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Celia IV, Chapter XVI
New Man, New Face

“You’re like me. A man without a face. But that’s okay. We’ll find you one.”
Dr. Dicentra


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

GM: Mélissaire calls Celia not too long after she leaves the Evergreen: there’s a newly-Embraced fledgling who could use a new face. She gives him a new one, he’ll owe her. Simple transaction.

Celia arrives an hour-ish later in one of the Louis XIV-style sitting rooms to find a handsome, goateed, dark-skinned Kindred in his late 20s in conversation with another vampire. She has caramel skin, dark hair, red lips, and poisonously green eyes.

Celia: Celia—and Jade—disappear completely when she adopts Dr. Dicentra’s persona.

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

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

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The night doctor halts in the room’s doorway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The doctor studies the male vampire.

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

The doctor nods toward the female vampire, though she continues to speak to the male.

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

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

Support: “Sculpt,” the male vampire says. “I will talk with you as you do. Maybe I’ll look more like myself than I did before."

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

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

Support: The male vampire smiles faintly.

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

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

GM: She only gives that question a thin smile.

Support: “Fine,” the male vampire says. “I’ll get it.”

He holds out his hand. A pair of eyes float inches above his palm, staring into the night doctor’s. They’re dark as a dark night and full of cruel mirth—but for all their cruelty, most people would kill to get the joke. Gathered and held for the good doctor to see. By the time the conjured gaze dissolves, he expects it’s left an impression.

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

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

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

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

“Consider it done.”

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

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

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

Dicentra looks to the female vampire.

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

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

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

She winks knowingly, then turns slightly to address the male vampire as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You can remove your clothing now.”

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

Support: He does so in efficient, experienced bursts. He removes his clothes and then approaches the table. The whole thing is very Six Million Dollar Man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“May I?”

Support: “Please.”

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

“Young,” she murmurs.

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

“Made for smiles.”

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

“Guilty.”

The doctor pauses.

“Dead.”

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

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

Support: He does so. He looks like he finds it easy to listen to her.

And like he’s enjoying those fingers.

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

Then she’s gone, and him with her. He’s transported; no longer lying on a metal table within the Red Room, he finds himself in a long hallway. Rich carpet gives beneath the soles of his shoes, burgundy tussore woven through with saffron and ivory. Cream walls hem him in to the left and right, their continuous lines broken only by the frames of doors that open onto empty tableau. Colorful lights shine from beneath the frames of the doors: crimson, coral, amber, viridian, azure, indigo. He recognizes the settings as he passes, but the night doctor does not.

What visions he sees are his alone.

Not that she tells him.

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

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

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

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

Support: He drinks. Like someone who’s never had a problem with that.

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

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

“Delicious, isn’t it?”

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

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

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

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Her voice echoes through his mind and body.

“Who are you?”

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

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

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

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

Support: “Do you believe something different?”

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

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

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

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

Her hands are clearly having an effect.

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

And winks.

Top-shelf flirting for a dead man, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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His own face stares back at him.

Support: He blinks.

“You know me.”

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

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

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

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

Support: “Tired. Older. Wiser, maybe.”

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

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

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

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

“Your own face, but better? Older?”

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

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

He requests some cosmetic changes, too. A few roguish scars about the face. A bit of aging here, smoothing there.

His face lies. Makes him a new man.

But his eyes will tell the truth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Support: It’s not such a young face, really. Younger than many men, as far as that goes.

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

But for all the ugly it’s seen, most would think it comes out looking pretty good.

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Maybe a little soviet, at that.

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

Behind the mask, Dicentra smiles down at him.

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

Support: “Oh,” he says.

“How do you feel about saving water?”

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

Support: “So we should share a shower? That’s terribly unfortunate.” He rises.

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

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

“But it’s this way.”

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

The Boggs will eat well.

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

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

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

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

“Saturday seems like a long time to wait.”

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

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

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

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

It’s not a no, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It feels like he hasn’t had an actual fuck in a while.

Like, a long while.

He’s almost nervous.

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

The leather slips free from her like a second skin, revealing the body beneath. Just as luscious as the leather implied. Pale. Pierced. Thin brows, full lips.

Pretty.

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

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

Celia: The question makes her laugh.

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

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

Support: He knows better than to keep talking.

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

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

When they’re done, which is some time later, he lays with her below the raining showerhead, and mutters,

“Wait a while before dropping the other shoe, will you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: Her eyes find his face.

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

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

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

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

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Celia IV, Chapter XV
Savoy's Schemes

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


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The whole thing is impossibly cruel.

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

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

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

And maybe now she feels bad.

Dating his brother and all.

Trying to be a better person.

Something like that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “You’re a gem, Fabian.”

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

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

Celia: “How’s your catch?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But just like that, it all comes crashing down.

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

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

“Impolite,” says Melton, licking her lips.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “He wishes he was a virgin.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Melton picks up her mermaid skirt.

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

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

GM: Her companion eyes her.

“I bet you did.”

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

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

GM: “Try me. I’m pretty light.”

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

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

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

“Cut everything out with those claws of yours?”

GM: The Gangrel continues to knead her rear.

“Only sexy things. Like your juice.”

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

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

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

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

It’s a text from Emily.

Celia: “Oooh. I’d love to learn.”

She’ll check the text in a minute.

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

Celia: “I’d like that.”

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

GM: They look empty. The text reads,

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

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

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

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

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

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

They must be nice.

Real nice.

GM: She did make them that way.

Celia: She’s very proud of them.

They’re perfect.

Like the rest of her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: Rude.

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

She listens. That’s all she has left.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a “thanks for playing” sort of thing.

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

But who’s counting?

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

Maybe she is aroused by danger.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She wheezes. It might be a laugh.

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

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

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

Celia: Whoops.

She looks for a body.

GM: She does not see one.

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

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

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

GM: She does not smell any.

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

GM: They can’t all be Jamal.

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

Someone has blue balls.

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

She doesn’t show off this time.


Sunday night, 13 March 2016, AM

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

Tomorrow’s Sunday so no school to keep me up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probably a movie.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Oh? How’d that go for them?”

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

Celia: Good to know.

“What a waste of blood.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jade smells no blood on Fabian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: Jade nods. “I’d be happy to.”

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

“Of course, sir.”

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

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

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

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

“But not her relation to me?”

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

Celia: She nods.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She should have known Gui would know.

Stupid, whispers Maxen.

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

Maybe that voice should check itself.

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

She pauses to collect her thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: She feels a hand against her shoulder.

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

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

GM: The hand gives her shoulder a squeeze.

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Stupid.

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

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

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

Stupid.

Stupid.

Stupid.

Celia: Yeah, that’s the one.

Maybe the floor will just… swallow her.

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

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

“Shhh.”

C’est bon. It’s all right.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it never comes.

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

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

She swallows, nodding her head at his last statement.

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

She steadies herself.

“There’s more. I have more.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “The prince has sired a childe.”

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

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

“I believe so.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She flattens her lips into a thin line.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, Celia allows herself a small smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She swallows the thought.

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, she shakes her head.

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

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

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

“Which brings us to Primogen Poincaré.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perhaps they should take this item by item.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: Well.

That answers that question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: Preston gives Jade an extremely flat look.

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

Celia: “I… was just being thorough.”

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

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

Jade’s phone silently vibrates in her purse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Yes, Madam Preston.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: That definitely answers that question.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She says as much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s more, but she waits a beat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM: “Prudent,” says Preston.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, maybe not.

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

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

Stake him in a basement somewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then there’s no game.

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

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

Celia: Speaking of Coco…

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

Which undoubtedly already occurred to both of them.

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

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

Celia: “Yes, sir. I’ll find out.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s a brief pause.

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

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

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

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

Celia: Right.

“Okay.”

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

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

Celia: Jade purses her lips.

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: “Thank you.”

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

Celia: “She doesn’t burn.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Must be bad, secular reasons aside.

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

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

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

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

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

Durant, she means.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Enough, Nat,” says Savoy.

The Malkavian says nothing further.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celia: It feels like punishment.

Deserved, maybe, but punishment all the same.

“Yes, sir.”

GM: Savoy rests a hand on her shoulder.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He pats his lap.

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

The thought is fleeting.

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

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

“It won’t happen again, sir.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

She has to.

View
Ayame I, Chapter IV
Nothing to Offer

“I’ll figure something out.”
Roderick Durant


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

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

Ayame: She answers on the fourth ring.

“Hello, Roderick.”

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

Ayame: “Oh?”

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

Ayame: “I see. Is everything okay?”

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

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

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

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

GM: “All right. What time?”

Ayame: Ayame glances at the time on her phone.

“An hour?”

GM: “Okay. Same place as last time?”

Ayame: “That will suffice.”

GM: “All right. See you then.”

Ayame: “See you then.”

Ayame hangs up.


Thursday night, 10 March 2016, AM

Ayame: An hour later Ayame arrives at Cypress Grove.

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

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

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

As if she does not know.

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

She searches for him among the headstones.

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

In the end, most Anarchs just tried to forget.

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

“Thanks for making it on short notice.”

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

Ayame inclines her head.

“Your call implied it was urgent.”

She had said that last time, too.

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

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

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

“Houston has not come to fruition.”

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

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

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

“Upwards of 90%.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ayame: Her head lifts, eyes flashing.

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

She cuts herself off.

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

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

“Never mind. It’s can’t.”

Ayame: Ayame is silent for a long moment.

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

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

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

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

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

Ayame offers her hand for his perusal.

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

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

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

“Jesus Christ,” he mutters.

He looks back up at Ayame after a moment.

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

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

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

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

Ayame: The “name” means little to her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ayame: “Consider it done.”

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

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

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

“I’ll figure something out.”

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

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Celia IV, Chapter XIV
The Good Girl & Josua

“You are a woman."
Josua Cambridge


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

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

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

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

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

Celia: Charming.

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

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

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

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

“Fucking homeless…” swears Randy.

Celia: It’s a contest they win, though, and handily.

That’s why she pays them the big bucks.

Well, one of many reasons.

She’s happy to see them in any case, despite the fact that they made her wait longer than normal, and she moves into the circle of their protection quickly enough. And isn’t that a thought, a vampire being protected by a pair of ghouls. Maybe if somebody stopped throwing her around to fuck and focused on the fighting she wouldn’t get jumpy about being surrounded by a bunch of kine. What had he said to her? “You’re a badass vampire now.”

Right.

She’s got a pair of badasses with her now, anyway.

GM: A thin, dirty figure makes their way up to Jade, or at least as close as the brothers let them. They’re small and slight, dressed in an oversized dirty hoodie with a raggedy-edged blanket wrapped around their frail shoulders. Their facial structure looks male, but they have breasts and long hair, matted and unkempt. Their dark skin is worn and splotchy, dotted with acne scarring. Jade thinks they’re a ghoul at first, from the smell, but when they lick their lip Jade sees a chipped fang.

Just one fang.

“Hey, hey lady, lady lick, what you doin’ here…?”

Celia: She’s glad Dani avoided that fate, at least. One fang. How to they manage? She imagines it’s like drinking through a pinched straw. Or maybe they bite twice.

Curiosity overpowers her disgust. She doesn’t recognize this one. She puts a hand on Randy’s arm to prevent him from doing anything like shoving it away, letting the ragged half-breed through. Close enough to smell the stink of its body rather than its blood. Close enough to see that chipped fang. She smiles politely all the same, just like she would for a real vampire.

Maybe she’ll bring Roderick down here so he can get a glimpse of what fate awaits Dani if he sends her out of the city to a place where she doesn’t have friendly backers willing to share their very lush domain with the best feeding in the city.

“Evenin’,” Jade says back to it, gesturing it forward. Boy or girl? She can’t tell. Neither, technically. “I’m looking for someone who hangs out around here. Think you can point me in the right direction?”

GM: Randy and Reggie both regard the thin-blood warily. Or at least disgustedly. They remain protectively close to Jade. Close enough to block their arms between her and the sorry creature.

The thin-blood nods up and down.

“Oh, you bet, lady, they here, I know… who you lookin’ for?”

Celia: Lucky boys to get such a good-looking, true-blooded domitor, aren’t they?

“The fortune teller,” she tells the thin-blood.

GM: "There lotta fortune tellers, lady, lotta fortune tellers… " says the thin-blood. “But you mean that one… yeah… I know… I know… need some green, first… help me rem’ber…”

A thin, scabbed-over hand materializes from the hoodie.

Celia: Jade slides a bill into the outstretched hand. Where it came from is anyone’s guess; she’s not so silly as to carry a purse or wallet with her this late at night.

GM: Reggie removes the bill from Celia’s hand and drops it to the ground. The thin-blood bends to pick it up, seemingly unconcerned.

Celia: Rude.

GM: “Oh, that good… that good… yeah, my mem’ry’s comin’ back…” nods the thin-blood. The bill disappears into the hoodie. “She ain’ here, this hour… she leaves, when the tourists do… mmm… lil’ more green, maybe I rem’ber where she be…”

Celia: Jade pulls free another bill, giving Reggie a look.

GM: “Hey, you might catch something,” he says, moving to pluck the bill from her hands.

Celia: “You don’t need to be rude.”

GM: “Unless it’s from sticking my dick somewhere, I’m not going to catch something either.”

Celia: He better not catch something from that, either, or he won’t get to stick it in her ever again.

GM: He’ll be just like his brother then.

“Maybe just place it on a bench,” Randy offers helpfully.

Celia: She gives the hands another look, though, in case there’s something to be done about it. She hasn’t seen this many scabs since… the monkey’s master.

The ugly one.

Not that that narrows it down.

GM: The hands are small like a woman’s and look dirty and unwashed. Some of the partly-healed scabs are a yellowish brown.

“Hey, leave the money where you like, I don’ give a shit… s’long as I get it…” says the thin-blood.

Celia: Wherever Reggie ends up putting it, then.

She really should bring Roderick down here, show him how the thin-bloods exist. Easy to imagine Dani’s unwashed face and hands, cuts oozing from lack of treatment, being pushed around by ghouls and licks and kine, even.

“The location?” she prompts the thin-blood.

GM: Reggie drops it on the ground.

The half-vampire picks it up.

Celia: She’ll reprimand him later for it. Maybe with a paddle.

GM: “Okay… she be at… seein’ a customer, guy who wants his fortune… mm…. can’t rem’ber who, just yet….”

The hand stays outstretched.

Celia: Another two bills to speed the process along.

GM: Reggie’s fingers brush against his concealed carry, as if asking whether Jade is tired of throwing away money.

Celia: She gives a small shake of her head. She’s happy to pay for information so long as it pans out.

GM: Reggie drops those bills on the ground too.

They both disappear into the hoodie.

“Okay… okay… it comin’ back, now…”

Celia: Her smile tightens, but she waits, expectant.

GM: “Marigny… that be where…”

“I can’t rem’ber where in Marigny… maybe if…”

Celia: “Marigny is a large place.”

GM: “You already got two bills,” Reggie says flatly.

“Oh… guess I did… heh heh…”

Celia: She’s starting to doubt that the thin-blood even has the information.

She will be very unhappy if she has to come back.

GM: “The Midnight Bayou… that be where…”

“Hey… say… can I have some money, lady…?”

“You just got eighty fuckin’ dollars,” says Randy.

The thin-blood shrugs.

Celia: “If she’s where you say she is,” Jade tells it. She turns to go.

GM: “Always fun hitting up low-lifes,” Randy mutters as the trio leave.

Celia: “I should have expected it. No reason to peddle her trade once the gates close.” She’d spent more time with her family than she’d realized.

GM: “So that’s one of those other scary vampires,” says Reggie.

Celia: She glances at Reggie.

“No. That’s a half-breed. Diluted blood.”

GM: “Pretty sad,” answers Reggie.

Celia: “It is. They’re stuck between worlds.”

GM: “You guys all gonna turn into that someday?”

Celia: “No. It’s like breeding dogs, though. The problems get worse the further the line goes.”

GM: “Kinder just to put ’em down, maybe.”

Celia: “A lot of people agree with you.”

“The gifts that you have because of my blood? They don’t.”

GM: “So, what, they’re just… blood drinkers? Ordinary people with a special diet?”

Celia: “Sort of. They have some gifts, but they follow different rules. Sun doesn’t hurt them. No Beast.” Both of them have been warned about that, at least. “They can learn the tricks, but it’s different.”

“They’ll never be as strong. Their distance from the original prevents it.”

“If I were to turn you right now, as a day old, you’d be stronger than someone like that who has been around for years.”

GM: “So why make them?” asks Reggie.

“Why does anyone do dumb shit?” shrugs Randy.

Celia: Randy has a point.

“The man on the bottom will always look to put someone else beneath him.”

“Control. Power. Loneliness. Accident.”

GM: “I just wonder who the fuck took a look at that and decided, ‘Hey, let’s make a discount vampire,’” says Reggie.

“Maybe an accident,” says Randy.

Celia: “They only recently started popping up,” Jade tells him. “Most of the powers-that-be exterminate them when they’re found. Not a lot is known about them.”

GM: “Seems like the right idea,” says Reggie.

Celia: “There are some benefits,” Jade says with a shrug. “The sun and Beast thing. They can eat. Fuck.”

“Nothing worth the drawbacks, though.”

GM: Sucks to be Dani.

Celia: It really does.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: Clubbers shoot jealous looks as bouncers usher Jade into the Midnight Bayou ahead of the line. The club is much the same as Beach on Bourbon was: a dimly-lit space where dozens of tightly-packed sweating bodies writhe and undulate to ear-rupturingly loud music. Flickering red lights bathe the shouting, dancing, crowd in a blood-like sheen. There’s barely enough room to move one’s arms at times. The admixed smells of sweat, cigarette smoke, alcohol, perfumes, and cologne clings to everything. The music is omnipresent, thumping and pounding in one’s ears louder than any beating heart. It’s enough to make the dead feel alive, if ever so briefly. Jade doesn’t hear any Love & Liars in the DJs’ mix, this time, but the lyrics are much the same, and speak to the same disaffected youth. They scream what shit the world is and the pointlessness of living by the book.

Jade spots a number of Kindred eyeing or dancing alongside the club-goers, then luring them off to private bathroom trysts. It’s not unlike lions watching herd animals at the watering hole, then going after ones foolish enough to separate themselves from safety in numbers.

The Toreador is swiftly shown upstairs past sliding glass doors to the VIP lounge. It’s a more subdued than downstairs, though it’s done in the same dark color scheme. Better-dressed patrons lounge about on comfortable leather chairs and sofas, quietly conversing and sipping expensive drinks. A large glass window stares down on the club’s first floor, so that patrons might watch the revelry from a quiet distance and perhaps even decide which revelers catch their fancy. Revealingly-clad smiling waitresses glide across the floor, relaying orders between customers and the bartender expertly mixing drinks in the back.

Celia: She still doesn’t know how Sundown does it: how he determines who is who and tells his bouncers to let them in accordingly. She can’t imagine that it’s something as mundane as making them memorize photos. Still, it’s the sort of treatment she has come to expect from the clubs in Marigny, and the jealous looks and whispers from the line of juicebags only makes her smile.

Music assaults her once she passes the threshold. It thrums through her body, urging her to dance. She wants to find a partner and let them twirl her around the floor. To lose herself among the press of bodies. For far too many years now she has had her weekend evenings taken up by Elysia; and whose idea was that to schedule it the same night the kine come out in droves? Easiest feeding of the week. Just grab a vessel, sink in, and pull.

Jade resists the temptation, sweet though it is.

She moves up the stairs to the VIP lounge, content to let her eyes sweep the space for a brief moment.

GM: Jade instinctively senses that a number of the patrons are like she is. She can make out Esther Sue Parker, Abraham Garcia, Camilla Doriocourt, Harlequin, Lidia Kendall, Joshua Pacuad, and Emerson Newhouse Hearst, as well as the club’s proprietor himself, who is currently engaged with Harlequin. The gathered Kindred converse among themselves, murmur sweet nothings to vessels in their arms, watch the dancing crowds below, or watch one another. Whatever cause and elder one may pledge support to, Marigny is neutral ground.

Celia: Neutral it may be, but she calls none of those assembled “friend.” Loose, occasional ally. Partner. Guildmate. But none of Savoy’s partisans. None of the friendly faces she knows from his court.

And not the lick she has come to see. Perhaps the thin-blood had lied to her. Perhaps it will learn what happens when her time is wasted.

Far be it from her to waste this opportunity to mingle. Pacuad, Hearst, and Garcia all catch a smile from the pretty Toreador in their midst, the latter a wink. She can’t help the way her attention strays to Doriocourt, though. Not an enemy. Not a friend. Just a contender for her sire’s attention.

GM: Most of Savoy’s people are likely there at the French Quarter lord’s court tonight.

But such is the balancing act which Marigny’s regent must maintain, to court all factions and show favor to none.

Pacuad doesn’t smile back, though Hearst and Garcia both do. Doriocourt, who’s speaking to Garcia, pays Jade barely more than a glance.

Their sire’s attention.

The pretty Toreador is swiftly approached by Sundown’s smiling herald Kaia, a beautiful and slim-figured Vietnamese-American ghoul with smooth pale skin, rich black hair, and beckoning dark eyes. She asks if there’s anything the regent might do tonight to make her stay more pleasant.

Pic.jpg
Celia: Her. Her sire. He’s hers.

Jade checks the time. She’s due at Savoy’s court soon enough herself, though she’s not late. She has time.

Perhaps everyone else just takes longer to make themselves half so pretty as Jade.

Jade shakes her head at Kaia’s approach, murmuring only that she was looking for someone who doesn’t appear to be here.

GM: “Perhaps they are, ma’am. We can’t always see everything in plain sight,” offers the ghoul.

Celia: Jade accepts the point with a dip of her head. As much as she’d like to stay and chat—really, she would—she does have other business in the city this evening.

So she asks, hoping the ghoul can point her toward the fortune teller.

GM: The ghoul replies that she and Josua finished upstairs just a little while ago, but are down hunting on the first floor. If they’ve snagged a vessel, Jade can probably find them in the bathrooms.

Celia: Cambridge?

Convenient.

She could stay. Mingle. Chat.

Maybe she should. Finish that conversation with Garcia. Speak with Hearst about transport to LA; she can’t imagine she’d be too put out on the back of his bike for an evening or two. Planes are faster, but what a rush that would be. Find out how Pacuad’s project is coming, charm him into giving her one of the smiles he flashes when he thinks she can’t see. Hasn’t been the same since the split, really. At least prior he’d tolerated her. Politics, ugh.

Maybe she would, if Doriocourt weren’t here. Sisters have never been anything but trouble for her. Even Emily is getting uppity, interfering in things that have nothing to do with her.

Ah, that’s unkind. Diana is her mom too.

Still, two licks at once is a better deal than she’d hoped for. And she doesn’t quite trust her mouth to not run away with her this evening. Not with everything she’s recently learned.

Jade thanks Kaia with a smile and a polite word, asking her to pass her greetings along to her domitor and citing an excuse about not wanting to interrupt the two regents. She’s sure she’ll be back with Andi soon, no doubt the rock star will be pleased to see the club’s proprietor again.

She casts a long, lingering look at Garcia as she goes. Flirting with trouble, as usual.

GM: There’s at least Dani, her should-have-been sister.

Then again, the thin-blood is her own brand of trouble too.

Celia: Doesn’t she know it.

Big fucking headache on that end, too.

Why can’t I come to the cool parties, Celia?

Well Dani, do you like being half-alive?

Even if she wanted to be friendly with Doriocourt she couldn’t. It would draw too much attention.

GM: Maybe not, when she really learns what that entails.

Garcia doesn’t look away from Camilla, but makes a suggestive gesture behind his back.

Kaia replies she’ll be more than happy to pass along Jade’s greetings.

“And can I say you look Flawless as always, ma’am,” the ghoul smiles.

Celia: The motion she makes following that gesture might even be a nod.

Jade beams at the ghoul.

“You are very sweet, thank you.”

Then it’s back down the stairs for her, through the crush of bodies, and into the bathroom.

GM: The bathrooms are spacious and relatively clean, at least by a nightclub’s usual filthy standards. Sounds of fornication go up from the stalls. Jade can’t tell at a glance which one might have two licks in it.

But the coppery smell emanating from one is unmistakable to the vampire’s so-sensitive nose.

Celia: Seems rude to interrupt a meal. Jade busies herself by fixing her makeup in the mirror. Not that there’s much to fix. Mostly she just admires her own reflection.

GM: There’s a lot to admire.

She abruptly feels something small, furry, and squirming press against her vagina and try to crawl inside.

Celia: How the fuck had it gotten inside her panties? What the fuck is crawling on her?

Jade doesn’t have a problem with things inside of her vagina. It’s when they’re small and furry and squirm that she takes umbrage.

She bolts into an open stall, slams the door, and gets it out.

GM: She spots a hairless tail wriggling back and forth out of her womanhood like a tampon string. Cat-quick, she plucks it out and produces a squeaking, flailing mouse.

Celia: Jade scowls down at the mouse clutched in her grip. She sniffs at it, looking for a trace of the blood.

GM: She smells none, but phlegmy laughter rings in her ears.

“What’s the matter, barbie, don’t like your new vibrator?” leers Gerald Abellard as he fades into view.

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

Celia: Disgusting.

“Easier ways to get in my panties, you know.”

GM: “Oh I don’t doubt, but I was all out of dollar bills.”

The mouse squeaks and struggles in Jade’s grip.

Celia: “For you, I’d have done it for a smile.”

Jade considers the mouse, then the rat to whom it belongs. She holds it out to him.

GM: The Nosferatu cackles, then holds out Jade’s panties for her to deposit the rodent in.

Celia: “Souvenir?” She puts the mouse into the scraps of cloth provided.

GM: The shrieking mouse finally calms as it leaves the vampire’s grip. Gerald stretches out the panties over his hands and lets the mouse crawl over them.

“Maybe nest material for this little guy. There’s probably enough diseases he’ll feel right at home.”

Celia: “Mmm,” Jade says absently, “would you believe me if I told you that I died a virgin and am sadly lacking in diseases?”

“But if you need more nesting material for him…” She trails off with a shrug.

“Happy to supply.”

GM: Gerald hacks with laughter at her question, making the pus from his face seem to ooze faster.

“No.”

Celia: She flashes him a smile.

“I didn’t think so.”

There’s a brief moment of hesitation before Jade reaches out, touching a hand to his cloth-covered arm. Her face softens, voice dropping to a low murmur.

“How’s Malo?”

GM: That cloth is better than touching the sewer rat’s greasy skin, but not by much. The long-sleeved t-shirt doesn’t look (or smell) like it’s been washed in years. Jade can’t even begin to guess where some of those stains might be from.

Gerald twirls the panties in his wart-dotted fingers as the mouse climbs across them.

“Oh he really misses you. Think he can get a blowjob, next time you meet?”

Celia: “Was hoping a handjob, actually.” Jade arches one brow at him.

GM: “It’s a date,” the sewer rat leers. “Expect him sometime soon, monkey dick primed and ready for your so-practiced hand.”

“He’s pretty greedy, though. He might make you give him a blowjob too.”

Celia: “Saving my lips for you, sweetheart.”

GM: “When it comes to your assorted holes, barbie, I think the thing you’re best at is ‘filling’ more than ‘saving,’” the sewer rat says with another leer.

“Well, this was fun. Mwah.”

He blows her a literally wet kiss, dripping with puss freshly wiped from his lips, then vanishes into the air with the mouse and panties. A squelching sound half like a huge fart, half like someone throwing up, heralds the Nosferatu’s departure. A stench not unlike ripe shit fills Jade’s nostrils.

Celia: “…oh, bye,” she says to the empty air.

She misses him already.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: She’s glad that she doesn’t need to breathe and takes a moment to wipe away anything that had gotten on her outfit or face. Should have expected a Nosferatu at Sundown’s place, really.

Now pantyless—the second time in two nights, what’re the odds?—Jade exits the stall, hoping that her mark is still around.

GM: The smell on Jade’s palms lingers and requires thorough washing. The coppery smell from the other stall has reduced, but hasn’t completely faded.

Two other women touching up their makeup remark to one another on a technique one of them picked up from Celia Flores’ MeVid channel.

Celia: Jade scrubs until the stink fades. She chimes in that Celia just released a new video and it’s ultra fab, have they seen it? Upload went live, like, two hours ago.

GM: “Oh no, I hadn’t!” says one of the girls, pulling out her phone. Celia’s tiny voice floats up from the device.

Celia: “Best one yet,” Jade tells the pair. She glances at the stall door. How long does feeding really take?

Maybe it had only seemed like ages she’d been wrapped up with Gerald because of the way he makes her heart go pitter-patter.

…nah.

GM: The pair nod and comment on the video, but it’s not overlong before the stall door opens and three people come out.

The first one draws immediate attention.

He’s beautiful. There aren’t many men who are beautiful, but he is, and handsome too. He has a boyishly winsome face, tousled ‘I woke up like this’ brown hair that has to be deliberate from how perfect it is. A bit of stubble gives his face some extra definition, but just light enough not to seem unkempt. Soulful green eyes frame his firm nose and invitingly kissable lips. He’s dressed in a white button-up with the top several buttons undone, giving a peek at his chest, a tan blazer, dark jeans, and brown leather dress shoes. His shirt and jeans are tight, amply showing off his smooth chest, trim but not too buff arms, and firm posterior. This Kindred’s body is a temple and it’s evident he worships it reverently. The other women in the bathroom immediately start staring and making comments, and he just flashes them a pearly white smile.

Josua.jpg
The female Kindred is dusky of skin and could be either Latina, Roma, or some typically New Orleans mix of races. She looks in her early or mid 20s and dressed in somewhat out of place fashions for a nightclub: purple gypsy skirt, a low-cut black and white-striped shirt, and a top hat threaded with red and purple scarves in place of a band. Gold glints from her ears and fingers. Her inky black hair is a wild and untamed forest that plays home to a ghouled monkey wearing a purple vest and miniature top hat of its own. The tiny animal scampers across her shoulders and uses her hoop earrings as swings while remarkably shuffling a tiny deck of tarot cards.

The women don’t spare her a glance. Or the droopy-eyed girl in club attire the two vampires are half-carrying between them.

The male newcomer spares the women a few laughing remarks, but he has eyes only for the fairest face among them.

“It’s Jade, isn’t it?”

He places his hands on her shoulders like they’ve known one another for years. His gaze drinks in the Toreador’s form like chocolate wine as he purrs softly,

“You are a woman.

It sounds almost sacred how he pronounces the word.

Celia: Oh.

Oh my.

This is Josua. She has seen him before, she’s sure, around. But not this close. Not this in her space. Not this… this.

Her eyes drink him in. Some distant part of her mind registers the lick she’s been looking for came out of the stall with him, that she has business with her, but for the (un?)life of her she can’t remember why she’d want to talk to her when this is in front of her, looking at her, touching her. He’s the golden prize at the end of the quest. The reward for getting through the thin-blood, the VIP lounge, the rat and his mouse. Sidra who?

He knows her name.

It’s a giddy sort of lightness that bubbles from the center of her chest outward. He knows who she is. Her Beast brushes against the inside of her ribs, purring; even it wants a piece.

Is he prettier than her?

Her lips part just slightly, gazing up at him from beneath long lashes. Slowly, she blinks, and finally she gives a tiny nod. She is a woman. And never before has that sounded so sweet. She finds her voice.

“Josua.”

GM: She knows what it sounds like when it’s not. She remembers one time her parents were ‘fighting’ (insofar as there can be a fight with just one person dishing it out) when they thought she couldn’t overhear, because Maxen never swore around his children. “You stupid fucking woman,” he’d snarled at her mother, as though the last of those words was somehow the most insulting.

Celia: And the way their kind reacts, too, to the very idea that they had once been gendered beings.

GM: “Jade,” repeats Josua. His smile spreads across his face. “Our names even start with the same letter. That’s so pretty.”

His hands start to massage her shoulders, the motion at once intimate and reverent.

“I’d like to paint you,” he says. “Your beauty should be immortalized on a canvas. Your beauty should be copied and replicated in as many places as possible. The more places there are for people to admire your beauty, the better. The world will be a better place, if it has more Jade in it.”

Celia: It’s been years since someone has touched her like that. Since someone has offered her a massage and just gotten right to it, brushing the stresses of her Requiem away with the simple press of his fingers. She melts.

Paint her. He wants to paint her. She wants to be painted. She wants to be immortalized on canvas. She’ll hang it above her bed so it can be the first thing she sees in the evening when she wakes, the last thing she sees before daysleep claims her. Everyone should get a copy. The entire city. They should all see how beautiful she is, how hard she’s worked on her body, her face, sculpting it to be the epitome of perfection, the prettiest lick in the city—the world, even. To be flawless.

Her eyes shine at the words.

“Yes,” she agrees. She’d wanted photos from Garcia, but what are photos compared to an artist’s rendering? What is a headshot compared to her soul on canvas? She’ll sit for him, pose for him, model for him.

She deserves it.

The world deserves it.

“Paint me,” she says, with another nod of her head, hanging onto the images that he evokes with word and touch. She blinks again, trying to summon additional words to convey her sentiments. She’s normally so much more eloquent than this.

GM: Josua just nods, his eyes seemingly all-too understanding at her brevity. He takes her by the hand, and soon the two Toreador are leaving the club, Sidra quite forgotten. Josua hails a Ryde from his phone. His massages work their way up and down Jade’s shoulders as they wait. His touch isn’t a masseur’s, but what it lacks in training it makes up for in reverence and sheer ardor. Josua’s eyes shine as though he’s running his hands along a statue made from solid gold.

“You’ve put so much work into your beauty. I can tell. It isn’t easy, to be as beautiful as you are. It takes so much work. So much time. So much pain. You’re so dedicated. I want you to know that I don’t just see your beauty, I see the work and dedication behind it, and that makes you even more beautiful.”

Celia: Oh. He means now. She’s supposed to be doing something now, isn’t she? Talking to someone. Multiple someones. Wasn’t there a monkey…?

The thoughts fade away. It doesn’t matter. He’s going to paint her. He understands her. He knows what it’s like, the work she puts into it; she bets he wouldn’t laugh at her closet space or her piles of makeup or discredit her occupation for being frivolous because it isn’t intellectual. It’s art. It’s all art. She, herself, she’s art, and she’ll be immortalized, and that…

That is beautiful. Just like her. Like him. Like them.

They could be a them. They should be a them.

Does he want to be a them?

Shining, golden statues. How the heads would turn. How they’d whisper.

Outside the club, Jade presses against him. She lets the words he whispers in her ear travel through her, just like his hands move up and down her body. He’s good at that, the touch. But she’s better, and she wants to share too, to tell him with her hands what she struggles to put into words. She shows him how good she is at it, arms sliding around his body, untucking his shirt, palms pressing flat against his back once she moves the material out of her way. Up, higher, across the lats, the obliques, the fascia around his lower spine.

Like this, that touch says.

GM: Josua’s skin is smooth and firm, free of any fat and blemishes. He doesn’t even have any back hairs. Jade could rub his back forever, especially with the way he melts under her touch. He gasps and exhales with pleasure, his rapture evident with every second under his clanmate’s practiced ministrations. He doesn’t try to massage her back, as if realizing his efforts would be wholly inadequate before hers. But his hands still trace and travel the contours of her body, wordlessly praising the Toreador’s perfect form.

At some point they wind up in the cab. Jade isn’t sure when. All she notices is that the position of their bodies change.

Celia: She ends up on his lap. She always ends up on their laps. And this is a lap that deserves someone as beautiful as her on it. She’s happy to oblige.

GM: He presses his face to her breasts and nuzzles against them as though he’s an infant returned to his own mother’s. His hands explore her rear, too. There’s lust in them, but there’s more than lust, too. There’s appreciation for what she is, for the perfection she represents.

“You’re so good at this… oh, Jade, you make me feel so good… you’re a feast for the eyes… a feast for the mind… a feast on my skin… you touch me on every level…”

“You make everything better… you make everything beautiful… that’s why you need a painting, so you never leave, so you make things beautiful forever…”

Celia: It’s different when he does it, the way he touches her; others want to use, to claim. He wants to admire. She lets him. She basks in it, revels in it. She is perfect. She’s always been perfect. Flawless. Her work. All her work, all her time, energy, devotion, it has always gone into this.

Her fingers move across his back. Touching, stroking, teasing. His body is her playground.

Beautiful forever. She is. She will be. She won’t leave. She nods along, murmuring the same thing to him, that she won’t leave, of course she’ll never leave; where will he put her when he’s done? Where will he hang the painting?

GM: “Heaven,” he whispers, rapturously. “I’ll send it to Heaven. So the angels can admire it, and be jealous, too, of how they’ll never be as beautiful as you…”

At some point their ride steps. Josua pulls Jade out, by the hand, then hugs her close against his side, as if he can’t bear to be parted from her. He wraps both his arms around her as they walk, keeping her as close as possible as he nuzzles his face against her hair. He says how he’ll die if has to leave her, if he has to stop touching her. He has seen perfection.

He has felt perfection.

He has basked in perfection.

Celia: Heaven. With angels. Not the demons here on earth. No darkness will touch her there. No shadows will mark her days. She will be… ascendant. Transcendent.

Is that possible? She asks how it’s possible as he pulls her from the cab, tucking herself against his side. She wants to hang in Heaven. Tell me, she pleads, tell me how it’s possible.

Her eyes, full of him, only briefly turn away to take in her surroundings.

GM: They’re outside a riverboat. Then they’re walking inside.

Josua.jpg
Celia: She falters for the first time.

She’s not supposed to be here. She doesn’t have permission to be here.

GM: “By being so beautiful they have no choice but to lift you up…. that they’d be committing sacrilege, if they didn’t…” Josua whispers. His voice is ecstatic as he drinks her in, his every glance and touch brimming with worship for her body and the perfection she represents.

“My cabin’s just inside… I’ll paint you, and we can do anything else we want… I’ll worship you, Jade, worship you like you deserve to be…”

Celia: Twice in one week. She’ll be caught twice in one week where she shouldn’t be. And it’s only luck that kept Riverbend’s people from finding her.

But she’s already here. And his cabin is close, he said.

He’s unreleased. It isn’t his territory. It’s Marcel’s. She’s supposed to be courting him, not his toy, not…

Worship. The word sends shivers down her spine. She takes a step, then falters again. It’s wrong. Someone had beaten that into her.

“Ask,” she tells him, “ask him, if I can…” Jade gestures to the boat, the proverbial line in the sand that marks his personal territory. She takes his hand, pleading with her eyes. “I shouldn’t have to hide.” Perfection shouldn’t hide. Everyone should see. Call, ask, and they all can. The two of them.

GM: Josua presses a finger to Jade’s lips, then hugs her close against his chest as he strokes her hair, as though comforting a frightened child.

“Don’t worry… he’s fine with me bringing guests… just so long as we don’t do it in his bed…”

Celia: Oh. Oh. She likes this. Being held like a child, small and dainty and fragile. Jade presses her face against his chest, her arms moving around him. She really likes this. She nods her head while he strokes her hair.

GM: He plants a tender kiss on her head.

“Come…”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: The walk to Josua’s cabin passes in a blur. There’s sounds and people, but none of the matter with his arms wrapped around her. The interior sumptuous-looking space with an amply large ovular-shaped shaped bed with silky red sheet. A TV hangs from one of the walls. There’s a phone and tablet on the bedside table. The rest of the space is taken up by a painter’s easel, canvases, and assorted brushes, paint tubes, and other artist’s supplies. It’s a relatively cramped room.

Josua falls into bed with her. Literally. He hugs her close against his chest, her back to his head with his arms encircling her waist, then simply falls backwards. They land with a soft oomph. He rolls to the side with her, then turns her around. His tongue hungrily and expertly explores the contours of her mouth as they kiss. His hands start to remove her clothing.

“I have a question…” he murmurs.

Celia: The lights, sounds, and smells of the casino disappear. It doesn’t matter. They don’t matter, the people around them, nothing but the sensation of arms around her, his body against her. She thinks they fall, but that doesn’t matter either, not when his lips press against hers, when the clothing starts to come off. Less than there would have been if she’s run into him first, before the other, but even that doesn’t matter.

She almost doesn’t hear his words. She’s doesn’t even cease the progress of her fingers down the buttons of his shirt, continuing to remove them one by one.

“Hm?”

GM: “Who you want on top.”

He throws her down suddenly, interrupting her progress on his shirt. One hand presses over her heart, keeping her down, while the other encircles the back of her head, as if to say he’s got this, and she can let go with him in charge.

“It could be me… I’ll use you, maybe roughly, maybe gently, but you’ll be mine to use as I see fit, and you’ll be my little girl, surrendered and helpless….”

Then he slides down, off the bed and onto the floor. His hands reverently stroke the smooth skin of her legs, then work their way down to a shoe-less foot. He cradles it in his hands as though handling a holy relic, and places it upon his face. He bows underneath the foot, prostate and submissive. He kisses it too, reverently, like he’s receiving the greatest privilege on earth.

“Or it could be you… your body is a temple and I am your acolyte, hoping only for the privilege of pleasing the goddess, however she sees fit…”

He smiles and pokes his head up.

“I don’t mind being top or bottom… I want to experience you, Jade… I want to experience the very best you, whichever you you feel like being…”

Celia: Little girl.

Her eyes close. The words send shivers down her spine, unconscious tiny little movements that betray her thoughts on the matter. Her body reacts like the girl she had once been; she doesn’t hide it from him, the stiffening of her nipples, the liquid heat that pools between her thighs.

Surrendered and helpless.

That one. That one, she wants that one. She wants to let go, to let someone else take control, to stop worrying about everything and just experience. Gently, roughly, it doesn’t matter. She wants to submit.

She half-rises onto her elbows as he works his way to the floor, watching with half-lidded eyes the attention he pays her body, the way he offers to worship. Only when he looks up again does she crook a finger at him, pulling him toward her by the shirt still half-buttoned on his frame.

“You,” she gets out, “you top.” That’s her best self. When they make her bend.

GM: Just like that, he’s gone from the floor. His hand clamps down over her throat, holding her down and cutting off her speech as he dextrously pulls off what’s left of her clothes. When she tries to take off his shirt, he slaps her hands down.

“You don’t get that privilege, yet. You haven’t earned it. You haven’t shown me you’re a good girl.”

His hands move from her throat to her wrists, pinning her down as he inspects her naked body, ascertaining whether it is good enough.

“What’s this?” he asks critically, staring down at her womanhood. He touches a finger to it and sniffs.

“How dirty. How perverted. You’re such a bad girl. Bad girls get punished until they can be good girls.”

He flips her naked body over his lap, still clothed in his dark jeans, and delivers a sharp smack to her buttocks.

“Say you’re sorry, you bad girl.”

His hand comes down on her rear again with another sharp smack. It doesn’t hurt as much as Maxen’s spanks did, and Jade’s body doesn’t bruise as easily. But her Beast does. Its pride bruises. It instinctively rebels against this rough treatment, snarls its protest. A sense of debasement surges through her blood, for she is a predator and chooses now to submit like prey.

Celia: Shame, hot and heavy, floods her cheeks. She could have hidden it. Should have hidden it. She’d thought, slut that he is, he’d understand. Instead he bends her over his knee and—

Oh.

It hasn’t faded. Not one bit.

Each smack sends tingles through the rest of her body. It stings but doesn’t hurt, doesn’t bruise, doesn’t leave behind handprints; it’s just the sharp smack of flesh on flesh, the humiliation of being bent over, the inherent shift in dynamic with him clothed and her not. Each smack summons forth a sound from her—a snarl first, until she tells the Beast to fuck off because right now she just wants to be a girl, not an undead abomination, then a whimper, a stifled yelp, and finally a broken, breathy moan. Even the thing inside her chest understands that.

She’s not a good girl. Good girls don’t get wet. They don’t become aroused when someone bends them over their knee. They don’t get off on the humiliation, the feeling of being exposed. They don’t fuck anything and everything they want to fuck for the sheer joy of it.

She’s not a good girl.

And she has nothing to apologize for.

GM: “Oh? Can’t get that out?” he asks. Smack, goes the open hand against her ass. Smack, smack, smack, like she’s a naked toddler over her daddy’s knee.

“I guess we’ll have to try something else, you bad, dirty girl. Such a disappointment to your daddy. You have so much to be sorry for.”

He yanks her off by her hair and throws her back down on the bed. There’s a blur of motion, and then there’s handcuffs around her wrists. He snaps each one around a corner of the bed, leaving her spread-eagled and exposed. He makes do with sheets to tie down her legs, then retrieves a paintbrush.

He runs it along her belly. The hairs are rough and ticklish. It descends steadily, steadily lower.

“I bet you want that over your clit, don’t you, you dirty pervert, for me to paint your clit until you’re wet as a sponge?”

Celia: She’s already wet. Soaked, even. The spanking had seen to that. Legs spread as they are, he can see it too.

Jade tugs at the cuffs around her wrists, testing their hold, then does the same to the sheets around her legs. Both hold firm. Surrendered and helpless, just like he’d said. She squirms as the brush trails down her skin, back arching, teeth sinking into her lip to keep herself silent, watching the movement of the brush with wide eyes.

Finally, she nods.

GM: The paintbrush descends teasingly close, stroking the folds of her outer lips.

“Such a dirty pervert. Beg for it, you dirty pervert. Beg me for it.”

Celia: She doesn’t need to breathe. She knows that. He knows that. But it hitches anyway when he draws the brush closer to where she wants it.

“Please,” she whispers, starting small.

GM: The brush snakes its way closer to her inner lips, then retreats back.

“I can’t hear you.”

Celia: Her hips lift, attempting to make him touch her where she wants.

“Please,” she tries again, and this time her voice is colored by clear desperation, “please, there, don’t tease…”

GM: The brush ‘paints’ over her inner lips for a second, then passes over her clitoris… and over it, without once touching.

“You don’t sound desperate enough. You don’t sound like you’re really begging. Swallow your pride.”

Celia: Her eyes close to shut out the beautiful, smirking face. Her eyes close because he’s right, she’s not desperate enough, she still has too much pride. She’s Jade, and Jade is never not in control. So her eyes close, and her tongue flicks across her lips, and Jade retreats to make room for the girl inside, the eighteen-year-old who has never been touched, the delicate flower that can’t even think the word ‘sex’ without turning red. Not Jade, not Star or Neveah or Violet. Not even Celia. Leilani. No physical change takes place but her face softens, her lips part, and her eyes… her eyes lock onto his when she opens them again, uncertainty and shyness shining out at him.

She becomes what he wants her to be. Surrendered.

“Please.” Whisper-soft, hesitant… but trusting. Helpless. “Please, touch me, show me, let me c…” Her cheeks burn. She can’t even say the word. She looks away, then back at him. Little girl. “Please, Daddy.”

GM: Josua pats her head like a child who’s done well.

“That’s better.”

The brush starts to ‘paint’ her clit. It’s not like a tongue feels. It’s dry and light, and ticklish, too. It reminds her of Pietro’s touch. It dances back and forth in Josua’s nimble hands, sometimes stroking other parts of her, but always finding its way back to her sweet little nub.

“There’s something my little girl still has to do, though. Does she remember what?”

Celia: She turns her face to press a cheek against the hand that pats her, seeking comfort in the touch. Her breath comes in quick, short puffs of air, chest rising and falling with the effort. Extraneous, all of it, but it sucks her into the role.

Something left. What’s left? She can’t think with the brush on her body, and every time she opens her mouth to answer he takes it back to that spot between her legs that makes her see stars. Her body trembles beneath his touch.

Apologize. It hits her all at once when he takes the brush away again, teasing her by denying what she wants. Only good girls get rewarded. She takes a breath she doesn’t need.

“I’m—I’m sorry I was bad.” A short pause, eyes closing, back arching off the bed when those bristles touch and flit away again. “I’ll be a good girl.”

GM: The hand finds her face again. It pats her head and remains nearby for her to nuzzle her face against it, then pats her cheek too. Josua smiles down at her.

“That’s a good girl. That’s a very good girl.”

The paintbrush doesn’t return, but another one does. It’s a smaller brush, lighter, and definitely softer. It tickles a lot more, too. Josua ‘paints’ it in steady clockwise patterns around her clit, bringing her closer and closer to release.

“My little girl is still a pervert, though. It’s one thing to be sorry, but you need to make up for what you’ve done, too.”

“So. If you’re enjoying this, then we’re just going to have to take it to its full conclusion. Are you prepared to do that?”

Celia: Jade—Leilani—strains against her bindings, pulling at them with every jerk and quiver that thrums through her. Make up for it. Full conclusion. She doesn’t know what he plans to do to her, how she’ll have to make up for being a pervert when she’s tied to the bed, but she doesn’t care. She wants it. Needs it. She nods over and over again, voice cutting her response to a quick and quiet yes, please.

GM: Josua nods, withdraws the brush, then leaves the room. He closes and locks the door behind him.

Celia: Oh.

That wasn’t…

“Um.”

Unsatisfied, still too close to the edge to think straight, still caught by the blessing of her clan, she stares at the door. She waits, nerves starting to get the best of her.

GM: Her nerves have enough time to do more than start before the door opens again. Josua walks back in, along with three men in suits, ties, and security badges. The first one, who smells like a ghoul, unbuckles his pants and forces his penis into Jade’s mouth without so much as a hello. The second man, a breather, unbuckles his pants and takes her in her womanhood. The third man, another breather, patiently waits his turn, hands clasped in front of him in a security professional’s stance. There’s no room for him to simultaneously take her third hole when she’s tied down, after all.

Celia: Betrayal stings, a sharp slap across the face. Trusted him. She had trusted him, had let him bring her here, had let him talk her into this, tie her down, had shown him secret parts of herself that no one else gets to see. She yanks at the cuffs, the ties around her legs, but they’re on her in seconds, filling her, holding her down. She bucks, arching off the bed, but the bodies over her are heavy. Wide, fearful eyes seek him out.

GM: He sits down on the bed and rubs a palm over her naked belly.

“This is how my little girl wants it. We both know it is.”

The ghoul slaps her face when she doesn’t start sucking. His erect member presses against her tongue. The other man’s balls smack against her thighs as he humps back and forth.

Celia: The slap across the face turns her head to the side, cheek smarting where the ghoul struck her. Her Beast snarls in response, demanding to be let out, to tear the hand from the mortal that had dare slap it. Pain, humiliation, degradation—she is not some kine to simply lie back and take it like this. She is not Celia, brought to her knees by stronger, more powerful people, helpless to do anything but scream the way they want her to and cry bitter tears while they take from her. She thrashes against her bindings.

But then he’s beside her, stroking a hand against her belly, reminding her that it’s just a game, reminding her that she had asked for this when she’d told him to take top. His touch keeps her claws from coming out, keeps the fangs tucked away, soothes the ragged, frayed nerves of the Beast who only sees the insult. Little girl, he calls her, summoning her forth. She’s not Celia, the survivor. She’s something… else. Different. More pure, more willing to submit, more… innocent. She’s Leilani again. His little girl. He knows best. He’s in charge. He coaxes her forward with the gentle stroking across her belly, telling her that it will be okay, that he has her, that he’ll be there the whole time. Watching. Guiding. Like daddies should for their little girls.

She craves his touch. Needs it to keep the rest of them at bay, to focus on the soft and gentle. This is her gift. Her reward and punishment both. Because she’s a good girl and she apologized for being bad, but she still has to make amends and this is how he has decided she will do it. Her lips finally close around the cock in her mouth. She sucks.

She pulls again at the cuffs, then at the sheets. Not trying to get free, but to shift, to give the third man the space that he needs so he, too, can fill her. Now, not later. Now, while Josua holds her and tells her that this is what she wants, while he touches and strokes and takes control so she can submit.

GM: Jade’s Beast rages and tries to break free at this latest humiliation. It would burst its bonds, rip out the men’s throats, and paint the bedroom in gore. But Jade’s—Leila’s—Celia’s—who even is she?—submissive instinct runs strong, and what is there to be angry about when there’s a fat cock in her mouth? That’s what she is made for. To suck fat cocks. “Yeah, you’ve done this a lot, you little cocksucker,” leers the ghoul, making a fist in her hair and yanking it forward to push his penis even deeper. It takes some effort for the third man to position himself, but he’s able to slip underneath Jade and fill her ass with his cock. He holds her shoulders as he thrusts back and forth. All three men vigorously pump her holes. Josua is there the whole time, to rub her belly, plant it with delicate kisses, and murmur sweet words. He rubs her belly a lot, and scratches it too, like she’s a pet who should take just as much pleasure in that as the actual intercourse. The men take turns alternating between Jade’s holes, giving her a taste of them in each part of her, but they all finish in her mouth. Or at least from her mouth. The first man pulls out and blows his load over Jade’s face. The second man pulls out and blows his load over her tits. The third man cums inside her mouth and tells her to swallow. “Swallow like the dirty little cocksucker you are.”

Her Beast instinctively rebels at this last demand. Cum tastes better than Diana’s cooking, but only because there’s less of it. She can let the cum sit there in her mouth, until whenever Josua lets her off the bed (only a very bad girl would spit it out), or she can expend precious blood purely to swallow this breather’s seed.

“Go on, little girl,” Josua nods encouragingly. “Swallow for Daddy. I’ll be very nice to my little girl, if she can just swallow for Daddy.”

“I know she can do it. I’ll be very proud of her.”

Celia: It washes over her: pleasure. Pleasure like she has never known, to have all of her holes filled at the same time, to have another whispering sweet, tender words of encouragement in her ear, his hands stroking her body. It’s that touch that keeps her grounded, that touch that prevents her from spiraling downward, that touch that tells her everything is okay. She can enjoy it. Lay back and let herself simply feel. She has never been taken like this before, submitting so fully to someone else, letting their whims dictate the terms of play. This is how she wants it, he’d said, and he’s right. They don’t hurt her. They don’t smack or spank or hit her. They just fill, and touch, and taste—one of them kisses her neck while he fucks her from behind, another flicks his thumbs across her nipples, and the last cradles her head while he thrusts inside her mouth. And Josua. Holding her. Touching her. Whispering to her how she’s such a good little girl to take it like this.

It’s overwhelming, an onslaught from all fronts, and were it not for daddy’s hands on her she might feel used; but he’s there for her and that makes it sweet instead of ugly, and when she wants to lose control he’s right there to bring her back. Punishment and humiliation, but exactly what she wants. It’s not mean or cruel, not meant to ruin her. It’s just what she wants and he’s making sure she gets it. She surrenders, losing herself to the movements, sucking, licking, trembling when they find those spots that make her toes curl and her breath catch and her whole body tighten. But they never send her over. He knows, or they know, or someone knows, and no matter how she pleads around the flesh in her mouth they keep her riding that edge until she’s a panting, quivering mess.

One by one they finish, denying her further when they don’t immediately start to fuck again, and she mourns the loss with a quiet whimper, a whispered plea, until another takes her mouth to silence her.

Now this. The finale. All she has to do is swallow. Good girls swallow, don’t they? And he said he’d be proud. She can make him proud of his little girl. There’s no hesitation when he puts it like that. When this final man blows his load in her mouth she swallows what’s left of her pride along with the cum.

She wants him to be proud.

Fitting, that the Beast finally rebels at her treatment of it. She had fucked last night without feeding. Fucked again this evening without even biting. Swallowed human swill and it had not complained, sated by thick, warm Brujah blood. But this? This takes it too far. This humiliation goes beyond what it will endure. The girl retains control, but the Beast takes from her, raking its claws inside her chest and stealing the blood that it wants to slake its hunger. It snarls inside her chest, leaving her with precious little.

But she swallows. And she keeps it down. And finally, finally, she turns to Josua, eyes wide in expectation.

GM: Josua smiles at her and pats her head approvingly.

“Thank the man for his cum, too.”

“Good girls say please and thanks.”

Celia: It’s an effort to look away from Josua, but tears her gaze away to find the man’s eyes.

“Thank you for letting me swallow your cum.” Jade’s voice, but… softer. No hesitation, though. No sign of insincerity. She looks at the other two, thanking them as well for their contribution. Good girls are polite, and she’s a good girl.

GM: “You’re welcome, cum dumpster,” grins the first man as he re-buckles his pants. The others do too. They walk out of the room without a glance back, except to close the door.

Josua moves over on the bed. He doesn’t untie her arms or legs, but he sits cross-legged and places her head upon his lap. Her smiles down at her as he strokes her hair.

“I’m so proud of my little girl.”

“She knows her place. She knows how to submit. She’s happy to submit to her daddy. That makes Daddy very, very happy.”

One hand steadily pets her hair as he tilts her head against his lap to stare up at his smile.

“I’m so proud of you. My pretty little girl. My happy little girl. My good little girl. Such a good girl.”

Celia: Cum dumpster.

Someone that might be Jade snarls at the words. She’s quickly beaten down when her head winds up on his lap, fingers in her hair. She basks in the attention and adoration he lavishes upon her, smiling up at him. Happy, pretty, good. She’s all those things. And she’s pleased. Pleased that he’s happy with her, that he’s proud of her, that he’d do this for her. Her head turns, cheek rubbing against his lap, his hands, whatever she can reach to stay in contact, to make him continue saying such sweet things.

It reminds her… no, those aren’t her memories…

GM: His hands tenderly stroke the sides of her face as Josua leans down to nuzzle her nose.

“Give me a big smile, little girl. Give Daddy the biggest, happiest smile you can. I want to see your soul shining through that smile.”

Celia: She smiles for him. A happy smile, a proud smile, a pleased, sated, satisfied smile. And no matter what face she wears or who controls the reins, it’s never anything less than a beautiful smile.

GM: Josua strokes her hair.

“Try harder, baby girl. Make it an earnest smile. It’s not a desperate smile, but you aren’t satisfied just yet, because you haven’t pleased Daddy yet. You want to please Daddy, because he wants a smile. He wants a big smile. He wants the biggest, happiest, eagerest smile his little girl has in her. She isn’t really tied down. Her smile is how she’ll hug Daddy, because it’ll be so big and happy and eager that he’ll feel it from here, and he’ll hug her back, and hold her close, and she’ll be safe in his arms as they snuggle. That’s what she’ll get, if she can smile for Daddy. All the snuggle times in the world.”

He pats her cheek.

“Smile for me, baby girl. Smile as big and wide as you can. You don’t need to talk. Daddy will do all the talking. Daddy will take care of the hard things. All you need to do is smile.”

“I know my little girl can do it. She’s such a good girl.”

Celia: The smile fades from her lips at his words.

It’s not enough. It’s never enough. She is never enough.

Her eyes close. She inhales air she doesn’t need, lungs expanding to lift her chest, all of it a waste of movement. A waste of energy. A waste of space.

Cum dumpster. Whore. Stupid.

They twist together in her head, dancing before her closed eyes, their voices taunting, cold and cruel. Snippets of conversation press against her, demanding to be let in, demanding that she remember, that she feel. She’s not Leilani. She’s not Jade. She’s not even Celia anymore.

She’s lost.

But Daddy’s there for her. He has always been there for her. He calls to her, coaxing her toward the safety of his arms. He’ll protect her. Take her away from the accident at the end of the hall. Dry her tears after her neighbor forces her to her knees. Hold her hand through the ordeal of being fucked, then tell her how proud he is, how happy she makes him. He’ll tell her how proud he is. How she’s special. His little girl. She is his little girl. His special baby girl. She tries so hard. And he’s proud of her.

Her eyes open, uncertain, as if expecting him to disappear in the seconds they had been closed. But there he is, waiting for her. Like he’s always waiting for her. Because he’ll always be there for her.

Her lips move without a command from her, lifting at the corners, curling upwards to give him the smile that he wants. It’s her. All of her. Broken, bent, raw. But shining. Like the flawless diamond that she is.

GM: He’s there. Waiting. So very patiently.

Leilani. Jade. Celia. They’re just names.

She doesn’t need to be anyone. Just so long as she has Daddy.

Daddy starts to smile, then holds up a finger.

“Hold that, baby girl. Freeze that smile on your face.”

An easy thing, without face muscles that get tired.

Celia: She doesn’t question him. The smile freezes.

GM: “Good girl.”

“I’ll have an extra special treat for you, if you can hold that smile long enough.”

Josua sits down by his painter’s easel. In a blur of motion, it’s turned around, paint tubes are out, and Josua’s brush is racing around the canvas like a fast forwarding video.

Celia: She doesn’t get tired. She doesn’t need to breathe or blink or shift positions. She doesn’t move, doesn’t stir from the spot where he placed her. None of her muscles twitch. She stays, frozen, exactly how he left her. The smile never dims.

GM: The paintbrush continues to blur across the canvas. Time passes. The brush eventually stops moving.

“There. All done. Does my little girl think she’s been really patient? Should she get a treat?”

He smiles at her.

“No talking or moving her head. I haven’t said she can stop smiling yet.”

Celia: Her eyes flick toward the clock on his wall. Her head stays in place, smile never slipping.

GM: “Mmm, what’s that? Is my little girl trying to say something?”

“If only she could stop smiling, that would make things do much easier.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to stop smiling. But she does want to know how long she has been here, tied to the bed, waiting so very patiently for her reward.

She’s not the only one in her mind. Hers aren’t the only thoughts that swirl, and with each passing moment the other one gets stronger, chipping away at her control. She has to be somewhere. She has to be somewhere that she’s not, somewhere that isn’t here. But here is important too. If only she could check to make sure that the other one will still make it. She needs to know. She has to know, or it all comes crumbling down around her, and something like the Beast but less hostile paces in her chest, spiraling outward toward her limbs. She doesn’t move, but it swells beneath the surface of her skin, a bubble of anxiety that she can’t stifle because she needs to know.

GM: Josua walks over to the bed and sits down. He tilts Jade’s face up towards his and runs his hands along er cheeks.

“My silent beauty. Such a pretty little girl.”

“It’s okay, pretty girl. You don’t need to talk.”

“All you need to do is smile. It makes Daddy so happy to see his little girl smile.”

Celia: But she is smiling. She has been smiling. Even now, tied to the bed, anxious that she’s supposed to be somewhere else, she smiles for him.

Finally, she blinks. It’s as clear as she can make it, that blink. No muscles but those controlling her lids move, a quick flip down then up. Her smile stays in place. Her head doesn’t do so much as twitch. None of the rest of her body dares move either; like someone’s doll, she lays where he had put her, and only the eyes give the answer he’s looking for from his earlier question: yes.

GM: Josua gives a velvety laugh.

“I think my little girl is trying to say something. I think she does think she’s been patient. Well, okay, baby girl. I think you’ve earned it, with that pretty smile. So Daddy’s going to give you a very special treat.”

He unbuckles his pants and pricks his penis with an ornamental penknife from the bedside table. The heady smell of Kindred vitae suffuses the air. He daintily opens her mouth, as though he needs to do it for her, and guides his bleeding member inside.

It’s a small prick, at the head of his penis. Jade will need to suck really hard to get more than a trickle of vitae out.

Josua seems to concentrate for a moment, then his member grows firm and stiff in her mouth.

Celia: She’d thought that maybe, given his reputation, they were the same. That he, too, still got off the breather way.

But it’s just her. The pervert. Alone in her deviance.

The blood touches her tongue, though, and she doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter that he has to force it, or that he’d had to have someone else fuck her because he couldn’t. He’d done it for her. She knows that. He’d done it for her, and now he’s doing this for her, because it’s what she wants. Her lips close around him, sucking at the tiny knife wound to bring that precious vitae forth even as he stiffens in her mouth. The smell and taste grow her fangs but she keeps them tucked away, taking what he gives, how he gives. Submitting even now like the little girl she is to what her daddy wants.

GM: “Such a good girl…” he whispers, cupping the back of her head with his hands. He thrusts his hips back and forth, pressing his crotch against her face.

Josua’s vitae is sweet like candy. There’s almost no other flavor, it’s so sweet, but there’s the faintest undercurrent of sour underneath, like a few grains of salt at the bottom of a sugar-coated gummy.

“There’s nowhere on earth that my little girl is happier than with a cock in her mouth, is there?

Celia: Even with his cock in her mouth she manages a tiny shake of her head. No, there’s nowhere else she’d rather be. She belongs on her back or her knees or bent over a lap; wherever he wants her, that’s where he can put her, and she’ll be pleased all the same.

The flavor is so sweet it’s almost cloying, but she swallows it down obediently, even eagerly, happy to have it. And even though it doesn’t do anything for him, even though he doesn’t get off the same way, she gives him the same treatment she’d given his friends earlier just to show him how much she appreciates it.

GM: Josua’s sweetness, for all its strength, is a good kind of sweetness, like the natural sugar found in a succulent fruit. It isn’t the cheap kind instilled by star mode, that tastes so much like sugar dumped over already prepared food. Pietro always did say it’s “worth getting them in the mood.” Jade can taste her clanmate’s lust for her, but it’s a curious sort of lust. It’s more than lust. There’s enrapturement with her beauty on an aesthetic and intellectual level, beyond merely sexual attraction, although there’s a great deal of that too. She feels as if he worships her with the totality of his being. His sweetness fills and speaks to her on every level. But there’s a sour and salty undercurrent to it, too, the more she drinks. Anger and melancholy. All is not well in paradise.

It’s easy to see why Alana wants to do this with her, though. Jade is hard-pressed to think of many blowjobs that actively pleasure her like sucking blood straight from a cock does.

Celia: Her hands, bound as they are, hang uselessly from the cuffs. She wants to touch him. To let her fingers find the source of his trouble and fix it for him. That’s what she’s good at. Fixing. Making people feel better on a physical level. And if she can do that for him why wouldn’t she? She strains against the cuffs but they hold her fast. She can only drink what he offers. And drink she does, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of the sweet, hot red stuff. It wipes the cum from her palate, rids her tongue of the salty taste of kine. This is what she wants, what she has wanted the whole time. He rewards her for being a good girl and she can’t get enough of it.

GM: “Such a good girl… she doesn’t need to move her hands… she’s right where she needs to be, Dady’s cock in her mouth…. my little girl’s so good at sucking cock, and Daddy is so, so proud of her…” Josua whispers, stroking Jade’s cheeks as she rapturously sucks.

“Such a good girl…”

Celia: Is she? Does he like it, when she moves her lips like this, when she draws her tongue along the bottom like that? Does it turn him on the way it would for someone who could still feel pleasure like that? She stops pulling at the bonds, lets her hands hang limp, content to let him retain control. He’s Daddy and he’s in charge, and his little girl will take what he offers.

GM: Josua presses his groin up against her face. Her cups his hands around the back of her head, pushing her closer. She doesn’t need to breathe. She doesn’t need to see. All there is his cock in her mouth and his blood running down her throat. The moment could last forever, until he says, “All right, baby girl, I’m going to pull out soon… get in some good last sucks…”

Eventually, he does. He undoes the sheets around her feet, then the cuffs around her wrists. He sits down at the edge of the bed and pulls her onto his lap. He’s fully clothed, with his jacket on and his shirt buttoned up, and she’s still naked as the day she was born. He adjusts her legs, keeping them on the bed and folded against his body, making her as small as possible. He hugs her close and cradles her head low against his chest, such that she can hide underneath his arms. It’s like the way he held her earlier, like someone would hold a child, but it feels more like he’s holding an infant now. She feels so small and vulnerable and exposed. But Daddy is there, his arms around her. He strokes her hair and slowly rocks her back and forth against his chest.

“That’s my little girl…”

“I know it’s hard for her, losing Daddy’s cock… but she did very well tonight, and Daddy is so, so, proud of her… she’s the most special little girl in the whole wide world…”

Celia: She makes a sound when he pulls back. A quiet whimper of mourning that he has taken the source of such enjoyment away from her. She doesn’t mean to; it just comes out, followed by a soft sigh. The disappointment fades as soon as he draws her onto his lap. She snuggles against him, cheek against his chest. Naked, vulnerable in her nudity, but safe in the cocoon of his arms around her. She nods her head as he speaks, a gentle smile pulling at her lips. He’s proud of her. She made him proud. She’s pleased with herself, with him, with their time together this evening. A feeling like bliss settles over her. She’s a good girl.

GM: “Such a good girl…” he whispers, and then his fangs pierce her neck. Physical bliss washes over her, comingling with the mental bliss.

She’s doing Daddy proud. She’s making him feel good. She’s making him feel so, so good, giving of her life to sustain his. There’s no truer expression of intimacy, than feeding. To give of yourself, to sustain another. To trust them that intimately, that profoundly, to take as much as they choose.

In those moments of feeding, two lives become as one.

Celia: Her lips part in a silent sigh when his fangs pierce her neck. Her eyes close as it washes over her, entire body caught by the shiver of desire and need and something softer, something that might be trust or affection. Something sweet that flavors her blood, deeper than lust, stronger than the charm their clan so often employs.

Something beautiful, like her, the little girl on Daddy’s lap.

GM: The moment of bliss and beauty feels like it could last forever, but like all things, it must come to an end. Josua finally pulls out and affectionately rubs her cheek with his hand.

“All right, baby girl… Daddy’s going to step outside for a bit, okay? That’ll be so she can get changed into being Jade the badass bitch again.”

“Tonight was very special. Daddy loves his little girl very, very much.”

Celia: She gives a slow nod at his words. She doesn’t want it to end, but the mention of Jade… there’s something there, something she’s forgetting. She clings to him a moment longer, nuzzling at his neck with her lips. Shyly, before he goes, she tells him that tonight was special for her too, and that she loves her daddy. There’s a moment of hesitation where she wants to tell him who she is, but she’s worried that once he’s had her he won’t want to see her again. She finally looks up at him.

GM: He smiles down at her, eyes full of warmth and understanding. He runs his hands up and down her cheeks and the sides of her head in petting-like motions, then finally tilts her head up so she meets his gaze. She doesn’t need to do that herself. Daddy will do it for her.

“My little girl can tell her daddy anything.”

Celia: “Leilani,” she tells him, voice as soft as the silken sheets beneath them. It’s the first time she’s ever admitted aloud that she exists. For a brief moment she’s afraid he won’t understand. But he’s her daddy, and she’s his little girl, and he has to understand. She says it again, quiet but sure, that she’s Leilani and she wants him to know.

GM: “Leilani. What a pretty name for what a pretty girl,” Josua smiles, hugging Leila against his chest again. His rubs his hands up and down her back, stroking her hair.

“I’m very pleased to have met you, Lani.”

“You’re a very special little girl. You’re very lucky to have a tough big sister like Jade keeping you safe.”

Celia: She is lucky. She nods her head in agreement. Jade takes care of all the mean people so she can be soft and sweet and nice and let daddy spoil her with friends and blood and pon—

No. Leilani has never had one of those.

“And a daddy,” she tells him, snuggled against him once more. “To be happy.” There’s the briefest of pauses. A moment of hesitation. She remembers the taste of his blood on her tongue, the salty, sour emotions beneath the sweet. Good girls care about their daddies, don’t they? They should. She does.

She asks if he’s happy, too.

GM: Josua’s smile dims a bit.

“Daddy’s Requiem isn’t perfect, baby girl. Nobody’s is.”

He squeezes her shoulder. “Except Lani’s.”

Celia: “Jade can beat someone up for you,” Leilani offers with all the assurance of a little girl who thinks her “big sister” hung the moon.

GM: Josua laughs. “Maybe I’ll ask her. But that’s grown-up talk, little Lani, for the grown-ups to worry about. You don’t need to worry about anything when you’re with Daddy.”

Celia: And just like that, she’s forgotten it. The grown-ups can handle it, and she’ll be safe and warm and happy on his lap. She nods her head in agreement.

GM: He hugs her close for a while longer. Little Lani is right where she belongs in Daddy’s arms, without so much as a worrisome thought to worry her pretty little head.

“All right, Lani,” he finally says. “After I leave, it’s going to be time for Jade to come back out, okay?”

Celia: “Okay,” she agrees with another nod. Jade can come out and play again, and Leila can go back inside. Leilani says a final goodbye to him, a chaste kiss on his cheek before he goes.

GM: He plants a kiss on her brow, gives her hair a last tousle, then places Jade’s clothes on the bed before closing the door behind him.

Celia: There’s no physical change. Nothing to signify that one mask comes off and another takes its place, nothing to tell the world that Leilani has gone to bed and Jade is once more in control. One moment she is daddy’s little girl, the next she’s the childe of a harpy, cold and cruel and conniving.

Her stomach rebels as soon as the the swap occurs, and Jade comes to with her face inches away from a trashcan while she hurls up the jizz she had been made to swallow earlier. At least no one is present to witness the undignified way it slides back up her throat and splatters in the bottom of the wastebasket. Rancid, foul, but over quickly enough. She wipes at her mouth, tongue slicing against her own long fangs as if that will chase away the taste.

Her eyes sweep the room. Cramped, but a door to one side opens into a bathroom and Jade helps herself to his shower. A quick rinse to rid herself of the smell of kine: sweat and cum and other rank odors. Three minutes, in and out, scraping the gunk from her skin with a soapy rag, focused on her face, chest, and between her legs. Perhaps she should have asked him to join her. Leilani would no doubt appreciate bath time. Extra bubbles for daddy’s little princess, and they can play at being mermaids and she can paint his face with beard-bubbles and show him her dolls. Jade smiles at the thought; next time, she tells the little girl, next time she’ll ask. She does not bother to wash her hair, and when she steps out to look in the mirror she see is pleased to see that no traces of the kine remain. Her fingers blur across her skin in routine sweeps, touching up her makeup in half the amount of usual time. She dries with a towel and finds her clothing waiting on the bed. Quick movements put it all back where it belongs, sans stolen panties. It takes less than ten minutes before she is truly Jade again, once more ready to be seen in polite society.

She glances at her phone to check the time, then reaches for the door.

GM: It’s been about 2.5 hours since she ran into Josua at the nightclub. She’s likely missed the ‘court’ part of Savoy’s weekly court, and a decent chunk of the party, though it probably still has some time before it wraps up.

She finds Josua outside, playing on his phone. He smiles and tucks it away at her appearance.

“Would you like to see your portrait?”

Celia: Awkward. Now she’ll never know if opening her mouth last night did anything or if it had all been wasted breath. At least her meeting with him is after the party. Small blessings and all that.

“I would,” she tells him. “I assumed you didn’t want me peeking, so I refrained.”

GM: “Very thoughtful. You looked radiant with your clothes off, by the way, but you look radiant with them back on.”

Celia: “Careful, there, I might think you’re trying to get me out of them again.”

GM: He smiles again. “I think we were ‘under the influence’ most of these past few hours. Clan blessing and all. It’s nice to meet you.”

Celia: Clan blessing indeed. She’s glad she’s dead, that no flush gives her away.

“You too.” She can’t help but laugh. “We’ve done it all backwards.”

“I suppose I should introduce myself now that we’ve already gotten to know each other. Miss Jade Kalani,” she offers with a wry smile.

GM: “Josua Cambridge. I find introductions are usually less awkward this way. Or at least more fun.”

“You were every bit as amazing in bed as I thought you’d be.”

Celia: One brow lifts.

“Do you think about me in bed often?”

GM: “When we met, definitely, though I think about what everyone would be like in bed.”

Celia: “I suppose we have that in common.”

GM: “I wonder what Vidal would be like.”

Celia: “Rigid.”

GM: “I can say from experience, Ventrue can be really hot.”

Celia: “Perhaps we should ask his lover, then, and see if we can take a turn with him.”

“Hard to refuse two gorgeous licks like us.”

GM: Josua laughs. “If you’re serious, I wouldn’t mind screwing the seneschal either. I really wouldn’t. I’m curious what a real elder would be like.”

Celia: “Yours doesn’t do it for you anymore?”

GM: “Oh no, Marcel’s great in bed. But why have one when you could have two?”

He looks her over appraisingly. “Marcel would definitely like to bang you, though he prefers them less submissive than Lani was.”

Celia: Jade laughs. “I’ve no doubt. Get me a date with him, then, and I’ll show you both the other side.”

GM: “Now that I’d be very interested to see. I figured you’d be more like your sire.”

Celia: “Mm, truth be told Leila hasn’t come out like that before.”

GM: “Really? I feel special.”

Celia: “You should. She’d like to see you again, but I’ll let her down easy if you’re not interested.”

GM: “Mmm, maybe later. I’d like to see this other side to Jade, first. I’m not usually that dominant.”

Celia: “No?” Jade eyes him up and down. “I wouldn’t have guessed that.”

GM: “Oh, no. The lick I fuck the most these days is Marcel, and I’m never on top with him. He likes me as a boytoy.” Josua grins. “Sucking blood from a cock was something he showed me.”

Celia: “Now that,” she says with a matching grin, “was wickedly delicious.”

“But the breather way doesn’t do it for you.” A question more than a statement; she assumes the answer already.

Celia: “If you want another elder,” Jade offers after a moment, “you could come to the Evergreen with me sometime.”

GM: Josua shakes his head at her question.

“That’s really tempting. I bet he’s great in bed. I don’t think Marcel would be happy to share me with him, though.”

Celia: She doesn’t seem terribly upset. It’s the answer she expected.

A quick step closes the distance between them; one hand flattens against his chest to push him against the wall, lips at his neck, while the other hand drifts upwards so that her fingers curl through his hair.

“Disappointing,” she purrs. “I imagine you’d be quite a hit at the party next week, and I’d have loved to show you off even if we didn’t end up in Antoine’s hot tub…” She nips at his neck. “I suppose I’ll content myself with flipping the script from tonight and letting you present me to Marcel.”

GM: Josua grins at the aggressive motion, showing his now-protruding fangs. His hands encircle Jade’s body, lovingly caressing her back as they slowly work down to knead her rear. It’s not unlike how Roderick would do it, but there’s a feeling of reverence in his Josua’s hands distinct from the affection (and lust) in her Brujah lover’s. It’s a feeling of profound regard, like he’s getting to handle a holy relic, and getting a huge boner from doing so. His fangs brush against her cheek, letting her feel their sharpness and the softness of his lips, but stopping just short of drawing blood.

“Maybe we could sneak me in as a girl… Marcel likes to have me dress as one, sometimes… we prefer me as a man, but I make a very pretty girl, too…”

Celia: No wonder his count is as high as it is if this is how he treats all his lovers. She’d positively swoon if she were physically capable of doing so.

“I’m a magician with a makeup brush,” she tells him, “though if you ever really want to be a girl…” She trails off, her eyes raking his body. “I’m sure I could make it happen for a night. Ask nicely and I might even let you raid my closet.”

GM: “Oh, yes please, mistress,” he purrs, pulling Jade close and pressing her breasts against his chest. He closes his eyes for a moment, seeming to bask in the sensation of their physical proximity. He breathes his next words in to Jade’s ear like he’s sharing an intimate secret, his tongue lapping against her earlobe. “But I would never raid your closet. I would supplicate myself before you. I would pray that I was worthy of the honor and privilege of wearing clothes that had once touched the godhead, the divine feminine. I would tell you I felt as if I was carrying part of you with me, when I wore your clothes. I would tell you I felt safe and comforted to have some piece of you, not adorning me, but exalting me. I would approach your closet as though it were a temple and pray to receive of its blessings.”

Celia: Oh yes. She can definitely get used to this.

A shiver travels down her spine at the words, eyes widening when she lifts her head to look up at him once more. The very tips of her fangs peek out from behind her lips, though she keeps them to herself for now.

“Careful, pet,” she warns him, voice thick, “or I’ll steal you away from him and keep you for myself, and you’ll never get up off your knees again.”

GM: “But what if I don’t want to get off my knees,” he murmurs, sinking down to them. He presses his face against Jade’s crotch, like a child at its mother’s breasts, and hugs his arms around her legs.

“There’s no place I’d rather be than a woman’s knees. Than your knees. I love a woman’s knees. I love everything about women. There’s so much to love about women. I love the richness and fullness to their hair, how I can just run my hands through it forever. I love women with long hair. I love the softness and curvaceousness to their faces. I love how puberty doesn’t make them hard, how every woman still has a little girl’s face, how every woman is still a child at heart. I love the firmness and softness to their breasts, and how they nourish innocent young life with those perky, milky orbs. I love to suck on women’s breasts, but I didn’t with Lani, you know, because she didn’t feel aware she had breasts, innocent child that she was. I love the supple curves to women’s bodies, how symmetrical they are. I love how just the outline of a woman’s form is a work of art in of itself. I love the delicate, mincing steps women take in heeled shoes, how it makes their hips delightfully sway back and forth. I love the softness to their smooth, hairless legs. I could run my hands along a woman’s legs forever. I love the rosiness to their cheeks and lips. I love the wide, trusting nature of their eyes. I love the dainty smallness of their hands.”

Josua isn’t still as he talks. His hands lovingly caress up and down her legs the entire time. He plants tender kisses along her thighs, then her knees, working steadily downwards to her feet.

“I love women. I love fucking women, and I love admiring women. I love everything about women. That’s why what you do is so important, Jade. Because women aren’t beautiful on their own. Being a woman, really being a woman, is an art. It takes work and pain and dedication. Women must suffer to be women. They must bleed. They must know pain.”

“Art demands no less.”

He plants a loving kiss on Jade’s right foot. A blissful shudder runs through his body as he closes his eyes, then rubs his cheek against her foot as though to ‘seal in’ the kiss.

“And you… are an artist.”

Celia: It’s the sort of speech that makes a woman lose herself. The sort of thing that makes her eyes shine, her breath catch, her toes curl. His words do more for her than the clumsy, fumbling movements of so many men who try and fail to replicate what he says without thinking, and the touch on her legs, the kiss on her foot, the pure adoration that he lavishes upon her…

She breathes it in. Breathes it in with long, shaking breaths that she doesn’t need, but she doesn’t care because that, too, is art; looking human is art, breathing and forcing her heart to beat and letting her body react the way it wants to is art, art that she created through blood and time and tears because being a woman is art and she is its master.

Jade uses the foot he’d kissed to nudge him aside, putting him onto his back with his belly and throat exposed like the submissive toy that he is. She traces the tips of her fangs with her tongue, then drops. Her thighs spread to either side of his waist, dress hiked up around her hips to give her the freedom of movement. Her knees hit the floor hard, hands flashing out to catch his wrists and pin them above his head.

“Trouble,” she tells him, nipping once more at his throat, “you’re trouble, with a tongue like that.” She aches to break his skin, to sink her teeth in, but she holds off.

GM: “Oh, yes… I’m in so much trouble with you, mistress…” Josua purrs, his eyes lighting up as she spreads her thighs around him. He doesn’t fight her grip, but he wriggles his hips, grinding his crotch against hers. He pushes up and down from the floor as though trying to reach heaven. He mouths her breasts through the fabric of her dress, running his tongue across them in clockwise motions even as he contently suckles at the covered nipples. It’s a curious sensation, to receive such pleasure through a cloth barrier, but it’s far from unpleasant.

“You’re….” Josua murmurs, “a calamity, if I’m trouble… an apocalypse… I’m in completely over my head… what have I gotten myself into… once Jade is on the scene, all bets are off… all will be as the goddess wills, and mere man can never know her will…”

Celia: Less curious than he might think; she’s always been a sucker for teasing over the clothes before finally tearing them off, and her Embrace had only heightened those senses. She makes a sound deep in her throat, eyes closing when his hips move upward to rub against her. She presses down, not evening pretending anymore that this hasn’t turned into round two, that she isn’t slick and ready to go again. Even her Beast is ready to pounce and tear into this delectable young thing beneath her.

“Insatiable,” she murmurs, shifting to hold his wrists with one hand—it’s a loose grip at best—so she can drag her nails down his chest. “But you’re right,” she breathes into his ear, “that you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into; I’m going to leave you wanting and begging and panting for more, and all you’re going to think about these next few nights is how badly you want me to come back and finish what I started.”

Her lips press against the underside of his jaw, just over the pulse point on a mortal, and the tips of her fangs drag against his skin. Then she’s gone, pulling up and off of him, rising to her feet in a fluid motion and peering down at him with eyes that smolder in their intensity.

GM: “Oh, yes… I don’t know, mistress… I thought I saw you, with Lani, but you’re her wicked twin sister…” Josua murmurs. He rises, but not to his feet. He wraps his arm around Jade’s leg and presses his cheek against the skin, rapturously, like a freezing man clinging to a vertical space heater, or an ecstatic Indian to a sacred totem.

“There are so many sides to you… just when I think I have you figured out, you show me I don’t know anything… you’re an eternal mystery, try though I might to understand you… man cannot understand the goddess, only try to please her…”

Josua smoothly slides down from her thigh to her foot in a bowing-look motion. His hands to start to caress the sides of her shoe as he kisses its front, then licks the underside to polish it clean.

“You do torture me, mistress, and it hurts so bad, to be deprived of your touch… but it’s a privilege to be tortured by you… to know that my pain pleases the goddess, and that she sees fit to listen to my begging… it’s enough to help me through my pain, but to leave me on the brink of madness, wanting more, wanting so much more… but my wants don’t matter, only her pleasure…”

He fits the heel of Jade’s shoe into his mouth and begins to rapturously suck it, like he would a man’s cock. His lips move up and down the heel as his tongue laps across each side. He makes the same noises he would with a cock, too. Slowly savored “mmm… mmm…” ones in between each suck and inhalation. His eyes close contently.

Celia: She leaves him to it for a moment, amused by the sight of him on his knees in front of her, aroused by the way he clearly worships the entirety of her being. Were it any other night she might even keep him there; her mind runs wild with the fantasy of putting him on a leash, making him crawl after her, turning him into her very own pet.

But it isn’t any other night, and she does, unfortunately, have places to be and people decidedly less attractive to speak to, and despite his assurance that Marcel doesn’t mind sharing or guests she still doesn’t want to be caught where she shouldn’t be. Nothing like being forced to explain why she got caught trespassing to kill her boner. They’re not even in his room, she can’t help but note, but still outside of it where anyone could walk by.

She moves her foot, removing it from his mouth and settling the sole of it against his chest. Another nudge lays him out once more, denying him the satisfaction of touching her.

“Enough.”

GM: He quavers underneath her foot, but simultaneously presses his chest against the shoe, as though it’s his last and only chance to get as close to her as possible. He loves the sensation of her sole, that much is plain.

“Yes, mistress,” he whimpers.

Celia: “Show me what you created. Your painting. The art. Show me me.” She turns, pulling her foot off of him, and strides toward the door. A snap of her fingers summons him after her.

GM: He swiftly rises behind her. “Yes, mistress. Right away.”

They walk back into the cabin. Josua turns the easel so that she can see.

It’s her.

The painting depicts her lying back-down on the bed, her arms spread. Josua hasn’t painted the handcuffs, but it’s a vulnerable and exposed-feeling position. She’s lying right there for the viewer to claim, everything from head to her belly. She’s a helpless prize to be won. There’s a rosy hue to her cheeks and the tips of her breasts that feels simultaneously innocent and suggestive. Indeed, the whole piece feels that way. One could appreciate it for its aesthetic merits or masturbate to it as pornography. An appreciative enough viewer might even be able to do both. Jade feels like Josua could do both.

But the crown jewel is the smile.

Everything shines through in that smile. Part of her looks happy. Her eyes glow with happiness. She looks eager to please, too. Her expression makes Jade think of all those times people told Celia to smile, and how Emily says it’s sexist. But the girl in the portrait smiles anyway. Part of it does feel a little sexist, the weight of patriarchy bearing down on her slim shoulders, and she can’t do other than go along. But she also feels like she’s smiling because it’s her. Really and truly her. It’s an innocent smile, fragile and broken. It lights up the world and shows all of its cracks. Jade can see the pain in the girl’s eyes. It’s a soft pain, long accustomed, that she meekly accepts as part of herself, yet perhaps yearns to break of and knows she can’t, because it’s not her place. She shares it all with the viewer. She’s smiling directly at them, sharing something innocent and fragile and trusting. She trusts you with her true self, in all its innocent fragility. The smile is just for you.

Trust. That’s a big part of what shines through. Jade may think back to Josua saying she couldn’t talk. She didn’t need to talk. She could place her trust entirely in another person’s hands. It makes her think of subspace, that state of mind Alana sometimes gets into. The ghoul becomes completely pliant and willing, aglow with pleasure at letting someone else totally control her and make all the decisions, because that person loves her enough to make all the right ones. It’s a position of total trust. The girl in the portrait doesn’t look fully in subspace; there’s no lust in the smile. But she looks like she’s familiar with what subspace is.

It looks like the kind of smile a girl would show her daddy. Or her lover. It’s the kind of smile that doesn’t exist between sisters, or between mothers and daughters. It makes Celia think about her family. Emily, who always will be her equal and peer. Diana, who’s brimming with affection, but who’s never been the one to protect and keep her safe. This smile is the look a girl reserves for her daddy. A dominant man who can make her his little princess. The pictures makes Jade wonder what life would have been like with Maxen as her loving father. In that smile, she sees a mirrored longing. A girl who’s close enough to see the daddy she’s always wanted, but too far away to touch. He’s missing from the picture. There’s just her.

A beautiful girl with a beautiful smile.

Celia: She takes a breath.

And then another.

Useless, those breaths. They do nothing to stem the tide of emotion that threatens to take her in its grasp and strangle her. The corners of her eyes burn as she stares, silently, upon what Josua has created.

Her.

It’s her.

Every empty, aching, twisted part of her resides within that smile. Every word that has ever been flung her way, every negative thought, every everything that makes her her. Not Jade, not Leilani, not Star or Lily or Violet, not the whore or the sinner or the bitch, not the harpy’s slut or the sheriff’s childe or Savoy’s pet neonate or Roderick’s girlfriend or Alana’s mistress.

Just her. Just Celia.

The girl without a dad who desperately wants one. The girl with four paternal figures who are too busy or too distant or too important to want to have anything to do with her.

It’s beautiful. And it’s devastating. And for long moments she can only stare at herself, at this fractured, fragile thing in front of her, at her complete and utter willingness to trust in someone else to take care of everything, and wonder where it all went wrong.

Canvas is not her medium. She can’t speak to brush strokes and dimension and proportions, can’t judge the color or the composition. She doesn’t try. She only stares, and wonders, and feels.

She doesn’t know when she took his hand, only that she reached for something to anchor her and there he was, and her fingers feel small in his grip and maybe that’s okay, maybe that’s what she needs right now, maybe just for tonight the mask slips and she’s not Jade anymore, she’s not Leilani, she’s just Celia.

A beautiful girl with a beautiful smile.

At last, she finds her voice.

“It’s me.” Quiet words, hardly louder than a breath of air. Her tongue flicks across her lips.

“It’s me,” she says again. She turns to face him, cheeks stained red. She points, as if she needs to, as if there is anything else she could speak of.

“It’s me.”

It’s truth. It’s beauty. It’s both. There’s no need to decide between the pair with each at home on the canvas.

GM: Josua squeezes her hand and guides her to a seat on the bed, pulling her up against him, back to his chest as they sit and look at the painting’s smiling sibject. His hands slowly work and caress her shoulders.

“It’s you,” he echoes.

“Art doesn’t lie.”

Celia: It can lie. Makeup lies. It makes the ugly look beautiful, the old look young, the barely adequate divine. It can change the shape of the face or hide deformities, smooth uneven complexions and whittle away too-broad surfaces.

But this doesn’t lie. This portrait, her, it doesn’t lie.

She nestles against him, eyes drawn back to the work of art. She can’t look away, even as his fingers work her flesh, even as her muscles tense, hold, and finally release beneath the pressure.

GM: “Where are you going to keep it?” he asks, continuing to attentively knead her shoulders. He’s no professional like she is, but the sentiment is there.

Celia: Her haven, she thinks, but she doesn’t know how she’ll explain it to her partner, or what his reaction will be if she tells him that she sat for it. Even without the sex, posing nude is… well, he’s not an artist, he doesn’t understand.

“I don’t know,” she admits.

With the dolls, maybe, the other little pieces of her soul, but this… this deserves a prominent location. Private, but prominent.

GM: “You could give it to someone else, too. But it’s a very intimate look at you.”

Celia: She can only think of one person she’d let see her like this. Even so, if he were ever to lose control of his rage and destroy it… well, she thinks she’d have to destroy him, then. She shakes her head.

“I don’t want to share it. I want to keep it. To… remind me.”

GM: “Hmm. Maybe there’s a lot to remind yourself about. Lani is so submissive. Not at all like Jade.”

Celia: “No,” she agrees. “But that isn’t Lani. Or Jade.”

GM: “You’re right. She is different. It all comes out on the canvas.”

“It’s interesting how we take new names.”

“I almost wish I had, before everyone knew who I was.”

“Everyone loves having a mystery. Being a mystery.”

Celia: “There’s beauty in honesty. In not losing sight of who you were, who you are.”

“That’s more important than we like to give credit.”

GM: “True. But we’re not who we once were, either. New names reflect that.”

“Maybe they’re more honest, in their own way.”

“Or maybe there’s a lie either way.”

Celia: “There’s a line about names and roses from Shakespeare.” Jade lifts a shoulder. “Sometimes the masks get heavy, too.”

GM: “We can take off masks.” He looks thoughtful. “Maybe. There is that quote, too, about masks ceasing to be masks.”

Celia: “Can you take off the mask? I haven’t been honest with anyone since the night I died.” She nods toward the painting. “That’s the most real thing I’ve seen in a long time.”

GM: “I think you can. It’s just a question of how much it’ll hurt, isn’t it?”

“There is hurt in her eyes.”

“Hurt and a lot of other things.”

“Either way, if you’re going to disguise me as a girl, I should take a new name anyway. There’s something fun about slipping on new masks. It’s why we played dress-up as kids. Getting to decide who we are.”

Celia: She accepts the change of subject with something that might be a sad smile. Turned away from him like she is, she doesn’t think he sees, and her shot at raw honesty fades into the night.

“What name would you pick for your feminine self?”

GM: “I think we should wait until we see how she looks.”

Celia: “She’ll be beautiful,” Jade tells him, “like you are. But we can wait and see.”

GM: “I know she will, in your hands. There’s something pure in that, in beauty. It can hide things, but beauty is always honest about itself.”

“I think you’ve probably been more honest than you give yourself credit for.”

“Jade and Lani are both honest. They’re both beautiful.”

Celia: What does that make Celia?

GM: “The world is worse if there’s just one of them. Instead of me sucking your heels, and you sucking my dick, there’d have to be just one of those.”

Celia: “Perish the thought. I wouldn’t deprive the world that way.”

GM: “Which one would you take? Are you a top or a bottom, or does the truth depend on the mask?”

Celia: “I’m a switch. I change to be what’s needed.”

GM: “I think I’m a bottom at heart. But I can switch.”

Celia: “Sometimes it’s nice to give up control.”

GM: “It’s an expression of trust. If someone can hurt you and they don’t.”

Celia: Jade twists in his arms, lifting her face to look up at him.

“Does he?”

GM: Josua grins. “Only in fun ways. So I guess not really.”

“Everyone says Ventrue have sticks up their asses, but he’s very laid back.”

“He’s helping me when he doesn’t have to.”

Celia: “Everyone has a reason they do things, even if they’re not readily apparent.” She pauses just long enough. “Personally I think it’s because you’re adorable.”

GM: He gives a velvety laugh. “Of course. My good looks.”

“They got me almost everywhere in life, I guess the Requiem shouldn’t be any different.”

Celia: “You don’t sound very enthused about that idea.”

GM: He pauses. “I wonder, sometimes, if they’re why my sire turned me.”

“Maybe I’d be happier if I’d been just a little less handsome.”

He smiles. “But not too much less. Only a little.”

Celia: “One of those famous writers once said that the most important days of our lives are the day we were born and the day we find out why. I think the same can be said of anyone who was turned without a choice.”

GM: “She turned me and just… disappeared. I still have no idea why.”

Celia: “You could let it consume you, let that question turn you into a bitter shrew. Obsess over it. Wonder why you were abandoned, why she didn’t stick around, wonder if it’s because you somehow didn’t measure up, like you weren’t good enough, like it’s acceptable to just pull someone from their life and ruin it and ditch them, like maybe you were a mistake all along, or a moment of passion that turned into regret.”

“And that’s fine. Plenty of licks do that. Plenty of people, too.”

“Or…” She turns fully, perched on his lap once more, knees bent with her arms around his neck. “You can accept that sometimes… sometimes there isn’t a grand plan. Sometimes things don’t happen for a reason. Sometimes you get a shitty sire and someone else cares enough about you to take you in.”

GM: “You are right there,” he grants. “I could’ve been Embraced as a thin-blood. Or been found by a thin-blood.”

Celia: “My breather family,” she says at length. “My sister was adopted. Her bio mom didn’t care enough about her to lay off the bottle, and she had a rough go of it. Bounced around foster care. We met and hit it off, and my mom brought her into the family, and they’ve been happy. No blood binds them, but they’ve got a better relationship than most people I knew.”

GM: “That’s a happy ending for them both.”

“Is she hot?”

“Your sister and all.”

Celia: “Oooh, yeah, not gonna happen.”

GM: “Ah, well. You’re hotter anyways, I bet.”

Celia: “I am.”

GM: “She must be happy, though. My dad was a douchebag too. For a long time, all I wanted was to fill that hole. Not many people get to.”

Celia: Jade makes a sound that might be choked laughter.

“Yeah,” she says, “I know that feeling.”

GM: “Douche dad too?”

Celia: “Abusive.”

GM: “That’s just a travesty. Like defacing the Sistine Chapel.”

Celia: It almost comes out then. The whole story about dinner, the apology, wanting to make amends.

But that’s a truth she isn’t ready to talk about, and it’s not just her unlife on the line.

“Yours too, sounds like.”

GM: “He wasn’t abusive. He just walked out and never paid child support.”

“One of my sisters still has some serious self-esteem and abandonment issues from it.”

Celia: “Sometimes it’s easier to cut someone out when you realize they’re toxic than coping with their absence.”

GM: “Easier said than done for a lot of people.”

“But this is getting glum.”

Celia: “What, you’re not turned on by emotional pain?”

She tsks at him.

GM: He laughs. “I’ve seen some weird fetishes, but never that one.”

“But you have a beautiful man with his arms around you. I have a beautiful woman on my lap.” He plants a kiss against her neck.

Celia: “Oh, no, no,” she murmurs, shaking her head. “I know how this goes. You tell me how pretty I am, I let you seduce me, we fuck again, I miss the rest of the party I’m supposed to be at…” She makes no move to get off his lap despite her protests.

GM: His hands start to massage her breasts as he plants kisses along her cheek.

“The party is wherever you are.”

Celia: Oh.

Well.

That’s certainly true.

GM: “It’s their fault if they didn’t get the memo where it was at.”

Celia: “How selfish of me to deny them my presence.”

“But logistically,” she murmurs, arching her back to lean into his touch, “they wouldn’t all fit in your room, and even if I were inclined to skip it and take you again, there’s the issue that I’d lose all control and rip your pretty throat out, and then you’d never let me turn you into a girl so we can tag-team Marcel.”

“And that, Josua, would be a travesty.”

GM: “I suppose you’re right,” he says wistfully. “When do you want to do that?”

Celia: “Mmm… sometime this week? I can make myself available.” She offers Tuesday or Wednesday.

GM: “Hmm, Wednesday’s better,” says Josua. “I’ll check things with Marcel.”

Celia: “Let me know. In the meantime, I don’t suppose I could talk you into smuggling me out of here and giving me a lift back to the Quarter?”

GM: Josua laughs. “You wouldn’t rather stay for round two? Are you sure?”

Celia: “I’d like to. I’d really, really like to.”

GM: “I know you would. You’re a switch. You’ve only seen half of all I can be…”

Celia: “Hard to say no when you put things like that…” Her fingers slide through his, halting the movement of the hands on her body before the rest of her self-control can slip away. Even if she didn’t have to go she couldn’t stay, not when it means poaching to avoid a bigger mess. Another twist and her lips find the corner of his mouth. “But I need to go. We’ll save it for next time when I turn you into my pretty little girl. Come, though, be a good boy and I might even let you worship me on the way back.”

GM: Josua sinks rapturously into the kiss, his tongue hungrily seeking out hers.

“Oh, but it’ll be a whole new way for us to fuck once I’m a girl… a whole new way of worshiping you… there are so many ways you can be worshiped, mistress, and so many you deserve to be worshiped… none of them enough… but mere men must try…”

He doesn’t try to remove his hands from Celia’s, but lowers them and casually hikes up the hem of her dress.

“Tonight we can still do it without protection… there’s only two nights we can do that… let me show you something, mistress, I think you’ll like it…”

Still holding Celia’s hands, as though because she hasn’t given him permission to let go, Josua bows his head and nimbly snakes it under her dress. He starts to lick her in her sweetest spot, just like Roderick does. But Roderick never did it with such an air of pure pleasure, pure joy, from pleasuring her.

Then, also unlike Roderick, Josua sinks his fangs into the flesh just above her clit. Celia feels the ecstasy of the kiss take immediate hold, shuddering up her loins like an electric current as her clanmate sucks her blood. His tongue simultaneously laps around her little nub in long, soft, counterlockwise circles. Pleasing the Man (the Woman) and the Beast at once.

He finally lets go of her hands. His fingers slowly and softly find their way towards her g-spot, then stroke it in steady rhythmic motions.

Celia: Words themselves lose all meaning. Thoughts dissolve into fragmented snippets of sensation: falling, drowning, and an overwhelming ember that starts a fire in her core. It burns. She burns. “Stah—” she thinks she might say, but without the pop of her lips to form the P it’s just more noise percolating through the atmosphere. Currents of electricity buzz through her body. Her back arches, the girl made marionette through tongue and teeth and fingertip.

Her protest dies before it has a chance to live. She succumbs.

GM: Josua brings her over the edge. She’s not even sure how many times he does so; it all blurs together under the ceaseless ecstasy of the kiss, gasm after gasm that turn her thighs to jelly. At some point he switches positions, 69ing with her so that she can suck the blood he’s taken back out of his (erect) cock. The fire in her core burns and burns and consumes him too, until they’re both guttered out and smoldering in one another’s arms.

“Bet they wouldn’t have worshiped you at that silly party,” Josua purrs, his tongue idly tracing a path across her labia.

The clock, however, tells another story. If she doesn’t hurry, the party may be almost over.

Celia: The mention of the party is enough to clear the fog from her mind. She sits up suddenly, breath hissing from between her teeth. Josua finds himself quickly displaced when she rises to her feet.

“Shit,” she says, pulling her dress down.

“Shit, shit, shit,” she says, reaching for her purse.

“Shit,” she says, glaring at the door where beyond waits guards and licks and ghouls and who knows what else that will try to keep her from making it back in time to do… anything.

“Come on,” she says to him, reaching for his hand. “Show me the way out.”

GM: There’s also the window, if she cares to take a swim.

Celia: She has wings, she doesn’t need to swim.

GM: “That’s not usually what a partner likes to hear after sex,” Josua replies amusedly, but pulls on his pants. “All right, though. Follow me.”

Celia: Unless he’s going to take her all the way to the border… maybe the window is the better bet. She eyes it. Then asks.

GM: “We don’t really keep any cars on board here, but I can hail a Ryde to take you to your party.”

Celia: “No,” she says finally, “we’ll pretend we’re in high school, only the roles are reversed.” Jade crosses to the window and shoves it open. “Keep my painting safe for me. I’ll be back to collect it.”

She takes a step back, then launches herself through the open window. Her body twists and she disappears with a flap of wings.

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Celia IV, Chapter XIII
Playing With Fire

“This is a risk. A risk that will have terrible, terrible consequences for our family if you are wrong."
Emily Rosure


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: It’s a short drive back to Flawless, and perhaps too short for the thoughts swirling in Celia’s head. Alana tells her that a girl named Danielle Garrison has come by, saying that Celia wanted to meet her here. She’s in the Tranquility Room.

Celia: The brief drive leaves her no time to dissect the thoughts racing through her mind. She barely has a plan in how to deal with them, though she knows some meditation will be in order later this evening with Princess, Blossom, and Lucy if she gets a free moment…

Ah, but Lucy is with Elyse, she recalls. Ready, or soon to be ready, to be picked up. Perhaps just the other two, then? Three minds are better than one, aren’t they, and Princess might have some valuable insight to share. This area is her specialty.

Celia stops on her way to the Tranquility Room to briefly discuss things with Alana.

“What I’m about to tell you goes no further than us, you understand?”

GM: At this hour, the spa is mostly closed down for the night. Piper has already left to hit up the bars. Landen doesn’t have any six-year-olds to do the nails of, this time, so they’re off too, as are most of the other girls. Perhaps Celia can ask Madison about Reagan’s makeup later.

Alana nods. “Of course, mistress. You decide what I get to tell people.”

Celia: Saturday evenings are not so busy as their mornings and afternoons. She’s usually the only one here after six, though sometimes she runs into Natalia or Louise working on inventory or counting down the drawer. Less so the former than the latter; Natalia still has school to keep her busy, and she’s that age where Saturday nights mean parties and boys.

“There is a longer conversation you and I will have once things settle. Privately. I have plans and dreams for you, Alana, but I would not sandwich what I think will ultimately be a very enjoyable evening telling you about them between what I must do tonight.” Celia reaches out, tucking a strand of hair behind Alana’s ear.

GM: “I can’t wait, mistress,” the ghoul beams under Celia’s touch.

Celia: “The girl who said she’s meeting with me. Did you notice anything different about her?”

GM: She shakes her head. “She seemed like she had something on her mind, though.”

Celia: “She does. She is newly Embraced. I hope to find out more about the nuances of what she has become this evening, and I would like you to assist me.”

GM: “She’s already good at blending in. She’s been drinking the tea.”

“But of course, mistress. Whatever you’d like me to do.”

Celia: So she does eat food. Interesting.

Celia takes Alana’s hand in hers.

“She doesn’t know about Jade. That remains between us. As does what I do with my clients, the sculpting. But there are other things…”

There’s no delicate way to put this. She already trusts Alana with the flesh work, the dual identities, knowing about her mortal family.

“Are you familiar with the duskborn?”

GM: The ghoul nods at Celia’s first instruction, then shakes her head. “Not really, mistress. Just that the Quarter has a lot of them, in the worse areas, and they’re pathetic half-vampires.”

Celia: She had expected as much. Not even true vampires know much about them.

“Miss Garrison is duskborn.”

GM: Alana makes an expression of distaste.

Celia: “I knew her in life, before my Embrace.”

GM: “Should Randy throw her out, mistress?”

Celia: Celia’s lips twitch in an aborted smile.

“No, ‘Lana. I’ve taken her in for now.”

“Her brother once did me a great kindness. I plan to return the favor to his sister.”

GM: “All right, mistress. But they’re supposed to be nothing but trouble. That’s what the ghouls I talk to say, who have domitors in worse territories.”

Celia: “They’re products of their environment. Treated poorly by the powers that be. Like any marginalized group, they chafe at this treatment. But becoming a Kindred doesn’t change who you are inside, and Miss Garrison, I believe, will bring a certain light to this world that many desperately need.” Just like her brother.

There’s a brief pause.

“She’s also important to someone I care deeply for, as well as myself, and her safety is the utmost concern. I don’t expect you to wait on her, but I do expect civility.”

GM: Alana inclines her head. “Okay, mistress. Whatever you want her to have, she’ll have.”

Celia: “I knew I could count on you, ’Lana.” Celia gives the ghoul a smile. “Come, let’s get you two introduced.”

She keeps a hold of Alana’s hand on the way into the room to find Dani.

GM: She finds the thin-blood in the Tranquility Room wearing a robe and sipping tea as she scrolls through her phone.

Celia: She doesn’t stare at the tea. But she looks at it, wondering at the answer to her questions.

“Hey, Dani,” she says finally, “thanks for coming over. I have someone I’d like you to meet. This is Alana. Alana, this is Miss Garrison.”

GM: Dani looks up and smiles at Celia’s voice. “Oh, it’s no big! I was glad just to get out. And we met when I came in, actually.”

Celia: “Perfect.” Celia takes a seat beside her, gesturing for Alana to do the same. “How was your day?”

GM: The ghoul sits down.

“It was good. Pretty uneventful. I spent a lot of time on my phone or watching movies. Also studying for school. I have classes and work on Monday.”

Celia: “Where do you work? And what times are your classes and work?”

GM: “I’m a clerk for Judge Boner, at the Criminal District Court. It’s mainly thanks to my dad that I have it, ha.”

She provides her school and work schedule. It’s during the day, unsurprisingly.

Celia: “And you don’t burn. At all. Even with prolonged exposure?”

GM: Dani glances at Alana.

“She knows…?”

Celia: Celia nods in approval.

“Yes. Alana is my ghoul. Renfield.” They’d discussed them last night, but Celia is pleased that Dani had at least wanted to make sure that Alana was in on the secret before answering.

GM: “Okay. It’s nice to meet you for real.”

“Oh, it’s my pleasure, Miss Garrison,” says the ghoul.

“I don’t, anyways. I tested it for a while. I don’t like how it feels, but it’s not like I can reschedule school and work to after dark.”

Celia: “No,” Celia says with a small smile, “of course not. The job with Judge Boner; do you meet him at the courts or elsewhere? I need an exact part of the city.”

GM: “I meet him at the courthouse. It’s at 2700 Tulane Avenue.” That’s in Mid-City.

Celia: Celia pinches the bridge of her nose in a gesture that is decidedly human.

“Mid-City was the sight of a slaughter a number of years ago. The people in charge of it rounded up everyone like you, brought them together under false pretenses, and sicced the sheriff, his hounds, and a dozen other licks on them.”

GM: “Oh.”

Celia: “They still make runs through there regularly. And kill everyone they find.”

GM: “But during the day…?”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do. Problem is you smell like a ghoul. If you run into anyone who can pick up on that they’ll bring you in to find out whose you are. If they find out you’re Duskborn, you’re as good as dead.”

“And, frankly, I don’t trust them enough to keep their word if they grant safe passage.”

GM: “But will I run into anyone who can smell me during the day? I can’t just drop my job.”

Celia: “It’s a risk, honestly. I’d feel safer about it if you got another job.”

GM: “Well, why is it a risk? There’s… renfields during the day, but not the sheriff or vampires. I really need this job! My grades and resume aren’t as good as Stephen’s…”

Celia: “Because if their renfields are looking out for you then they’ll bring you in, too. People patrol the borders.”

GM: “I could sneak in. They can’t just keep everyone out.”

Celia: “It’s like shoplifting, Dani. You might get away with it once. But keep doing it and the chances of getting caught go up.”

“Let me think about this. We’ll figure it out, okay?”

“I have some ideas, but I need some time to figure them out, and I need to talk to a few people. Being able to walk around during the day is safer, but it’s not foolproof.”

GM: “Okay, please, let’s figure it out. I really can’t lose this job! My dad’s the only reason I have it. I can’t just stop going in to work, either, I’d need to give notice.”

“And I have to keep going to school, too. Law school has attendance requirements thanks to that fratire author.”

Celia: “I know, Dani. But I can get you another job. I can’t get you another life.”

GM: “I know. But in law, though?”

Celia: “I know some people.”

“There are a few other things I need to know about what you can do. It’ll help us figure out how to get around this for now.” Celia nods toward the tea. “Do you have any trouble swallowing that or keeping it down?”

GM: “Okay. But I think we need to figure this out pretty soon. School and work are on Monday, like I said. I can miss some class and take sick time at work, but I can’t do that forever.”

“And no, it’s good tea.”

Celia: “Good to hear that. Do you still need to use the bathroom?”

GM: “Uh, sort of? I don’t need to as often, and my poop looks like whatever I was eating.”

“It’s not even really poop. It looks like something between chewed-up food and vomit. It doesn’t even smell.”

Celia: “Huh. Sorry for the weird question. We don’t actually eat. Anything I eat I need to throw back up afterward.”

GM: “That must suck. Like permanent bulimia.”

Celia: “Worse. Food doesn’t even taste good.”

“That’s good for you, though. Easier to blend in.”

GM: “Oh, how does it taste?”

Celia: “Like, ah, ash and shit and garbage sludge.”

GM: “Seriously? You can’t eat?”

Dani looks taken aback.

“That’s awful. I’m so sorry. Food and blood are basically the only things I’ve enjoyed this past week.”

Celia: “Yeah. I miss my mom’s cooking, to be honest.” Sometimes. “What about sex?”

GM: “I haven’t really been thinking about sex lately,” Dani says slowly.

Celia: “Right,” Celia says with a wince. “Most of us can’t enjoy that either. I’m trying to figure out where you fall on the spectrum. We can fake it pretty good, but actual sex is kind of pointless to most.”

“That being said, I brought Alana in so we can try a few things.”

“Not sex,” she adds after a second.

GM: Dani tenses at first, then relaxes.

“All of that sounds so awful. It’s no wonder other vampires are jealous of duskborn. All the benefits and none of the drawbacks, besides racism.”

Celia: Celia gives that a nod, even though she doesn’t quite agree. Unless her theory turns out to be wrong.

“They hate anything different,” is all she says.

“So normally when we feed it feels really, really good to the vessel. It kind of fogs their memories a little bit too, which helps preserve the Masquerade. What I’m about to ask you to do is normally… uh, honestly just don’t do it outside of this situation. But I’d like to see what happens when you feed on Alana.”

GM: “Okay. If you’d be comfortable with that?” she asks Alana.

The ghoul smiles winsomely. “Of course. Like the mistress says, it feels very, very good.”

Dani gives the word ‘mistress’ a bit of a look, but doesn’t comment. “All right. Wrist or neck?”

“Wrist, please.” She extends her arm.

Dani sinks her fangs into it and drinks. Alana gives a little ‘happy noise’ and closes her eyes as color rises to her cheeks.

It’s a less enthusiastic noise than Celia usually gets, though.

Dani stops after a little while and looks at the ghoul. Alana has a glazed but not unhappy look to her eyes.

Celia: Celia watches, both to make sure that Dani doesn’t take too much or hurt Alana and to see the effect it has on her ghoul. Once Dani pulls away she tells her to lick the wound if she hasn’t and sees if it closes.

She sees the visible effect it has on Alana and remembers what it felt like when Dani fed on her, but she asks about the rest of it. The glazed memories, mostly.

GM: The puncture marks close under Dani’s tongue.

Celia: Perfect.

GM: Alana says that she “remembers thinking this was a good idea,” but can only recall the pair’s precise words after being pressed.

Celia: Celia beams at Dani.

“This is excellent. I was worried there’d be gaping holes and no fugue state.”

GM: “Okay, so that’s good news?” Dani smiles back.

Celia: “You still shouldn’t be feeding publicly because you could be seen, but it’s better than the alternative. Some of us have a painful bite, I’ve heard, which makes everything more difficult. I’d still try to disguise it as something else to be very careful, but this is good.”

“Now. The thing you did the other night. The fear. Try it again.”

GM: Dani pulls back her lips, showing her small fangs, and growls.

Alana doesn’t look terribly perturbed.

Celia: Celia nods again.

“Can you make her think she’s your best friend?”

GM: “How do I do that?”

Celia: “It’s an emotional pull. Like how you made the man afraid. You kind of just… will it to happen. Like you think about what you want to happen, ball it up inside of you, and then gently ease it around her. The emotional tools are things that are more subtle than other powers, so you don’t want to force it on her, but you want to kind of crook a finger at her and bring her to you. Like a skittish bunny that you really want to pick up.”

Celia gestures for her to look at Alana.

“Look at her. See how pretty she is? She runs a spa, she’s brilliant, she’s really good with makeup, she tastes great. You want her to want to be your friend, though. Close your eyes if it helps and picture it. Hold the thought in your mind: you want her to want you. Not sexually, but like the best girlfriend in the world. You want to drink mimosas and watch rom coms with her.”

“Feel for her. Mentally. Pretend there’s a line that connects the two of you and send those feelings across it. Picture it like a bubble enveloping her. A big friendship bubble.”

“Or a soft, warm blanket. Put it around her shoulders.”

GM: Alana fairly basks under the praise.

“Okay,” Dani nods at the description. “A bubble, a blanket. That’s a good way to visualize it. You’re a pretty good teacher.”

Celia: Celia smiles at the both of them.

“Thank you.”

GM: The thin-blood closes her eyes a moment, then stares at the ghoul with an invitingly familiar expression, the sort she’d flash to a girlfriend she shares mimosas and rom coms with.

Alana just smiles pleasantly back.

Celia: “Ask her something,” Celia tells Dani, “something personal that she wouldn’t share with a stranger.”

GM: “What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done?” Dani asks.

“Sorry,” says Alana.

Celia: Celia nods again. She lifts her wrist to her mouth and sinks her fangs into her own flesh, holding out the fare to Dani.

“Drink, and we’ll try again.”

GM: Dani leans to imbibe.

She drinks hungrily and doesn’t stop.

Celia: Celia pulls her wrist away.

GM: Dani watches it longingly for a moment.

“…sorry. You taste really good.”

Celia: Her smile is fainter than normal.

“I’ll manage,” she says to the apology. “I have a theory that you take on the abilities of those you feed from. Like Rogue from X-Men. I don’t know if it’s the predominant abilities or any ability, so… I think we’ll test both.”

Claws sprout from the tips of her fingers, long and sharp and beautiful. She holds them up to Dani.

“Try this. Imagine your nails are claws. Like a cat. Or Wolverine.”

“You’ve seen X-Men, right? Stephen introduced me. I assume you’ve seen it.”

GM: “Oh, wooow! Yes, I have. Those are so cool, and pretty!” Dani exclaims.

“Everything about the mistress is cool and pretty,” Alana remarks contently.

Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh.

“Thanks, ‘Lana. You try, Dani. See if you can make them happen. Like Wolverine. Just pretend you’re about to fight some bad guys and you left your knife in your other pants.”

GM: Dani holds up her fingers and concentrates. Nothing happens.

“Why can’t I?” she asks, frustrated.

Celia: “Not every lick learns every ability. The claws aren’t something most people in my clan know. It’s not rare, but it’s unusual. That’s also why we’re practicing, to find out what you can do, which might let us find out who did this to you. Each clan has their own gifts. Problem is not a lot is known about duskborn, but finding out what you can do will help others.”

GM: “Okay. That makes sense. But why isn’t there much known about duskborn?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Because of the policy of open genocide. Vampires can’t generally kill each other without getting into trouble. But in most cities they’re not considered vampires, so they just die by the dozen. It’s like… being an illegal immigrant. You kind of don’t exist. Or a slave before the Civil War.”

“Also I think they’re kind of a recent appearance. So a combination of things. Sorry to be blunt.”

GM: Dani doesn’t say anything for a moment. Just processes Celia’s words.

“I didn’t ask for this.”

Celia: “I know, Dani. I know. We’re going to make the best of it. I have some favors to call in to get some things done for you. And the Quarter is the best place for you while we get it settled. At least here you’ve got someone sharing domain with you, you know?”

GM: “I do. And I’m really thankful for that,” she says, sincerely. “What sorts of things and favors are you thinking? I don’t want to put you out…”

Celia: “A lot of them are pushed to the edges. The ghetto. And once you finish this semester there’s more flexibility in what we can do, I think. How much longer do you have left for school?”

“Don’t worry about the favors. I’ve got it covered. But if I need help with something I’ll let you know if you want.”

GM: “I still have this year, and next year,” Dani answers. “I’m in the 3+3 program that lets you start law school during your senior year in undergrad.”

“And, please, let me know. You’ve already done so much.”

Celia: “Your brother meant the world to me, and to my family. He was exactly what I needed exactly when I needed him, and he pulled me out of a hole so deep and dark I never thought I’d be free. And you, Dani, you should have been my sister. I can’t change the world, but I can make this little piece of it more bearable.”

“Family means a lot to me. My ghouls, they mean a lot to me too. You can ask Alana how others like her are treated. Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I need to be a monster. And it might take a while for you. I know my adjustment was difficult and I didn’t have the stigma of being duskborn. Their world moves slowly because they’re immortal. Progress and change take time. But I promise, Dani, we’ll get you to a place where you’re comfortable with who and what you are.”

“And hey,” she adds, “some of them look down on me because I still enjoy sex, so fuck ’em, you know?”

GM: Dani stares at Celia with shining eyes upon her declaration. Some of it has to be the bond, but no doubt much of it is real too, and the bond has but amplified those emotions.

“I’m sorry that didn’t get to happen, you marrying my brother,” she gets out. “But I’m really glad you found me, Celia. Just so glad. I don’t know where else I would’ve turned. I trust that you’re going to make things turn out as well as you can. And I know you don’t want me to repay you, but… I’d still like to do something for you back, now or in the future. Just name it.”

Celia: Celia takes her hand. She feels bad about the bond. She really does. But it’s for Dani’s own good, just like pushing her brother to let her stay was for his good. It has to be. She’s not a monster. She’d said that. That means it’s true, that she’s not a monster. She’s doing the best thing she can for their family.

“I’ve got you, Dani. You’re safe with me. Always.”

“Now, let’s try that bubble again.”


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: It takes a few tries, and some patient tutoring, but the bubble meets with some success. Dani manages to inflame Alana with adoration for Celia, prompting her to start hungrily kissing and fondling her domitor.

Celia: It’s an unusual reaction for the fact that it’s usual for Alana, less so that it came from Dani’s attempt to manipulate her. After she gently cools Alana’s ardor with a stray thought she returns her attention to Dani. She lets Alana stay on her lap, though, so long as she keeps her hands to herself.

She asks Dani what she did, what she was focusing on, so that she can better understand the ability that she had shown.

GM: Alana makes herself at home on that lap like there’s no place she’d rather be.

Dani says she “felt for what was there” and tried to give it a push. A blanket, like Celia said, but one Dani was picking up from the ghoul’s lap to drape around her shoulders.

Celia: Celia nods her head. It’s a good explanation of what she had just done as well, though she’d taken the blanket back off Alana and settled it on the ghoul’s lap instead. It’s a step in the right direction, and it tells her at least a little bit about Dani’s capabilities.

She tells her that the ability she’s using is called “star mode,” though Celia has always just referred to it as “charm,” and there are some who have more traditional names for it as well. Unfortunately Celia doesn’t know a lot of the other skills, so she might need to bring in someone else if Dani wants to find out what her capabilities are.

Celia, of course, has no idea how she’s going to explain this to anyone. “I’m running some experiments on thin-bloods, can I borrow your vitae?”

She offers to take a blood sample to her warlock friend, if Dani wants, to see if he can find anything out for her. Not that she thinks Pete will be much inclined to help a duskborn. She also kind of feels like she already owes him. But maybe.

GM: Dani is pleased to hear she’s making progress and asks what other things she could learn to do. Can she fly?

Dani thinks that Celia’s offer sounds like a good idea and draws a blood sample for her.

She also asks if she could be there. She’d like to meet some other vampires.

Celia: Flying, Celia tells her, is a very advanced skill. The only lick she knows who is capable of it has been around for over a hundred years. If Celia ever manages to learn it she promises Dani that she’ll bring her along for a ride.

Celia watches Dani draw the blood sample, wanting to know if she’s able to mend her flesh as easily as true-blooded vampires can.

There’s a pause while she considers the request. Generally duskborn only mingle with other duskborn. But if anyone would be open to meeting her it probably would be Pete, so Celia says she can ask him. She also wants Dani to meet a friend of hers, but she’s still working on a way to sneak him in. Bit of a Romeo and Juliet kind of thing, she jokes. The good news is they’re both already dead.

“By the way,” she asks, “did you get a hold of your father for dinner?”

GM: Dani’s eyebrows raise when Celia tells her that flying real. She’d love to come along for that ride.

Dani draws the blood by biting her wrist and licks it closed when she’s done.

Dani would very much like to meet Celia’s friend.

“I did,” she nods. “I told him there was a friend I really wanted him to meet, who knew Stephen, and who wanted to talk to him about Stephen. I didn’t say it was you. I wasn’t really sure how we’d explain how you, uh, only broke his heart because you were a vampire.”

Celia: “Probably for the best,” Celia admits. “I’m still working on a cover story for him.”

Celia: Celia nods. She asks Dani to excuse her rudeness for a minute and digs out her phone to call her mom.

GM: Her mother picks up promptly.

“Hi, sweetie! How was… your dinner?”

Celia: “It went well,” Celia tells her. “I’d like to tell you all about it. Are you going to be up for a bit? I have a client in…” Celia glances at the time, “soon, but it should only take an hour or so.”

GM: “Oh yes, definitely! It isn’t all that late, anyways.”

Celia: “Do you mind if I swing by after?”

GM: “Oh, that’d just make my night, sweetie! Please do!”

Her mother’s enthusiasm sounds as sincere as always. She loves having her daughter over. But it’s plain she wants to hear about that dinner with her ex, too.

Celia: Celia doesn’t blame her. All girls want to hear about their exes.

“Perfect. Hey, Mom… you remember Stephen, right? From college? I just ran into his little sister. And we got to talking about Stephen, and one thing led to another and… well, do you want to have dinner with her and her dad? With you and Emily and I?”

GM: “Oh, I definitely remember Stephen,” her mother says quietly. “That poor, poor family. I can’t even imagine what they must have gone through.”

“Yes, I’d love to have dinner with them. Over at our place?”

Celia: “If it’s not too much trouble. Maybe tomorrow or Monday?”

GM: “It isn’t, sweetie. Stephen did just so much for us. We wouldn’t even be in this house to have guests over for dinner, if he hadn’t put us in touch with Viv…”

“I’ll cook something extra special. But please let me know soon whether it’s going to be tomorrow or Monday, so I can know when to start cooking.”

“And so Emily can make plans.”

Celia: Celia considers her schedule. She doesn’t think she has anything pressing either night. And why not just go for it? The biggest hurdle is going to be clearing it with her grandsire, which she plans on taking care of tonight.

“Let’s do tomorrow, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Okay, tomorrow it is. You didn’t mention her with dinner, but Lucy’s obviously still going to be home.”

Celia: “What? How dare she. Send her to the movies, Ma.”

“Just kidding, that’ll be fine. I’ll see you in a bit, alright? Love you.”

GM: “Okay, we’ll talk soon. I love you too!”

Celia: Celia hangs up and looks back to Dani.

“Tomorrow it is.”

GM: Dani looks up from her own phone.

“Awesome. I heard something about someone not going to the movies?”

Celia: “My daughter.”

GM: Dani pauses. “Oh. That must be tough, to be a vampire and a mom.”

Celia: “My mother raises her.”

GM: “That makes sense.” She pauses again. “If vampires can’t have kids… you’d have gotten pregnant nine months before you broke up with Stephen…”

“Is he the father?”

Celia: Celia hesitates.

Lucy isn’t her secret. But it’s a good explanation, isn’t it? She’d told Stephen as much. That they could just tell Henry she’s Stephen’s child. And why not? What’s the harm? If Henry is as broken as Dani says he is, maybe he could use something beautiful in his life—

GM: Dani frowns. “Wait, no. He never said anything about you being pregnant.”

Celia: Her ruminations are cut off by Dani’s words.

“No,” Celia says.

“Lucy is not my child. Her mother was raped by a terrible person and didn’t want to abort her. I agreed to take her in, but… I died.”

“But to protect her mother, I’ve lied and said she’s mine.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani. “I’m sorry. But that was really, really kind of you.”

It’s just as well. Diana and Emily would probably look askance if Dani showed up full of excitement to meet her niece.

Celia: “A lot of people who knew me assume that Stephen is the father. We had a scare, once, but… well, I mean, I was Embraced shortly thereafter, so even if something had happened it died with me.”

“After Stephen died… I thought about… continuing the lie, you know, and introducing her to your father, but Stephen told me once that he’d rather have an ugly truth than a beautiful lie, and it wasn’t my place.”

GM: “Oh, I’m so sorry, Celia…” Dani repeats at Celia’s first words, squeezing her hand.

“And Stephen is right. Dad wouldn’t want to believe a beautiful lie.”

“I wouldn’t either. The law exists to maintain justice, and justice can’t exist without truth.”

Celia: “You sound just like him.”

GM: Dani gives a faint smile. “Same dad. Same family.”

Celia: “You’re good people, Dani. You and him and your dad.”

GM: “Thanks. My dad can seem stern or distant to a lot of people, especially since Stephen died, but he’s good underneath.”

Celia: “He warned me about that same thing, you know. Before I met you guys for dinner. I was so nervous I was going to say something stu—silly.”

GM: “I don’t think you did. He didn’t say anything later, either.”

“He has gotten harder and less outgoing since Stephen died, though. Like I said, part of him did too, after that. His son was just his everything.”

Celia: “I can’t imagine how hard losing a child is. There’s…” Celia forces the air from her lungs in a sigh. “A friend of mine asked if you’d be happier in another city, so you don’t have to hide what you are from him. And… ordinarily, you know, I’d have said yes. But I know how losing Stephen hurt your dad, and, Dani…” Celia reaches out, “I keep thinking about… what I’d say to him, you know, if you disappeared too, if you died…”

GM: Dani emphatically shakes her head. “Oh, no, I don’t want to leave!”

“I mean, he might rather have Stephen than me, but I’m still all he has left.”

“And all of my friends and people I know are in the city. I’d planned to go into law here.”

Celia: “That’s why I’m so uptight about everything with the territories. I know it’s awful of me, I’m sorry, I’m really not trying to fence you in.”

GM: “Could we… negotiate?”

Celia: “I’m going to try.”

“I can manage your school, I think. The person who runs the territory is a hardass, but I have something he wants, and I’m happy to trade it to him for you. It’s the Anarchs that run Mid-City that make me nervous.”

GM: “Could we just pay a toll? Because that’s what the Mafia and other organized crime groups do, sometimes. They let outsiders do business in their territory in return for a cut of the money.”

Celia: “Usually, yes. That’s what I’d do. It’s the fact that they’re the ones who claim they’re for equality and then sell everyone out the minute they get a better deal that keeps me wary.”

GM: “They sound like scumbags.”

Celia: Celia nods.

“It’s not even that their ideals are flawed, it’s just… they’re so two-faced about it, you know? Like. A lot of the elders, they can be awful. Play games. Put you down. Make up stupid rules. But you know what to expect from them. And yeah they’re old school and racist and I sometimes wish they’d all meet the sun, but you know what to expect. How to act. The rules chafe, but you learn them like it’s a game and you succeed.”

GM: “But the Anarchs say they’re on your side.”

Celia: “And then they call the sheriff on you. And watch you die.”

“There was a girl… the massacre, right? This one girl was real vocal about it, sticking up for the Duskborn, but the minute the sheriff showed up she was the first to bail.”

“If she hadn’t who knows what might have happened. Maybe the Anarchs would have stood with everyone else. And sure she feels bad, but those people are dead.”

GM: “Well, you see stuff like that in the law and organized crime, too. People who maybe don’t mean bad, but who get caught up in bad situations, don’t put actions to words, and make things worse.”

Celia: “Maybe,” Celia agrees, “maybe that’s what it was. I can buy that. Bad situation all the way around. And I don’t blame her because it wasn’t all her fault, you know? But the people who are supposed to lead the cause? They knew it was coming. They set it up. I like their push for equality. But as long as those two are still around? There’s no way.”

GM: “Boot them out, then. Maybe better leaders will turn up.”

Celia: “They’re both super old and powerful. But I’d like to.”

GM: “Find other people who feel the same way. If there’s any hope for the movement, there’ll be people do.”

“And if there aren’t any, then maybe it doesn’t have a future anyway.”

Celia: “Maybe you can help. We can do it together.”

GM: “I think I’d like to do that with you.”

“I know I haven’t actually seen very much yet, but none of this society seems at all fair or just from what you’ve described, especially towards vampires like me.”

Celia: “Societies are built to keep the people on top happy. That’s what cultures do with anything, and they shove everyone else to the side. Keep them down. Powerless. They do it with words just as much as they do it with deed. You see it in religions a lot, it’s really obvious there, but in politics and… everything, really. They have terms for duskborn that are unflattering, spewed out like any other racist, bigoted term to marginalize them.”

“And the problem is that the people on top of our society have been there for a long time. You get more powerful as you age. So you hold onto it better.”

“And if you live forever and keep amassing power as you age?” Celia gives a half-shrug. “I’m pretty sure some places used to worship them like gods.”

GM: “How old are the oldest vampires here?”

Celia: “Well… one of the Toreador’s primogen is… centuries old. I don’t think she’s ever spoken publicly about her date of Embrace. The Brujah primogen was Embraced during the French Revolution. The lord of the French Quarter was part of the Sun King’s court. The prince… god, seven hundred? Eight? There are a lot like us, you know, newer blood. Late twentieth or early twenty-first century. But enough that were born hundreds of years ago.”

“Two of the people I regularly hang with were Embraced in the early 1900s.”

GM: “Wow,” says Dani. “They must have so many things to talk about. But that’s also… tragic, if they’re what’s keeping vampire society as unjust as it is. If they have all that power and experience but don’t use it for good.”

Celia: “It’s like this all over is the problem. There’s like… I guess there’s people above them that keep them in line, too. And they have these people that kind of travel around like detectives making sure everyone follows all the rules that they put down.”

“So it isn’t even just here. It’s everywhere.”

GM: “So there’s a government, beyond the city here? Who’s ultimately in charge?”

Celia: “I guess you could call it that, yeah.”

GM: “Is there a king, or a president, or…?”

Celia: “I think it’s a council.”

GM: Dani looks curious. “You think?”

Celia: “So… each territory is usually kind of self-governing, and as long as there aren’t any problems they usually just let us do our thing, you know? Travel can be pretty dangerous because of hunters and loops and stuff, so we don’t jet all over the place. And a lot of the old ones don’t like technology.”

“A lot of information is kind of like… not need to know, but just not readily available.”

GM: “That sounds like it would benefit the people at the top.”

Celia: “Exactly. Which is why they do it.”

GM: “So we don’t even know how our own government works, beyond the local level?”

Celia: “People do. My friend probably knows more. I bet he’d be happy to explain it to you.”

“Just, uh, don’t tell him it’s because I couldn’t. His sire is just more connected and into learning and history than mine.”

GM: “Secret’s safe,” Dani smiles.

Celia: “Appreciate it.”

“All right. Go ahead and give your dad a call. My client is supposed to be here in a few and I need to get the table ready. Take Alana’s number in case you run into any trouble during the day and can’t reach me. I’ll talk to some people about what we’re going to do with your school and work and everything else, and we’ll meet up tomorrow.”

Celia pulls Dani in for a hug before she goes.

“We’re gonna change everything, Dani. I can feel it.”


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: Jade waits for Rusty to arrive.

This late at night she walks the halls of her spa alone. Once she might have been bothered by this fact, but these days she knows that she can handle most of the things that go bump in the night. She had sent Alana home for the night after Dani’s exit to sleep off the effects of the feeding and emotional manipulation after asking about what Accou had said about their meeting, and promised that she and Alana would have a ladies night one evening this week to talk and unwind after a decidedly eventful week.

Now, though, her focus and attention moves to the man who will be coming through the door at any moment, already planning the treatment in her mind. She doesn’t keep notes for Rusty. She had, once, but years of working with him to reduce the pain from his disease have led her to conclude that the problem sticks to its usual haunts, and he sees her frequently enough that she no longer needs to consult the medical textbooks.

The thought of medical anything makes her think of her father’s promise to fix Diana. She can’t help but wonder which of the licks in Houston he’d get to do the treatment for him, but his mortal daughter, of course, doesn’t know anything about that. She’d been thinking of taking Diana there herself if her teacher or the archon fail to make a timely appearance, but if Maxen can take care of it…

And when, she wonders, had she decided that she trusts him with her mother?

The whole thing could be a ruse.

But it nags at her, the thought that what he’d said is true. A demon inside of him. A metaphor for the blood? He hadn’t smelled like a ghoul, but if he’d gotten rid of it… Or did he mean, truly, a demon? It’s too bad the priest who’d done the exorcism had died or she could simply swing by and find out.

But if there was a demon inside her father, what does that make her sire?

She has no time to figure it out. Not tonight. Tonight she has more worldly concerns, things that don’t involve demons and devils and soul-stealing, ghost-eating monsters. Things like muscles and blood and nerves that send constant pain signals to the brain of her ghoul, that no amount of muscle work will ever completely fix because the entire body itself needs realigned and reworked.

But she can help. Like she does with her mother, she can help until she finds a permanent solution to his problem.

Veronica had once told her that she doesn’t like broken things, but Jade seems to collect them.

She waits for Rusty, and when he walks through the door—slower than normal, she can’t help but notice, and she could kick herself for letting him go so long without her—she smiles at him and takes him back into the treatment room.

GM: Alana reports back that Accou’s herald said it was not necessary to set up a meeting between them over the matter of Cloe. “She said the primogen was willing to wait until North was back in the city, even if that took years. I guess being an elder makes you patient.”

“She also said to convey the primogen’s thanks for your offer of assistance, and that he will avail himself of it when the archon returns.”

“She also said that he would be available in seven nights to discuss Evan Bourelle.”

Celia: Elders and their pretend plans.

But she agrees, because she doesn’t have another choice.

GM: Jade is aware that many elders have real plans, commitments, and obligations, just as surely as any mortal mayor or CEO is likely to have a packed schedule.

Celia: Excuses, excuses.

When she’s an elder she’s going to make people wait months to see her.

Provided she makes it that long.

GM: Rusty, in any case, arrives at the spa and greets his domitor with a wordless nod. The ghoul looks somewhat stiff as he strides inside, and from more than just the time since their last session. He’s always looked a little stiff.

Needing someone else doesn’t come naturally to Regina’s son.

Or to someone whose family makes their own living off the needy.

Celia: Which is why Jade never offers to help, or makes a big deal out of their arrangement. She simply has the table lower for him to get onto without her assistance and a stool nearby in case he needs it. She understands pride. His pride, especially, after all these years.

She doesn’t ask him about the work she’d given him, either. This is his time, and when he’s on her table he is just another client. Everything else can wait.

Face up is the only instruction she gives him.

Once he’s settled she begins her work.

GM: “Still looking into Summer,” he says he lies down, bringing up a topic where Jade needs him. “We hit a new lead. She used to live at a shithole apartment in the Quarter for a little while.”

Celia: Jade nods her head, letting him speak while she works.

She starts with the neck. No face, no scalp. Those were the curt words he had said to her that first session when Reggie brought him in to see if she could help, and those are the rules she abides with Rusty. He doesn’t want the relaxation from the face and scalp. He wants the real work, the problem solving.

Her hands begin at the base of his neck, gliding upward in one long, smooth motion on either side of the cervical vertebrae. No pressure on the bones themselves, but close enough on either side to find the spots she needs. One hand and then the other, she repeats the motion.

GM: The ghoul pauses to sigh.

“Interviewed some neighbors who recognized her description. She had a roommate.”

Celia: Her fingers press upward into his muscles. She makes a sound that might be a “hm?” to show she’s listening.

Jade tilts his head to one side, cradling his cheek with one hand while the other strips the scalenes. Thumb anchored against his traps, the rest of that hand dips beneath his back to pull upward on the muscle fibers.

GM: Rusty falls silent again for a moment as Jade works her magic. He might not call it that like others do, but the silence says enough.

“Bad roommate too, seems like.”

“Pained noises from their unit. Sounds of throwing up.”

Celia: Perhaps if she had not just come from dinner with her father, if her mind was not already replaying the memories of her childhood, the words would mean nothing to her. Pained sounds. Throwing up. Anyone can throw up. She throws up every time she forces herself to eat.

But she is thinking about it. How her mother used to make those same noises when she was a child. How she’d thought it was stress, or pushing herself too hard at ballet, or maybe morning sickness with another surprise baby.

But no, none of that. A man with a demon inside of him had beaten her.

Maybe it’s a leap. Maybe she’s seeing connections where there are none. Maybe she has spent too much time with Elyse and the moon clan’s “enlightenment” has rubbed off on her.

Still, she digs.

With both her hand and mouth she digs for more. Information from his search: who is the roommate? Was she making the sounds, or was Summer? Has it continued since Summer’s disappearance? Information from his body: her fingers tap the message across his skin, stroking, gliding, kneading, until she finds what she looks for and presses down to release the bundle of tightly coiled muscle fibers that is so often responsible for the pain reverberating down his back.

GM: “Summer only lived here after she disappeared,” Rusty says thinly.

Stupid.

Celia: She chips away at it a little at a time, holding and releasing, holding and releasing, and beneath her touch the muscles melt like butter, releasing him from the aches that so frequently plague his body.

She pauses at the tone.

“I assume,” she says, and here her voice takes on the icy tones of her sire, “that if she were still there it would be a simple pick up. Ergo, another disappearance.”

GM: Rusty pauses again too as Jade’s hands do their work.

“It’s a disappearance if someone was expecting her to remain where she was, and she didn’t. This place was a shithole. There’s lots of turnover in tenants.”

Celia: Her eyes roll so far back into her head that they threaten to disappear. She leaves the topic of the roommate alone. If she were worth looking into Rusty would have already done it.

The nodule in his back finally disappears. Jade gives it a final stroke to ease the discomfort from the pressure she had applied and turns his head to work the other side.

GM: Rusty has not been able to verify who the roommate was. The lease was in Summer’s name, and she neglected to mention to the property manager there would be a roommate. The other tenants only think there was, because they sometimes heard voices from the unit.

Summer is gone again, in any case. There was an altercation in the building around when she left. Gunshots fired, though no one (known) dead. Violence is not uncommon around the property.

Celia: Jade thanks him for the update, her frosty tone since thawed. She tells him that she appreciates his work while her left thumb strips the left scalene twice before moving to the shoulders. This side of his body holds different tension: rather than work the lats she unrolls the traps to find the origin of his discomfort.

GM: As to the other two matters, Rusty has mixed news.

He thinks the name “Lee Andrin” that Jade got was a fake. There’s only a bare handful of people by that name, who live in Montana and Connecticut. One’s a retired rancher and the other’s a chiropractor.

Rusty hasn’t found any evidence they’ve ever set foot in Louisiana.

He has, however, had more success with Roxanne. He’s now in her Suncloud account. He passes its information to Jade.

Celia: Disappointing. But she’d gotten the name through a blood ritual… is it possible it had failed? She could ask Pete, she supposes. Maybe she’d heard wrong. The “glinko” thing hadn’t made any sense to her either.

She doesn’t sigh, but she nods her head and asks if he and Reggie can look into anyone with a fake ID (they know plenty of people, Reggie had told her once), or any other Andrins. She tells Rusty that she’d had to divine the name and it’s possible the “reception” was bad. She also mentions she has his friends’ phones, and asks if it’s possible they’ll help.

She supposes she shouldn’t be surprised about the name, in any case. The other hunters had used fake names as well.

GM: He says they can try, and that the phones likely will.

Celia: She’ll get them to him once they’re done here and showers him with compliments for getting into Roxanne’s account.

If he has nothing more for her in those regards, Jade continues the treatment. She waits until he’s done with his report to flip him onto his stomach—once he’s face down it’s more difficult to talk—and coaxes him into relaxing by phrasing it that she needs to feel for a few certain things on his back, and it would be very helpful if he could simply let his body be heavy and allow her to do the motions.

Celia: Only to herself does Jade admit to a certain amount of disappointment that Lee Andrin had not been so easy to find. She’d hoped that she could bring him to the Evergreen tonight, question him, and find out where the leak in security had come from in regards to Roderick. She doesn’t really want to think that it’s Coco, but if only a handful of them had known about his haven…

It worries her that her boyfriend isn’t safe. It worries her that she hasn’t been able to solve this problem for him, that she can’t balance the guilt in her heart with the knowledge that she had been able to eliminate a threat to his person, at least. It isn’t Rusty’s fault, she tells herself, it’s her own. She hadn’t heard right. She’d asked the wrong questions when Pete had used the ritual. She’d wasted the blood and now she doesn’t get another chance because the bodies are deep in the Gulf by now and while she doubts that Roderick or his krewe hadn’t drained their bodies no doubt that’s long gone too.

Stupid.

She is, isn’t she? If she can’t fuck her way out of a problem then she doesn’t know how to solve it. No wonder Savoy and her sire keep her at arm’s length. No wonder her “grandsire” won’t see her for a week, and Veronica lost interest in her, and the only reason Garcia wanted to speak with her was to make a pass and Gui had only wanted to fuck even after she’d showed him that cool thing and Pete… Pete just thinks she’s stupid, she knows it. Pretty but stupid. Someone had said that to her once, hadn’t they? While she was on her knees, someone had told her she was pretty but stupid. Someone who was supposed to help but didn’t, who just made it worse.

Celia’s memories won’t leave Jade alone. They drag her under and batter her from all sides, every nasty thing anyone has ever said about her, and even her father’s “you’re brilliant” isn’t enough to keep them at bay.

No wonder Nico left her.

Maybe her dad should have sent her to the dollhouse.

Maybe the wrong daughter died.

And that’s the worst part, isn’t it, that she can’t take it back, that she can’t fix her family, that she caused all of these problems and she can’t fix them. Every time she tries she gets it wrong.

It’s like a dam bursting. She’s glad Rusty stays silent on the table, that she doesn’t need to keep up appearances around him at least, because she can’t stop the flood of emotions, and only her hands on his body keep her centered.

Fix it.

Fix it.

Fix it.

Every beat of his heart thrums through her, reminding her who she is, where she is, what she is.

She can fix this, at least. She can do that much. She can fix the aches and pains that plague his body, can give him back his ability to walk, can take the tight lines from his face and the whiteness from his knuckles. She’s a physical creature. This is a physical thing. Like a Brujah who only knows how to smash, she’s the Toreador that only knows how to make bodies better.

So she works. She fixes. She glides and strokes and kneads her way down his back, working at the muscles, making them pliable, releasing the tension that she finds from the traps to the glutes. All along the spine she taps and vibrates her fingers to take away his pain because this, at least, this she understands. Bodies she understands. They don’t ask her to know about politics or hidden motives or hunters. They just lay there and let her work upon them and make them better.

Someone had told her that once, too. That she makes things better.

So she does that with Rusty know. She makes his body better because sometimes that’s all she can do.

And maybe that’s enough.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: However low a girl might feel, there’s always one place she can go to feel loved and accepted.

Or at least that Celia can go.

“Hi, sweetie! It’s so good to see you!” her mother exclaims, smiling as she pulls her daughter close for a hug. Like it’s a treat that Celia came by again so soon.

Celia: Seeing her mother again makes her feel lighter than she has all night. She holds Diana close when her mom brings her in for a hug, content for long moments to just soak in the love this woman holds for her.

Even the dark thoughts that threaten to surface stay dormant in the wake of such shining affection.

“Hi, Momma. It’s good to see you too. Thanks for having me over.”

GM: “Thanks for coming over,” she smiles, rubbing a hand along Celia’s back. “I love having you over all the time, like this. It just makes me so thankful we still live in the same city, there are so many families that don’t.”

“I know you just went out to eat, but if you’re still hungry, just say the word. We have leftover casserole and cake, still. And some other things in the fridge.”

Celia: “How did I know you were going to offer me food,” Celia says with a laugh, following Diana into the kitchen. “I’ll let you know if I get hungry, but I think I’m okay for now.”

GM: “Because I’m your mother, that’s why,” Diana smiles back. “But okay. Let’s go get Emily, she’s in her room studying.”

Celia: “Actually, Mom,” Celia interrupts, “it might be better if just you hear this first. And then you can decide how much you want to share with her.”

“Emily has really strong opinions on Dad, and I… want you to be able to hear this without them.”

GM: “All right, that’s fair,” her mom nods. “Though I’ll tell her everything when we’re done, of course.”

Celia: “Of course. I just want to give you time to process first.”

GM: Her mom nods and heads over to the couch to sit down. She pulls up her knees and wraps her arms around her ankles as she looks up at Celia with an expression that’s simultaneously nervous and excited. Almost like a schoolgirl’s.

Celia: “There’s some good and some bad and some ugly,” Celia tells her as she takes a seat in the chair across the room. “As with all things, I think. Do you have a preference on where I start?”

GM: Diana pats a spot on the couch for Celia to sit down next to her. “Oh, wherever you think best, sweetie. But maybe get the bad over with first, like a shot, if you’re not sure.”

Celia: “I don’t want to upset you,” Celia says gently, abandoning her chair to sit beside her mother instead. “And if you don’t want to talk about something I won’t force you, okay? But a lot of stuff came up at dinner tonight. And some of it you might not have wanted me to know, and some of it… answers a lot of lingering questions about… about things that have happened to the family.”

She pauses to take a breath she doesn’t really need, mentally preparing herself.

“We talked about Grandma, a little bit. And why you don’t get along. About the school. And… I just… I wanted to say, Mom, I’m really sorry that I tried to force that relationship on you with her.”

GM: Her mother’s expression turns very still at the word ‘school.’

She doesn’t say anything.

Celia: “I didn’t know. I didn’t realize how painful it was, having a relationship with her. He told me that you talked him out of sending me there, and I’ve heard… I’ve heard things, I know some of what they do there, and… I’m sorry, Mom, I’m sorry I doubted you about her, I never thought that she’d do that to her own daughter.”

“So I just… wanted to say I won’t bring her up again around you.”

GM: Celia’s mother still doesn’t say anything. She presses her head against her raised knees, as if to keep her daughter from looking at her face.

Finally, she just nods.

Celia: “I love you, Mom. Even knowing that. Not because I pity you, I don’t look down on you for it, I don’t think less of you. You didn’t have a choice. I love who you are. And I would have loved who you were, I bet, and if you ever want to talk about it…” She doesn’t force her presence on her mother, but she touches the hand that’s wrapped around her legs. “I’ve seen really ugly things in the past few years, Mom, and if you ever want to talk about it, anything about it, I’m here. I’m listening. I believe you.”

“He didn’t tell me to hurt me. If it helps. He didn’t tell me to hurt our relationship, or to hurt you. And he didn’t say anything bad about you, ever. I asked once, about the divorce, about what happened, and he told me that he didn’t want to insult your virtue by speaking of it.”

GM: Celia’s mother doesn’t look up for a few moments, though neither does she shy from Celia’s touch. When she finally does, she looks as if she’s blinking back tears before she pulls her daughter in for another hug. It’s desperate and tight, not warm like the embrace the two exchanged only minutes earlier.

Celia: Celia holds her close. She knows how painful it must be for her mother to speak openly about the things she’d gone through at the Dollhouse. And Celia can’t even tell her that she knows. She can’t ever tell her that she knows, or that she’s been there, that she’s helped. That makes her the worst sort of person: complicit.

She’s glad she had never made a doll for Lucy. Glad that she had never brought over any of the dolls she had made, that she hadn’t brought Lucy-Doll over to the house to show her mother.

GM: Their stares always seemed to linger for so long when she would get ready to visit her mother’s house.

“I’m… I’m sorry…” Diana finally gets out in a small voice. She doesn’t let go.

Celia: “Why? Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything to be sorry for.”

GM: Celia’s mother just gives a half-sniff, half-sob and holds on to her.

Celia: “You’re safe now, Momma. You’re safe. She can’t hurt you anymore.”

GM: Another lie. Elyse has said she brings in dolls for ‘touch-ups’ before. Dolls require maintenance and repair, sometimes more advanced than their owners can provide. Just like Lucy does.

Diana clings to her daughter like she would a husband. Minutes silently pass with the pair’s arms around one another.

“Is that… all the bad news,” Celia’s mother finally says.

Celia: But Payton can’t hurt her, and Celia won’t let Elyse get her hands on her mother again.

She holds her mother for long moments, letting her cry as she needs. She doesn’t press for details. She wants to know, of course she does, but Diana isn’t ready to speak about it, and Celia will not force her to unburden herself.

“I think so. Aside from that… dinner went well. Really well.”

GM: Diana pulls away at last to dab at her eyes.

“Tell me about it,” she sniffs. “Tell me something good and happy.”

Celia: “He’s… different, Mom. Really different. Like he was before he became… you know, who he was when we were growing up. It was like seeing a completely new person, one that I thought had died a long time ago. He remembers what he did, he knows he hurt you, and he said he’s been working on a way to make amends. Because ‘a man doesn’t just waltz back into someone’s life with apologies,’ that’s what he said.”

“But he did start there. With an apology for everything he’d done. How he should have sheltered and protected us and he abused us instead, kind of… a lot of stuff like that. How he messed up. He said Logan has been pushing him to reconnect but he wasn’t ready yet, because he wanted to do something instead of just saying words.”

GM: Celia’s mother looks like she’s about to start crying again. “Oh, he’s such a good man. I told you, Celia, he was so gentle…”

Celia: “And he told me that we’d succeeded despite him. That even though he’d tried to break us we were stronger and better than that, and he… I said something ki—kind of dumb, I misunderstood, and I thought he was going to call me stupid again, and then I said it, later, and he… he said I wasn’t, that I never had been, and I shouldn’t care, you know, I shouldn’t care, but I do.”

Celia’s mother isn’t the only one that looks like she wants to cry.

“And I hated him for so long, and now I just… I just kept thinking, he’s not even my dad. Why does it matter. He’s not my dad. And if he knew that, would he have been nice to me tonight? And I can’t tell him. And I just feel like a big liar.”

GM: Diana cups her daughter’s cheek with one hand. “Oh, Celia, you aren’t stupid, you’ve never been, not ever…”

The reminder of the lie, though, makes the happier expression on her face die again.

“It’s my fault there, baby, not yours…”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. “I know. I know it’s not my fault, but it still affects me, and you said… years ago, you said that the Roberts people knew somehow, and Dad is running against him next year, and what if it comes out?”

GM: Diana blinks. “He’s running…?”

Celia: “He’s running for governor.”

GM: “Oh my… oh my goodness! That’s wonderful! He told you this? Even the buildup to the election’s still some time away…”

Celia: “Yeah. I wondered… you know, a little bit if some of this was because he needed to fix his image to run for higher office.”

“But I… don’t think that’s true. I mean, it is, but I don’t think that’s his motivation.”

“We had a… it’s kind of…” Celia trails off. She clears her throat. “It’s kind of weird, what he said, and I don’t… really know how to explain it…”

GM: Her mother takes her hands. “Go on, sweetie, I know you can, you’re so smart.”

Celia: She tells her mother about Isabel reaching out to their father. About the arguments they’d get into on the phone, and how Maxen had struggled to listen to her because he couldn’t beat her via call, and how if he’d tried she would have just disappeared again. She tells her how they’d talked a lot about faith, and how she’d pushed Maxen to confess his sins and let Jesus into his heart, and how he finally had.

She tells her mother what he said about the priest. And the demon. And the exorcism.

And when it’s done she lets the words hang, because none of it… none of it sounds plausible. Demons and priests and exorcisms. It’s a horror movie, not real life, but Celia doesn’t say any of this to her mother. She doesn’t tell her mother that she thinks it’s true, or that she knows it’s true, or that demons are the least of their problems, or that the same demon that had gotten to Maxen had taken her, too, had sunk his claws so deeply into her that she thinks she’ll never be free again.

She keeps that part to herself.

And she doesn’t say, either, that this is why she’d left Emily to her studies.

Because Emily would never believe it.

GM: Celia’s mother slowly takes in the tale. She doesn’t interrupt, just listens, and though her eyes might be surprised they aren’t judging.

“Celia… do you think he’s changed?” she finally asks. “Do you think… that he might hurt you, us, again?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” Celia admits. “I think right now he’s changed. I think he wants to make things right. And I’m scared that if it got him once it will get him again.”

Because what else will her sire do when he realizes that Maxen is free?

Let him go?

Hardly.

GM: “But you think he’s better now. That he was like how… how things used to be.”

Celia: “I do.”

GM: Her mother makes another tearful sound.

“Oh, Celia, I miss my husband. I miss married life. I miss my children having a father. I miss having someone else make the hard decisions and take care of things, I don’t want to do that anymore. If he’s back, I don’t care why. I just want my man back.”

Celia: Celia had expected this. She doesn’t point out that technically her children still have a father, they’re just separated.

“I think,” she says slowly, “that this might be a wait and see situation. That if you want to get your toes wet… you’re an adult. I won’t stop you. But I don’t think jumping in is wise, given the history.”

“But he would like to speak with you and apologize for himself. And he gave me something for you. It’s in the car. Just… give me a second, I’ll go get it.”

Celia takes a moment longer than she strictly needs to retrieving the things from the car. The box of memories. The adoption paper. She looks down at the treasures in her hands and asks herself if she’s doing the right thing.

A year ago, she’d have said no. No way. There’s no way that she would have ever let her mother come near Maxen again.

A week ago she’d have killed him for showing up. She’d have pulled a knife like Emily, only unlike her (official?) sister, Celia would have finished the job.

Even last night. Celia would have gutted him. Would have told her mom no. Would have mind-fucked her so hard that she couldn’t remember her own name, let alone Maxen’s.

But that apology. The offer to fix Diana, when Celia hasn’t been able to. And maybe, if it had just been those things, Celia would have spat in his face and told him where to shove it. But the confession. The demon. It’s real. It has to be real because she’s seen it. She was inside his head. She knows there are ghosts and vampires and werewolves, why wouldn’t there be demons too? And maybe it’s not even him. Maybe it’s inside of him too, and maybe she has to pull it out of him. Maybe he’s been trapped for a hundred years with a thing inside of him and no one has even bothered to look and see because they don’t know him, they don’t care about him.

They don’t love him.

Not like she does. They’re connected, they have to be, because nothing else makes sense. Evil doesn’t get to win. Things don’t just happen for no reason. Life is cheap, sure, but maybe hers is supposed to mean something.

She’d asked him once. If he had known what her father had done to her family. And he’d told her it had made her strong. She hadn’t understood. Not then. But maybe now. Maybe this is what he meant, that she’s strong enough to handle the truth. Maybe he put her there, knowing it would be a loveless household, knowing that she would care about him anyway, so that she could save him.

Don’t you save people you love?

And that explains so much, doesn’t it.

Her father.

Paul.

Camilla.

The mimic.

All of them just as icy, just as frosty and aloof and awful as he is. Because whatever is inside of him spreads. And it spread to them through him, and it might have spread to her. Maybe it tried that night. Maybe when she’d been inside his mind it had tried to pull her in and keep her forever, and maybe he had known that she is the one that can handle it because…

Because she’s special?

“You’re my special little girl.”

Because she’s special.

And that’s why he’d Embraced her.

Because she’s strong. And smart. And capable. And special. And loves him despite the fact that he’s awful to everyone else, awful to her. No one else would have survived being his childe if they hadn’t grown up in that household. They fear him. She doesn’t. Not truly. She was taught to see the world through fire and nothing looks safe.

It was the perfect blend of everything she needed to become exactly who she is now.

So she’s going to find it. The source. The thing that has him.

And she’s going to kill it.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: Celia makes her way back inside with the box of things her father had given her. She keeps the manilla folder to herself for now—she thinks Emily might want to be here for the big reveal—but she sits down on the couch with her mother and moves it toward her.

“Dad asked me to give you this.”

GM: Celia finds her mother massaging her leg with her eyes closed when she gets back, but when Celia does, Diana unwraps the box and pulls off the lid with a curious expression. She lets out a gasp at what she sees inside. All those trophies showing gold ballerina figures, a few of pointe shows, some with the name ‘Diana Flores’ and others ‘Diana Underwood,’ depending on the year.

Celia’s mother takes out one of the albums and opens it to a page showing a crowd of girls in black leotards and white leggings, the first row kneeling in front of the second as they smile towards the camera.

“Celia, how…?”

Celia: “He said he’s been collecting them for a while for you. He couldn’t give you the originals, but he tracked down people at your old studio, and your friends, and he was able to convince them to share with him. Because he said he was awful to you, that he stole what you loved most in the world, and that you hadn’t deserved it.”

“And he thought maybe it would help at least a little bit.”

“He also said…”

“He said there’s a medical center in Texas. And he spoke to them about you, and… and that your condition is going to get worse. But they have a new, experimental treatment available.”

“And he said that you might be able to dance again.”

GM: Celia’s mother starts crying again as she pulls her daughter into another hug.

“Oh, Celia… I don’t even know what, what to say…”

“This is like a dream…”

Celia: It is. It’s like the sweet dream after waking up from a terrible nightmare. Or the sweet dream before a terrible nightmare. Or something. She’s wary. She’s cautious. But she’s happy. For herself, for her mother.

“I know a little about the treatment,” Celia says quietly, voice choked with emotion, “I told you last month about my colleague, how he might be able to do something similar. I thought he could show me, that I could do it, but… he was called away, and I don’t know if or when he’ll be back, and I wanted… I wanted it to be me who helped, but I don’t have that medical training, and if he can make it happen…”

“If he can make it happen then you should do it, Mom.”

GM: “Oh, sweetie, it’s okay…” her mom murmurs, running a hand along her back. “You are making it happen, here… you’re such a blessing to have in my life, I don’t even know how many times I’ve thanked God for you in my prayers…”

Celia: She’s glad to hear that. That at least her mother loves her, even though she lies about… everything.

For long moments she’s content to stay in her mom’s arms, not speaking, just feeling. Letting the woman’s love wash over her. Letting it soak into her. Because so what if she doesn’t have a dad, right? Her mom loves her enough for two people.

“There’s one more thing,” she says finally, pulling away, “but it involves Emily.”

GM: Celia’s mom hugs her close and murmurs how much she loves her, equally content to let the seconds pass by and by. If there are moments that feel as if they last forever, there are worse ones that could.

“All right, sweetie, do you want to go get her now?”

“Or, actually, maybe I should, Victor and Shadow are in her room… we keep them there, usually, when you come over.”

Celia: Stupid cats.

GM: Smart cats.

She doesn’t fool them.

Celia: “Probably, then. I think… it’s going to be hard to explain Dad to her. She didn’t know him before.”

GM: “I don’t know why those kitties never liked you,” Diana remarks, shaking her head. “I think you’re right, though… I don’t think she’s going to take this well…”

Celia: “I don’t want to alienate her. She’s family. And I don’t want to make it sound like she doesn’t understand, or that she’s not part of this. Because she is.”

“And if I were her I’d see it the same way she probably does. Like we’re crazy.”

GM: “Oh, absolutely, I don’t want to alienate her either!” Diana nods resolutely. “I feel like God placed her in our lives, Celia, right when Isabel… left. You can’t replace one daughter with another, but… she was just the thing in our lives, when we needed her most. I don’t know how I’d have raised Lucy without her.”

“I want her to be okay with this. But I think you’re right she’ll probably think we’re crazier than soup sandwiches…”

Celia: Celia effects a sigh.

“I don’t want him to tear the family apart again.”

GM: “What do you think we can do, sweetie?”

Celia: “I’m thinking. I don’t want to lie to her. And I don’t think she’d believe us about, you know, the thing inside of him. Even though she does play all those Shadow games with Robby, it’s just a game, you know? Saying that maybe Dad really did have a demon inside of him… who would believe that? And maybe it wasn’t a real demon, but…”

Celia trails off.

“Mom, what about… the school?”

“What if we told her about that? And just make it sound like Dad… did it in reverse? Had it undone?”

GM: Celia’s mother falls silent.

Celia: “That’s your secret. I won’t talk about it if you don’t want me to.”

GM: She gives a slow nod.

Celia: “Okay. I’m sorry I brought it up again. It was a dumb idea anyway.”

GM: “Would you like some cake, sweetie? Us and Emily?” her mom asks.

Celia: “No, thank you. I don’t think I can keep anything down right now.”

GM: “Oh. Okay.”

Celia: “But I’ll take some to go, if that’s okay.”

GM: “Oh, yes, more than!” Celia’s mom smiles. "I’ll pack something up after we’ve talked to Emily. But I still really don’t know what we’re going to say to her. "

Celia: “I think Emily is going to bring up some valid points about taking things slow with him if she comes around at all. And I agree with that. And maybe we all get together for a family dinner sometime this week. Let her meet him. I mean, meet him again.”

GM: “That might be something,” her mother nods. “There’s no better way to calm the waters than breaking bread together, I’ve always thought.”

Celia: “He never liked being challenged, you know. I remember that. Didn’t like repeating himself. Maybe we just let Emily do her worst, and if he makes it through that it tells us what we need to know, too.”

“And if it is all fake, it’ll come out sooner rather than later.”

GM: “That’s an idea! Maybe frame it like that, us needing her help.”

Celia: “Perfect.”

GM: “You’re so smart, sweetie,” her mom smiles. “You’re my little smarty pants. But okay, I’ll go get her.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her mom, watching her walk away.

Times like these she’d love to just tell the whole truth.

GM: There are licks who do it. There are ones who get caught. But they always seem like such stupidly sentimental licks, unsuited for this life, not like Jade is.

What if there are smarter ones who tell and get away with it?

Celia: It’s not worth her mother’s life. Not worth Emily’s life.

All it takes is one wrong word and they’d both be dead.

And her, too.

For real dead.

Not animated body dead.

Unless she bloods them…

Emily would be a terrible ghoul.

GM: They’ll die eventually, if she doesn’t.

There won’t be anyone else who loves her like they do. You can find other lovers, but you only get one mom.

Celia: Emily got a second mom.

GM: Only because her first one was crap.

New sisters don’t happen on a lark either.

Celia: Not worth it, though. McGehee is in different territory. She’d have to explain that. Plus Riverbend for Emily at med school, and she’s already trying to juggle Dani’s situation.

GM: Maybe she’ll feel differently some night, after Diana is old and gray and retired.

Celia: Maybe the best thing she can do for them is let them live their lives.

GM: It’s not overlong before Diana comes back. Emily’s dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt. She smiles as she hugs Celia.

“Hey. How bad did it go?”

Celia: “Hey, Emmy.” Celia rises to her feet to hug her adopted sister. “It, uh, it went pretty well actually. I was kind of surprised.”

GM: “So ‘well’ means ‘you pulverized him into goo with a glance and he’ll never bother us again?’”

Celia: “I wish I could pulverize people into goo with a glance.”

“Is that a World of Shadow power? ’Cause listen, I want to play that guy.”

GM: “Sort of? It’s one of the things you can do with wizard characters, if you take the right abilities.”

“There’s a lot about that game I really like, but it’s not Black Dog’s most popular one.”

Celia: “You’ll have to show me sometime.”

“But, uh, but dinner… dinner went well, though. Maxen was… nice. We talked about a lot of what happened. And he apologized, which kind of blew my mind.”

GM: “Eh. I could see it, actually. Abusers can turn on the charm and do a sympathetic act.”

Celia: “Actually… It’s funny you bring that up.”

“I was going to save this for the end, but since you’ve provided the opening…”

GM: “Apologies are worth shit, anyway.”

Celia: “That’s what he said too, actually.”

GM: “Sounds like he’s a good actor.”

“I hadn’t thought he had that in him, after he called me a mongrel to my face. And said in the good old days, ‘human abortions’ like me were sterilized.”

Celia: “Then you know what to look for when he comes to dinner.”

GM: Emily looks between her and Diana.

“What.”

“Maybe we should sit down,” their mom suggests.

“I’m fine standing, thanks,” Emily answers. “Since I’m presuming there’s not a lot to talk about, beyond ‘cut that piece of shit out of our lives, again.’”

Celia: Celia sits. This is going to be a long conversation.

GM: Emily sighs, then follows her to the couch.

Diana sits down on Emily’s other side.

Celia: “I’m honestly not really sure where to begin. I would just like for you to listen, though, and hold your skepticism ’til the end.”

GM: “Okay. But I’ll say this first.”

“We don’t owe him dinner. We don’t owe him a chance. We don’t owe him jack shit.”

Celia: “We don’t. We don’t owe him anything. I made that very clear to him at dinner tonight.”

GM: “I talked with Payton, by the way, and scheduled some time with Viv.”

Celia: “With Viv for what?”

GM: “Uh, legal advice, because I did something illegal.”

Celia: Celia makes a stabbing motion with her hand.

GM: “Yeah. Or might not have. Stand your ground laws and the restraining order. But that’s why I’m talking to the professional.”

Celia: “Makes sense.”

Which reminds her… “Did you tell her about tomorrow yet, Mom?”

GM: Diana nods. “I did, sweetie.”

“Yeah. Dinner with Stephen’s family. Sounds good,” says Emily. “I know how much he did for you.”

“Which having dinner with Maxen kind of spits in the face of, but I digress.”

Celia: “Oh, good. Before we talk about Maxen, I wanted to talk about Lucy. And let you know that—”

She’s right.

It does.

GM: “Yeah. You also told me all about that dinner Stephen had with him, that was so shitty and horrendous it opened his eyes and made him do all the things he did.”

“But, I digress. What about Lucy?”

Celia: “Just… just a sensitive topic, considering the timing could have made her Stephen’s.”

GM: “Well, we know she’s not. I distinctly remember watching Mom pop her out.”

Diana makes a mildly chiding throat-clearing sound.

“The timing, though… you’re right,” she frowns. “We can’t tell them Mom popped her out, obviously.”

Celia: “I was just going to talk to him about it privately before he came in.”

GM: “I’d just tell them the father isn’t Stephen and leave it at that.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “It isn’t their business beyond that.”

Celia: “Making sure we’re all on the same page.”

“But anyway, Maxen.”

GM: “I think we are,” Diana nods. “Just say she’s yours and not also Stephen’s. That’s nice and simple.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t need to rehash her entire history with Maxen to Emily. Between she and Diana, the girl already has a pretty good idea what he was like, and she’s seen firsthand the results of his abuse. Years ago she and Emily had spoken about what he was like before that fateful birthday party, so she knows that the entire history is… messy.

She doesn’t tell Emily about the demon, or about the school. Those aren’t things she thinks that Emily will understand, and how can she explain them anyway? But she does run down what happened at dinner. She describes his exorcism as “soul-searching” and “atoning for his sins” and “realizing his mistakes.” How he didn’t want to waltz in with apologies and nothing else. How he’s been searching for a way to make it up to them.

And how he’s started to, beginning with the box of memories. She lets Diana show it to her.

GM: Emily is true to her word and holds her tongue. But her face is flat as a pancake all throughout.

Diana wrings her hands at Emily’s expression, but all-too happily picks up the box and removes one of the earliest trophies, with the pointe shoes in pink as if for young girls. “So for this one I wasn’t even dancing professionally, yet, since I was only 13. I got it…”

“Give them back,” says Emily.

“What?”

“This is what narcissists and abusers do, Mom. They give gifts. And yes, conventional wisdom goes that it’s as a means of control and getting close to victims, so they can hold ‘I gave you this’ over their heads.”

“But there was an interesting paper I read a little while ago that said gifts from narcissists are actually gifts to themselves.”

“Because gifts cause cause feelings of gratitude and admiration, which are what the narcissist craves. Gifts are how they purchase affection and control. They don’t actually care if the gift makes someone happy.”

“I think he does want me to be happy, sweetie,” Diana says quietly.

“I don’t,” says Emily. “I think it’s just an act, and a way to draw you back into his life.”

“And it’s working. He gave you gifts, now you want to invite him over for dinner.”

“So give them back.”

“Let me show you some of these old photos, sweetie,” Diana says, reaching into the box. “You never got to see me dance, like the others-”

“I don’t want to see them,” Emily replies flatly.

Diana looks hurt.

“You told me about those days, Mom,” Emily amends. “That’s enough.”

“You were a beautiful ballerina. I know that. I’m happy you had that. I’m mad that he took it away.”

Diana glances at Celia.

“These are just things, Mom,” says Emily. “Objects. Bits of plastic and whatever they make trophies from.”

Celia: “That’s why we need your help,” Celia finally cuts in.

“Mom and I are too close to it. I think I’m pretty good at reading people, but it’s entirely possible that he was lying to my face and had ulterior motives. Mom wants to have dinner with him. Obviously I’m not letting her go alone. And I thought if anyone could see through his act, it’s you.”

GM: “Okay. So if I say it smells like bullshit, that’s it? You’ll return the gifts and cut him out?”

Celia: “Well. He did give me something I can’t return.”

Celia finally hands over the folder.

GM: Emily opens it up.

Diana gasps.

“How…?!”

Emily frowns.

“This has to be illegal.”

“Oh, you’re my daughter, sweetie! It even says so, right here!” Diana exclaims, overjoyed as she pulls Emily into a hug. “Don’t tell me this doesn’t make you happy, too!”

“I don’t want his gifts,” says Emily. She returns the hug, though with rather less vigor.

“I’m already your daughter. A piece of paper doesn’t change that.”

Celia: Celia nods. She’d expected as much.

“One dinner. If you smell bullshit I’ll walk.”

GM: “That’s all he’s giving, Mom. It’s just… confetti. It’s pretty, but it’s nothing of substance, nothing we need.”

“So he can have this back. I’m not taking it.”

“In fact, I’ll talk with Viv about this, too. He didn’t even get my signature.”

Celia: “That’s probably a good idea. Find out sooner rather than later.”

GM: “Sweetie… if there were ever a hospital emergency, or if one us were to die without a will…” starts Diana.

“We have wills,” says Emily. “And yeah. It’d suck, if something came up, and the fact I wasn’t legally your daughter shut me out.”

“But I’d rather not be legally recognized as your daughter than let this piece of scum back into our lives so he can hurt you again. Hurt us again.”

Celia: “So it’s settled. You look into it. And if he doesn’t pass your bullshit detection test then we’re done.”

GM: She looks at Celia. “Couple things.”

“First, I expected this from Mom. Did not expect it from you.”

Celia: “Mm. Never mind that I just had dinner with him to make sure he wasn’t going to report you. And am playing peacemaker until his arm is fully healed.”

GM: Emily sighs. “Yes. I fucked up there. I know. Mea culpa. I’ll talk to Viv and see what our options are, because I am not relying on his goodwill.”

“Second, dinner is playing into his hands. He’s going to be on his best behavior. Because he knows that’s how he’ll ‘win’ and get close to you again, and hell, maybe he’ll try to look so nice and sweet that I’ll look like the crazy and unreasonable one for being cold and rude, probably helped by how I have a vagina and he doesn’t. Hell, maybe that’s how he hopes to drive a wedge between us. It’s all just fucking mind games with narcissists. You can’t win against them. You can’t out-mind game them. All you can do is refuse to play.”

“Third. Why take the chance?”

“Okay. Let’s say there’s a possibility he’s somehow turned around. It’s incredibly remote, and like something out of fucking Disney, but I’ll grant it’s at least theoretically possible.”

“But from your perspectives, it should also be possible that he’s not. That this all just an act, exactly what I described, and a way to get close to us again.”

“Why. Take. That. Chance?”

“There are other men. If you want a man, Mom, we’ll help you find one. There are more men in the world than Maxen Fucking Flores!”

Celia: “Mom, can you give us a sec?”

GM: “I should know that, I’m currently fucking a pretty good one.”

Their mother clears her throat. “Ah, of course, sweetie. Just give a holler!”

“Or just knock on my door, I’d rather we not yell with Lucy asleep. Or yell anyways.”

“Okay, we’ll do that,” says Emily.

Diana gets up and leaves.

Emily looks back at Celia.

“Seriously. I expected this from her. But not you.”

“Why the fuck do you want to take this chance?”

“If the dice come up short, Mom could lose her leg or get raped or killed or who the fuck knows what.”

Celia: “Because he dangled something in front of me I can’t look away from. And because I think you’ll agree with me.”

“And because if and when this does turn to shit I’m going to be in the position to ruin him.”

“None of which I’m going to say in front of Mom.”

GM: “So what did he dangle that’s worth gambling Mom’s life?”

Celia: “Her leg.”

GM: “Her leg?”

Celia: “There’s a procedure that can fix it. He has access.”

GM: “There isn’t a procedure. She got shit care when she needed quality care, and it fucked up her leg permanently. All we can do now is treat symptoms.”

Celia: “Those toes grew back by magic, did they?”

GM: “No, by science. Toe reattachments are possible. They can go wrong, but they can go right. We lucked out that hers went right.”

Celia: “Luck had nothing to do with it. What do you remember about that night, Emily?”

GM: Emily frowns. “What does that matter?”

“What if Maxen is lying? What procedure is this? Dd he actually show any proof?”

“Because while neither of us may be actual doctors, I’m a lot closer to being one than he is.”

“Not that you need to be a doctor to sell someone a load of bullshit.”

Celia: “Maxen didn’t need to show me proof. I’ve heard of the procedure he mentioned. I brought it up to you a while ago and you said it wasn’t possible so I didn’t push. But it is. And if he can get it for her and I just have to swallow shit for a year then that’s what I’ll do for her.”

“And, again, perfectly placed to ruin his career. He’s not the only one capable of lying.”

GM: “Okay. Let’s assume this procedure is possible,” says Emily. “Couple things.”

“First, Mom is past 40. Her best friend just retired from ballet.”

“Her ballerina days are over. Have been for years. She can still dance. She dances at her classes. She just can’t do it on stage, at a professional level.”

“But could she do that anyway, with her leg back? There’s probably another principal dancer at her old production company now, someone who’s also been working years to get there.”

Celia: “She won’t be in pain anymore, Em.”

GM: “More pain than Maxen might put her through? There are meds she can take for her pain.”

Celia: “I’m not saying for her to date him again. I’m not saying that she’s going to live with him. I’m not saying they’ll be a family.”

“Those meds don’t treat the problem. You don’t slap a bandaid on a bullet hole.”

GM: “Sometimes there is no cure, just treatment. And sometimes a cure can be worse than the disease.”

“If he fixes her leg, Mom is going to fall head over heels for him. What if she does something stupid, like say he’s Lucy’s father?”

Celia: “Then I’ll kill him.”

GM: “…okaaay, leaving out the ‘how,’ that’s another cure worse than the disease.”

Celia: “Emily, I’m the last person that wants to believe he’s suddenly a good person. But if he can fix her leg? If she can stop taking pain medication and grimacing? I’ll swallow my hatred for that. And I’ll make sure that he doesn’t hurt her.”

GM: “How? Let’s say the procedure is real, and that he’s not changed. Mom falls for him, and he hurts her, again. Then what?”

“Because unless you live with them 24/7, you can’t guarantee that. He will have an infinity of chances to hurt her.”

Celia: “Then I’ll get her out. Like I did last time. And I was a kid then. I didn’t have you. I’m better prepared. And she’s not moving in with him. No. Ever. Never. She’s not going back to Audubon.”

GM: “What if he hurts her and she doesn’t want to leave?”

Celia: Celia doesn’t say that she’ll kill him again.

But she will.

GM: “What if she blabs about Lucy? What if both? What if she wants to move in?”

Celia: “She won’t blab about Lucy. She doesn’t get to.”

GM: “What if she does? Can you guarantee she won’t?”

Celia: “Then I’ll fight that custody battle. And Maxen will be known as the guy who raped both his teenage daughters.”

GM: “All she has to do is come out that you aren’t Lucy’s mom, and there is no custody battle.”

Celia: “You think I can’t fake a paternity test?”

GM: “Uh, why would you have anything to do with it? He’d do his own test. Mail in the sample to a genetics lab. And if it comes to a court dispute, guess who wins?”

“He’s a fucking rich white male politician, they always win there.”

Celia: “You think she’s not just going to sneak off to see him if you put your foot down? Like a rebellious teenager? We control it this way.”

GM: “What, we’ll just tell Mom she can’t see Maxen? We’ll keep her under guard, restrict her phone use, so she can’t ever talk to him?”

“If he fixes her leg, you think she’ll be able to stay away? Gifts are how narcissists establish control, and if she accepts a gift that big, he will have control. She’s gaga enough for him already.”

“She’s an adult. We can’t physically stop her from seeing another adult if she wants to.”

Celia: “And she’s going to do it with or without our approval. We can at least be there with her to show her if it’s wrong.”

GM: “Or we can try to nuke this entire thing, right now.”

“Before it gets any worse. Any more out of our control.”

“Give back the trophies. Give back the birth certificate. Call off dinner.”

“Fucking hell. Lie about Maxen hitting you when you return them, fake some bruises, if you think there’s no other way.”

Celia: “I get it. I do. Trust me, I understand. I lived through it. I’m asking for one dinner. And then, if you don’t like it, we walk.”

GM: Emily sighs.

“Fine.”

Celia: Celia reaches for her.

“I’m not going to let anything bad happen. I love her.”

GM: “Lucy won’t be there.”

Celia: “Of course not.”

GM: “Be a good moment to give back the birth certificate.”

Celia: “I’m looking forward to seeing you riling him up.”

GM: “I’ll say something else, too. Mom has bounced back from some horrendous shit, and for all I give her about being a doormat, you were right when you said she’s come out from hell, twice, as a source of light and love and life, rather than someone mean and broken and bitter. If she goes through hell a third time, I don’t know if she’ll come out the same. Or come out at all.”

“And Lucy. Mom and us have raised her right. She’s happy. She’s safe. But it would be so fucking easy for Maxen to ruin that.”

“I believe you are strong and capable, but these ’I’ll just ruin him’ and ’I’ll just kill him’ ideas sound like something out of a fiction novel. I see ten thousand ways they could go wrong and fuck up our lives. Ultimately, you can’t predict or account for everything, and there are no guarantees. You are playing with fire inviting Maxen back into our lives, because however you slice it it, this is a risk. A risk that will have terrible, terrible consequences for our family if you are wrong.”

“I’ll risk one dinner, to get you on my side. Not because I think this is a good idea. I think it’s a terrible idea. But because I don’t know how I’m going to keep Mom away from Maxen if you’re not also on my side.”

Celia: “I suppose I was a little dramatic,” Celia allows. “And you’re right. And when he shows his true colors in front of Mom, where we can see it happen, where we can stop it from escalating, I won’t even be mad when you say ‘I told you so.’”

GM: “I’m more scared if he doesn’t show his colors, Celia, than if he tries to hit her.”

“I’m more scared if he just hides them deep and Mom doesn’t believe me.”

Celia: “This is where I twirl my mustache and say ‘I have ways of making them talk’ in a bad Russian accent.”

GM: “Like I said. You can’t out-mind game a narcissist. All you can do is refuse to play.”

Celia: Sure you can. Especially when you’re a vampire.

GM: Emily sighs. “Let’s get Mom.”

They make their way down the hall. Emily and knocks and then opens the door anyway. The bedroom has floral-patterned white and pink wallpaper with a large bed heaped high with pillows and colorful quilts. There’s pictures of all the Flores children at various ages, Emily included, and two paintings of dancing ballerinas, and a pink ‘tutu lamp’ on the bedside table that Diana thought was the cutest thing. She’s on the bed, cradling her leg and making low noises with a pained expression.

“Damn it, Mom, you need to take your meds,” Emily sighs as she sits down and starts massaging the leg.

Celia: “Or stop overdoing it.”

“Maybe you give the extra lessons a rest for a while.”

GM: “The… sorry, sweetie?” she asks with a wince. Emily shifts her hands.

Celia: “The extra lessons. With the Devillers.”

GM: “Oh. Well I think they could use me, their youngest is just so scared of strangers, and it’s a crime for her not to dance…”

“That’s their problem, not ours,” says Emily.

Celia: “It’s not worth your leg.”

“And I spoke to your friend last night, actually.”

GM: “Oh, that’s wonderful, sweetie! I’m glad you did! I’ve wanted you to meet a few times, but just haven’t been able to make the schedules work out.”

Because Celia is a vampire.

Celia: “Bit of an accident, didn’t even realize who I was calling. Naomi and Mom are close on the phone list. But we got to talking. And I remember you saying she was looking for a job. So… I mean, two birds, really.”

GM: “Well, she needs to get a job at a dance studio. The Devillers don’t pay enough to make a living off of. It’s side money.”

Celia: “Which will help while she looks.”

GM: “Oh, I have an interview lined up for her, though. It’s pretty soon. And she’s staying on at the company, for a little longer.”

Celia: “Mom. This allows you to bow out gracefully. Your health is worth more to me than their daughter dancing.”

GM: “I think more meds will be a better treatment than less lessons, though,” says Emily. “Even if they can be combined.”

Diana shakes her head. “I can’t take those, they make me say crazy things.”

“They don’t make you, Mom.”

“I’m sorry, sweetie, but I think they do.”

Celia: “I mean, when you said the crazy things, you’d just left their house. Maybe it’s stress of all that extra? The whole evening was kind of… crazy.”

“And if it’s just side money anyway you don’t need it. You have a comfortable salary.”

“Even if you did, your health is, again, more important.”

“I knew a massage therapist who messed up her hands forever trying to keep up with too much work. Younger than you and she had tendinitis and carpal tunnel in both arms. Can’t even hold a phone properly now.”

“Take a break from that. When you stop feeling the constant pain you can try again.”

GM: “…all right, sweetie. Maybe until the pain gets better,” Diana relents. “That poor friend of yours…”

“The pain won’t get better if you don’t take your meds,” says Emily as she works.

Celia: Celia squeezes her mom’s hand.

“It’s not forever. Just have to take care of you first. Then you take care of everyone else. Like on an airplane with the oxygen masks.”

“And Emily is right, Mom. Take your meds.”

GM: “They make me say crazy things,” she repeats.

Celia: “Maybe we can get a different prescription? Try something new.”

GM: “Oh. I hadn’t thought of that.”

Celia: “That’s what you’ve got us for.”

GM: Her mother smiles. “Would you mind giving me the rest of this massage, sweetie? You’re both amazingly talented, but I can get them on-call from Emily, since she lives here and all. They’re rarer from you!”

Celia: “Of course not, Mom. Happy to help.”

Celia switches places with Emily.

GM: Their mother sighs with relief as Celia eases into her familiar routine. She asks if Emily would mind packing Celia some cake “and other food, too!” since she’d rather not get back up. Emily answers it’s a sure thing and leaves to do so. Diana sighs again and closes her eyes as her daughters take care of things.

It’s as Celia said.

That’s what she’s got them for.

Even if she won’t always let them.

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Celia IV, Chapter XII
Father's Atonement

“There are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to.”
Maxen Flores


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

Celia: It’s not quite the same after that, getting ready with him. Roderick is quieter after his concession and Celia gives him his space. She selects her clothing with little fanfare, packs a bag with the extra outfits she plans for Savoy’s Elysia and the rest of her meetings, and throws her makeup kit into the bag atop the gently placed dress. She has a lot to do tonight and doesn’t want to waste time coming back here to change. It doesn’t take long to do her face: natural makeup with just a hint of color on her lips and cheeks, mascara, brows filled in. Any man looking at her would assume she isn’t wearing anything at all.

She gives Roderick a final kiss goodbye at the door, long and lingering, and tells him that she’ll see him soon. Then it’s a quick drive to GW Fins to meet her dad.

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She’d made the reservation under his name—she had wanted to make sure they’d get a good table without a wait—and gives that name to the maitre’d.

The dress she’d chosen for the event is sure to please her dad. It’s the same sort of thing she’d wear with Elyse: a long, flowing skirt that almost reaches her ankles and a sleeveless blouse. Even in March New Orleans can get warm, but she has a white sweater just in case the weather changes. Not that she’ll notice, dead as she is. A golden belt adorns her waist. It matches her golden shoes with little flowers on the toes. Dark pink skirt, lighter pink top. Cute, feminine, but modest enough to not cause any sort of insult to the state senator. Not even a man like Maxen.

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She tells herself that she’s not nervous. That meeting her dad isn’t any worse than meeting anyone else in her unlife. That her sire is loads scarier than her dad.

But maybe that’s what she’s worried about. That her sire will find out about this meeting and demand to know what she’s doing with his toy. His words from years ago play through her mind now: I won’t be lenient a second time.

Maybe that’s what she’s counting on. That he’ll come to her and demand answers. Negative attention is still attention, isn’t it?

Pathetic, some part of her whispers. The Maxen part, she’s sure. She’s been hearing his voice a lot lately. Seven years of silence thrown away by one dinner, one meeting.

She follows the man to the reserved table to wait for her father.

Even with the sex, the blowjob, and the talk Celia, has arrived in plenty of time to not be late. In fact, she notices, she’s a few minutes early.

She uses that time to send out a series of texts:

To Rusty, to confirm the time of their appointment.

To Alana, to tell her to meet her at the spa at the same time.

To Dani, asking her the same thing. She gives the address of the spa and the approximate time.

Briefly, she checks her Insta page to like and respond to comments from her most recent posting. Someone from Pat McGrath’s team had seen her prior work and sent her a whole PR kit for their new release. Not just the little samples everyone else got, either, but whopping full sized products, foundation in every shade, and a collection of lip and lid colors that would put a Lisa Frank fan into a happy color coma. She’s been experimenting with the products these last few nights and finally added the photos to her update queue. The first of them had gone out earlier today while she slept.

GM: The maitre’d recognizes the reserved Flores name and smiles how “my daughter follows your MeVid channel, ma’am,” as he shows Celia to her table.

Rusty responds promptly to confirm the time.

Alana does the same.

Celia also has some texts from her ghoul that arrived while she was driving. They’re to say that Clementine got back about a time her domitor could see Celia. Which turns out to be at the Evergreen, anyways.

Dani also replies immediately that she’ll be there.

The promptness is a refreshing change of pace from dealing with elders.

Celia’s Instagram page is full of responses as ever:

Love you Celia!!!

Four hearts faces.

So pretty

Heart.

Gorgeous. Two hearts.

:) :) :) :)

You are stunning… Heart.

Babe

CELIA! You this look plus your HAIR!

So pretty!!! That lip!

Beautiful & great tune

Celia: It’s the sort of pick-me-up that she needs before a meeting with her father: running into someone whose daughter watches her videos, prompt responses from both of her ghouls plus Dani, and the influx of love and admiration from her online followers. She lets the maitre’d know that she’s happy his daughter his a fan and tells her to send her love to his girl, hearts a bunch of the comments and responds to a few others, and otherwise uses the time to mentally prepare for this dinner.

She’s glad that the new software is working out, anyway. She’d had Alana do the updates by hand during the day for a long time, but since she found it she’s been able to do a months worth of content in one night—thank you, super speed—and schedule the posts to normal “daytime” hours, which further cements the ruse that she’s nothing but human and frees up the rest of her month to pursue other things. Alana isn’t much of an editor, but Landen knows their way around a computer and has been happy to work on the MeVid videos for extra pay, so that’s worked out quite nicely for her.

All she has to do is smile and look pretty.

And do the makeup, of course.

The surprising bit is how well Madison knows her way around social media; she’s been a godsend in hashtags and marketing trends for all that she’s pushing seventy.

GM: Emily had remarked on that once. “Older people aren’t fossils. Some of them get really into social media. Some just never pick it up, but I think more because it’s outside what they’re used to and they just don’t have the interest, more than that they actually can’t.”

Case in point, Celia’s mother hasn’t touched Instagram, but she’s all over Facemash.

One of the comments on Celia’s Instagram (Gorgeous! :)) is from Dani. There’s also a Facemash friend request from her.

Celia: Unlike her Instagram, her Facemash page itself is mostly private. Friends, family, people in the industry. She’s got a public page for herself as well, but she has no problem accepting Dani’s friend request once it comes in on her personal page instead of relegating her to following the more public fan profile.

GM: Dani is following that too. As well as Celia’s Twitter.

Celia: That’s normal, right?

They’re friends.

Maybe Dani can work at the spa until they figure things out.

That’s not weird. Especially if the ideas rolling around in her head pan out.

Not that she can imagine Dani being happy at the spa, or expects the younger girl to want to “settle” for something like that. She doesn’t have the passion for it. It’s different with Celia. She’s loved that sort of work since she was a child. And she has skills to enhance her trade. Regardless of what her clan may think, she doesn’t just play with face paint all day. She sculpts bodies, too; she just doesn’t tell them that because then there’d be no end to the requests:

Remember that time I was nice to you in Elysium, Jade?

Remember when I told you that choice bit of gossip first?

Remember how we hunted together that one time and then we fucked and that definitely makes us best friends even though you haven’t had much to do with me since?

And still they’d find a reason to scorn her for something.

There’d been a few veiled comments once about her place in the Guild of Hephaestus, as if it’s somehow lesser than live performance like dance or song to turn something functional into something beautiful. Pearl hadn’t chimed in, and Adelais had just given Jade a haughty look, which she supposes she should be thankful for since they both knew what it meant. At least no one calls her a poseur.

Pity she’d given that gift to Donovan before she’d had a chance to show it off. She supposes his comment of “satisfactory” had been enough. Then again, she doubts that anyone else would have appreciated the lethal, utilitarian purpose of them. They’d have asked where the ornamentation was: the roses or scales or marbling or ridges or something that sets them apart from any other pair of black bracers. But he knows, and she knows: they suit him just fine. They’re exactly what he needs.

Maybe, she thinks, for her Journeyman’s piece she can restore Pearl to her formerly vibrant self instead of the dusty relic she’s become.

Though perhaps that’s more Master level.

No, no. Taking all the excess body off of Beaumont is Master level.

She’ll have to tell that to Veronica later.

Maybe not. Fat jokes are just low hanging fruit with Beaumont.

…like her tits.

GM: It feels normal enough. She follows her other friends’ social media.

Not that she has many breather friends anymore.

So maybe it feels more like it should be normal than is normal.

Veronica had said she should be thankful to be in Hephaestus, anyway. Makeup was an atypical art form for their clan. She’d seemed disappointed her childe hadn’t pushed harder for Aphrodite, though.

Well, more like faintly sneering.

But she could’ve done worse than to wind up with Pietro.

Celia: Hephaestus has cooler parties, but Jade never told her that.

They’re a guild secret.

GM: “You know what they say about millennials and their phones,” chuckles a male voice.

Celia: Celia ceases her ruminations about the infighting and backstabbing of her clan and presses the side button on her phone. Her own reflection winks up at her from the suddenly black surface. She lifts her gaze.

GM: It’s her dad.

He looks good, after the better part of a decade. There’s a few more wrinkles on his face, but not too many. He’s taken good care of his skin, the esthetician notes. His physique is as thick and tapered as over. He doesn’t look like he’s given up the martial arts. His head, perhaps unsurprisingly, is still bald. It makes him look well-preserved. There can’t be more gray in his hair when he has no hair. He’s dressed down from his usual politician’s uniform in a gray blazer, black pants, and light blue button-up with no tie, though he still has an American flag pin on the jacket lapel.

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“You beat me here,” he smiles. “I’d thought I was going to be the early one.”

He holds out his arms for a hug.

Celia: For half a second all she can do is stare at the man that used to be her father.

Seven years. Almost seven years. Except that one night, but she doesn’t count that. She hadn’t been herself. Here he stands like… like the years had never passed.

She’s a little kid again getting off the bus from school with her Barbie backpack slung over her shoulders and there he stands, arms open for a hug.

Celia clears the thoughts with a blink. She rises, phone sliding neatly into her purse in a smooth, practiced motion, and steps toward him. Even in heels he’s taller, bigger.

She’s a little kid again and he’s the giant that used to tuck her in and read Goodnight, Moon.

She steps into his embrace and it all comes flooding back.

“Hi, Daddy.”

GM: His arms encircle her and hold her close. Maybe Stephen is stronger, but her dad is bigger, and definitely has more muscle. Celia breathes in the scent of his aftershave. It’s a new one, which the spa owner thinks she recognizes. Invictus, which debuted in 2013. (The name was a hoot.) It opens with fresh grapefruit and a marine accord that lead to the heart of aromatic bay leaf and Hedione jasmine and a woody base of guaiac wood, patchouli, oak moss and ambergris.

“Hi, sweetie. It’s good to see you,” he murmurs.

Celia: Almost thirty years old, seven of them spent as a member of the Damned, and something as simple as her father saying it’s good to see her threatens to buckle her knees.

She breathes him in. She doesn’t mean to. It’s the esthetician in her. She recognizes the scent, just not on him. What had he used to wear? Something with anise. She’s hated it since. She even avoids the kine who drink jager because of it.

“You too, Dad.”

How long is too long to hug her estranged father? How short is too short? Why are there no etiquette guides to this sort of thing? She lets him pull back first, and when he does she smiles up at him.

“How have you been? How’s… everything?”

GM: Her dad takes care of it. Like he took care of everything. It’s a long embrace, appropriate for a father who hasn’t seen his daughter in many years, but appropriate for a public space too.

“That’s a long answer,” her dad smiles. “But if you’ll humor your old man and let him be a gentleman first?”

Her chair is mostly pulled out already. But he scoots it out a little more.

Celia: “Of course.” She answers his smile with one of her own, taking the offered seat and letting him push the chair in for her. She tucks her legs beneath the seat, one ankle crossed over the other. Like a lady. “Thank you.”

GM: “It’s my pleasure, Celia. It truly is.”

He takes his own seat. The waitress is already there for them with menus.

Maxen thanks her as she pours their waters, but sets down the menu after she leaves.

“You look lovely this evening. I like how the shoes match our name.”

Celia: Celia barely glances at the menu before she follows his lead, setting it down on the table in front of her to gaze across at him. She laughs at the comment on her shoes.

“Thanks, Dad. Florals are big this year.” Her eyes scan his frame, his face, the outfit. “You look good. Still doing Crossfit?”

GM: “Oh, yes. I’d like to participate in some larger events, but work doesn’t leave me with much time. Especially now.”

He smiles again. “I think flowers will always be big, though. There’s a flower shop in the Quarter run by a girl who shares our name. Bloom Couture. Have you ever been?”

Celia: “Dahlia Rose?” Her eyes light up at the mention of the store. “I have. I love her work. First time I went in she told me that I was the second Flores to visit that week; apparently someone from your office hired her for an event? The atmosphere is just… amazing in there. The whole feel of the place, like walking through a rain forest or a beautiful, vibrant garden.”

She wants to take Roderick there on a date.

“Election keeping you busy?”

GM: “Oh, yes. We’ve hired her for several. You can’t ever go wrong with flowers, especially with a last name like Flores.”

“And it certainly is. But it’s not polite of me to talk politics over dinner, even if politics are work. Let’s talk about you. You’d said you were opening a second location for Flawless?”

Celia: She’s happy to let the matter of politics rest. She doesn’t want anyone to think she’s meddling where she shouldn’t be.

“I am, yes. We’re still in the process of scouting locations and speaking with contractors and landlords, getting through all the red tape. There’s a beautiful place in Riverbend that just went up for lease, but I’m not sure if I can make it work with the man who owns the property, so that might not take off.”

She hasn’t even bothered to ask him. She’s pretty sure the answer will be “no.” Same with what she’d found in Uptown and Lakeview. The dream of a second location might die before it ever gets off the ground.

GM: Her dad smiles knowingly. “I’m still in real estate. That red tape is familiar.”

Celia: “How do you find the time?” she laughs.

GM: “Oh, mostly, I don’t. Our state’s technically a hybrid legislature, but at least for me, this is still a full-time job. Other people run most of the business’ day-to-day things. But I still carve out time to check in and make the bigger decisions.”

“A PA can be very valuable, there. Do you have one?”

Celia: “I’m in the process of moving my staff around to accommodate for one. I’m speaking with her about it tonight, actually.”

GM: “Smart. With two locations you’ll increasingly need to delegate and schedule your time. Though I’m sure that idea isn’t news to you.”

“What’s the issue with the man who owns the property you want?”

Celia: He killed me.

“He seems inflexible about making a few modifications that I’d need to make the most of the location. And the rent. It’s manageable, especially considering the locale and the additional revenue I’d bring in, but I’ve dealt with his kind before and it might be more of a hassle than it’s worth to get into a long term contract with someone like him.”

It isn’t lost on her that this is the first time her father has said “smart” in reference to her since… well, too long ago. Or had he ever?

“I’m sure I’ll find something suitable, though.”

GM: “If you don’t, or if your heart’s set on this location, let me know. A few phone calls to the right people can change a lot of minds.”

Celia: “I’ll keep that in mind, Dad. Thanks.” She smiles at him, though she doesn’t think it’s the sort of offer she can ever cash in on. Still, she’s surprisingly touched by the gesture. “How’s your arm?”

GM: He smiles back. “It’d be my pleasure. One business owner to another.”

“The arm is good, thank you for asking. I’m already back to lifting weights with it.”

Celia: “Oh, good. I’m glad there weren’t any lasting issues. Just a scratch then?”

GM: “Deeper than a scratch. But we’ve got good genes. We heal up fast.”

Celia: Is that all it is?

“We definitely bounce back.”

GM: “That’s what resilience is. Everyone gets knocked down at some point. It’s bouncing back that counts.”

“Are you two ready to order, or could you use a little more time, still?” smiles the pair’s waitress.

They’ve had menus available for a little while.

Celia: “Oh! Hm…” Celia glances down at the menu, then her father. “I’m ready, if you are?”

GM: “I’ll take the Lobster Dumplings to start off, and the Scottish Salmon for the entrée, please,” says Celia’s father.

Celia: “Mmm, lobster dumplings sound good. Just the Yellowfin Tuna for me, please.” Celia smiles up at the waitress, handing over the menu. “Thank you.”

Celia declines the offered wine pairing—no reason to force that down as well, not when bringing it back up makes it twice as vile—and looks back to her father as the waitress moves away.

“Lucy was quite taken with you. She said you have good taste in toys.” She can’t help the half-laugh that accompanies the words.

GM: Celia’s father declines anything to drink as well. “Just water, please.”

He smiles at the mention of Lucy. “She’s a hard child not to be taken with. You’ve done splendidly with her, Celia.”

Celia: “Ah, well,” color rises to her cheeks at the compliment, “Mom helped a lot.”

“Especially those early years while I was getting the business off the ground. She’s been a blessing.”

She watches his face, searching for any sign of… anything. Guilt. Regret. Anger.

She doesn’t know what she’s looking for after all these years. If he even remembers what he did to his ex-wife. Or if that, too, was wiped from his mind.

She’s never been able to get the screaming out of her head.

GM: Maxen smiles back. “I’m sure she has. That’s what grandmothers are there to do. I’m sure it’s made her very happy.”

Celia: “It has.”

“We were all pretty surprised to see you.”

There’s a question there, a lifting of her brows.

GM: “We all have Logan to thank for that. He’s been pushing me to reconnect.”

“You and your mom too, by the sound of things.”

Celia: “Is that… something you want?”

GM: “I think what I want may be the less important factor here.”

Celia: A wry smile meets his words. “That doesn’t sound like the Senator Flores I know.”

GM: “I’m glad it doesn’t.”

Celia: “Is it, though?”

GM: The appetizer arrives. The lobsters are completely encased in their doughy gyoza covering, which is lathered in a mousseline consisting of cream, olive oil, egg, mustard, and lobster roe (eggs). Some diced green onions add a touch of color to the affair.

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Maxen thanks the waitress as she refills his water, but pauses to answer Celia’s question until she’s left.

“Celia, there are three very important things I want to tell you tonight.”

“I said it was rude of me to talk about politics over the dinner table, so I’ll preemptively apologize for this.”

“I’m going to be governor.”

“I don’t know how closely you follow politics these days, but the GOP established a trifecta government back in 2010. That means we control the governor’s mansion and have majorities in both legislative chambers. We’ve retained our hold over the state legislature. But Pavaghi, thanks to his corruption, lost us the governor’s mansion in 2012 to Bill Roberts.”

“We plan to take it back next year. I’m going to run, and I’m going to beat him. I’ve beat him in an election once already, and the thinking among the party is that I’ll beat him again.”

“Kelly and Malveaux are both behind me. There’s already behind the scenes work going on to keep other candidates out of the primary. We want to deliver a knockout blow, without the need for a general election, if we can help it.” He smiles. “If you aren’t familiar, Louisiana elections have a jungle primary system, where any number of candidates from any party can compete. Any candidate who wins more than 50% of the vote becomes governor. Otherwise, the top two candidates proceed to a general election.”

“This fact isn’t widely remembered, but governors don’t have term limits.”

“It isn’t, thanks to public outcry over Pavaghi’s corruption, government mishandling of Katrina, and the decades-long realignment of our state from Democratic to Republican. All of those factors have sent governors from both parties prematurely out of office.”

“It’s been a while since we had a ‘for life’ governor. Who served until he died.”

“Louisiana’s political realignment was effectively completed in 2010. The state is now solid red. It’s only thanks to Pavaghi’s naked corruption that the party lost the governor’s mansion, and we don’t intend to bungle things twice.”

“I intend to be the GOP governor of a GOP state, and I intend to serve for life, unless I should seek and obtain higher office.”

“I also intend to pass the governor’s mansion, and a U.S. Senate seat—not a state senate seat—to David and Logan. We will establish a political dynasty to match the Kellys and Malveauxes.”

“There are many opportunities available to ‘for life’ governors. Exponentially more than there are to single- or duo-term ones. I expect our family to become very wealthy.”

“I intend to rule as king of this state, and to make princes of my sons. We will shepherd Louisiana into a new and brighter age, free of the corruption and mismanagement and failures of its past.”

He pauses, seemingly to give Celia a chance to process and reply.

Celia: Times like these remind Celia why the kine so often have working lunches or dinner meetings. It allows them to stuff their face with food or drink while they process what the other person says, negating any awkward silences. It gives them something to do other than twiddle their thumbs while their estranged father lays out his political plans.

Seven years as a lick and her adept ability to pass herself off as one of them has given her other means to convey her interest and attention: little gestures here, fond smiles there, and a whole host of eye movements impart her introspection. Another mask, just the human kind this time.

Governor. For life. And higher yet, if his plan bears any fruit. Moving up in the political sphere. Donovan must be pleased.

Already the wheels turn.

“That’s wonderful, Daddy.” She reaches for his hand across the table. “I’m so proud of you. Is that silly, a daughter being proud of her daddy? But I am.”

“Say, if Logan and David are going to be princes, does that make me a princess?” She flashes a teasing smile his way.

GM: “You’ve always been my princess, Celia,” her dad smiles as he squeezes her hand. “But this will make you princess to a lot more people.”

Celia: Has she? She seems to recall things getting pretty bad after he’d started dancing to Donovan’s tune.

“I’ll have a tiara made,” she says with a laugh, “maybe a flower crown from Dahlia Rose.”

GM: “Princess Flores could do a lot worse than a floral crown,” he chuckles back.

Celia: “But that’s one, I assume? You said three.” Her brows lift.

GM: “Yes, and the least important. But give me a moment to finish these dumplings, first. Feel free to help yourself.”

He takes a bite from one. “That isn’t silly for a child to be proud of their parents, either. That’s how things should be.”

Celia: How is becoming governor the least important? She doesn’t ask. He’ll tell her in time. There isn’t really a polite way to lean all the way across the table to try his lobster—and it would be wasted on her, anyway—so Celia lifts the glass of water to her lips but sets it down when he addresses her without taking a sip.

“You’re right, of course. Pride can go both ways. I admit I was a little young when you were first getting started, but there’ve been some people who ask, ‘are you related to the senator?’ and it tickles me pink every time they talk about how you won your seat so young and the things you’ve done for the state.”

GM: Her father moves the dish across the table.

“I’m pretty sure I get asked if I’m related to ‘the’ Celia more often than you get asked if you’re related to ‘the’ senator, these days,” her fathers chuckles. “State senators aren’t well-known figures to the public at large, usually, and party leadership positions are even more obscure. Even most casual political junkies can’t name the leadership in their state senate. But I’d be hard-pressed to name any of my female staffers who don’t also know your name.”

Celia: Ah, well, if he’s going to push it at her. She thanks him with a smile and helps herself to one of his dumplings, giving her Beast a mental nudge to let it know what’s about to slide down her gullet.

She keeps thinking about building a second esophagus for herself that leads into a pouch she can empty out, kind of like changing a vacuum cleaner bag, but she hasn’t done it yet. Tonight, maybe. She still has materials at the spa she can work with. And she’d wanted to experiment with her eyes as well…

“I went to see Logan the other day and I was mobbed by his classmates,” Celia confesses with a grin. “I had to borrow one of his hoodies to sneak out. And… not to count my chickens before they’re hatched or anything, but you might be hearin’ a bit more of that in a year or two.”

She bites into the dumpling.

It’s like eating raw sewage all over again.

GM: The texture is different from the slop her mom served her, but that’s it. It all tastes equally like shit.

Her mom will probably be thrilled, though, if she can eat more.

“That will make me very pleased to hear, Celia. I hope my name being more known will also help spread yours.”

Celia: She wants to tell him. About L.A., getting into acting, maybe breaking into the movie industry. She wants to tell him so they can share this moment together, because she can’t tell her mom. Diana will be upset that Celia has been in contact with Ron.

But she remembers what he told her once, that he would never let her go to a cesspool like Hollywood.

She swallows the dumpling.

She wants a dad. The thought hits her as she sits across from him, that she was robbed of having a father in her life. Maxen isn’t her father. Literally. And Ron doesn’t want to be her father. Donovan certainly hasn’t been very paternal. She has her grandsire, sure, but that’s different. As much as she wants him to like her for her, as much as she wants him to be proud of Pher, she still thinks he just sees her as a pawn. And that’s his right, old as he is, but it still… rankles. She wants him to be pleased with her. And maybe he will be tonight, after she tells him everything she’s done, but even then… isn’t that just another form of making herself useful to him? What about her?

She’d rolled her eyes when Roderick had said that Lucy could use a paternal figure, but maybe… maybe he’s right. Maybe girls need their dads.

She wants what Roderick had. What he still has, with his sire.

The food sits in her stomach like a piece of lead.

Her Beast, thoroughly warned, doesn’t even protest.

Maybe Roderick’s blood had sated it enough that this paltry mortal fare doesn’t even bother it.

Small blessings and all that.

“I imagine it will. Like how the Malveauxs have all sorts of doors opened for them because of their name. Maybe you could put in an appearance on my channel. ‘The governor does my makeup.’”

She’s only teasing, though. She can’t imagine her father would say yes to that.

GM: Her father smiles back. “It’s funny you should say that, Celia, if you’ll humor your old man with a story.”

“The 1960 Kennedy vs. Nixon debates is one of the most famous presidential debates of all time, because it heralded the transition of old media to new media. It was the first televised presidential debate. If you asked most people who was going to win, they’d have probably said Nixon. He had experience in TV debates, and had used a 1952 televised address to debunk slush fund allegations, and to secure his spot as Ike’s running mate by talking about his pet dog, Checkers. Nixon had also bested Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in the famous Kitchen Debate, also televised. But he still lost to Kennedy, and that might have decided the election. The 1960 election was an extremely close thing.”

“And you know why Nixon lost? Makeup.”

Celia: “He lost because of makeup?”

GM: “He definitely lost the debate because of makeup. In the aftermath of that debate, Nixon’s running mate, Henry Cabot Lodge, had a few choice words for the GOP presidential candidate. ‘That son-of-a-bitch just lost us the election.’”

“Here’s why he lost.”

“When Nixon arrived for the debate, he looked ill, having been recently hospitalized because of a knee injury. The vice president then re-injured his knee as he entered the TV station, and refused to call off the debate.”

“Nixon also refused to wear stage makeup, even when people at the studio offered it. Kennedy also turned down their offer. But only because he had spent weeks tanning on the campaign trail, and had his own team do his makeup just before the cameras went live. The result was that Kennedy looked and sounded good on television, while Nixon looked pale and tired, with a five o’clock shadow beard. He was thin, sweaty, and beady-eyed next to his dashing young opponent. It’s a well-cited fact that listeners who heard the debate over radio thought that Nixon won. But viewers who watched the debate over TV thought that Kennedy won.”

Celia: Celia nods at the explanation.

“Appearances are pretty important to the world, even in politics. Something as simple as how someone smiles can influence our perception of them. We like to think that we’ve moved beyond that, and there are plenty of people who try to say it doesn’t matter, but the truth is that if you’re fit and attractive you have an easier time of things and people are more likely to listen to you, take you seriously, and even just hand things to you.”

GM: “I might even go so far as to say appearances are especially important in politics, which for good or ill, come significantly down to a candidate’s cultivated image. Their personal brand. That probably isn’t anything new to you at all.”

“It’s still debated by political scientists how decisive those debates were. Some people think it was other factors, like the last great gasp of Chicago’s political machine, that were chiefly responsible for Kennedy’s victory. There are obviously lots of factors that can swing an election. But Nixon apparently believed the debates were decisive. He refused to participate in any televised debates when he ran for president in 1968 and again in 1972. Debates only became an uninterrupted feature of presidential campaigns after Gerald Ford revived them in 1976.”

“Then in 1980, of course, one of the candidates was a former movie star. And makeup artists haven’t lacked for work with presidential candidates ever since.”

Celia: “One of my employees worked with Reagan.”

GM: “I bet she has a lot of stories. His campaign was a groundbreaker in so many ways.”

Celia: “Actually… I think she came out with him, because prior to that she’d done work in L.A.”

Had Madison changed politics somehow?

GM: “I’d be honored if she, and you, wanted to work with my campaign. Someone has to do my makeup for the TV debates, after all,” her father smiles.

Celia: “I’d really like that, Dad. That really means a lot to me.”

GM: “It means just as much to me. I’ll have someone contact your business before the debates start. The governor would probably do a bad job at doing your makeup, if he appeared on your channel, but someone good will need to do his. Perhaps you could put that up on your channel.”

Celia: “Well, the trend right now is having someone unusual do your makeup—a lot of girls use their boyfriends—and it’s supposed to come out pretty silly. But you don’t get anywhere by following the crowd.”

Which isn’t exactly true in the MeVid game, but she’ll live.

GM: “Silly makes sense as the objective. I can’t imagine the boyfriends would otherwise do very good jobs.”

Celia: “Mmm, no, there was one who ended up with eye shadow all across her forehead.”

GM: Maxen chuckles as the waitress arrives with the pair’s food.

Celia’s Yellowfin Tuna is seared rare with sticky rice, stir-fried vegetables, and sweet soy butter.

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Celia: It certainly looks appealing, even though she won’t be able to taste anything.

GM: Her father’s order is wood grilled Scottish Salmon with butter bean succotash, sweet corn spoonbread, and roasted corn butter.

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Maxen thanks the waitress as she sets down their food, refills their waters, and clears the empty appetizer dish.

Celia: Celia echoes his words, giving the girl a small smile before turning her eyes to her plate.

“This looks amazing.”

GM: The waitress smiles back at the pair and repeats to let them know if they need anything. She also follows Celia over social media.

“It does. I’d never have thought to try this place without you,” her dad remarks. “I’ve been to those other ones I brought up with you a thousand times.”

Celia: “I’m glad you humored me. I’ve heard so much about it but haven’t been yet. I hope it measures up.” She reaches for her fork. “Do you still have steak every Saturday? Well, except tonight.”

GM: “Oh yes. Get in that protein, which I’m still doing tonight.”

Celia: “Maybe next time we can meet at a steakhouse so you don’t have to eat two meals. Fish does have a lot of protein, though.”

GM: “Oh, I wasn’t clear, sweetie. This is my protein intake.” He smiles down at the food between a bite. “Fish is still meat, and let’s not forget the nuts too.”

Celia: She can’t help but laugh.

“I thought you meant you were going to go home and grill up a ribeye or something.”

GM: “Maybe if I were Logan,” he chuckles back.

“I’m pretty in shape for my age, but I definitely don’t have his appetite.”

Celia: Seven years ago he would have insulted her intelligence for the misunderstanding.

She smiles with him and takes a bite of the tuna.

Early on in her Requiem she’d thought that maybe she could get away with eating solid food like this as long as it was rare. Undercooked. Bloody. But it isn’t blood that touches her tongue now, and she’d been quickly disabused of that notion.

GM: It tastes like shit.

Celia: Yum.

Sometimes she wants to tell her mom the truth just so she doesn’t need to do this to herself anymore.

It wouldn’t help here, no, but at least part of her family would stop hounding her to stuff herself when she visits.

There’s nothing glamorous about bending over a porcelain bowl to heave the contents of her stomach back up later.

And regurgitated food tastes just as bad as it had when she’d forced herself to chew and swallow in the first place.

The gummy texture of masticated cuisine and sludge sliding back up her throat makes for the worst part for her Requiem.

She’s going to have to ask Dani later if she still enjoys food.

And if she throws it up later or if the rest of her body works.

Imagine being a vampire and still needing to take a shit, though.

“I think Mom got sticker shock the first time she went grocery shopping when Logan hit his growth spurt.”

“Emily and I used to have to hide the chocolate so he wouldn’t get into it.”

GM: As Roderick says, who even knows what the rules are with them.

Celia: Celia will.

She plans to find out.

GM: “That was good of you. Big boy like him should have plenty to eat, but chocolate’s an occasional treat.”

“I’ve heard about a man who runs a fitness gym, Fouled Anchor Fitness, who eats the same thing every day. Same meals. A balance of lean proteins, grains, vegetables, and fruits. Doesn’t ever consume sweets or alcohol or deviate from his meal plan, even on Thanksgiving.”

“That’s discipline. I think he’s a military vet.”

Celia: “That’s admirable. I think a lot of people see food as a reward, sometimes. Culturally a lot of our celebrations are based around it, which certainly doesn’t help.”

GM: “It doesn’t. It takes a lot of dedication to resist eating a Thanksgiving meal.”

“It’s further than I go. Or that I think Logan needs to go. But I respect that man for doing so.”

Celia: Celia asks her dad if he’d like to try the tuna since they’re not dedicated to eating the same thing every day.

GM: He would, and offers her some salmon.

Celia: Only so long as it doesn’t throw off his macros.

It’s a strange feeling, sharing food with her father.

Maxen, she reminds herself. Not her father. Not in a long time.

After some moments of enjoying (or at least pretending to enjoy) their food, Celia eases the conversation back around to him and his news.

GM: “Celia,” he says slowly, “there are thousands of words I could say this with, but only two words they come down to. They feel utterly inadequate. But they seem like the only place to start.”

“I’m sorry.”

Celia: Celia stares across the table at her father. This hadn’t been what she’d expected. Not at all. Not an apology, thrown out so openly.

I’m sorry.

It threatens to drown her.

How long since her last breath?

She takes one now. Deep. In through her nose. She can almost smell it then, the threat of the coppery tang that the words bring. She blinks down at her plate and snuffs the blossoming emotion before it can do more than knock at her heart. The smoky tendrils of it drift down into her gut to join the rest of the garbage she had just imbibed, filling her stomach with the same sort of poison.

She kills it before it has a chance to live.

“You’re sorry?” she finally repeats, voice soft.

GM: Celia’s father takes her hand and stares into her eyes like they’re the only objects left in all existence.

“I am sorry for the pain and hurt I have caused you, your mother, and all of our family. Emily included. Instead of nourishing you with love, I traumatized you with abuse. Instead of pampering my princess in her castle, I imprisoned her in a fortress. Instead of protecting you from the world’s dangers, I was the danger you needed protecting from. Instead of showing you tenderness and affection, I beat and humiliated you. Instead of recognizing your brilliance, I belittled you and said you were stupid. Instead of supporting you in your dreams, I said you were not good enough to achieve them. You are the success you now are not because of me, but despite me. I failed in my essential function as a man to provide for my family, on innumerable levels, but perhaps the greatest thing I failed to provide them with was my love. Instead of my love being a foundation to help you, your siblings, and your mother thrive and succeed, my abuse was a nemesis to overcome. That I did not ruin your lives completely is a testament to your own strength of character, and my actions are a shame I will carry with me for as long as I will ever live. I don’t know that it’s even possible to make right a wrong on the scale that I’ve committed towards you. But I pray to God that it’s possible to make some manner of restitution, however small.”

“Starting with the fact that I, am, sorry.”

Celia: Silence greets his words. Sharp, stunned silence. He has hold of her gaze just as solidly as the hand in his; she can’t look away.

For a moment, she can’t breathe. For a moment, her heart stops. For a moment, her thoughts still.

Aren’t they always? His voice in her head. Is it, though? Is it his voice, or is it her own? Is it the Bitch inside of her, the Beast’s steadfast companion?

“You’re sorry,” she says again, and it bubbles up inside of her, threatening to spill over into the air between them. Her tongue flicks across her lips.

“What changed? Why now?”

GM: “It wasn’t now, Celia. Change doesn’t happen overnight. But I’d waited to approach you, because a man does not just apologize for his mistakes. He fixes them, or at least tries to. I’ve been trying to for some time now, because I was resolved not to re-enter your lives bearing only apologies.”

“This still happened earlier than I’d planned. Logan had been pushing all of us to reconnect, as I said. He forwarded me the texts from your mother, and it seemed like there was something I could do for her immediately.”

“I’ll tell you what’s changed, and what’s brought me to this point. But I wanted to start with some of the ways I’d like to make restitution to you and your mother.”

Celia: She doesn’t trust herself to speak yet. She nods mutely.

GM: “First, I’ve been talking to some doctors in Houston about your mother’s condition. They have the world’s largest medical center there. Tulane doesn’t compare at all. The doctors told me your mother’s condition is likely to deteriorate with age, and that she may eventually need a wheelchair, in addition to suffering worse pain.”

Celia: He did that to her. Does he remember that night, taking a hacksaw to her mother’s leg?

“She’s getting worse,” Celia finally says, confirming their words.

“But that’s not a solution.”

GM: Maxen nods, as if unsurprised. “But there are some experimental treatments available in Houston. Ones that might not only be able to stop what I’ve described from happening, but which might also be able to fix your mother’s leg, too. Full mobility and no more pain.”

“She could dance again.”

“These treatments are very new, very expensive, and access to them is a question of more than simply money. You won’t hear about them just by asking a doctor. It’s taken me a lot of effort to hear what I have, mere state senator that I am.”

Celia: “How did you come across them?”

GM: “I’ve been laying the groundwork to run for governor for a while now. This was part of it. There are doors that open to governors, and even more to for-life governors, but candidates can get glimpses at those doors. Especially if they push.”

“When I’m governor, I will have the clout and resources necessary to obtain access for your mother. If she would like Texas Medical Center’s doctors to fix her leg, I will make it happen.”

“It doesn’t make up for the years she was not able to dance, or for the pain and trauma she has suffered. I can’t magic that away.”

Celia: Or everything he took from her when he threw away all of her belongings. The tangible evidence of her memories.

The years of hardship she endured when he sent her into medical debt.

She says none of this, just nods again, waiting for him to go on.

GM: “I owe your mother a separate apology. More than an apology. I had wanted to wait until I was governor to break this news, so that it could happen immediately and be more than just a promise. But there are some other things I’ve brought tonight that I hope will be of greater restitution than promises.”

Celia: “Why did you do it?”

“That night.”

“Why?”

GM: Celia’s dad flags down the waitress, but pauses at her question.

“I believed your mother had been intimate with another man, Celia, under circumstances I disapproved. I can’t even begin to muster the words to describe how wrong I was. I destroyed her greatest joy in life, ended her career, and caused her mental, physical, and financial hardship that she suffers to this day.”

Celia: “Under circumstances you disapproved.”

Her tone lacks any confrontational quality. She simply sounds incredulous, as if wondering if there are circumstances he would have approved.

Your mom’s a sex slave.

She dismisses the stray thought as soon as it occurs.

GM: “I’m sorry. That was an extraneous choice of words. I doubt there are any circumstances under which your mother believes I would have approved, or have felt herself safe under my disapproval.”

Celia: She doesn’t understand. “You thought she was having an affair, or you thought she had been with someone else at some point in her life?”

GM: Maxen clears his throat. “I feel that it impugns your mother’s virtue, Celia, to discuss these things about her, even in the context of mistaken beliefs.”

Celia: Her lips flatten into a line thin enough that even Payton would be proud of.

GM: He offers a wan smile. “You look like your grandmother.”

Celia: Not him, though. Never him.

“We spend a lot of time together,” is all she says.

His master had killed his parents, after all.

GM: “I’m glad you’re able to have that relationship. I don’t think she was ever able to forgive your grandmother.”

Celia: “For telling her to abort me?”

GM: Maxen looks surprised, but answers, “For the measures she took, after your grandfather’s death.”

Celia: “They won’t tell me,” Celia admits. “Can you?”

GM: Maxen presses his lips together, but answers, “There is a… you might call it a finishing school, Celia.”

“A private school that’s only known by word of mouth. Mostly among wealthy families, or old families. For young women whose families are displeased with their behavior.”

“Your grandmother sent your mother there.”

Celia: Payton did it?

The dolls.

Payton had sent Diana to become a doll.

GM: “Their methods are… extreme.”

Celia: “When? After me? After I came out? Or before?”

GM: “Before you.”

“Your mother did not enjoy her time there.”

Celia: No, she doesn’t imagine her mother did.

“I’ve heard of it,” she says faintly, still reeling from the knowledge that Payton had sent her mother there.

GM: “I’d thought, several times, about sending you there. Your mother begged me not to.”

“I’m glad I didn’t. Your mother says she was never the same after that place.”

Celia: “But I wasn’t… they don’t send them there for being stupid.”

GM: “Celia,” her father says harshly. “You weren’t stupid. You aren’t stupid. You’re brilliant.”

“But I’m to understand the headmistress doesn’t ask very many questions about the girls who get sent there, so long as their families are willing to pay.”

Celia: Celia isn’t supposed to know about a place like this where girls become dolls. So she doesn’t confirm what he says.

Or maybe she’s too busy reeling from the fact that he’d wanted to send her there.

Or maybe… maybe it’s what he said about her not being stupid. Maybe, if they weren’t in public, if she didn’t have such a tight lid on her emotions right now, she’d have let them show on her face. Maybe her cheeks would be red with blood.

But she stuffs that down, too. Buries it in the pit of her stomach so she can throw it up later and let herself feel.

GM: “As I said, their measures are very extreme. The students aren’t even allowed to use their own names. The headmistress gives them new ones.”

Celia: Lucy.

Why would she name her daughter after her doll?

“Why did Grandma send her there? What was so wrong with her?”

GM: “From what your mother has told me, your grandfather’s death tore your family apart. Or at least tore a rift between your mother and your grandmother. She never thought your aunt Prudence or uncle Stan were as rebellious as your mother was.”

“They fought, all of the time. Your mother would disappear for nights. Her grades were suffering. Your mother told me she attacked your grandmother once.”

Celia: “It’s hard to imagine Mom being rebellious. Or doing anything like that.”

A rebellious doormat, maybe, curling in at the corners.

“Did you know her? Before she went?”

GM: “I found it hard to imagine too. Your mother told me the turning point came when she attacked your grandmother, with the gun, and said she was leaving home for good. She ran off with your grandmother’s car and all of the house’s cash and jewelry.”

Celia: “…with a gun?”

GM: He nods. “Last I heard, your grandmother still keeps a number of firearms in the house.”

Celia: “Is that why you wanted to send me? Because I came after you?”

But, no, she’d done that the night everything blew up. The timing doesn’t work.

GM: “I thought about it then. I thought about it other times. Celia, I can’t even imagine how you might have turned out if I’d sent you there.”

“Your mother was a shell when I first met her. Really met her. She was the shyest, most docile, most timid girl you’d ever laid eyes on.”

“I didn’t believe her at first, when she told me the story. I thought it was some kind of joke. A tall tale.”

Celia: “When did you realize it wasn’t?”

GM: “When she started to cry.”

Celia: If the timing he claims is accurate, she would have met Ron after she’d become a doll. But it doesn’t make any sense why she’d have been at that party.

Dolls don’t go to parties. They don’t have sex.

They do, but…

Celia sets her head in her hands.

GM: Her father rests a hand on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Celia. Maybe it was wrong of me to tell you this.”

Celia: “No. It wasn’t. I’m just trying to figure out the rest.”

GM: “I don’t know that your mother will want to talk about it. The memories there are very painful for her.”

Celia: “I know. I know someone who… who went through it, too.”

She’d been there.

Breaking her.

Breaking countless hers.

For years.

GM: Her father nods slowly. “It’s not widely talked about. But move in the right circles, pay attention, and you’ll hear things.”

Celia: “Thank you for telling me. And for not doing that to me.”

GM: “Thanks are what you give someone for favors and kindnesses. That was just the absence of more abuse.”

Celia: He’s right, so she just nods her head.

GM: “Here. I have something for your mother.”

He motions to a server, who approaches their table with a large wrapped box.

“These are your mother’s ballet things,” he says. “They aren’t the originals. Those are long gone thanks to me.”

“I’ve had people go to the places where she’s danced. Look up records. Who won what trophies. Make some calls to the production company owners, or the companies that make the trophies. They’re all there.”

“There’s also some scrapbooks and photo albums. I got those from the other dancers. Some of them simply let me make copies. Others were willing to sell the originals.”

“After this long, I don’t know if your mother still misses these things. But maybe Lucy would like to see them.”

Celia: Celia swallows the lump in her throat as she listens to his explanation. The gift she’d only just started to think about: how to get those memories back. She’s had years and only last night did she think to talk to Mom’s friends and fellow dancers to get copies of photos. Because of him, yes, because of him. But because of her, too. She hadn’t saved the things from the garbage. Luana had told her to, and she’d been too busy worried about her appearance to grab anything more than the makeup.

Despite her best attempts to keep it down the emotions bubble up again. She needs to purge. To let it out, somewhere no one can see her cry, can’t wonder at the blood that spills from her eyes, and to expel the poison in her body.

“Excuse me,” she murmurs, rising, unable to look at him or the box, “I just… I need a moment.”

GM: “Of course,” he says quietly.

Celia: She moves quickly through the restaurant to find the bathroom, taking the first open stall and locking herself into the small, cramped space.

She’s not alive. She doesn’t need to breathe. Her shoulders don’t shake and she doesn’t shudder or gasp or wail. The tears simply fall. She presses a hand to her mouth as if that helps, as if it will keep anything inside of her, but still they come.

Mom is a doll.

Dad said she isn’t stupid.

Why? Why does it mean so much to her after all this time? She knows she isn’t stupid. She’s never been stupid. She’s been hurt and desperate and afraid and frivolous but she has never been stupid. She shouldn’t care. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Too little too late, right? One dinner, one box of memories, it doesn’t make up for the years of living under his rule, it doesn’t make up for everything that he had done to them. To her, to her mom, to her siblings.

It can’t.

It can’t matter.

She’s supposed to hate him. She’s supposed to hate him more than she hates anyone. He’s the villain. The bad guy. The monster that tucked her in at night. Not… not this. Not whatever it is he’s trying to be out there. It’s not him. It’s a trick. It has to be a trick because it can’t be real, none of it is real.

She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead, and he isn’t her dad anyway. He’s not her father. He just raised her. And he doesn’t even know. Does he know? Is that why he’d gone after Mom? But why meet her? Why not just let her do her own thing, live her own life, when it doesn’t matter?

He’s not her dad.

And she desperately, desperately wants him to be.

It comes out of her suddenly, a violent heaving that has her doubled over atop the toilet as her stomach empties its contents into the bowl. Salmon and tuna and lobster, half-chewed, pulverized by her teeth pours from her mouth. The water splashes as it hits.

Again. Again. Again. It comes out of her. Her body purges, emptying itself of the rotten seafood stuffed inside. She gags at the taste, gags as it slides across her tongue, no better the second time around than it had been on the way down. And it sits in the bowl, staring up at her, the water turned murky by the little chunks of vomit.

She stares back.

She’d sink to her knees if she weren’t in a public bathroom. But she can’t do that, not here. She gives herself a moment to let it out, let it all out, before she pulls herself together. A wad of toilet paper wipes away the worst of the blood from her face, and a makeup wipe from her purse gets the rest of it. She tosses both into the toilet and flushes it all away, letting the swirling water take everything resembling emotions along with it.

Celia touches up her foundation with the tip of her finger in the small compact she keeps in her purse. None of the rest of her makeup had smeared. She washes her hands at the sink and stares at her face in the mirror, wondering if her eyes have always looked so hollow or if it’s just that she’s finally dead inside, shut down to avoid feeling anything unpleasant.

She returns to the table.

GM: Less vomit than mushed-up food, but it’s all just waste either way. Poison festering in her guts, that she’s forcing there when her Beast doesn’t want it there.

If only her unwanted feelings could be expelled so easily.

Celia: She can kill those too. There’s a spot in the brain that she can simply rip out.

Maybe she will.

GM: Just like Elyse does for her dolls. She can be just like Mom.

Mom the doll.

Celia: And Payton.

Sending her daughter to become a doll.

She’d thought it was Maxen.

GM: That would’ve been easier.

Celia: She could still hate him if it had been him.

Instead of whatever this is.

GM: Whatever this is, her father is waiting for back at the table.

“We could call things here tonight, if you’d like,” he says quietly. “I know this all must be a lot to take in.”

Celia: They can’t, though. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to see him again after this.

“I’m okay,” she says.

GM: “Okay,” he says.

“Will you give your mother these things for me, when you see her next?”

Celia: “I will.”

GM: “Thank you.”

Celia: “She’ll appreciate it. She… she still misses it, Dad.”

“And I want the treatment for her. After you win. Take her to Texas, fix her.”

It makes more sense than trying to explain Xola to her.

GM: “Okay,” he says again. “We’ll ask her. If you’re on board I hope she’ll be too.”

Celia: “I’ve been looking for something to help her. To prevent the pain. That’s why I turned to a more medical focus with the spa, so I could… find something.” But she hasn’t learned it yet, the work that goes bone deep. “I thought I knew someone who could help, but I was wrong.”

GM: “I’m sorry they didn’t work out. But I think your mom would be very touched to hear you tried.”

Celia: Failed. Not quite her fault, not really—it’s not like she’d sent North to Vienna. But she nods anyway.

“Where were we, before we got sidetracked?”

GM: “I was actually going to bring up something else. Your mother sounds as if she loves Emily very much. Sophia and your brothers tell me she’s adopted her.”

Celia: “In name only. Legally you can’t adopt an adult in Louisiana. They considered a road trip but you have to be a resident to do it elsewhere.”

“But she does. We all do.”

GM: “Well, about that.”

Maxen hands her a manilla folder.

Celia: Celia reaches for it, brows lifted. She flips it open.

GM: Inside is a laminated copy of a birth certificate for a one Emily Rosure. The father’s name is blank. The mother’s reads ‘Diana Flores.’

Celia: “How…?”

She can’t get out more than the single word. Even that is choked.

GM: “All a question of knowing what levers to pull,” smiles Maxen. “Remember that your old man writes the laws.”

Celia: Celia presses her fingers to her lips as she stares down at the laminated page.

She’s quiet for a long moment. She doesn’t think it will fix anything with Emily, but… it’s a step in the right direction.

“Why?” she asks again, finally looking up at him.

GM: “Because I called her some unkind names, and because you and your mother love her.”

“I don’t expect a piece of paper will change their relationship, but perhaps they’ll feel better knowing that it’s also recognized under law. There are rights and privileges like hospital visitation rights that may only be available to legal family members.”

Celia: “I don’t know what levers you pulled. But thank you. This… this will mean a lot to them.”

GM: “I’m thankful to hear that, Celia.”

“I would like to see your mother again, to tell her the things I’ve told you.”

“She’s never been very good at saying no, even to things she doesn’t want. Would you be willing to ask her for me, if she wants to do that?”

Celia: “I will talk to her. I won’t force her, if she’s not interested. She doesn’t owe you anything. Not after what happened. Not even with all of this.”

“Neither does Emily. She knows what we went through, even if she wasn’t there to experience it herself.”

GM: “They don’t,” Maxen nods. “You don’t either.”

Celia: “You said you’d tell me. Why the change.”

GM: “Celia, I have an answer, and I don’t have an answer.”

Celia: She waits, expectant.

GM: “The answer is with your sister Isabel.”

“We’d been on strained terms for a while. I don’t know if you were aware, but she had a baby, who’s being raised by your aunt Mary. She and her husband were never able to have children.”

Celia: His baby.

“I heard.”

GM: “Our relationship was never the same after that. I abused her, further, for getting pregnant out of wedlock. She ran away after she gave up the baby.”

Celia: She died after she gave up the baby, but Celia doesn’t correct him.

“You locked her in her room. And took her things away.”

GM: “Yes. I withheld my love and support when she needed it most.”

Celia: She’d been telling the truth.

She’d been telling the truth and Celia had killed her for it.

“And you feel bad because she was always your favorite.”

GM: “I feel bad because she is my daughter and she needed me.”

Celia: And now she’s gone.

GM: “But she wasn’t my favorite. Parents don’t have favorites.”

Celia: “Parents have favorites. There was a study about it. They just don’t admit it.”

GM: “Maybe some do. But the study didn’t measure every parent. Or your parents.”

Celia: Celia lifts her shoulders.

“But it’s about Isabel,” she prompts.

GM: “We didn’t speak for a long time. But she reached out to me again, some time back. Her boyfriend had gone missing.”

Celia: “That’s awful.”

GM: “Yes. We started talking again, over the phone. She’s in Sudan, you might already know, doing missionary work.”

Celia: Celia nods along.

GM: “So it’s possible that something very, very bad happened to her boyfriend. It’s possible he’s dead.”

Celia: He is dead.

He was probably eaten.

Or torn apart.

Or both.

“I can’t imagine what she must be going through.”

GM: “I have some idea. We started talking again. About a lot of things.”

Celia: “Oh?”

GM: “Our lives. Our pasts. Our faiths. We talked about a lot.”

“She never sounded so vulnerable as when she made that first call to me. I’d thought for years that I’d lost her. Many people think she’s doing missionary work because of me, but she chose to do that herself.”

“It felt good to have my daughter in my life again, even over the phone.”

“All I could offer her was words, and to try to fix things with those. If I’d sought to punish her, hurt her, she could have simply cut me out again. It was a blow to my ego, not having any power in the situation. But I think Isabel would say a necessary one.”

Celia: So it had nothing to do with Celia. It had nothing to do with missing her, wanting her in his life, wanting to make reparations for what he’d done to her, to Diana, to the rest of their family.

It’s about Isabel.

It’s always about Isabel.

“I see.”

GM: “I don’t think I would have reached out to you or your mother on my own,” her father says. “I didn’t reach out to Isabel, either. I don’t think I had that in me. She took the first step.”

Celia: “She was always the perfect daughter.”

GM: “She didn’t feel as if I thought of her that way.”

Celia: “Of course she did. She rubbed it in my face every chance she got.”

GM: “Your sister felt as if your mother didn’t love her. She tried to compensate for that, around you.”

Celia: “You told them that she didn’t love them. That’s why she left, you said.”

GM: “I did. That probably was why. That certainly was why.”

“From what David’s said to me, it sounds as if you and your mother started to reconnect in college, once you were off on your own. Isabel told me she’d never been so jealous.”

“I’m sorry. That she was right. That you had to hide it. That I put her in the hospital.”

Celia: “So you felt bad about Isabel and decided to reconnect with the rest of your family.”

GM: “Partly.”

“Things were tense with Isabel and I at first, you have to understand. I couldn’t physically abuse her, but we hung up on more than one phone call after a bitter argument, sometimes if that call was the last.”

“But your sister had no one else, except for Logan. The boy she loved increasingly seemed like he was dead. Her friends were turning against her. She was desperate to make this work between us.”

“She told me about the missionary work she was doing, spreading God’s word. She told me how it had fulfilled her like nothing else.”

“She had purpose and calling beyond herself. Before Sudan, her whole existence was framed in terms of me. It was only when she went out into the world as her own woman, and outgrew me, that she felt able to reestablish a relationship.”

“We talked a lot about God. She challenged me that I wasn’t serving Him. That I did not truly love and accept Jesus in my heart.”

Celia: “And you decided to mend your ways?”

GM: “No. But at her encouragement, I started to talk more with men of faith. To prove her wrong, in fact. That there wasn’t anything I needed to change. But I think some part of me already knew there was.”

Celia: He couldn’t abuse his daughter over the phone, so he found Jesus.

She nods. Waiting. Expectant.

GM: “So I talked. I didn’t confess my sins, so much as the things I didn’t believe I had to confess.”

“And one of the priests I talked to told me, straight and direct as you please, that I had a demon inside of me.”

Celia: “A demon,” she repeats.

GM: “I didn’t believe him either, at first.”

Celia: “What changed your mind?”

GM: “He didn’t change my mind, especially when he said an exorcism would be necessary to remove it. But I told Isabel, and she believed it. She said she would only be willing to continue having a relationship with me if I undertook the exorcism.”

Celia: “Who was the priest?”

GM: “Father Connelly. He passed away recently. Everyone knew he was old and in ill health.”

“But that wasn’t why he died, Celia.”

Celia: “No?”

GM: “First, you have to understand that he was a Catholic priest. Catholic priests cannot formally take confession from non-Catholics, nor can they perform exorcisms without special dispensation from the Vatican.”

“But Father Connelly felt my need was dire.”

Celia: “So he did it anyway.”

GM: “He told me he sought and received permission from his superiors. I trust his word. But it happened very fast.”

Celia: “And he died from it?”

GM: “I’ll get to that. I went to St. Louis Cathedral. He told me the exorcism was more likely to succeed on holy ground. We went to a special room, and when I knelt and closed my eyes, like he instructed, he handcuffed me down. He said the exorcism might take hours or even days, and that the demon would try to make me leave.”

“You know I’ve been a Protestant all my life, Celia. And you know how much I work out. How I practice martial arts. I should’ve been able to fight off that old man, but he just held me down and declared that God lent him strength beyond his own. He lit fires. He chanted in Latin. There was a sense of gravitas in that cathedral, two thousand years of faith, and when I looked in that man’s eyes I saw an absolute certainty and fervor of conviction like I have never seen.”

“This was a man who believed with all of his heart and soul that he was doing God’s work, and all the threats I shouted about destroying his life didn’t even faze him.”

“He was right. It didn’t happen in one sitting. It took days of constant prayer and ritual. He let me use the bathroom in a pot, but didn’t allow me food or more than a little bit of water.”

“He didn’t allow me to sleep, either. I don’t know how he stayed up like that at his age. As soon as it seemed like I was nodding off, I’d get ice water to the face. Or he’d just hit me.”

“I started hallucinating, or experiencing what I thought were hallucinations. I saw all sorts of things. All sorts of people. You and your mother were there.”

Celia: Celia leans forward in her seat, clearly captivated by his story.

GM: “You accused me of… of all the things you had to accuse me of. You said if I didn’t help Father Connelly expel the demon, it would drag me back to Hell with it. I thought I was going crazy.”

“I saw my parents. I saw angels. I can’t even describe some of the things I saw. I felt a presence, so much vaster than anything I ever was or ever could be. I felt terrified, like I had never been in all my life.”

“I didn’t know, then, how long it went on for. I started pleading with Connelly, with God, with you and your mother, to make it stop. That this was torture. To just expel the demon and I’d be good.”

“But one of the voices, I don’t even know who, said that a demon could not have possessed a righteous soul. That I had allowed it in through my own faults and failings, and that I was to blame for the actions I had committed under its sway. It had only unlocked what was already there.”

“Connelly couldn’t exorcise it. Only I could. And if, and only if, I accepted Jesus Christ into my heart as my lord and savior.”

“Everything was suddenly clear to me. It was like I’d been starved for years and food was finally within reach.”

“I don’t remember how it ended. I was delirious. I remember coming back to earth, Connelly uncuffing me, and saying the demon was gone. My head felt clear again. Clear like it never had in years. All of the anger I’d felt, all of the hate, all of the fear, was simply gone.”

“But the exorcism took a lot out of Connelly. What strength he had left, he’d used on me. He died shortly afterwards.”

Celia: “And you think it was an actual demon?” Celia asks him. She doesn’t sound disbelieving; no, she sounds as if she might think it’s true.

GM: “I don’t know what else I could call it, Celia. I don’t know how to explain what happened in scientific terms.”

Celia: Celia scoots her chair closer to him. She takes his hand in hers.

GM: He squeezes her hand back. “I also knew then, once the demon had departed me, that I had to make right the wrongs I’d done. That I had to try.”

Celia: “When did it start? The… the demon? When did it take over?”

GM: “I’m not sure. But I think a very long time. At least as long as when you and your mother lived in fear.”

Celia: “Before we moved to Audubon?”

GM: “I don’t know. Maybe.”

Celia: “There… I mean, you believe this, right? That it’s true? That you had a demon inside of you?”

GM: “I do.”

Celia: “Because I remember… when I was a kid, you were different. You loved us, clearly. You let me put makeup on you. We played dress-up. You had tea parties with me. And then one day it changed. And I thought maybe it was because your parents died. Or the election. Stress. And… we had dinner once, Daddy, right before I left for college, and you… you looked at me like you had no idea who I was. Do you remember that?”

GM: Celia’s father shakes his head.

Celia: “What about other things? The spankings? Isabel. Me. Until we bled.”

GM: “I remember those. I wish those words were enough to undo them.”

Celia: “What about the night you tried to finish the job with Mom?”

GM: “I remember.”

Celia: “And with Isabel?”

GM: “I told her to leave. That wasn’t for her to see.”

Celia: “Afterward.”

GM: “I’m sorry?”

Celia: Celia shakes her head. He doesn’t remember. Mind-fucked, probably.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

But if the thing inside of him is gone, if it had been a demon, had her sire put it there? And does he know it’s gone?

“How long ago did you see Father Connelly?”

GM: “It was some months back. Getting back your mother’s ballet things and arranging Emily’s birth certificate didn’t happen overnight. It’s been looking into the treatments for your mother that have taken longest.”

Celia: “I believe you. About the demon.”

GM: “That means more to me than I can say, sweetie.”

Celia: “What do you want to do now that it’s gone?”

GM: “I want to make things right with my family. As right as I can.”

Celia: No one is going to believe her.

And there’s no one to talk it over with.

But she knows.

He really had fucked her entire family.

“Can you tell me what happened the night of the election?” Celia presses again. “Mom said something about a party and a woman, and I just… want to make sense of it all.”

GM: “A woman?”

Celia: “I don’t know,” she admits. “It didn’t make sense. She doesn’t like talking about it.”

GM: “I’m sorry, sweetie. I don’t know what she meant.”

Celia: “Then tell me your side.”

“Mom wasn’t the only one there that night. She’s not the only one who it affected. I had nightmares for years. I heard her screaming every time I closed my eyes. I’m the one who saw her in the hospital afterward. Who got her out of debt later and fixed that mess. So if you want to fix this, if you want a relationship with your family, then I need to know why it happened.”

GM: “I understand. I’m just not sure how much help my reasons may help when they weren’t reasonable.”

“I told you about how I’d believed your mother had cheated on me.”

Celia: “You did.”

GM: “I didn’t believe the affair was with Bill Roberts. I believed it was with a black man.”

Celia: “In 2003?”

GM: “Yes.”

Celia: “Why did you think that?”

GM: “Your mother and I had both been drinking at the victory party. She made remarks about a black staffer of Bill Roberts’, likely jokes to her, that I seized on as evidence of an affair.”

Celia: “What did she say?”

GM: “The remarks could have been construed as sexual in nature.”

Celia: “Dad, I’m not a kid. You’re not going to offend me.”

GM: “They are inherently offensive to repeat in the same breath as your mother, Celia.”

Celia: “So was trying to take her leg off with a hacksaw.”

GM: “Yes. That doesn’t mean either should happen again.”

Celia: “Okay.”

GM: “Would you like to get dessert?”

Celia: “My stomach is kind of in knots right now, to be honest. I don’t think it can handle anything sweet.”

GM: “Understandable.”

Celia: “But if you want it I’m happy to stay.”

GM: “Meals should be enjoyed between two. I usually don’t treat myself.”

Celia: “I could steal a bite and pretend to eat it if you want.”

GM: “It’s all right, Celia. I don’t think the staff will mind us staying.”

Celia: “I don’t know how you’re going to top demons and becoming governor.”

GM: “There are other offices. Cabinet positions. Even president.” He smiles. “But that’s getting ahead of ourselves.”

Celia: “President Flores.” Celia tries it out. “Has a nice ring to it.”

GM: “The Malveauxes already took a shot at it.”

“They missed, but if the party loses the general election this year, Nathan is sure to run again in 2020.”

Celia: “I imagine you’d like to enjoy being governor for a while, but would it be considered bad form to run against them?”

GM: “They wouldn’t like it. But that’s politics.”

Celia: “Can I ask something? About you running. Don’t they usually kind of… dig into families sometimes?”

“I just remember what happened with that girl, you know, the abortion, how it all kind of blew up. And I guess I just don’t want to have to worry about someone coming after my daughter. She’s a child. She shouldn’t be exposed to all of that ugliness.”

GM: “The Malveauxes engineered that. They fought harder and dirtier than the Cherrys, and that’s one of the reasons they won.”

“I won’t allow anything like that to happen with Lucy.”

Celia: Celia nods. She squeezes the hand that still holds hers.

“Thanks, Daddy. I appreciate that.”

GM: “You’re welcome, sweetie. You and the others can be as involved or uninvolved in my run as you like.”

Celia: Celia nods her head at that. She can’t imagine that she’ll be able to be involved in his run in any tangible way, but already her plans shift to accommodate for this new information. Every time someone answers a question it seems like three more pop up in its stead, only this time… this time she doesn’t think there’s anyone to ask. Not anyone who will be inclined to shed light on it for her.

Who will even believe her? If she hadn’t been exposed to this world the way she was, would she have believed him?

“Was there anything else, Dad? I know we got sidetracked a few times.”

GM: “Just one thing, Celia.”

“I love you.”

Celia: “I love you too, Dad.”

View
Celia IV, Chapter XI
Wearying Choices

“You’re a sight for sore eyes.”
Roderick Durant


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: After the time Celia’s spent with Dani, 4 AM is soon approaching. She has time to change back into her dress for Roderick, if she wants to. Dani asks what she’s dressing up for and where she’s going, but doesn’t raise any objections. “Only one bed in here, anyways.”

She asks, again, where she can go in the Quarter and the larger city, and if she can go more places during the day, when other vampires won’t be around.

“I’m so glad I found you, Celia. I really, really am,” she exclaims, giving her brother’s girlfriend a last hug. “I’m sorry how things turned out with Stephen, but… I think he’d understand, if he knew. And be happy that he was able to help your family.”

Celia: Celia clarifies the rules about the Quarter and the territory for her. She says that she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to risk anything during the day, since ghouls are out and about. Not yet. Maybe once Celia finds out a few things for her. She gets Dani’s address and keys so she can visit the house in Riverbend and retrieve her belongings, though she doesn’t promise it’ll be soon.

And she reminds Dani that it’s secret: Celia isn’t a vampire (even to other vampires, don’t tell even them, maybe especially them), vampires aren’t real, be careful not to be seen feeding. Take them into the bathroom rather than doing it in the middle of the club, that kind of thing. Also that she won’t be available during the day, but if she needs something to text and Celia will get back to her when she wakes up. She mentions that she’s free on Sunday or Monday for dinner if her dad wants to come to the Quarter. They can go out or Celia can host him here.

Celia hugs Dani close once her dress is back on, saying the same thing.

“I’m happy we found each other too, Dani. We’ll figure this all out together and make a plan. And… I think he’d understand too. Thanks for saying that. It means a lot.”

A few final goodbyes and Celia heads out to meet with Roderick. She has so much to tell him.

GM: Dani doesn’t look happy to limit her movements so much, but says she can do that for now as she passes off her keys and address. “I do still need to attend class, though… law school has attendance requirements.”

She says she’ll be careful hunting. She’ll call her dad and see what works for the D.A.

A drizzle starts outside outside. Dani looks around for an umbrella, so as not to ruin Celia’s pretty dress. The Toreador finds her haven much as it was when she returns at 4 AM.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: Roderick arrives soon thereafter. Her lover looks glum and tired, but smiles when he sees her.

“You’re a sight for sore eyes.”

He hangs up his coat, then scoops her up in his arms.

“What I said earlier. You’re not allowed to walk, in here. You’re too pretty to.”

Celia: She wants to know what it is that has him looking so glum, but she doesn’t want to ruin the mood. She’d almost expected him to fail to show, or to show up angry and berate her for letting someone else touch her, or say something rude about being able to fight his own battles. But there’s none of that, and the fight she’d been prepping for, the tightness in her shoulders, it all disappears as soon as he pulls her into his arms.

Her lips find his immediately, settling into his embrace with a little giggle.

“Is it silly that I missed you all night?”

GM: “No. It isn’t silly at all.” His answering kiss isn’t passionate, but it’s definitely… needful. He gives her a tired smile.

“Let’s get you onto the counter, it’s hard to molest my present when she’s in my arms like this.”

Celia: She can agree to that.

GM: Roderick carries her to the kitchen counter and sets her down, even placing her feet in the sink. His lips trace her cheek, her neck, and then her breasts as his hands appreciatively trace her her hips and rump. He finally lays his head against her chest for a long moment.

“Tonight sucked.”

Celia: Celia pulls him close, stroking her hands across his chest and shoulders, then around the back of his neck and head. She cradles his face against her chest.

“Talk to me. What happened?”

GM: “Just a lot of… bullshit in Elysium.”

Celia: “Oh, did I miss something after I left?”

GM: He lays his head contently against her.

“The story. With the hunters.”

Celia: Celia doesn’t wince, but she wants to.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: “They wanted the details. All the details. Everything I could remember.”

“Guess the topic was a real hit.”

Celia: “Bet it made you look like a badass, though.”

GM: “I’m not proud of what I did there. I felt sick, boasting about it.”

Celia: She should have realized. Should have used something else. Anything else.

GM: “Chris congratulated me for losing my virginity.”

“That was a real hoot.”

Celia: Maybe the floor will swallow her.

GM: “Veronica and Adelais had a real time with it.”

Celia: “Were they cruel to you?” Sharpness in her voice that hadn’t been there a moment ago.

GM: “They’re cruel to everyone.”

“I guess this was mild, for them.”

Celia: “Cunts.”

GM: “Backhand barbs in all the compliments. I swear that only the harpies can make compliments still feel like put-downs, but like there’s nothing you can do except nod dumbly along.”

Celia: “You could dig back. Or divert their attention. They’re like dogs that see a squirrel. Chase after it.”

GM: “I guess,” he says heavily. “They just really liked the story with the hunters. I guess fuck hunters.”

“Coco… god. She drew it out.”

“The story. Brought everyone back to it, when other things started to come up.”

“So I had to just nod along, because, well, she’s my sire.”

Celia: Her lips purse.

“Why would she do that? She knows how you feel about it.”

GM: “Yeah. She still did. Asked a bunch of questions. Said a bunch of things. Just wouldn’t let the topic drop.”

Celia: “I thought she was better than the others, but the more you tell me about her the less I think that.”

“At least Veronica is upfront about being a bitch.”

GM: “She is better,” Roderick says defensively. “I’d rather have her than Veronica, I know that.”

Celia: Celia sighs.

“Right. Sorry.”

GM: “She didn’t put me down or try to make me look stupid. Just… wouldn’t let it drop.”

Celia: “Was she fishing for details? To find out if you’d really been alone?”

GM: “I already told her all the details, before tonight.”

Celia: “Then why?”

GM: “That’s what I asked her, afterwards.”

“Well, ‘asked.’ More like yelled. We got into it.”

“She said she was looking out for me, that it raised my standing for Elysium to hear I’d killed those hunters. That it did, indeed, make me look like a badass, and other Kindred would respect me more. Killing hunters is a socially contributive thing for good Camarilla licks to do.”

Celia: Gee, Celia should show off her kill count then.

GM: “I told her how I wasn’t proud of it. That the whole thing made me sick.”

Celia: Tell them all how she made them kill themselves while she’d been cuffed.

Doesn’t sound like Coco cares much about what her childe wants. But Celia knows better than to say that.

GM: “There’s a quote from Foundation that I like. Sci-fi book I read a while ago, if you haven’t. ‘Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.’”

He shared it with her once as a mortal, too. Back in college.

Celia: “Did you say that to her, too?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Celia: “How did that go over?”

GM: “She took it pretty calmly. Said she agreed, herself, but that Elysium doesn’t see it that way. That they hadn’t mastered their instincts and just liked to hear stories about how blood flowed, beyond the hunter aspect.”

“She said how violence is entertainment. That it’s only incompetent if you’re trying to achieve something that can be achieved without violence. But violence is the entire point, for some Kindred. There isn’t an alternative. The quote doesn’t apply.”

Celia: “Mmm.” A noncommittal sound at that.

GM: “You don’t agree?”

Celia: “I know better than to debate with you and Coco.”

“I just think that she could have let the talk fade. Bringing it back up looks… well. Like she’s reaching.”

Desperate.

It looks bad.

GM: “Without debate, the mind stagnates. It’s a fitness regimen for your brain.”

“Her words.”

Celia: Of course they are.

Celia smiles politely.

GM: “She didn’t look reaching. She was… subtle. Just a word here or there, giving me extra spotlight. She let it drop after enough, but it would’ve dropped sooner without her.”

“Perks of having a primogen sire, I guess. More time in the limelight.”

Celia: Elder’s pet.

He’d be hunter chow if not for her.

GM: “I still yelled at her over how I wasn’t proud of that and didn’t want credit for it.”

Celia: And Coco didn’t care, she bets.

GM: “She said I needed standing and respect if I wanted to make a difference in Kindred society, and this was another stepping stone. She said they were already dead, so it’s not like I was hurting anyone.”

Celia: “…you don’t… you don’t think she…”

GM: “Think she what?”

Celia: “Nothing,” Celia murmurs. “I don’t even want to suggest it.”

GM: He looks up from her chest. “What?”

Celia: “How many people know about your haven?”

GM: “Her. My krewe. You, i…”

His mouth drops. “You are NOT saying…!”

Celia: Celia hadn’t said anything.

She’d just asked a question.

GM: “No! She wouldn’t do that! How can you even say that!?”

“She’s not just another elder like you keep making her out!”

Celia: “Roderick. Stop. I didn’t say that. I asked a question. I didn’t mean to imply anything. I’m trying to figure out who has it out for you because you could have died. I love you. I don’t want anything to happen to you.”

Makes sense though, doesn’t it? Knows her childe can fend for himself. That his ghouls will help.

GM: “Why would my sire have it out for me,” he grumbles. “She wanted to ash me, she could do that with her own hands, easy.”

Celia: “Do you want to have a calm discussion about this?”

GM: “I am calm.”

Celia: “It’s not to get rid of you. It’s to use the fact that you killed them to your and her advantage. You look good. She looks good.”

GM: “She’s the one who taught me to fight. There’s no way I could take her i…”

Celia: “She knew you could handle it.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t say anything to that for a moment.

“She knew I was a virgin. That I didn’t want to kill.”

Celia: Celia stays quiet with him, her fingers moving slowly across the back of his neck.

What had he said about Coco? That when push comes to shove she’s still another elder. Life is cheap.

Maybe she’d been embarrassed by her virgin childe. Or maybe she’s playing a different game. Maybe he’s just the first childe to be thrown to the Inquisition.

“Maybe she didn’t expect you to kill them,” Celia finally offers. “And maybe if you hadn’t been worried about me you wouldn’t have.”

GM: “Don’t blame yourself for this,” Roderick says, shaking his head. “They attacked me, in my home, with lethal force. I’d have tried to take them alive, but I could’ve easily lost control. You know how I do that. How all my clan does that. Provoking a Brujah is not a smart thing to do if you don’t want someone getting seriously hurt.”

Celia: She’s been on the receiving end of those fists. She knows how true that is.

She shivers at the memory, but holds her tongue.

Doesn’t remind him what he did to her.

GM: Roderick effects a sigh and pulls her close again, rubbing his head against hers.

“I’m just glad I can come back to you, at the end of the night. My sweet and kind and dolled up present who’s too pretty to walk.”

Celia: Is that all she is?

She doesn’t put the thought into words.

“I like coming home to you. Knowing that you’ll be here.” Celia touches the side of his face. Her thumb traces across his lower lip. “I’m happy with you. Safe.”

GM: He smiles back.

“I am too. I feel safe with you.”

Celia: “Because I’m so tough?”

Celia flexes.

GM: He laughs. “Tough comes in a lot of flavors. But also safe because I can be who I really am, around you.”

Celia: Wouldn’t that be nice. To have someone she can be herself with.

Who is she with Roderick? She doesn’t even know anymore.

“I’ll always be here for you. I don’t care what happens in the rest of the world or city. This, here?” Celia touches his chest. “This is home.”

GM: “This is home,” he murmurs, nuzzling her neck.

“Now, I promised I’d clean your shoes, didn’t I?”

Celia: “I recall you mentioning you’d worship me. With your mouth.”

GM: “Mmm, so I did. Do you still want me to clean your temple, or do you want to be worshiped, right away?”

Celia: “That depends. Am I allowed to tell everyone that I made you clean the soles of my shoes for me?”

“I’ll say we arm wrestled. And I won.”

GM: “Never. They’d all beg for the privilege too, once they realized that was allowed.”

“I’d have to fight them all, to keep them from your shoes.”

Celia: “I didn’t realize you had a thing for ladies’ shoes.”

Celia squints at him. “Do you still have my panties in your pocket?”

GM: He smirks and fishes them out.

“Put them back in just for this occasion.”

Celia: “A souvenir from your conquest. Worship away, loyal follower. I shall not dictate the terms of your service.”

GM: “All right then.” He picks her off the counter and slings her over his shoulder, ass in the air.

“I guess I’ll enjoy my conquest…”


Saturday evening, 12 March 2016, PM

GM: Enjoy it he does. Celia doesn’t feel his seed fill her womanhood, when she can tell how he hits his climax from the way he pumps faster. He goes limp, after that, but the lack of cum seems to have its advantages (beyond the diminished mess), because he’s hard again in no time at all. The lovers know pleasure in one another’s arms until the sun rises, and Roderick pulls Celia against his chest in familiar spooning position. They wake up after eight hours that pass in a second to their clothes still on. It’s not like the two corpses sweat or fart or smell or move in their sleep.

“Mmm,” he murmurs into her ear when she stirs. His arms still encircle her waist. “Someone’s up earlier.”

Celia: Good thing, too, because she’d meant to talk to him about a handful of things earlier and he’d distracted her with the promise of sex.

Her Beast yowls in her ear as soon as she wakes, making sure she knows that it, too, is hungry. That it doesn’t appreciate being ignored and not having its needs met while she fucks her lover. Where’s the blood, it demands.

Celia snuggles back against Roderick’s chest, ignoring it for a moment.

“I couldn’t let you shave my head,” she says seriously. “I have an important meeting today. Can’t look silly.”

She checks the time. Early. She doesn’t even need to rush to get ready to meet her father.

“What are you doing tonight?”

GM: “Haven-hunting, first. That meeting anything I can help with?”

Celia: “Just stay with me forever.”

GM: “That’s tempting. But it’s tempting fate to come into the Quarter every night, even this close to the border.”

Celia: “We’ll dig a tunnel.”

GM: “Mmm. Bad idea, in this city. Same reason we don’t have basements.” He gives her a squeeze. “You can come stay at my place, though. You’ll always be welcome there.”

Celia: “Probably shouldn’t be seen visiting you that much. Don’t need people talking.”

GM: “Turn into a cat. I’ll give you belly rubs inside my haven.”

Celia: “Sold.”

“What would you want to be? If you could change.”

GM: “Oh, change what?”

Celia: “Your form. If you learned how to shift.”

GM: “Hmm. Interesting question.”

“Wolf is a classic. I’ve always liked dogs.”

Celia: “I could see that.”

GM: “There’s a lot to admire in wolves, too.”

Celia: “You’d be a corgi. Maybe a pomeranian.”

GM: “A corgi?”

Celia: “A little fluffy thing. I could put you in my purse.”

GM: “Ha. Haven’t heard of any licks turning into toy dogs.”

Celia: “That’s because they’re embarrassed.”

GM: “There’s worse places to spend your Requiem.”

“Much worse.”

“Though if I’m going to be something small, I’d rather be something small enough for you to stick between your bra…”

Celia: “Like a spider?” Celia makes a face.

GM: “Ew. I’ll pass.”

Celia: “Same. Don’t think I’d let one in my bra anyway.”

“They can’t hurt you, yada yada. Still gross.”

GM: “They are. Anyways, this meeting anything I could help with?”

Celia: “I don’t think so,” Celia says after a moment of consideration. “It’s with… um. It’s with my dad.”

GM: “Your dad,” he says slowly.

Celia: “When I called him the other day. We set it up. About Emily stabbing him. You fell asleep before I could tell you.”

“Which is a shame because I told Emily how good you were in bed. You missed it.”

GM: He gives a slight smile, subdued by obvious thoughts over Celia’s meeting with her father.

Celia: “I’m nervous,” she admits. “I don’t know what he wants.”

“I haven’t seen him since… you know. "

GM: “Yeah. So what do you want to get out of it?”

Celia: “I want him to leave my mom alone. I want to know what he did to Lucy when he drove her to school. I want to make sure he isn’t going to go running to his master about Emily stabbing him.”

GM: “Okay. Those are all good goals.”

“Do you think you can get him to?”

Celia: “I’m not sure,” she admits. “I don’t know why he’s suddenly acting nice. If the sheriff pulled his talons out of his head or what.”

“People don’t just change.”

GM: “I’d assume the worst with him. He made your and your mom’s lives living hells. He’s a scumbag rapist child abuser.”

Celia: “I know. It just doesn’t make sense. Why now. Why come after her now. I mean, Logan is the one who brought him over, but… it just… Logan told me that he misses us, that he’s proud of me, that he never remarried or anything. And my mom…” Celia shifts in his arms, looking up at him.

“She had a nightmare about falling. And Maxen taking Lucy away. And she did fall. And now I wonder if Maxen is going to come after Lucy.”

GM: “He thinks she’s your daughter, right? You’re positive?”

Celia: “Yes. But he was alone in the car with her. What if he took a hair or something?”

GM: “Hm. I was about to ask why he’d want to do a paternity test, but… you’ve not said who the father is. Maybe he somehow thinks it’s his business to know.”

Celia: “He could ask. And it’s no one’s business anyway. Lucy doesn’t need a dad. She has three moms.”

GM: “A male role model might not be bad. But I agree. Her needs seem like they’re being more than met.”

“And I know. He could, and it’s not his business, but he’s a sick and twisted fuck who doesn’t respect other people or their boundaries.”

Celia: “What do I do if he knows?”

GM: “Prepare for a custody fight.”

Celia: “My mom wants to get back with him. I don’t know if I told you. There’s been a lot going on.”

“But the other night she was talking about it. How she misses him. As if he didn’t take her leg off with a hacksaw. Or rape her. Or hurt the rest of us.”

“Jesus apparently wants her to forgive.”

GM: “Your mom’s a little nuts.”

Celia: “Yeah.”

GM: “I’m not sure what to do about that. But I guess meeting with him… well, I’m not about to say it can’t hurt, but the rewards sound worth having to let him back into your life, even a little. Just to find out what he’s after.”

Roderick squeezes her again. “You’re a badass lick now, though. He can’t hurt you.”

Celia: His friend in the shadows can, though. And probably will if he finds out about this.

“Right. Badass lick. I’ll beat him up.”

“I lied. I thought of something you can do to help.”

GM: “Anything.”

Celia: She doesn’t want to ask. It’s lazy of her. She could hurry and get ready and find a willing mortal somewhere along the way. But he’s right here.

Celia bites her lip. She glances away.

GM: He hugs her close again, shifting her position so his mouth is by her ear.

“I’m here. Name it.”

Celia: The breath on her ear sends shivers running down her spine.

“I don’t want to lose control around him. I mean. I do. But I can’t. And I’d rather spend what time I can with you instead of tracking down a vessel before I have to go choke down food.”

GM: He nods. “Okay. Let’s get a cup or something so I don’t collar you any tighter.”

Celia: “Smart.” Celia pulls away to find one. Luckily she’s got all those pots and pans she’d knocked over the other night; it takes a few seconds to find a cup.

GM: Roderick bites his wrist and bleeds into it.

“Just say when.”

Celia: She says when. The thing inside of her wants more, it always does. It’s a greedy little monster. But Celia doesn’t want to put him out any more than she needs to. He’s already doing her a favor; no need to drain him dry.

She watches the glass fill, can feel her fangs distend in her mouth. She’s patient enough to wait a moment longer before she reaches for the glass to drink down his offering.

GM: His blood is hot and filling and ferocious, like all Brujah blood, but sharpens and clarifies her thoughts too. It feels like a good libation before she sees her father.

Celia: She drains it. Licks the rim. Doesn’t let a bit of it go to waste. And when it’s gone she curls herself around his body, tucking her head against his chest, and thanks him for what he’s done for her.

“Do you really want us to get a place together?”

GM: He holds her close and runs his hand along the back of her head.

“Why not? We’d be safer, and I love spending time with you.”

Celia: “It’ll need a big closet. Really big. Whatever you’re thinking, triple it.”

GM: He laughs. “Okay. Walk-ins, got it.”

“Actually never had one of those.”

Celia: “You still won’t.” Her brows lift. Celia shares many things. Closet space is not one of them.

“What’s your krewe going to say when they find all those beautiful dresses in your place? Could tell them you’re exploring your feminine side.”

GM: He smirks. “Could also just tell them they’re my renfield’s. But I doubt they’ll see your closet.”

Celia: “Do you spoil Bess with clothes?”

GM: “Bess isn’t my renfield.”

Celia: “…did I get her name wrong?”

GM: “She’s the property manager at my old haven.”

Celia: “Oh. So the boy with the messy place is yours.”

Messy place. Her eyes dart around her still-destroyed haven.

Whoops.

GM: “Yeah, he’s one of them.”

“All right. We should get ready for our nights. I’m also going to reach out to Ayame, I still haven’t heard back from her.”

“Dani can’t stay in the Quarter.”

Celia: “She’s not safe anywhere else in the city. You think the sheriff is going to let her go back to her place in Riverbend?”

GM: “That’s why I’m getting her out.”

Celia: “She doesn’t want to leave, Roderick. She… your death broke your dad. That’s what she said to me last night. That he’s just a shell. That she’s a poor replacement for you, but she’s all he has.”

GM: “Wait, what? You spoke with her?” Roderick’s eyes widen.

Celia: “I told you I’d find her.”

GM: He frowns. “Why didn’t you tell me last night?”

Celia: “You were upset about Coco. And then we got distracted.”

GM: “All right. Tell me about her! Is she safe? Is she all right?”

Celia: “She’s safe. She’s all right. She was turned a week ago but she doesn’t remember by who. She thought she was the only one in the world, and she’s been looking for answers, but so far she hasn’t gotten anywhere. She’s…” Celia runs her hand through her hair. “She’s a thin-blood. Like for real. Didn’t have any idea about anything. I had to explain it all to her. She’s in law school, you know.”

“And she said your dad wishes she had died instead of you. That she’s… how did she put it, the O’Tolleys playground after being promised Disneyland. It was… bleak.”

GM: “Oh my… god…” Roderick whispers, taking all of that in.

“That’s not true, he loves her just as much as me!”

Celia: “That’s what I told her. We talked for a while about it.”

GM: Celia may think back to their own discussion about her mother’s favorite children in 2012.

How Roderick said all parents have favorites.

Celia: Parents are supposed to love the one that’s left, though.

“When we were dating, all those years ago, she said similar things to me.”

“It sounds like she’s always felt as if she were in your shadow.”

GM: “I’m the older sibling, by six years. And the one who was going to carry on the family legacy. I guess that was inevitable.”

Celia: “She wants to now. You should have seen her, Roderick, she scared off some guy who tried to rape a teenager. Talked about wanting to do good, change the world. It was like talking to you.”

“Just… a you with no confidence.”

GM: Roderick smiles at first, then stops.

“I’ll be honest… she’s a vampire now. And a thin-blood. That really closes a lot of doors.”

Celia: “She won’t do any better in Houston than she will here. Those doors will still be closed.”

GM: “Houston doesn’t have a policy of active genocide. It’s not going to be a good unlife for her, but I saw that massacre, Celia! She isn’t safe here!”

Celia: “I can keep her safe. I will keep her safe. She’s already learned the basics. She’s a bright kid. And I have some ideas for her.”

GM: “Except for how she’ll be Savoy’s hostage.”

Celia: “I promise you, Roderick, I will keep her from being harmed. Even by Savoy.”

“You know she doesn’t have a Beast? It’s safe for her to be around your dad. She won’t have to fake her death, not for a long time.”

GM: “Celia, you can’t keep her safe from Savoy. He knows who she is to me.”

Celia: “She doesn’t have powers, Roderick. None of them do. What do you think is going to happen if she goes to Houston? She’ll be a punching bag. Worse than a ghoul. They might not have an active genocide, but they aren’t going to give a fuck if some random thin-blood ends up dead.”

“You can see her here. Your dad can see her here. He won’t have to bury another kid.”

“She wants to go into business with you. Legal stuff. You could be a team.”

GM: “And all I’ll have to do is kiss Savoy’s ring, betray Coco, and work for him.”

Celia: Celia takes his hand in hers. She’s quiet for a moment, searching his face with her gaze.

The moment stretches between them. She doesn’t let the silence get awkward; how can it be, with two people who love each other? It’s a comfortable silence, the sort of silence that neither one of them need to fill. An understanding silence.

Celia moves her hands down his chest, working at the buttons on his shirt as she goes. Once they’re free she slides her hands back around him, fingers moving against the muscles on his back. She doesn’t dig, just lets her skin slide against his, feeling for the little spots of tightness that speak of tension and pain and past trauma.

She knows his body well. She knows where to touch, where it hurts, where her hands will find the answers she’s looking for.

And she’s well practiced at this technique by now. It stretches between them, that little band of energy that pulls her along for the ride. She doesn’t become him. It’s different with licks. Their Beasts are more wary than the kine. But she can surround him with herself. She cans see the spinning orbs and set them into motion, can free the ones she needs freed, the little blue light at his throat that might ordinarily keep him silent.

“I’d like to ask you something, if you don’t mind.” she murmurs after a moment. Her voice stays quiet. Steady. She’s nothing but a concerned girlfriend giving the boy she loves what comfort she can. “A personal question.”

GM: Roderick sighs with relief and doesn’t fight his girlfriend’s massage. He used to eat her out in return for this, after all.

It’s even easier to invade his mind than Diana’s was. He just lets her right in, equally oblivious to the supernal influence washing over this thoughts.

“You can ask me anything,” he murmurs.

Celia: “We talked before,” she continues quietly, moving her hands up and down his lats and making tiny circles across the paraspinals, “about getting married. And taking that third step with each other. Making it special. And I keep coming back to that thought. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets me through the night, the thought that… that you’re waiting for me, that I get to come home to you.” Her cheek presses against his chest while her fingers work their magic. “And I was just wondering… if you’ve done that with anyone before. If you’re already fully bound to someone.”

Like Coco.

GM: “No, I’m only two steps collared to her,” Roderick answers calmly.

Celia: “And to me?” The words come out as barely more than a whisper.

GM: “Once, I’m pretty confident.”

“I’d like to save the second drink for sometime special.”

Celia: So it had snapped that night. Broken face, broken heart, broken collar. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Celia silently nods her head. Something paces back and forth inside her chest. Not the Beast, but something similar. Something worse, maybe, that tells her… that tells her she’ll never be good enough for him. That if she doesn’t make him drink he’ll never choose her over her Coco. He’ll never think she’s smart enough. He’ll never think she’s strong enough. He’ll never think she’s capable. He thinks she’s pretty, but so does everyone. That’s all she has. She’s pretty.

She doesn’t realize when the tears begin to leak from her eyes. She wipes her cheek on her shoulder but only succeeds in smearing the blood across her face.

She’s a monster. And now it’s written across that oh-so-pretty face of hers.

Celia finds the tether between them, the little beam of white energy. She pulls it back into her body, withdrawing from her boyfriend’s mind. Her hands don’t stop, though. They continue for another beat before traveling upward and around his shoulders and the neck, rising to the tips of her toes so she can whisper, “me too,” right before she presses her lips against his.

GM: Roderick returns her kiss and wraps his strong arms around her, holding her close and tight.

“You’re crying,” he says after a moment, pulling away enough for her to see the concern writ across his face. “What’s wrong?”

Celia: Everything.

Nothing.

She doesn’t know anymore. She’s forgotten why she’s upset. She’s forgotten what she’s supposed to be doing. She’s forgotten her purpose.

She wants him. She wants him to want her. She wants to get his sire’s talons out of his head. She wants to break that bond so Roderick can see, clearly, the problems that she’s causing with her blind obedience and loyalty. She wants him to see that he’s on the wrong side. That his sire is just as bad as every other elder, and the fact that she hides it behind intellect and charm doesn’t mean she’s not. She wants him to realize that Coco set him up, that she sent the hunters after him, that she’s keeping him busy with scribe duties and note taking and won’t lift a finger to help him with his actual dreams because she doesn’t want him to succeed, because she doesn’t care about him. He’s a pawn. A tool. Like her.

But she can’t tell him, can she? Because his mind has been twisted by the blood. And maybe hers has too. Maybe the thing in her chest, the green monster, maybe that’s controlling her thoughts.

Maybe it’s the sheer amount of collars on her and leashes that tug her in so many different directions that causes this loss of control, that makes it spill down her cheeks. Or the thought of failure. She’s failing. Again.

But she can’t answer his question. Because she doesn’t even know where to start.

GM: “Shhh. It’s okay,” Roderick says softly, drying her tears with his hands. Celia can see the fangs in his mouth at the heady scent, but he hugs her close again, running his hand up and down the small of her back. “I’ve got you. I’m right here.”

“I love you. You’re safe.”

Celia: Twice in two nights.

She’s a wreck.

“Are you coming back tonight?”

GM: He rubs up towards her head.

“You bet.”

Celia: Celia nods. The smile she tries to send his way falters before it makes a complete journey across her face.

“Savoy summoned me tonight. I expect it’s for an update.”

GM: “Oh, what on?”

Celia: He knows what on.

GM: His face downturns into a scowl.

Celia: She doesn’t quite flinch. But there’s a wariness to her that wasn’t there a moment ago, like she’s ready to bolt if he decides to take it out on her.

Again.

GM: “Christ. I’m not about to go apeshit. You don’t need to do that every time I frown.”

Celia: “You keep getting distracted with other parts of my body when you’re supposed to show me how to throw a punch.”

GM: “I’ll show you. We’ll make time specifically to fuck first, then to get in some practice.”

Celia: “We did that last night. And we still ended up fucking. Again.”

GM: “Okay. We’ll make time to fuck twice.”

Celia: “Is that going to be enough?”

“I don’t know about you but the entire time Elgin was droning on I kept thinking about all the things I wanted you to do to me, and we’d just fucked.”

“And then I had to call you Mr. Durant and I had this schoolgirl fantasy…”

GM: “And what a naughty schoolgirl you’d be, not paying attention to the teacher’s lecture. Should I put you over my knee and spank you?”

“Ah, wait. Crap. That probably isn’t a turn-on for you.”

Celia: “Er… actually…”

GM: He raises his eyebrows. “It still is?”

Celia: She gives a sort of helpless shrug, eyes dropping to the middle of the chest rather than meet his gaze. She can’t quite keep the smile—two parts bashful, one part wicked—from her lips.

GM: “Well, if you want to now… when do you have to be out the door by?”

Celia: “I’m torn between arousal and horror at the thought of showing up to dinner with my dad after you spank me.”

GM: “Yeah, I kinda had the same thought…”

Celia: “Bet we have time to fuck, though. In the shower. Two birds.”

“And then later tonight I can find a plaid skirt and some mary janes.”

“Maybe get you a tie.”

GM: “Eh, the schoolgirl skirt and shoes don’t really turn me on. I love you in this dress, though. Happy to spank you in it. It’s so tight and sexy, the way it clings to your hips…” He runs his hands up and down her sides again.

Celia: Celia leans into his touch. Her breath hitches as his hands move down her sides, whatever she had been about to say lost to the moment.

“I suppose,” she murmurs, “that it’s a good thing I have dozens just like this. Why don’t you help me out of it and tonight I’ll let you pick something else you can bend me over your lap in…” She tugs him toward the shower.

Conscious of the time, Celia and Roderick make it quick. Their clothing comes off without any prolonged foreplay, and when he takes her in the shower with her legs around his waist and her back pressed to the tile wall it’s frantic and needy. No fangs come out to play, just skin and lips and hands that bring them both to completion.

She loves him for it. For his willingness to play human and take her like a man takes a woman. For not judging that she still revels in the closeness of their bodies, or that she cries out the same way she used to, or that sometimes she just wants to kiss him without the taste of blood. She loves him for many reasons, but that’s one of them.

She tells him that after he lets her down, when his hands, lathered with soap, run down her body. She tells him that she loves him, that she’ll always love him, and that she can’t wait to spend the rest of her Requiem with him. She’s looking forward to more evenings like this: waking up in his arms, discussing their plans, going their separate ways, coming back home to each other.

She only wishes they didn’t have to hide it.

“Let me know what the Asian says so I can figure how to play this tonight, yeah?”

GM: The shower sex is brief but passionate. Roderick is so strong now and can lift her up like she’s nothing as he penetrates her. It probably doesn’t hurt how she’s removed many of her internal organs either. Or how his ass is now tighter. The pair emerge wet and dripping from the shower, and Roderick enjoys himself setting Celia on the counter and toweling her off in manner that feels more like being molested through the towel.

“God, I can’t keep my hands off you,” he murmurs.

He says he loves her too, so much, and can’t wait to get married as breathers. The way they were meant to.

He does so much to pleasure her body, to show the depth of his affection through touch. He touches her in ways Pietro never will with his feather-light fingers. He touches her like a woman, not just a lick. His libido is up to fuck whenever hers is.

And yet, her thoughts have strayed to other licks and ghouls and men, as assuredly as Evan strayed from Roxanne.

Perhaps they do now, or perhaps they don’t. But it’s as Mabel said.

Enough love to go around.

“Her name’s Ayame. I think she probably gets enough of ‘the Asian’ from other Anarchs.”

“And the sad thing is we’re still the most progressive club. Pretty sure the Invictus still calls them ‘orientals.’”

Celia: Her mind doesn’t wander when Roderick is inside of her. Or when he lays her out on the counter to “dry her off.” Or when he touches her. Right now her attention is fully on him, despite the overabundance of love in her… heart.

“Sorry,” Celia murmurs. “You’re right, of course. I know her name.” She lets out a long, forced sigh.

GM: “I also don’t like hearing how Savoy expects progress reports on manipulating me.”

Celia: “…you’re the one who brought it up nights ago, that he probably will expect them.”

“I don’t know if that’s what this is about. It could be any number of things.”

GM: “Let’s just not talk about him while we’re here.” He lifts up her chin to dab some moisture around her upper neck.

Celia: “Politics-free zone?”

Celia lifts her chin for him, giving him easy access to the spot he needs.

GM: “That’s right.” She wonders if there was even anything to towel away there, because he kisses her instead.

Celia: There wasn’t. They both know there wasn’t. But Celia is happy to play along.

She lets out a breathy giggle at the touch.

“You’re insatiable.”

GM: He steals another kiss.

“Only because you’re irresistible.”

Celia: “I heard,” she whispers slyly, “that I’m the cutest lick in the city.”

GM: “You heard wrong. I heard you were the cutest lick in the world.”

“Although I suppose ‘in the city’ is still technically accurate.”

“We should schedule an entire night, sometime. To do nothing besides fuck in every way we can think up. I wonder if that would get it out of our systems.”

Celia: “Doubt it. But we can certainly try.”

GM: “We’ll do it for research purposes.”

Celia: “Of course.”

“Has it gotten better for you?” She nods toward what’s hiding behind the towel around his hips.

GM: There’s already a bulge.

“Think that answers your question,” he smirks, glancing down.

Celia: “But are you doing that?” She reaches for him anyway, loosening the towel to let it fall to the ground.

GM: His penis is there and hard.

“Not consciously. It’s funny.”

“I thought we couldn’t enjoy sex, so for a while I just didn’t try to.”

Celia: “It’s because I’m so pretty, to be honest.” She takes him into her hand.

…what if it is her?

GM: He’s stiff and pulsing under her touch.

“Must be it. It’s not like I’ve ever seen a girl who compares.”

He smiles and glances down.

“You know, I bet your dad will expect a kiss on the cheek, and if those were the same lips that had just sucked a dick…”

Celia: “Scandalous.”

But she’s on her knees a moment later.

GM: He lays out the towel underneath and folds it twice before she does. It seems less scandalous when he doesn’t cum in her mouth, but her lover still looks as if he (greatly) enjoys himself, and she can indeed kiss her father with lips that just sucked a dick.

Celia: What else can any girl possibly want?

It’s when he pulls her up after he finishes and kisses her throughly (that lack of cum is good for many reasons, it turns out) that she finally asks the question she’s been wondering since they’d gotten back together:

“Are we exclusive?”

GM: Roderick picks her up and carries her to her closet so she can pick out clothes.

“I’d like us to be, yeah.”

Celia: She had expected as much.

Celia opens the closet door, revealing a veritable treasure trove of clothing and accessories. It’s no wonder she demanded her own closet earlier: there’s literally no room for anything but her in here. It must have served some other function and been turned into a walk-in, because the space itself measures half the size of the front room. Clothes, shoes, bags, and other assorted accessories cover every square inch of it, neatly arranged by… well, by some sort of system that only she seems to understand. Dresses hang from the bars that have been installed on every wall, with racks of shoes beneath them. Countless pairs of heels, flats, and boots wait for her to step into them. Above the dresses shelves have been built into the walls to hold her collection of handbags and hats, and the scarves that dangle from hooks look more like decor than fashion. Soft, shimmery, glittery. A custom-built “island” has drawers that pull out to reveal undergarments ranging from barely-there strappy little numbers to a more conservative cheeky panty. Thigh-highs, fishnets, stockings, and socks sit pretty in another. The last reveals a tray of various pieces of jewelry nestled in velvet, half of which were gifted to her by Pietro; the thief had once said that she looks her best when he drapes her in diamonds, pearls, and emeralds. “Just jewels and skin.”

She directs him toward a section in the back corner where a smaller selection of more modest clothing hangs, separated from the rest by a large white garment bag.

A pair of eyes peer out at Celia from behind a handbag on the top shelf as Roderick sets her down. Blossom has always loved spending time in here. Celia gives the doll a fond smile, arching a delicate eyebrow at her as if to ask if she’s getting up to something she shouldn’t be. She’s been quite taken with a certain somebody since their introduction… and, yes, there, a flash of brown hair. Delighted, Celia winks at the doll.

“Are you going to start fights with everyone who looks at me sideways?” she asks idly of Roderick, thumbing through the hangers.

GM: “Jesus, this is a lot of clothes. And you have even more at your other haven?” he remarks as he carries her over.

Blossom smiles back at her mother.

“He didn’t just look. He touched you.”

Celia: “I like clothes,” Celia says with a shrug. She turns her eyes away from the doll, letting her keep her secrets for now.

“And yes, I’m aware he touched me. You were going to come to blows over it.” There’s no question there; she knows exactly what his plan was.

GM: “I like how good you look in them, too. Just surprised you have so many.”

“And yeah. I was gonna challenge him to a duel.”

Celia: “I assumed. I’m flattered. But you know that’s what they do, right?” She turns to face him, clothing forgotten for the moment. “They touch me. That’s how they see me, as a pretty, vapid slut they get to touch.”

GM: “You’re not vapid or a slut, and I’ll punch out anyone who treats you like you are.”

Celia: He’d almost called her stupid the other night. But she doesn’t point it out.

“It’s just a mask, Roderick.”

GM: “You don’t need to wear that mask.”

Celia: “Are you planning on declaring your love for me to the whole city?”

GM: “If you wanted to join the Anarchs, we could. Some licks would try to take advantage, but would it be so bad?”

Celia: “I will not support Vidal. Ever.”

GM: “I didn’t say Vidal. I said the Anarchs.”

Celia: “The Anarchs support Vidal. Coco and Opal support Vidal.”

GM: “They might, but plenty Anarchs have about as much to do with the prince as you do.”

Celia: “I will not even nominally throw in with someone who would support the massacre of people like your sister, or let monsters like the sheriff roam the streets and mete out his version of ‘justice.’”

GM: Roderick effects a sigh. “I have an answer to that, but maybe it’s better we just not get into politics.”

Celia: “Frankly I’d be surprised if whoever takes over for him even lets the Anarchs keep what they have.”

Celia closes her mouth.

GM: “Their mistake. Whoever takes over is going to be a weaker prince, and even Vidal wouldn’t want to deal with the fallout of that.”

“But I’m already breaking my word.”

“Speaking of Dani. I want to see her.”

“Could you bring her here? I know you’re concerned about this place’s security, so you could just leave her phone behind, take her in the trunk, and blindfold her on the way in and out.”

Celia: “They’re watching her. I told you that.”

GM: Roderick effects another sigh. “You did. And you’re right. They’d just watch you do it.”

“Wishful thinking.”

Celia: “I’m sorry. I know you want to see her.”

“Maybe I can… ask him.”

GM: Roderick’s arms tense under Celia.

Celia: “I’ll just offer a favor or… or something.”

GM: He shakes his head. “You don’t need to do that. Get in any deeper with him. I’ll get to see Dani.”

Celia: “I’d do it for you. To make you happy. I’d do that.”

GM: “I’ll get to see her,” he repeats. “We do need an extract plan, to get her out of the city. I’ve already been working on that. Part of what I’m going to take care of tonight.”

Celia: “With Ayame?”

GM: “This is on my end. She promised transport out of the city, not moving a thin-blood out of the Quarter unseen.”

Celia: “…are you going to break into the Quarter to get her out?”

GM: He presses his lips together. “It’s a bigger security risk if you know the details.”

“But I trust you, if you want to know.”

Celia: She looks as if he’d slapped her. Just for a moment, until the rest of it follows.

GM: “…I just said I trust you.”

Celia: “Considering I’m the one that’s going to take the heat for this, yeah, Roderick, I’d like to know.”

GM: “Okay. I’m going to get her out during the day.”

“I’ve talked to some duskborn. They still burn in the sun, but not as bad as us.”

Celia: “Dani said she doesn’t burn. She said she just gets tired.”

GM: He blinks. “What?”

Celia: “I asked. She said she tested it.”

GM: “You’re positive? How comprehensively did she test it?”

Celia: “She said she read about it in Dracula. That he doesn’t burn, just loses his powers.”

GM: “Sure. But that’s fiction.”

Celia: “Right, which is what I told her.”

“Are you going to let her finish the semester, at least? So she has a chance to transfer?”

“I had to drop everything. It… sucked.”

GM: He shakes his head. “It’ll suck less than the alternative. She has forever. She can take as long as she wants to finish school, if she still wants to.”

Celia: “But you still burn in the sun, so I don’t imagine that you’ll be the one retrieving her. You trust your ghouls with this?”

GM: “Almost. Mine, and an independent I’m hiring who’s good at shadow dancing. To hide them on their way in and out.”

“You’re positive Dani can’t burn in the sun? That would make things easier.”

Celia: “I’ll double check. The whole thin-blood thing is… weird? Fascinating?”

“Both.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Who even knows what the rules are with them.”

Celia: “She wants to know why people don’t like her kind. I didn’t know what to say.”

GM: “Hatred of the other. Fear. Jealousy. Disgust. Scripture. Lot of reasons.”

Celia: “That’s kind of what we discussed. It just felt thin.”

GM: “All reasons for genocide are thin. Everything about unreasoning hatred is thin.”

Roderick effects another sigh.

“I really wish I could’ve been there for her, last night.”

“But I know she was in good hands with you.”

Celia: “It was fine. She was… happy to see me, actually.”

“She wants me to talk to your dad.”

GM: He smiles. “Good. I’d been worried she’d be angry at you, over…”

“Oh?”

Celia: “Yeah. About how you helped my family. About how you’re a good person.”

GM: Roderick’s face grows still, and a moment passes before he replies, “I think… I think he’d really like that.”

Celia: “Does he know… what happened with us?”

“It’s one thing to explain to Dani, but your dad…”

GM: “Yeah. He knew.” Roderick’s words are slow. “I couldn’t… I couldn’t just keep it to myself.”

Celia: Celia rubs a hand across her face.

GM: “I wish he didn’t think I was dead,” her lover says heavily.

“I think that was the worst decision I made in my Requiem, in a lot of ways.”

Celia: “I had this thought to invite him to dinner at my mom’s house. Introduce them. Let him see how you helped my family. Bring Dani. Sneak you in, somehow.”

GM: He gives a sad smile. “That’s really sweet. You should.”

“I’d like to see him again, even if… even if he can’t know it’s me.”

Celia: “Hello Mr. Garrison, this is my boyfriend Roderick that I definitely didn’t cheat on your son with.”

GM: Roderick starts crying. Celia’s fangs lengthen in her mouth at the coppery tang.

“He was just… the best dad, Celia… I did this to him… so I could… throw body parts off boats… like a mobster…”

Celia: Her heart breaks for him. She pulls him into her arms, holding him tight while he lets it out.

GM: “I haven’t even gotten around… to the Mafia…”

“I wish I could… take it back… I shouldn’t have, have let him think I was…”

Celia: “I sent flowers. To your funeral. I didn’t show up as me because… I didn’t want to hurt them, seeing me, with you gone, I didn’t think you’d want that, but… when Dani goes, I can… I can be there, maybe, do you think…?”

Otherwise he’ll be all alone.

Burying another child.

No more little Garrisons to carry on the family line.

No more Mafia behind bars.

GM: “I… I guess it couldn’t hurt…” Roderick wipes his eyes. “He doesn’t have to think Dani’s dead, just moving away…”

Celia: “She can never come back, Roderick. Once she’s gone.”

“She’ll never see him. No holidays, no birthdays…”

GM: “He doesn’t have to think she’s dead.

“He could… come see her, maybe…?”

Celia: “She was crying last night. Like you are. At the thought of leaving him behind. About how she’d wanted to… to do so much to make him proud, and how now she can’t even have kids to carry on, and…”

GM: “Yeah,” he says bleakly. “It sucks.”

“I… I accepted this, but it was for a reason. A chance to do more good.”

Celia: But he hasn’t.

GM: “Dani was just… there wasn’t even any reason.”

“She shouldn’t exist, like this. The thin-blooded shouldn’t exist.”

Celia: “I thought you were an ally.”

How can he say that?

About his own sister?

And if he thinks that, what about the strangers in Houston?

Surely he’s considered that.

GM: “I am. Genocide is wrong in any form. But if the thin-blooded just weren’t a thing, and all thin-bloods were still breathers? They’d be better off.”

“Dani sure would be.”

“Our dad sure would be.”

Celia: Maybe Coco knew exactly what she was doing when she’d taken him.

Kept him busy with all those projects of hers.

Maybe that rumor about Carolla is more correct than he knows.

Maybe she’d arranged for Dani’s Embrace.

Half-Embrace? What do you call the partial transformation of a half-vampire?

“Don’t take her away from him, Roderick.” The words come out as a whisper. She touches a hand to his cheek, lifting his gaze towards her. “Everything she told me last night… they need each other.” She wipes at his tears with her fingers. “Losing you almost killed him. He shouldn’t have to bury another child, and that’s exactly what he’ll be doing. He’s busy. He won’t make the trip out to Houston. And how will Dani feel then? She already thinks he doesn’t love her.”

Her voice catches, threatening to break. She’d seen the pain in his sister last night.

“You can’t undo what happened to her, but you don’t have to take her away from everything she knows, everyone she knows and loves. She should have been my sister, too.”

GM: Roderick sighs wearily.

Still 22 years old, but he looks every bit past 30.

He looks down.

He’s silent for a moment.

“Let… let me see them, Celia. Dani, here. Her, my dad, at dinner.”

“I should talk to my sister. She’s the one who’s… who’s been in my dad’s life. I should hear what she wants to do. How she even feels, about Hoston.”

“But… you don’t have to stick yourself on a cross for me. I’ll owe him. Not you. Tell him that. He’ll have his marker, to call in.”

The words sound like he’s had to pry them out of his mouth.

But above all, they sound tired.

Celia: Celia pulls him in. She rests her cheek against his chest, offering him what comfort she can with her physical body. She loves him. And she wants him to be on the right side. And that’s how she justifies what she’s doing to herself: that it’s for him. For the greater good. For Dani and all the licks like her who shouldn’t be put down for what they are. Because Vidal is a tyrant and Savoy should be in charge and when the prince takes his dirt nap Roderick will be safe.

“I’ll make it happen,” she tells him, “and I’ll keep her safe. I promise.”

GM: He holds her back for a while. He doesn’t say anything. Just holds her close against his body, face in her hair as he breathes in her familiar scent.

“Okay,” he says at length.

“Okay.”

Celia: She loves him. She tells him that, after a long moment, that she loves him.

And she repeats it to herself. That she loves him. That she’s doing the right thing. That it’s for his good. Dani’s good. Henry’s good. The city’s good.

Still, she feels like the monster everyone says she is.

View
Celia IV, Chapter X
Danielle Garrison

“Are you… a vampire?”
Danielle Garrison


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

Celia: Despite the fact that Randy isn’t who and what she wants, Jade lingers in his arms for long moments while the emotions run their course. When she finally pulls free she whispers a quiet thanks, smoothing out his shirt where it had been rumpled by her body pressed against his. She asks him to see to Mabel and make sure her needs are taken care of, and warns him that she’s emotional. She’ll need supervision.

Jade raids his kitchen for a container of salt while Randy puts Mabel to bed, and locks herself in his bathroom for a moment. Her hands blur across her face as she reworks her image to become Celia once more, the Celia that the world knows. She raids his closet for one of the outfits she had left here prior, something loose and comfortable, something that isn’t the ballgown she had worn to Elysium. When he comes back down the stairs she presses a kiss against his cheek and wishes him good evening. Then she’s out the door, aura dampened with a stray thought, to find Roderick’s kid sister.

Maybe not a kid anymore, she thinks as she gets into her car. Only a few years behind Celia, isn’t she? Mid twenties. She wonders what she’ll say to her. How she’ll explain things. How much she needs to explain. Preston and Savoy had mentioned that she knows enough, at least, which begs the question how long she has been like this. It’s not as if she and Roderick have any contact.

Celia drives toward Beach on Bourbon, the last place Dani had been sighted, to look for her trail.

GM: Late Friday night is when all the clubs’ monsters come out to play. Sweaty bodies are crammed so tight they can barely move, but they dance no less furiously. The musk of sweat, alcohol, and perfume is omnipresent. Love & Liars’ “Brother, Brother” pounds in Celia’s ears at triple decimals. Angry and disaffected youth dance to the entropic chord of oblivion.

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Celia knows the lyrics well. Andi didn’t say the names Caine or Abel, but the subject matter of a man who murdered his brother cannot do aught but speak to their kind. The punk screams her fury, her pride, her curses upon the Almighty.

The Toreador’s predatory vision cuts expertly through the club’s dim lighting as she searches between faces. Stephen’s little sister is no longer so little. She’s a woman grown, dressed in a revealing black minidress with fishnets and heeled boots. There’s a lustful wildness to her eyes as she pounds her feet and grinds against her partners. Celia sees a young child of the night, heady with her newfound power and immortality, all-too ignorant of the elder terrors that have already taken umbrage at her impudence. A heartbeat still pounds in her chest. She does not smell lie Kindred. As the Toreador watches, she wraps her arms around a man and feeds from him in the middle of the club. Nobody pauses to stare amidst the revelry.

Celia: Convenient, she thinks, that Dani is here again.

And stupid. So very, very stupid. Even the Maxen of her mind agrees with her verdict as she watches Dani feed on someone in the open, flaunting the Masquerade like only a fledgling without a sire can.

There are things called bathrooms. Or corners, at least. Not in the middle of the crowd. Not that she doubts the girl’s cojones; it takes a lot of balls to sink fang-deep into someone like this in unfamiliar territory. An idle thought crosses her mind, wondering if the pair will be interrupted by the holder of said domain, but she imagines that the eyes Savoy and Preston have put on the young almost-lick prevent the club’s proprietor from getting too grumpy about it.

Perhaps, though, the feeding in the middle has merit. Maybe she knows that everyone is so busy grinding and playing grab-ass around her that they won’t stop and stare at the vampire in their midst.

She gets a drink for herself at the bar while Dani feeds, sliding a twenty to the bartender to keep her own mask firmly in place. Drink in hand, Celia joins the throng of sweaty mortals on the floor. She dances with various partners while the girl feeds, spinning and twisting and dipping her way across the floor, keeping an eye on Dani all the while.

She waits for the right moment to pounce.

GM: It’s as the DJ mixes in Andi’s “Damage Control,” seguing flawlessly from a brother’s murder to cleaning up a murder, that Dani pumps her fists, spins, and finds herself almost chest to chest with Celia. Her eyes flash with surprise.

The Toreador can make out her fangs. They’re tiny things, barely more than normal teeth with sharpened points.

Celia: Dani is hardly the first thin-blood that she’s seen. But this is the first she’s been so close to. Celia, master of deception, feigns surprise as the crowd brings the pair of them together. She woos with the opening chorus of Damage Control, voice pitched high to match the sirens in the song that Andi so effortlessly belts out every time she sings.

Celia passes her drink to someone else—someone who is happy to accept the full cup from the pretty girl—and draws Dani into her arms as if she were any other girl on the floor as the music throbs around them.

GM: If Dani is taken aback, it’s only for a moment.

She leans in to Celia’s embrace, then sinks her fangs into the other vampire’s neck.

Celia: Oh. Well. This is awkward.

Celia’s hands fist through Dani’s hair, but she doesn’t jerk away. She presses herself closer to the thin-blood as fangs find her neck, knowing that to pull away would only draw attention.

She lets the thin-blood take a hit, long enough that the bond will settle into place. And then she murmurs in the girl’s ear, “Greedy little lick.”

GM: Dani’s kiss doesn’t feel as good as other vampires’. It doesn’t leave her weak in the knees with ecstasy. It’s merely pleasant. A nice feeling. By way of comparison, it’s like having sex with a virgin, or a guy who’s only half-hard.

Celia: She wonders how weird it’s going to be when she tells Roderick she half-fucked his kid sister.

With her itty bitty baby fangs.

GM: Stephen’s sister blinks.

WHAT DO YOU MEAN, GREEDY?” she shouts over the music to make herself heard.

Celia: Does she not recognize what Celia is by taste alone?

A frown mars her features. She leans into Dani, but her words are lost to the music and bodies around them. Shaking her head, Celia takes her by the hand to pull her off the floor and find a quiet corner where they can chat. Perhaps the aforementioned bathroom. Or outside, even, before Reynaldo sends someone to deal with the thin-blood feeding so blatantly in his club.

GM: Dani stands still for a moment, then seems to consider and follows after Celia.

The bathroom is less loud, but no less distracting. Sounds of fornication emanate from within. Many sound pained.

Celia: Hardly the ideal location. She imagines that the predators who have orchestrated those pained cries are too busy taking advantage of their victims to pay attention to the girls tottering into the only stall left.

At least the Ventrue won’t find them here. Awkward to explain that she’s trespassing in his club.

GM: Dani doesn’t walk into the stall immediately. She pounds her fist against the filthy, obscenity-scrawled door the cries sound from, blinks only once when it comes open unocked, and yells, “HEY! FUCK OFF!” at the larger man sodomizing a crying teenage boy.

The man’s eyes widen for a second like Dani is the bigger, stronger one, then he barrels out.

She kneels down by the teenager and asks, “Hey, are you-” but he just screams, slaps at her, and runs off.

Celia: Hip against the dirty counter that holds a handful of sinks, Celia crosses her arms over her chest to watch the display. Something that might be amusement dances in her eyes at the sight of the man running from the girl. It dies once the hand finds Dani’s cheek.

GM: “You try to do the right thi…” Dani starts, then trails off at Celia’s touch.

Celia: “They never thank you for it,” she says to Dani. “But it’s admirable to try.”

GM: Another guy comes in, gives an annoyed grunt at the full urinals, and starts pissing into the sink.

Celia: Celia gives the man a look that could curdle milk.

GM: “You want a drink, bitch?” he leers at her.

Celia: “I choke on small things.”

GM: “Fuck you, cunt.”

He moves his junk to start peeing over her.

Celia: “You’d like to.” Her head tilts to one side. Her eyes might flash, but maybe that’s a trick of the light. She smiles at him. It’s a little wider than it needs to be. Shows a little too many teeth. Not fangs, never that, not with this face.

At least until he moves.

Then she sends it out of her in a wave of crushing emotion. He does want to fuck. But he doesn’t want to fuck her. He wants to fuck the stall door, the place where it latches to close. Such a small hole is the perfect size for his dick.

GM: Celia nimbly sidesteps the stream of piss. The man’s sneering expression suddenly gives way to a look of lust. He shakes out the last piss from his newly-erect willy, pulls open the door, and starts trying to pound the tiny hole.

Celia: Charming.

“Perhaps another venue,” she says to Dani.

GM: Dani looks between the man and Celia, then Celia and the man.

Then she nods.

“Ah, FUCK!” he yells, grabbing the door with both hands.

Celia: Celia takes her hand once more to avoid getting lost in the crowd. They step out of the bathroom and Celia worms through the mass of writhing bodies toward the front door.

She leaves the man with his toy.

Door?

Toy.

Whatever.

She’s done enough good deeds for one night.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

GM: The pair make their way out into the night, heels clicking against the asphalt. Love & Liars still pounds from outside, but it’s low enough to make themselves heard, at least insomuch as one can in the Quarter on a Friday night. Drunken tourists and club-goers stumble along the streets, laughing or yelling about things that only make sense to themselves, some with open carry cups in hand. A few obvious tourists wear Mardi Gras beads, which Dani rolls her eyes at.

She finally looks back at Celia, questions dancing in her eyes. And some measure of apprehension.

“How did you do that…?”

Celia: Even outside, Celia doesn’t let go. She knows there are other dangers in the evening, and she won’t be the one who loses Dani because she hadn’t been paying attention. They look like just another pair of drunken college co-eds, tottering their way from bar to bar.

“It’s a trick I picked up a long time ago. A combination of tricks, actually. Usually it makes them want to focus on me.” She flashes Dani a sly smile. “You used something similar earlier. To make the man run when he was hurting that boy.”

“Have you done that before? Used the charm like that?”

She keeps her voice low, conscious of prying eyes and ears.

GM: Maybe a little old to be co-eds, if someone were to ask their ages. But still fun-seeking 20somethings, unburdened by the responsibilities of real adult life.

“Yeah,” Dani says slowly. “Are you… a vampire?”

Celia: Gui’s earlier commentary about the V-word comes to mind. She almost laughs at how different this is from her first “talk.”

“Yes. There are other words for it, but yes. Like you.” Her eyes move toward Dani. “How long?”

GM: Not really like her.

But close enough.

“Just this week,” says Dani. “You?”

Celia: A week?

Christ.

“Since 2009. How did it happen?”

GM: Dani blinks. “That’s… when you broke up with Stephen.”

Celia: “That’s why I broke up with Stephen. I didn’t want to hurt him. And it wasn’t safe, if I were around him.”

GM: Emotions swirl over Dani’s face. They aren’t happy ones.

“You really hurt him, you know. He never got over you.”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says quietly. “I had to live with that for a long time.”

“I still… I still have to live with that. Knowing what I said to him. I assume he told you.”

GM: “He said you’d cheated on him.” Dani’s voice is stiff.

“I remember what I said to you, at that dinner. How he was really into you.”

“He never got over it. And then he died.”

Celia: “I told him I cheated on him,” Celia says. The words are bitter. “I told him what I thought would prevent him from coming after me, because if I hadn’t he would have looked for, chased after me. I’m not proud of it. I should have handled it better. There’s no easy way to tell someone who is still alive that you’re not.”

GM: “You could have just told him the truth.”

Celia: “A week ago, would you have believed me?”

GM: “I’d tell him. If he was still alive.”

“You could’ve shown him. The fangs.”

Celia: “I thought about that. Telling him. There are people that help us during the day, when we sleep. I thought about turning him into that, bringing him with me into this. But it’s… I couldn’t do that to him. I thought he deserved better than that.”

GM: “Help us during the day?” Dani looks confused.

Celia: “Do… do you sleep during the day?”

GM: “Well, sure.”

Celia: “Because the sun burns.”

GM: “No it doesn’t.”

Celia: She actually blinks at that.

“What?”

GM: “The sun doesn’t burn. I looked it up in Dracula. It didn’t for him either, he just lost his powers. I guess that’s how it works.”

“What, does it for you?”

Celia: “Have you been in the sun since you were turned? Tested this?”

GM: “Yes, I tried my toe first, to see what would happen.”

“I didn’t burst into flame, so I tried the rest of me. I’ve gone outside a few times.”

Celia: “And it doesn’t hurt? At all?”

GM: “I don’t like how it feels. I’m tired and it’s bright without sunglasses. But I can if I want.”

Celia: Fascinating.

GM: “That’s not how it works for you?”

Celia: “No. We burn, usually.”

“Sometimes our Beasts take over to prevent us from even trying. Its survival instinct is… strong.”

GM: “Beasts?”

Celia: “The thing inside you. The monster.”

GM: “What thing?”

Celia: “The… the thing.” Celia stops walking. She turns wide eyes on Dani. “You don’t feel it? Pacing, snarling, always hungry? When you get mad or scared it takes over.”

GM: Dani gives her an odd look. “I’m thirsty for blood, sure.”

“Uh. Sorry for… drinking from you.”

Celia: Celia waves a hand.

“I baited you. I knew you were here. It’s fine.”

GM: “Your blood tasted… really strong.”

Celia: “I’ve always been curious, you know. What I taste like.” She lifts her brows at the girl.

GM: “Sort of like… it reminded me of makeup. Really sweet, too.”

Celia: Celia laughs at the description.

“That makes sense. Have you met others like us?”

Us, she says kindly. No reason to make Dani feel bad.

GM: “No. I thought I might’ve been the only vampire in the world. Are there many others?” She looks at Celia curiously.

Celia: “Not even the one who turned you?”

GM: Dani’s brow furrows.

Celia: “Do you remember how it happened?”

GM: “I was… here at the club, drinking. I used common sense, I watched the bartender mix everything, but someone must’ve… must’ve slipped me something. Maybe it was the bartender.”

“I don’t remember a lot after that.”

Celia: Celia nods. She’d expected as much, that Dani doesn’t remember.

GM: “I woke up in a garbage dumpster. That was fun.”

Celia: “Oh. That’s… not ideal.”

GM: A fitting origin, for the thin-blooded.

Baptized in garbage.

Celia: Celia doesn’t say that, of course.

Her fingers drum against her thigh.

“I thought I was in Hell when I woke up. There was a man standing over me and I thought he was the devil.” She gives Dani a wry smile. “Without knowing about this beforehand, there’s no easy way to transition. But to answer your earlier question, yes, there are a lot of us. A lot of us in the Quarter, a lot of us in the city, a lot of us in the world. We’re all over.”

GM: “Oh,” says Dani.

She seems to think.

“Do you want to sit down? My feet are getting sore in these shoes.”

Celia’s haven’t once gotten sore. One of the perks to undeath. She can wear whatever she wants, as high as she wants, for as long as she wants.

Celia: “Of course.” Another note to file away.

Celia leads her down the street to an empty bench. She looks around them as they walk, watching the tourists and clubbers as they go about their business. She nods to a pair of mortals that pass them by.

“What do they smell like to you?”

GM: “What do you mean?” Dani asks as she sits down.

“I can smell their blood. That’s stronger.”

Celia: “Yes,” Celia says, nodding. “But they smell human, right? Like… prey. Food?”

GM: “It smells good, yes.”

Celia: “Okay. Now focus on me for a minute.”

GM: Dani looks at her.

Celia: Celia lets her aura drop. The thing that masks her Beast disappears between one moment and the next.

GM: “Is there something I should look for?”

Celia: “Do I smell different?”

GM: Dani pauses, leans closer, and sniffs.

“Maybe?”

Celia: “Sometimes,” Celia says slowly, choosing her words with care, “we can recognize each other on sight. The reason I’m asking is because I need to know what you can do. How much you know. So I can fill in the gaps.”

“People like us,” Celia explains, “they’re not always friendly. And if you’re caught somewhere you shouldn’t be… it can get ugly.”

GM: “Well, I guess you do smell stronger. But that might be confirmation bias, since I think that’s how you… taste, too.”

Celia: Celia nods her head. “Older blood will taste stronger. Generally.”

GM: “What do you mean, we’re not friendly? Do we have a… society?”

Celia: “Sort of. It’s like… it’s like gangs, right? The older you get the stronger you get. And the strongest are in charge most of the time. They divide up the city into little chunks and parcel it out. And it prevents chaos, so we don’t fight with each other over resources. Keeps us from feeding in the same area too often so we don’t tip off the people who shouldn’t know about us. Everything is secret.”

That’s kind of a rosy way of explaining it.

“Because there are people who want to kill people like us. Just for being what we are.”

GM: “Like… Van Helsing?” Dani asks.

Celia: “Pretty much.”

GM: “Van Helsing and his people did kill Dracula.”

Celia: “These people kill licks.”

GM: “I reread the book. Looked around on the internet. I don’t know how much of it is true and how much is just… pop culture.”

“Licks is our name for vampires?”

Celia: “I’d like to help. To fill you in. Keep you from getting in trouble.”

GM: Dani nods eagerly. “Yes, please! Whatever you can tell me. You sound like you’ve been… doing this for a while.”

Celia: “Lick is the common name. Kindred is the… eh, socially acceptable term. Lick is slang.”

GM: “I’m not sure where to start. I have so many questions…”

Celia: “All right. Well. The first rule of lick club is that you don’t talk about lick club.”

GM: “Oh. Ha. That makes sense.”

Celia: “I’m happy to answer your questions, though. And to offer you a place to hunt. And stay, if you need it.”

GM: Dani pulls up her feet onto the bench and sits cross-legged as she listens.

“Hunting is feeding, I’m guessing?”

Celia: Celia nods.

GM: “Okay, dumb question. That’s… what predators do.”

Celia: “Nah. There are some weird terms sometimes, it’s not a dumb question.”

GM: “True. I’ve mostly been hunting here, this past week. I’ve been hoping someone might come by with answers. But it’s been a week, and I’ve not seen anything.”

“I talked to the bartender and he just said he didn’t see anything. And denied spiking my drink.”

Celia: Celia is about to tell her that she doesn’t want the guy who holds the domain to find her when that bartender comment stops her in her tracks.

“What did you say to the bartender?”

GM: “I told him I thought I’d been drugged, and how I woke up in a dumpster. I didn’t say I was a vampire. But I got really in his face. He just repeated he didn’t know anything.”

Celia: “What exactly do you mean by getting in his face?”

GM: “I cornered him when he got off work, not just at the bar. I stood in front of his car door and yelled at him. He didn’t blow me off. He broke down and just said how he didn’t know anything. That he was sorry.”

“I think I did it to him. That same thing I did to the rapist.”

Celia: “It’s a useful trick.”

GM: “It’s not always useful. Sometimes I can’t do it.”

Celia: “Can you do anything else like that? Anything… unusual?”

GM: “That’s it, really. I can’t fly or turn into a bat or anything like that.”

Celia: “Ah, well, very few of us can fly.”

“How long after you woke up did you corner him?”

GM: Dani raises her eyebrows at that, but answers, “Maybe 24 hours after. I was… trying to sort my own shit out, first. And I figured he’d still be there at the club.”

Celia: Celia nods again. “What day was this?”

GM: “Sunday, technically. A Saturday late enough to bleed over into Sunday. That’s when I became a vampire.”

“So this would’ve been Monday night, AM, when I talked to the bartender.”

Celia: “All right. I have some theories, but I need to do some digging to see what else I can find. See if we can track down who did this to you and why.”

GM: “You said this was like gangs, with territory. Have I been in someone else’s…?”

Celia: “Ah, yes. But I have my own, and I’ll show you where it is, and you can feed there. Discretely.”

GM: Dani’s face flickers. “I’d also like to know. Who did this to me. I think I, that I might’ve been…”

Celia: “The guy who runs this place, though—”

She cuts off.

GM: “I woke up in a dumpster.”

Celia: “Might’ve been…?”

Don’t say raped.

GM: Dani blinks. Angrily, helplessly.

“Raped.”

Celia: “Oh, sweetheart…” Celia leans over, pulling Dani into her embrace. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry this happened to you.”

“We’ll find the bastard.”

GM: Dani breaks down crying against Celia’s shoulder.

“I… I shouldn’t have been here, drinking… fucking off law school… shows what, what I get…”

Celia: She was going to law school?

Celia’s heart clenches. She was trying to fill Stephen’s shoes.

She runs her hands up and down Dani’s back while she cries, letting her get it all out, making encouraging noises to her. Sometimes that’s all someone needs, a firm hug and a friendly ear, and Celia knows that she’s been in this position enough times to want to be able to be there for someone else. Especially Stephen’s sister. But not just because of that, no. She’d liked Dani. Really liked her. She thinks they would have been close if Celia hadn’t… died.

“I’m not going to say it’s okay,” she says quietly as she holds Dani, “because it’s not. It’s not okay what happened to you. And I hate to tell you that I… that I’ve been there, I get it. It’s awful. What some of them do, it’s awful. But we’ll get you through this. And it will be okay, even if it’s not right now.”

GM: Dani sniffs as she clings to Celia.

Sniffs, like a breather.

“Tha… thanks… I don’t, I’m not gonna let them to get away with this, it’s not right…”

Celia: “It’s not,” Celia agrees. “It’s not.”

How can she tell her?

How can she say that there might not be anything they can do… all because of what she is? Someone had called her half-human once, like an insult, because she fucks and her heart beats and she breathes without conscious effort. But that’s the Blood doing it for her, keeping her skin warm. With Dani… it’s just blood. Lowercase B. She really is half-human. At least.

She wonders if Dani even tastes like she’s human.

GM: It’d be easy to find out.

“I’m so glad… I’m so glad you’re here, Celia,” Dani sniffs, holding on to her brother’s ex. “I just felt so alone…”

Celia: “You’re not alone anymore, Dani. I’ve got you.”

GM: “I’d love, I’d love to stay and…. hunt with you, that’s really nice of you to offer…”

Celia: “Then it’s yours. Now, dry eyes.” Celia pulls back, using her fingers to wipe away the tears on Dani’s face. “Chin up. We’re in this together. Come on; I’ll show you everything.”

GM: Pinkish, half-red and half-clear tears come away under Celia’s fingers. She can smell the diluted coppery tang.

Half.

Celia: She’ll pass her off as a ghoul. She’s already working through the logistics in her mind.

GM: Dani takes a steadying breath.

“Okay… where to?”

Celia: “Down Bourbon Street. I’ll show you my clubs and explain the rules as we go, and then I’ll take you to my place. I don’t stay there every night, so you’ll have it mostly to yourself. It’s comfortable and clean and you can help yourself to my clothes. I have some ideas for you, but there are some things I need to look into as well…”

Celia rises, taking Dani’s hand once more. She gives her a squeeze that reinforces everything she just said: they’re in this together.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

Celia: Celia talks as the girls travel down Bourbon Street. She explains the rules to Dani in as kind of language as she can find, filling her in on her new life. Unlife. Requiem. Whatever word Dani wants to use for it, but Celia provides the alternatives. She talks briefly about their society at large but most of her focus is on the city: the factions, the cold war, the way the territory is split. She’s alarmed but unsurprised to find that Dani lives in Riverbend and attends Tulane, and she makes sure to tell her that… well, that she needs to stay out of Riverbend. If Dani asks why, Celia tells her about the sheriff. She tells her about what happens to people who trespass, but how for Dani it might be worse.

There are rules, she explains, about turning someone into what they are, and it sounds like whoever did it to Dani didn’t have permission, which essentially makes her illegal. So, too, does her ability to walk in the sun. Duskborn, she says, not thin-blood, but as politely as she can she explains how others will see her.

The Quarter is safe, she tells Dani. The lord who runs the Quarter allows duskborn to settle in his domain, but everywhere else they’re hunted. If Dani makes noise about leaving the Quarter Celia quietly tells her about the massacre her friend had once witnessed, and says that getting caught is… well, she won’t have much to worry about anymore because, frankly, she’ll be dead.

She makes sure that Dani understands the severity of the situation before she moves on.

Celia takes Dani to the two clubs in her domain, Bourbon Heat and The Cat’s Meow, though they linger outside rather than going in since Dani has apparently already fed. She explains how her domain stretches down the block, that all of the residences along Orleans St, St. Peter, and Dauphine along this block are hers as well. Feeding at the club is always easiest, though.

“Except the Gardette Mansion. It’s haunted. I’d avoid it.”

At Dani’s look of interest Celia explains that they’re not the only monsters that go bump in the night. There are ghosts and werewolves (Celia calls them “loops,” like with the P at the end, which she thinks started as a joke but the term stuck so that’s what she uses now), people with magic, and more besides. Cities are safer, but even licks like them will fight and kill each other.

She warns her about feeding publicly. Warns her about cameras. Warns her about hunters, and that she was picked up by a pair at Bourbon Heat, so she’d avoid it for a week or so.

Eventually Celia takes Dani back to her place. The one she owns as Celia rather than the one she owns as Jade, since Alana might be at the latter. It’s not a large place, but it’s comfortable enough for a girl on her own, which is exactly what Dani is.

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Stocked kitchen, Celia tells her, in case she still likes normal food.

Then she has questions of her own: Dani’s plans for the future. What she’d like to do. Her address in Riverbend so that Celia can retrieve her clothes and other necessities.

GM: Dani listens attentively as she walks with Celia. She has many questions, but she lets the Toreador tell things at her own pace too. Dani does ask why she can’t go to Riverbend, citing how all of her things are there. Plus school. The factional cold war seems like a little much for her to digest at once, and she asks about the larger Camarilla (“Who’s in charge? How are they elected?”) and its laws. The bit about the Fourth Tradition hits hard. Dani does not look happy to have broken the law through her simple existence.

She’s confused as to why duskborn are so hated.

She does ask why she can’t leave the Quarter. She does appear to grasp the severity of the situation, or at least as much as anyone can who’s brand new to all of this.

“I don’t… I don’t understand. Why do they hate me just because I can walk in the sun? How can they even know I can do that, if I don’t say so?!”

Dani is thankful, at least, that Celia shows her the clubs where it’s legal to hunt. She uses that word a perhaps unsurprising number of times. “Legal.”

She is very interested to hear that monsters besides vampires are real. “So, are mummies? Aliens? Dragons? What isn’t real?”

Dani is mindful of Celia’s warning and says she’ll avoid the Bourbon Heat. There’s no reason to go there when there are other clubs.

She likes the apartment and compliments Jade on how neat, clean, and well-decorated it is.

“It’s actually nicer than my current place, so no complaints…”

Celia: Celia answers Dani’s questions as best she can. She doesn’t know about aliens—“though how could we possibly be the only life forms in the universe?”—and doesn’t think dragons are real, but she says she knows a girl who experiments with animals who might be working on one, she’s just stuck on the fire part. And the wings part.

She’s glad that Dani likes her haven, in any case, and hands her a key as they take a seat on the couch together.

As far as the duskborn, though, she doesn’t have a good answer. Honestly, sometimes… she doesn’t understand it herself. Even Roderick had a strong response. She wonders if there’s something wrong with her. If she’s broken in some regard. Or if the fact that she appears more human than she is, that her life is so tied to the mortal she used to be, keeps her mind open.

Maybe she just misses the sun on her skin.

Or maybe she needs this to work so badly with Roderick that she’s swallowing down every bit of revulsion that she feels.

Regardless of the why, the fact remains that duskborn aren’t well-received in other parts of town, and even here they’re barely tolerated. Celia tells her that she’ll work on a cover story for her. She tells her that maybe they can say she’s a ghoul. As long as she isn’t seen feeding it might be a good cover for now.

She warns her about technology, too, and to not send anything sensitive over text or email or even look it up on the internet. It can all be traced back to them, and there are… well, a lot of hunters in the city.

“How much longer do you have left in law school?” Celia wants to know.

GM: Dani looks askance at the fact duskborn are so hated.

“So why don’t I just say I can’t walk in the sun, then? Is that all it is?”

Celia: “No,” Celia says with a sigh. “It’s… you read differently. Smell differently. Like a ghoul, not a vampire. They’ll know.”

GM: “That sounds like… Jim Crow. Discrimination. Just because I can walk in the sun.”

“Worse than Jim Crow. Ethnic cleansing.”

Celia: “It’s more than that, I think. The blood is power. The closer you are to the original vampire the stronger you are. The further away, the more generations removed, the… the weaker the blood, essentially. And that’s how they all see it.”

GM: “The original vampire? How close are you?”

Celia: “Nine steps removed.”

GM: “Weaker how? How many am I?”

“Sorry, lot of questions. This is all just… so much to take in.”

Celia: “Ah… I’m… I’m not sure for you, but I can test it, if you want.”

“You could be fourteen, or… maybe fifteen.”

GM: “Those numbers don’t really mean a lot to me without any context, sorry.”

Celia: Celia reaches for her hand. “May I?”

GM: Dani nods. “Okay. Go ahead.”

Celia: Celia lowers her mouth to Dani’s wrist. Her fangs sink into her skin. She draws the blood forth. She doesn’t take much, just enough to get a taste.

GM: Dani flinches slightly, but waits to see what Celia does.

Celia: The blood touches her tongue and Celia has her answers. She licks the wound to seal her flesh back together, pulling back as the sanguine liquid slides down her throat. Thin. Nothing like her brother. Similar to a ghoul, but there’s no strength to it, no potency. And no other licks in her system, none but her. It had been a long shot, anyway, long ago as her Embrace was, and even if she had tasted someone else she might not have recognized it.

Pete could tell her, she bets.

And, perhaps most telling of all, there’s no collar that slaps into place around her neck. She hadn’t waited long enough to let it cool, a risky guess but one she wanted the answer to. And now she knows.

“You can taste the difference in the blood. Recognize what clan someone belongs to, how strong their blood is, who they’ve been feeding from recently. Things like that.”

GM: “Oh. What’d you taste from mine?”

Celia: “I… I have a friend,” Celia says slowly, “who could use a sample to maybe find out more. I don’t know how soon he can see me, but if you want I can look into it, get some decisive answers.”

“You taste like a ghoul.”

There’s not a polite way to say it.

“It’s possible you can pass for one.”

GM: “Okay, so like a black person passing for white.”

Celia: “More like a mixed person passing for white.”

GM: Dani doesn’t look happy at the idea of having to hide what she is. But also like she has has no idea why she should be offended to pass as a ghoul.

Celia: “To be honest, the fact that you can move around during the day is a boon. Other ghouls can, so it can help sell the idea. And if you want to be a lawyer you could still practice. I know it’s difficult to keep jobs for a lot of people when we have to sleep during the day.”

GM: “Okay. You did ask about that, but I’m just struggling to understand. Why do they hate me?”

Celia: “Because they’re old and awful and set in their ways.”

“Because they don’t change and can’t accept anything new.”

“Because they were born hundreds of years ago and some of them are still racist.”

“Because the idea of anything that is different than them is scary.”

“Because some of them are so old they don’t know how phones work, or how to drive.”

“And they can’t keep up with the idea of a changing world.”

“And it really just comes down to something like racism.”

“That was a pretty spot-on assessment.”

“There are clans, all sorts of clans, and some of them hate each other for no reason, and some think they’re better than the others, and everything happened so long ago that no one even has the right story and it’s ridiculous and stupid but it’s just passed on and on and on for no reason.”

“I’m sure they think they have a reason. But it’s like any white person hating any black person without knowing them. It’s just… bigotry.”

GM: “So it’s basically just… beat me to it. It sounds exactly like racism.”

Celia: “That being said, there’s someone I can talk to about this. I’m seeing him tomorrow. He might have a better answer as to the why. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll see what I can find out.”

GM: “I think they must be jealous of duskborn, is why. That we can walk in the sun and they can’t.”

Celia: “Could be.”

GM: “I don’t like this. It’s… unjust.”

Celia: Celia smiles at her.

“You sound like Stephen.”

GM: Dani smiles back. A little sadly, but there’s fondness in it.

“I guess I do.”

“I miss him.”

Celia: “I imagine losing him was hard. On you and your dad.”

GM: “It was. My dad… God, I don’t know how it didn’t destroy him. It nearly did.”

“I’ve gotten over it. I’ll always miss and remember Stephen, but I’ve moved past it.”

“My dad never has. I don’t think he ever will.”

Celia: “Parents shouldn’t bury their children.”

GM: “Stephen was just… his everything. Everything in our family’s past, everything in its future.”

Celia: “I know,” Celia says to her, “I know. I thought that same thing, when I heard. We’d talked about it. How… how he wanted to carry on the family line, continue the work of his father and grandfather. How our kids would…”

She cuts off, shaking her head.

She would have married him. Had children with him. Watched them grow up to be just like him. They could have had that. And now they’re both dead. And Dani is dead, or half-dead, or something, and their dad… their dad is all alone.

She wipes at her eyes. This isn’t about her. Or Stephen.

GM: Dani squeezes Celia’s shoulder.

“Yeah. He wanted that too.”

Celia: “I’ve adapted, you know. Got used to it. Like you, I didn’t have a choice. And I’m happy most of the time. But… Christ, do I hate them for what they took from me. I remember those first nights. Hearing him on the phone, not able to understand why I couldn’t see him. And leaving him. Breaking his heart. I was… I couldn’t stop crying. Two nights, three nights before I died, we’d finally said it, you know? That we loved each other. And then it was over. I was dead. Then he…”

“And no one on this side cares what your life was, not unless they can use it against you somehow, so there was no one to talk to about it.”

“Sorry. This… not about me, sorry.”

GM: Dani hugs her.

“I’m sorry. It sounds like… it sounds like you didn’t want to hurt him. That means something.”

“It does. It really does.”

Celia: “I hated myself for what I did to him. I still do sometimes. It creeps up on me.”

GM: “It wasn’t your fault. You didn’t have a choice.”

Celia: It almost comes pouring out of her then: how she’d thought she was making things right when she’d been snatched up and killed. But the words die in her throat, and she just nods her head, hugging Dani close to her. She doesn’t sniff, not like Dani had.

“I’m sorry it happened to you this way,” Celia finally says, pulling back. “I’ll find answers for you, see what else can be done. Right now the safest place is the Quarter, though, and… I mean, your status aside, it’s the best feeding in the city, so that’s good at least. Lots to do and see. If you don’t have a Beast it’s safer for you to be around people, too. Maybe convince your dad to move to the Quarter?”

GM: “That… might be hard. He doesn’t really have a reason to, does he?”

“Unless we tell him the truth. He was a federal prosecutor, he won’t blab. He can keep secrets.”

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“You can’t tell anyone. Ever. If you do, they die, you die. It’s not my rule, it’s just how it is. There are people who make sure that you don’t talk. They’ve got eyes and ears everywhere.”

GM: “They can’t know everything.”

Celia: “You’d be surprised.”

“Don’t tell him. Put him off for now if he wants to see you. Make excuses for your classes. Let me talk to a few people, see what arrangements I can make.”

None with her sire, she already knows that much.

There’s no way he’d let her in.

Celia: “It can be problematic if you don’t have a way to hide. None of the licks know me as Celia. Fake names, all sorts of stuff.”

GM: “He… told me a lot, by the way. About your mom and dad…” Dani’s face turns sympathetic.

Celia: “He helped my mom and I out of a really bad situation. I don’t know that I’d have had the strength to leave without him.”

GM: “I’m glad he was able to do that. That’s what he and Dad always wanted him to do. Make things right through the law.”

Celia: The law hadn’t really helped much, not with Maxen.

Though she supposes some of that is on her.

Warning her sire. Selling out her family.

GM: “It’s… it might mean a lot to my dad, to hear from you that there’s more to the story, and that Stephen helped your family.”

Celia: “Do you want to know something silly?”

“Stephen and I used to talk about getting our parents together. Your dad and my mom.”

GM: Dani laughs. “Cue a bunch of ‘what are you doing, stepbro’ memes, I guess.”

“That’s sweet of him, though. He really did just want to make people’s lives better.”

Celia: Celia can’t help but laugh along with her.

“I said the same thing when he brought it up. I can talk to your dad, though. We can just say we ran into each other. I can’t tell him the full story, not about being a vampire, but I’d be happy to talk to him again. I really liked your family. That first dinner we had together… well, Stephen told you. Dinner wasn’t like that at my house.”

GM: “He did tell me that. The worst dinner of his life, he called it.”

Celia: “It was bad.”

“Is your dad still in Uptown?”

GM: Dani nods. “He still is. He keeps saying the house is too big for him, though. He’d wanted to pass it to Stephen, when… when I guess the two of you had kids.”

Celia: Celia swallows.

“That would have been really nice of him. I would have liked that. We both would have.”

GM: “I think he still wants to do that for me, at least, when I do.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to the regent. See if I can arrange to visit. Or maybe we can have your dad come here, that might be easier.”

GM: “I could call him. He’s really busy, usually, but he’d make time for Stephen.”

Celia: “That works. We can set something up.” Celia glances at the time.

GM: Definitely too late to talk to the man, but there are some hours in the night remaining.

Celia: “Probably wait until tomorrow.”

GM: “That still seems so weird you need to talk to a…. regent, just to see someone.”

Celia: “It’s not ideal. I used to think ‘hello yes you’re an immortal vampire now, please stay inside the lines.’ But they’re very… strict. You’d be killed.”

“The one where your dad lives is, uh… he was one of the licks who helped kill all those duskborn I told you about. Was happy to do it.”

“Not everyone is bad, but some of them really are monsters.”

GM: Dani shakes her head. “I still can’t believe that’s a thing.”

Celia: “It’s a big change from what you’re used to.”

GM: “Why the fuck do they hate us, just for not combusting in the sun?”

Celia: “Because they’re a bunch of assholes.”

GM: “I mean, sure, jealousy, but what you’re talking about… I just can’t picture it.”

Celia: “It’s like any culture. They marginalize what is different. What they don’t understand.”

GM: “I don’t know what I want to do, if I have forever, but I’d like to change that. It isn’t fair. It isn’t just.”

Celia: “There are a lot of people who agree with you. And you’re right. You shouldn’t be persecuted because of an accident of Embrace. It’s backwards thinking. But you have to keep in mind these people don’t change. Hundreds or thousands of years old, they’re the ones making the rules. And if you do something the wrong way, if you voice something the wrong way, if you don’t address them with the proper title, they’ll use it as an excuse to berate, hit, torture, kill.”

“I was late to an event this evening. Five minutes or so. And the looks I got?” Celia shakes her head.

“I got caught somewhere I shouldn’t be earlier this week. The person who caught me threw my mom off a roof. Told me to catch.”

GM: “What? Oh my god, did you?!”

Celia: “Yes. She’s fine.”

GM: “That… doesn’t sound fine.”

“Does she know about vampires, now? What you are?”

Celia: “No. The person who did it altered her memories. She can’t know. If she knew, she’d die. I’d die.”

GM: “What about if I want to have a husband? Kids?”

Celia: There’s silence for a beat. Can thin-bloods have kids? Her heart still beats, but…

“Vampires can’t have kids. And if you take a husband it would need to be someone who knows. Another vampire. But they don’t really marry, not like that. They have blood marriages, but it’s… the whole thing is kind of weird. We take lovers. But not really husbands.”

GM: Dani takes that in slowly.

“Why not? And we… we really can’t have kids?”

Celia: “It’s a different culture. Like if you went to Africa or Russia.”

GM: “I’m pretty sure I want them, some day.”

“Not right now, obviously, but I do.”

Celia: “So. I’ll be honest. Your kind, the duskborn, they’re new. Not a lot is known about them. I can’t have kids. My body is dead. But you still breathe, still have a heartbeat, still taste almost human. I can look into it, see what information I can find. We can run some tests on you, see what you’re capable of. I think you need to know anyway. I have some theories, but nothing proven.”

“That being said, socially, keeping a human family is very, very frowned on. If the wrong people knew about mine they’d be killed, maybe. For various reasons.”

GM: Dani looks relieved. “Okay. Like I said, not something I’m worrying about right now, but that’d be nice to know.”

“But that’s ridiculous. Keeping a family is… it’s an intrinsic right.”

“There was this court case, actually. About a deadbeat daddy who kept having kids with more and more women, and who never paid child support. He had an insane number of kids.”

“A judge ruled that he couldn’t have more until he coughed up child support for the ones he’d already had. But a higher court overturned the ruling. The right to reproduce and make babies was a fundamental human right.”

“They could throw him in jail if he didn’t pay child support, but they couldn’t order him to stop having kids. Not even being able to have a family is simply insane.”

Celia: There are plenty of people Celia thinks shouldn’t be breeding.

“Hard to have kids in jail. But I believe it. And I get it. You have to understand, though, things are different in this life. There’s no court. No arguing your case. The guy in charge says you’re guilty? You’re guilty. He kills you. Done.”

“I’ve been nice to you. I know you. And I’m not a monster. But if the guy who owned the club you were at found you? He’d have taken your head. At least.”

“And he’s not even the worst of them.”

“That’s also part of why we left. He and I are friendly, but if he’d caught me there I’d have been in trouble too.”

GM: Dani slowly shakes her head disbelievingly. “You said there were laws, with the Traditions. There has to be a channel through which to settle legal questions and to revise and update laws as needed.”

Celia: “There’s not.”

“The Traditions keep the powerful people powerful. That’s all they care about. All they respect.”

GM: “But that isn’t how the law works. Even Roman law, two thousand years ago… you had lawyers. You had magistrates. The law is an imperfect and constantly evolving body.”

Celia: “To humans.”

“Because humans change. Adapt. Vampires don’t. It’s static.”

GM: “If you don’t have that, what you’re describing sounds more like… gang rules than actual laws. A code of behavior that’s completely arbitrary and up to the whims of whoever’s enforcing it.”

Celia: “We’re not human anymore. Some of them get offended if you call them man or woman. We’re vampires. That’s it. Corpses. Dead. Sexless.”

GM: “That’s also stupid. I’m still a woman. You even say I might be able to have kids, and you don’t get much more womanly than that.”

“And, okay, even if I can’t, a woman is more than her uterus.”

Celia: “You’re thinking about it from your human perspective. What you think of as normal isn’t normal all over the world. Some places there’s still slavery, women are castrated, are seen as property. Language is different. Food is different. Religion is different. Look at any culture and you’ll see that. Even basic human biological needs: here in the States we have whole rooms devoted to using the bathroom. Some cultures just do it out in the open, right in the street. It’s not weird to them because it’s what they know. There’s no universal ‘normal.’ It’s all relative.”

“And now you’re part of a new culture. It’s enculturation. Growing up to think that what you know is normal.”

“And it’s not wrong, not morally. That’s how humans live. But we have our own culture with our own rules. And the people who don’t support what’s already in power are marginalized. Killed. Exiled. Et cetera.”

“So the Traditions… they’re put in place and maintained by the rich white men of America, basically. If you need a comparison. And you’re a poor black lady.”

Not even that.

Maybe a dog.

GM: Dani doesn’t look terribly happy at that.

In fairness, the kine are animals. Literal cattle. Thin-bloods and ghouls are a step up.

But only one step.

“All of this sounds wrong. Everything about the society you’ve described.”

“Does it do anything good?”

Celia: No.

GM: It’s kept her posh and comfortable.

Celia: “There are people who are good. Who fight for change and equality.”

“Who want better for everyone.”

GM: “Are you one of them?”

Celia: “I’d like to think so. I could have killed you and no one would have stopped me. I try not to hurt people.”

GM: “Well, I’m glad you didn’t kill me.”

Celia: “But even the people in charge of those people, the ones who fight for change, only want some change. They set up that slaughter. They’d sell you out if it suits them.”

GM: “They don’t sound like they actually want change, then. Or they only want change for themselves. Sort of like how a lot of Second Wave feminist leaders were white and didn’t want to be associated with black feminists.”

“I’d like to meet some of those licks, anyway. Who want actual change that applies to duskborn too.”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do. A lot of them are pretty quiet about it.”

GM: Dani nods. “Okay. And thanks. I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at this system you’ve described.”

Celia: “I know. I get it. I would be too. I was for a long time.”

“The people in charge play games with people like us. Younger licks.”

GM: It helped that she benefited from the system. Strong-blooded Toreaor childe of a harpy like her.

Celia: It did help.

But she doesn’t rub it in.

“Stupid games because they’re petty.”

Besides, she thinks that being Savoy’s lapcat has done more for her than being Veronica’s childe.

GM: “I guess that’s what people in charge will always do, even if it’s worse here.”

Celia: She’s glad Roderick had his meltdown when Dani wasn’t around to see.

GM: “Hey. This might seem silly, but do you want to take a picture?” Dani smiles.

Celia: “That might not be a good idea. Your face isn’t going to change as you age. Staying out of photos should start now.”

GM: “Oh.” Dani looks disappointed. “But it has been just a week, and you’re on social media…?”

“Please? You’ve been so nice, you’re my brother’s girlfriend, and I’d really, really like to have something of us together here.”

Celia: What’s the worst that happens?

Dani gets found out as a thin-blood. They trace her back to Celia. Celia’s identity is blown. Someone kills her family. Someone kills her. Hunters tear her apart, or make her watch them kill Roderick, or…

Any number of things, really.

But she runs that risk already, doesn’t she?

GM: “I could keep it off social media. I’d just send it to you and my dad.”

“Or just you, if you’d rather talk to him first.”

Celia: “Okay,” Celia finally says with a smile. “Sorry, I know I sound paranoid. Sometimes we come out wrong in photos.”

GM: “Oh, it’s okay, all of this does sound really serious. I guess you’re used to being safe and not sorry. But, anyway!” Dani fishes out her phone from her purse, wraps an arm around Celia’s shoulder, holds up the phone, and smiles towards it. The device gives a click. She takes a couple photos, moving the camera for each one.

Celia: Celia reminds her to keep her lips together to hide her fangs. After that she smiles for the camera, making sure she’ll show up properly.

GM: Dani licks her teeth and says she doesn’t feel any. “They sort of just… appear, sometimes, when I get ‘in the mood.’ I guess like a boner.”

Celia: “That’s their term for it when they get turned on. Boner.”

GM: “That’s hilarious.”

Celia: “I thought so too.”

“I’ve seen duskborn with permanent fangs. You’re lucky yours hide.”

GM: “That does sound pretty inconvenient,” Dani frowns. “What’s your number?”

Celia: Celia gives it to her.

“Don’t send anything sensitive over text. The photo is fine. But no talk of vampires.” Celia had already told her, but she needs to make sure that Dani understands.

GM: Dani nods. “Okay, no vampires. These two came out crappy, but the others are good.”

Stephen’s sister taps off a text. The photos ping up on Celia’s phone. They show her and Dani sitting on the couch, the latter still in her club clothes sans boots. Her face and makeup look worn as if from a long night out, and perhaps even like they’ve shared something significant. But the photos are happy ones, showing the two with their arms around each others’ shoulders as they smile up at the camera like a pair of 20something breather girls.

They look like friends and equals, not a thin-blood and a true-blood.

Celia: Celia grins down at the photos. She’s happy she found Dani this evening, that she could give her a warmer welcome into the all-night society than she would have received from someone else. She’s pleased she has enough territory to share; she’ll just rely on her business a little more, feed from a few more clients to make up for the lack of hunting. And now Dani has someone that Celia thinks she desperately needed.

Maybe, she thinks, this can work. Maybe it won’t all blow up in her face.

View
Celia IV, Chapter IX
Poor Substitutes

“She got to have him to herself, she got to be happy… he got to love others, make them happy… not all lies are bad…”
Mabel


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: Gui opens the door to his BMW for Jade.

“So, beautiful, where to?”

Celia: “Such chivalry,” she says with a smile.

Jade slides into the car. She supposes she’ll need to let Alana know to pick up her Genesis and drop it at the Evergreen for her later. She sends that text to the ghoul as Gui walks around to get in on his side and deposits her phone back into her jacket pocket.

“That depends. Can you keep a secret?”

GM: “Does anyone ever answer ‘no’ to that question?” Gui replies with some amusement. He starts driving despite not having a destination from Jade.

Celia: “No,” Jade admits, “but their answers let me get a good idea on whether or not they get to learn something fun.”

GM: “There’s mine. I’ll vouch that I’m trustworthy, but don’t take my word for it. I’m a vampire.”

Celia: She laughs. “I’ll rephrase, Mr. Gui. I’d like to show you something fun. Would you like to see?”

GM: “I should think so.”

Celia: She directs him toward the Evergreen.

GM: They arrive there in short order. Fabian greets them warmly. The place looks pretty empty on a Friday night with its master and many of his followers at Elysium Primo.

Empty of Kindred, at least. There’s a live music show going on, and plenty of kine eating, drinking, and having a good time at the club.

Celia: “It’s not often people throw that word around,” Jade remarks to Gui before they head inside. “It’s quite refreshing to know I’m not the only one.”

Most evenings, Jade comes here for Savoy or his warden. This evening, though, she’s here for the ghoul. She asks after Tantal and moves to find him, her arm linked through the Ventrue’s with the same amount of familiarity she’d use with… well, anyone, really.

GM: “You haven’t heard about that trend to ‘reclaim the v-word?’ It’s all the rage in Chicago,” Gui says as he walks her upstairs.

Fabian gives the pair directions. Jade finds the ghoul-turned-hunter lookalike watching TV on a couch with one of Mel’s girls in arm, probably killing time until Jade could get around to him. He looks glad to see her.

“Time for me to get my face back, ma’am?” he asks in his deeper voice.

Celia: She hadn’t heard. She’s amused by it and happy to do her part in New Orleans, she assures him. She tells him how when she’d first met Lebeaux she’d said the word to him and he’d all but flinched.

“He made sure to tell me it was very inappropriate for everyday use.”

Jade nods to the ghoul once they find him, gesturing for him to follow after her.

“That and more, as discussed. The warden has given the green light.”

Her eyes find Gui’s as she walks the pair of them down the hall toward the Red Room, wondering if he can guess what she’s about to show him.

GM: “Still only popular with younger licks,” Gui says.

Tantal kisses the girl and tells her to wait here before accompanying the two vampires.

The Red Room isn’t too red, tonight, and there isn’t so much as a single corpse. Fridays are the Evergreen’s least busy nights, at least for Kindred.

But tomorrow will be another matter. Saturdays always leave the Red Room reddest.

Celia: Empty of corpses, anyway. But there’s Randy, faithful as ever, with the bag of body parts from Celia’s haven that she’d been debating how to get rid of. Putting them in Tantal seems like a no-brainer.

She smiles at the boy and sends him on his way with a wink.

GM: He looks less than thrilled with carrying it, but thrilled as ever to see his mistress before she sends him off.

“I know him, the bail bond family,” remarks Gui.

Celia: “Mmm,” Jade nods her head. “He’s dating one of my spa girls. Useful. Though she’s been making noise about him not popping the question, so we’ll see how long that lasts.” Amusement colors her voice.

She gestures for Tantal to lay out on the table and opens the bag of body parts, slicing through the wrappers with quick cuts of her nails. She unrolls the assorted parts and sets them aside, then pulls a vial from her purse with a pair of needles and a bottle of something that looks like sanitizer but smells like pure ethanol. She rinses her hands.

“Anesthetic, Tantal,” she warns the ghoul before finding a vein with the first needle.

Finally prepped for “surgery,” Jade glances once more at Gui.

“Ready to see something fun?” The request to keep it a secret has already been issued. He wouldn’t be here if she didn’t trust him to do that much, at least.

GM: “He won’t ever love her while he’s drinking from you,” says Gui.

Tantal looks relieved to see the anaesthetic and gives a, “Thank you, ma’am.”

Butterfly would have killed to have that.

“Thought that’s what I was already seeing,” smirks Gui, looking directly at her.

Celia: That reminds her.

“Can you get the zipper? If I get blood on this dress I’m going to be distinctly annoyed.”

GM: “With pleasure.”

He swiftly peels it away. He folds the dress up and leaves it on a chair.

Celia: He’s such a flatterer.

Jade winks at him once she’s down to her bra, having already lost her panties. She’d take the former off too, but to be honest if she’s getting blood across her breasts… well, maybe she deserves it for being bad at her job. Maybe she would take it off if Gui could lick her clean later, but that whole no saliva thing really cramps her style.

Claws sprout from the tips of her fingers. Long, sharp, deadly. She turns to her task at hand, beginning with Tantal’s face while the numbing solution does its job. That’s the part that the dolls all complain about: the face and hair. And while she’s removing from Tantal rather than adding hair, she’d rather he be comfortable. He doesn’t need the pain to sink in as a lesson, after all.

Quick cuts of her claws has the hair falling to the ground in no time, and a moment later she runs a hand across his scalp (with her claws carefully held out of the way) to smooth it all over. It’s a quicker effort than adding hair; within moments his head is as bald and shiny as he was before.

It’s not impressive. She knows that. Anyone can shave a head. She doesn’t even look over at Gui to catch his reaction. Not until her claws drag against Tantal’s face and she peels the skin back, adjusting the muscles underneath to give him that round-cheeked look he’d had before. Round but… chiseled, somehow. She manages to make it work despite the implication that fat equals round. She makes him look a little more dangerous than he had been with his baby-face to account for the new muscle she’s going to put into his body.

She closes his face with a press of her fingers, smoothing out the skin flaps until it looks like his skin had never been split.

She moves lower. Claws cut into his throat so she can rework his vocal chords. She has him speak while she works to make sure that the voice is where he wants it, whether that’s his higher falsetto or something a little more masculine. Jade doesn’t judge. His body, his choice and all that nonsense.

After that the real work begins.

She starts with his chest, cutting him open and bringing in the muscular fiber from the dead guy she’d met at the club, the one that her sire had killed for her with a boot to the throat, the one whose body Roderick had seen in her fridge and hadn’t asked about.

Adding isn’t like taking away. This isn’t fat that she just scoops out with a swipe of her finger to put into a trash bag. This is the addition of muscle to his frame, bulking him up to stay the same relative size as before while replacing fat with muscle. This is the kind of surgery that every kid who has ever been fat wants: pure replacement. It’s what body-builders wish they could do with their protein shakes and their heavy lifts and their steroids.

She checks the connections, the nerves, the bands of tissues. She makes sure that the arms work when he lifts them, that if he flexes his biceps are bigger than his head, that the cells get their required blood and oxygen and everything else that they need to survive. There are tons of tiny little connections to make to ascertain that the synapses fire correctly.

She’s not a blur, not quite, but she moves more quickly than any human surgeon would while she works on Tantal, while she cuts him open and stuffs him with the new muscle and fat and tissue from the hunter, while she sculpts and shapes and otherwise turns him into the ideal version of himself. She asks how big he wants to go and he gets it.

She chances a glance at Gui when she moves onto Tantal’s lower body, her hands bloody halfway up her forearms.

“You remember what he used to look like?” she asks him, referring to the fat, baby-faced ghoul he’d been before. “When we took it out of him he said he wasn’t sure if he wanted it to go back in. I’m sure you’ve never stared at a garbage bag of your own fat, but it’s not very appealing.” There’s a movie with that image in it. The one with that cute guy who’d once robbed a casino. Her mom thinks he’s cute, anyway. He’s a little old for her. He plays the imaginary friend in the movie she’s referring to, though.

“So we spoke to the warden about it and he said that if Tantal wanted his old size without the fat we could make it muscle instead.” It’s a shy smile she sends his way. “That evening at Elysium, all those years ago, when you asked how a vampire—” she tries out the word and finds that she likes it after not saying it for so long"—could benefit from body work? What I said was very, very true. But there’s also this way."

She pads the ghoul’s waist while she talks, filling him in. Then lower, to his legs. His quads get reworked: bigger, thicker, padding him with the additional muscle from the dead man whose only crime had been that he was at the wrong place, wrong time.

Unless he’d been working with the hunters. Then fuck that guy.

Oh, and he had tried to drug her, so she supposes fuck that guy twice as hard.

She checks in with the ghoul when she gets to his feet, making sure that the anesthetic is still working, that he’s the right size. She flips him afterward, putting another needle into him of numbing solution so she can start the work on his back. Again, she starts at the top. Adds the muscle and fat to his neck, then his traps and lats and scalenes. She rounds out the deltoids from the side, smooths out his waist, adds a bit more to the glutes. All the glutes, not just the one that sits on top, since that won’t do him any good if the medius and minimus aren’t just as strong. Hamstrings and calves are last, and when she’s done… well, when she’s done he’s got the kind of calves that gym rats dream of, with a smoothly tapered ankle and a fat chunk of quivering gastrocs that a woman wouldn’t be able to fit into a knee-high boot.

Funny, that, how the big people want to be little and the little people want to be big. A lot of fat people complain about their calves, how they’ll never be small, while other people want to build them up. It’s obsessive. Reggie had told her about it: the guys on body building forums who purposefully gain weight to get the extra fat and muscle that comes from carrying around such a large load, then cutting so they can slim down and keep that same muscle in their lower legs.

Personally Jade thinks it’s weird, but then she doesn’t need to spend hours in the gym working on her physique because she’s already perfect.

Flawless, really.

GM: Flawless in appearance.

Flawless in deed.

Tantal looks relieved the entire time as Jade works her torturous magic on his numb flesh. Perhaps some part of the ghoul wonders if it would hurt more to have muscle mass added than taken away. Different kinds of pain, Jade supposes. She’s made herself bulkier for some of her guises, though never so bulky as she’s making Tantal. The ghoul doesn’t go so far as to relax while she works on him, but he starts to look less apprehensive and more intrigued as the minutes tick by and Jade literally makes him bigger and better.

Gui watches too with clear interest. His eyebrows raise at first, but beyond that, the Ventrue simply studiously watches what Jade’s doing, his eyes moving between her claws, Tantal’s body, and the gory chunks of muscle she grafts on. At one point he remarks how the muscle looks “pretty fresh” and asks what would happen if she was working with “older meat.” Would she need to freshen it up? Beyond that question, Gui remains silent so as not to distract her from her work. As it goes on and the Toreador’s motions become more familiar, his eyes start to wander her increasingly gore-caked body. There’s no bulge in his pants, but Jade can see his fangs protruding in his mouth, and he smiles when he sees her notice.

“Thayncth, mu’m,” Tantal slurs out through his still-numb and anesthetized mouth. “Tha fel… muth be’er thith thime.”

“You’f rilly buffed me up. Warden Lebyoo’ll be pre’y happy to thee me liy thith. I know I am.”

Celia: Fresher meat is better, Jade tells Gui, though even old body parts can be used. She can preserve things as she harvests them, or refresh them. Like rehydrating a dead flower, almost, or dried food. It’s not as simple as adding water, but it’s still something she knows how to do.

She tells him, too, that she can dry it out. She doesn’t need to tan and stretch and roll the hides to turn them into leather; there’s a whole process she looked up once, and it involves a bunch of brain matter and ash and curing and drying… and she can do the same thing in a matter of moments. Turn humans into… well, into leather.

“Leather belts, wallets, purses, shoes, jackets…”

Maybe even a pair of bracers.

She smiles at the Ventrue, wondering if he’s now thinking of every bit of leather he’s ever seen her wear and where it came from. Who it came from.

Jade finds a mirror when she’s done, holding it out for the ghoul to get a good look at his new body. She asks if he’d like any adjustments and smooths the rest of him out, giving him a once-over to make sure that all of her cuts across his skin have been sealed.

“I’m curious to see how your new body improves your work, Tantal. Be sure to keep me appraised. Rest this evening and this day. Tomorrow evening you’re cleared to return to duty. Stay hydrated.”

GM: “Yeth, mu’m,” the ghoul nods as he slowly gets up. “Thaynth again. You e’er nee’ thomethin from me, juth ask.”

“I’m pretty sure most of the leather you wear still comes from cows, but I suppose I can’t be certain,” smirks Gui after Tantal leaves. “You’re very dirty. Good thing for us there’s a shower right here.”

He starts taking off his own clothes too.

Celia: Well this had backfired spectacularly.

Maybe she shouldn’t have asked him to take her dress off for her.

Or invited him to watch.

Or asked him to leave with her with the implication that they’d fuck.

Had she implied that? It’s so hard to be certain these days. Seems like any stray glance or wink gets misunderstood by the people who want to get into her pants. Or at least her neck. Or whatever the vampire equivalent is.

What else is Veronica’s slut childe good for?

Not that she minds. She’d just thought she’d last more than two whole nights before she cheated on Roderick. Or one night? She’s not quite sure which of these evenings is their official “getting back together” night.

She’s reaching for the hooks on her bra when a phone chirps. She glances at where hers sits out on the chair where he’d draped her dress, but the screen is black. Her eyes drift back toward him and the phone ringing merrily from his jacket pocket.

GM: Fuck again.

Gui tsks when she starts to take off the bra and moves to help her out of it himself. “I’ve already helped you out of your dr…”

He picks up the phone.

“Yes?”

A pause.

“Keep a lid on things. I’ll be over soon.”

He flips the dumphone closed.

“Sorry, lush, but business before pleasure.”

Celia: Jade is pretty sure that if she’d gotten out of her bra any quicker he wouldn’t be able to tear his gaze away, and whatever fire had popped up would just go on burning without his attention.

She pouts spectacularly at him.

“You’re such a tease.”

GM: Gui pulls on his clothes and tilts up Jade’s chin to meet his gaze.

“Business pays in pleasure, beautiful. I’ll show you a time to make your toes curl once Harrah’s is ours.”

Celia: She likes the sound of that.

“It’s a date, then.” Which reminds her… “I’ll need to speak to you about that at some point, but go handle your business. I’m sure I’ll see you tomorrow evening to discuss.”

GM: “The Evergreen wouldn’t be what it is without me,” Savoy’s master of elysium declares. Jade is hard-pressed to think of an occasion Gui hasn’t been there on a Saturday. He brushes her cheek with his fangs, licking off some of the blood, and takes his leave.

Celia: Jade watches him go, annoyed by the little pang in her chest as he leaves. She shouldn’t want him to stay as much as she does. She reminds herself that she’s with someone. She reminds herself to keep it in her pants. She reminds herself that she’s about to get fucked six ways to Sunday when she gets home to see Roderick, with fang and cock and fingers and tongue, and that Gui wouldn’t have done that for her and she’d have only been half-satisfied. After he argues with her, of course, about letting Garcia grab her ass and then leaving with Gui and getting mad about whatever it is he’s going to get mad about, and maybe they won’t even fuck because he’s busy putting her head through a wall and then Savoy’s plan with him will definitely fall through.

And that’ll be her fault, of course.

She heaves a sigh once she’s alone, glad for just this moment to herself where she doesn’t need to play the games around the others and watch her tongue and thoughts and body language. And then she finishes stripping and steps into the shower by herself because even though it would be more enjoyable if someone were here to share it with, she still has a list of things to do this evening for which she probably shouldn’t be covered in blood.

She lets her thoughts swirl down the drain with the blood, though she feels far from clean.


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: The mystery number included in her mom’s group text wasn’t lost to Celia’s attentive memory, and it’s the first item on her agenda, if by dint of being the easiest to take care of. It’s easy enough to scroll back to the frantic message, copy the number, and make a call.

“Hello?” greets an unfamiliar woman’s voice after several rings.

Celia: “Mom?” Celia says into the phone. She knows it’s not her mom. But calling a random number and asking ‘who is this’ is suspect as all hell. Still, the female voice puts her at ease, if only remotely.

GM: “Oh, I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong number,” says the woman.

Celia: “Oh, I’m… oh my, is this Naomi?”

GM: “Why yes, how did you know?”

Celia: “Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry. Your name is right next to my mother’s in my phone, my finger must have slipped. Mom talks about you all the time. Sorry to disturb you.”

GM: “Oh! No, no, it’s no disturbance at all from one of Diana’s kids!” the woman smiles. “Which of her daughters are you? You don’t sound like Emily.”

Celia: What on earth is Emily doing talking to Naomi?

“Oh no,” Celia says with a smile of her own, “it’s Celia. The… I’d say eldest, but I think Emily has a few months on me.” That’s a weird thing she hasn’t considered before.

GM: “Celia! Oh my goodness!” Naomi exclaims, audibly smiling wider. “Your mom’s told me so much about you!”

“We’ve met each other before, back when you were really little. Your mom took you to our ballet performances. I don’t know that you’d remember me, though, since we all look the same in our costumes with our faces made up.”

Celia: “She has told me plenty of stories,” Celia assures the woman. “Both from back then and more recent things.”

This is where she’d say that Diana had pointed her out in photos from the old days, but… well, she has no photos left. Maxen had seen to that. Celia had been too busy scavenging for concealer to worry about her mother’s memories.

The thought tugs at her heart.

“We were just talking about you the other day, actually. She mentioned that you were looking for something new.”

GM: Naomi gives a short laugh. “Well, new is relative. I’m finally retiring from the ballet, it’s a young woman’s game, so I’m hoping to teach dance at a local studio instead. Your mom helped me land a job interview, she was so thoughtful. She’s a really good friend.”

Celia: “She really is the best.” There’s a brief pause while the wheels turn in her head. “Say, I know this might be weird coming from me, but you don’t do private lessons at all, do you?”

GM: “Oh, well, I suppose so. I haven’t taught any yet, but your mom and I talked about those. She says it’s a good way to get some variety in your teaching and earn a little side money.”

“I can’t imagine you’re wanting to get lessons from me, though, with already having an amazing dance teacher for your mom?”

Celia: “Oh no,” Celia laughs, “not for me. A friend of mine, actually. One of the girls I went to high school with has a little sister who has been taking lessons from my mom for a while, but, well… between you and me,” Celia lowers her voice, “I think her leg is acting up, and I’m worried about the strain it’s putting on her, and I think she’s nervous about leaving them without a good teacher. But if you were to take over…”

“Is that something you’d be interested in? She teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays at their house in the Garden District.”

GM: “Oh. Oh no, are things okay with your mom?” Naomi asks. “Those lessons can’t be very long, next to how long she’s on her feet at McGhee…?”

Celia: “It’s more the added strain,” Celia says with a sigh. “She’s been doing okay at McGehee because it’s not as… hands on, you know? And she can sit if she needs to, take a break.”

GM: “Are you sure? I’d think a family might be more understanding, not to mention how there’s fewer girls and… well, I suppose your mom knows what she needs better than me, though.”

“Okay, I’ll give her a call about this.”

Celia: “I’ll talk to both of them, too, just to be sure. Pick up for a random number and get a job offer, what’re the odds?” She laughs lightly.

GM: Naomi laughs too. “Well, my husband and I are thinking about adopting, so hearing a stranger call me ‘Mom’ was… well, what are the odds of that, too?”

Celia: “Oh, you should,” Celia enthuses. “Lucy is the best thing that ever happened to me. She really just… kids just change your whole world.”

GM: “Oh, yes, I’ve met her with your mom! She’s just beyond adorable. Such a sweet child.”

“I was thinking about trying to get pregnant, but I’m a bit old for it, and seeing how well adoption worked for Emily and your mom… it made me think.”

Celia: “Meeting Emily and bringing her into the family was probably the best outcome from college. She and my mom… they’re just so happy together, and I know it’s not traditional but…” She wipes at her eyes, glad that the woman can’t see the red.

GM: “I think if they’re happy, that’s what counts. Your mom’s said how Emily didn’t have a family, so good on y’all for giving her one.”

“Oh! I go to your spa, by the way, Flawless—your mom referred me years ago. I’ve had Emily as my massage therapist, that’s how I know her.”

“I’ve wanted to schedule an appointment with you, but your staff always says you’re booked up.”

Celua: “Unfortunately I do book pretty far out. I cut down on my hours to take a more managerial role while I look for a building for a second location. Buuut…” she draws the word out, “I have some evening appointments available, if you’d like? I can text you with some time slots once I check my schedule.”

“All of the building managers and bankers want to meet during my peak daytime hours,” Celia says with another sigh. “Worth it, though.”

GM: “Yes, your mom’s said evenings are usually better for you, and how that’s when all of her appointments are. Not so late in the day is usually better for me, but… all right, why don’t you text me your hours, and we can see. It wouldn’t even have to be regular, if you’re mostly a manager these days.”

“Plus I already see Piper and I like her a lot, too.”

Celia: “Everyone loves Piper,” Celia agrees readily. “I oversaw some of her training, so I’ll take that as a huge compliment. Alright, I’ll get those times over to you this weekend and get you set up with something, and I’ll talk to my mom about the dance classes. Sorry for disturbing you so late, but I’m glad I was able to connect with you.”

GM: “Oh, it’s no disturbance, I’m so glad to finally meet you! Or talk with you, at least. Give your mom my love, will you?”

Celia: “Will do! Enjoy your evening.”

GM: “You too! I guess I’ll see you at the spa.”

Celia: Celia says a final goodbye and hangs up the phone.

It’s not quite how she imagined it would go when she’d dialed, but when does life ever go as expected?


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

Celia: Car since delivered to the Evergreen, Jade makes the trek across the Quarter and into Mid-City to the LegalWings Bail Bond offices. She’d texted the boys to let them know that she’s on her way—sometimes she meets them at their home in the Quarter, but Reggie and Rusty had said they were still downtown working on a case. Randy is… well, she thinks he’s with Mabel at their home in the Quarter, which would have been more convenient a meeting place considering she needs to talk to that ghoul too, but she’ll handle it when she handles it.

It’s not her first trip into Mid-City. Despite the hiding she had done in the back of Roderick’s car, Jade’s face isn’t an unwelcome one within the Anarch territory. She and Coco had parted on decent terms despite her childe’s penchant for splitting Jade’s face apart, and the elder had been receptive to Jade’s bid for influence within the parish. So LegalWings had been recognized as hers, and that was that. The occasional favor doesn’t much take away from being able to move relatively freely within the territory, and she hasn’t had to worry about someone else trying to edge their way into her business or getting jumped on the streets if one of the boys slips up.

Her heels click against the pavement as she makes her way toward the large glass doors of the office building, swiping a keycard against the door to be let in. Ordinarily the door isn’t locked but this late at night they don’t need people wandering in from the outside.

Jade nods to the receptionist as she passes by. Malone, she thinks; Reggie had told her once that they keep someone at the desk 24/7 for those crazy midnight cases that are all the rage these days. He’d said it with a wink and they’d both known what he’d meant. She has a bag slung over one shoulder, the same sort of leather she and Gui had been teasing about. She doesn’t think he’d believed her when she’d made her claim, not if that smirk was any indication.

Celia: Maybe she’ll make him a new hat and let him guess what sort of animal it came from. She’s all about the gift-giving these days.

She has one with her, too. Of a sort. Roxanne’s phone is in her bag, but Rusty has always liked a challenge, hasn’t he? And he’s easier to get ahold of than the Tremere detective, or at least she doesn’t want to bother him any more than she has to, so Rusty gets to play ‘crack the phone’ while they look into the rest of everything. She should have given it to him nights ago, but… well, she’s been busy.

Jade proceeds down the hall to Rusty’s office, knocking on the door before stepping inside.

GM: Someone once said to her that every elder calls in markers eventually.

She doesn’t remember who. It seems like the sort of advice most licks who’ve been around could give. Who aren’t also elders.

LegalWings, as the city’s biggest most successful company, has its own two-story building with a giant neon sign displaying the company name and its logo of a jail suit-wearing man flying out of a birdcage on a pair of wings. LegalWings. Open 24 hours, proclaims a section of neon. Fortunate for the Kindred and fortunate for the kine with loved ones in jail.

GM: 24/7, though, doesn’t mean full staff on duty. Regina seems home getting her beauty sleep, if her lack of presence in the office is any indication, but Reggie’s head turns at Jade’s clicking shoes, and he gives the Toreador’s rear an appreciative pat. He and the receptionist (Malone seems right) are talking to a Latina woman who’s looking over a document and shaking her head as she sighs angrily. Then she signs anyway, and she’s soon on her way.

“How many fuckin’ times now?” mutters Malone.

Reggie shrugs.

Celia: What is it with boys and grabbing her ass?

Not that she minds. Not that she minds even a little bit. She winks at Reggie as she passes by, crooking a finger at him behind her back to summon him down the hall once he’s done with the Hispanic woman.

Still, she’s glad it happened here where there aren’t any raging Brujah to challenge him to a duel. She’s rather fond of the middle brother and doesn’t want his head thrown threw her window if her lover decides he’s threatened by the mortal.

GM: Rusty’s in his office. It’s a big enough building he gets his own, instead of one of the tables out front. He’s typing into his computer as Jade approaches and reports that he and his brother are still looking into Summer.

Jade: Jade nods at the report.

“She’s been missing since December; I don’t doubt she’ll be tricky to track down.”

She slips the phone out of her bag and sets it on the desk.

“Have a few more things I’d like to look into.”

GM: “What and how much are you paying?” the oldest brother asks perfunctorily.

“This Summer girl is already taking a while, but I suppose as long as you’re paying for her too.”

Celia: She’ll know something is wrong with the guy when he doesn’t immediately demand payment. She appreciates how little he changes between visits.

“I imagine the usual agreement is sufficient?” There’s a lilt at the end of her sentence, room for him to let her know if something has come up that he needs different or more.

GM: Rusty nods. He and Reggie have both given Jade an hourly rate. Discounted for the pretty lady who feeds them blood.

Randy mostly just begs his “girlfriend” for blood and money when he needs it.

Celia: Randy provides services his brothers don’t, like being on call whenever she needs him, so it’s a looser arrangement she has with him in regards to blood and money. She’s been thinking about just giving him an expense account with a monthly limit.

Jade smiles at the brother in front of her and gives him a handful of names to look into. The blonde haired girl and the green haired punk from the club are just a flag of sorts, in case they’re reported as missing. Jade needs to know to get ahead of that. It’s less active searching than just monitoring. She asks for the same from the hunters she’d put down, though she adds that she’d like their known associates, if any.

And finally she gets to the heart of the matter: Lee Andrin.

There’s a brief pause after she says his name. Then, finally,

“I need him located. Quickly.”

GM: “Okay,” says Rusty. He asks if she has anything besides the name, but just nods when she doesn’t.

“A name’s enough to go on.”

Celia: “It’s possible I’ll need assistance bringing him in as well.”

In fact it’s highly likely.

GM: “Won’t be a problem.”

Celia: She gives him a grateful smile. She always enjoys watching the boys in action.

“Anything from the law office?”

GM: “Few things. Ocampo still poking for dirt on the police cover-up. The PIs have their eye on an ex-cop named Jeremy May. He’s the one who killed Gettis. He works for the Devillers family now as a security guard.”

“Ocampo’s people are searching for dirt on May so they can put the squeeze on him.”

Celia: “Mmm. I don’t suppose you have anything on him.”

GM: Rusty snorts. “We’re a bail bond agency, not an intelligence agency.”

“I can tell you he hasn’t taken out any bail bonds from us.”

Celia: That response earns a wry smile.

“I assumed as much. Doesn’t hurt to ask.”

That’s good, anyway. She’d rather they avoid that whole family and anything to do with them.

“Two more things, hopefully something you can assist with tonight.” Her brows lift. He knows she pays extra for rush jobs.

GM: “Okay. What is it?”

Celia: She nudges the phone toward him.

“Can you get into that?”

GM: He takes the Solaris and holds it under the lamplight.

“Damn, won’t be that way.”

Celia: “No,” Jade agrees. She’d already had the same thought.

GM: No oil secretions from their kinds’ fingers.

Celia: And she keeps forgetting to ask Pete.

He could probably just finger wave his way in.

But she doesn’t want to keep bothering him with this kind of stuff when she has her very own Rusty to help her out.

She gives the boy in question a winning smile.

Man, she reminds herself. He’s older than she is. Hard to remember that when she deals with his brother all the time and he comes off so… young.

GM: Alana is the same age as her mother.

Jade treats her like a child, too. The Blood just seems to bring that out in them.

Celia: Reggie is still pretty manly. All those times they… well.

GM: “Depends how many digits the password has,” says Rusty. “If it’s just four, give me probably six minutes. If it’s 10, give me probably 12 years.”

“Supposing there’s no other information you can give me on whoever’s phone this is.”

Celia: But she can.

She gives him her name, middle name, birthday. The name of her son, the name of her boyfriend, the date of her release as an independent lick. Their father’s birthday, their siblings’ birthdays. Her son’s birthday.

GM: Rusty tries combinations of those numbers to no effect.

Celia: It’s probably something stupid and sappy like her first kiss with Evan. Or the night daddy showed her how much he loved her.

GM: “I can get around the incorrect password timeouts and phone wipes, but this could still take a while if I’m going to brute force it.”

“What about her Suncloud account? That would be faster to get into.”

Celia: “Could try it.” She gives him the address.

GM: “Okay,” says Rusty. “I’ll look into this and get back to you.”

Celia: “Thanks, Rusty.”

There’s more. There always is. But she’s already dumped enough on him this evening and feels a little silly about asking him to find out if this Vinny fellow is on a dating site for her when she’s perfectly capable of doing it herself.

As soon as she finds the time. Which is why, of course, she’d waited until this evening to come see him, because she’s been so caught up with everything else going on in her unlife that her priorities needed re-shuffled. Maybe next week she’ll be able to breathe again.

She’s also a little concerned about the downward pull on the left side of his face, the tightness around his mouth, and the white around his knuckles. Pain. When was the last time he’d gotten his work done? In the shuffle of all the chaos with Roderick and the hunters and her family she hadn’t gotten on his case about it, and when she doesn’t remind him… The silly boy will wait until he’s paralyzed by it to reach out if she lets him. She doesn’t quite frown, but she gives him a look.

“Come see me tomorrow night.”

No mention of treatment, illness, or the pain; they both know what she means.

She slides an envelope across the desk for him, their agreed upon sum for his work, and finally rises to her feet.

“Always a pleasure, Rusty.”

Then she’s gone, gliding down the hall to find Reggie’s desk. He doesn’t have an office, not like Rusty, but then he’s never here. More often than not he’s out and about the city, collecting people and running errands and… well, doing whatever the rest of what being a bounty hunter entails. She’s sure it’s not as glamorous as she envisions in her mind (she usually pictures motorcycles, leather jackets, and back-alley knife fights). She even knows it’s not that glamorous, having gone with him more than a few times to pick someone up when he needed a distraction, but there’s still a vague sense of danger that radiates off of him that she has seen cow plenty of people. It passes harmlessly by her… but fuck if it isn’t a bit of a turn on.

She won’t admit to the amount of times they’ve roleplayed the dangerous bounty hunter and his target angle.

She doesn’t need to lean over to whisper in his ear, but it lets him get a nice view down the front of her dress and, well, he’s a man who appreciates the finer things in life. Like that view down her dress and everything it lets him see.

She winks at him as she goes, off to find the final brother to complete the trifecta of Dufresne visits this evening.


Saturday night, 12 March 2016, AM

Celia: The tightness in her shoulders disappears the moment she passes back into Savoy’s territory. It’s not that she’s worried about being jumped in the streets, just that, well, sometimes she’s worried about being jumped in the streets. Or picked up for any variety of reasons, like running her mouth at Elysium, which is less likely to happen here, though still not impossible.

Her sire had proven that to her.

Hadn’t she needed to speak to him about something? And someone else, too.

Ah, well, must have gotten lost in the shuffle of everything else going on this evening. Next time.

She pulls into the driveway of the home she’d helped purchase for the brothers years and years ago, bypasses the security with keys and cards and codes, and finally lets herself in.

Pic.jpg
Pic.jpg
Like a twist on the quintessential bachelor pad, everything is done up in mahogany and chrome and marble. Exposed brick in the kitchen adds some character (Reggie, of all people, had been the one to say that), and they’d been oddly taken by the stuffed rhino head that the prior owner had left behind in the attic. They’d opted to keep it and now it sits on their wall watching over the living room.

And the woman currently taking up space in the living room, the captive ghoul of Roxanne’s. Or Evan’s. The MILF, anyway, and now that Jade is seeing her without the stress and terror of serving Roxanne she definitely understands what all the fuss is about: she’s hot.

She spies Randy in the kitchen with Diana’s leftover cake and a glass of milk and gives a little finger wave to her “boyfriend” before turning her attention to the ghoul.

GM: Jade’s ass still smarts from how hard Reggie pinched it on her way out of Legalwings.

The ghoul is hot, for an older woman. Or because she’s an older woman, depending on one’s tastes. Evan was known to like them older. She’s a long-haired blonde with a full and curvy figure, full lips, good skin, and tight but non-trashy clothes that show off her curves. Definitely a ‘Mrs. Robinson’ type.

Or at least, she looks as if she used to be. Probably only an eye for beauty as discerning as Jade’s could spot that truth.

The ghoul hasn’t applied any makeup, her clothes have a rumpled, slept-in look, she doesn’t look as if she’s washed her hair recently, and her eyes are red and puffy as if from crying. She doesn’t smell as if she’s showered in a while either. Her hands are tied behind her back. There’s bruise marks on her face, too.

She doesn’t even look scared by the Toreador. She just offers a bleak look, like her life has gotten even worse.

Or as if it couldn’t have gotten any worse.

Celia: Jade has no doubt that Roxanne wasn’t the gentlest of domitors, if that bruising is any indication. She’d told the boys to lay off any physical violence against the woman. No touching. She’d been very clear.

At least she doesn’t quite smell yet, despite the unwashed hair and rumpled clothing. Nothing some baby powder won’t fix to suck up that oil spill on the top of her head.

Or, y’know, an actual shower and change of clothes.

Jade pulls a chair up in front of her, muting the TV in the background with the press of a button on the remote. She doesn’t even wince when she puts weight on the recently pinched cheek. Maybe it’s the cushion.

She gives the ghoul a long look and finally smiles.

“Good evening. It’s Mabel, isn’t it?”

GM: “Yes,” the ghoul answers without enthusiasm.

Celia: "And you were with the Storyvilles? Gerlette?

GM: “Evan.”

If it’s even possible, Mabel looks even more miserable at his name.

Celia: Evan. Right. Roxanne’s boyfriend. The nice one, isn’t that what she had said? Jade hadn’t been particularly close to him despite their shared clan, and he’s been missing for almost a year now.

“I doubt it’s been easy with him gone,” Jade says softly. She looks again at the bruise. No doubt he kept her more gently than her former sister had.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Mabel. I’m sorry that he’s gone. I know it hurts to lose someone that you care deeply for. I’d like to help you find out what happened to him, and then maybe find a new place for you where you can be happy.”

GM: The Toreador’s consoling words bring on a wave of relieved-feeling tears.

“Please. I just want to find him. He isn’t dead, he’s my boy, I know he’s not, he’s just… in torpor, or staked somewhere…”

Celia: Maybe that’s even true. Wouldn’t that be a blessing.

Jade nods her head. She leans forward, keeping her movements slow, and unties the woman’s hands from behind her back. She takes one of them into her own. Her skin is warm; maybe that helps Mabel feel less like she’s in the presence of a monster.

“Can you tell me about him? The last time you saw him. The things you did together? I bet there’s something I can look into.”

GM: The ghoul sniffs and squeezes Jade’s hand. “He’s a wonderful boy. Just such a good boy. We pretend to be a mother and son, living together in the apartment where his haven is, but it’s not pretend. He calls me Mom anyways, even when no’s listening…” The ghoul gives a happy, broken smile. “He likes to pamper me, draw up baths for me, and wash my hair with his hands… and when he holds me in his arms, I feel like there’s no one in the world but us…”

Celia: “Evan sounds like a real sweetheart.”

GM: “He is. He’s such a sweet boy.”

“He lets me drink from him, as much as I want, then he drinks it back, and I just feel so loved, so safe, so good, like I never have with anyone else… God knows not my husband.”

Celia: Husband.

Well there’s a loose end. She should have looked into that before she’d just… scooped her up.

Whoops.

“Is your husband still in the picture? I imagine hiding this life from him was pretty difficult.”

GM: Mabel shakes her head. “We divorced a while ago. Evan helped me leave him.”

“He is. He’s such a sweet boy.”

Celia: “I’ll help you find him,” Jade says again, giving the ghoul’s fingers a gentle squeeze. “But I need to know what you know so I can start looking. Anything you did together, anything out of the ordinary, anything he might have said in front of you?” Licks treat their servants like they’re less than a lot of the time. She’s seen it. They get complacent and let things slip and don’t imagine that the ghouls hold onto that knowledge. She tries not to, but she’s probably done it herself. It’s why she thinks the Harrah’s business will be so successful. It’s why the maid business has netted so much for her as well. She’s banking on the fact that Evan, Roxanne, and the rest of the Storyvilles sometimes forgot that Mabel is a person and not just a ghoul.

GM: “Well… the last couple nights before he disappeared, he was on edge,” Mabel sniffs. “He was scared, I could tell, but he tried to look brave around me. He said I didn’t need to worry, and we fed on each other. But he wasn’t… he wasn’t all there.”

She sniffs again.

“I wanted to hep him, with what was wrong. He’s my boy.”

“He did go to see a fortune-teller, in the Quarter. Yellow Sidra. That was very unusual, because he never went to the Quarter, and said I should never go there. He said all of the licks there would try to hurt us…”

Mabel sniffs and warily looks between Jade and Randy.

“But I don’t care about that. I just… I just want to find him…”

“He went to the Lower Garden District, too, before he disappeared. He said he talked with Accou, the… primogen, was what Evan called him. He said he admired Accou, because he also looked after his mom.”

Mabel manages a smile and gives another sniff. It’s an earnest smile, but a sad one too.

“I’m glad he talked with Accou, because it seemed to make him feel better. After he talked to Sidra, he was… oh, I wish he hadn’t, he was scared and miserable after he came back…”

Celia: Jade nods encouragingly as Mabel speaks. She gives her a wry smile at the announcement of not going into the Quarter; it’s a lesson she has instilled in her own ghouls, where and when they can travel so nothing untoward happens to them.

“It shows how much you care about him that you were willing to come here anyway. I’m glad we found each other. That kind of loyalty is admirable, and I think I can help.”

Jade waves Randy over with a plate of food and beverage for the ghoul.

“You might not want to eat with how upset you are, but keep your strength up so we can get through this, okay? His girlfriend’s mom made it and she’s a great cook.”

“I know Accou. He’s my grandsire, actually. And Evan is right, he does look after his mom. It’s really sweet, like Evan is to you. I’m happy to follow up with him about this. Do you know where he came from when he got this way, anyone he was speaking to before he got so on edge? Anything he might have said to his krewe?”

Convenient, really, that both of the people Mabel had spoken of are people that Jade has a decent enough relationship with. And Sidra still owes her that boon. Could be worth calling in.

GM: Well, “willing” was probably relative with the tied and bound woman.

Mabel looks at the casserole. “There was another lick, who asked about Evan. But she didn’t tell me that… you think Accou can help? You really think he can, that he can find Evan…?”

There’s hope in the ghoul’s voice, for what sounds like the first time in a long time.

She swallows after a moment, though, to answer the vampire’s questions, mindful she must still do that.

“Evan got worse right when he came back from Sidra. He’d seemed on edge before, but it really got a lot worse after they saw each other.”

“Before that it was a… a gradual thing, I guess. Things seemed a little more strained between him and Roxanne. I tried to help, because they were both so sweet, both so good for each other.”

The ghoul dabs at her eyes. “Roxanne took it really badly… she misses him, so much…”

Celia: “The other lick, was she tall and blonde, rather pretty?” Roxanne had said that Caroline worked for her before Jade had ripped her heart right out of her chest.

“I think she might have a reason to cover up what happened with Evan,” Jade says with an effected sigh. “And she doesn’t know Accou, not like I do. She’s new to all of this. If Accou knows something I’ll do my best to get it out of him.”

She says nothing about Roxanne being sweet. The girl was a heinous bitch, she doesn’t think the lick was any better.

“Were they fighting at all? Did they say anything about in front of you?”

GM: Mabel nods at Jade’s first question. “Yes, she had a lot of questions like yours.”

Celia: Of course she did.

Caroline is showing up all over her Requiem these nights.

Jade gestures Randy over, telling him to call Alana and get her to set up a meeting with Accou via his herald. Might as well get that ball rolling now. Who knows how far out that will be.

GM: Randy nods and gets out his phone.

“They don’t really fight much,” Mabel answers the second one. “She can be a little high-strung, sometimes, but Evan always talks her down. Then she gets sorry and they cuddle. Or feed.”

“She comes from an abusive family, but Evan is so good to her. She feels safe when they’re together. He’s so good to us…”

Mabel dabs at her eyes again.

Celia: “Did she tell you that she comes from an abusive family?” Jade sounds surprised. It’s not the kind of thing she expected her sister to spill. A little off topic, but she’s curious.

GM: “Well, Evan did. She didn’t talk about it much, at first, but after they were together a while, she started to. I don’t think she’d told anyone before, because she really broke down after she did, about how much they all hated her and how she’d ruined things and wished she could do things over again. And Evan just held her and said all the right things, like he alw…”

Mabel gives another sniff.

Celia: Well that’s a gut punch she doesn’t need. She swallows, blinking back something that might be emotion.

GM: “She would talk to me, sometimes. She doesn’t let her guard down easily. She can be really stiff and prickly. But underneath I think she’s just really, really lonely, feeling like she made her family all hate her. And that’s why Evan really touched her, why she cares about him so much, because he’s the one person who really sees her and accepts her. She’s been… losing him has been really, really hard on her, but I know she’ll stop at nothing to get him back…”

Celia: She would have. She did. Went after Meadows by herself, the idiot.

Maybe if Celia hadn’t hidden who she was from her. Maybe if she’d reached out as herself instead of hiding behind her mask. Maybe if she’d talked to her that day after Dad was arrested, or hadn’t made him fuck her, or hadn’t just left her there like a piece of garbage.

What ifs and maybes are useless, she knows. Just a trip down pain lane.

She doesn’t know if she’s ever hated herself more.

GM: “He had this idea, that after a while, he’d ask her if she wanted to call me Mom, too. So we could be a… be a family… he’s just such a sweet boy…”

Tears bead in the ghoul’s eyes.

Celia: “That’s… that’s really something,” Jade says, voice thick. “I think she’d like that.”

GM: “I, I need to see her, please. She needs me…”

Celia: “I’ll see what I can do.”

GM: “Her and Jocelyn, they’ve been fighting… they’ve all been fighting, since Evan…”

Celia: “The lick you mentioned, though. Like I said, I think she has a reason to hide what happened. So with your permission, Mabel, I have a trick I can use to undo anything she might have hidden after she asked you these questions, anything she might not have wanted other people to know. It’s possible she made you forget, and I’d like to unlock them for you.”

“So we can get Evan back.”

GM: The ghoul looks apprehensive, but nods. “O… okay, what trick…?”

Celia: Jade directs her to sit on the floor in front of her with her back to Jade. It’s less ideal than having a massage table handy, but will be better than if she lays out on the couch. At least for Mabel. It doesn’t make much of a difference for Jade.

She tells the ghoul she’s going to touch her. To just focus on the movements and let her mind and body go heavy. She starts lightly at the scalp, her fingertips brushing through Mabel’s hair. Some women think that the best part of going to a salon is when they wash your hair for you, and those are the motions that Jade does now. She’s quiet while she works, focusing her attention on the ghoul. Her hands move down the back of her neck, pressing against the tension she finds there, then lower, into her shoulders and upper back. She works above the clothing, kneading rather than gliding. Seated or chair massage like this is nothing new to her.

While she works she drifts inward. Her mind opens, consciousness projecting along the unbroken line of energy that stretches between the bodies of the two women. One moment she is Jade, the next she is Mabel.

Seven colored disks spin before her eyes. She’s not surprised that the green burns so brightly; the woman has a lot of love to give. It’s covered in dead leaves and dirt, but Jade brushes it away with a touch of her hand. It winks at her, glad to be free, but its spin is sluggish, and when it pulses she can see the effort that it takes. Like a pair of blackened lungs struggling to breathe.

Her attention drifts upward, to the combination of three that she needs to unlock to get into her memories. Vissudha, Ajna, Sahasrara. The throat, the third eye, and the crown. Jade dives in.

The world shifts around her. She’s in her seat, but she’s inside of Mabel too, and in here… in here she can see the effect that various abilities have had on her. The ecstasy of the kiss. The heady sweetness of charm. And something… blacker. Something meant to conceal. Jade follows the trail through the ghoul’s aura like she would a forest path. She whispers while she moves, telling the woman that she’s safe, that she’s a friend, that this will help heal her heart. And she’s rewarded by a different path appearing before her, one that was obscured by overgrown vines, one that holds the secrets of her mind behind a wrought iron gate. Darkness reigns here, holding in the truth. Jade presses her hands against it. Her fingertips glow. Warm, healing energy. Safety. Trust.

Out loud, she speaks. She probes further into Evan’s period of anxiety, focusing on anything he might have said after visiting Sidra or Accou. She wants to know what had him upset. Who had him upset. Maybe he said something. Maybe Mabel herself saw something. Didn’t she keep his schedule? Doesn’t she know where he was when he came back upset?

GM: Mabel becomes as putty in the Toreador’s capable hands. A massage table might be nicer, but that hardly slows Jade down, and the ghoul falls apart as she unwinds. There’s so much tension in her muscles. So much stress. Jade kneads it all out as Mabel comes apart. She cries, a little, but she feels like she’s cried so much of late that her tears are wrung dry. She moans softly, little low sounds of pleasure, and says how good this feels. How much she needed this. Jade has little doubt the ghoul might fall asleep soon, without her influence, but that will not pass while there is truth she yet seeks. Visuddha, the chakra for communication, pulses blue. There are truths Mabel must speak.

“Evan was seeing another lick on the side,” Mabel murmurs slowly. “Amandine. A Crone girl.”

“He didn’t want Roxanne to know… he loved her, he did, he gave her all his love… but he had enough for other people, too, and it would’ve just hurt her to know… she wanted him all to herself…”

“It was better this way… she got to have him to herself, she got to be happy… he got to love others, make them happy… not all lies are bad…”

Celia: It’s a familiar story. One that she’s been debating playing herself.

But how much would it have hurt her sister to find out that her lover is cheating?

Maybe that’s their real clan curse, that they have too much love to give. That not one single person will ever be enough. That she can love Roderick with her whole heart but still have room for Gui and Savoy and Pietro and Donovan and that blonde beauty in the Garden District. Even the ghouls. She can love them too, can’t she, can show them the depths of her affection with physical touch. And Star’s lover, the lawyer with the missing daughter; she helps him forget his pain for a night.

No one ever tells a rose to stop growing. Why, then, should they pluck her from her garden to put her behind a glass case, tell people they can only look but not touch? Who walks through a rose garden and doesn’t want to feel the soft caress of petals against their skin, breathe in the deep floral fragrance?

It takes a moment to re-center after her thoughts threaten to spin away. She breathes in, reminding herself who she is, where she is, her purpose of the evening.

Amandine. She sends the pulse of thought down that line between them, searching for information. How long? When? How soon before he disappeared did he start seeing her?

GM: She’s heard from more than one clanmate that their curse isn’t a curse, not truly. It’s a blessing, that they might appreciate the world’s beauty even as other Kindreds’ hearts turn hard and cold.

“A few months… they kept it secret, very secret…” Mabel recites tranquilly. “The prince wouldn’t have understood, Evan was scared the scourge would come from them both…”

Celia: Why would the prince care who Evan was seeing? She sends the curiosity along their tether, picturing his face. She had seen it so clearly last night in Caroline’s office.

GM: Confusion meets Jade’s curiosity. “Amandine’s one of the Baron’s followers… a Vodouisant… sleeping with the enemy…”

“Evan and the Storyvilles all work so hard to impress the prince, win his favor…”

Celia: How close are they, she asks, that the prince would know who Evan is sleeping with?

GM: “That’s what Evan thought too… it’s not like the prince watches in the bedroom… but he said, Amandine said… if they were seen together, by other Kindred… they’d report it, or use it as blackmail… too much risk, not to play it safe… Evan always says how smart she is….”

Stupid, whispers Maxen’s voice in her head.

“They’d go to out of the way places… places other licks couldn’t see them… take walks together, look at the stars… love each other, where it was just them…”

Celia: She doesn’t recognize that voice in her head.

Jade doesn’t have a father.

She brushes it aside, focusing on the words that the ghoul spills to her. Secret lover. Another familiar story. She and Roderick are secret lovers too.

Amandine, though. Another name to look into.

Is it enough for him to speak to Accou about? She… doesn’t think so. Why would Evan speak to Accou about a Crone lover? Why tip his hand like that?

Why would he speak to Accou about her?

GM: “I don’t know what they talked about… it might’ve been that… but he wouldn’t tell me…”

Celia: She presses further here, watching the spinning disks in front of her, looking for signs of black or gray against their brightness. Like rot in a garden, it discolors everything in its path, and she searches for evidence of its passing now. Snippets of altered memories that she can grab onto and unravel.

GM: The garden’s rot is well-hidden, but Jade will not be denied in her search. It’s there, black and ugly and festering. Perhaps Dahlia has given her something of a green thumb.

Yet, Jade senses, Mabel’s psyche is fragile, and this garden has long been starved for water and sun. To raze away its rot may be to raze the few remaining healthy plants too.

Celia: Tending gardens has always been delicate work. Roots tangle beneath the soil, weed and plant alike, and infestations of bugs spread so easily from one leaf to another. Gardens can be temperamental things; a touch of frost can kill flowers before they ever bloom, a stray rabbit or bird can eat the leaves clean, too much water or sun can be just as damaging as not enough.

Jade stops pushing. She sits in the garden Mabel’s mind has yielded, her legs folded beneath her. Damp grass brushes against her bare skin. The circles spin around her, thick and sluggish and blackened by decay. One by one Jade calls them over, gently tugging on the tether of energy between their forms. She’s no plant whisperer, but from the ground she calls up a green stalk. Green, like the heart chakra, the one that Mabel has in spades. Green, like the dress she had chosen this evening. And green, like her name.

It’s a sign, isn’t it?

She weaves the stalks of the green plant around the orbs to hold them still. She’ll chase the rot away with Mabel’s own love. She sets it in motion, letting it work slow magic on the altered memories.

GM: Jade has little doubt that the Ventrue’s gifts could discern Mabel’s hidden truth. They’d bulldoze over everything else in the process, crude and blunt as they are.

Yet Jade’s own clan would likely fare little better. Their gifts are subtle things, and their province is feelings, not memories.

But Jade is more than her clan. She’s an esthetician. She’s seen how much comes out on the spa table. All those traumas and secrets and gossip that dumbfound people outside the industry. People never do have any idea how much their massage therapists and hairdressers and makeup artists hear from them.

All Jade has to do is coax Mabel along. Work her familiar magic with her hands, and let her Beast fill in the gaps.

“I once heard Evan and Roxanne, talking about the Storyvilles’ secret meetings with Vidal,” murmurs the ghoul. “Roxanne told me to forget it.”

“So I did.”

Celia: Secret meetings with Vidal.

The words echo through her. The whole krewe was meeting with him. And Roxanne had tried to cover it up, to prevent the truth from coming out. It could be nothing. Or it could be everything. Suddenly her plan to disseminate the information no longer seems like the lie she’d planned to tell.

And it makes sense, doesn’t it?

Inside the garden of Mabel’s mind, Jade strokes her fingers across the slowly blooming flowers growing from the orbs. With each word the black rot recedes, giving room to the light inside. She coaxes further truth from the woman with a gentle nudge of silent energy.

What did she hear?

The wind carries the question through Mabel’s garden with the floral scent of roses and greenery and golden sunshine.

GM: “Evan thought their sex hadn’t been as good,” murmurs Mabel. “She called him the prince’s name.”

“They had an argument, and Evan said they should wait to feed on each other until a while after they’d seen Vidal.”

“He’s such a sweet boy. Always trying to keep everyone happy. It had to have hurt him, but he didn’t even say that, just how to make it not happen again.”

“Then they heard me, and Roxanne panicked, saying how they needed to keep this absolutely secret. How the Hussar would kill them, and me, if they didn’t keep this secret.”

“So Evan told me not to be scared, and then Roxanne told me to forget. So I did.”

Celia: Petals spread as the truth comes out.

This is it, though. Secret meetings with the prince. Something worth killing over. Because it can’t be the sex. Calling someone the wrong name during sex is hardly something they’d be killed over, even if it was Vidal. Lord knows she’s done worse, called out…

Well.

She snips that thought before it can take root.

Jade watches the rot leech from the orbs, the colors slowly returning to their vibrant selves. She lingers on this memory, waiting to see if there’s something more. A snippet of conversation between the pair. More about the meetings. Anything that will give her what she needs: proof. Proof of her wild accusation. Proof that Vidal was using them like she thinks he was.

GM: “That’s all they said,” Mabel murmurs.

“That’s all I heard.”

Celia: Secret meetings with Vidal, though. That’s something.

The blooming petals wither and scatter across the garden’s carpeting. Jade sits quietly with the orbs, pleased by their revelations. Still, though, it would be remiss of her to not probe further into these meetings.

Gentle fingertips caress the fallen petals as the orbs break free from their green stalks. She plucks one from the ground, focusing her intention on the soft remnants of the flower in her hand.

Meetings. Other mentions of meetings. Vidal.

She lets the wind take it from her grasp.

She waits.

Perhaps there’s nothing else. Perhaps this had been the only mention. But if the krewe were meeting regularly with the prince, no doubt they might have made some other offhand remark.

GM: “I don’t remember any other times,” murmurs Mabel. “They’d all go places together without me, but they did that all the time.”

Celia: It’s enough.

As quietly as she had come, Jade withdraws from Mabel’s mind. She rises to her feet within the garden of memories, sending the orbs back to their respective havens with a gentle touch of her fingers. She retreats from the garden, pulls closed the gate behind her—white now instead of black—and skips down the forest path.

It takes her no time at all to find the familiar pull of energy directing her into her own body. Her consciousness spins along it, severing the tether between them as she goes.

Jade’s eyes open.

Her hands continue to work on the ghoul, easing the aches and pains she finds in her back.

“Thank you, Mabel.”

GM: Mabel’s face blanches with horror.

Celia: She can’t see it. But she can feel it, the sudden tightness in her neck and shoulders.

“Don’t be alarmed. You did well.”

GM: The ghoul starts weeping.

“Evan, I’m sorry…!”

Celia: “Why, Mabel? Why are you sorry? This helps us find him. This helps bring him back to you.” Jade lowers herself from the seat. Her arms slide around the crying woman like they would if it were her mother. “It’s okay,” she murmurs, “it’s going to be okay.”

GM: It doesn’t hurt that she’s had her share of practice comforting her own crying mother.

Mabel continues to weep.

“Vidal, he’s going to kill my boy, now…!”

Celia: Well. He might have already done so.

That’s what Jade had planned to say, anyway. Now she wonders at how close she’d been to the truth with her carefully concocted lie. Telling, isn’t it, that the only Stroyville who isn’t missing or dead is his childe’s lover. Meadows makes a good cover. She’d planned to use it herself to explain Roxanne’s disappearance.

“He won’t,” Jade says to her. Her words are whisper-quiet, barely a puff of breath against the woman’s neck. “You did nothing wrong. Everything you told me will help. I promise you that.”

Jade lets the woman cry herself out. She pulls Mabel onto her lap, such as it is while seated on the floor, and rubs her hands up and down her back in a slow, soothing gesture. The tears will stop coming eventually. They always do. And Jade is here for her until that time. Jade has her. Jade will make everything better.

After a time the tears do stop. And Jade, conscious of the things she has left to do tonight, conscious of her need for blood and the dwindling hours she has left to find it, takes the meal that is right in front of her. A hand winds through the woman’s hair, tilting her head to the side. Jade trails kisses down her neck until she finds the perfect spot. Her fangs grow long in her mouth, sharp as ever as they pierce the ghoul’s skin.

She drinks.

GM: Mabel cries for a while as she lets it all out. What she just said. Her fears for Evan. How much she misses him, and just wants “her boy” to “come home.”

The ghoul’s blood is sour against Jade’s tongue. It’s very different from the usual sweetness she’s accustomed to, but it’s not an unpleasant sourness, no more than salt or lemon or sour cream is. Mabel’s grief is soul-deep and haunts her every thought, Jade can tell. The ghoul truly loves and mourns her domitor as a surrogate son (and lover), even beyond the collar’s pull. Jade is hard-pressed to name the last occasion she tasted such grief, and the powerful taste lingers on her tongue, and makes her think of how Emily or Diana or Lucy would react, if she never come home one night. Such tears they would weep.

Mabel gives a last whispered, “Evan…” as her eyelids flutter. She looks very pale and does not move when the Toreador is done.

“You want me to put her to bed, babe?” Randy asks.

He looks at Mabel’s untouched plate of casserole, then starts eating from it.

Celia: Undoing the work of Roxanne had taxed her more than she’d thought it would. Manipulating Mabel’s memories left her Beast hungry. She drinks deeply, sour though it is, swallowing mouthful after mouthful of hot, red blood. It sates the Beast inside of her and leaves it all but purring in her chest when she’s done. Her tongue laps the final drops of blood from Mabel’s neck and the wound closes.

Like magic.

She thinks it every time.

She does the woman a final kindness, reaching out with her clan’s gift at warping emotions. She takes away her pain. She takes away her sadness, her grief, her misery. She removes it for this night, at least, so that she may sleep untroubled.

GM: Mabel does not respond, but the grief lines ease around her face.

Celia: Her eyes find Randy when she’s done. She rises, reaching for him, but the forkful of casserole he has shoved in his mouth halts her actions.

GM: He immediately sets it down and swallows.

Hard. He looks like he actually struggles not to choke, from how much he’s swallowed at once.

Celia: He’s not who she wants.

The thought crosses her mind and stills the flame inside of her that had wanted something more after this paltry mortal fare. She’d wanted…

It doesn’t matter, does it, because he’s not who she wants. His touch isn’t the touch that she craves. And bringing him into her arms now… it won’t turn him into that person.

She sees his eyes when she closes her own. They haunt her, even now, miles away from his influence.

But she reaches for him all the same, stepping closer so that her cheek can rest upon his chest. Maybe it was the grief she had brought into herself. Maybe it was the memories, or the mention of her sister, how she’d wanted to make it right. Maybe it was the fear, the cloying taste and scent of it, the tears that Mabel had wept.

For one moment she just wants to be close to someone. She wants to know that he will miss her if she’s gone. If, like Evan, her unlife is snatched away by a more powerful predator. Silly, maybe, to cling to the kine like this. He has no reason to love her. For seven years she has promised sex, dangled it over his head like a toy on a string, and not once had she let him have it.

And now… Christ, now it’s too late. Now she’s with someone else, someone who wouldn’t understand if she were to say she’d lain with her ghoul.

GM: Randy seems almost surprised by the motion, at first, but he wraps his arms around her and runs a hand through her hair, like she’s any mortal girlfriend seeking comfort in his arms.

“Hey. It’s okay, babe. It’s okay. I got you.”

Celia: She doesn’t need to breathe so her shoulders don’t shake. She makes no noise. But red rims her eyes all the same.

Would they miss her? Any of them, would they miss her if she died? Or is it just the collar that keeps them loyal? She’d tasted it herself, the love that Mabel has for Evan, the way she mourns for him. Real love. Twisted by the blood maybe, but there all the same. And here she is playing games with people. Breaking hearts. Toying with their emotions like… like she’s Veronica with a new plaything.

Happy noises, little toy.

She’s a terrible person.

But she takes the comfort that he offers her, even if it can’t go any further. Perhaps because it can’t go any further. Maybe, for just this moment, they can lie to each other. Maybe they can pretend that this is enough.

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Celia IV, Chapter VIII
Truths & Bindings

“What is there in truth? Where’s the money, the feel-goods? People want whatever makes them feel good.”
Abraham Garcia


Friday night, 11 March 2016, PM

GM: The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is located in the CBD next to Lee Circle, the traffic circle dedicated to the eponymous Confederate general. It’s a five or so minute drive.

The tall and looming building almost resembles a prison, with an impassive male face staring through a partial cage of iron bars. It’s a popular Elysium locale, and Celia has even been there a few times when she was alive with her parents. The Ogden’s collection, she knows, consists of work by artists from or associated with fifteen Southern states and the District of Columbia. Since its foundation by Roger H. Ogden, the museum’s collection of paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, photographs, sculpture, wood and crafts has grown to include more than 4,000 works donated from individuals and collectors from across the US, and constitutes the largest and most comprehensive collection of Southern art in the world.

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Celia: It’s a five-minute drive that turns into ten. Roderick’s words linger in her mind: make sure you get it all. She doesn’t need the harpies tittering over the state of her on top of whatever other perceived slight they’ll find to mock this evening. Even those inside the circle are torn viciously apart by their barbed tongues. So she uses a wipe between her legs before she even puts the car in gear, another at a red light—and wouldn’t that be a sight if someone happened to be around this hour of night, a woman with her dress hiked up around her waist and a hand between her legs—and a final time before she gets out. She smooths her dress back down prior to opening the car door. No need to flash anyone, at least not for free.

Legs lengthened by the heel on her shoes, Jade unfolds from the vehicle and glides towards the entrance of the museum.

GM: It’s too bad Randy isn’t here to drive her. She could get everything. While he watched.

Celia: She gets everything anyway, it just takes an extra minute.

GM: Maybe he’d make do with sniffing and licking the wipes while he rubbed one out, after she left.

Celia: That boy needs to get laid.

GM: She’s also late. There’s no way around it. Jade doesn’t see any other vampires entering the building, though maybe that’s just them being discrete.

There’s one Kindred, though, who’s seemingly waiting outside. Becky Lynne Adler stands near the museum’s front entrance, conversing with a ghoul while she taps into a phone. Embraced in the flower of late adolescence, she has delicate features, soft sun-blonde hair that falls slightly past her shoulders, and deep brown eyes. Jade knows her to smile easily and often, which together with her slight build and short height (she barely breaks 5’0"), give her a harmless appearance—the sort of girl who couldn’t intimidate a grade schooler. She wears a strapless white evening gown cinched at the waist with a pink bow and matching heels. Two diamonds glint from her ears, while a silver heart-shaped locket rests on a chain around her neck.

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“Oh, hello, Miss Kalani,” the Ventrue smiles as Jade approaches. “I had a hunch you’d be here… what do you say we go in together, so there’s less stir with the harpies?”

Celia: Jade’s smile stretches across her face as the sight of the stiff waiting for her. Her eyes sweep the blonde’s form, taking in the dress—white? that’s brave—with the cutesy bow and heels, the jewelry at her ears and throat. Tasteful, as always. Effortless, or at least that’s what the Ventrue would have them believe. Just as she’d have Jade believe that she happened to be caught up outside. Had a hunch? Indeed.

She halts just before Becky Lynne, for once a giant among her peers. In height, at least. Heels may be the great equalizer, but someone as short as this one would need to don the platform pumps of Veronica to put her on even footing. Still, it would be a silly lick indeed who let her small stature fool them into thinking she’s harmless.

“Good evening, Lady Speaker.” Were they not on the grounds of Elysium they would both let their masks slip enough to refer to each other more familiarly as they often do but here, at least, they play their roles. “I am always happy to share your presence. Doubly so when it allows us to duck their ire.” Jade flashes her a conspiratorial grin.

“Shall we?”

GM: Becky Lynne smiles back. “My mama always liked to say—trouble’s gonna come after you at some point, so no sense in goin’ after it yourself. Same with harpies and their ire!”

She turns to her ghoul. “Peggy, can you be a dear and wait outside with the car, usual time?”

“Yes, ma’am,” the ghoul nods. She’s also short blonde, and comely enough, but pudgier of face and more plainly dressed than her mistress. Everything about her looks like a plainer version of her mistress. She inclines her head and moves off.

“Good thing we’re showing up without any ghouls, too,” Becky Lynne smiles again. “My brother was telling me about a Kindred who showed up to Elysium with half a dozen ghouls, once, and the harpies just never let it die down. Which makes sense enough—we all have them, so no sense in showin’ off that we do. Less there is more, I think.” She gives a light laugh. “Unless we’re able to make them into ensembles as stylish as Regent Harlequin’s, of course.”

She reminds Celia of her mom, in some ways.

Blonde cutsey Southerners eager to make nice.

Celia: Is she, though? Eager to make nice for niceties sake? Hardly. Even Diana has a purpose for being as sweet as she is, and she doubts that Becky Lynne’s motives are as altruistic as she would have people believe. A Southern woman grows up learning how to put poison into her smile.

Jade has never brought her ghouls to Elysium. It isn’t their place.

“Less is more with many things,” Jade readily agrees. “Easier to add something than to take it away once it’s in the pot, as they say.”

Still, the sweet-as-pie Becky Lynne is preferable to the caustic tongues of some others she could name. So long as she’s aware of what the girl is she’s hardly a knife in the dark. Jade even likes her for all that because she gets it. She does the same thing. So it’s not as if she needs to feign interest in the blonde or force a smile, and her company is hardly a chore. She appreciates the cover with the harpies; solidarity in numbers and all that.

Even if her brother is slumming it and her sire is the most hated lick in the city.

“I suppose it wouldn’t be in line with my clan to confess that I couldn’t think of a more aesthetically pleasing exhibit for ghouls than Regent Harlequin has. I hope you won’t tattle for my lack of artistic bodily expression.” The wink is implied. “Think we should make the rounds and pretend we were here the whole time or throw ourselves into the thick of it?”

GM: Alana had always wanted to go. On her hands and knees, wearing a collar and leash, for everyone to see how Jade owns her.

“Oh, I think bodily expression is exactly what the artist behind Flawless is known for,” Becky Lynne smiles back, then taps two thoughtful fingers against her chin.

“Hmm. Makin’ the rounds makes it easier to slip under the radar. A harpy who notices might think we’re trying to fool them, though, and nobody likes that.”

“Goin’ right into the thick of it is bold. That might mean something, but it’s also a lot more scrutiny, and it’s always easier to get bad attention than good.”

“What do you think we oughta do, Miss Kalani?”

She seems to think some more. “Hm, or actually… maybe the best trick is to distract them with something else. Something more worth talking about than the fact of our arrival.”

“I wonder what we could do there?”

Celia: Jade had been about to suggest that they cozy up to the most important lick in the room and simply pretend that their presence was so much more important than that of the tongue-wagging harpies. Someone like sheriff. Not that her eyes seek him out. Oh no, not even a little bit. Not even a glance.

Well, maybe a glance. Once around the space to see if he’s there.

Other targets, though. Any of the elders, really, what harpy could complain about that? McGinn or Marcel, Becky Lynne is friendly enough with both of them, isn’t she? And it would cut through trying to deal with Josua if the blonde could get her an audience.

But dangling something shiny in front of those wagging tongues is certainly just as appealing—more believable and spreads what needs spread.

“Well…” Jade trails off thoughtfully, as if she doesn’t know exactly what the girl is thinking, “I suppose we’d have to share something scandalous.” She waits a beat.

GM: The Ventrue draws in a little (and needless) breath, the tips of her fingers fluttering over her mouth as her eyes scan their surroundings. But there’s some amusement dancing in them, too.

“Oh? Did you have somethin’ in mind for us to share, Miss Kalani?”

Celia: About your brother’s affair? Maybe the prince’s unknown childe? Or his diet of neonates?

Not the sort of thing she’d like to speak aloud in a place like this. Especially to a stiff. Something less volatile, then.

GM: Smith spoke ideas like those aloud.

Vidal could only execute him once.

Celia: And Smith was a somebody. Relatively, Jade is a nobody. She can’t imagine that the prince would be any more lenient towards her. Would he execute her publicly, she wonders, or have her abducted in the middle of the night? Maybe she’d go the way of the rest of the Storyvilles and serve as his midnight snack.

She wonders if her sire would be stirred to action should his liege order her execution. Maybe he’d be sent to deal with her. He’d berate her for the clumsy handling of the information he wanted her to spread. Would he use the sword? That new gift she gave him? Simply rip her heart out of her chest, poetic justice at its finest? After all, it has always belonged to him.

The amount of times that she has pictured her death at his hands makes her stomach clench.

No, none of those will do. And the others… she can think of too many ways that the information would be more useful in the hands of someone wiser. If only Savoy had sought fit to see her prior to this evening to offer guidance; what a field day she’d have with it now.

Jade tucks a curl behind her ear and bites her lip. Finally, she lets out a breath as unnecessary as the Ventrue’s earlier gasp.

“Well,” she says slowly, “it’s about a neonate, and it’s a little gauche…”

Exactly the sort of thing they’d like to sink their teeth into.

GM: It does make her stomach clench.

But perhaps the danger is part of the appeal. She can’t picture Roderick ever doing something like that.

Except when he loses it and really manhandles her.

“Well now, it’s all in how one presents it, isn’t it?” Becky Lynne smiles.

Celia: The difference between Roderick and her sire is the systemic destruction versus mindless chaos. Roderick losing control is bedlam, a whirlwind of rage, literal frenzy. An inferno. He obliterates everything around him. With Roderick she can only attempt to throw herself from his warpath and hope he passes her harmlessly by, then console him when it is over.

Her sire is a different beast altogether. Beautiful. Meticulous. Frozen. Utterly lethal annihilation. He does not smash; he shatters. He lays ruin with exact precision, destroying only what he wishes to see ruined. A scalpel to Roderick’s hammer. The difference between fire and ice.

His is a controlled burn.

And it terrifies her, how close she seeks to put herself to that cold fire. That she would let it—him—consume her. Have it. Have it all. Keep it, if only he’ll keep her too.

The thought is disquieting. She does not let it linger. Her eyes seek those of her would-be conspirator.

“Then I suppose, Lady Speaker,” she says at last, “that we must dazzle them.”

She leans in, lowering her voice.

“Perhaps you can assist me with neatly packaging this: I found one of the Storyvilles on a cam site.”

GM: “Oh my goodness,” Becky Lynne murmurs, holding a hand to her mouth.

Celia: Gauche, as she said.

GM: “She might be very, very grateful if that were to remain between us three.”

Celia: Jade acknowledges the point with a dip of her head.

“She might be.”

If only she weren’t dead.

GM: Talking further, Beck Lynne (perhaps unsurprisingly) seems to think that she and Jade stand more to gain by helping Storyvilles save face than spreading rumors about them. She won’t stop Jade if she wants to do that, though—including to her as an apparent explanation for the Toreador’s tardiness.

Celia: Jade supposes that Becky Lynne is right. Or at least she supposes that she doesn’t care enough about the Storyvilles to save or ruin their reputation, and every moment she spends out here debating the merits of spreading a rumor versus not is another moment she could be doing… literally anything else. She’s unsurprised to learn Becky Lynne’s stance on the subject; apparently she only hangs around the harpies so she can listen to rumors and refrains from spreading any herself, angel that she is.

Deft maneuver, she can’t help but note. She gives in graciously—there are other stories she’d prefer to spread about the coterie anyway—and offers to let Becky Lynne lead the way.

GM: The two make their way inside. A crowd of Kindred is gathered around what looks like a central exhibit.

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It sounds as if Celia and Becky Lynne have missed the opening prayer and whatever opening words Gus Elgin had to greet the attendees with. A glassy-eyed mortal man in fine eveningwear next to Gus Elgin sleepily recites,

“…the act of wrapping objects and binding things together is as ancient as mankind itself. Weaving is at least 12,000 years old (recent discoveries suggest possibly 27,000), and the world’s oldest sewing needle (made of bird bone possibly by Denisovans) dates back to approximately 50,000 years ago. While it is an ancient and very human act, perhaps the inspiration arose from observing nature. Spiders bind filaments together to form a web, and wrap their prey in silk. Vines wrap and cling for support and movement. Birds build nests and bagworms build homes through binding objects together. Each and every one of us begins life bound within the womb, one life entwined with another. Perhaps that is part of the primal urge to wrap objects: to protect them, hide them, contain them. Wrapping can be a preservative endeavor, like the mummy’s quest for immortality. It can be a violent act, like the coil of the snake or the chains of human bondage. It can be an act of solidarity and devotion, as with the hand-fasting rituals of marriage. Every wrapped package or bound bundle contains a secret—a hidden thing, the unknown—and activates the very human emotions of curiosity or fear.”

Music soothes the savage beast. Calm and reflective words seem to to have a similar enough effect upon the assembled predators, each one’s pale and motionless face concealing so very savage beast. One misspoken word, one shed drop of blood, and perhaps this hapless kine would lie screaming for his life as the city’s Kindred fell upon him like a pack of wolves, staining the hardwood floor red with his blood. For now, listen attentively, like civilized people who go to art museums do. But in each and every one of their breasts lurks a monster that couldn’t give two shits about the subtleties of object-wrapping next to the hot taste of blood.

“From Native American sacred medicine bundles to the Jewish laying of tefillin, wrapping and binding have been used as a symbolic device by humans throughout history. Both the ritual act and the act of creating art are ways of putting concrete reality to abstract ideas. Drawing inspiration from the traditions of various cultures—Haitian Voudou, Appalachian broom-making, Calabrian silk production, Peruvian rope coiling, Congo Nkisi—the contemporary artists in this exhibition engage wrapping and binding as both symbolic aesthetic device, and often as a ritual practice within their work.”

The children of the night have come out in all their pageantry. Philip Maldonato’s tall frame, garbed in archaic-looking Muslim robes, is immediately noticeable. Antoine Savoy wears an Enlightenment-era courtier’s outfit. Vidal and the Baron are not present, likely to the surprise of few. They rarely are.

Among the primogen, Jade espies Pearl Chastain in a hennin and medieval-era gown. Little interest passes over her face. Jade may wonder if she has anything better to do. Accou, unsurprisingly, remains close to his sire’s side in more recent but still centuries-dated finery. Coco opts for more modern garb in a black turtleneck and dress slacks. Roderick looks at Jade as she arrives, but moves away his gaze after a moment.

How much is he thinking about the things he’d like to do with her, once Elysium is finally over?

Von Steinhäuser stands present and impassive in an archaic Enlightenment-era gown of her own, as if to say everything is still normal for the Tremere. Miss Opal, alone among the primogen, is not present tonight.

But he is there.

He isn’t tall and dark. He’s dark and feels tall. He’s dressed in the same utilitarian black garb that could come from any number of decades. It reveals nothing of his origins—no more than his expressionless, marble-like face reveals of his feelings.

He does not spare Jade a single look.

Celia: How fitting, the topic of the evening. Bindings. It has long been on her mind, the question of why he will not take her fully. Why he will not let her have that third sip from his wrist. She has her own private theories why he denies it, none of which give her comfort. She’s often wondered how angry it would make him if she were to take that step with someone else. What he’d do to her. To them. Or if he’d care at all.

Looking at him now, in his dark garb of no note with his eyes resolutely turned away, she doesn’t think that he would. A flicker of emotion passes through her, something like yearning. For him, even now, fresh from a tumble with someone else, late because she had fallen into the arms of another lover. What would it be like to be able to stand beside him in a place like this? What would it be like to be known as his childe, not the childe of the vicious slut? How might her Requiem have changed?

Not at all, she thinks. It isn’t as if he and Doriocourt canoodle in a corner. And she knows why he has done it. Why he ignores her. Why he sent her off with Savoy. She knows, or thinks she knows, and if it is a lie she tells herself then it is a beautiful lie and she clings to it with every bit of delusional strength she has. It is her light in the darkness, her secret fantasy, and she will not let it be snuffed out.

Jade does not let her gaze linger on the dark one. She sweeps it past Roderick, no flicker of emotion giving away the squirming of her insides. Not here. Here she beats it down. Roderick is nothing to Jade, no matter how Celia may want him.

Perhaps she should take some sort of public lover, someone to hide their dalliance from the rest of their kind. The art thief, maybe; she’s been seen arm and arm with him before, and it isn’t as if he expects monogamy. He might even find the whole thing amusing. Or Gui. Now that she’s had him she wants him again. Years of flirtation finally paid off, and what a delicious paring it was. And it would make sense, wouldn’t it, two young bloods from Savoy’s faction shacking up. More sense than the decades-older thief, anyway.

She can’t imagine it would go over well with Roderick. He, at least, is hot-blooded enough to get a rise out of. In a hundred years she wonders if that will still be the case, if he will still be the same man that she met in college. Do they change at all once they die, or is he stuck at 22 like she is stuck at 19? She’d like to think she has changed. Can change again, be the girl he wants her to be. But isn’t that the girl he knew back then, the sweet one who would do anything for her family, who died to save her mother, who made a devil’s bargain for the desperate chance to finally do something for once rather than continue to sit idly by?

Isn’t that still her? If she ignores the rot that has taken hold of her, the Beast inside her chest that eats away at her humanity bit by bit, she thinks it might be. Only he doesn’t know what she’d done the night she died, the way she had given in to the darkness, let it consume her. Only when her psyche had begun to shatter did she pull back.

She died broken. Perhaps that is who she will always be. Perhaps the girl he thinks he loves is what died that night, stripped away with the rest of her innocence.

Jade pulls her thoughts from that downward spiral. Pulls her gaze from the assembled primogen and sheriff—her thoughts flicker his way once more, wondering if he is wearing the gift beneath his clothing (and what else he’s hiding beneath that dark garb, and if he’ll ever—), but she does not let either linger overly long. She moves it across the room once more before finally settling on Savoy. She has so much to tell him. Already she’s looking forward to tomorrow when she can present him with everything, where he will tell her how smart and capable she is, pat his lap for her, let her curl up, whisper in her ear. She’ll convince him to get rid of Preston for an hour. Maybe they’ll soak in the hot tub once they’re done tearing each other apart, and he’ll tell her… tell her that he’s proud of her? No, she doesn’t think that’s what she wants to hear from him. That he’s pleased with her, maybe. Yes. Pleasure. That’s what she wants from him.

Perhaps she’ll take Mel up on her offer to come naked to a meeting and see how that plays out.

Two minutes in and she’s already lost sight of what she came here for. She looks for her pretend sire, or Marcel’s most recent fuck toy.

GM: She espies Veronica among the other harpies. The Toreador wears gold sandal heels and a black and brown dress that Jade doesn’t have to be an esthetician to identify as being made from human hair.

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Perhaps, she may wonder as she looks upon her purported sire’s so-often sneering face, that’ll be her in a hundred years.

Perhaps a hundred years ago, Veronica was Celia Flores. A well-meaning girl in over her head and driven to darkness.

Celia: Veronica was never a girl like Celia.

GM: Maybe that’s what the neonates will say about her in a hundred years.

Jade Kalani was never a girl like them.

Celia: Then again, she’d just wondered why Veronica would wear a dress of human hair when it could be human skin, and she’s been dead less than a decade.

Perhaps she really will gift her “sire” something from her new line.

GM: Veronica’s bitch isn’t there. “Micheal,” if one were to be kind and use his name. Shep also seems to have skipped Elysium, but Pietro’s there next to her, along with the other harpies. Adelais and Sundown and Marguerite and Katherine and Harequin, and the rest of the in crowd, plus the hangers-on (like her) hoping to someday join their ranks. There are worse Kindred to be childe to than a harpy, than a primogen’s childe and a leader among her covenant, whatever her reputation.

Jade could have gotten saddled with someone like Isabel’s sire, and been a mere handful of steps away from Dani’s fate.

Or she could have been turned by whoever cursed Roderick’s sister with their feeble brand of dime store damnation.

Celia: There’s a thought. Celia the thin-blood. She doubts she’d even have to make a new name for herself if she were to have gone that route. Who cares about another half-breed mongrel, anyway? She’d have been slaughtered with the rest of her kind. Turn in by her boyfriend’s sire. Would he have protected her, she wonders, or just stood idly by while the murder brigade did their ghastly deed?

She couldn’t help but notice Opal’s absence this evening. Planning another massacre?

Jade is glad she doesn’t need to worry about such things, at least. And Pietro is a welcome sight at her sire’s side, in any case. These events are always brightened by his droll humor.

Her eyes and thoughts flit back to the speaker and the exhibit.

GM: “…each artist in this exhibition approaches the simple acts of wrapping and binding from a unique perspective. Some are involved in the haptic absorption of repetitive handwork—a sort of ritual meditation on texture and rhythm. Others are exploring the symbolic power of the physical act—weaving narratives through form, image and materials. This exhibition contains a feast of texture and a vast range of materials—clay, fabric, rope, egg tempera, driftwood, loofah, antler, bone, wire, coffee, ashes, teeth, yarn, wool, chalk and a plethora of found objects. Through wrapping, painting, weaving, coiling, drawing, or knotting, each artist binds their own unique and thoroughly contemporary vision to an ancient, universal and very human practice.”

Celia: If only the ancients among them would allow for the introduction of more contemporary visions.

GM: There’s a few final words before the assembled predators start to disperse into their own cliques and stroll down the museum’s empty halls. Perhaps this man has some inkling of how much safer he now is. Sundown starts off the conversation with a joke about spiders in the centers of their webs. Binding and weaving is an all-too familiar practice to the Kindred. Katherine Beaumont concurs and draws comparisons to the chains of blood that bind them to their clans and kin. The ties binding mortals to their lives and duties are weaker, Gus Elgin states: “Just as one must tie an object more securely to withstand a hurricane than a summer breeze, the ties that bind us to eternity must by necessity be stronger than the ties binding kine to mortality.”

Some of the present Kindred seem to be following along and considering the conversation. At least as many others are exploring the museum exhibits on their own, or in discussions with their other cliques.

But there are still plenty of cold eyes resting upon the tardy arrivals.

Celia: Bully for them and their cold eyes. Jade would roll her own if she were anywhere but here. She doesn’t bother to move closer to them to join their discussion, turning instead to begin her own with the Ventrue at her side.

“Interesting,” she remarks to Becky Lynne, her voice quiet so as not to compete with the others, “his comments on the mummies and their bindings. It isn’t why they wrapped their kin, but I suppose he couldn’t resist the tie-in.”

“It was actually,” she continues unprompted, “because of their obsession with order, and their desire to defeat chaos. As a concept.”

GM: Those cold eyes include her purported sire’s.

And the other harpies’.

And assorted other Kindred of greater standing than the neonate’s.

Celia: Ah, right. Fuck her for trying to engage with something other than vicious gossip. Cold stares and wagging tongues really makes her glad that she bothered to show up instead of turning around to find literally anything else to do when she realized she’d be five whole minutes late.

Personally, she thinks the discussion on Ancient Egypt is fascinating, but clearly the harpies never heard that “Great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, small minds discuss people” quote.

Jade can dig into the mud with the best of them. She gives Becky Lynne an apologetic smile. For a moment longer she talks about Egypt and their burial customs, chaos, the historical idea of evil, and the afterlife. She manages to tie it together and swing it back around to something that someone as vapid as the harpies can understand in the end:

“…which is why I think that Storyville started on the cam site, you know, and there’s months of content. It’s tragic. You should see some of those videos…”

GM: Becky Lynne listens attentively to Jade’s initial explanation. There’s a lot more interest on her face than Roderick’s, but Jade supposes the Ventrue hadn’t just heard her sister was a thin-blood.

“Oh my goodness,” she repeats upon hearing the salacious rumor, covering her mouth with several fingers.

“Yeah, I don’t buy that,” says Duke Elmhearst. The Sanctified neonate has a face with eyes meaner than a gator’s and a sneer that could shame a rattlesnake, all framed by a shock of dirty blond hair. Jade has heard a few of Savoy’s people make fun of Duke’s face for “looking like an internet picture that gets you idly thinking of ways to murder him, ten minutes after you meet.”

But Vidal’s people probably don’t say anything nicer about Jade.

“Sin against God to endanger the Masquerade like that. That isn’t them.”

Amused eyes among onlookers flicker between the two neonates.

Celia: Duke looks like the kind of guy that might benefit from visiting a cam site himself. All that pent-up male aggression, she bets he’d get off on telling some poor slut what to do. She’s not put out by his doubt, though. She glances at him and smiles. It’s a pretty smile, like the rest of her. Regardless of what Vidal’s people say about her, they can’t take that away. She waves him over.

She’s happy to discuss it with a doubter.

GM: He smirks and saunters over.

Celia: Jade smiles up at Duke. She hasn’t gotten to know him well, but she’d like to. She likes the cut of his jib. Likes his arrogance. Likes his swagger, even, in an “I’d like to punch him in the face” kind of way. But she’s enjoyed plenty of people like that. She stands close to him—really close, Jade likes that physical contact—and shows him the screenshot on her phone.

It’s a pretty standard-looking still from a cam site. A girl on her knees dressed in skimpy attire, bra and panties, black lace. It’s almost beautiful against her pale skin. But instead of a dick in her mouth it’s a long dildo, cheeks bulged out around it. The screenshot includes the chat telling her to suck it, the recent donation of $5. Jade swipes right and shows him the next one, where the girl in the picture puts the dildo—purple, huge, spiraled—into herself with her legs spread wide. Her eyes are closed and her mouth open, like she’s panting heavily. The donation line reads $15 this time, and the chat is wild with people telling her what to do, to fuck herself, to show her pussy, to spread herself wide, that they want her to bend over and take it like the slut she is.

Even with her eyes closed, Roxanne’s face is unmistakable.

Jade looks up at Duke, brows raised.

GM: Duke eyes the playing video. His face briefly catches.

It really does look exactly like Roxanne.

“That’s so fake,” says the Brujah. “It doesn’t even look like her.”

Celia: Her brows threaten to disappear into her hairline.

Jade swipes right once more. It’s another screenshot of Roxanne. Only this time she’s got a dude in the photo with her. Two dudes. It’s pretty clear what’s going on: one is fucking her from behind while the other cums on her face.

GM: Titters and knowing glances start to go up from the onlookers. Perhaps they can’t all see exactly what’s happening, from this distance.

But they can make out enough. They can read the two licks’ expressions.

And there are assuredly at least several Kindred here with very, very good eyesight.

Harlequin starts to laugh.

His four ghouls are with him tonight, like they are every night. Each one dressed in nothing except chain links over their naked bodies. Their faces are hidden beneath silver masks that resemble deformed infants with varying, eerily adult expressions of lust, contempt, horror, and despair.

As one, they clutch their hands to their masked faces. As one, laughter spills from their concealed lips.

Veronica starts to laugh, too. The other three harpies do not take overlong before joining in. Elyse Benson makes a remark disdaining the “imperfections” of such a lust-driven creature. Randolph Cartwright sneers how much she looks like she’s enjoying herself. Esther Sue Parker shakes her head disapprovingly. Speculation starts to go up about Roxanne being a pervert. If she actually enjoys doing it the breather way.

The Ventrue are the only ones not to laugh. They just don’t say anything.

Duke rolls his eyes. “I don’t know any blue blood who’d take money to do something like that. Ha ha at the fake video, I guess.”

He stalks off to salve his pride.

Just like that, Jade fees welcome in polite company again.

Celia: Jade slips the phone back into her pocket. She watches Duke disappear into the crowd, wondering if there’s something she can do there to soothe his wounded pride. He could have spun it another way, she thinks, laughed along with them, nudged her in the ribs, made it look like he only asked because he wanted to show the rest of them what a little whore Roxanne is. She’d have winked at him and played along and let him save face.

Ah, well, they can’t all be winners.

GM: Becky Lynne smiles and politely excuses herself. She’s played her part.

“I want to see this up close,” declares Veronica, striding up to Jade’s side. Pietro, Abraham Garcia, Andy Philips, Will Carolla, and Laura Ravenwood all seem to want a closer look too.

Celia: Jade is happy to show the harpy who claims to be her sire. She pulls her phone back out to show Veronica and the assorted others who crowd around her, scrolling through photos as needed. She’s pleased with the turnaround.

Pleased, too, that Carolla came to her and not the other way around. She hadn’t thought to approach him directly, but when he falls so perfectly into her lap… well, she’s never been one to pass up an opportunity. She catches his eye across the little circle.

GM: All of them. All of them laugh. All of them mock.

Where did Jade ever find these?

She doesn’t find it hard to catch the Brujah’s gaze. He’s a strong-jawed and thick-framed young man with brown hair dressed in a dark suit.

“I know some people who might pay big bucks for her as a prostitute, if she’s looking for work,” he remarks with amusement.

Celia: “Mmm, the whole thing was quite by accident, really. My ghoul, you know, he’s very into movies, so apparently when he’s not busy he likes to watch them online, only the thing he was trying to watch wasn’t available on his preferred platform in our country, so he got around that with a VPN, and I guess he forgot to switch it off when he went browsing further because there she was. So he calls over to me, ‘hey don’t you know her?’ and points her out. Naturally I did a little digging, and there it was: tons of past videos. Apparently if you pay enough you can get the models on these sites—yes, really, they call them ‘models’—to do anything, so I thought about what a lark it would be to tell her to fuck a dog, and, well…”

Jade trails off, lifting her shoulders in a shrug.

“I guess when you’re desperate for money you’ll let anyone put something inside of you.”

She smiles at the Brujah. She tells him that she’d love to get together some time to talk about it.

And other things, is the unsaid implication.

GM: Laughter goes up from the clique.

“I suppose she’d be in good company,” Pietro remarks with amusement.

“More like the dog would be in bad company,” sneers Veronica.

“Maybe the dog should get paid,” says Laura.

There’s more laughter.

Carolla remarks with some amusement that he should meet with Roxanne, if they’re talking about ‘work,’ but assents to see Celia later. He’ll have one of “his people” contact hers to schedule a time.

As far as her implication goes, the Brujah looks as if he wouldn’t mind fucking her.

Like almost everyone.

Celia: Almost? What. Who is holding out?

No one she cares about, surely.

She winks at the Brujah and says she’s looking forward to it.

GM: Well, probably Emily and Celia’s mother.

Celia: She hopes so.

Emil too, she bets.

He taught her about VPNs, so he’s on her mind.

GM: If Em were here, he’d probably say the only thing Emil wants to stick his cock inside is a computer port.

Celia: Too true.

She pushes the hacker from her mind, though. He has no bearing on this event. No bearing on the Brujah in front of her who is, decidedly, easy on the eyes. Maybe not the one she wants warming her bed, but she wouldn’t mind ‘getting to know him,’ or whatever the kids are saying these days. She lets her gaze sweep his form one last time, knows he’s doing the same to her. He’s not the only one, either.

Jade smirks up at Veronica, waiting until the harpy and her clique has had their fill to put her phone away.

GM: The others have their laughs and start to drift off into the museum.

“Clementine said you’d called about some filthy little idea running through your filthy little mind,” Veronica remarks.

Celia: “Mhm.” Jade nods once they’re relatively alone, watching the last of them disappear down the halls. Never truly alone, not in a place like this. Ears everywhere, she knows. She turns to regard Veronica with a sly smile.

“I did. I don’t know if it can top the filth that was just shared, though.” Privately, that means. Veronica is coy enough to get the message, she’s sure.

GM: She, Mélissaire, and Savoy had all instructed Jade in that much. Assume anything you say out loud in Elysium will be overheard.

“Probably not, unless you wanted to suck a cock right here.”

Celia: Oh, no, that’s for later.

She’d need a bucket of them, anyway, to outdo her sister.

She says something witty. Something clever. Something that lets her “sire” know, in no uncertain terms, how unlikely that is. It’s not as if she’s ever admitted her perversions to the harpy or engaged in that sort of sexual deviance in front of her. She’s not entirely sure why anyone would think she’d have done so, really. Hadn’t Roderick made that comment a few times, something about Veronica belittling her for it? As if she’d tell. It’s like everything else to do with the blood: she’s perfectly capable of controlling herself.

She doesn’t point out to Veronica that perhaps it’s her reputation that makes the city come down so hard on Jade when the only person Jade has ever admitted it to and engaged in it with is the same boy whose mind she plans on blowing later tonight. If Veronica weren’t such a voracious slut maybe they wouldn’t feel the need to up the ante with her childe.

But fuck her, right?

Regardless, if Veronica doesn’t want to bite then Jade is happy to end their conversation and seek out someone else with whom to spend her evening.

Maybe she’ll find a few cocks to suck while she’s at it. Since apparently that’s all she does.

GM: The harpy seems amenable enough, her caustic words notwithstanding. Both to conversing now and meeting in private later. She does seems amused, though, by her alleged progeny’s soreness.

Celia: The soreness that she didn’t let slip at all because she’s better bred than that, but sure. Veronica’s amused by everything, why not this too.

There’s a smile somewhere in her toolbelt. She reaches for it now. Lets it stretch across her face, lift her eyes, wipe whatever imagined emotions people think they see from her face.

She makes plans to meet with Veronica at a later time.

GM: Jade’s sire takes her leave. Meanwhile, the rest of the exhibition awaits.



GM: She spends a little time observing the exhibits before Laura Ravenwood circles back to her. The other vampire is a slender, pale-skinned woman in seemingly her early 20s with wavy auburn hair. She wears a shape-hugging black silk dress with heels and lipstick that are the same deep red hue as her nail polish.

It’s a comely enough package for the creoles to overlook the Caitiff’s clanless heritage. Enough, at least, to let her into Elysium.

“I heard you talking earlier about why the Egyptians wrapped their mummies, Miss Kalani. You’d said it was to defeat chaos?”

Celia: If Jade is bothered by the Caitiff’s origins it doesn’t show on her face. She offers the same smile she’d give to anyone with a real bloodline.

“Indeed, Miss Ravenwood. The concept of chaos, rather. Their whole society was based around the flooding of the Nile, you see. Every year it would flood at the same time and deliver the sediment and nutrients at the bottom of the river to fertilize their soil. If it were ever to flood too early, too late, or not at all, their whole society would be in shambles. They were obsessed with order. Maintaining things exactly as they are. We see this in their graves and their attitudes towards the afterlife. They thought that by preserving and wrapping their dead it would allow them some measure of control over the decay, which they viewed as another form of chaos.”

“They also,” she adds, “used to use green wrappings, which was symbolic of life to them.”

GM: “Oh, that makes perfect sense,” she nods at the explanation. “I didn’t know they used green wrappings. We think of mummies as having sand-colored ones.”

Celia: “It might have changed over time,” Jade admits, “but when they began the process it was green. Their maps were different back then. You know how kine say ‘up north’ even though north isn’t really up? Back then ‘up’ meant topological.” Which, she realizes, is off topic, and only on her mind because of the mention of maps. She reins it in before she hits lecture mode.

“But they used blue to color the Nile, and green for the fertile area around it, and brown for the area beyond that where there was no life. Green was life. So they used it to fight against death, which they viewed as chaotic.”

“If I’m not mistaken, theirs was among the first cultures to turn death into a business.”

“In that they sold things to help you get into the afterlife or serve you once you were there, I mean. And the things they sold, the things archaeologists found in their graves, suggests that their idea of order persists into the afterlife with them.”

“It was just another way for them to impose order on chaos. Another ritual to keep it at bay.” Much the same as their kind dress up and play this polite charade of art critics to stave off the snarling Beasts inside them all.

GM: “I once read a comic about a high priest who unwrapped a mummy, threw it out of the tomb, wrapped himself up in its bandages, and then killed himself, all so he’d be able to enjoy the same afterlife as his pharaoh.” The Caitiff smiles with amusement. “I doubt something like that actually happened, but when you say they turned the afterlife into a business… it’s only natural some people would want to steal the merchandise.”

“They thought you could take it with them, didn’t they, which was why they buried the pharaohs with so many treasures?”

“Well, entombed them.”

Celia: Jade’s lips twitch in amusement at the mention of the comic.

“It could have happened,” she allows with a grin. “Like stealing someone’s car to make off with whatever they’ve got inside. But yes, even tombs of normal people had things inside of them. Cosmetics, combs, tools, food… things that wouldn’t really help in the afterlife. It’s part of what made the archaeologists and anthropologists believe that their afterlife is exactly like the real world, but better. A step up. Everything tastes, smells, feels better. They thought they would need to take these things with them. They even had these little statues they would buy to serve them in the afterlife, so that they didn’t need to do work.”

GM: “I thought the Egyptians believed in reincarnation, too, after their hearts were judged and they didn’t get eaten? Was all of that essentially just temporary?”

Celia: “Sort of. Their whole view of what it took to get into the afterlife is pretty fascinating and there are a bunch of steps. First, you die. You lose all of your senses. Then there’s a ritual performed on you by Anubis, the opening of the mouth. You’re essentially ‘reborn’ and you regain all of your senses, which I believe is what you’re referring to. Their idea was that you are more ‘alive’ than you were back then. You can see more, hear more.” Sort of like their Kindred senses, she realizes.

“Then you go through 22 gates. Each of the gates is guarded by a god, and you’re asked by the god to give a negative confession. ‘I did not do this thing.’ Scholars aren’t sure if this meant that you needed to stick to a moral code or if you were fine as long as you confessed and repented, but this is one of the first examples of an afterlife we’ve seen where personal choice seems to matter. Between the gates were what is essentially chaos. Scorpions that multiply if you attack them. Beetles that are twenty feet tall. Things that are changed from the natural order. In order to get past these things the people would need spells from the book of the dead, which was just another way for them to make money through all the customization that they could do, to put things back to their natural order. Then the weighing of the hearts. Those who were balanced would move on to the Field of Reeds.”

GM: The more vivid senses bit does sound a lot like Kindred existence.

It seems like an open question, though, what’d happen to her if her heart got weighed.

Laura, though, listens to the impromptu mythology lecture with interest. So do a few other Kindred within nearby earshot.

“I knew the part about evil hearts getting devoured by a monster,” she says. “But good hearts, too? What happened to those?”

Celia: “Well, that’s when we kind of get into the idea of good versus evil. Their idea of evil wasn’t bad acts, it was chaos. So if your heart was balanced, it was ordered, which is good. You got to move on to the Field of Reeds.”

GM: “Oh, that makes sense. What would a person do that was chaotic versus how we’d define evil now, simply not follow cultural norms and keep faith in the gods?”

Celia: “Very similar to what we’d consider evil today, to be honest,” Jade admits. “Their scrolls—the book of the dead—they had these list of negative confessions that they would have to offer to the gods before the gates. If they wronged someone, false feelings, slept around, committed fraud. The basics.” She smiles. “They also apparently had a very dim view on liminal states.”

“That being said, their moral transgressions were not inalienable. Scholars have found tons of graves with these little sculptures, Heart Scarab Beetles, that had phrases carved into the bottom. The gist of it was, ‘heart don’t sell me out when you’re on the scale.’ And the confessions before the gods, the chaos that they fought between the gates, that all helped re-order their hearts.”

“Both of those things were purchases people could make. Their rituals of death became very economics-based.”

GM: “That sounds similar to papal indulgences,” remarks Abraham Garcia, a slender Hispanic man with deep brown eyes, thick black hair, and a large nose.

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“Actually, it sounds exactly the same. There’s always plenty forgiveness to spare, so long as it makes somebody a buck.”

Celia: Jade inclines her head toward Garcia. The topic is something a little too hot-button for her to take up in Elysium, of all places—her own opinions smear the church and religion itself pretty hard for all that she’s a member of the Sanctified—but she gives him the benefit, at least, of agreeing.

“It’s a profitable business. Just look at what the kine have done with it. Funeral homes make tons of money for all that they’re selling a box to bury someone in. Even urns get costly.”

GM: “Well, at least those look pretty. People will always spend money on pretty, even if it’s pretty they won’t get to see. But with those scarabs the makers could sell people absolutely nothing at all.”

Celia: “They sold them the idea of eternity.”

“Which, in and of itself, is beautiful.”

GM: “I’m sure it seemed even more beautiful if you were in the scarab business. Who wouldn’t want to sell ideas, rather than material things?”

“The scarabs were material things,” says Laura.

“But only as a means to an idea. I’m sure they made them as cheap as they could.”

Celia: “Of course they did. That’s how a business operates. Is selling an idea any less viable than selling an experience?”

“They’re not tangible things that you can hold onto, experiences, but you can treasure them all the same.”

“So it goes with ideas. If I said to you that I could sell you something for a trivial amount that would assure you a happy unlife, would you not be tempted?”

GM: “There’s no one who wouldn’t be, unless the happiness was predicated on false premises. But I’d probably give you at least 50/50 odds of still getting customers then. People don’t care about truth next to feeling happy.”

Celia: “We do so love our beautiful lies. There are entire industries that have developed due to that intrinsic desire to feel happiness.” Jade offers him a smile. “But I would also concede that those 50/50 odds depend entirely on the speaker.”

GM: “I think it depends on your point of view,” says Laura. “Baudelaire said imagination is the queen of truth. Doesn’t that just seem so exciting, if you think about those words, for the possibilities they open up? Everyone can be a queen. Everyone can enrich the world through their truth.”

“But are you defining truth as an objective measure of reality, or simply what makes you feel satisfied?” asks Roderick Durant. He glances briefly at Jade. “Those are two different things. Everyone likes to throw around ‘truth’ as a rhetorical construct, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what the definition actually is. It’s the measure of reality, nothing more or less.”

“Well, that’s an unpopular view these days,” drawls Garcia. “People like the good Caitiff here are a lot more common. What is there in truth? Where’s the money, the feel-goods? People want whatever makes them feel good. And they feel even better about feeling good if they can find ways to philosophically justify it. To turn their feelings into validation that they’re right about the world. People love feeling right as much as they love feeling good.”

Laura seems to bristle a little, but doesn’t say anything.

Celia: If Jade is bothered by Durant’s sudden appearance it doesn’t show on her face. Her expression stays perfectly neutral at the interjection.

“I might have to say that I disagree with you, Mr. Durant. Truth can be entirely subjective. There are such things as symbolic truths. Shakespeare, for instance, wrote about the truth of family dynamics, war, and romance with Romeo and Juliet. Were they two real people? Is their story objectively true? No. But symbolically? That is truth.”

“And isn’t feeling good, feeling happy, someone’s truth?”

Religion is a symbolic truth. The Bible. Neither of which she will bring up here. Perhaps later they can have their own debate on things that would label her blasphemous.

“Such things would hardly hold up in court, I imagine,” she acknowledges with a smile.

Mr. Durant, though. She can’t think of the last time she called him that. It brings all sorts of things to mind that she shouldn’t dwell on: a wooden ruler, knee-high socks, the plaid skirt in her closet.

One of these nights, she thinks, she’ll learn that mind-to-mind communication trick so she can plague him with these images at times like this when she has to stand across from him and pretend they barely know each other.

GM: Perhaps he’d have his share to plague her back with.

Though maybe she’d win that round. Is her mind dirtier than his?

“Truth is the state of being in accordance with reality,” states Roderick. “Since ‘reality’ encompasses so many things, it’s important to exercise specificity in language. As a historical record, Romeo and Juliet isn’t in accordance with reality. As you say, the characters weren’t real people and the events described never happened. But it does accurately portray the culture and social environment its characters lived in, so by that metric Romeo and Juliet is true. It also contains moral lessons and insights into human nature, though the truth of those is more debatable.”

“But again, when we talk about truth, we have to be specific in our language. Saying ‘happiness is in accordance with reality, which we define as truth’ means absolutely nothing when you pause to deconstruct it. Mr. Garcia is, unfortunately, right that many people would rather feel better about themselves than know more of truth.”

“Well, you can’t blame them either,” says Garcia. “Everyone likes that metaphor of ‘truth as light,’ but it’s a damn painful light. Who wants to burn their eyes when it’s nice and cool in the dark?”

“If you’re blind either way, I’d rather be blinded by truth than lies,” says Roderick.

“Truth can be painful. But we can grow accustomed to pain, and to excessive light.”

“Ironic that all of us can see in the dark so well,” observes Laura with a faint smirk.

Garcia laughs. “It’s not ironic. God knows truth has even fewer adherents among us than among the kine.”

Celia: Jade tilts her head to one side. He’d said something similar to her once about preferring truth to beauty. Then he’d smashed her face in when she’d given it to him. He’s doing it again now with the wilful ignorance in which he regards his sire.

“I believe we’ve circled back to the preference of beautiful lies and ugly truths.”

Ah, truth to beauty, she gets it now. By attacking her he’d made his thoughts clear. He’d ruined her face and no more. The pretty thing about her.

“Though I suppose,” she says at length, “that the real determining factor is how much pain an individual will weather when their truthful light would ruin a beautiful lie.”

GM: “I imagine you’d suffer any amount of pain for the truth, isn’t that right, Mr. Durant?” asks Garcia. He isn’t quite leering, but there os a look approximating one on his face.

“That makes it sound more heroic than it is,” answers Roderick. "Lies are their own pain. "

“Only if you find out they’re lies,” observes Garcia.

“Truth always comes out.”

“Were you in the Boy Scouts?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Oh, no reason.” There’s a faint grin on Garcia’s face.

Celia: He knows something.

Jade doesn’t know what it is that he knows, but she’d like to find out. Her expression mirrors her clanmate’s, amusement tugging at her lips while she watches the exchange.

GM: “What about you, Mr. Garcia? How much pain would you suffer for truth?” asks Roderick.

“Miss Ravenwood and Miss Kalani, I think, would prefer beautiful lies. I may disagree with their values, but I can respect their consistency. I’m less certain where you fall.”

“Mm. I suppose it’d depend on the lie and how beautiful it was,” answers Garcia.

Celia: “I would ask that you not speak for me, Mr. Durant, as my preference depends entirely on the speaker and the situation.”

“Were it someone that I don’t care about or would never see again, then beauty would suffice. Were it someone I respected or felt some measure of affection for?”

“Truth, then. Always truth.”

GM: “I’d say that too,” agrees Laura. “Most of the time, I’d prefer beauty. But every time? Some lies can be too harmful, even if they’re beautiful.”

“Life is shades of grays, when it comes down to it. I don’t think any of us can say we’d always prefer truth or always prefer lies without being dishonest.”

Celia: “Those of us who do are simply lying to ourselves.”

GM: “Maybe so,” Roderick grants. “But there’s appeal in that sort of purity.”

Celia: “Is it appealing? There is a saying about trees that have learned how to bend so they do not break. Can the same not be said of us? After all, the plants that learn to flourish in various climates are those that would outlast the others.”

GM: “They might. But are those trees the tallest ones, that inspire so many others with their majesty?”

Celia: Her smile flickers, the retort dying on her tongue. To delve into this topic is too akin to bad-mouthing those mighty “trees” in public, and that is something she cannot do.

“I recall learning in grade school about the different levels of the rain forest. How each of them adapted to their position in certain ways. The flora at the bottom have giant leaves to soak up what little sunshine filters through. Is that not also majestic?”

GM: “I’d say it’s efficient and successful at adapting to its environment. But majestic? That word makes me think of soaring trees.”

Celia: Jade bites back the insult to his clan. She takes a moment to consider her response, eyes sweeping toward the floor before finding his face once more. She looks up at him through long, black lashes.

“Perhaps beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder, Mr. Durant. Personally I find it compelling when things can thrive in otherwise hostile or derelict environments.”

As much as Jade wouldn’t mind passing her evening engaged in debate with Roderick, she has other people with whom she needs to speak. This exchange of words is doing neither of them any good: not only are they unlikely to change their minds and must bandy their words with care, but they shouldn’t be so publicly amiable. She also fully intends to spend the remainder of her evening debating the merits of various surfaces in her haven with him. Wordlessly.

She inclines her head toward Roderick and Ravenwood, thanking the latter for the conversation with an invitation to continue their discussion of mythology at a future date, and the former for his lively debate. She turns to regard Garcia.

“Will you walk with me, Lord Garcia?”

She hopes that their shared covenant will prevent him from snubbing her.

GM: The other two Kindred exchange parting pleasantries and take their leaves.

“I’ll never say no to a sexy lady’s company, Miss Kalani,” her clanmate smirks. “I wonder what those pieces are, over there.” He points. “They look like… brooms?”

“Broom heads.”

Celia: It’s not that she goes out of her way to put a little extra sway in her step. She’s always sashayed like this. Really. It has nothing to do with Roderick watching her go, arm in arm with her clanmate.

Her eyes follow Garcia’s pointing, brows lifting at the sight of… broom heads. She lifts her brows.

“Perhaps there’s more to it than meets the eye from over here. Shall we?”

Jade leads or lets him lead the way, making idle commentary on the other pieces that they pass. Her eyes roam the halls even as she speaks, searching the faces of those licks who remain. She looks for her sire. Her true sire, not the woman whose blood she claims.

She turns the conversation around as they walk, spinning it back toward Durant and Ravenwood. More idle commentary on the art around them, though it relates back to the subjects they had just been speaking of. Finally, she says,

“I wasn’t aware you and he were well acquainted.” A question colors her voice despite the lack of upward inflection at the end of her sentence.

GM: “We aren’t, personally, but I still know him fairly well.”

There’s a sardonic leer.

“He’s an idealist.”

Celia: Jade’s lips curl, an amused smirk gliding across her face.

“And what are you?”

GM: “Someone with open eyes.”

Celia: They reach the things that look like brooms. Jade tilts her head in quiet examination, finally flicking her eyes back toward Garcia.

“What do you see?”

GM: He shrugs. “I’m a photographer. Broomheads against a wall. Good shot, though if it wasn’t a good shot in a museum, the people responsible should be fired.”

“Symbolically, a look up close at domestic labor.”

“The silent worth and dignity inherent to the work.”

“A look up close at daily existence for the migrant maids in our houses.”

“I don’t think that’s what it’s actually ‘supposed’ to be about, to the artist, but what fucking ever. Stick some broomheads on a wall and you’ll get different opinions.”

Celia: She manages to contain her peal of laughter. It isn’t hard, being dead, but she touches her fingers to her lips anyway as if it might be stolen from her.

GM: He smirks. “So what do you see?”

Celia: “Disillusion.”

GM: “You should forget being a makeup artist. Be a broom artist. Stick a plaque saying ‘Disillusion’ under those and they’ll still mean a million things to people.”

“But a different million.”

Celia: She wasn’t talking about the brooms. But she smiles all the same.

“That’s the appeal of art, I believe.”

“The fact that it is subjective.”

She thinks, though, that her own art is less subjective, and perhaps his as well.

“I have seen some of your work, you know. Pictures are a thousand words and all that…” she pauses, offering him a small, private smile. “Yours, though, perhaps more.”

Unlike the elders of their clan, she does think photography is a valid format.

GM: Garcia smiles back. “That’s why I prefer photography. There’s subjectivity, but it’s over something tangible. Look at the picture of the lonely pretty girl. Is she ‘sad’ lonely, is she ‘wants to fuck’ lonely, or is she not actually lonely. How does the shot composition change which she seems like.”

Celia: “That is the trouble with those who simply pick up a camera to point and click, is it not? They give no thought to composition, framing, or lighting.”

“So we are inundated with photos, particularly now with the move to digital media, that fail to tell a story or move its viewers.”

She lifts one shoulder, a half-shrug to go with her wry smile. Perhaps she is wrong. She is, after all, one of those would-be photographers who takes pictures of her face to plaster them across the Internet.

“Have you dabbled in film at all?”

GM: “Sure. Digital didn’t exist when I started out. Everyone shot with film. Lots of photographers these days are all saying how great it is and how people should at least try shooting both to get a complete picture of photography as a practice.”

Celia: “My apologies, I meant more film in line with movies.”

GM: “Nope. Photography and movies are as different as drawing and sculpture. One uses two dimensions. The other uses three.”

“But as far as Facebook pictures, I don’t see those being less intelligent as a problem.”

“Any more than you probably see non-professionals being able to use makeup in their own homes as a problem.”

Celia: “How selfish of me if I did.”

GM: “Sexy women are always a little selfish.”

“Or a lot.”

Celia: That earns a smile.

“I hope you won’t tell on me.”

GM: “I’d rather show.”

She feels a hand idly caress her rear.

“And see.”

Celia: Expected. But thrilling, isn’t it, to know she can wrap them so quickly around her fingers. All the same, she’s too aware of how public this scene is, too aware of her lover in the next room, to let this go any further than what could be perceived as an accidental touch. She takes a tiny step closer, putting her hand on his shoulder as if to steady herself.

It tugs at her. The bond she has recently renewed with Roderick. She hardly thinks that canoodling here with Garcia is going to do any favors for her in that regard, despite how it adds to their cover. This is who Jade is: flirty, sexy, social butterfly, flitting from group to group, chatting and laughing and touching. It’s who she has been for years. It’s who they expect to see.

Not monogamy. Does he expect it from her still? They hadn’t had that talk. She thinks that he does. She blames him, really, for this show here in the corner with Garcia. If he hadn’t approached, hadn’t spoken to her, she wouldn’t have had to move off with someone else. But people watching—people are always watching—will know that the Brujah means nothing to her. Safer that way, even if it threatens to pull apart that thing in the middle of her chest.

She could whisper the words that Garcia expects to hear. Agreement. Encouragement. They would fall from her lips like the well-practiced lies that they are. After all, she’s played this game for a long time. She knows what to say to get their blood pumping, even if it’s a forced gesture from their kind.

She could, but she doesn’t.

After a brief moment Jade extricates herself from Garcia, giggling about public spaces.

GM: “Hate to see you leave, but love to watch you go,” he smirks after her.

Jade leaves and goes to find her grandsire. She finds him conversing with Coco Duquette over a piece of art depicting a chained man struggling to burst the links of his fetters. The two elders’ faces are smiles (wider in Savoy’s case), but beneath the surface meanings and artistic critiques, one can see their debate over the meaning of the man’s struugle is a battle of words over whether Vidal’s reign can hope to endure. Whether its ‘chains’ will be shattered by time and struggle. Spectators from both sides of the political divide watch the debate avidly.

“With respect, my lord, this debate accomplishes little,” Preston interjects. “We hide behind nuances and doubletalk when we should simply say what we mean: the prince has slaughtered over a dozen Kindred on the last occasion he went out in public. How many more unlives will he destroy before torpor claims him?”

Scandalized looks and furtive whispers greet the Malkavian’s open declaration.

Savoy raises his eyebrows.

The French Quarter lord offers her several conversational outs to downplay the severity of her words. Preston ignores them all, stating, “We all know it. An archon was even here for several nights. The justicars sent North to evaluate the situation. Even they believe things have gotten out of hand under Prince Vidal’s rule. If we do not resolve the situation, a justicar may do it for us.”

Louder sounds of offense go up at the Malkavian’s words.

Pierpont McGinn raises his eyebrows and smirks at his lover Adelais.

Celia: Ballsy, some part of her thinks.

Suicidal, whispers another.

Amongst the crowd, Jade watches the play between Savoy and his steward, biting her tongue to keep from interjecting her unwanted neonate opinion into… into what, she’s not sure. A ploy to make Savoy look more moderate? A sacrificial offering of the Malkavian to the powers-that-be?

She doubts that this is anything but scripted.

GM: The scent of blood in the water, though, swiftly draws sharks. Marguerite and Veronica both appear alongside Adelais. Benson and Doriocourt bring up the rear guard. It’s just as two of the harpies begin to ‘converse’ with Preston that Savoy interjects, and calmly brings up how the Malkavian has some pressing civic affairs in the French Quarter to attend to—he supposes he’ll be joining her shortly as well.

Preston mutely inclines her head and departs the Elysium.

Whispers blossom up like weeds in her wake.

Celia: Her desires with the halls of Elysium suddenly seem less pressing than the bomb that Savoy and Preston just dropped upon the city’s Kindred.

And here she is with the detonator.

She watches Preston go, listening to the buzz of whispers around her, watching the faces of the Kindred in the crowd to find those who seem more receptive than derisive of the Malkavian’s bold words. It would be easy to titter with the others and make “she’s finally showing her crazy” jokes, but Jade has another play in mind.

At last she turns to the lick who stands beside her, one Reynaldo Gui, and says to him the words that are sure to have even more people talking.

“I hope he isn’t too harsh with her. When I met with Archon North he implied the same.” Quietly, but who is she kidding? This is Elysium. Everyone hears everything in Elysium.

GM: True to Jade’s expectation, quite a few Kindred are tittering and making “finally showing her crazy” jokes. Some are wittier than others. Adelais’ icy barbs and Marguerite’s droll observations both draw laughter. Elmhearst’s mean cracks draw less. Roderick rationally points out that Preston is as crazy as any other Malk. A few members of the Moon Clan seem indignant, but they’re mostly younger ones. Harlequin only titters and makes references as to Preston’s “enlightenment.” The older ones never see their crazy as a curse.

Gui raises an eyebrow. “Oh, you met the archon?”

Nearby Kindred talking amongst themselves make only the vaguest pretense of not listening in over that tidbit.

Celia: Jade doesn’t make a spectacle of nodding. The movement itself is tiny, as if she doesn’t realize that others are listening.

“I did. He asked to meet with me.” She’d positively preen if she weren’t in the middle of Elysium. As it is, she doesn’t even allow herself a satisfied smile. “We had a very illuminating discussion. We met in Faubourg Marigny, at the Carnival Club.” Sundown’s domain. Neutral territory. “Have you been there? It’s lovely.” Idle words, or a glowing recommendation.

GM: “I have. The Afterhours King knows how to throw a party.” The Ventrue smiles faintly. “You also thought the archon was there to evaluate the city’s situation for the Camarilla?”

Celia: Jade leans in, lowering her voice further.

“He mentioned that he was interested in taking action against a problem in the city.”

GM: That draws even more glances and whispers.

“He left pretty soon afterwards,” says Gui. “The Tremere seem like they have a lot on their minds these days, I suppose. Maybe there’ll be another archon.”

“Or maybe he addressed the problem already,” speculates Anthony Brodowski.

Celia: “Perhaps,” Jade says to Anthony. “Only, well… he was most eager to meet with Lord Savoy, and it was so soon before he left…”

It’s clear by her tone, though: whatever drew the Tremere archon away from the city, it wasn’t that the issue was dealt with.

GM: “So he wanted to meet with Lord Savoy. But I don’t think he met with the prince, did he?” asks Gui.

“It’s possible they did in private,” says Brodowski.

“That would be quite the snub if our prince didn’t,” says Gui.

“It’s also possible North isn’t an archon any longer. There’d be no snub then,” says Brodowski.

Celia: “I doubt the prince wanted to meet with him after how he greeted Lord Savoy.” Right in the center of Elysium, for the whole city to hear: Lord.

After all, if the prince let off a known headhunter simply because he was a clanmate and old friend and searches for any excuse to slaughter his enemies under the vaguest of pretenses, why would he care about offending an archon?

There’s a word for that. It starts with “tyrant.”

“Besides,” she continues, “he was looking for an assistant specifically within the city. I highly doubt that’s the sort of thing an ex-archon needs.”

What’s that called? Server? Servant?

Servire. That’s the one.

GM: “The prince still granted North permission to remain in the city on a provisional basis,” says Brodowski. “I don’t think he was happy over the breach in etiquette, but it was a more measured response than simply throwing him out. Or doing what the Southron Lords did and shipping pieces of him back to his justicar by railroad.”

“Mmm,” Gui agrees noncommittally. “A servire, though? That’s interesting. I wonder who he had his eye on.”

The Ventrue smiles like it’s not obvious. A few more Kindred talking among themselves try not to look equally obvious in their glances towards Jade.

Celia: She knew she liked the cowboy for a reason.

She smiles prettily for him, making the same sort of noncommittal sound at Anthony’s words.

GM: “I don’t envy them,” says Brodowski. “Tremere archons blood bond all of their servires.”

“Whoever they might serve before, they serve the Tremere clan after they swear their oath.”

Celia: Jade slides her tongue across the long fangs in her mouth, as if she doesn’t mind the thought of sinking them into the very, very handsome archon she’d took a spin on the dance floor with.

He’s reaching, anyway. The archons bond their ghouls. And the servires generally only serve for a specific instance.

But whatever makes the little boy happy, she supposes.

“I guess that prospect should make the most of their remaining time as a free agent.” Sarcasm? From Jade? Never.

Jade turns an appraising eye to Gui. She lifts a brow, head canting to one side. Her eyes flick toward the exit. “I suppose we’ll hear all about it tomorrow. But if you’re free this evening…”

Tomorrow. Lord Savoy’s Elysia. In case the licks behind any of those not-so-subtle looks directed her way want to swing by and see what passes for a fun time in the Quarter.

GM: It’s rare that Lord Savoy’s court fails to draw invitees, but perhaps tomorrow it will draw still more.

“I can always find time for a beautiful woman,” smiles Gui. He nods towards his clanmate. “Mr. Brodowski, a pleasure as always.”

“Likewise, Mr. Gui, Miss Kalani.”

Celia: “Good evening, Mr. Brodowski.” Jade inclines her head toward the Ventrue, a pleasant smile on her lips. It widens when she returns her gaze to Gui and the two of them start toward the door.

GM: She espies Roderick and Abraham Garcia engaged in a debate over an art piece as they leave. It sounds heated.

Onlookers watch with looks amusement and entertainment.

Celia: Interesting indeed.

Jade gives a gentle tug on Gui’s arm, nodding toward the bickering couple. She smirks at him, lifting her brows in amusement, and drifts that way.

GM: He looks equally amused and drifts over to watch. Roderick does not look happy at the mafioso’s presence, but doesn’t let it distract him from Garcia as the verbal arrows fly.

Things start to get personal when Roderick accuses the Toreador (in barely veiled terms) of being a sellout who’s compromised all his principles and Garcia accuses the Brujah of being a privileged elder’s pet.

Celia: She should have expected this.

Maybe she did expect this.

Because it’s not as if she doesn’t know what this is about: Garcia grabbing her ass. She’d wondered what would come of it. Had expected a private argument between the pair of them later this evening. Maybe a beating. But the way Roderick is going on… she sees the logical end result: challenging Garcia to a duel.

Over her.

Some part of her is flattered. Isn’t this every girl’s fantasy, a boy she likes challenging another boy over her? Her honor, or his honor, or someone’s honor.

In her dreams it had always been Roderick and her sire, and the winner would get to have her hand in marriage.

Her dreams are very sexist and archaic like that.

She supposes that Gui’s presence does little to calm the Brujah. She wishes he were anyone else. And that there weren’t any harpies around to watch this little tiff. But she does what she can, because she loves the poor sap arguing in front of her, and she’s not going to let him get humiliated if he loses to Garcia.

“I love their passion,” Jade murmurs to Gui. “What do you think has him all riled up? Do you think it’s a lover’s spat? Something like that I’d save for the bedroom, but… well, this is terribly amusing.”

She rakes her gaze down the Brujah’s form.

“I heard,” she continues to the Ventrue, “that he recently took out a whole cell of hunters by himself. Middle of the day and everything.”

That asshole Chris had been all but crowing about it to anyone that would listen.

Her tongue runs along the sharp points of her fangs. Maybe she’s thinking about asking him to show her what’s underneath that suit of his.

GM: She supposes her mom and dad would both approve of those dreams.

Well, her dad would probably still find something wrong with them.

Celia: That’s okay, Savoy walks her down the aisle and gives her away in those dreams.

GM: Laughter goes up from some nearby Kindred. Some eyes cut towards the present harpy, Katherine Beaumont.

“I didn’t figure them for an item,” Tina Baker remarks amusedly.

“Opposites attract,” says Frank Larsen.

“Oh, it’s true, he did,” remarks Amaryllis DeCuir, who was has not directly spoken to her pretend-sister since before the trial. “Whole cell of hunters. Jumped him in his haven and everything.”

“Did you, neonate? Tell us of this,” Katherine Beaumont requests.

“Yes, let’s hear it in Elysium if it’s already being told on the streets,” echoes Elyse Benson.

Roderick doesn’t look thrilled to be put on the spot, but goes on, “So it started when…”

Maxzille Babineaux approaches her sire and starts talking him with about other art. He takes the window to avoid a duel with the angry Brujah.

Gui smirks and heads off, clearly expecting Jade to follow if she’s already heard the story.

Elyse’s eyes briefly meet Jade’s before returning to Roderick’s.

Celia: She’d give a nod to Elyse on her way out, but the Malkavian has wanted to keep their association under the radar.

GM: She’d said the maintenance work on Lucy would be done soon.

Celia: Jade will need to pencil in a visit, then. She misses the doll something fierce.

Satisfied, Jade leaves Roderick to look like the hero while she slinks away, content with her role with… well, whatever this makes her.

GM: Perhaps a puppeteer. Someone who pulls strings from the shadows, where no one can see and no one can hurt her, because to do good is to look weak.

Perhaps that simply makes her another Kindred.

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