewhere that isn’t here. Somewhere that…” he tries for words, and fails. “I don’t know what I want. Except that I probably won’t get it.”

He’s wasted enough of her time. He turns to go, ready to kick off the ground, take to the air, and soar into the night.

Caroline: The Ventrue moves like she did before. Lightning quick, this time entirely through him to the other side of him. Positioning herself between the wraith and the door.

Can you give me a moment with him, Cécilia?

GM: Of course.

With his face turned away from Cécilia’s, Emmett can’t say what the expression on his ex-girlfriend’s looks like. Or how much of his Shadow’s ‘handiwork’ yet remains. But her voice sounds simultaneously sad and hopeful as she replies,

“I hope you find out what you want. And I hope that you do get it. If you want to talk again, I’ll be here.”

She turns to go, the light tap of her shoes sounding against the wood floor.

Caroline: Caroline eyes the dead man. The killer. The rapist. The monster. And also her patsy. Her shared survivor—such as it is—of the Dungeon. Survivor, that’s a joke.

She’s silent for a moment, running her tongue across her teeth. Her fangs, really, he can tell. There’s something monstrous inside her. Hard and cruel. When she finally speaks it’s with steel.

“Most of us never change,” she admits. “We are what we are, and not even death will change that.”

“I am no different, so I give you this warning, once. Whether you succeed or fail in any task laid before you is immaterial. Spend your afterlife as you wish. If you wish to tie your fate to ours, you’re wiser for it. If you wish to seek your own, I wish you peace.”

There’s a pause. He can almost feel the ‘but’ coming.

“But, if this is a con, if this is an attempt to manipulate my sister’s better nature, if you seek to hurt any of my sisters or my mother, do not think you are beyond my reach simply because I cannot touch you.” She waves a hand through the shade for effect.

The monster inside her is so close to the surface now he wonders how others don’t see it. How she doesn’t send her family running in terror. The monster fills her voice with hate.

“Hurt my sisters and I will kill everyone you have ever known. I will kill your family down to the last living descendant, and I will make it painful, knowing you will watch. I will burn everything you might have ever loved if you seek to take that which I love from me. This I swear to God.”

Emmett: His wings flutter impatiently, his eyes on hers. Both gazes dead, yet so very different. His doesn’t flicker as she plunges a hand through his corpus, even as it parts like shadow and smoke to accommodate her posturing.

“You can swear it to me,” he simply says. “You are heard, Malveaux. But you need not exert yourself so. Your Maman scares me more than you could hope to. As for destroying all I have ever loved…” he smiles sadly. “I think even a girl who killed her mother might balk at hurting Cécilia. Farewell, lick. Until next time.”

She cannot stop him from leaving. This he knows, and it amuses him to have the last word, if only because he suspects her lack of power over him disturbs her. He leaves shadow and and the sound of laughter behind him, lingering past the beating of his wings.

GM: Yet though Caroline may lack that power, another force all-too plainly does not. The house’s front door, solid and impenetrable to the wraith’s sight, its pristine oak surface unmarred by the decay of the Shadowlands, holds fast before him.

Caroline: The heiress stares at him, unsmiling. “If you fear her, you would do well to be less flippant in her home. Her protectiveness towards her daughters is mirrored in mine, and you’ll find patience may be the only quality in which I outstrip her.”

Emmett: He sighs, and turns to face her. “What would you have me say, Caroline? I can be polite, as can you, but we have made our terms clear. I will not cross your Maman, even leaving aside her charming hospitality and our current bargain; and I will not see Cécilia harmed for reasons I should think I’ve made clear. I have no reason to take an interest in the rest of your sisters. What else do we have to discuss, beyond my flippancy, a subject you will most assuredly find exhausting, even if only because I can discuss it until sunrise.”

“Indeed, the longer I linger, the greater the chance my Shadow resurfaces and leads me to say something truly uncouth, which neither of us wants. I aim only to be a pleasing guest, and yet already I have allowed my worse half to get the better of me.” He wrings his hands in consternation as his wings open and close impatiently, his feet lifting steadily off the ground.

Caroline: “Save the indignation and take this for what it is, Emmett. In life you were a murder. A liar. A rapist. A manipulator. You fed on human suffering in a way as depraved as any lick, and without the same holy purpose. In your travels you sought to victimize me, and did victimize my sister. Your entire life was built on whatever lie was most convenient and advantageous to you in the moment, and upon playing on others’ emotions. You were a monster, just like I am. And death has done nothing for my temperament.”

She pauses. “That Cecilia is willing to overlook all of that out of her genuine desire that you find peace and purpose and perhaps even happiness is a gift you are wholly undeserving of. I do not presume to dictate how my sister spends her time or affections, or suggest she is wrong in offering them.”

“But I know what you always were. If you wish to be better, be better. Prove her right. I would only you know whatever she may hope, I will always be there to protect her so she may continue to. And I don’t take chances.”

She walks through him, her heels clicking on the floor as she moves away from the door, towards the hall Cecilia disappeared down. Her voice trails over her shoulder as she departs.

“I wouldn’t hold out, too, for the rising sun. It’s been up for hours.”

Emmett: Well. Through his crotch.

“Oh, well that’s just…” he trails off as she walks away. “Kind of impressive, actually.”

He dips a toe against the door, trying to get through.

GM: It remains solid against his foot.

Only when Caroline has left does it swing open.

Endless gray and gloom stretches outside.

Emmett: “As ever, madame, a pleasure,” he demurs as his wings beat again.

“Until next time, and your next feeding.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia V
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia VI, Emmett VII

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline VI
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline VIII, Celia X

Previous, by Emmett: Story Twelve, Emmett V
Next, by Emmett: Story Twelve, Celia VI, Emmett VII

Story Twelve, Celia V

“Talk or we burn you.”
Unknown hunter

Date ?

GM: Pain stabs through Celia’s flank. Her Beast roars.

“Wakey-wakey, bloodsucker.”

She can’t see. Her sight is covered. There’s something thick in her mouth.

“Here’s how this is going to go.”

Someone pulls the blindfold away. It’s painfully bright out.

Day out.

Celia’s head throbs. She’s in a bare room, handcuffed to a bed in spread-eagle position.

The man and woman from the car are sitting on the bed. The woman is holding a bloody knife. The man has a cigarette lighter.

He flicks it on. Moves it closer to her face. Celia’s Beast gnashes its teeth and rears it back.

He flicks it off.

“You’re going to answer our questions, or we’ll burn your pretty face.”

“If you’re still stubborn after that, we’ll get creative.”

“Nod if you understand.”

Celia: She doesn’t know how it works, the thing that Savoy did that night when he felt her die. She doesn’t know how strong the bond is, or if he or her sire will be able to feel it, if she’s doing it right, if there’s even a way to do it consciously.

But she screams. Inside her mind she screams, wordless, panic and rage and fear. That deep-seated fear of fire, of daylight, of these two people standing over her with their knife. Her mind is an echo chamber of please and God and help me, save me.

Her face isn’t flat. It doesn’t betray the rage, but the terror? She lets that show. Anyone would be scared in this position. It puts her back to that time in Em’s apartment. Watching her mother get raped. Tied down, just like this. Hacksawed.

She can’t talk around the gag in her mouth, but she nods. She nods vigorously, all the while pulling in that predatory smell and projecting the same thing she had shown them… before. Last night? How long ago?

It doesn’t matter. She projects that impression of innocence.

GM: The man’s face seems so soften, perhaps a bit.

The blindfold goes back on.

The gag comes out.

“How recently were you turned into this?”

His tone isn’t kind. But it’s perhaps less cruel than when he waved the lighter in her face.

Celia: She could lie. She could tell him she doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

But there’s an easy way to test that, isn’t there? Push her outside. Let the sun ash her. There’s a tightness in her chest where her heart used to be. Dread curls in her gut.

They want information. It’s not often you find yourself with a vampire on your hands. Would they ash her for lying? Or just put that cigarette lighter on her, slide that knife under her nails?

Her voice comes out in a broken whisper, a pained whine. Breathless. Afraid. “I didn’t know what she was.”

Keep calm. Keep calm and scream inside. Cooperate. Someone has to know she’s missing. Savoy has to wonder why she didn’t show up. That’s not like her. She wouldn’t miss a meeting. Maybe he sent someone to look for her. Maybe Pete…?

She doesn’t pull at the bindings. She is very, very still.

GM: She couldn’t see them, anyway, Just like she can’t see the man’s expression.

“How recently?” he repeats. Not angry, yet, but pressing.

Celia: When was the last selfie she’d posted on Instagram? She remembers it because it had a sunny background. Augmented reality. Photoshop. That’s what she’d told Coco years ago when she’d asked.

Too young and they’ll think she doesn’t know anything. Too old and they’ll know this innocent mask is a lie.

There’s no way to win. Another game without an end.

It isn’t fair. All she wants to do is fix her family. Her dad finally said he was proud of her. Her sister is waiting for her to come back.

Her lip quivers. She draws in a shaky breath so she can tell him what he wants to know.

“A few months.” She prays it’s the right answer. They can check her Insta page if they need to; it’ll show that sunny photo, date stamped from a few months prior.

GM: “What’s your phone PIN?” asks the woman.

Celia: “Face scanner.” Jade’s face.

GM: There’s a pause. The blindfold gets pulled away. The man’s eyes are shut as he holds up the phone to her face.

Celia: It doesn’t open. Celia isn’t wearing Jade’s face. She’d never had a chance to change for her meeting.

GM: She’s blindfolded again.

She can hear the man’s scowl.

“Dumb of you.”

Celia: “Is—is that a white phone? Mine isn’t white.”

GM: There’s silence.

Retreating footsteps.

Door opening.


Celia: She strains to hear anything beyond the door. Anything that will give her more information on where she is or what they want with her. All the while she remains still. She breathes, just to make herself look human, just to give her something to do.

GM: She hears plenty. Muffled yelling and screaming.

Alana’s voice.

Celia: No.

GM: “Mi-fre-f!!!”

“Open your mouth,” says the woman.

Celia: Her mouth opens. She keeps her fangs hidden away.

GM: The gag gets shoved back in. The blindfold comes off.

Alana is gagged and tied up. The man traces the knife’s edge along her face.

“Talk or we burn you. That’s what we said, starting with your pretty face.”

“But you fucks can come back from anything.”

The ghoul is very still, but her damp eyes are wide and fearful.

Celia: Celia shakes her head, eyes pleading. She shouts from behind the gag. The words are muffled.

GM: “Can you unlock the phone?” asks the woman.

“Nod or shake your head.”

Celia: She doesn’t know what’s on her phone that they want. Selfies? Business receipts from her email? Sexts to Randy? She’d learned, long ago, how technology could fuck someone. She doesn’t keep anything worth saving on her phone. That’s just ignorant.

But she can’t take the chance she was sloppy. Sell out a ghoul, or sell out her entire kind?

It’s an easy decision to make.

She hates herself for it.

She shakes her head.

GM: The woman holds down a crying Alana, and then the man saws off her right ear. Blood messily spurts everywhere as the ghoul makes muffled screams past her gag and thrashes in place.

Celia can feel her elongated canines pierce through the gag’s cloth as the heady coppery scent fills her nostrils.

Celia: She thrashes against her bindings. Against whatever is holding her back, she thrashes, yanks, pulls. Her body bucks and bows, bending, twisting. Her fingers curl into claws. She screams again. Wordless. Rage. Panic. Shakes her head. Again, again. Stop it, she’s screaming, but they can’t hear.

GM: Perhaps her Beast bursts out and overtakes her. Perhaps she howls like the monster is. The handcuffs cruelly dig into her flesh and hold her fast.

Perhaps Roderick or Veronica could burst those steel bonds. But she’s just Celia. Weak.

“Is this her phone?” the man asks Alana, holding it up.

The sobbing, newly-one-eared ghoul mutely bobs her head, over and over, as if that will make the pain stop.

“Oh, look. More lies.”

The blindfold goes back on. The gag comes out.

“Punctured it,” says the woman.

“She’s a monster,” says the man. “Look at those fang marks.”

“There’s monsters and then there’s monsters,” says the woman.

Someone’s hand touches Celia’s shoulder.

“You say you’re pretty new to what you are,” comes the man’s voice.

“Okay. You’re a sweet girl something bad happened to.”

“This will go easier if you cooperate. Just tell us how to get into the phone.”

Celia: The skin where they’d stuck the knife knits itself back together beneath her shirt. The wound is bloody enough that they might not notice, even if they were looking at it.

How long has she been here? How long until nightfall? Until someone comes looking for her? Did anyone even notice? Does he care that she was screaming in her mind, or is he snoozing, peacefully, behind those steel doors in Paul’s house? Alana will fold soon. The girl wasn’t built to withstand this kind of torture.

Her mind rips through her options. They seem to feel at least something for her. Pity, maybe. But that won’t stop them from taking her head when they get what they want. Her and Alana both. And then what? Then Roxanne fades away into nothing, or breaks free of the restraints. Kills one of her employees. If they get into the phone and find what they’re looking for—what are they looking for?

She doesn’t need to see the man to make him feel things. There’s no eye contact required. She pours it down that line of energy that connects the two of them, the one from her shoulder to his hands to his heart. She makes him feel it. See her how she wants him to see her: friend. Not a monster. Just a sweet girl something bad happened to. Someone who wants to help, she just can’t, and she doesn’t want to be this way, she wants to help, of course she wants to help, she’s a people pleaser, she’d do it if she could.

“J-Jade has to do it.” She puts a tremor in her voice. “I can help, just—what do you need?”

“Please don’t hurt her,” she tacks on, because that sounds like the kind of thing someone nice would say, the kind of thing someone decent would be worried about.

GM: “Who is Jade?” asks the woman.

Celia: “She’s in charge. She’s the one… the one who…” she breaks off.

GM: Celia can’t see Alana’s face, but the ghoul’s gag-muffled sobs are still all-too audible.

“The leech who turned you,” fills in the man.

“Blankbodies now,” says the woman.

“Suppose they are,” says the man.

Celia: Celia nods her head. She presses her face into her arm, even tied as it is, as if to hold back tears.

GM: “That’s good,” the man says encouragingly. “Tell us about Jade.”

Celia: “She—she’s hurts me. She makes me do what she says, I don’t want to, but she… she makes me and… she kil—she killed—” She cuts off into a hiccupping sob. “I didn’t want to die, I didn’t want to, she r-raped me, she ju-just takes over when I…” Her head shakes, back and forth. “Please, please, tell me w-what you want, I’ll help, I will, I c-can’t go back to her.”

GM: The pair question Celia extensively about Jade. Her name. Her haven. Her routine. Her demonstrated powers. Her preferred vessels.

The lies drip from the Toreador’s too-practiced tongue like honey. She was spouting bullshit long before her Embrace.

And besides, it’s not even completely a lie. Once you can fake sincerity you have it made, so it’s even better if you don’t have to.

The pair seem to swallow it all. Hook, line, and sinker.

Celia: She tells them what they want to know. She tells them about the woman who came to her. The old woman with the curling gray hair, leathery skin, wrinkles upon wrinkles upon wrinkles. Evening appointments only, but that’s not strange—a lot of people work during the day. The woman had wanted her to fix her flaws. To make her younger. More beautiful. Only any change Celia made came undone the next night. There’s no way to make it permanent. Nothing she can do for them.

She tells them about the rage. The beating she’d endured inside her own establishment when her client hadn’t liked her news. When they press for details about what the woman can do, she tells them about the durability. The healing. The mind control. Smart to cover her eyes or mouth. So smart. You need direct eye contact, she tells them, that’s how they get you. Both eyes. Nothing in between. That’s the drawback, she says, that there are ways around it if you know what you’re doing. She’d had a special pair of glasses made for when she deals with the woman. Maybe they saw her with them?

She tells them about the dirty table where she was taken apart. The table covered in blood, filth, excrement. The bindings like these—and here her voice breaks again, because these bindings remind her of being beaten, of being violated, and she tells them that, too, and she presses her face again into her arm as her body trembles. Helpless. Her friends are hurting her. She tells them, too, about the laughter. The screaming. The broken bones. Sometimes she’d be suffocated. Her vision would go black and then red. The blood vessels would pop in her eyes and face. She’d have to pile on the makeup after that. The woman would always bring her back from the brink of death, though.

Until one night she didn’t.

Now she’s one of them. A leech. A slave to a more powerful master. She just wants to be left alone. To make people pretty. She’s good with makeup. She seizes that idea, showing them excited desperation: she can help them. She can help them get in to where the woman stays. It won’t be strange for Celia to show up, and she can disguise them, bring them with her.

She can help. She just wants to help. To help them. To let them help her. To get her out from under the thumb of the evil thing that stole her life from her.

She asks, at some point, if they can put the ear on ice. Maybe a doctor can reattach it.

There’s a ritual, she tells them, haltingly. Breathlessly. A ritual that will make them fast and strong. It will help when they fight the woman. When they go after Jade.

But there’s a price. Two prices, really, and she’s flustered as she tells them that. Shy. She makes them draw it out of her, coaxing. She’s afraid to scare them, she says, she doesn’t want them to think less of her, doesn’t want to be seen like… like the woman. She seems reluctant to part with the information.

She needs blood, first. Their blood. She doesn’t need to bite them, not if they don’t want her to. They can put it in a cup. Feed her with a straw. Hold it to her lips. It’ll leave a scar if they cut themselves like that though, she can’t fix that. But if they do want her to bite them, she promises it won’t hurt. She can take it from their wrist if they want, and it’ll close after, no scars. She won’t take too much. Enough for the ritual, that’s it. The other one can hold the knife to her if needed, if it sounds like their partner is in pain.

She doesn’t want to hurt her friends.

The second part… she trails off as she tells them. She bites her lip with flat teeth, sends the blood to her cheeks to redden them. She plays up that picture of innocence; demure, chaste, pure. She squirms as she tells them.

The second part is to seal it with a kiss.

GM: Celia can’t see anything happening as she talks, but she hears Alana chokingly add to the story. She sobs about the unspeakable things Jade does to them both. About how she and Celia are both victims. How she didn’t want this, any of this, for herself, she doesn’t want anything to do with vampires, but Jade forced her. She begs the pair not to hurt Celia, who’s done so much to shield her from Jade’s wrath. Who’s endured beatings and worse, so much worse, in her place. She begs the pair to save them from Jade.

Celia: Celia pictures the girl’s words as she talks. She puts herself in that position, the both of them in that position: playtoys for more powerful Kindred. It isn’t a stretch to imagine. She sees Veronica’s face twist as she destroys things. Hears the phlemgy, squelching laughter of the Nosferatu. Imagines her sister’s wounds. She didn’t even get a chance to ask what happened. Who had hurt her.

Celia lets that fear fill her voice. Shows them the way her body trembles at the thought of being subjected to more abuse. It isn’t even a stretch: she knows if she plays this wrong the rest of her kind will have something to say, too, and that’s assuming she gets out. Savoy has never had cause to be disappointed with her before, but she can see it in his eyes when she pictures him. Failure. He’ll say he should have left her in the water. Should have let the sun ash her. Donovan threw her away, and Savoy will say he should have left her like the garbage that she is. It’s a quick execution to sell out their own kind, she knows. Maybe that’s the best she can hope for now.

Or maybe they’ll sell her off to the highest bidder. Make an example of her: this is what happens when you get sloppy. Veronica had smugly told her she’d taken someone like that. He’s just a bitch now. Treated worse than she’d ever treat a ghoul, or even the kine. A primogen’s childe and he still has no recourse.

All of that she pours into her words. Halting. Splintering. But not for her. For Alana.

Please, she says to them, please would they consider letting Alana go? She can get a head start out of the city, before the others wake up, before they learn about the betrayal. Alana doesn’t deserve this, she tells them, voice breaking, and if Celia… if Celia is going to find her ruin here—pleasedontendme—at least Alana would be free from it.

GM: Once more, honey drips from the Toreador’s practiced lips. Perhaps the alternating gag and blindfold would be enough to shield them from Celia’s powers of enthrallment, were she a childe of Ventrue whose gaze must be assiduously averted, but the Rose Clan’s vitae runs through Celia’s veins instead.

Celia cannot meet their eyes. She cannot read their faces. But she can read their voices, and the silences in between. She can feel their hearts paining for the innocent victim she proclaims herself to be.

She has, after all, had so much practice playing the victim.

Being the victim.

Her captors don’t apologize for Alana’s ear. But she hears retreating footsteps, an opening door, and the mutilated ghoul stammering out here thanks. There’s the door opening and closing again, and the woman’s voice saying to “keep applying pressure.”

Celia’s request to be let go is met with a hard but pained, “I’m sorry, but that’s out of the question,” from the man.

“It’s good you’re cooperating. This will go as gently for you as it can.”

“Things are about to get a lot worse for your kind. A lot worse. You’re lucky we were the ones to get you. We’re teddy bears, honestly, next to—”

There’s a sound from the woman.

They tell Celia to keep talking.

They pause when she gets to ‘the ritual.’

Celia: She tells Alana that the ear can be reattached. It can be fixed. To go to a meldical—sorry, she’s slurring, medical, she’s so tired, her brain is fuzzy—and she can get it fixed, she won’t have to live without an ear.

She sounds hopeful. So hopeful. And so grateful when they let Alana go, when she hears the retreating footsteps. She thanks them for their kindness when the door shuts, not a trace of irony in her voice. She understands. They can’t let her go. She tells them she understands. But there’s hurt in her voice.

“Next to what?” she asks, desperate. Fear seeps from her pores. She’s helpless. Bound. Gagged. They know how to beat her. They’re scaring her. She doesn’t want to go out screaming. Can they tell her? Please? She doesn’t want… she doesn’t want to be surprised by it. When it happens. She asks, quietly, when they pause, what will go gently. “Are you going to… to finish me?” She doesn’t say ‘kill.’ She’s already dead. That will just remind them.

GM: “Please don’t! She never wanted this!” begs a too-familiar voice.


“Stay quiet,” says the woman. “The more pressure you maintain, the less blood you’ll lose.”

Alana falls silent.

“We’ll talk about that later,” the man answers Celia’s question. The words are gruff, but not without pain of their own.

Celia: Oh. Oh no. They hadn’t let her go. Celia had just been making up stories in her head. Imagining the things she wanted.

It’s not fair.

It’s not fair, Alana shouldn’t be here. She’ll have to watch her die. She’s going to watch her die.

She makes a sound. It might be a sob.

GM: She feels the man’s hand against her shoulder.

“You’re doing good. We won’t draw this out. Just answer some more questions. About this… ritual…”

They question her. They patiently listen to her answers. About becoming stronger, faster, tougher. About the blood cost. About the kiss to seal it.

Chaste and demure. It’s not hard time slip into character. It’s what her dad taught her to be all her life. It’s the only thing he could love her as. It’s what her mom still is, in all frankness. She’s had a lot of practice with this act.

“…we could use that,” the man says finally. “Stronger. Faster. We can’t go toe to toe, against… leeches. Have to fight dirty. Hit where they’re weak.”

“We’ve lost friends, when we couldn’t. Your help might save lives.”

Celia: “Will it… will it save mine? Hers?” She nods her chin to the last spot she had heard Alana’s voice.

GM: “We can’t let you go,” the man says heavily. “You’re still human now, but eventually, you’ll turn into a monster. As bad as Jade.”

“Do you really want that to happen? Do to some other poor girl what she did to you?”

Celia: “You don’t have to let me go. I… I’ll stay here. I want…” Celia’s lip trembles. “I want to… to be normal again… if you… you could keep me, you could… a cure, maybe, there has to be…”

“They say… they say the worse you get, the worse you look. It shows in your face. You could monitor me. Look for signs. If… if I start to go…”

GM: “I don’t know if there’s a cure,” says the man. “We’ve heard… rumors. Things like killing the leech who turned you.”

“But we’ve never seen it,” says the woman. “I don’t know if a cure even exists.”

“Maybe… they know more…” says the man.

“They wouldn’t help,” says the woman.

“We could try. Hold her here, like she says…”

Celia: “I met one once. Before Jade. I didn’t know what he was at the time. But we talked about saints and sinners, and it came up… it’s compounding. It builds. And if you help enough people…”

“I can help you. With the ritual. Every night. You can… I don’t know who they are, but… maybe, maybe they would help, maybe they would know more, and I’ll help, I will, whatever you need from me.”

“Are they… rivals?”

GM: “No.” A pause. “Well. Mostly, no. But things aren’t going to be like they used to be, anymore. For you or us.”

“She shouldn’t hear this,” interjects the woman.

Celia: “I’m sorry. I just wanted to help. I thought maybe… maybe I might know something about them, but I don’t know who…”

GM: “They’re no one you’ve heard of,” says the woman. “And they won’t help. It’s better if—”

“—we want to kill her sire anyway,” interrupts the man. “Maybe that’ll do something, maybe it won’t. Doesn’t hurt to see if it does.”

Celia: “I can’t go anywhere.” Celia pulls at the bindings, to show them. “I’m… your prisoner. I’m yours. It’ll… it’ll let me redo the ritual. Each time you need it. So you… you won’t lose each other.”

GM: There is another silence as the two seem to mull over Celia’s words.

Maybe they are finally coming to their senses.

Maybe this sounds all-too suspiciously like ghouling.

Maybe they know about that.

Maybe they’ve realized what she is trying to do to them.

Maybe they’ve realized the innocent victim mask is a lie. That it has been a lie since even before her Embrace.

There’s a sound like footsteps.

The door opening.





Then, an unmistakable coppery tang in her nostrils, even before she feels something cool and ceramic pressed to her lips.

“Okay. Do it.”

Celia: Her mouth opens. She does her best to keep her fangs tucked away.

GM: The luscious, too-brief taste rolls down her mouth like red velvet. Veronica called it “the best sex you’ve had, the best high you’ve had, the best food you’ve had, all rolled into one.” There’s a decidedly bitter note to this hunter’s vitae, which has a strong, hearty flavor. Celia can imagine it might taste even better in the thick of combat, laced with adrenaline.

It’s not without a note of sweetness, too… sweet with the man’s feelings for her, because it has to be the man’s. It’s a blatant and unsubtle note, like someone poured sugar all over a hamburger. It’s sweet, and might even pair okay, but there’s nothing at all subtle about it. Savoy and Veronica both always said that inspiring the kine’s lusts “the real way” made for better flavor.

Celia: She doesn’t need it to taste good. At this point it’s just sustenance. She hushes the Beast’s complaining at the taste; soon she’ll be out of here. Soon she’ll feed on something sweeter. Someone has to know she’s missing. Someone has to be looking for her.

She swallows it down, but it’s not enough. Never enough. The red clings to her lips and she licks it free. She won’t waste any of it. Her hand moves, but it’s caught fast by the cuffs. She turns her head to frown at the arrested motion.

“Runes,” she says.

GM: “Runes, what?” asks the woman.

Celia: “Ritual,” Celia says, as if that explains it. “Runes. For it to complete. Need to mark you.”

GM: “You just said there needed to be a kiss,” she says with a frown.

Celia: “To seal it. Blood for payment, kiss to seal. The ritual itself…” Celia trails off. “The sun. It makes everything I do weaker. I can wait. Until sunset. Stay tied. Or I can mark you. Infuse extra power into it. Make sure it sticks.” There’s a pause. She gathers her thoughts. Sends out a new impression: trustworthiness.

“How familiar are you with rituals?” she finally asks.

GM: “Brianna was the real expert at that stuff,” admits the man. “Leeches—blanks, killed her a few months back.”

Celia: Her lips pull downward.

“I’m sorry. They…” she hesitates. “They killed someone I was seeing. My boyfriend. Before. I didn’t know until I was turned that they were responsible for him.”

GM: “Jade killed my mom,” Alana speaks up quietly. “I didn’t even know why, for a month. Until she told me it was because she was hungry.”

“And because she knew where my mom slept. Convenient, was what she said.”

“That’s the thing,” says the man. “They’ll kill just anyone. And everyone leaves a hole behind. Other people to pick up the pieces.”

Celia: “I don’t want you to lose anyone else,” Celia says quietly. “I’d do anything to keep that from happening. I… if they found out I was doing this ritual…” she trails off. A delicate shudder runs down her body.

“I have a daughter,” she says after a moment. “She’s with my mom now. But Jade knows she exists. And… I live in fear that something is going to happen to her. That she’ll hurt her. To hurt me. Because I do something wrong.” Her voice is strained. “All I wanted… I just wanted to see her graduate… to know that she’s taken care of, and I…” She trails off.

GM: “You don’t have to worry about Jade for much longer,” says the man. “We’re going to hit her. Today, while the sun’s still out. Before she notices you two are gone. You can help us with your… ritual.”

He leans in and kisses her lips. It’s a somewhat awkward kiss, with no real lust or passion behind it. It feels almost sad.

Celia: She makes a noise, something that might have been a squeak of surprise, but she’s quick to recover. Celia’s lips part. Her mouth is warm, but there’s no moistness to the tongue that she slips into his mouth. Her hand pulls against the restraint almost reflexively, as if to cup his cheek or touch his shoulder. It’s held fast by the steel handcuffs.

There’s no exchange of power. Nothing happens.

Except the pulse that she sends down the line. The way her tongue curls around his. The desire that she infuses him with; a desire for her, to get these cuffs off, to take her like a man takes a woman. She’s so pretty, isn’t she? Beautiful skin. Tight body. Curves in all the right places. So soft, so warm, so inviting. She’s been so helpful. And how often is is that he’ll get a chance to bed a vampire? It’s desirable for the novelty alone, really. Hasn’t he read any pararomance novels? Vampires make the best lovers. She even has a heartbeat. He can feel it in her chest, pounding away. Her nipples are hard beneath the shirt she wears, straining, begging for him to touch them.

He’ll never get this opportunity again. He should bed her now, while he has the chance. Send the girls out of the room. Just the two of them; what sweet love they can make.

GM: Celia can’t read the man’s face. But she can hear his breath and how much quicker it comes. She can feel his hands lingering on her body.

And not least of all, she can feel the lust that inflames his kiss.

His tongue entwines with hers, his mouth all-too hungry as their lips meet.

Until they are interrupted.

“My turn,” the woman says thickly.

The man reluctantly pulls away.

Celia hears a faint noise, then another unmistakable copper tang fills the air. The ceramic cup is pressed against her mouth.

The woman’s blood tastes similar to the man’s. Hearty and bitter, but with a salty undercurrent, and nowhere nearly as much of the glamor-induced sweetness, though some of that is still there. The flavor feels natural. Mostly natural.

The woman leans in for a second kiss. It’s less sad than the man’s. Quicker and more businesslike. She’s doing this because she has to.

Celia: The man being ripped away from her draws a mournful sound, low and in the back of her throat. She misses him. She wants him. There’s a promise in that sound: what she can do to him if he comes back for more. If he gets her alone. But she doesn’t turn down the blood. She drinks again, swallows it down, and her tongue flicks across the woman’s lips.

Is this what jealousy tastes like?

Her fangs extend. Two points of fire in the woman’s lip, followed by the sweet ecstasy of the kiss.

GM: Celia sips, rapturously. The lips are a poor point to drink from, though. She works lower, nuzzling her head against the woman’s neck. The Toreador can feel the initial tension in the woman’s body drain away like a stressed client laid out on the massage table. Celia knows all about making people feel good. She shivers and pulls taut against the handcuffs as bliss flows down her throat. Oh, oh yes—

Suddenly, there’s rough hands squeezing her breasts, then pulling down her pants. Working off her panties. There’s the sound of a belt unbuckling, a fly unzipping, and then a man’s hard cock filling her.

“Ah, yeah, take it, you vampire slut! Take it!”

The man’s thrusts come hard and fast. If Celia were like most of her kind, for whom their sex organs’ nerve endings are as dead as the rest of their bodies, she might not have even noticed amidst the sanguine ecstasy coursing down her throat. The man doesn’t sound at all bothered. He presses down on top of Celia, on top of the woman atop her. He pins Celia’s cuffed wrists to the bed as his balls smack back and forth.

“You’re fucking mine! I OWN you, slut! Beg for your life! Work those whore lips!”

Celia barely hears him. There is only the rapture of the kiss, the rush of life shooting up her veins, making her warm, making her whole. She takes and takes and takes. Her victim moans and pushes herself closer against Celia, but doesn’t resist. They never do. The Toreador takes and takes until the woman’s heartbeat is a dull, weak thump, then silent altogether.

“You’re FILTHY! DISGUSTING! Yeah! You’re MINE! You’re gonna fuck me all day! My—pet—vampire—WHORE!”

Celia feels strong hands clamp around her neck, cutting of her air supply—if she still breathed. The man chokes the shit out of her as he thrusts faster and harder. There’s an almost manic quality to his voice as he half-screams, half-sobs,


The man gives a strangled inarticulate cry as he tenses and blows his load, filling Celia’s dead cunt with his seed.

Celia: Celia takes more pleasure in sex than most of her kind. They call her perverted for it, tell her that it’s the blood that she should get off on. She just smiles at them because she knows how wrong they are, how the simultaneous enjoyment of blood on her tongue and a tongue on her clit is better than anything they’ll ever get. They’re missing out. Deprived, really.

She’s been with enough men to know the signs. The way he speeds up. The nerves in her dead cunt telling her that his buried-to-the-hilt cock is beginning to twitch, just as she was starting to enjoy the ride. She might have even started to call him “daddy” the way he wants, or would have if his fingers weren’t curled around her throat. Maybe she makes a noise or two to urge him on. Happy noises, like Veronica taught her. Right there, those noises say, don’t stop. Even so, she can feel it. She knows it’s coming. Knows he’s coming.

She times her moment right. Waits for his fingers to curl around her neck, for that first sign of climax to hit him. She lifts her head and sinks her teeth into his arm. A tiny prick of pain, then prolonged pleasure. Waves and waves and waves of it.

Fucking his vampire slut is the best feeling.

GM: But just as Celia nips at him, a heavy thud hits the floor.

The man pulls back.

His voice is aghast with horror.

And fury.


Suddenly, there’s a click from one of Celia’s handcuffs.


Footsteps. Racing.

Colliding. A horrible shk sound.

That unmistakable coppery tang.

Alana’s voice, screaming.

A second heavy thump.

Celia: The Beast rears its ugly head. It yowls and hisses and spits, demanding blood, demanding payment, demanding life. For a moment maybe it’s free. For a moment maybe Celia hisses, too. But her teeth clamp shut, lips pressed together in a firm line. She cannot lose her cool. She beats it down through sheer force of will, stuffs it deep inside of her.

The sound of Alana’s continued scream is the only thing that keeps her calm. The body isn’t hers. The body can’t be hers. She wouldn’t be screaming if the body were hers.

She yanks her free hand toward her face to pull the blindfold free.

GM: But it is Alana. Lying in a heap on the floor, her right ear coated with blood, and her hands stained red as she cradles the savage cut across her abdomen.

The half-dressed man throws the knife aside, seizes a wooden stake, and lunges at Celia with a wordless scream of rage.

Celia: There is a single moment here where Celia has a shot.

A single moment where she can get out of this situation, hopefully alive. Or at least less permanently dead than she would be if this man has a chance to stab her through the heart with that stake.

Her vision, her world, narrows to him. To the stake in his hand. She can hear, distantly, the sound of Alana sobbing on the floor. She can smell the blood. See the rage twisting on his face.

None of that matters.

Nothing but the piece of wood in his hand. The distance between them. The arc as he brings it down toward her chest.

The world slows.

Her dead heart pumps.

She strikes.

Quick as the snake hiding in the grass, she lashes out. Her hand flashes towards the man’s face. There is nothing pretty, nothing glamorous, about what she is about to do. It’s the sewers all over again: she doesn’t create. She destroys. Her fingers seek his nose. His mouth. His eyes, if they can reach. They sink into his skin. Flesh-colored playdough. They don’t rip: they smooth. How many wrinkles had she smoothed over the years? How many fine lines and signs of aging had she stolen from people’s faces?

His lips are nothing if not giant wrinkles of their own. His nose is cartilage waiting to be splattered. The lids of his eyes will never open again.

When she pulls her hand away his face is smooth.


GM: Celia took an Intro to Psychology class at Tulane that briefly went into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. What people want and when they want it. First they want food, water, warmth, rest. If they don’t have those basic physiological needs met, they won’t care about more abstract needs like relationships and achieving their full potential. You start with the basic shit first, then you work your way up.

But Maslow got one thing about his hierarchy wrong.

He put ‘food’ at the bottom.

‘Being able to breathe’ should have probably been at the bottom.

Because if you can’t breathe, who gives a fuck about food?

Or, for that matter, killing vampires.

The man panics. That’s the only thing he can do, as he stops breathing and human nature sets in. He claws at his face as if that will do something. He claws and tears until blood runs down the baby-smooth plateau of flesh that used to be his face. He claws and gouges until there’s a sickening squelch and retinal fluid leaks down his cheeks, not from eyes that do not see, but eyes he no longer has—eyes fused solid with the flesh of his eyelids. Celia can hear the ghastly muffled sound coming from past the fused flesh that used to be his lips.

He has no mouth.

And he must scream.

It isn’t pretty. It isn’t quick. Celia watches the entire time as he dies a slow, torturous death on the ground from asphyxiation, writhing like an overlarge half-squashed bug no one even has the decency to put out of its misery.

But he dies the same way that anyone else who allows Jade to work her hands upon their face comes to live.


Celia: It had almost happened to her once. High. So high in the air. In the arms of the thing that had destroyed her life, she had almost suffered the same fate.


She had never intended to go into medicine. She hadn’t thought that the career would be fulfilling, or the concepts interesting. But that night her mom went into that shack with severed toes and came out whole? That changed everything. She knew she wanted to be able to do that some day. She’d studied. Learned everything she could.

So she knows, now, what is happening inside the hunter. No air holes. No oxygen getting inside his lungs. He’s struggling to breathe, to bring anything in, but what he doesn’t know is that it needs to get out. What people don’t realize is that it isn’t the lack of oxygen that will kill you: it’s the oversaturation of carbon dioxide. It’s toxic to the human body. That uncomfortable feeling in your lungs when you hold your breath? Carbon dioxide trying to leak out. All he has to do is stab himself over the mouth and rip free a breathing hole and he’s golden.

But the first thing to be hit by the lack of oxygen and excess carbon dioxide is the brain. It causes panic. Flushed skin. Perspiration. She can smell it, dripping off of him in buckets. There’s hemorrhaging in the sclera, though she cannot see how the whites of his eyes turn red with his skin sealed shut. Only after, when he punctures the skin and it oozes down his face, red and white mixed together.

She watches him stumble, scratching, clawing, hacking at his face with his own hands and nails. It almost ruins her beautiful work.

She doesn’t even give him the dignity of watching him die.

Her eyes turn away from the pathetic mass of flesh writhing on the floor. She reaches for the key still embedded in the steel handcuffs he had used to tie her down, swiftly unlocking her other wrist, then both ankles.

She rolls off of the bed to check both women. Alana’s sobs call to her, but her attention is on the other hunter for the moment it takes to determine her status. She cannot leave an enemy at her back.

GM: The woman has no heartbeat audible to Celia’s ears. She doesn’t need to touch the hunter’s so-pallid neck to feel for the pulse that isn’t there. Any medical attention came too late for this one.

Celia: The loss of information—who are they?—is the only pang of guilt that Celia feels for ending the lives of these two. Her hands close around the woman’s wrists and she drags the body to where Alana sits on the floor, hands pressing against the gaping wound in her stomach.

Celia bites her own wrist and offers it to the ghoul, ready to sink her fangs back into the woman to replace whatever her pet takes from her.

GM: The heady scent of blood is everywhere. All over the floor. All over Alana. It’s impossibly arousing: Celia couldn’t stop the ‘boner’ in her mouth even if she was trying to.

The ghoul falls on her domitor’s wrist with a wordless sob. She sucks and sucks like a babe at its mother’s breast. The nasty stab wound closes as thought it were never. The bleeding stops. Flawless.

“Mistress… my ear…” she whimpers.

Celia: “I know, darling.” She lifts a hand to touch the ghoul’s cheek. She has done so well. So well.

“I know. I’ll get it sorted. Do we know where it went?” Better to reattach the old ear than fashion a new one. Her hands move along the woman’s body, searching her pockets.

GM: “They… they took it outside…”

Celia finds a phone, but the screen asks her to ‘draw unlock pattern’ over nine dots.

Celia: “Then I’ll make you a new one,” Celia promises her. “I know it hurts. You have to be strong for me right now, okay? Just a little while longer. Just until we’re out of here and back home.” She checks the time on the phone’s lock screen before setting it down.

“Did you see anyone else here?” Then, a second later, “why outside?”

She crosses the floor to where the man discarded her clothing when he fucked her, pulling the material back over her legs. She searches his body for a phone, too. For his and hers. He had been the one holding it earlier.

GM: It’s around noon.

Alana nods slowly at Jade’s entreaty and rubs her head against her domitor’s stomach. “Outside the… door, mistress. Somewhere else, in the house. They had me blindfolded. I didn’t see.”

The ghoul’s ear is still gone, and her face is streaked with dried blood, but Alana’s voice is steady as more ceases to flow. She looks and sounds all better now, minus the ear. Miracle medicine, Pete called it.

Celia finds her phone, locked to any face but Jade’s. The man’s phone also asks for a PIN.

Celia: She’s going to need to change that, she realizes. Being stuck without access to a phone in a strange location is not doing her any favors. She is still a moment, mind ripping through her options.

She cannot stay here. She does not know if the hunters have others in the house, and if they do they’re likely to be like them, hunters as well. She doesn’t want to send Alana off on her own, but there’s work that needs to be done here that the girl cannot do. She presses her for information: did she hear anyone besides these two? She assumes, perhaps incorrectly, that if there had been others in the house they would have come running at the noise. She needs to be ready for that.

A moment of reflection later and Celia decides on a course. She tells Alana to watch the door. Her hands move to her face, twisting and shaping it with practiced ease to become what she needs it to become, to become the monster the pair had been looking for the whole time: Jade.

GM: Alana answers that she did not hear anyone else in the house. But the hunters were talking on their phones, and seemed in contact with other people. They sounded as if they were talking in code. They did not ever reference ‘vampires’ by name, nor did they volunteer their own names or Celia’s name, but they seemed to be insinuating they had a vampire in captivity. Alana does not think it is safe to stay here.

But it is dangerous to leave, too. Celia can feel the sun hatefully bearing down on her even through the building’s walls. She is tired. She is so, so tired. Beautiful corpses like her should stay properly dead when it’s this bright out.

Celia: The facial transformation doesn’t take long. It is an old, deft skill at this point, a transformation that she has performed multiple times per evening for the past few years. Once it is complete she unlocks her phone. She tells Alana to take the woman’s clothes so that she is no longer covered in blood.

She scrolls through her contacts to find Mélissaire’s number, then dials Savoy’s ghoul.

GM: That doesn’t make it hurt any less. It hurts as much as any plastic surgery without anesthesia could be expected to hurt. Protesting muscles pulled and contorted every which way, reshaped like putty in her hands. It feels like someone is destroying her face. Because someone is.

Beauty always hurts.

Alana strips and changes.

“Why hello, Jade. We missed you last night!” greets her grandsire’s ghoul over the phone.

Celia: She’s used to pain. Used to the way her muscles fight against the transformation, the way her skin feels as if it has been stripped from her face and reapplied with nothing more than tape to keep it down. Like a thousand paper cuts all at once. Or the fine edge of a blade sliding into the soft flesh beneath the keratin of her nails. Beauty is pain, but beauty is everything. She’ll pay the price.

“I found myself inexplicably busy,” Celia says into the phone. Her voice betrays her exhaustion. “I ran into some friends, and we had a wild night. I would love to make it up to you, but I seem to have misplaced my keys. Can I catch a ride?”

GM: “Sure thing. I can’t wait to hear all the sordid details.” The ghoul laughs faintly. “Where are you now?”

Celia: It takes just a moment for her to find her location on the phone’s map. She passes it along. She insinuates that her friends mentioned they might be having company over for lunch, and that she’d hate to be a third wheel.

GM: She’s in the 9th Ward. A bad neighborhood.

“Oh, well we certainly wouldn’t want that… someone as cute as you should have third wheels, not be one herself. Hang tight, I’ll be over in a jiff.”

Celia: “Appreciate it.”

Celia’s eyes roam the room in speculation. She needs to do something to clean this up. She could just take the bodies with her, she reasons. Inconvenient to waste building material when she has so much research left to do on what she can and cannot accomplish. Maybe Pete can do that blood reading thing and find out more. He only needs one of them for that, though. Still, the girl’s identity might be useful.

Her thoughts spin over each other in disarray. She’s exhausted. The sun is beating down on the house and she can feel it. She needs sleep.

She says something to Mélissaire about trunk space, room for a massage table. She’ll bring the bodies, she thinks, and then there’s just blood to clean up, but without a body there’s no crime. Maybe she can have Alana smash a few windows. Take some petty cash. She searches the bodies for wallets, identification, anything.

Support: It’s a few moments after she hangs up that a window opens and Randy rolls in like a ninja, shotgun brandished. “I got you, babe!”

Then he looks at the bodies, the blood, his very beleaguered and entirely freed domitor.

“Oh. You, uh. You finished without me.”

Wouldn’t be the first time, he thinks ruefully. He straightens up awkwardly, holding himself at an odd angle, all the better to compensate for his missing…cheek.

GM: “Wouldn’t be the first time,” Alana sourly remarks, arms crossed. Her face is streaked with blood and she’s missing an ear.

Support: Dammit.

Celia: The sound of someone else approaching is enough to make Celia wary. It’s too soon for Mel to be here, unless the girl is driving, as usual, with a lead foot. She’s already planning how best to dispatch this new threat when she recognizes Randy’s voice, and she abandons the half-crouched fighting stance she’d taken up.

She lays a hand on Alana’s arm at the typical exchange between her ghouls. She has no patience now to deal with their squabbling.

“Randy. Perfect timing.” Her voice is carefully neutral, though not cool. He can see the relief in her eyes, the emotion that she can’t put into words. Not here. Not yet. Her tightly coiled control is the only thing keeping her together. “Search the place. Anything useful. Identification. Wallets. Computers. Weapons. Documents. Anything. We need to know who these people are.”

Something. Anything to make all of this worth it. To make the fact that she was kidnapped, tied down, treated like an animal, and fucked worth it.

“Alana’s ear, as well,” she adds after a moment.

GM: The trio search the house. For the most part, it’s a wreck: decrepit and foul-smelling with significant water damage. One of many homes wrecked by Katrina that just never got fixed up. There are dust-covered hypodermic needles, what might be human feces (aged enough to no longer even smell), and other signs of habitation by junkies and squatters. The lights and sink don’t turn on.

The hunters have brought sleeping bags, toiletries, packaged foods, water, and an ice-filled cooler. They find Alana’s ear inside, along with more food. The ghoul immediately implores her domitor to reattach it.

Support: Randy picks up the ear and flicks it with a finger before handing it to Alana, somewhat apologetically. “Yikes. That… has to be a health hazard.”

He’s been polite enough to not say anything thus far, but Celia can tell from the way he keeps looking at her, biting his lip, his sluggish attempts to participate in the search.

He’s thirsty.

Celia: Her ghouls, she reflects, are so needy.

“I need a more sterile environment to attach your ear, ’Lana.” Celia touches her cheek once more, her thumb brushing across the girl’s lips. “We’ll put it on ice. I promise, when I wake up, when I have time to assess the damage and see if there’s any hearing loss, I’ll reattach. Where it’s clean. Randy wasn’t here because he was infected by the sewer water; I won’t have you, too, succumbing to something that can be prevented.” She pulls the girl closer to her, taking a moment to nuzzle her neck. “You did so well today. I won’t let you be without it. I promise.”

Her eyes flick toward Randy. He doesn’t need to say anything. She can tell.

Indecision wars in her gut. He wasn’t here. He wasn’t here when she needed him. And yet… he came down to the sewers for her when she called. He followed her, he was late, but he came. He’s useless without the blood. Nothing more than a junkie jonesing for his next fix.

She crooks a finger at him, beckoning for him to follow her back to the bedroom, back to the site of her ordeal. The body isn’t yet cool. She opens a vein for him with her teeth and drinks from the man.

Support: They make a morbid, lopsided human centipede, the corpse feeding her, her feeding Randy, Randy contributing nothing but those bright, bright blue eyes.

Eyes that look at her like she’s a goddess.

Randy might not be that smart, but he knows enough not to complain when she decides he’s had enough.

GM: Alana beams at the praise. She starts to get handsy with Celia, and leans close as if to kiss her, but then seems to mind herself and the present moment. So she simply nods, “Yes, mistress. Thank you, mistress.”

She watches with a sour expression, though, as Randy follows Jade in.

Celia: All the same, Celia lets Alana sit on her lap while she feeds the other ghoul, and despite the very, very inopportune place for it, her hand travels up and down the girl’s body.

“Your cheek as well, Randy,” she says to him once she pulls her wrist away.

GM: And just like that, the look is gone. Alana makes ‘happy noises’ as she nuzzles her face against Celia’s neck, planting soft kisses.

Support: “Oh, uh…” he looks at Alana.

Definitely not his brightest moment, he thinks, as he drops trou, displaying his uneven posterior to both his fellow ghoul and domitor.

GM: Alana snickers.

Celia: Her eyes flash in amusement.

“Later, Randy, is what I meant.”

Support: “…oh.”

“That, uh. That wasn’t clear.”

Randy coughs, and then pulls up his pants.

This is not his day.

GM: “Celia always makes herself perfectly clear. If we misunderstand her, that’s through our own fault,” Alana declares.

Celia: Her fingers pinch the ghoul’s nipple through her shirt.

“I prefer,” she purrs, “when you call me mistress.” She nips at the girl’s neck, though there’s no heat or threat behind word or deed.

Support: He eyes her sourly, trying to think of a joke about her missing ear but failing.

“Kiss-ass,” he mutters finally.

GM: Alana makes a light, so-sensitive gasp as she rubs the back of her head against Jade’s neck.

“I couldn’t think of a happier privilege than to plant kisses on the mistress’ rear,” Alana declares with a smile.

“I’ll do it right now, if she wants me to.”

Celia: “Enough,” Celia says to them, “both of you. We’re a team. Tonight, you can squabble. Today, cease your posturing.”

GM: “Of course, mistress. I’m sorry if it seemed like I was being catty, Randy. It is important for us to work together.”

Support: What posture? My back is killing me from the glute up.

But he shuts up with a pointed folding of his arms. He hates when she apologizes. He has to pretend he cares.

“I’m sorry, too,” he grates. “What’s the plan, ba—mistress.”

GM: It doesn’t sound the same coming from him.

Alana adores the word, they can all tell. She loves saying it. Acknowledging Celia as her superior, as her owner, not just her lover.

Celia: “Mélissaire is on her way to collect me. We take the bodies, and any evidence that they were here, with us. You two…” there’s a pause. Despite her words, despite her position as ‘above them,’ she sounds tired. “Find a place for the bodies. Stay with me today. Tonight. Until we learn the extent of these hunters’ reach I would prefer to keep you both near me.”

GM: Alana nuzzles her head against Jade’s cheek and runs an arm along her back.

“Of course, mistress. We won’t ever leave you.”

Celia: She reaches out to take Randy’s hand in hers. Gives his fingers a gentle squeeze. They’ll get through this.

Support: He squeezes back, some of his bad humor and humiliation abating.

Anything for his babe.

GM: And just like that, the Toreador is out like a light, slumped backwards over the bed.

Alana looks at her for a moment, then kisses Celia full on the lips. Deeply and hungrily.

Support: Randy lets her, and starts seeing to the other corpses in the room.

The things he does for love.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Caroline VI
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Caroline VII, Emmett VI

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia IV
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Celia VI, Emmett VII

Story Twelve, Caroline VI

“Something… something horrible’s happened…”
Luke Malveaux

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: There is much to do and little time in which to do it.

Kâmil is waiting for Caroline outside of the seneschal’s office. The Moor instructed Caroline to place herself at the sheriff’s disposal in assisting with the cover-up around Claire’s death.

His number stares up at her from the phone screen.

Expected to work together.

Caroline: She still hates him. She’d thought, perhaps, when the bond to him was cut that some of the stronger emotions towards him would die with it, but they haven’t.

Donovan. A terror to her since her first nights as one of the damned. A foe that did seemingly all in his power to undermine her at every turn, with everyone, long before he had the good cause he now possesses to see her fall. Back when her fall was such a short drop—just from the gallows.

Donovan, whose lust for the throne rightfully hers to claim she can almost smell. Who she trusts like a fox in the hen house or a snake in the grass. Who has spent decades, a century, building his claim, accumulating allies, growing his strength, expanding his influence.

Donovan, a threat from within to her, to everything she wants, every bit as dangerous as any external threat. As Savoy, the Baron, or the shadowy power the seneschal sees killing off his heirs. Or the terror at the bottom of the Dungeon.

Donovan. She hits call on the phone.

Work together. Right.

GM: There’s a click as the line is answered.

There’s no greeting.

There’s not even breathing.

Caroline: Well, that makes two of them.

“How may I be of best assistance with Claire?” she asks without preamble or inflection.

Assistance. Not service.

She was his servant once. His tenant. Never again. Never again.

GM: “Report to Lafayette Square in one hour,” comes the cool reply.

“You are subordinate to the party whom you meet.”

The line clicks.

Kâmil inquires as to what Caroline would have them do during that time, and indeed, over the course of the night.

Gisèlle also awaits silently nearby, though Caroline didn’t see her there when she exited the seneschal’s office.

Caroline: Caroline stares silently ahead for a moment after the phone call.

“I need to talk to my people. There are things that must be set in motion,” Caroline answers at last, her voice as sharp as a blade.

She sends a text to Roger. Perdido House. 15 minutes.

GM: The trio do not wait by themselves. Footsteps sound the hall as Gabriel Hurst approaches the seneschal’s office, followed by his ghoul John McCullem. He greets Caroline with a, “Eiren Malveaux. Fancy seeing you here.”

Caroline: She offers a polite greeting to Clan Ventrue’s primogen. “One never truly knows one another, do they, Primogen Hurst?” she asks with a smile. “It’s always a pleasant surprise to find shared interests.”

GM: “Or themselves, some might say,” the older Ventrue offers with a chuckle. He does not linger overlong, however, on “account of bein’ expected” before knocking on the door. Maldonato’s voice bids him enter. His ghoul stands outside with a patient expression.

Caroline: She bids him enjoy his meeting, the smile on her face lingering after his departure but lacking any warmth as she turns it on John McCullem. Spy.

And an effective one at that. This meeting, the sight of her with the elder ghouls, will set things in motion. Questions in motion.

She bides the ghouls to join her as she walks towards the elevator but waits until the door closes to speak. “How was delivery of Claire’s body executed with my brother?” she asks.

GM: Gisèlle stares into McCullem’s eyes. The two ghouls do not speak, though McCullem’s features seem to sag. The casquette girl eventually turns away without a word to follow Caroline.

Caroline: She picks at their knowledge of the investigation and cover-up thus far—the integration of the Krewe, the handling of her brother’s memories, the reactions of her father and uncles. All the things she has missed in the full day she has spent with her motionless sire.

When her ghouls arrive it’s not so different. She’s in no hurry to depart Perdido House—at least she knows what manner of ears are listening here. She seeks a private meeting room from Kâmil and takes ten minutes to briefly lay out facts for Ferris.

The Malveauxes are hers, so long as she can hold them and only so long as she can show the value of her dominion. Especially as it relates to Claire’s remaining loose ends. The immediate matter is Claire’s death, any contingencies she may have had in place, and any information that might be available from what remains of her people. Whatever is left must be repurposed or destroyed.

GM: Kâmil answers that the Krewe received Claire’s medical records and has found a physician to blame for the fatal combination of improperly prescribed medications, as well as what medications to use and what terminal illness to diagnose Claire with.

Dr. Grémillon and the Krewe’s other ghouls, however, identified the body as a facsimile. They wanted the real thing, citing that even a badly mutilated corpse of the true Claire would be preferable to Caroline’s black-blooded substitute. Failing that, they want more information from Caroline on the thing, as they’ve never seen anything quite like it.

The body’s delivery thus has yet to be executed, as have any alterations to Luke’s memories. Claire has now been missing for close to 48 hours. Kâmil and Gisèlle have interviewed several Malveauxes and doctored their immediate memories, but the cat can only be kept in the bag for so much longer.

Kâmil also wants Claire’s phone and other devices, as these have seemingly gone missing and could contain identifying information on further hunters associated with her. Does Caroline have these devices?

Caroline: The Ventrue heiress is not especially pleased by the report, particularly when she learns the decision was made not to stage the body. The longer they wait, the harder it is to sell anyone this is in truth an accident.

Caroline relates that she does not have the devices of interest. Many of them were lost with Claire’s body, and she did not linger in the Quarter following her stepmother’s death to search in detail for more. By the time her agents returned what was left had been cleaned it.

That body, relatedly, is not available. Nor will it be.

That the body was a fabrication was disclosed when she delivered it, and this interest in ‘where it came from’ has the appearance of a blatant grab for information rather than efforts towards preserving the Masquerade.

GM: “I do not believe their questions unreasonable, bayan, given the level of scrutiny the body is likely to receive,” Kâmil replies. “That they would also desire such information for its own sake, however, is not in doubt.”

With that much said, the Krewe and the sheriff’s people (who have principally been occupied investigating Bishop Malveaux’s murder) has done all of what they can on their ends. The principal step that remains is for Caroline and the Krewe to stage the body with Caroline’s brother, and let the cat finally out of the bag.

Ferris, meanwhile, responds to the news of the Malveauxes being Caroline’s by recommending she move immediately to secure her hold over the family. He recommends some manner of story to explain Caroline’s return to the Malveauxes’ good graces. Perhaps they should manufacture a crisis where she may swoop in and play the golden girl. A renunciation of the gay lifestyle goes without saying; someone to use as a public boyfriend would go a ways there. (“Good for your personal cover anyway, ma’am—affluent and physically attractive young women don’t stay single long.”) Depending on how long Caroline is to be away with her sire, this plan might best be executed upon her return, even if they can start laying groundwork now. It’s more believable she might return to the family after some soul-searching and time away.

Regardless of Caroline’s personal cover, however, Ferris wants him and his people reinstated to their former positions as soon as possible. “We’re obviously working with one hand tied behind our backs until then. It’d also further assuage their concerns about money to be back on the family payroll.”

GM: He also inquires, while he is here, whether she still wants Jocelyn taken care of.

The ex-CIA agent also reports that, per their earlier discussion, he had some people bribe the hotel staff at the Monteleone to point any people asking questions about Claire and her last visitors towards Caroline and the Giani Buillding. If other members of the Barrett Commission are looking for Claire (and her devices) yet, so much the better if those hunters can fall into Caroline’s hands.

The people he used weren’t his regular security team. Ferris is very leery about making any further trips into the French Quarter right now.

With Ericson out of the picture, Ferris says that he had Gerald Bishop set up Detective Hill with an interview at the law firm. “We can use him for that much before getting rid of him.”

Ferris doesn’t think the detective-turned-lawyer is worth ghouling, as the newest of the firm’s attorneys. Simply another mundane one to grow the business with.

“Though one of them is, ma’am. Reffett or Bowden. If we want to really control the firm, we’ll need a ghoul among the partners there.”

“You also might consider working there as part of your mundane identity. People expect Caroline Malveaux-Devillers to have a job. Gives us a stronger hold over the business too.”

Carla Rivera still has not returned to work. Ferris isn’t sure whether the woman’s disappearance is related to recent happenings or simply her brother Diego. Does Caroline want this looked into?

The Vatican representative is due to arrive in the city several weeks from now. As Ferris stated earlier, this is likely a power play by other clergy to wrest control of the archishopric from Orson’s hands (who has rarely left his home since the heart attack). Now that the family is hers again, does Caroline have a preference for how to play things?

“We could try to get your uncle off his ass. Or turn things over to your cousin Adam. He’s already been assuming more responsibilities.”

Finally, the two hunters in Caroline’s captivity attempted to escape. They took hostages. Fuller, Green, and the building security were able to stop them, although a maid was killed in the ensuing struggle. Autumn has taken care of the body disposal. Ferris recommends installing a dedicated holding area for future prisoners. If Caroline still wants to doctor the two’s memories into murdering their fellows, Ferris recommends doing so as soon as possible.

“They’ve all been missing for a good amount of time now.”

The police are probably already looking for them at this point. NOSTF has likely assumed they’re dead (or worse, captive) this long after the hunt on Bishop Malveaux.

Caroline: Caroline agrees fully on reinstating Ferris’ people as quickly as possible. The resources available to them and unfettered access to the family will be vital in not only securing, but also holding the family—to say nothing of how Caroline’s current currency reserves won’t hold out forever with the varied demands being placed on them.

She’s cagier about a return to the family’s graces: influence among them comes with responsibilities to them that her varied demands within the All-Night Society are likely to complicated. There’s value in keeping them are a greater personal distance.

She agrees about further trips to the French Quarter as a matter of course—that is far from friendly ground to them.

Moving more firmly into the firm is of greater interest, though a ghoul partner (for day to day operations) is also likely on the table. The imminent ‘departure’ of both Bishop and Ericson will leave the firm too open to outside influence.

She’s interested in Rivera, but less interested in hunting her down. She suggests a tip to ICE that pointed them at her—and her extended family—might do more to flush them out without direct influence from their assets.

She also largely agrees with pushing more responsibility into Adam’s hands. Orson (even if he recovers from the heart attack) isn’t getting younger, and making him a clearer succession will help resolve that problem for the long term, while also pulling power out of the hands of *her *firmest detractor among the family.

Keeping the archbishopric in the family is of the greatest interest to her among the Malveaux family at the moment.

GM: Ferris tells Caroline, when she asks, that he and his team were fired for allegedly selling family secrets to corporate rivals at Endron.

He asks how she intends to influence the family’s actions if she intends to keep a distance. “They don’t do what I tell them, ma’am. Usually, they expect that to be the other way around.”

Ferris says he’ll have someone tip off ICE about Rivera’s undocumented status. He doesn’t even bring up whether Caroline wants anything done for the woman’s U.S.-born young daughter.

As far as who holds the archishopric, Caroline is also aware that matter is not up to Orson, but the Vatican. Bishops are appointed by the pope and serve at his pleasure. As the pontiff cannot possibly visit every diocese in the church, however, it is His Holiness’ representative who effectively decides by making a recommendation the pope rubber-stamps. Thus, it is up to the visiting representative whether Orson retains his position or whether it goes to someone else (what the archdiocese’s other clergy are clearly maneuvering for, having scented weakness). The situation is further complicated by the fact Adam is 30 years of age and canon law requires bishops to be at least 35 years of age. What does she want to do?

Ferris still awaits her answers on what she wants to do with Jocelyn and the two captive hunters.

Caroline: Caroline observes that the departed bishop seemed to manage influence without being a direct part of their lives—albeit without the pariah status she currently enjoys. Still, she doesn’t completely shoot down the idea of some manner of reconciliation, simply pushes the problem forward—better to wait and see what the prince has in store.

If Rivera’s daughter even crosses Caroline’s mind, she gives no sign.

Her intentions with the archbishopric are to prop up her uncle sufficiently to allow him to conduct his duties, but to have her cousin take on more and more responsibilities—which she’s quite certain he’s doing anyway. It’s not in Adam’s nature to ignore a task that needs to be done.

She wants to showcase her cousin’s growing skill to the Vatican representative, and pave the road to the identification of him as a seamless choice for an eventual transfer of power.

Jocelyn, she answers, she will deal with more personally. She doesn’t anticipate the Toreador leaving the city as originally planned.

The hunters, similarly, she will see to this evening. Her plans for them remain unchanged, though her scorn at their involvement of a maid—and her death—is obvious. Hunting monsters indeed. It goes both ways.

It is not lost on her that turned into the police, the men may also attract attention from the very elements she’s so interested in. That they might even draw other hunters to him, to speak with them. After all—they’re the only kine that have any idea what happened.

Speaking of hunters, Claire’s safehouse is of particular interest to Caroline. Its value diminishes with each day that goes by, but it may yet be a treasure trove. The kind they dearly need.

Claire was intelligent and dedicated, but there’s simply no way that she could have maintained all of her contacts, all of her knowledge, all of her connections and plots related to the supernatural in her head alone. She’s also quite certain there’s no way she would have kept that information anywhere in the French Quarter. Caroline suspects the Outlands.

She turns her attention to Ferris on this—he was Claire’s aid in these matters and others longer than anyone. Surely he was as curious as Caroline, perhaps even more so. Even if Claire never disclosed it to him directly, he’s had enough time and inclination to have at least bracketed it. By meeting times. By turnaround. In a day or a month there’s no way he could have, not with how careful Claire was, but he had years, and now Caroline has significant resources to throw at the problem. She just needs a ballpark.

She’s also interested in any additional information he’s collected in his long association with the sheriff. Targets they killed, people he was pointed at, and the general manner of how the sheriff conducted his operations. Caroline was very in the dark about exactly how the sheriff’s and Claire’s relationship functioned—and she cannot remain so.

GM: “Bishop sent me visions and nightmares. Made me see things that weren’t real. Your stepmother and I suspect he did something similar with your uncle, though we aren’t completely certain.”

Ferris agrees with her assessment of Adam. Caroline’s cousin is reliable, pragmatic, and places the family’s interests before his own. Ferris’ only concern is that he lacks Orson’s ruthlessness and political experience. Love her uncle or hate him, the rest of the archdiocese was too afraid to challenge Orson while he appeared strong.

But experience can be gained, and there’s ruthlessness aplenty in the hands behind Adam.

“Soft hunters are more common than soft CIA people, though not by much,” Ferris remarks blandly.

He concurs that the captive hunters may indeed be more useful as bait. Even if their fellows think they’ve been compromised by Caroline, those other hunters will have to step forward to eliminate their former comrades-in-arms.

“That’s what I’d do. Assess whether they’ve been compromised, assume yes, and get rid of the loose ends if I’m not disproven.”

He concurs with Caroline that Claire probably kept all of that information in her safehouse, which was likely its foremost purpose. He also agrees with her that somewhere outside the usual Kindred power centers would have been the ideal location. Wherever vampires and their servants have little cause to go.

Ferris tried to keep himself ignorant of where Caroline’s stepmother kept her secrets. It was always possible he might be caught and made to divulge what he knew. But, he thinks he might be able to give Caroline some ballparks. He gets out a piece of paper and starts writing down dates and times of meetings. He asks Caroline to fill in dates and times too. Anything to build a log of Claire’s daily activities. They can ask Claire’s associates for more details. There’s also the hotel staff at the Monteleone, who would know even more. They’d also have security tapes and could track when Claire entered and left the building.

“They’ve been getting a lot of questions lately, though. Better to track them down outside of work. Outside of the Quarter. Erase any further questions about Claire Malveaux from their minds.”

Ferris seems reluctant to talk about Donovan here in Perdido House, but ultimately defers to Caroline if she wants to now.

Caroline: “Just get it all together for review later,” she answers about the matter of Donovan.

GM: “As you say, ma’am.”

Caroline: She checks the time. “Our next meeting is soon, but I should also clarify. Until now there was significant interest in swaying me to one side or another—I don’t believe anyone had very much interest in actually destroying me. I do not anticipate that being true going forward.”

GM: “I’d concur, ma’am. That car bomb wasn’t left as a message.”

It’s later than any reasonable mortal is going to be up, but there are enough hours in the night yet.

The Krewe and the sheriff’s people (who have principally been occupied investigating Bishop Malveaux’s murder), Kâmil meanwhile reports, have done all of what they can on their ends. The principal step that remains is for Caroline and the Krewe to stage the body with Caroline’s brother, and let the cat finally out of the bag.

Caroline: Caroline isn’t looking forward to it. To watching her brother react to his mother’s death. To having to rampage through his mind.

But the demands of the night have rarely given way to her preferences.

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline gets to Lafayette Square in the CBD. She finds no one there. Her people look around for a while. It looks as if she was stood up—or, more ominously, something happened to whoever she was supposed to meet along the way.

It’s only once they leave the square that they see a black SUV approaching from the rear view mirror. Camilla Doriocourt’s impassive face is visible in one of the seats.

Caroline: Subordinate. To his childe. Caroline contains her disgust. At least, outwardly.

She doesn’t even have any particular hatred for Doriocourt—not directly. In her few interactions with the sheriff’s childe, the Toreador has been professional, cold, and distant, but not as hostile as her sire.

She’s Caroline’s elder in experience with hunters, her elder in the faith, and the next in line as bishop. Her blood is every bit as potent as the Ventrue’s own (as Caroline well knows), and her age undoubtedly gives her significant breadth of talents unavailable to Caroline.

But she cannot help the impression that the reason for this meeting, for the power structure dictated by the sheriff (and who is he to do so?) has nothing to do with those advantages, and everything to do with dominance.

She has Fuller maneuver to allow Doriocourt’s car to either take the lead or pull over.

GM: Doriocourt’s car takes the lead. She doesn’t pull over at any point to speak with Caroline. Instead, the car proceeds along a semi-familiar route to Luke’s high-rise apartment building in the CBD. Caroline isn’t a regular guest at the place, but she’s been there before. She supposes Luke will be moving out soon, if his and Cécilia’s families are getting the soon-to-be newlyweds a house.

The cars stop a moderate distance away. A ghoul from Camilla’s knocks on Caroline’s window, says the hound will speak with her inside her own car, and opens the door for the Ventrue to get in.

“Regent Harlequin is en route with the body. What obstacles to the Masquerade await inside?” Doriocourt inquires without preamble.

It’s your usual higher-income apartment building, as far as Caroline knows. She’s seen security, though nothing on the level of Blackwatch.

Caroline: “Inherent to the Masquerade? None that I am aware of, Mother Doriocourt, though it is possible that given the delay in execution that Claire’s mortal hunter associates could predict this course of action and prepare some manner of pitfall beyond the ordinary.” Caroline answers directly.

“It’s also possible there is heightened security around him due to Claire’s own actions—attempting to protect her children—beyond the ordinary. In that regard I would be more concerned with surveillance than physical threats.”

“So far as inherent obstacles to our goals, there’s electronic security cameras, on site security guards, keycard locks on the building and elevator. The locks we can bypass,” She’d asked to clone Cécilia’s card. “And the guards are easily pliable, but for this to stand up to scrutiny the camera footage needs to convincingly show Claire arriving—and no one else.”

“The latter is more easily achieved, but I can double Claire if required for the former. My people have already scouted a route up that avoids the cameras by which we can deliver the body.”

“Regent Harlequin was to arrange the emergency services handling of the body post-facto.”

GM: “Perhaps you should have considered that possibility when you killed her, Miss Malveaux-Devillers,” the hound coolly replies to Caroline’s first statement.

Caroline: Oh, you’re right, I should have assumed you’d all appear this incompetent in the cover-up, Caroline bites back.

GM: Donovan’s childe seems to take note of her subsequent words, but does not immediately reply. They wait in the car. Two more vehicles arrive with Harlequin and additional ghouls who Caroline doesn’t recognize. Claire’s car also pulls up. One of the ghouls hands Caroline some clothes, shoes, jewelry, and handbag that match her deceased stepmother’s, down to the wedding ring she always wore on a chain around her neck. Caroline is invited to change into the clothes without much ceremony. Another ghoul applies makeup to the Ventrue’s face, cuts her hair down to Claire’s shorter length, and dyes it grayer. Doriocourt declares the look “serviceable.” One ghoul raises questions about camera timestamps, but falls silent upon a look from the hound.

Caroline is given the car that looks like Claire’s to drive and told to meet the others at Luke’s apartment. They’ll take the alternate way up.

Caroline: She laid the groundwork for this nights ago. That it’s dragged on is incompetent to the point of appearing genuinely suspicious. Wouldn’t it be convenient if she got killed off by Claire’s hunters? She has no doubt it would take the sheriff very little effort to drop them a hint.

She has her people interject when the ghoul approaches with the scissors. Claire’s hair was thinner than hers by the end—noticeably so—and Caroline has no interest in mimicing her for the rest of the night. Especially when she has other meetings. She has a wig ready that’s a better fit, and even a few facial prosthetics.

Because she did put thought into this and isn’t half-assing perhaps the most complex Masquerade cover-up in recent memory in New Orleans.

She hands off the handbag to Ferris, who slips a handheld RF detector into it. He indicates that it will buzz lightly.

GM: The ghouls relent when she produces the wig. Harlequin’s purple eyes silently glitter.

Caroline drives for a bit. One River Place is an exclusive high-rise condominium building (technically, Luke is renting his condo) and one of the most desirable in the city. It overlooks the Mississippi River, giving residents sweeping waterfront views from the heart of the city. Floor plans are open and expansive, while walls of glass and spacious terraces that give the area a picturesque feel. A heated swimming pool beckons from outside. “Claire” is greeted by name by on-duty staff pulling graveyard shift. They ask how she and her son are doing and offer their congratulations over his engagement. Any number of hotel-style services that she can imagine are hers to request—including, the staff perhaps takes deliberate care to mention, an all-call doctor.

They don’t say she looks ill. But they have to be thinking it.

Caroline: It’s not difficult to affect Claire’s mannerisms. The weakness she showed in her last weeks. Caroline watched her age years in months. Saw it as well as anyone really.

GM: Her brother’s apartment awaits. At this hour of night, he has to be asleep.

Caroline: It feels like one of the longest walks of her life—gives her plenty of time to think. About how Claire forced her hand. About how she doesn’t really want to invade his mind. To inflict this trauma on him. About how everything could have been different, if Claire had trusted her, had believed in her.

Or maybe it wouldn’t have.

It doesn’t really matter anymore. Claire’s dead, and this has to happen. She’s become an expert in the art of the necessary.

She forces herself into view on cameras as she goes by, forces the Beast down.

GM: Besides. If Claire wasn’t dead, she wouldn’t have her new family.

Maybe wouldn’t even be here now.

The RF detector buzzes as she approaches Luke’s door.

Caroline: Of course it does.

Caroline isn’t surprised. The real question isn’t ‘is Luke’s apartment bugged.’ It’s ‘who has it bugged and how thoroughly.’

She can think of plenty of reasons that Claire might have done so—to keep an eye on her children. That’s arguably the least threatening outcome. She doubts Claire let anyone but herself eavesdrop on Luke, so there’s no one listening to any recordings, no matter how thoroughly she might have had the opportunity to plant spy equipment.

On the other hand, she can also readily imagine members of the Barrett Commission rushing to put bugs on Claire’s children when she went missing. One of the likely places she might turn up—or at least that others might turn up. Such an effort though would likely be less through—easier to get around once inside—but is more likely to be actively listened in on.

There’s also an array of third parties it could belong to—corporate and political rivals—but she thinks it less likely. Bugging a senator’s son, if caught, could have pretty significant political repercussions, and Luke isn’t careless enough to bring anything home from work that would be of use.

If it’s a bug planted by her mother, it likely feeds to a local receiver that then sends off the information (likely via the internet, vice RF) to an offsite location. Maybe her safehouse. That has its own opportunities.

If it’s a bug planted by a group of hunters the same could be true… but that would require pretty invasive efforts. Caroline doesn’t think they had the time. Ferris had agreed. If it’s the Barrett Commission or NOSTF, their receiver is likely on site, and it’s likely either recording and regularly checked by someone, or (more likely) actively under observation by someone on site, in the building. Someone who could observe, take a report, and then (maybe) try to find out more themselves.

The Ventrue’s grin is almost wolfish.

She pauses to take out her phone and sends a text to Ferris. I could do with a late dinner. Will let you know whether I want to dine in or eat out shortly.

Could do with dinner: there’s something here.

Dine in: if the work is a rush job, and likely has someone on site. Someone her people will find.

Eat out: if there’s evidence of more extensive surveillance within the apartment, and it’s likely her mother’s. Something they need to go get elsewhere.

GM: I’ll get things ready, comes the answering text after only a moment.

Caroline: It’s a side show to the main event, though. They still need to stage Claire’s death. She’s tempted to call things off, to reschedule this for tomorrow, earlier in the evening, when it’ll cause fewer questions. When they’ve had a chance to separately investigate the bugs.

But she knows it won’t wait, and what tomorrow will hold is an open question. Her sire won’t accept excuses for delay.

She knocks on Luke’s door.

GM: A few moments pass before the door opens. Caroline’s brother is dressed in a sweater, sweats, and socks.

“Mom?” Luke frowns. “It’s pretty late.”

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t trust to chance, to the late hour and the dim light inside her brother’s apartment. No, not tonight. The monster is on full display, the Beast unleashed.

Its power rolls off her in waves like a miasma, a fog that blinds his senses, a cloying scent that intoxicates him, an opiate that ply’s at his will, dulling his wits like dirt dulls a blade.

It doesn’t take much to pitch her voice, just a small adjustment. No more effort than it takes to still the Beast’s assault on attempts to capture it, to immortalize it in moment.

“I know. I should have called ahead, but I was in the area, and I heard that Cécilia was staying in. Can I come in?”

GM: Luke blinks for a moment, then steps forward to hug the china-faced predator. Caroline can feel the shorter man’s heartbeat thumping against her chest. He’s not her type, but it’s hard not to wonder how her own kin might taste. How much more… familiar the blood would be.

“Yeah. Sure,” he finally says, withdrawing to hold the door open for her. “Can I get you anything to drink?”

“I’ve actually got some non-alcoholic wine if you’ll be driving. Not-so subtle gift Cécilia got from a friend of hers.”

Caroline: “Clever friend,” Caroline answers, still pitching her voice. “Rum and coke?” she requests as much as asks.

She doesn’t quite limp into Luke’s living room and finds a seat with apparent pain while he fetches drinks.

GM: That seems like it’ll wait a moment when Luke takes her by the arm and helps her to a sofa.

He frowns in concern. “You okay, Mom?”

Caroline: She waves off his concern and only grudgingly accepts his help. “It’s been a difficult year.”

When he departs to get the drink she briefly again checks the RF device to see if the signal has abated or remained steady.

GM: It’s steady.

“Yeah. It has,” Luke sighs as he heads off to the kitchen. “I’m glad you’re here, though. I wanted to get your opinion on Dad’s idea.”

Caroline: Claire’s bugs, then? Seems likely. Well… more likely.

She quickly fires off another text to Roger before tucking the phone away.

GM: Roger replies he’ll be over soon with takeout.

“I’m sure we could win, but it feels like a talking point people could dig up later. Changing a law for my specific benefit.”

“And there’s being away from Cécilia and our eventual kids, even if it would only be some of the time.”

“It’s hard to say this to his face, but I don’t want to be absent as much as he was.”

Caroline: The entire thing feels perverse. Intrusive. Here she is, not content just to invade her brother’s house and mind. She had to intrude into is relationship with his mother.

But Roger and the others need time.

“You know your father wouldn’t have suggested it if he didn’t think it was necessary,” she replies. “Everything he does, everything he has done—including that time away from you and your brothers—was for a reason.”

GM: “I know,” he agrees. “But he isn’t as close to everything here.”

“Savannah might use it to push the idea I’m not actually interested in a corporate career. That might be enough for her to take over.”

Caroline: ‘Clairoline’ is quiet for a moment. "He’s asking a great deal of you. Expecting a great deal. He has to. This year… " She sighs. “A great deal of responsibility has fallen solely on your shoulders.”

GM: “I know. Caroline being out. I guess that was the path he expected for her.”

He returns to the living room with drinks in hand.

“Or at least was seeing if a woman could manage.”

Caroline: The Ventrue scowls as she accepts the drink.

“She made her own decisions.”

GM: Luke leaves it at that.

“I have one of the samples you asked for, by the way,” he remarks as he sips his.

Caroline: “Just one?” Her voice is expectant. Almost demanding.

GM: “I looked. Believe me. There was nothing there.”

Caroline: “You’re sure?”

What the hell?

GM: “I’m positive. The place was completely immaculate. I don’t know how to explain it.”

Caroline: “What do you mean, immaculate?” She grimaces as she takes a long pull from the drink.

GM: “I mean there was nothing there. I searched the bathroom and the bedroom. There wasn’t so much as a toenail clipping or stray hair.”

Caroline: “But you got a sample?”

GM: There’s a faint grimace he hides behind the drink.

“Yes. From Cécilia’s room.”

“That was easy.”

Caroline: Her family. Claire was using her brother to spy on her family. And he did it. He used his relationship with Cécilia to spy on her. The woman he ‘loves.’

At least there’s a place for the scorn in her answer.

“A poor showing, Luke. One is better than one, but this should have been easy.”

GM: Luke doesn’t glare, but his expression gets flatter.

“I take it back. Nothing about that was easy.”

Caroline: She’s seen that look before. She’s also been on the receiving end of Claire’s answer so many times that it’s easy to parrot it.

“Don’t get sentimental. This family cannot let feelings get in the way of what is necessary. Your father has never hesitated, and neither can you.”

GM: Luke looks like he could sigh. But he doesn’t. Or disagree.

Caroline never did.

He takes another sip of his drink.

“What about Linda?” he asks. Part-accusingly.

“Gabriel has to grow up at some point. This is just continuing to baby him.”

Caroline: “Maybe it is. Are you complaining that we aren’t babying you enough?”

“You’re a grown man, Luke. Your father’s oldest and the presumptive heir to the entire family. Your uncle isn’t wrong when he quotes, ‘To those whom much is given.’ And Gabriel is much further from bringing Linda into the family than you are.”

She pauses to take another large sip of her drink. “You know it’s for the best. We can’t let anything get in your way.”

GM: Luke just doesn’t say anything to that.

“I’m complaining you’re babying him too much. Clearly, Adam’s going to grow up to become Orson. I thought I was going to grow up to become Matt, until Dad seemed less sure. What plan is there for Gabriel? He’ll be in college soon.”

Caroline: “He’ll have to grow up,” Caroline answers. “Whichever path you do not follow will become his, and when that time comes he’ll have to set childish things aside. But not yet.”

“Your brother doesn’t have your strength, Luke. He doesn’t see the full picture. He still hadn’t given up on your half-sister. So yes, I threw him a bone. Something productive to keep him occupied.”

GM: “It still wouldn’t be impossible to bring her back into the fold. The benefits outweigh the drawbacks.”

“And Linda is anything but productive. There’s no future with her.”

Caroline: “And what benefits are those?” Caroline answers pointedly. “Linda at least will keep your brother out of trouble until he’s matured.”

GM: “You’re the one who said she’s the most like Dad, out of us all. That speaks for itself.”

Caroline: “We all thought so, didn’t we? But your father wouldn’t have thrown away everything he worked towards for nothing. Orson might have taken personal offense to her lifestyle, but it’s her judgement that is the real concern.”

“And her fall from grace paved the way for your ascension.”

GM: “I thought we were supposed to consider the family’s interests before our own.”

“I’m not happy over her lifestyle, but she could hide it like it like Savannah does.”

Caroline: “If only she had been so considerate of the family as you are of her?” Caroline observes pointedly, shaking her head.

“Your half-sister should be grateful that excommunication from God and family was all she received. If Orson hadn’t had his heart attack it would have been far worse.”

GM: “I don’t doubt that.” A pause. “It’s risky, what you’re doing with him.”

Caroline: “How’s that?” Caroline asks.

GM: Luke raises his eyebrows.

Caroline: “Your father and I haven’t gotten this far by taking risks.”

GM: “That’s exactly what my thought was. We could lose the archbishopric if this doesn’t pan out.”

Caroline: What the devil was she up to? It’s like putting together a puzzle in the dark.

“Your cousin won’t let that happen.”

GM: “We both know that’s not up to him.”

“Is this worth the goodwill of a pope thousands of miles away?”

Caroline: “Is that what you think it’s about?” Caroline asks.

GM: Luke frowns. “You tell me what it is, then.”

Caroline: Caroline pauses, seemingly to consider.

“There’s blood in the water, Luke. Your brother. Your half-sister. Orson. This election cycle. Other things… "

She pauses again. She didn’t even need to fake the tremor in her voice when she mentioned Westley.

GM: “I suppose so.” Luke’s face gets a little stiller at the mention of Westley. He takes a drink.

“So what are we going to do about Gabriel and the Freneau girl, if Linda isn’t leaving the picture?”

Caroline: “There’s time for it to work itself out,” Caroline answers. “And if necessary, we can find a reason for them to split.” She sighs.

GM: Luke looks puzzled. “You’d said she was the better match.”

Caroline: “For Linda and Gabriel to split,” she clarifies. “She’d hardly be the first girl to lose her senses off at college. And that might do a good job toughening up Gabriel.”

GM: He nods. “I’d agree with that.”

He sets down his mostly finished drink and gets up. “I’ll get the sample.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

GM: There’s a text message from Ferris.

Still hungry? Dinner’s picked up.

Caroline: Caroline takes the opportunity to double check the detector when he gets up.

GM: It says the signal is still there.

Caroline: I am. Stop by, but give me five minutes.

GM: Affirmative.

Caroline: There are still a few matters to close with her brother. She’s not about to let a ‘sample’ from her sister fall into anyone else’s hands.

GM: Luke returns shortly later with a plastic baggie containing several pale blonde hairs. He hands it to ‘Claire’ without comment.

Caroline: She looks at the hairs for a moment before tucking them away. She looks at Luke.

“I know that wasn’t easy.”

GM: “Maybe one day she’ll ask our son to do the same.”

Caroline: I wouldn’t count on that, Caroline doesn’t quite smirk.

She puts that thought out of her mind. She’s about to do something very cruel to Luke. She can, perhaps, do something to lessen the sting.

“I don’t tell you very often, but I’m very proud of you. Of the man you’ve become.”

GM: He nods. “It feels like so much is riding on Cécilia and me.”

Caroline: “There is. I don’t need to tell you there is,” Caroline answers, looking down at her nearly empty drink.

“But I’m not talking about Cécilia and you. I’m talking about you.”

“No one of consequence gets as much time as they want, to accomplish as much as they want to accomplish. The best they can hope is that someone else will be there to carry on their work.”

She looks back up at him. “I know you’ll do so.”

GM: Luke’s expression softens.

“Thanks, Mom. I know… I know you’re doing what’s best for the family. I’ve never doubted that. I don’t think anyone in this family ever has.”

Caroline: She nods. “It’ll be your family, Luke.”

GM: His smile is wan. “Eventually. I’m not in any hurry to get there. We’ve gone through enough death, with Westley.”

“It’s funny, in a way.”

“It’d been so long since there were any deaths, or births, in the family. I think we grew complacent, in a way. We just assumed everything would last forever the way it was.”

“But that’s why I proposed to Cécilia. Nothing lasts forever. I didn’t see any reason to keep waiting.”

Caroline: Caroline finishes her drink and looks down at it. “Then maybe his death has some meaning.”

GM: Luke looks wistful. “I hope so. It’d be a fitting legacy for him.”

“I’d say it’s a little early, but maybe it’s not. Cécilia and I have talked about baby names. I’ve suggested Westley, for a boy.”

Caroline: “What did she say?”

GM: “She said the baby was going to be a girl.”

Caroline: “They do seem to run in that family.”

GM: “She did say the sentiment was heartwarming.”

“She’s so kind. She told me about that time Westley knocked off the top of her sister Adeline’s dress, back when you tried letting him go to school here in the city. It was at a school dance. Boys got to see her chest.”

“He never did anything to earn her forgiveness, but she suggested the name Weslyn, if I was really set on it.”

“It’s a unique name, but not too abnormal-sounding either. I don’t know any Weslyns.”

Caroline: “You could do worse.”

GM: “I could.” He looks at his ‘mother.’ “The baby is going to be mine.”

Caroline: “I never said it wasn’t.”

GM: “You said that was possible.”

Caroline: “I don’t take chances.”

GM: “Everything is a chance. You could slip in the shower and break your neck. Get hit by a car crossing the street.”

“If Westley’s taught me anything, it’s that there are no guarantees.”

Caroline: “Then thank you all the more for humoring an old woman.” She sets down her glass on the stand next to the couch.

GM: Luke rises with his ‘mother’ to see her to the door.

Caroline: She stumbles, but catches herself on the wall on the way to the door.

GM: “Mom!” Luke exclaims, quickly moving to lend her an arm.

“That’s the second time since you got here. You’re sure you’re all right?”

Caroline: “I’m fi… I’m fine.” She grimaces between words.

GM: “You’re not fine. The building has an on-call doctor. I’ll have him take a look at you.” Luke attempts to guide her back to the couch.

Caroline: She straightens her back. “I’m perfectly capable of seeing to myself,” she declares haughtily.

GM: “Are you?” he asks, dubiously. “I haven’t said anything, Mom, but you look… strained.”

Caroline: “Of course I am.” She continues towards the door. “It’s just… it’s been a tough year.”

GM: “It looks like it’s been tougher on you than the rest of us,” says Luke, following after her. “Do you have a chauffeur tonight?”

Caroline: “One drink is not quite enough to render me helpless, Luke.”

She doesn’t stumble, but one hand traces the wall as she comes to the door. Helping with her balance.

GM: “Mom, do you have a chauffeur?” he repeats.

Caroline: “No, I don’t have a chauffeur, Luke. And I’m telling you… I’m fine.”

She puts a hand on the door and turns the lock.

GM: A voice that is not hers blossoms within her thoughts before she does. It’s almost… tittering.

:: Collapse for him, you silly girl. His horror must be genuine. ::

Caroline: She’d hoped the emotional response associated with the shock of what was waiting on the other side might be enough, and the horror could come later, with the body. She hoped to remain as detached from this charade as possible.

But he’s right.

There is no time for half-measures.

GM: When is there?

Caroline’s phone buzzes from her pocket.

Caroline: She pauses, wavering as unsteadily as a pine in a storm, as she reaches for the phone.

GM: It’s from Ferris.

Been delayed with food. Met some friends of yours who want to join you. Said they’re going on ahead.

“Let me drive you, at least,” presses Luke.

Caroline: She sways.

“I don’t… "

The phone tumbles to the ground from numb fingers.


The Venture staggers to the door with all the grace of a falling log. She gets out one final word as she slides down the door and hits the ground.

"Help… "

GM: “Mom!” Luke yells, dropping to her side. He pulls out his phone and shouts into it, “It’s my mother, she’s collapsed! Get the doctor up immediately!”

Caroline: There’s nothing to fake. Caroline just stops breathing. Her heart stopped beating many nights ago.

GM: Luke feels for a pulse. His face blanches. He frantically starts giving Caroline chest compressions in between breaths into her mouth.

“Mom, come on, come on… !”

It’s ironic. Caroline’s kept up to date. In 2010, the American Heart Association released new guidelines that did not recommend mouth-to-mouth when performing CPR. For most responders, anyway.

He might not be saving Claire even if his mother was still alive.

Caroline: She lays there. She can all but feel the desperation coming off him. The growing panic. The fear. The same things that caused the AHA to issue those recommended changes on how responders perform CPR. People in a panic, who aren’t up to date, struggle to get it right even without the breaths.

Luke is no different. Focusing on his flawed attempts makes it easier to disassociate from what she’s putting him through.

GM: Luke keeps trying, desperately. His hands shove up and down against Caroline’s chest between breaths into her mouth. He yells at the phone for the doctor to get here faster. He yells for the person on the other end to call 911, that his mom’s on the ground, that she’s not breathing, that she has no pulse.

“Mom, come on, come on, you’re going to be a grandma!” His voice starts to break. “You’re going, going to meet your grandson, you’re going to see me get married, you’re going to see Dad make another run, you’re, you’re going to be there, you’re going to be there…!

Caroline: Caroline’s glad the act requires only that she lay still, that she can retreat from Luke’s grief into her own thoughts.

She hardens her heart against him, remembering a collection of blonde hairs in ’Claire’s’ bag, his talk of trying to gather others. Remembers Claire trying to stake her. Remembers the fire around her so many times, Claire looking on behind hard eyes. Claire’s casual acceptance of murders towards her own goals.

She retreats back into the bond—not with her sire, but with her sisters. The tie that binds her to them, that faint awareness of them that’s always there now. Something she an focus on, that she can use to distract herself.

Anywhere and anything to get away from Luke’s grief, coward that she is.

GM: It’s like tracing the length of a flowering vine. So many of its buds are closed, but at least one is in full bloom. Caroline inhales deeply of the scent. It envelops her like a tender embrace. She feels the emotions like they’re welling from her own heart. There’s sympathy. Sadness. Resignation, that this is necessary. The only way forward.

And, amidst it all, love.

It would be easier to focus on, though, if she didn’t have to keep her eyes open.

If she didn’t feel her brother’s hands pushing against her chest, over and over, trying to start her dead heart.

If she didn’t feel his mouth pressing against hers, expelling air into her dead lungs.

If she didn’t hear him begging, pleading, entreating, for his mother not to go, not yet, not now.

If she didn’t have to see the tears running down his cheeks.

It would be so much easier if her eyes were dead too.

The doctor comes up, eventually. So do a couple building staff. Caroline isn’t sure what they expect to do. The doctor kneels down to feel Caroline’s pulse, then gives Luke the bad news with a resigned look. He closes Caroline’s eyes.

It’s easy to tune out what happens next, if she chooses to. Luke cries some more. The doctor asks Luke what happened. He marshals himself and says how his mother walked unsteadily, how she fell down. How she’d been unsteady on her feet throughout the evening, how what if… if he’d called someone sooner…

The doctor tells him there’s nothing he could have done. Maybe he’s just saying that to be nice. He hasn’t even said what Claire has. Luke mentions Claire had a rum and coke. Was there something in it? The doctor says they’ll test it and find out.

The building staff say they and the doctor will take care of this. All of this. Emergency services are on their way, but Luke won’t have to talk to anyone until… later. After he’s had some time to process things. Maybe he nods. Caroline doesn’t see what he does next. But she makes out the sound of a tapping phone, and then her brother’s voice as he shakily says,

“Cécilia… something… something horrible’s happened…”

“Oh, no… what is it, Luke… ?”

“My mom’s… my mom’s dead…!

There’s a fresh wave of crying.

Cécilia’s muffled voice gasps through the phone. "_Mon dieu…_ oh, Luke… Luke… I’m so sorry… "

She sounds as if she might be crying too, or close to it, but her voice remains steady. “I’ll be over, as fast as I can… are you at your apartment, or her hotel?”

“My… my apartment… "

“Okay… okay, I’ll be there. I’m getting Adeline to drive… I’ll stay on the phone with you the whole time, okay?”

“O… okay… "

“Luke… I’m so sorry… I’m so, so sorry… "

Caroline: It’s not like watching a car wreck, not the casual cruel curiosity of a lookie loo examining the mangled bodies on the side of the road. It’s like being in the car as it collides with the semitruck—an emotional crash that destroys things as fragile as creatures of flesh and bone without mercy or hesitation. Even Caroline’s dead flesh is not exempt.

Claire was her stepmother (and shut up, that stupid voice in the back of her head that whispers something else, like the scratching of a rat in the walls at night), and whatever else she was—a complex figure who could murder and condemn without hesitation or remorse—Caroline’s memories of her are not entirely without fondness. Days and nights in which the hardest, most prickly parts of the dead woman’s personality softened. Not the least of which was the day Claire signed her own death warrant. The day she spared Caroline. In a very real way that night, and many nights thereafter, Claire knew she was marching inexorably towards her death, but she did so seemingly without reservation.

It’s not something Caroline’s taken the time to—had the time to—process. Claire might have betrayed her in the end, but it was towards ends she believed right. Ends she believed in the furtherance of Caroline’s wellbeing. She was controlling, distrustful, manipulative, and oh so cold, but there was still a bond between them. One Caroline brutally severed just as it began to grow. She personally killed Claire, and no claims of self-defense are enough to completely relieve her of that guilt. Everything that’s happened to the family since her Embrace is her own doing. This is only the latest, most personal, most wrenching evidence of it.

Watching Luke, who she was once so close to, before the demands of adulthood got in the way. Before competition for her father’s limited time and affection got in the way. Luke, who is through it all still her brother. Luke who was so much closer to Claire. Who has not had nights to accept Claire’s death. Who does not have Abélia filling that place in his heart. Watching him suffer hits far harder than her own feelings over Claire’s death.

Watching him suffer, watching him wrestle with the grief if something no child should have to experience—the death of a parent in their arms—is a dagger to her heart.

And she’s at the center of his grief. Ultimately, this plan, framing Claire’s death around him, using him to protect the Masquerade, was her idea. It wasn’t enough to murder her brother’s mother, no, she had to make him live through that death. She had to lie to him and deceive him for her own ends. She had to put him through so much pain. To protect the Masquerade. To protect herself. To make it look good. To who? Who was she trying to impress, that Luke had to have his mother die in front of him?

She knows the answer. It’s there. It’s always been there, but never stronger than tonight. She’s seen his face every night since the first she laid eyes on him, but it’s been burned into her mind since she last bowed before him, lowered her lips to his pale flesh, and let the fire burn through her.

Luke has to suffer so she can impress him. So she can be a good heir to him. So he might look on her with eyes filled with something other than hate. So she can become his heir and watch over his kingdom while he rests, when he finally is allowed to rest.

Even here, at the center of her own grief, at the heart of her guilt, he’s the one that comes to her mind.

It’ll be worth it though, won’t it? All of this will be worth it, if it improves her standing in his eyes.

Destroying her brother like this, ripping out his heart?

Murdering Claire for him.

Burying her own heart.

For him?

She knows the answer.

But it won’t stop her from trying.

That’s what she is, isn’t she? The dutiful daughter? The dutiful childe?

She listens to her brother’s sobbing. Listens to the grief that fills his voice, the raw red anguish.

It’s right that she should be here, that she should have to experience it first hand. That she should see what she’s wrought.

But she’d do it again.

It’s what a dutiful daughter should do.

GM: And whatever else she might be, she has always been the dutiful daughter.


Not sister.

Luke and Cécilia talk for a while. His voice gets fainter, as though he’s walking away, but Caroline still hears it. Still hears the anguish, raw and red and fresh as he sobs. Cécilia cries too as she offers what comfort she can. It can’t be enough. She repeats how many minutes she’s away. How soon she’ll get there.

Caroline said so herself, to Maldonato. She wanted to find some way to fix things, to reach an accommodation. Claire wasn’t so naive. She knew how this would end.

Yet it seems unlikely that Caroline’s (step)mother could have anticipated this. Her daughter lying on the floor, impersonating her own corpse.

Maybe she’d have approved, in a twisted way, by her own twisted standards. For Caroline doing what was necessary.

It’s as she herself said to Luke:

Don’t get sentimental. This family cannot let feelings get in the way of what is necessary. Your father has never hesitated, and neither can you.

Claire and Luke both said she was the most like him, out of any of them.

Caroline feels someone draping a sheet over her body. Who wants to look at a corpse when they don’t have to. Caroline hears footsteps all around her, people talking, and finally a door opening. There’s more footsteps. Some sniffs. A croaked, "Cécilia… " and then silence, except for the pair’s heavy breathing, wet with tears. She can picture Luke shaking in her sister’s arms.

Some time passes.

“Come home with me,” says Cécilia. "Spend the night. You shouldn’t have to wake up here, by yourself… where she… "

She doesn’t finish that thought.

“Let me… let me hold you… "

Maybe Luke nods. Caroline doesn’t see.

“I need… to call… rest of the family… " he gets out.

“Luke, let me… "

“No… no, it should… Dad’d want me… "

“Okay… we’ll call him first… will he be awake?”

“I… guess we’ll… "

The phone dials.

“What is it, Luke?” comes their father’s crisp voice. Slightly duller, like an axe that’s not been run over a whetstone in some time, but could all-too easily regain that lethal edge.

Luke takes a steadying breath. “Dad… Mom’s dead.”

And just like that, it does.


“She… she came to my apartment. She fell. She stopped breathing. I gave CPR. The doctor… said she’s dead. There’s no… there’s no pulse… " Luke keeps his voice mostly steady.

“She fell? She stopped breathing? Why?” The word stabs from the phone like a knife.

“I don’t… we don’t know… there’ll be an aut-”

“What do you mean you don’t know? You tell me my wife is dead, and you dare say you don’t even know why?!” Nathan spits.

Caroline can feel the heat rising in his voice.

Luke’s voice starts to rise too. “Dad, there hasn-”

Caroline: It’s like listening to an echo of her sire. The ruthlessness. The will to power. The demand for recognition and consideration. The natural authority.

But only an echo.

GM: “There hasn’t? There hasn’t what, Luke? There never is, is there, you sniveling incompetent! I have to do everything myself!” The mortal man’s voice is livid with fury.

THERE HASN’T BEEN A FUCKING AUTOPSY!” Luke yells, his own voice no less furious. “God-”

“That is YOUR failure to inform me past your sniveling, you crying little boy!” his father’s voice snarls over his. It’s not as loud, but it cuts through Luke’s words like a lumber axe—and sounds no less furious.

“I see now that you are too emotional to deliver a rational account of what happened to your mother. I will oversee the autopsy. I will oversee everything, like I always do, when someone in this family gets killed through their own or someone else’s stupidity. Perhaps it’s your fault, this time, if your mother died in your_ apartment? I will find out. I will solve everything. Like I always do. Expect me back in the city before sunrise, Luke. I am very disappointed in you.”

The line hangs up.

Luke gives a choked scream of half-fury, half-grief. There’s the sound of something small and hard crashing against a wall.

“That… FUCKING… !”

“Oh, Luke… " Cécilia doesn’t say anything for a bit. Maybe she’s hugging him.

“You’re doing everything right… he’s just angry, angry and taking it out on you… "

“There hasn’t even been time for an autopsy!” Luke snarls. “That… fucking… !”

“He’s not thinking straight, either… he’s just angry… you did nothing wrong… " his fiancée comforts him.

“I don’t know why. I don’t know why I even bother,” Luke says flatly. “He always wished Caroline had been born with a penis, then I could just be another Westley.”

“That’s literally the only reason I’m the, whatever the fuck you want to call it, and she’s not.”

“And I guess being gay.”

Caroline: She knows that isn’t quite true. She might have been his ‘favorite’ in life, but her father always wanted each of his children to be successful. Wanted them all to be something. And recognized, as Luke so pointedly observes, the limitations Caroline would always face.

It’s funny hearing him speak, though. Hearing her father rage. What seems like a lifetime ago, that would have set her on edge, set her scrambling to meet whatever demand he set, filled her with shame when she failed. Now…

It’s like listening through a pane of glass, like nothing he says is real, like it doesn’t matter. Not compared to… well…

Still, she knows what her brother needs to hear.

You should tell him Dad always knew that he’d be the heir, and that time has proved him right. That his steadiness, his steadfastness, was always what would see him through, and that it’s what dad always saw in him: a bedrock. That he has to be that bedrock now.

GM: There’s a pause, but not for overlong.

“Luke, your father always knew. He always knew you would be the one to follow in his footsteps and rule the family. Time has proved him right—and you right. It’s your steadiness, your reliability, your loyalty, that was always what would see you through. That’s what your father always saw you as. A bedrock.”

“The time is now, for you to be that bedrock. Your father said he was disappointed in you. Prove him wrong. Prove you are everything he could want from a son.”

There is another pause.

But also not for overlong.

“I’m going to call the others. Starting with Matt. Orson, probably not, since the heart attack.”

Wouldn’t that have been unthinkable a few short months ago.

“Adam, though. Carson. He’s always had a level head. I’ll ride with the ambulance and oversee the autopsy personally.”

Luke’s voice is hoarse, and still a little numb, but there’s a steadiness to it there wasn’t before.

“Luke, are you sure that’s allowed… ?”

“It doesn’t matter. I’m a Malveaux. There’s nothing they won’t allow me.”

“Damn not having Ferris. I’ll bring Alphonse, and some of the new people. It’s not impossible this was an assassination. Mom had enemies. We’ll put the family security on high alert.”

“All of that sounds like a smart plan,” Cécilia nods. “I think it may be a while, though, before there’s an autopsy… ?”

“I’ll stay with the body until there is,” says Luke. “And push the coroners to perform one, as soon as possible. I want results by yesterday.”

“Just don’t be too mad if they can’t, Luke. Neither of us are doctors. I’m not sure how it all works.”

“But I’m very proud of you,” Cécilia smiles. “You are the family’s bedrock.”

Caroline? Is there anything else you’d like me to suggest?

Caroline: Him being with the body is going to result in him getting… they’re going to invade his mind over and over again. It’d be better if that didn’t happen.

She pauses. Ask him what he thinks she would actually want, the ‘why’ and ‘what’ or the ‘what now’ direction of things. How she died and why is much less important than what the family does about it. Being there pulls him out of position, and he knows many of the plots she had better than most.

GM: “Luke, what do you think your mom would want?” Cécilia asks. “The why and the what, or the what now?”

Luke seems to frown. “You don’t think she’d want me with her body.”

“As cold as it feels to say… what’s done is done. What do you think she’d care about most right now?”

“What happens next,” Luke answers. “How this impacts the family.”

He’s silent for a moment.

“We need to stop this from leaking to the press until the autopsy is complete. How she died ultimately doesn’t matter. It needs to be either a tragic accident or something enemies of the family can be publicly blamed for. She would want to leverage this to advance the family’s position.”

“That’s a bit grim, but it does sound like what she’d have wanted,” says Cécilia. “Do you still want to be there with the body?”

“No. But we’ll put people on it.”

“I have… other things I need to do.”

“Can I help?” asks Cécilia.

“Yes. Help spread the news. Be there for the others. Help keep an eye on things. Whatever comes up. I’m sure there’ll be a million things to do, soon, and there’s only so many people the family can really trust.”

“Okay. I can do all of that,” says Cécilia. “You’ll be okay?”

“I’ll have to be. But… she told me to expect this day.”

Caroline: That catches Caroline’s attention. She did seem to know the end was inevitable… interesting that she told him, though.

GM: I wonder why. Is there anything you’d like me to say?

Caroline: What he means by expecting the day. Claire knew her days were numbered, but I didn’t think she would be so overt about it.

GM: "You mean she expected to die, soon? That might be very relevant, going forward… "

“I didn’t take her completely seriously,” answers Luke. “I guess I should have. She was very serious about how that day might come, and what I’d need to do.”

Caroline: If she laid plans with him, those might be especially meaningful in what’s to come.

Which doesn’t make her feel better about listening in.

A moment later, I’m sorry to eavesdrop like this, Cécilia… and that you have to be a part of this.

GM: It’s okay. Those plans could hurt you. I’d do anything to prevent that.

I’m sorry you have to go through this at all.

And that I haven’t even be able to hug you yet. I could feel how much all of this has hurt you.

Caroline: She doesn’t deserve Cécilia, and it makes her all the more grateful for her.

She thinks to the collection of pale blonde hairs in the handbag next to her corpse. Neither does Luke, come to think of it, but she’ll do nothing tonight to damage that. To hurt Cécilia. There’s still hope for him.

I made my bed here.

She truly has no one else to blame.

But that you care means more than you know, Cécilia. Helps more than you can imagine.

GM: Then that’s what counts.

Caroline: Cécilia is what counts, so far as Caroline is concerned. At least so far as Luke. It’s as simple as that. Her brother’s proximity to Cécilia is what will save him from the worst of her wrath. From her excesses.

He may be her brother, and she’ll always have affection for him, but there’s no question as to what she fits into her heart around the dominating presence that is her sire.

As it turns out, there’s room for seven.

What was it her mother had said? Seven is the perfect number.

GM: “Are those things I can help you with, Luke?” Cécilia asks aloud.

Caroline gets the impression of her brother shaking his head. “Like I said. Be there for the others. Help them with things as they come up. There’s going to be more than enough to stay busy with, in a bit.”

Caroline: With her brother she can agree on that at least. There’s never enough hours for all there is to do. There will be more than ever after tonight.

It’s funny, though, how differences in perspective affect how a given moment is seen.

So far as her brother is concerned, this is an end.

But for Caroline, it’s only a beginning.

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Luke and Cécilia talk for a little while longer. Caroline doesn’t hear anything from the doctor or building staff. They seem like they’ve been gone for a little while. She hears another man’s voice, who addresses Cécilia as “ma’am,” and Adeline’s too.

Eventually, there’s heavier footsteps, and a low rolling sound. Caroline feels someone continuing compressions before she’s lifted into the air, then there’s canvas against her back. She feels her clothes getting cut away, then a gelled surface against her chest and plastic against her face. There’s rough movement underneath her, more voices, then the ding of elevator doors. There’s more movement downwards, another ding of the doors, and rolling underneath her. There’s more voices.

She eventually feels night air against her skin, movement upward, and slamming doors. Sirens wail as the ground speeds beneath her.

“You can open your eyes now, ma’am,” comes Fuller’s voice.

Caroline: The Venture’s eyes snap open, and she rises to a sitting position.

GM: She’s in the back of an ambulance. Fuller wears an EMT’s uniform. There’s another ghoul she doesn’t recognize, along with the facsimile of Claire’s corpse. Fuller hands her the clothes she had on prior to Claire’s.

“The others are still on site helping with things there.”

Caroline: Helping. She feels a surge of jealousy. Around her family. Especially her sisters. She understands well why Becky Lynne was so irritated by her proximity to Sarah.

She has questions, but not in front of a stranger. “No issues with dinner?”

GM: “Didn’t get the food we’d ordered. Still got food.”

Caroline: “Better than nothing.”

She has no intention of sharing.

GM: The other ghoul, a dark-haired and nondescript man dressed in an EMT’s uniform, doesn’t speak. The ambulance speeds closer to the hospital.

When they get there, he motions with a hand. Cloak-like shadows coalesce around Caroline. People don’t look at her as the doors open and he and Fuller heft the body out on its stretcher. There’s all the usual sounds of bedlam and suffering inherent to a late-night hospital ER. The body gets whisked away, hospital personnel still continuing resuscitative efforts. Fuller eventually reappears in his own clothes.

“Seems they’re taking it from here, ma’am. Didn’t feel like they especially wanted us.”

He says there’s a car brought over by one of Caroline’s (non-initiated) people, waiting outside to convey them to wherever the Ventrue wants to go next. If Caroline has no orders to the contrary, Ferris and her other ghouls are going to rendezvous back at the Giani Building when they’re done at Luke’s apartment.

Caroline: The Ventrue carefully removes Cécilia’s hairs from ’Claire’s’ bag before they arrive, tucking the tiny plastic bag in her bra.

She waits until they get to the car to ask about who they captured and where they are, as well as what they have on the bugs in Luke’s house if they didn’t belong to their prey.

GM: The ghoul watches Caroline as she does so, but does not attempt to stop her.

“Harlequin detected the bugs, ma’am. He and Doriocourt took them,” Fuller answers as he drives.

Caroline: Of course they did. Caroline might have hoped that the two older vampires might have overlooked them entirely, but she hadn’t bet on it. Instead she had her own plan in motion.

The first step was clearly identifying whether the bugs extend into the apartment—something she checked and reported once inside easily. Not only did it tip them off as to whether they were higher-quality more embedded spyware across the apartment (likely Claire’s work) or slapdash quick work by someone in a hurry (perhaps another hunter) hoping that Claire might show up, it also helped them determine where to concentrate their efforts.

That mattered really only insofar as how her ghouls and employees proceeded on the next step, whether they proceed in pairs or can split up more fully. Slapdash work was more likely to have a body on site monitoring, and she’ll have not split her people up if that’s the case. Requiring they work in groups would have slowed the process, but slower would have been preferable to potentially letting someone get away or (worse) overcome one of her people. As it turned out, it wasn’t required. Bugs across the apartment pointed at Claire, and she’d tipped off her people appropriately. All of it fed into just how long she needed to keep Luke occupied.

Ramsey had explained at Ferris’ prompting that no matter the bug, the signal from any source can only go so far—that’s explicitly what the RF detector measured—and the further it went, the larger, the more obtrusive, and the shorter-lasting any device. That made it likely that for any given device, the signal would only go as far as is absolutely necessary to reach the receiver. Several of her people worked the floor to figure out the exact range of that signal with their own more sensitive monitors, working up and down the hall to measure where it cut off. Her people were then to quickly identify all other rooms (janitorial closets, halls, staff only areas, and other apartments) which fell into the edge of that range and work their way through them, working from the outside in.

Luke’s expensive apartment choice was likely to aid them in that significantly—in a cheaper placer the floors and ceilings might be thin enough that the signal might cover multiple floors, but neither her brother nor the other residents would likely tolerate hearing their neighbors beaten wives scream or big screen TVs with surround sound blare through the floor and walls. No, every apartment has soundproofing, and that same soundproofing works well on any radio signal as well. They didn’t expect to be clearing multiple floors or even an entire one.

Not that it was supposed come to that. Residents, if necessary, were to be roused and dominated by ghouls, but common spaces are where they had been instructed to start first: it seemed much more likely they sneak whatever receiver they’re using somewhere they could easily access, and somewhere that required less setup than renting an entire apartment well in advance.

After common and staff spaces they were to move to empty apartments—identified by distant observers looking in on rooms with high quality binoculars—the keycard locks were unlikely to stand up to the tools available to Ramsey and Ferris. Only after examining them though, and as a last resort, were they to move onto occupied apartments. For that purpose they had fake badges available to go with the dominate.

Amateurs, or those that don’t really understand what they’re dealing with, Ferris had explained might get hung up on the bugs themselves. They might provide some insight, he admits, if they have prints on them, or serial numbers that can be tracked back to purchasers at great cost and effort. What he (and Caroline) were focused on is the much juicier prize: either the receiver that’s forwarding the signal on from the building to an offsite location (likely a computer wired into a network access point) or a similar receiver with someone monitoring it live.

Caroline had worried that a receiver could be stashed somewhere less conspicuous—on the ceiling, on a ceiling tile—but Ferris and Ramsey had an answer for that concern as well. Any kind of work that had to split off power and network connectivity would have raised attention and alarm. It might be stashed, but if so it’s not too carefully hidden: it still needs a power outlet. Any power plugs leading off somewhere were briefed as immediate points of interest.

Which begs the question: what did they catch?

GM: The short version, Fuller answers, is they have a lead on an offsite location. Caroline’s people did not pick up an on-site monitor, so Fuller assumes Luke’s apartment was under surveillance by Caroline’s stepmother rather than other hunters.

Ferris withheld the full details from Caroline’s older ghoul, at least for now. The ex-CIA agent was (in Fuller’s view, rightfully) concerned over being able to keep their findings secret in a building so inundated with simultaneous activity by the Krewe of Janus and the sheriff’s agents. He will brief his domitor upon their return to the Giani Building.

Caroline: She gestures for Fuller to lead the way to the car. There’s little to be gained from hanging around where she isn’t wanted.

She has Fuller drive. She has the kine servant call a Ryde for themselves. She has a stop to make, and it’s better without the questions it might raise in an employee.

After all, her choice of code phrases with Ferris hadn’t been entirely chosen by accident: she could really go for some takeout.

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

GM: Caroline had wanted someone as fast as possible, no bullshit.

Like all things, there’s an app for that.

Caroline may or may not remember the specifics of her tryst with Nathaniel Hite, or even the young man’s name until she saw his Tinder profile, but his face was a familiar one. He was happy to swing by again for a late-night hookup upon being reminded of their last one.

“They ended up not expelling me over that whole ‘renting out my dorm thing,’” he mentions. “There was a ton of bullshit over it, though. Just an absolute ton of bullshit. Dealing with it was punishment enough.”

“I think they cut me some slack because my parents were partly ‘complicit.’ They both had to spend hours on the phone with a bunch of bureaucrats saying that yes, they knew I was doing this, they’d set a bad example.”

Caroline: The Ventrue genuinely couldn’t care less about the kine’s problems.

She puts on a fake smile and meets him in the lobby, listening to his complaints with the sort of vacant agreement she’d long practiced with would be suiters long before her Embrace. Lots of ‘oh wow’ and ‘really’ that invites him to continue while requiring marginal actual mental engagement as she suffers through his complaints on the too long elevator ride to her seventh floor apartment.

She drops the facade as soon as the door to her apartment closes.

GM: He looks around at it as they step inside. "This is a really nice place, by the w… "

Caroline: “Sit down, shut up, and stay put until I come back for you,” she orders.

This is a chore that needs doing, but damned if she feels like doing it right now.

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Caroline: Caroline does not hesitate in beginning her investigation into and securing of her new domain following the confirmation of the bishop’s destruction. She knows from experience, and the advice of Ferris, that too many secrets will follow the bishop in the grave never to be seen again if not exhumed swiftly. If the halflife of a mission person is 24 hours, that of a secret is no order of magnitude greater.

Many Malveaux secrets are not new to her – and even more peel away with Ferris by her side. If she’s shocked by the tales he brings of the lengths the family has gone to over his decade of employment to advance in the state’s cutthroat politics she shows no sign off it. Similarly, she had no reaction to tales of outright depravity among family members he’d worked to conceal. Violence, substance abuse, illegitimate children, sexual assault. The list goes on without so much of a flinch from her. She wonders ideally if it’s because it’s her family, or because of all the awful things she’s done. Would she have always justified it, or is it simply so much easier to do now? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, especially as they’re not what she’s after.

No, there’s one secret however that’s puzzled her for years – even before her Requiem – that she wants. Her cousin Susan’s abrupt choice to take to the cloth in her teen years had been shocking, even terrifying for Caroline at the time. An almost threat about what happened to disappointing or disobedient daughters. Almost a decade later through the lens of the bishop’s dominion over the family, the topic is of far greater interest to her. She cannot help but believe there’s some secret buried here, and secrets she has need of.

It’s thusly that she finds herself mere nights after his destruction plotting the invasion of another’s domain to tear into that secret. Like a footpad searching over the still steaming corpse of a victim, the lesser crime of meddling is of little concern to her next to when it comes to capturing all the spoils of the bishop’s murder. She fully intends to dig through each of his ‘pockets’ for something of value.

As simple as her reasons are, the process of getting there was not so simple. Trespassing—so much as one can against a usurper—in the domain of another Kindred is dangerous under the best circumstances. For the unacknowledged heir apparent to the prince trespassing into the heavily fortified domain of a rival it’s another matter entirely.

She well knows she’s under surveillance from many interested parties. Most of her Requiem it was easier to work within that surveillance than try to avoid it, accepting it as a constriction on her freedom of action because she must—she’s not practiced at eluding it. Not she, already accustomed to the spotlight. Better to be the magician on the stage fooling her audience through slight of hand. That option is not available tonight, and perhaps any other. Though the two elder ghouls that shadow her are no doubt in part for her protection these nights, she has no doubt too they will dutifully report on her activities to the seneschal. More subtly is required.

Fortunately for her Roger Ferris’ very particular set of skills encompass all manner of subterfuge, and she leans heavily on the operative. The Walter Robinson House is perhaps the only place she is safe from outside observation, but the Giani Building will do. She calls the ghoul to lay their plans, asking him to bring whatever information he has on her cousin, already plotting in her mind an incursion into the French Quarter to raid the Ursuline Convent.

GM: Ferris arrives at the Giani Building with the requested items. He reports that Orson expressly ordered him not to involve himself in what became of Susan.

Claire expressly ordered him to do exactly that, but discretely. Both of them believed the bishop had a hand in what became of Caroline’s cousin.

Ferris hired a PI to do the legwork. The man reported Susan was quiet and subdued in her new life. He suspected she was not there by her own will. Ferris and Claire concurred. They could find no apparent reason the bishop sent Susan to the convent.

“He was cracked in the head, ma’am. There are times he would do sadistic things to Malveauxes without rhyme or reason. He preferred to kill family members or ruin their lives when milder measures would have sufficed. Your stepmother believed he hated the family, for all that he might have used them towards his ends.”

The ex-CIA agent also reports that Susan is not at the Old Ursuline Convent in the French Quarter. The Ursulines have multiple convents in the city. Susan is at the one located in Riverbend.

“Why stash her at the nunnery in enemy territory.”

The address is 2734 Nashville Ave. Caroline has the options of taking a detour through Mid-City and a longer drive through Riverbend, or a shorter drive through Uptown and a still-shorter drive through Riverbend.

Getting caught by Donovan or McGinn might be better in some ways, Ferris assesses, and worse in others. He has an alternative strategy to propose while they’re getting ready.

“As you note, ma’am, you’re under considerable surveillance. If all you want is the girl, I’d subcontract getting her out to someone with fewer eyes on them. Someone who doesn’t directly work for you, and isn’t Kindred or a ghoul either. Fewer consequences if they get caught. May or Hayes could both do the job.”

It makes perfect sense that Susan would be in Donovan’s domain given his association with the bishop, but it doesn’t make it easier to stomach than her being in the French Quarter.

The Ventrue spares a none-too-patient glance at one of the windows as Ferris suggests using a third party. She knows the elder ghouls are out there. Waiting. Watching. But for them she’d go herself, but sneaking away from her minders will invite all manner of uncomfortable speculation. She wants to visit Susan herself, slip into her cage and find what lies within. But it is unwise.

Its one thing to vanish from under the nose of her enemies’ spies, another to arouse questions from among her notional allies, mentors…. master. That word, even unspoken, sends a shiver through her. She knows how sparing his trust.

Caroline: It’s a shame, because she knows that the sheriff’s attention is quite split at the moment—there might never be a better time in many ways. Unless she rips his domain from him.

“And what if it’s not that simple? The bishop’s secrecy makes me extremely suspicious Roger. No pawn did he secret away so carefully.” And what happens in the family when she pulls Susan out?

“What if she’s not just a kine?” Caroline asks. She remembers getting burned by Summer.

On the other hand, that would be all the more reason to rip her free before someone else interferes.

GM: Ferris seems to give a verbal shrug. “What else would she be? The bishop kept no ghouls besides a little albino girl that your stepmother and I were aware of.”

“I’m not certain what’s become of her either, for that matter.”

Caroline: “There are plenty of other things that go bump in the night.” She well remembers her Ryde driver puking up human flesh. “Speak with Autumn and Ms. Green about Summer Greer when you have time.”

GM: “I’ll do so, ma’am. I’m also aware. Your stepmother didn’t induct me into this world.”

Caroline: She doesn’t waste his time or insult his intelligence by pausing to explain how valuable those types of beings can be for Kindred. “At least two agents. It would be better if they could pull her out in a way that would allow is to return her without notice, but with Orson in the hospital and the bishop dead, I expect few will actually bother to follow up with her if we cannot.”

“And obviously, it is best if she comes willingly.” Best, but not required.

GM: “I’d be surprised if your cousin was something other than human, in any case. The PI who investigated her didn’t think she seemed happy, as I said. Thought she was being held against her will. If she’s not human, that would either suggest she was weak enough for the Albino to keep imprisoned in the nunnery, or that she was there of her own accord. Both of which would beg the question as to why.”

“Why stay holed away for years in a nunnery.”

Caroline: “We’ll find out.”

GM: “Goodman would be better than Hayes or May at convincing her to leave. On the other hand, his face is more likely to be known by the sheriff’s people.”

Caroline: “Put him in a dress.” Caroline suggests with a casualness that belies how sharp her eyes are at the suggestion.

GM: “Prudent. I doubt anyone will think to look for him in that disguise,” comes Ferris’ humorless reply.

Caroline: “A woman, or women, would also attract less attention at a convent.” Caroline agrees prudently. “Either way, sooner is better, for everyone’s sake. I know you’d prefer more detailed planning, but everyone is swinging without a net right now. Most of them have more cases to cover than we do.”

GM: “Planning time is a luxury. We can get by without if the other side doesn’t have it either,” Ferris concurs.

Caroline: “If Autumn would help, she is available as well. More likely to pick up things out of the ordinary and avoid notice than the others.”

GM: The ex-CIA agent considers. “Everyone knows she works for you, but she knows enough veiling to avoid patrols. Female. Knows what she’s getting into if Susan isn’t human.”

“I’ll have her accompany Brett.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, “Do you need anything further?”

GM: “Widney saw to it that my people got some paychecks to tide them over. That’s helped. Brett won’t mind the dress as much.”

“I’d like to tell them that they’ll be working for the Malveauxes again soon.”

Caroline: “In point of fact, they are working for a Malveaux.” Caroline observes dryly.

“The rest of the family may take longer to get in line, but they will in time.” She rolls her tongue across her teeth, “Savannah for the company, Luke in our father’s footsteps, and Adam shepherding Orson.”

“Sooner rather than later.”

GM: “Savannah has the ruthlessness and experience to succeed,” Ferris considers. “Adam has the experience. His ruthlessness is untested. Orson handled the more unsavory aspects of running the church. Adam’s never had to get his hands dirty.”

“Luke may have the ruthlessness, but not the experience. This will be his first foray into politics.”

“I’d guide him most, Adam next, and Savannah least.”

Caroline: Caroline nods.

The Ventrue nods. “I expect to have the most hands on with the Church no matter how it plays out. Adam is years away from ready, and Orson is in no condition to continue to manage all he must.”

“Savannah, in contrast requires less oversight, and more containment, but has levers that can be pulled upon quite easily. Luke…” She shows fangs, “It’s fortunate our father will be around for a while yet.”

“Regardless, without the bishop’s cruelty and erratic moods this generation should be rather more successful.”

GM: “I’m not sure if success was ever his goal for the family,” muses Ferris. “Or at least his sole goal.”

“Your stepmother informed me of the incident with Orson.”


“He’s ash now.”

Caroline: A predatory grin at that.

“In any case, I’ll plant the idea in Luke’s head for your team next time we speak.”

Sooner than be plans, if she has her way. While he’s unbalanced by Claire’s death. Emotionally reeling and drawn all the more tightly to what he has left. To Cécilia.

“Draw up some evidence he can wave under their nose of how your dismissal was a frame job. It’s an easy enough sell.”

GM: “I’ll do as much, though Luke’s opinion counts less than Matt’s. He controls the purse strings.”

Caroline: “The collar on Matt will take longer, but give Luke something to take to our father. If you tie it to a threat to the family, perhaps even to Claire’s death, he’ll do our work for us with his brother.”

She meets his eyes, “Anyone other than Gabriel, Savannah, and Luke are on the table to make that point more felt if required.”

“Given the damage of the last six months that sell should not be difficult.”

She runs her hand through her hair.

GM: “I’d suggest Adam is more valuable than Gabriel, while we’re picking targets,” the ex-CIA agent offers mildly. “Could be useful to do regardless, to have my people deter an apparent threat from the family to establish why they need us.”

Caroline: “Adam needs the toughening up more though, his eyes opened.” Caroline agrees.


The trail-off is momentary. If she had just waited a little longer, if she had trusted me a little more.

“…necessary, depicting you as in my employee since your firing is required to explain your interest, do so. Someone will follow the money eventually anyway.”

If Claire was still alive it would be easier. Caroline’s involvement will draw her back in more openly.

GM: If Claire was still alive she’d still be Caroline’s mother.

“Prudent,” agrees Ferris. “Some of them may be suspicious if you’d seemed to be idle anyways.”

Caroline: She shoves that thought away. Claire brought it on herself. She plotted against Caroline behind her back. Used her even.

Would it have mattered if Caroline had told her the whole story? About being the childe of the prince? No. she decides.

And it doesn’t matter. She didn’t believe in sacrificing, only at best trading. She accepted Caroline’s death only so far as it opened the doors to new opportunities. How many times did Claire lie to her? Work around her? Manipulate her?

Claire. Not her mother. Claire. A return to her rightful place.

As usual, her mother took nothing from her, she simply helped illustrate the truth more clearly: who they were, always were, to each other.

“Doing the devil’s work.”

GM: “You and the rest of the world,” Ferris remarks.

“Speaking of your stepmother, ma’am. We recovered the receiver for the bugs she left in Luke’s apartment. It was in the gym.”

“Fairly big and long-range one hidden inside some exercise equipment.”

Caroline: Leave it to Claire not to do things in half-measures.

“That gives us a lot of distance to cover.” The exercise equipment also provided a convenient excuse to do regular maintenance, replace batteries, maybe even jack into the 60hz in a wall socket.

“What’s the next step there?”

GM: “That’s your call, ma’am. There’s a variety of ways we could follow up on this. And associated opportunity costs.”

“The sheriff’s people have the bugs themselves. I’m sure they’ll want to run down Claire’s safehouse too, though as you’ve observed, they also have full plates right now.”

Caroline: “The bugs are far less useful than the transceiver,” Caroline observes, “and you have the lead of being able to isolate it down to a smaller geography area with your knowledge of her movements.”

“Depending on what’s mirrored in her safehouse, the information there could be lethal to us. I expect tasking to fall off in the next day or two. Put this at the top of the list.”

“Cross reference Claire’s known disappearances and furthest on circles.”

An idea occurs to her. “Check her car too. I’m sure she disabled GPS, but many of the luxury cars track fuel economy, which cross-reference might help point is in the right direction.”

GM: The ex-CIA agent nods.

“We’ll get on it, ma’am. You’re right we have the lead in two significant respects.”

“I wouldn’t count on the car, though. That would’ve been parked at the Monteleone when she died.”

In the Quarter.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Beyond that, you can start grooming Ramsey for the blood.”

GM: “Prudent choice.”

Caroline: “Advantages where we can get them.”

Wednesday night, 9 March 2016, AM

Caroline: She returns to the captive kine in her apartment. “Drink until I tell you to stop,” she orders, producing an unopened bottle from a cabinet.

Punishment enough? Not hardly. Not yet.

GM: The glassy-eyed young man starts chugging.

Caroline: It doesn’t take long for the man (what’s his name? Hate? Hit? Something with an ‘H’) to accelerate right past drunk into the stage affectionately referred to as ‘hammered.’ Caroline should know: she directed him to go there. Quickly. The more than half-empty bottle in front of him, Grey Goose, was one of her favorites in life.

Mind, she typically mixed it with something, vice chugging it straight from the bottle. Tonight she can’t be bothered, not for him. It isn’t like she can taste a mixer in his blood, and she could care less what 80 proof spirit going straight down tastes like for him. He isn’t even really a person to her. Half-sprawled across the kitchen counter and barely coherent, he’s a means to an end.

Waiting for the alcohol to hit his blood is an exercise in patience, but gives her time to touch base with her ghouls. Ferris begs off an immediate meeting, claiming he wants to run down some loose ends before he briefs her. Just as well. She has another meeting she needs to fit in tonight.

Jocelyn still looks awful. The effects of her half-completed self-immolation are only the start. Her clothing is soiled with blood, ash, and unmentionable filth. Much of her hair is burned away. Then there’s the sharpened wooden shaft hideously jutting out from her chest. Caroline is glad to take a sip from the man while they bring up the Toreador’s mangled body. Something to take the edge off of the and razor-sharp memory.

She reflects without mirth that it’s Jocelyn who first suggested this to her: getting a vessel drunk, or high, or whatever her poison was in life. They’ve never had time to try it.

Technically, she’s only responsible for the stake, but it’s hard not to blame herself for everything marring the Toreador’s once-beautiful form. She might not have set Jocelyn on fire herself, but she definitely pushed her lover to do it.

She contemplates another drink from her ‘guest,’ but decides it’s just cowardice speaking. An excuse to delay this even longer. She instead firmly plants her elbow on the still-handcuffed Toreador’s chest and grasps the stake with her other hand, then draws it out of the brunette with a sickening slurp.

GM: The light sip of the inebriated man’s blood gives Caroline a pleasantly buzzed feeling, like she’s had a stiff drink or two. It helps take the edge off.

Jocelyn’s face is still frozen in mid-crying, mid-scream. Dried red tears are crusted around her eyes. She looks better than she did the first time Caroline saw her, after her attempted immolation, but that isn’t saying a lot.

When the stake comes out, she just stares at her (former?) lover for a moment, mouth still hanging open.

Then she screams and starts flailing at Caroline, shoving and slapping and hitting the larger Ventrue in an uncoordinated mess of shrieking pain.

Caroline supposes it’s something she’s not frenzying.

All those hours spent staked to cool off.

Caroline: Jocelyn isn’t half a match for Caroline on her best night. Half-dead and handcuffed, she isn’t even that. It’s a lot like a child throwing a tantrum. She straddles the seated Toreador and holds her as she flails.

She tolerates it for a moment. The moment passes.

She pins Jocelyn’s hands. “Do you want to fight me or do you want to fuck me?”

GM: Her lover’s eyes flash with simultaneous hurt, want, and fury.

“That’s all I am to you,” she croaks.

“Just shove a stake in me when you’re not horny.”

She tries to kick instead.

Caroline: The Ventrue is off her just as suddenly, sitting across from her.

“Your choice. I thought it’d be a more fun way for both of us to help put you back together.”

GM: Jocelyn gives her a burning stare.

“What the fuck do you even want with me.”

Caroline: Caroline lets the hurt of that show.

“You think just because I was angry with you that I didn’t care about you?”

GM: Simultaneous satisfaction and regret play across the Toreador’s face.

“Yeah. It might’ve crossed my mind. What do you even want with me?!”

Caroline: “I murdered my stepmother. Did I tell you?” Caroline asks, mindful.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t say anything for a moment.


Caroline: “She was a hunter. A big deal hunter. One others reported to. She and her people killed a bunch of licks in the city. I’m pretty certain she killed Emily Thurmon.”

The Ventrue licks her lips.

“I sold her out, to the seneschal. Back when… you know. She discovered what I was and spared me, and I sold her out. Setting her up, tracking down her hunters, and killing her was one of the conditions he had.”

GM: “Yay you didn’t kill your actual mom, I guess.” Jocelyn crosses her arms.

Or at least, tries to. She’s still handcuffed.

Caroline: That’s right, Caroline. You didn’t kill your actual mom, right? Asks a voice rhetorically in her head. Only a real monster would do that, right?

She tries to block it out.

You can lie to everyone else, but we both know I didn’t teach you to lie to yourself.

“Oh yeah, I’m a real saint like that. I hear they’ve got canonization planned any night now,” she answers with bitter amusement.

“I didn’t bring it up though because I wanted pity. I brought it up because that’s what I’ve been doing. For months, with the threat of final death on either side hanging over me and anyone close to me. Because that’s who I am, the lick who sold out the woman that helped raise her and spared her life to protect myself and get ahead.”

“When we had our,” there’s a beat, as if the word is so unfamiliar or uncomfortable to her that it takes her a moment to arrive at it, “breakup, though, that’s what was going through my mind.”

“That I was that person who sold out those close to them to get ahead, and doomed the people that cared about them, and was probably going to get destroyed by one faction or another long before I pulled off bringing down the hunters anyway.”

“And that kind lick didn’t deserve other people in their Requiem.”

“And that you didn’t deserve that kind of person in your Requiem either.”

“So I shoved you away, as hard as I could.”

She knows the words that should come next. The ones that most people would say. But they’re not words she can give up easily. They remain unsaid.

GM: But it’s there. Everything leading up to them.

The explanation. The reason why it all happened. The bared hurt. The show of vulnerability. The open window to offer forgiveness and comfort.

Jocelyn stares up at her past red-crusted eyes. Her voice comes out thick when she speaks.

“So. So what’s… changed your mind. After you had to stake me and… run off.”

Caroline: Caroline starts to raise a hand, to reach out to Jocelyn, but her eyes cut to the gore-covered stake on the table and she pulls back.

“I thought I was still doing what was best for you. Trying to get you to run away. It’s still dangerous to be around me. Going to be dangerous to be around me.”

She pauses.

“But things went better than I’d hoped.”

“And maybe it’s not a death sentence.”

“And maybe it doesn’t matter what I deserve in my Requiem.”

“And maybe you get to decide what you want in yours.”

GM: Jocelyn looks like she could swallow, even with the physiological need long past.

She doesn’t. But fresh red starts to well from her eyes again as her lip quavers.

“But I. But I don’t. Do I? The part of me that wants to just. To just… fall in your arms and forget everything and go back to the way things were. I don’t even know if that’s me or the blood you made me drink.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, then sighs defeatedly.

“I didn’t.”

GM: “Yes, you did!” Jocelyn cries. More red wells from her eyes.

Caroline: “I wanted you to hate me.” Caroline explains quietly. “I thought it would help cut at the bond. If you blamed me for it I mean.”

“I just wanted to help you get away.”

GM: “Well,” she croaks. “Here I am. Either way. And I don’t know what the fuck is me and what’s the collar.”

Caroline: The Ventrue looks more than a little hurt, but doesn’t say anything for a moment, seemingly letting the thought settle.

Finally she asks, “Does it matter?”

GM: Jocelyn raises her cuffed wrists to her mouth, bites one, and holds it forward. Blood wells from the pale skin.

“Why don’t you show me.”

Caroline: Caroline looks at the proffered wrist. “Would that make you happy?”

GM: Jocelyn stares back at her.

“Dunno. But it’d feel fair.”

Except it won’t be fair.

That’s the joke.

Her sire already saw to that.

Caroline: “Tell me, Jocelyn, what do you want? To get back at me, or to get back with me?” Caroline asks.

GM: More red wells from her eyes.

“If you want me, take the damn collar!

Caroline: “Is that what you really want?” Caroline asks one more time, her eyes locked on Jocelyn’s.

There’s no reluctance in her voice.

GM: Jocelyn only thrusts the wrist against her former lover’s face.

Caroline’s Beast can’t take it. The sip she took from that college kine was so shallow. She needs the blood.

Caroline: The vitae smears against her lip and Caroline needs no further invitation. She doesn’t simply set her lips against the wound, she sinks her teeth in.

GM: Maybe she still feels something for Jocelyn, even without the bond, even after all they’ve been through.

Maybe she’s just furious.

Maybe she wants to recapture what they used to have.

Maybe the Toreador is just a substitute for the sire she can’t have.

Maybe she’s just hungry.

By the time the too-familiar red haze clears, her former lover is a motionless corpse, empty and dry at her knees.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t move. She doesn’t immediately react. She stares down at Jocelyn’s motionless form, searches.

She doesn’t come up empty. Instead she finds plenty. Anger. Shame. Self-loathing. The same feelings she always has after a frenzy. But any feelings she has left for the photographer are buried far deeper than the imminently shallow artist can find.

For Jocelyn, she feels nothing.

She stiffly disengages herself from the motionless Toreador and stalks towards her bedroom.

It’s not long after she returns, holding up a pair of skirts to Jocelyn, then setting one down beside her, along with a top and a pair of heels.

She finally gets to what’s required.

Caroline bites her own wrist and holds it to the drained Toreador’s desiccated lips.

GM: Jocelyn’s eyes snap open. The Beast stares out.

A second doesn’t pass before her fangs stab into Caroline as she falls on her former lover’s wrist.

She drinks ravenously.

She doesn’t let go.

Caroline: Caroline lets her take. More than she needs, even, but her patience is not without limit.

Handcuffed, still maimed, and half the fighter she is, even Jocelyn’s Beast is able to do little when Caroline draws back the proffered wrist and holds the furious Toreador down until she stops slavering.

What burns in her eyes when Jocelyn’s red-rimmed ones meet them again isn’t hate. It isn’t even loathing. It’s bitterness.

“Well. You got what you wanted.”

GM: It takes a while before the screaming and furiously thrashing vampire calms down, and even that is relative. There’s no hurt or bitterness in Jocelyn’s still-bulging, red-crusted eyes.

There’s just hunger.


Caroline: The Ventrue holds her at arm’s reach, hand clamped around Jocelyn’s throat and elbow extended to keep at bay her slavering jaws. She turns the Toreador’s attention to the insensate kine with all the disgust of an owner turning their dog’s nose away from the dinner table and towards their food bowl.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t even register her disgust. She just pounces on the mesmerized coed and drinks ravenously. He doesn’t moan under her touch. He screams. He tries to throw her off as the frenzying vampire rips and tears his throat, but it’s futile.

He tries to gasp out something about having a family. Maybe to get her to stop. His words are only a little slurred, even if they are only partly coherent. The Toreador’s attack seems to do wonders for his sobriety.

It’s just as futile.

It takes about a minute before the pale corpse hits the floor with a thump. Its eyes stare blankly up at the ceiling.

Jocelyn looks up at Caroline with pristine skin and hair. There’s a glazed look to her eyes as she closes her mouth, concealing her fangs.

She giggles.


“Oh. Oops,” she slurs. “Looks like… ’m a horrible person. Murderer. Reeealll bad.”

There’s another giggle.

She sways up to Caroline, grabs her lover’s breasts, and grins.

“Mm, les’ fuck.”

Caroline: The Ventrue pulls away. “I’m suddenly not in the mood.”

Is it hate? Anger? Disappointment? Shame? There’s something unpleasant written across her face as she disentangles herself from her lover’s arms.

“There’s a change of clothes.” She gestures to the items she’s laid out. “Meg’s waiting in the lobby.”

GM: Jocelyn giggles. "Like you really mean that, you big, you big blonde… "

She giggles.

“‘Kay, if you aren’t fuckin’ me, I’m fuckin’ you. Two girls in loooove!”

She starts pulling off Caroline’s clothes.

Caroline: “Is that what this is? What we are?” Caroline answers stiffly, her arms crossed firmly across her chest.

“You were miserable and going to walk out until you forced me suck you off five minutes ago, now everything is fine?”

There’s anger there, in her voice, not entirely feigned.

GM: “Yeeeep! Now you know what ish like!” Jocelyn nods emphatically. She reaches under Caroline’s skirt and starts tugging off her panties instead.

“Party time! No pantiesh time!” she giggles. "You big, busty blonde… "

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t move. She doesn’t laugh or crack a smile. She doesn’t look happy at all, in fact.

“You’re right, I do,” she answers. “Now we’re even.”

GM: Jocelyn just kneels and sinks her fangs into Caroline’s inner thigh. A too-familiar bliss starts to shudder up through the Ventrue.

Caroline: She lets out an involuntary moan, suddenly weak in the knees. It doesn’t mater how angry she is, how much she doesn’t want this: the kiss is every bit as strong as the first time.

Her hands go to Jocelyn’s head, perhaps to push her away, but she just doesn’t have it in her. They dig into Jocelyn’s hair instead. She finds herself pulling instead of pushing.

“Stop,” she groans.

“Jocelyn… st… op…”

GM: Jocelyn pushes Caroline onto the bed. She does stop, but only long enough to pierce her wrists and smear the blood over the Ventrue’s face. Then her fangs sink into Caroline’s neck.

Caroline: There’s a flash of anger, hate even, as Jocelyn forces herself on Caroline. As the Toreador tries to rape her.

This isn’t what she wanted. Hell, she didn’t even fucking want Jocelyn in the city. She just wanted her to go away. She wanted Jocelyn to be someone else’s problem, to continue her Requiem blissfully safe from Caroline. Here she is instead, thinking she’s forced a collar on Caroline, thinking it would somehow make everything all right instead of much fucking worse.

She knows the truth: if she were actually bound to Jocelyn, her sire wouldn’t hesitate to execute the nothing Toreador to stake his own claim on her. But that doesn’t mater next to just how wrong it is that Jocelyn tried to force the bond on her. Worse, that she only forced her way back into Caroline’s Requiem by endangering her sisters.

And yet here she is, the Toreador’s blood all over her, the brunette sucking on her throat in her bubbly drunkenness. She’d hoped to put Jocelyn back together, to find some way to manipulate her into something of purpose while Caroline was occupied with her sire’s demands. She’d hoped to offer her former lover a nice night, something to lead her on with the thought that something still existed between them. That it isn’t someone else whose face occupies her every waking moment.

Jocelyn’s ruined everything, instead. Sought to enslave her. Murdered a man in her kitchen. Wanted to fuck her against her will.

She can claim it’s the Beast that takes over. An animal reaction to the Toreador’s assault. She could claim she doesn’t want this. But some part of her, some very human part, both wants and drives what follows.

Caroline sinks her fangs back into Jocelyn in turn, riding the bliss of the simultaneous kisses and the feeling of the Toreador’s vitae running into her. She waits for her moment, for Jocelyn to break from the kiss to shift positions. When she does, the Ventrue strikes.

Jocelyn might be more eager, but Caroline is bigger. She’s stronger. She’s faster. Oh, and Jocelyn remains handcuffed too. She grabbed the Toreador by her hair and throws her off the sofa onto the floor.

The heiress is on her in a flash, pinning her face-down with her arms trapped under her. She uses a full hand of Jocelyn’s hair to he jerk her head back, exposing the side of her throat. Caroline rips two gaping holes and latches on, never letting go of her hold on the artist’s hair, pulling her head back and denying her a bite of her own. She uses her other hand to rake Jocelyn’s back, marking her as Caroline’s.

She wants to fuck? She should be careful what she wishes for.

GM: Jocelyn doesn’t try to resist. She moans throatily beneath the puncture of her lover’s fangs, beneath the cruel caress of her nails. The coppery scent of vitae hangs heady in the air. Jocelyn’s blood is like water next to the liquid gold that was her sire’s, but her sire would never let her do this to him. Even if they were to consummate her feelings, she’d never be on top. It’d probably feel a lot like her first time did. And she knows how that worked out.

And hasn’t she always wanted to be in charge?

Jocelyn starts struggling, after a bit, trying to throw Caroline off. The Ventrue yanks her hair and shoves her face-down into the sofa. The handcuffs clink as Jocelyn tries to move her arms. She bucks and kicks. Caroline digs her nails deeper, climbs on top of the Toreador, pins her under the weight of her body. Jocelyn struggles more, but giggles too, in between moans. She’s enjoying this. Being manhandled, feeling her lover on top of her, breasts pressed against her back, drinking straight from the source. None of that ‘licking it up’ bullshit. No protection.

Caroline’s Beast is already so full. She doesn’t have to drink much. She draws it out, takes from her lover slowly, until they lie spent and sated. Not in one another’s arms. But with Jocelyn still pinned under Caroline’s weight, handcuffed arms pressed against her chest, barely able to move. Her voice wafts up from under the Ventrue.

“I love you, Caroline… "

Caroline: It would be easier, perhaps, if Caroline felt the same way.

She doesn’t.

The Ventrue climbs off her, the heat coming off her temper. If she were alive, she might be breathing heavily. She’s almost heady as it is, slightly buzzed by the alcohol in Jocelyn’s blood.

She runs a hand across her face and through her hair, pulling it out of the way as she looks down at Jocelyn.

Those words are foreign to her, not ones she was comfortable with even when she was alive. She doesn’t repeat them. Instead. she speaks the same language of affection she’s always known.

“I need you to help look after this place.”

GM: Jocelyn snuggles up against her. The handcuffs around her wrist faintly clink.

“What do you mean?”

Caroline: Caroline wraps a lazy arm around the Toreador. Her response quiet but serious.

“I have to leave the city for a while. A few weeks. A few months. Seneschal’s business.”

GM: “Oh,” says Jocelyn.

“But you’ll be back?”

Caroline: Caroline nods, letting the motion travel through them both.

“And things will be different. Better.”

A heartbeat.

“Will you be here when I come back?”

GM: There’s another beat.

Or there would be, if their hearts still pumped.

“I want to hear you say it.”

Caroline remembers the last time Jocelyn asked that.

In her family’s house, after the Toreador nearly immolated herself.

Caroline: Those words have long been a stranger her: she’s heard them more from her mother in the last few nights than she can remember ever hearing them from Claire. Of her father, the less said the better.

Neil was the first non-family member she said it to. He said it first. Didn’t pressure her about it. Told her he wanted it on her own time, when she was comfortable. When she meant it. She wonders if it was true when she finally did. It seemed to make him happy.

Strange thoughts come to her now, as her mind wanders somewhere away from this moment.

But just for a moment. This isn’t about love.

She squeezes Jocelyn lightly and bites her lip.

“I’m happy you’re back. I missed you.”

A pause, then another squeeze. What’s a lie beside her other sins?

“I love you.”

What’s love anyway?

GM: If Neil is anything to go by, heartbreak despite all the best intentions in the world.

If her first mother or stepmother is, not enough to save her.

If her father is, less important than his work.

If Jocelyn is, perhaps the less said the better, too.

Love rarely seems like it’s ever enough.

But her paramour’s face lights up.

She doesn’t answer immediately. Jut lays her head against Caroline’s neck. Curls her body up against the Ventrue’s.

Caroline’s eyes can’t help but settle on the cuffs.

“So like… look after this place how?”

“Or do you mean you want me to move in?”

She smiles at the second question.

Caroline: The hint of a smile, the lie, comes more easily for Caroline this time.

“If that’s easier. There’s a place for you here,” Caroline answers. The Giani Building’s purpose is already shifting in her mind. Less headquarters or home, more border keep. It’s not quite inviting Jocelyn into her home. Not really.

“There are things here that would do better with someone looking after them, and if I’m gone there are others that may try to exert influence. The ghouls can deal with a lot of it, but if things stretch long with the seneschal… they might need juice. An actual Kindred that can get involved. Someone that other licks would respect, and that understands things.”

“I want someone I trust.”

That’s a short list.

That it might also allow Jocelyn to develop additional skills, give her a purpose, and keep her under Caroline’s thumb goes unsaid.

There’s enough ugly lies. No need for ugly truths too.

GM: “Okay. I guess I can feed them if they get thirsty. There’s… your Krewe cleaner, the really serious one, two GI joes… ?”

“GI Joe and GI Jane.”

“Sorry, I don’t really remember them all.”

“But okay. I guess Meg’ll enjoy the time off from cleaning and running errands.”

“Actually not sure what I’m gonna do with her. She’s been such a mess recently. She said you made her eat vomit.”

She grins. “But I don’t care. ‘Cause you’re my carmilla.”

Caroline’s heard Jocelyn use the slang term a few times. Because licks don’t like to say ‘girlfriend.’

Caroline: It’s an unfortunately apt title.

“I told her not to do that disgusting sticking her fingers down her throat. She should have known there would be consequences. I bet she’ll think twice next time.”

Caroline doesn’t add that she didn’t actually force Meg to do it. She doesn’t know that she could stomach the sight. Plus part of her likes the idea that Meg might have tried to puke it up later and been frantically unable.

GM: Jocelyn giggles and nuzzles her neck.

“You’re so hot when you get all ruthless and in charge.”

Caroline: “You’ll get to see a lot more of it.”

She settles her hand on Jocelyn’s upper hip.

“I’m going places, Jocelyn, and I’m not simply saying that. This is different. This being a nobody is at an end—it’s never who I was and everyone will know it.”

How to so lightly plant this idea.

“But going there always has costs. I have to be strong. And the people around me have to be strong too. I wanted to send you away to protect you, but I’d rather have you by my side when I get back.”

GM: “Okay, I want that too,” Jocelyn nods. “I want to be strong.”

Caroline: “They can help teach you,” Caroline continues. “If you’ll let them.”

GM: “Okay, I can do that.”

“Like, the GI joe ones?”

Caroline: “And the others. The cleaner, the financial specialist. There are a lot of ways to be strong.”

“I know you’re an artist, and your art is your passion, but a lot of licks are dying. Half the city is preparing for war. No one is going to be able to sit this one out if it comes to that, and the losers are going to die whether they fight or not.”

She faces Jocelyn and brushes the hair back out of her face.

“I don’t want to see you die.”

GM: Worry flickers over the Toreador’s face.

“We could run, if that seems like it’s gonna happen. Go away with my sire.”

“You’d really like her.”

Caroline: “It’s not in my nature,” Caroline answers. “Not when I can instead.”

She’ll do almost anything to win. Someday Jocelyn will realize that too.

She wonders if she’ll still love her then.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Emmett V
Next, by Narrative: Story Twelve, Celia V

Previous, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline V
Next, by Character: Story Twelve, Caroline VII, Emmett VI