Campaign of the Month: October 2017

Blood & Bourbon

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Story Eleven, Caroline XI

“We’re all the fucking bad guys here.”
Jocelyn Baker

Monday night, 29 February 2016, AM

GM: Caroline’s phone rings. It’s Jocelyn.

“So, uh… I’m doing what you suggested.”

“I broke the news to Gwen. About Evan.”

There’s a pause.

“We have a problem. A big problem.”

Caroline: “What problem?”

GM: An address appears in her text messages.

“Come over here. You… you have to see it to believe it. And I sure as fuck don’t want anyone else to.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I’ll be over as soon as I can.”

GM: “Okay. See you in a bit.”

Caroline: The address is for an apartment complex in the CBD, along with a unit number.

The Ventrue gathers her ‘entourage’, those on call for the evening, and a few items as well and heads out for the evening with Widney, Fuller, and Green, her curiosity piqued.

GM: Jocelyn actually texts her about that a little while later. Don’t bring your GI Joe renfields. The redhead, whatshername, might be handy.

Wasn’t she a Krewe cleaner?

Yeah she might be

Caroline: Caroline scowls. She’s asked Jocelyn to lay off on the Kindred-specific references on the phone before.

I’ll be there soon. Will call her in if we need her, she replies noncommittally.

While Green drives she pulls up the address Jocelyn sent on her phone, digging into its history.

GM: Julia Row of the Thirteen Sisters was built in 1832-33 as a speculative development, or so Zillow tells the Ventrue. Upon its completion, “Julia Row became one of the most affluent addresses in the American Sector.” Each three-story house with attic and three-story service wing was a single-family residence that architect Alexander Thompson Wood designed in a transitional Federal to Greek Revival style. However, that was clearly all a very long time ago, given that rents now start at $1,350 a month. The 13 “sisters” have since been renovated into single- and two-bedroom apartment units.

Caroline: It’s interesting, though not as much as who owns it now, and whether it’s appeared in the news recently. Caroline appreciates the ‘news’ column of Google.

GM: Caroline sees no recent news. The building is owned by a real estate company based out of Dallas.

Caroline: She has Green circle the block looking for anything that jumps out before she pulls over to let the rest of the group out.

GM: “Hey, look at those shades,” the ex-SWAT observes. “Little different make than the others.”

Caroline: “Good eye,” she compliments, studying the apartment in question.

GM: It matches the floor Jocelyn said to meet her at.

It’s a short ways up to the apartment. Caroline passes one or two people leaving or going up to the units, but nothing gets in her way. She knocks. There’s a shadow behind the peephole, then Jocelyn pulls it open.

“Okay, glad you’re here.” She looks at Widney. “Thought I said to bring the redhead? The butler girl’s not really gonna be helpful.”

Widney merely remains at silent, studious attention.

Caroline: Caroline smirks. “Don’t underestimate her.”

GM: Jocelyn closes the door behind them. “Gwen, she’s here.”

The one-bedroom apartment’s non-bedroom area looks like most any other twenty-something’s. IKEA furniture, a TV, some rugs and posters for Christian bands. Microwave and fridge by the stove and sink. Not really any food out.

“Gwen!” Jocelyn calls.

There’s the sound of running water from the bedroom, then Gwen steps out. It’s been a long time since Caroline saw her in person: the last time was the hand-off between her and Eight-Nine-Six in City Park, in fact, what feels like a lifetime ago. Gwen is a pudgy girl with a somewhat sad face, large bust, and shoulder-length black hair. Winters in New Orleans are mild enough affairs, and she already has on a spring-appropriate striped top, dark skirt, and silver crucifix earrings.

Her eyes are dry enough. But Caroline can still smell the wiped-off coppery tang.

When she sees the Ventrue, she stops in mid-stride, traces the sign of a lance, and starts whispering prayers.

“Look, relax, we’re… gonna take care of this,” Jocelyn says.

But her voice sounds flat.

“The… in the bedroom still,” Gwen says quietly.

She closes her eyes.

“Oh Longinus, Longinus, Longinus…”

Caroline: “What happened?” Caroline demands, her hackles rising.

GM: Jocelyn just points at the door.

“You… you have to see it.”

Widney looks between the vampires, but remains silent.

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes narrow. “Jocelyn, where did we meet?”

GM: “At church,” she says. “We didn’t really talk until we were outside though.”

The Toreador frowns a bit. “Why do you ask?”

Gwen whispers more prayers.

Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes don’t change. “Because you’re acting really weird.”

“Because you’ve never asked me not to bring over a ghoul.”

GM: “I don’t want lots of renfields knowing about this!” Jocelyn hisses. “They won’t help, anyway. I mean… okay, I don’t even fucking know. But the GI Joes sure won’t. They can’t… just shoot this.”

Jocelyn looks as if she’s about to say more, then just shakes her head and pulls open the bedroom door.

It’s a comfortable enough-looking bedroom. The oversized bed takes up well over half the space. It’s white, with fat comforters, lots of pillows and smaller blankets, the sort of bed someone could just drown themselves in. There’s a Sanctified lance mounted above the bed, along with a cross. The nearby shelves have a few books, and a wood letter carving that reads “LOVE,” but they’re mostly taken up by an enormous collection of stuffed animals, including everything from teddy bears to bunnies to a cartoon vampire with a cape and widow’s peek. There’s a placard on the bedside table along with an unlit candle holster.

The first thing Caroline’s eye falls upon, though, is the small yet heavily pregnant Latina girl tied spread-eagled to each of the bed’s four posts. Her swollen belly stands out all the more against her petite frame. She’s blindfolded, thrashing deliriously, and making muffled sounds of panic past a cloth gag. There’s blood all over her face and torn clothes.

Jocelyn stares at the bound figure, her eyes flaring.

Gwen buries her face in her hands.

Jocelyn is silent for a moment.

“Taste her, Caroline.”

Caroline: The Ventrue runs a finger along the woman’s bloody clothes and holds it to her tongue.

GM: She tastes the diluted tang of the same vitae that’s inside Widney.

“That’s not a ghoul,” Jocelyn whispers.

Her chest rises and falls as she takes needless heaving breaths.

Caroline: “She tastes like one,” Caroline replies.

GM: “It tastes like it,” Jocelyn repeats. “But it is fucking not.”

The Toreador looks almost sick.

Caroline: “What the fuck do you mean it’s not?” Caroline asks.

GM: “It’s…”

Jocelyn waves a disbelieving hand.

The bound figure gives a muffled wail and thrashes against her bonds.

Caroline: She looks at Gwen. “What the hell did you do?”

GM: “I… I didn’t try to!” Gwen exclaims. Her face is a mask of horror. “I… I thought I was…”

“You thought WRONG!” Jocelyn flares.

Caroline: The Ventrue turns away. “Jesus…” she mutters, firing off a text to her security ghouls to wave them off.

GM: Widney stares at the bound woman uncertainly, but continues to hold her tongue.

Caroline: She looks back to the bound Latina. “You tried to Embrace her?”

GM:Tried,” Jocelyn repeats.

There’s numbness in her voice.

And disgust.

Caroline: She looks at Gwen. “What the hell were you thinking?”

GM: Red leaks from the other Toreador’s eyes. “I… I didn’t mean…”

Caroline: “What did you mean to do?” she asks angrily.

GM: “It was EVAN!” Gwen sobs, burying her face in her hands again.

“I… I was…”

The red flows freely.

“I m-m-missed h… him…”

Caroline: “A pregnant girl!?” Caroline all but snarls.

GM: Gwen’s bloody tears flow. “I didn’t mean to! I… I didn… I jus…”

“Caroline…” Jocelyn’s voice has dropped to a whisper. “I don’t know if that’s…”

Jocelyn just points at the woman’s swollen belly.

“…even dead.”

The Toreador looks nauseous.

Caroline: “Just…” Caroline wants to vomit. “Start at the beginning with what happened and why. We’ll deal with what to do about after you explain how we got here.”

GM: “I… it was, was Evan, and how…”

Gwen stares at the girl.

“The living room could be a better place, ma’am,” Widney offers quietly.

Caroline: Caroline looks at the girl again, then nods. “Yeah…”

She closes the door on the scene of horror.

GM: Her last sight over the blindfolded girl’s frantic, muffled sobs is of her enormous belly rolling back and forth over the bloody, foul-smelling sheets.

Back and forth.

Back and forth.

Caroline: Caroline is grateful, not for the first time, that she’s dead. If she were alive she’d have puked already. She doesn’t know how Widney is keeping it together.

GM: Her resume did commend her level head. Then again, perhaps it’s simple ignorance. Autumn was supposed to debrief her on Kindred physiology, but the two ghouls haven’t ever gotten along.

The four sit down.

“She didn’t even go apeshit,” Jocelyn says flatly. “Oh, I mean, I’m sure she’s scared and pissed and… and everything as all hell. But she wasn’t an animal. Not like we get. I know the difference.”

Caroline: “Just…” the Ventrue shakes her head. “Just start talking, Gwen..”

GM: “And being tied up like that? I, you, we could all burst out, easy, if we burned enough juice.”

Caroline: “She’s a thin-blood,” Caroline agrees numbly with Jocelyn. “Gwen, I don’t hear you talking.”

GM: “I…” Gwen starts haplessly, wringing her hands.

Caroline: “No,” Caroline cuts her off. “Stop wringing your damned hands.”

“You own this. So own it.”

GM: Gwen says nothing for a moment, then sets them down.

“It was… Jocelyn told me, that Evan was… that he really was…”

Red leaks from the Toreador’s eyes.

“It… it was like, like a hole… he knew me… he… he really knew me…”

“Yeah, Houston, we know that, Gwen,” Jocelyn interrupts.

“N… no… no, you don’t… not l… like… he…”

The Toreador just weeps red. Her top is a mess.

Jocelyn fills the moment as she does. “You can see why I said the GI Joes wouldn’t be any help, now?”

Caroline: “I think that one might be a matter of opinion,” Caroline replies more sharply than she means.

GM: “Seriously though, call your little Krewe cleaner already. Maybe she…” Jocelyn motions, “I don’t know, has seen this before?”

Caroline: She looks back at Gwen. “You were lonely, we get it. Then what? Who is she and what did you intend on doing to her?”

GM: “Well what the fuck do you want them to do, bravely defend us against that… that…” Jocelyn says, then just settles for, “that might not even have fangs!?”

Caroline: “No, that wasn’t what I meant at all,” comes Caroline’s cold reply.

GM: “I don’t know if she even has any! I seriously don’t!”

“Her… her name’s Natalia, Garcia…” Gwen speaks up. “I mean, Natalie. Or was it…"

“You turned her into… and you don’t even know her name!?” Jocelyn scoffs.

Gwen closes her eyes. “I wasn’t, thinking…”

“Yeah, I’ll say.”

“I… I wish I hadn’t…”

Jocelyn looks like she’s about to say something, as if there’s a thousand things she could say, and then just doesn’t.

Caroline: “So what did you intend on doing, Gwen.”

Convince me that I shouldn’t cut your fucking head off for this one.

GM: “I was just, I was just… talking with her. I met her at, and we just… talked. About families. Our families.”

“She’s got a… a really big family. They were all really happy when she got pregnant, they weren’t mad, even though she’s young, and they want to help her with the baby, so she can keep going to college…”

Caroline: The words ‘loose ends’ scramble across Caroline’s consciousness despite all desires to the contrary.

GM: “She said her sister’s in politics, and really pretty, and her husband’s a vet… and that he really wants… for the baby…”

More red wells from her eyes.

“I… I wanted kids… lots of kids… and her family, it sounded so… so… I… I don’t know what, but I was… crying, and she was hugging me, and… she was so warm, so nice, and I could feel the baby kicking… and I wanted… I just wanted… I was so sad, and…”

“You lost it,” Jocelyn says slowly. “She just got too close, when you were…” the Toreador motions halfheartedly. “And you just lost it.”

The words aren’t understanding. Or even, in fact, recriminating. Just flat.

“And you attacked her.”

“N… no!” Gwen protests, wiping at her eyes. “I didn’t, I was just… just, being… it was the Beast…”

She traces a lance.

“Oh, Longinus, forgive me…”

Caroline remembers another individual speaking similar words. More eloquently. More knowingly. All-too knowingly.

Or maybe it’s nothing so strategic but was an act of poisoned passion. He could have seen you, been totally ignorant of your name and birthright, just seen your beauty and been swallowed up with lust and terrible loneliness.

Caroline: “And when you came to she was so very still, so you tried to put the pieces back together,” Caroline fills in.

GM: “I…” Gwen says unsurely. “Maybe? I guess, that makes sense.”

Caroline: “What do you mean, maybe? Did she trip, fall, and land on your vitae?”

GM: “I don’t know! It was… I was so…”

“She sounds as if she was very distressed at the time, ma’am,” Widney interjects quietly.

Caroline: ""And if she’s maimed some random person that would be one thing," Caroline replies with icy patience. “Instead she put her poison in that girl, and into her child, but couldn’t even do that right.”

She looks at Jocelyn. “And then presumably called you?”

GM: “Sort of…” Jocelyn says. “She called me, yeah.”

“She had the body in a bathtub.”

Caroline: Dread fills Caroline.

GM: ""She was a wreck. The body, it’d… been there, all night. All day. For god knows how long. And then it…" she finishes lamely, “wasn’t a body. We tied her down, then I… called you. And here we are.”

Seriously, call your little Krewe cleaner already. I’m paranoid we might’ve…” Jocelyn gestures. “This is a mess. Fuck, what if the Krewe knows already!”

Gwen looks horrified at the thought. “Oh… oh god, you’re right, they’re everywhere…”

But it doesn’t look like a new one.

Caroline: “What do you want her to tell you? That there’s some fix for this? You murdered a girl that people are sure as fuck going to look for. You murdered her child. Then you Embraced her with your weak blood,” Caroline spits out. “There is no easy fix for this.”

GM: Gwen’s face doesn’t look like it could look much lower.

Jocelyn heaves a needless sigh.

“Given these facts and circumstances, ma’am, what is the ideal outcome we would like to achieve?” asks Widney, seemingly uncertain of the full nuances of what’s happened, but wanting to start planning and organizing.

Caroline: Caroline looks at Gwen and her Beast roars out into the crying Toreador’s mind. “Do as I say. Stop crying and sit there.”

GM: Gwen stops crying as her face goes blank.

“What the fuck!?” Jocelyn exclaims.

Caroline: Caroline turns to her lover. “Widney is right. You need to start thinking very carefully about what you want out of this, Jocelyn, because this isn’t some minor fuck up.”

GM: “She wasn’t getting in the way!” Jocelyn gapes. “Okay, fine, she was weepy, but you don’t need to turn her into a ’bot!”

Caroline: “She doesn’t need to remember this conversation,” Caroline replies firmly.

GM: “So, what, you want her to forget the whole ‘thin-blood in her bedroom’ too?!”

“And wow, if that isn’t the most Ventrue shit I’ve heard all year! What the fuck! I thought your butler was right about planning, and… we didn’t even plan, anything! You just turned her into a ’bot!”

Caroline: “No, I want you to decide if someone that murdered a pregnant girl then Embraced her as a thin-blood is someone you want to risk your Requiem for, because right now you’re an accessory to her crime.”

The Ventrue’s tone is viciously cold, like stone pried from the earth after a thousand years, but Jocelyn knows her well enough to know what it hides: anger.

GM: Seeing that look in her lover’s eyes, Jocelyn falters for a moment.

“Look, I just… couldn’t we have just, talked it out, first?”

Caroline: “She doesn’t get a vote,’” comes Caroline’s oh-so-cool response.

GM: “She brought us in! Okay, she screwed up, huge, but… so have you! She wants to fix things, even if… fuck if I know how.”

Caroline: “_She murdered a pregnant girl because her life sounded too nice,”_ the Ventrue grinds out between clenched teeth. “And then illicitly Embraced her and her unborn child for her trouble.”

The Ventrue’s fists clench as she grinds out those words.

GM: “It… it happens! You should know, I thought your sire Embraced you under pretty sketchy… look, fuck, we’ve all fucked up! Just give her a chance to help, even if she’s crying a lot, please?”

Widney remains silent and still throughout the argument between the two vampires.

Caroline: “Yeah,” Caroline replies, her volume increasing. “I you might even say I’m an expert on being fucking horribly murdered for no reason other than someone else’s pettiness then given someone’s vitae.”

She gestures at Gwen. “SHE is not the fucking victim here.”

GM: “I didn’t say that,” Jocelyn says quietly. “Yeah, she fucked up. She killed someone. Worse than killed someone. Two someones.”

Caroline: “That girl is the victim in there, and the only reason I haven’t shoved a stake in her,” Caroline gestures to Gwen again. “And dragged her in front of the prince is because it was you that called me.”

GM: Jocelyn looks about to start again, then settles for, “Look. We’re all sinners. We could all do that. Pot, kettle, black. We’re all the fucking bad guys here.”

“Just let her out of bot mode, Caroline. She hasn’t screwed up the damage control beyond crying a lot.”

Caroline: Caroline folds her arms. “So what is damage control here, Jocelyn? Are we trying to lessen the blow when it hits her, or are we trying to this,” she gestures to the other room, “up?”

GM: “I don’t know, Caroline. I’m just saying you don’t need to mindfuck her before we’ve even made up our minds what to do! Let her go, all right?”

“And just to pitch things from the Ventrue angle, she can’t owe you big for this if she doesn’t even remember you showing up.”

Caroline: Caroline’s eyes flicker with anger again. “I don’t give a damn about her owing me. I care about what you want to do, Jocelyn, because when you talk about what to do, there’s really two options.”

“You turn her in,” she gestures to Gwen, “and she begs for mercy but probably gets executed. Or,” she gestures to the closed bedroom door, “you start plotting how you’re going to dispose of that girl and her child. How you’re going to destroy them and cover up Gwen’s crime.”

GM: “What?!” Jocelyn exclaims. “No, No, there’s-”

“Ma’am, what are all of the possible options here that occur to you?” Widney ventures quietly.

Jocelyn closes her mouth for a moment.

“What are all of the things you can think to do, at least right now?” Widney continues.

“Okay, so…” Jocelyn starts. “Well, there’s confession. You tell your crime to a priest and you get off easier. I mean, the prince… has forgiven Embraces like that before. When you confess.”

She frowns. “But… the thin-blooded part… adds a wrinkle. That makes this a lot worse. I mean, I think? Maybe he’d kill…” Jocelyn gestures to the bedroom, “and spare Gwen.”

Caroline: “They cause problems,” Caroline replies bluntly.

GM: “Though there’s also…” Jocelyn trails off, then glares, “Okay, if you’re mindscrewing Gwen, you’re DEFINITELY mindscrewing the renfield. She doesn’t need to hear all of this. Can’t hear all of this.”

Widney gives a faint but indignant frown.

Caroline: “Widney, please go check on the girl. If you can calm her down, the better,” Caroline replies. “I don’t imagine she’s going to be especially welcoming to that, but someone explaining something to her, or even talking to her, I suspect might help some with the terror she feels right now.”

GM: “I’ll do my best, ma’am,” Widney replies, rising to her feet.

The sounds start again, when she opens the door. The gagged cries. Then they mute as she closes it.

Jocelyn looks after the door for a moment.


She shakes her head.

“Just, Jesus.”

Caroline: Caroline is silent for a moment.


GM: “Everyone goes on about how we’re damned, but… god. Just imagine waking up as one of… those. Not even a real vampire. Just some… abortion that couldn’t even die right.”

Gwen just stares blankly ahead. Jocelyn has stopped looking at her.

Caroline: “I was talking about it with Garcia a while back. He mentioned some of them don’t even have fangs, many don’t, but they still have to suck down blood.”

GM: Jocelyn makes a face of disgust.

Caroline: “And the baby?” She shakes her head gravely. “The best case is that it’s dead.”

GM: “Is… that how it even works?” Jocelyn asks uncertainly. “I’ve heard some… really weird stories about them. Like, they can walk in the sun, eat, shit, and… have kids.”

Caroline: “I mean, thin blood is…. weird, but usually if you introduce the blood to a pregnant woman in any way, she miscarries. There’s some horror stories out there about it becoming a little vampire fetus, clawing its way out of the mother… but I haven’t heard any good ones.”

GM: “God, a… vampire fetus? Yeah, that’s a pretty… wow. And I thought the licks Embraced as little kids were creepy.”

“There’s one in my clan. He looks like he’s in middle school. Feels kinda… off.”

Caroline: Caroline shivers. “I don’t even want to think about that.”

“But we still don’t have an answer.”

GM: “Well, middle school licks seem pretty tame next to… yeah.”

Jocelyn looks at the bedroom door.

“I hear there’s supposed to be a bunch more thin-bloods these days. Nights. That they call themselves ‘duskborn’, even, to be proud. I think that’s one of the things Meadows does, though. Kills them where she finds them.”

Caroline: “Bad for the Masquerade,” Caroline replies bitterly.

GM: “Sally told me scourges used to be kinda rare, but there’s been a bunch since the ’90s when thin-bloods really started cropping up. Guess our city was ahead of the curve.”

Jocelyn looks grim.

“It’s… hard to see a happy ending for her. Vidal says thin-bloods are all vermin.”

Caroline: “I mean, think how hard it is to maintain your Masquerade, then imagine doing it with half your gifts?”

GM: “Yeah.”

Caroline: “How difficult it would be for her to feed without making a mess.”

GM: “Though I guess easier in some ways, like if they can walk in the day. I hear some of them even age, like kine. They actually get older. Some super fast.”

Caroline: “Lots of rumors,” Caroline replies, “not a lot of facts.”

“Guess that’s what happens when the official policy is to kill them.”

GM: “Yeah, I guess.” Jocelyn looks thoughtful. “Though… not everywhere, from what I hear. There’s supposed to be a bunch in the French Quarter. Because there’s just so many licks there, all crowded in, with already weak blood. And I guess they get sloppy. And Savoy I guess isn’t really… murder gung ho, like the prince.”

Jocelyn looks thoughtful at that declaration.

Caroline: “Don’t even think about it,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Caroline, she…”

Jocelyn eyes the door.

“God, I don’t know. It seems horrible just to be one of them. But… there’s supposed to be a lot of them, out there. I guess they just… exist, like anything.”

Caroline: Caroline shakes her head. “It’s not enough to exist. Not when you cause as much misery by simply by doing so as we do.”

GM: “It seems kinda like we should ash ourselves if we wanna ash them, honestly. I mean, total heresy, ruin your rep thing to say. I wonder how many people they kill next to us though. I mean, I guess they get up to all sorts of crap, but it must be actually hard for them to kill normal breathers, because they’re so weak.”

She shivers. “God though, I’m glad my sire had stronger blood than Gwen’s. I would not want to be one of them. Or to make one.”

Caroline: Caroline shuffles uncomfortably. “There’s a lot that I disagree with the Sanctified on, Jocelyn… issues I have with the faith, with how it does things, but there’s one thing I can agree with completely. If there isn’t some purpose to this existence, if there isn’t some value in it, we’re all just monsters that deserve to burn.”

GM: “Doesn’t she have a purpose, though? With that big family, and the husband?”

“God, she can’t even really hunt sinners, can she? No wonder the prince just wants to kill them all.”

Caroline: “I tend to give the benefit of the doubt to the guy that’s been doing this for a thousand years,” Caroline replies quietly.

GM: Jocelyn looks uncomfortable.

“Caroline, I’ve killed people. We… we all have. I hear there’s some holy order of ‘Kindred virgins’ who haven’t, but… well, I don’t know any.”

Caroline: Caroline’s killed. She can still remembers faces, but the list of names has gotten so long she had to write it down.

GM: “But it’s never been… like this’d be. Just handing someone over. Knowing they’ll die.” She thinks. “I hear the Anarchs are supposed to be less… kill-happy with thin-bloods.”

Caroline: “It’s called responsibility,” Caroline replies aloofly. “All your other murders…. well, that was the Beast, or it was in the service of god, right? This one… well… we own that. It’s a whole different thing to kill someone with intent.”

Caroline should know.

GM: “Maybe we could try with them?” the Toreador offers. “I mean, at least look into some options?”

Caroline: “Any option that doesn’t involve Gwen in front of the seneschal is one that puts your Requiem…. and mine on the line,” Caroline points out.

GM: “What if no one saw? I don’t think the Krewe is actually everywhere. They can’t be.”

Caroline: “They’re not,” Caroline replies. “But they’re in enough places. Someone would see her. She’d eventually come before someone. And does Gwen seem like a bundle of stability to you right now? Like she’s going to keep a nice lid on things?”

“You know what the ‘right’ answer is.”

GM: “I haven’t even told Roxanne yet,” Jocelyn says quietly. “About Evan. And this is what happened when I told Gwen.”

Caroline: Caroline puts a hand on Jocelyn’s. “I’m sorry…”

GM: Jocelyn leans against the taller Kindred’s arm. “I don’t even know how I’m gonna break this. Roxanne is going to just… go nuclear.”

Caroline: “You just do the best you can… and you keep doing the best you can, every night. Eventually it’s either enough, or…”

She doesn’t shrug with Jocelyn leaning on her, but she tilts her head as though she might.

GM: “Yeah… every night. Best you can.”

Jocelyn’s eyes are starting to look a little more resolute.

Caroline: “We just have to be grateful for what we have. That we’re not that girl…. god, I don’t even know where to start with her.”

GM: “I don’t wanna kill her, Caroline. Natalie. I’m just… I’m tired of always being the bad guy. Of things always being horrible. She’s… what she is, because of Evan, and what happened to him.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t agree, but doesn’t say as much.

GM: “Everything’s just gone completely to shit, since Evan left. Since he disappeared. Died. I’m just tired of that. Of everything getting worse, for everyone.”

Caroline: “Yeah… but…” Caroline interrupts gently.

“Did everything get worse just because he disappeared, or did it get worse in part because he isn’t here to make things better?”

GM: “Maybe both,” Jocelyn wonders. “I don’t know. I don’t really know what I believe now, either. About God. About the church. I just…” She looks tired. “I just don’t wanna kill someone, who doesn’t have to die. I don’t. It feels like… it feels like this is my first shot, to do something… right, since Evan. Actually right.”

Jocelyn rubs her head against Caroline’s shoulder.

“You’re smart. You’re strong. How could we pull this off?”

Caroline: “You’re assuming she’d even want to keep going,” Caroline points out gently.

GM: “Why don’t we ask her, then? Try taking out the gag?”

Caroline: “I’m willing to do that…. if nothing else, we could find out if she has any last wishes…. things she wants done.”

GM: “I don’t wanna kill her, Caroline…” Jocelyn repeats.

Caroline: “I know.” Caroline stands up, drawing Jocelyn with her. “Let’s go talk.”

GM: Jocelyn bites her lip. “Okay…”

Caroline: The Ventrue leads the Toreador back into Gwen’s bedroom, to the bound ‘girl.’

GM: The bedroom is much as they left it. The same huge bed with its overstuffed, overly many pillows and bedding items. The same stuffed animals and religious iconography.

The same heavily pregnant… girl, Kindred, in-between, tied down spread-eagled, over sheets that reek not just of blood, but other fluids… perhaps sweat.

She’s still gagged and blindfolded, but she isn’t struggling anymore. Widney looks up.

“I’ve been talking to her, ma’am. She’s calmed down, though I would not expect her to be completely rational.”

Caroline: “Good job,” Caroline praises the ghoul. The stink of the room is… almost unfamiliar. A reminder of things that seem so long past to Caroline.

She approaches the bound girl. “I’d like to talk with you. If I take the gag out, are you willing to do that?”

GM: There’s silence for a moment, and then a slow nod.

Caroline: “I know you must be very scared, and have a lot of questions,” Caroline continues, not yet removing the gag. “I’ll answer as many of them as I can.”

She waits another long moment, then reaches down to loosen the gag.

GM: The still-blindfolded woman gasps and works her jaw as the bunched-up dish towels come out. Her dusky skin lacks Caroline’s pallor, and gleams faintly with… perspiration? It could also just be the dried blood. Her black hair, worn in two knotted braids, looks frazzled and damp.

“Please… please let me go,” she begs. “I don’t know your names, your faces. I won’t tell anyone. I swear.”

Caroline: “I’d like to, but I have a few questions first, do you feel like you can answer those?” Caroline replies gently.

GM: She swallows.

“Y… yes.”

Caroline: “What’s the last thing you remember before waking up here?”

GM: “I… it’s so blurry…”

Caroline: “I know,” Caroline encourages, “but I need you to try.”

GM: “I was on campus, going… one of my professors had late office hours, I was asking about some assignments… I mean, an exam. There was… I had an appointment with my OB/GYN, during the exam, I wanted to see if I could take it early. The syllabus said we couldn’t do that, that we couldn’t reschedule exam dates. I still wanted to ask. He didn’t say yes, so I was going home, thinking about what to do next, and… it’s so blurry…”

Caroline: The words are daggers to Caroline. “I understand, that’s…. not unusual.”

It certainly wasn’t for her.

“Moving to the present, do you feel any… differently?”

GM: “I… I’m thirsty.”

Caroline: Caroline looks to Widney. “Can you get her a glass of water?”

GM: Her voice drops to a low whine.

“I’m thirsty…”

Widney returns after a brief moment with a glass of water. She holds it to the bound woman’s lips.

She drinks.




Jocelyn stares with something between pity, revulsion, and morbid fascination.

Caroline: Caroline waits for her to finish, then asks, “Is that better?”

GM: “I… yes, but I’m still…”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip and looks at Widney. “Do you mind? I’ll give you some back as soon as we leave.”

GM: “Ah. You mean, ma’am…”

Widney doesn’t say what it is.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods and gestures for Widney to offer up her wrist to Caroline. She knows her domitor’s teeth are sharper, neater, than any knife.

GM: The majordomo’s expression remains mostly level as she holds up her wrist.

Caroline: Caroline’s fangs punch two neat holes in the shorter woman’s wrist, and she sucks on it for just a moment, just enough to get the blood flowing and cover up the pain of the wound with an instant of the ecstasy of the kiss, before she relinquishes it.

GM: Widney closes her eyes for a moment. Her mouth opens, just a bit, and her cheeks redden as she feels the Ventrue’s kiss take so-brief hold.

She slowly moves her bleeding wrist over the glass and lets the red flow.

The two—and a half?—vampires watch it.

Smell it.

Slowly fill up.

Caroline: Caroline nods. “That’s enough.”

GM: Jocelyn looks at Widney with an all-too hungry gaze. Caroline see the hint of two protruding canines.

Caroline: She takes Widney’s hand and licks closed the two tiny wounds, once again letting just enough of the kiss cover up the pain. She’s not Caroline’s type, but it isn’t for Caroline.

The Ventrue looks at her lover and runs a finger down the Toreador’s spine. “Be nice.”

GM: She can hear the thin-blood’s breathing, too. Labored. Almost anticipatory. See it in the flare of her nostrils.

“I’m not on a diet like you…” Jocelyn mumbles, her eyes fixed on the glass.

Caroline: “Thank you, Sarah,” Caroline tells the ghoul as she takes the blood filled glass and brings it to the bound girl’s lips.

“No doubt she’s preferable to Meg,” Caroline murmurs into Jocelyn’s ear as she watches the blood hit the girl’s lips.

GM: Her mouth opens instantly, without hesitation.

Garcia wasn’t completely right.

Caroline can see fangs.

But they’re wrong.

One of them protrudes from her front-most upper tooth, like a beaver’s, rather than several teeth to the side like where Caroline’s are. The second fang even more discordantly juts up from her lower set of teeth. It’s no longer than any of its neighbors, but it is far thicker, like a molar from the back of someone’s mouth. Rather than one sharp point, it’s split into two uneven ones. If symmetry is the measure for beauty, then by that measure, it is an ugly set of teeth.

Caroline: Caroline scowls in disgust, but continues to watch.

GM: Jocelyn all but gapes at the sight and looks at Caroline incredulously.

The thin-blood gulps down Widney’s vitae. Hungrily. Eagerly. For a moment, all the tension and apprehension in her frame goes away.

She licks her lips, then winces as her tongue brushes across her lower half-split canine.

“Please… more,” she begs.

Caroline: “I suppose that puts any questions to bed on that topic,” Caroline murmurs.

“Was that better?” she asks more loudly.

GM: “Yes… yes…” the woman answers hoarsely. “Please, more… please…”

Caroline: The Ventrue passes the bloodstained glass to the still ‘pointed’ Toreador. “You can lick the bowl if you want.”

GM: There’s little enough to lick. The thin-blood drank every last drop she could get, and even ran her tongue along the glass as Caroline pulled away.

“Ehhh, that’ll just give me the munchies,” Jocelyn replies. “And…”

She stares at the bound girl with a faintly disgusted look. It eventually softens to pity.

Caroline: “I don’t have any more for you right now, I’m sorry.”

She falls into silence for a moment before continuing, “You feel them, don’t you, in your mouth.”

GM: The woman’s disappointment—if not despair—is all-too plain.

“I… what?”

Caroline: “They’re ugly enough to make a Nosferatu proud, but they’re there.”

GM: “Nosferatu? I… what?”

Caroline: “I’m sorry, I’ll explain in a bit, just a couple more questions. Do you feel any differently?”

GM: “Yes. I’m… sore. I hurt.”

Caroline: She looks to Jocelyn to see if she has anything to add before she brings up her next topic.

GM: The Toreador shakes her head.

Caroline: “How about… the baby?”

GM: Caroline can hear the immediate fear in the young mother’s voice.

“What… what about…?”

Caroline: “I don’t know anything you don’t,” Caroline replies so pacifically one can almost picture her holding her hands up. “I’m just asking if anything feels different.”

GM: “No. No, he’s still kicking. His name is Miles.”

The woman’s voice breaks.

“Please. Please, let me live.”

Caroline: “I’m not going to hurt you,” Caroline replies gently.

GM: “I have a husband, Jake, parents, brothers and sisters, and we’re all… we’re…” the woman sobs, “please… I don’t know anything, I won’t say anything, I swear, I swear…”

Jocelyn stares at Caroline when she hears the word ‘kicking.’

Caroline: She’s lying about it, Caroline knows. From experience, she knows most people would say almost anything when captive. She certainly did. Still, it doesn’t embitter her to the girl. Quite the contrary. It stirs up ugly feelings about herself, about what she’s done, and what she’s become. How many people she’s hurt. Just how often she’s been the victimizer now, rather than the victim.

Caroline reaches down and unties the girl’s left hand even as she speaks. “I’m not going to hurt you,” she repeats. “Something… pretty horrible happened to you, and I’m here to try to make it right, but there are some things you need to understand first.”

She guides the slight girl’s hand to her own mouth and places her own finger against each of her fangs in turn.

GM: The girl flinches when Caroline takes her hand, but doesn’t struggle or resist.

“What, what happened to my…?”

Caroline: “Someone did something to you, and… I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve it.” Caroline keeps hold of her hand.

GM: “Please. Please, let me go,” she whines.

“What, what do you want? I’ll, I’ll do anything. Please. Just let me, us, go. Please.”

Caroline: “I want you to listen, and understand that the person who did this to you isn’t in here, and that we’d like to release you, but we need to make sure you understand what’s happening first, so you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else.” Caroline replies patiently.

GM: “Okay, okay, I’ll listen,” the girl agrees immediately.

“The, the person who did this isn’t here. I, I understand.”

Caroline: “You’re not human anymore,” Caroline continues, knowing full well the reaction that’s coming.

GM: That statement actually makes her falter for a moment.

“Okay. I’m not human anymore,” she then repeats.

Caroline: “Do you know what you were just drinking?”

GM: “N… no.”

Caroline: “But it satisfied that thirst you have better than the water?” Caroline continues.

GM: No hesitation.

“Yes. Yes.”

Caroline: Caroline nods, though she knows the girl can’t see it. “Are you religious… I’m sorry, I haven’t even asked your name.”

GM: “Natalia. Natalia Garcia. I’m Catholic.”

Caroline: “That makes it easier to explain then,” Caroline replies reassuringly. She sends Jocelyn a very unhappy glance about her krewemate not even getting the girl’s name right.

“Natalia, there’s not really an easy way to say this, and most people don’t believe it until they see it, but you were killed, then brought back as something else.”

It’s a harsh and blunt truth, but it gets no easier or kinder the longer she beats around it.

GM: “Brought back? As, as what?”

Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lip. That’s a complicated answer.

She also doesn’t believe for a moment that the girl will go along without a demonstration.

She reaches down and draws back the blindfold from Natalia.

GM: Natalia blinks as it comes off. She looks college age, with dark eyes, Hispanic features, and a long nose.

Caroline: Caroline puts on her best fake, reassuring, smile for the girl.

She whispers something to Widney that sends the other blonde headed back into the living room as she continues, “Well…” She gives a sigh. “You have no reason to believe this, so let me get that out of the way first.”

She leans in a little closer. “Look at me, Natalia, look very closely.”

She smiles, showing teeth. Showing too long, too sharp, teeth.

GM: Natalia pales. Actually pales.

“Oh Dios, que nos conoce en medio de tan grandes peligros, que…”

(“O God, Who knowest us to be set in the midst of such great perils, that…”)

Caroline: Widney returns with a paring knife from the kitchen, which Caroline takes from her hand. “It’s appropriate that you should pray,” the blonde agrees. “But I would leave no doubt.”

She flicks the knife across her own palm with inhuman speed, neatly parting skin, before handing it back to Widney.

GM: Natalia tries to pull away when she first sees the knife, eyes wide.

Caroline: With that newly freed hand she takes Natalia’s own, forces it into the cut on her palm. “You can feel the that, right?” she asks, her eyes boring into the teenager’s. Vitae wells in her palm around the cut.

GM: “Feel… feel what…?” she asks falteringly.

“Please… let me go, please let me go…”

Caroline: “This isn’t some parlor trick,” Caroline replies, slowly willing the wound closed even as she holds Natalia’s fingers against it.

When the wound is closed she draws her hand away and gestures for Widney to hold out her hand before pouring the collected vitae into her assistant’s cupped palm.

GM: Natalia watches disbelievingly.

“Yeah, vampires,” says Jocelyn. “We’re real.”

Caroline: She reveals the whole and hale palm to Natalia. “Lacking in artistry, but capturing the point,” Caroline replies to her lover.

GM: “Hey, my medium’s pictures. Just one says a thousand words.”

Caroline: “We’re the walking dead, the life drinkers, the blood drinkers.” She bites her lip. “Now… what exactly you are is less clear.”

GM: “What… what I am!?”

There’s a rising panic to her voice.

Caroline: “Some weaker form, with life still clinging to you, for better or worse… but you are definitely a blood drinker.”

GM: “You drank blood,” says Jocelyn. She holds up the red-rimmed glass.

Caroline: “Sorry,” Caroline continues after a moment.

GM: In spite of herself, Natalia starts to protest in horror.

Jocelyn interjects, “Look, maybe you could use another demonstration…”

She fills up the glass with her blood next. Want, revulsion, and denial war across Natali’s still-pallid, wide-eyed face.

Want wins out when Jocelyn holds the glass under her nose and waves it back and forth.

She drinks. Thirstily. Needily. Ravenously. But still with those same, too-human eyes.

Caroline: “Christ, that’s freaking me out,” Caroline murmurs to herself.

GM: Her one upper tooth scrapes along the rim of the glass. She at looks once horrified, ashamed, and wanting when Jocelyn pulls the glass away.

Caroline: “Yeah… I recognize that look,” Caroline replies. “I saw it in the mirror the first couple times.”

GM: “Wh… wh… how!? Why!?”

“What about… what about my baby?!”

Jocelyn looks at a total loss for how to answer that.

Caroline: “I don’t know,” Caroline answers honestly. “If you were fully dead, like us… that’s pretty clear cut, but this half-alive thing you are…. there’s some hope.”

GM: “W-what do you mean, I’m half-alive?!”

“¡Dios mío, mi bebé! ¡Dios mío!”

(“Oh god, my baby! Oh my god!”)

Caroline: “Look at me, Natalia,” Caroline demands. “Look at me, because I’m risking my life just by talking to you.”

GM: Natalia starts weeping and lamenting in Spanish. Her tears aren’t red. Or clear. They’re a watery, diluted-smelling pinkish in between.

“Please, get me a doctor! He needs a doctor!”

Widney looks uncertainly towards her domitor.

Caroline: “No, you need something well beyond that… but it’s complicated,” Caroline replies. “So listen, because we aren’t going to have another chance to talk before things move out of our control.”

GM: “Please!” she begs. “Please! I’m a premed student, the longer you leave these things, the, the, I have to see a doctor!”

Caroline: The words tear at Caroline, but she knows how hopeless the plea is. How pointless.

“There is no mortal doctor that can help you right now, Natalia,” Caroline replies firmly. “Your only hope, his only hope, is with elders of our kind, and most of them would as soon slay you for what you are as speak to you.”

“So listen, because every minute you’re crying is a minute you’re losing, and so is he.”

GM: Natalia falls silent. Not hoping. More like praying.

“The Ordo’s supposed to be the experts on this stuff…” Jocelyn raises.

Caroline: The Ventrue falls silent as well before turning to Jocelyn. “You should call him. You know who.”

GM: “What… what should I say?” Jocelyn asks quietly.

Caroline: “The truth. That you need a meeting with the seneschal. He might be persuaded to grant a stay in this… well, very specific circumstance.”

GM: “You think he’d…? He hasn’t seemed to stop the prince…”

Caroline: The Ventrue falls silent for a long moment, then speaks, her voice melodic and foreign.

" حَدَّثَنَا الْحَسَنُ بْنُ الرَّبِيعِ، حَدَّثَنَا أَبُو الأَحْوَصِ، عَنِ الأَعْمَشِ، عَنْ زَيْدِ بْنِ وَهْبٍ، قَالَ عَبْدُ اللَّهِ حَدَّثَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم وَهْوَ الصَّادِقُ الْمَصْدُوقُ قَالَ ‏ “‏ إِنَّ أَحَدَكُمْ يُجْمَعُ خَلْقُهُ فِي بَطْنِ أُمِّهِ أَرْبَعِينَ يَوْمًا، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ عَلَقَةً مِثْلَ ذَلِكَ، ثُمَّ يَكُونُ مُضْغَةً مِثْلَ ذَلِكَ، ثُمَّ يَبْعَثُ اللَّهُ مَلَكًا، فَيُؤْمَرُ بِأَرْبَعِ كَلِمَاتٍ، وَيُقَالُ لَهُ اكْتُبْ عَمَلَهُ وَرِزْقَهُ وَأَجَلَهُ وَشَقِيٌّ أَوْ سَعِيدٌ‏.‏ ثُمَّ يُنْفَخُ فِيهِ الرُّوحُ، فَإِنَّ الرَّجُلَ مِنْكُمْ لَيَعْمَلُ حَتَّى مَا يَكُونُ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَ الْجَنَّةِ إِلاَّ ذِرَاعٌ، فَيَسْبِقُ عَلَيْهِ كِتَابُهُ، فَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ النَّارِ، وَيَعْمَلُ حَتَّى مَا يَكُونُ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَ النَّارِ إِلاَّ ذِرَاعٌ، فَيَسْبِقُ عَلَيْهِ الْكِتَابُ، فَيَعْمَلُ بِعَمَلِ أَهْلِ الْجَنَّة‏.‏”‎

She looks at Jocelyn. “The exact meaning is multifaceted, but it refers to when the soul enters a unborn child.”

GM: Jocelyn stares at Caroline, her mouth hanging just slightly agape.

“You have… you have such a beautiful voice…”

A red tear falls from her eye.

“It’s beautiful, Caroline!” the Toreador chokes. “Let’s record it, right now!”

She pulls out her phone, taps a few times, and holds the device up.

Caroline: The Ventrue gives a faint smile. “For the seneschal there can be no doubt that the child is an innocent and possessing of a soul. If I were to put my faith in anything in the city, it would be in in his desire to spare that, if possible.”

GM: “Do that again, Caroline! It’s beautiful!

A wide smile spreads over Jocelyn’s face.

“Go on! We’ll make you famous! We’ll have you sing at the guilds! Oh, it’s beautiful! You’re beautiful!”

Jocelyn falls on the Ventrue and starts ‘kissing’ her. Running her lips and protruding fangs over her lover’s skin.

“Oh, god, I love your ass, how tight it is, and how fucking tall you are, you’re like a queen…”

Caroline: “Jocelyn,” Caroline interrupts.

GM: The Toreador starts pulling at the seems to her clothing.

Caroline: “Do you want to go back to your place? Then I need you to make that phone call we just talked about.”

GM: “No, no, here’s fine, oh god, fuck me me now, you busty…. blonde… giant…”

She pulls open Caroline’s blouse and starts pulling her breasts out of her bra.

Natalia stares.

Uncomprehending. Even scared.

Widney frowns deeply and looks towards her domitor in silent query.

Caroline: Caroline scowls, shoves her back, and does up her clothes. Her gaze tears across the space between them.

“Knock it off,” she snarls.

She’s heard about Toreador doing this. ‘Spazzing out’ over things they find beautiful. Even seen Jocelyn do it. It was mostly harmless until now.

GM: “Oh, rough, huh,” Jocelyn smirks as she starts pulling at the Ventrue’s clothes again, “you’re such a blue blood…”

Caroline:Stop it.” The words carry more than Caroline’s voice this time.

GM: The ardor slides from Jocelyn’s face as her hands fall slack.

Just another tool.

Caroline: No, she snarls back at that thought.

GM: It’s what she said about Aimee and Gabriel, after all.

That she wouldn’t use her powers on them.

Look how long that lasted.

Jocelyn had a good run, at least.

Caroline: The Ventrue tears her gaze from her slack lover back to Natalia, her jaw clenched in an ugly line.

“God damn it,” she mutters, then snarls as she angrily scours the top of a dresser of its unlit candle, obnoxious quote, and assorted items.

She looks back at Natalia. “I said I’d never fucking do that to her.”

GM: The thin-blood looks apprehensive, confused, and fearfully questioning of Jocelyn’s sanity.

“I’m… I’m sorry.”

Caroline: Not that the half-kine cares, that she understands exactly what that cost Caroline, what it might still cost her. Natalia has no idea just how little Caroline has left. Doesn’t know that she’s given up her family. Doesn’t know how empty the Ventrue’s Requiem is, how few the anchors there are for her to cling to. How important Jocelyn is—and perhaps now was—among them.

She can’t look at the Toreador. Can’t think of the fallout of this. She takes an unnecessary breath and heaves a guilt-ridden sigh.

“No, I’m sorry. Sorry you’re involved in all of this… sorry for what might still happen.” And angry. Angry at the world that put her in this circumstance, with this poor girl.

“Sorry someone killed you because they are an irresponsible childe. Sorry the only people that might be able to help your son—if he can still be helped—might do it again because she didn’t even have thick enough blood to kill you right… it’s just… it’s all fucked.”

“The world isn’t fair.”

She closes her eyes, and when they open again that moment of vulnerability is gone. “Look… I presume you’d take any risk, even if it might cost you your life, if it gave you a chance to save him, if there was even a slim chance, right?”

GM: Natalia just stares for a moment when Caroline opens them. There’s dread, panic, uncertainty, desperation, and more in the thin-blood’s eyes. The Ventrue can only imagine what she’s thinking. Torn between what any mother would want to do, and the scraps of too-incredible, too-horrible things her captors have said.

“I’d… yes, I’d do anything for him, please…”

Caroline: “Fine,” Caroline replies. She holds out a hand to Widney. “Phone.”

When the assistant produces one from her coat pocket, Caroline punches through a handful of screens before hitting send.

GM: The ever-silent, ever-unobtrusive ghoul produces the Solaris without comment.

Caroline waits for half a dozen rings before his herald Annabelle picks up, inquiring in an almost gloomily bored tone as to “your business, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “It’s rather complicated, but also urgent. I’m calling in my favor from him,” she replies.

GM: “Hmph,” she says airily, “and how do you wish to do that, Miss Malveaux?”

Caroline: “I request his assistance in arranging an escort of myself and two others to a meeting with the seneschal’s herald this evening.” She pauses before adding, “It is a matter of some urgency, that I believe Hound Agnello to have both a professional and personal interest in. I would not make such a request lightly.”

GM: “Hmph,” the ghoul airily repeats. “Stop by his place in an hour, Miss Malveaux… you can tell me all about this urgent request there.”

Caroline: “I’m afraid that’s not possible,” Caroline replies icily. “If he is unable to answer his debt at this time, I understand, and will refer him to you when he inquires as to why he was not informed of ongoing matters intensely cognizant to his interests prior to their revelation to others.”

GM: There is a cold silence from the line.

Do feel free to tell him, Miss Malveaux, that I have made myself available to you on his behalf within an hour,” the ghoul replies frostily. “If that is too slow for your expectations, I suggest you have miscalculated your worth in his eyes—and no few others.”

“If you do not wish to meet with me concerning Hound Agnello’s boon, then you may wait until he is next available… whenever that may be.”

Caroline: “Perhaps, or perhaps a more inquiring mind might wonder, what was so vital that it could not easily delay an hour?” Caroline replies, hate smoldering to life in her eyes. “Please pass on to him my strong desire to speak with him at his earliest opportunity, and my apologies that this matter was not able to come before him first.”

GM: “Of course, Miss Malveaux. Be assured that your desires are of the highest importance to us both. Good night,” the ghoul replies with icy politeness.

The line clicks.

Caroline: “Cunt,” the Ventrue snarls.

GM: Natalia does not look hopeful.

Caroline: She eyes Jocelyn, still standing blank-eyed in place.

She turns her attention back to Widney. “Pick out some clothes from her from what Gwen has. I need to talk to her and Jocelyn before we go,” she directs the ghoul, before leading Jocelyn by the hand back into the living room and releasing her control over the shorter Toreador.

GM: “Wait! What’s… what’s going to happen?” the still-bound Natalia calls.

Caroline: “We’re going to take you to see someone, as soon as I convince these two that’s the best option,” Caroline replies. “Just… give me a minute. All three of us are putting our necks out on this one.”

GM: “Can you untie me… please? I’m sore…”

She can’t keep her gaze away from Jocelyn, though.

Caroline: The Ventrue pauses for an instant before replying. “I’m sorry… not yet.”

GM: “Please. I won’t try to run. You’ve said this is my only chance…”

Caroline: Trust never came easy for Caroline, even before she was damned. Since then it hasn’t at all. She leaves Natalia bound.

GM: There’s a despairing look on the thin-blood’s face before the door closes over it. After Caroline releases her control, Jocelyn blinks.

She looks down.

Then up.

“How did I get here!?”

She looks at Caroline.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t speak. Doesn’t meet Jocelyn’s gaze.

GM: That’s not the real question in Jocelyn’s exclamation.

It’s not how.

Not really.

It’s why.

And maybe it is how, too.

Another kind of how.

Caroline: “I’m sorry,” the Ventrue says at last, the words sliding out as painfully as a blade from between her ribs.

GM: Jocelyn just stares at her too.

Like she’s been stabbed.

Right where it hurts most.

Right where she left open.

Right where she didn’t, couldn’t, expect.

Caroline: “I didn’t mess with your memories or anything,” she continues slowly. “I just…”

She stops.

GM: Jocelyn stares. Amidst the shock, the disbelief, the betrayal, Caroline sees a snarling, mindless rage beyond rage unlike anything in the thin-blood’s eyes. Jocelyn’s eyes twitch as her mouth dumbly opens and shuts, revealing Beast’s protruding canines.

She gives a strangled half-snarl, then turns and sprints for the apartment door.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t let her make it that far.

Jocelyn might be fast, but Caroline is… well, much faster.

GM:GET OFF! GET OFF! GET OFF!!!!!” Jocelyn screams as Caroline intercepts her. She clamps her eyes shut and pulls her head away to avoid meeting the Ventrue’s will-stealing gaze.

Caroline: The Ventrue doesn’t fight the Toreador. She doesn’t strike or try to hurt her. She just holds her.

GM: Jocelyn madly slaps, shoves, and scratches to free herself.

Caroline: The Ventrue’s tough skin turns aside the worst of what she as to offer, even as Caroline wraps her arms around the Toreador to keep her from swinging.

“You can leave, and you can hate me, but not like this,” Caroline chokes out.

GM:LET ME GO! LET ME GGGOOOOOO!!!!!” Jocelyn screams at the top of her lungs.

Caroline: The Ventrue clamps a hand over her mouth. “Fucking stop it!” she demands, her tone thick with emotion. “Just listen for ten seconds and you can do whatever you want.”

GM: Jocelyn muffledly screams and thrashes.

Caroline: Tears leak from the edges of Caroline’s eyes, but she doesn’t let go.

“I’m taking Natalia to Perdido House,” she grinds out in a voice that sounds like rocks scraping together.

GM: The Toreador’s fangs rip into Caroline’s palm as a bestial howl roars from behind. A monster stares out from Jocelyn’s wide-open eyes.

Caroline blinks.

When the red haze clears, her lover’s broken, savaged, motionless corpse lies at her feet. Blood is spattered over the floor, walls, and her clothes.

Caroline: The Ventrue looks down at what she’s wrought with a mixture of shock, horror, and abject self-loathing. She doesn’t look at her hands. She knows they’re covered in Jocelyn’s blood. Jocelyn, who trusted her. Maybe the only Kindred who trusted her. If she were weaker-willed she might wail over the sight. She might scream against what she’s done while cradling the broken body in her arms.

She doesn’t.

She locks the guilt and horror away in the moment. There will be plenty of time in the rest of her Requiem to dwell on her actions—however long that may be—but the demands of this night remain. A whispering ragged voice mutters in the back of her mind about how much better she is at locking away guilt than she is at holding off the Beast. She doesn’t argue with its logic. She doesn’t argue with it at all: there’s no point in arguing with a weak, dying thing.

Caroline sets to work picking up the pieces instead, just as she’s done time, and time, and time before. The motions have become so familiar as to almost be rote, colored this night only by how dreadfully personal they are. But then, in truth, that’s not new either, is it? It’s not the first time, far from the first time she’s lashed out and maimed or killed people she cared for. A stronger, more cynical, voice laughs that it’s only a matter of time before she does this to everyone in her life.

Jocelyn’s corpse is wrapped in one of Gwen’s already bloodstained rugs with gentleness utterly at odds with the violence just visited upon it and set aside for the moment. Caroline coaxes Widney out of the bedroom and tells her to call both Audrey and Autumn. Audrey needs to pick up a couple guests for dinner at the Giani building. Autumn needs to get here. Not immediately, but within the next couple hours. She wants the scene cleaned up, and not just the site of her frenzy. This apartment stinks like vampire.

The heiress releases her hold on Gwen’s mind. Caroline doesn’t dance around her intentions: she’s going to bring the girl to Perdido House. If there’s any chance that her child is still alive, they owe it to try. Gwen is welcome to join them: she needs to go give confession anyway. Caroline asks who her confessor is, and ruthlessly squashes any reluctance from the young Toreador at the prospect of confessing her crime. That her reaction was to call Jocelyn and the topic of doing anything but confessing came up at all is a blight on Gwen’s supposed faith. She doesn’t outright force the Toreador to do so, but she does all but.

Finally, Caroline returns to untie Natalia and help her dress in something of Gwens’s that is the closest fit—and modest. Whether Gwen joins them or not, Caroline’s first stop is the Giani building, where Jocelyn is bundled up and into the building, up to Caroline’s apartment, through the back elevator. She locks the reinforced bedroom doors between Jocelyn and anyone else and makes clear that no one is to touch her.

As they drive to Perdido House Caroline is gentle as she can be while remaining honest with Natalia: the most likely outcome, even in the best case where her child survives, is that Natalia won’t survive the night. If the girl has any questions, or of she has any wishes beyond attempting to see to the welfare of her son, Caroline invites her to air them. The Ventrue will do whatever she can to honor those wishes.

The Ventrue escorts the girl into Perdido House, seeking and audience with the seneschal’s herald.

GM: To call Widney and Natalia disturbed when they see Caroline would be accurate enough in the former’s case and all-too inadequate in the latter’s. They heard the sounds. The screams that weren’t human screams, not with the two vampires’ Beasts in control. They see the blood. The gore.

No one asks where Jocelyn is.

Widney obediently starts to help pick up the pieces. Natalia just stares ahead in mute horror.

After all, this is new to at least one of them.

When Gwen awakens, she dumbly looks over her blood-caked surroundings. Maybe she immediately assumes Jocelyn. Maybe she doesn’t. Either way, her first demand is:

“What happened!?”

Caroline: The stupidly cruel ignorance sets Caroline’s nerves on edge.

“Exactly what you think happened. Jocelyn will be fine. You have other problems,” she responds bluntly.

GM: There’s a pause, like a last fatal crack appearing in an already chipped and melting ice sculpture—and then the whole thing collapses as another howling, burning-eyed vampire falls upon Caroline in the throes of their Beast.

The Ventrue’s own red haze recedes moments later. Another, equally savaged, blood-caked, and broken corpse lies at her feet.

Poison, she said once.

It never stops. It always wants.

Natalia is visibly trembling when Caroline approaches her. Widney suggests she should probably shower and says she’s texted Autumn to bring some clean clothes.

Caroline: “When you ask later why, why the others are so cold blooded, so ruthless about everything, remember this moment,” Caroline tells the girl.

“Remember that I just ripped my lover apart with my bare hands. That this is what being one of us costs you,” she doesn’t quite snarl.

She stalks off to wash the gore from herself at Widney’s suggestion.

GM: The ghoul has a change of clothes ready when her domitor gets out of the shower. Gwen’s own plus-sized clothes make serviceable enough maternity wear for the thin-blood. She doesn’t care what they put her in. Fuller, Green, and Autumn show up shortly later to help with the clean-up.

Then the police do. Green hisses there’s several officers outside the door’s peephole.

That’s when Natalia tries to make a break for it. She starts screaming, “HELP! HEEEEEELP!” at the top of her lungs.

Caroline: The Ventrue hisses for Fuller to put a stop to that stupidity immediately.

GM: Natalia keeps screaming.

Fuller re-gags her.

The cops outside yell for them to open up. Green does so at her domitor’s signal. The officers blink at the gory scene being cleaned up and draw their guns. They shout for everyone to put their hands on their heads and get down on the ground.

Caroline: Caroline and her people mesmerize the two police and leave them with fake memories of responding to a false alarm—cats fucking and making noise. Memories of coming inside and finding nothing.

GM: Autumn agrees this place stinks like vampire. “Guess we’ll have to go knocking on doors for the 911 callers.” She looks at the cops thoughtfully. “Actually, could have these guys do it…”

Fuller and Green get started pursuing the cars of anyone who fled the apartment building after hearing the sounds of violence. They might have called or texted people. When Autumn says loose ends in apartment buildings are such a hassle to clean up, Widney makes a prissy remark at her for doing her job without complaint. Or rather, not doing.

Caroline: Caroline lets the ghouls figure their personal issues out. Her father always said kingmaking amid a staff just fed more resentment and as often as not gave the wrong person the job.

GM: Autumn starts critiquing Widney’s “amateur hour” mistakes as she continues cleaning up, tweaking the majordomo’s nose for not being the professional she prides herself as.

Natalia by this point has stopped struggling and making noises.

It only took a few moments after she saw them deal with the police to stop.

Caroline: She lets the gagged Natalia watch her break the cops’ minds, then turns crossly to the girl.

“You’re making my life harder than it needs to be and endangering more people for no reason.”

Her next words are hard, but no more than doing what needs to be done is.

No more than this entire existence is.

“Maybe you are one of us.”

Monday night, 29 February 2016, AM

GM: The stop at the Giani Building proceeds uneventfully enough. Fuller, Green, and Autumn get out to see to their various tasks. Widney remains in the car to drive her domitor and their reluctant passenger to Perdido House. When she removes Natalia’s gag before starting the car with Caroline’s permission, the thin-blood flinches at the contact.

“Y… you killed them,” she whispers after a moment.

“Wh… why…?”

Widney only pulls the car out of the underground garage.

Caroline: Caroline gives a bitter and joyless laugh. “Not hardly. We’re hardier than human. More like put them in a coma.”

“As for why,” she continues, “we’re not just monsters because we’re damned by God parasites on humanity, sucking the literal lifeblood from people.”

“There are a lot of different explanations, but the one that always stood out to me is that we all carry the sins and hate and anger of all the vampires in the line that made us inside us. Sort of like original sin.”

“And when that gets out, when we have a moment of weakness and it takes control, we lose control.” She gestures to Gwen’s corpse beside them. “I don’t even remember doing this, just coming to after it was done.”

Her voice is hard, joyless. “Jocelyn lost it on me because I invaded her mind to make her stop trying to fuck me while you were trying to get an explanation. Gwen wasn’t real happy when I woke her up to find Jocelyn torped and lost it as well.”

GM: Natalia stares at Gwen’s corpse.

Caroline: “When the Beast is in control it doesn’t matter if they’re your best friend, your lover, your own mother. This is what happens.” She gestures to Gwen again.

GM: “Ms. Wade isn’t dead, ma’am?” Widney asks from the driver’s seat with some surprise.

Caroline: “I mean, semantically she’s as dead as I am. But to actually destroy one of us in a wake we won’t eventually wake up from requires some pretty specific means,” Caroline replies, frowning that Autumn hasn’t gone over this.

“Hitting, even shooting or stabbing us until we stop moving won’t do it in the long term. The morning after I was turned I got shot in the head. I shrugged it off.”

GM: “Ms. Rabinowitz is unwilling to debrief me on vampiric physiology, ma’am,” Widney states. “Among other topics of relevance to my duties.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “We’ll talk about it later.”

She looks at Natalia again. “Not that I wouldn’t have liked to kill Gwen,” Caroline continues to the girl. “This is less than she deserved after killing and fucking up her turning of you.”

GM: Widney looks as if she wants to smear Autumn into the mud further, but refrains at her employer’s request.

Caroline: “But that justice isn’t mine to dispense, though she may very well receive it. What she did to you… that’s usually punishable by death.”

The Ventrue shrugs. “I don’t know if that makes you feel any better.”

GM: “Why… why can’t you just let me go?” Natalia asks falteringly. “What did I do? What, besides get…”

She just looks at Gwen again.

Caroline: Caroline sighs. “I don’t know. What did you do? I’ve never met one of us that didn’t have some deep dark secret buried in their past.”

She turns her dead eyes on the girl intently. “So what did you do to deserve getting killed and damned?”

GM: Natalia looks more than apprehensive under the scrutiny and answers, “N… nothing. I got, I got pregnant, before I was married. I just want to have the baby and get my degree. That’s all.”

Caroline: “Nothing? Not ever? You never hurt anyone or took advantage of someone?” Caroline pries.

GM: Natalia answers like someone who thinks their life may depend on it.

“Hurt, hurt how? Everyone’s done something…”

Caroline: “You’re right. They have,” the Ventrue replies. She takes another needless breath and gives another sigh.

“It’s like looking in a mirror,” she says at last, more gently. “When this happened to me I asked the same questions. I demanded the same things. I protested. But deep down I knew the truth. The sins that Damned me way before the first drop of my makers blood passed my lips.”

“It didn’t excuse them for doing it, but I knew I wasn’t innocent. Not really.” She shrugs, “I don’t care what you did. Not really, Natalia. It’s not my business to judge you. Hell, none of this is really my business.”

“But I don’t know what your future holds, and honestly the hours left in your life are probably as few as the minutes we have left in the car, so if you want to get something off your chest before it’s out of my hands, and yours, I’m here to listen.”

GM: “But I, I confessed to my priest. Having sex and getting pregnant when I wasn’t married. But I got married. My family was so happy. He said God forgave me.” Pinkish, watery-copper tears well at her eyes. “I don’t know what I did. I don’t know why, why you want to kill me. Why do you want to kill me?”

“I would also find it informative to know why, ma’am,” Widney says quietly. “From what you’ve said of your own… initial unlife circumstances, they sounded similar to Ms. Garcia’s.”

Caroline: Caroline pauses to collect her thoughts. “I have no intention of hurting you, Natalia. I have no desire to. If I did, I would have simply left, I would have called the sheriff and told him of your existence. I’d have let Gwen find some way to dispose of you.”

The silence stretches on. “But nor can I simply turn you loose in the street. That wouldn’t benefit me, or you, or any of the people you’d hurt before someone else dragged you in front of the sheriff or the scourge found you and murdered you in some dark alley with her claws.”

“And I know what you’re thinking—that you wouldn’t hurt people—because I thought the same thing. I thought it right up until I ripped out someone’s throat when he tried to drag me out of a closet during the day. When the first time I was starving I bit into a girl’s throat. When the first time I was hurt and couldn’t control myself I drank and drank and drank until they were dead.”

She looks at the thin, half coppery tears. “And I am possessed of all the strength of a ‘real’ vampire. I can invade minds and rewrite memories. I can make you my friend with just a glance. I can shrug off bullets and literally move faster than you can see.”

“How are you going to feed your thirst? What are you going to do for your unborn child? What doctor are you going to go to that will understand what you are, what he may be, and what either of you need? That would believe you anything but crazy? And one better, wouldn’t simply result in someone less gentle than myself coming to collect—and then promptly dispose—of you for endangering the secret that is our existence?”

“So I’m taking you to the prince—because it’s the law—and with good reason. I’m taking you to the prince because he might know what to do about your son. And I’m taking you to the prince because it’s the right thing to do. But I’m not going to lie and tell you everything is going to be alright.”

GM: “You said I’m going to die. In… hours.” Natalia’s voice is small.

Caroline: Caroline wants to reach out and comfort the girl, but she knows just how little good that would do. She’s not a savior in Natalia’s eyes, just a terrible monster whose grasp she’s in.

“I… I don’t want to lie to you, Natalia… you’re what’s called a thin-blood. It’s what happens when a vampire that’s too weak tries to make another vampire. You’re also an illegal Embrace—a vampire created without the prince’s permission.”

“Typically, either of those is enough to get you executed, because creating a vampire without permission is a high crime precisely to prevent stuff like this from happening, and because… being a weak vampire just means your existence is going to be even harder than it is for the rest of us. And typically the people that suffer when a vampire’s existence is difficult are the people around them.”

“The laws of our kind are harsh, by necessity. And even when they’re not, most of us are every bit the monster you think I am right now. You can’t go through night after night manipulating and hurting people just so you can suck the life from their veins without it twisting you into something awful.”

She sighs. “So yeah… you could die where I’m taking you… but it’s also the only place you might get help for your son before that happens.”

GM: “But, but I’m 27 weeks,” Natalia protests. “My water hasn’t broke. He’ll be dead too, if you go through with this. If they kill me. How can he get help? How can he get help if I’m dead?”

Caroline: Survival rates at 27 weeks are actually pretty good, Caroline thinks, but doesn’t say. She doesn’t expect it’ll calm Natalia down, but Caroline judges the ‘pre-med’ student for not knowing more about her pregnancy.

GM: 80 to 90 percent, as Caroline well knows. High to a premed student.

Perhaps lower to a mother.

Caroline: “Yeah, so that’s the rub for them too,” she says instead. “I don’t think the seneschal would want to execute a pregnant woman, and I’m hoping between dragging your sire’s torpid body in for justice and that, that they’ll grant you a stay.”

GM: “The seneschal? That’s, that’s who’ll decide? Who are they?”

Caroline: “The hand of the prince in night to night activities. The seneschal is… ancient, hundreds of years old. He is wise and merciful.”

“Well… by our standards.”

GM: “So… they could let me, us, live?” Natalia asks uncertainly.

It’s not quite hope, but maybe wants to be.

Caroline: “Natalia, I wouldn’t be bringing you there if I didn’t think it was your best chance,” Caroline replies genuinely. “But I don’t want to lie to you and tell you everything is going to be fine.”

“There’s a way this could go wrong, so… I know this is a difficult thing to think about right now, but if it does go that way… if there’s anything you’d like to see done, any last wish type things…” she continues gently.

GM: There’s no hesitation.

“My baby. Let my baby live. If you, they, kill me, let him live. Please.” The thin-blood’s voice breaks.

Caroline: “I know, I know,” Caroline replies. “I know. I meant anything other than that.”

GM: “Say you’ll do it. Say you’ll let him live. Please.”

Caroline: “I will do everything in my power to let your child live,” Caroline replies. “I already am.”

Can’t she see that? snarls a nasty voice in Caroline’s head.

But she knows it’s just the voice of pain and loss. She knows that she just became all the more threatening to the girl than Father Malveaux was in her earliest nights. He didn’t beat two other vampires into torpor in front of her.

GM: Natalia looks at once unsure of that answer, and like she wants to believe in it more than anything.

“And that you’ll bring him back to my family,” she continues. “My husband’s name is Jake Abel.” She adds an address.

Caroline: Caroline makes a point of plugging both into a note on her phone.

“I know you don’t believe it, Natalia, but I am trying to help you.”

GM: “Say you’ll do that. Please.”

Caroline: “If anything happens to you, I will do what is within my power to ensure your son is turned over to his father,” Caroline agrees.

GM: “I’d… I’d like to say goodbye to him. And my parents.”

Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lower lip. “I think that would be hard to explain, but for what it’s worth, I’ll make it clear. One idea though, that I might have more influence in might be writing him a later that could be given to him when he’s older.”

“Nothing specific to… well, all of this, but you could tell him the things you what to say about yourself, about life. You could leave something to let him know you loved him, and you’d do anything for him.”

“And if the worst happened… I’d do everything I could to ensure it reached him down the line.”

She pauses again. “Or… even better, if you thought you could keep it together… you could leave a message behind on my tablet. You could say what you wanted him to hear, he could hear it in your voice, and it would be something he could have.”

GM: “I meant, I meant saying goodbye to my husband,” Natalia says at first.

She’s silent for a moment at Caroline’s mention of saying goodbye to that other ‘him’. The Ventrue’s suggestion of leaving behind a letter or recording elicits a choked little sound.

“I… what could I even say, to Miles, to explain all…”

All of this.

Caroline: “You couldn’t,” Caroline replies. “Not to explain this. But if I had one message to leave for someone I cared about for the rest of their life, it wouldn’t be about what happened for me. It would be about what I felt for them.”

GM: “Yes. Yes, I do I want to say that.” The thin-blood sniffs. Actually sniffs. “I just want him to know that, that I didn’t abandon him. I don’t want him to grow up with that.”

Uncertainty flickers across her face. “What’s, what’s Jake and my family going to know, what happened to me?”-

Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lower lip. “Honestly? I don’t know. I mean, in broad terms it’ll get covered up some how. Accidental death is popular.”

GM: Natalia doesn’t say anything for a moment. Then, “Okay. I’d like to record something. Please.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “Sure, just… keep it generic. A ‘just in case’ video that you could have recorded without outside prompting.”

She digs a tablet out.

GM: Natalia doesn’t even reach to touch it until Caroline hands it over. When the Ventrue does, she tries to smile. She does, but Caroline doesn’t think she’s ever seen a sadder one.

“Miles. Hi. This is your mom.”

“I don’t know if you’re going to hear this. But I want you to have something. In case…” She takes a shaky breath. “Just in case.”

“I love you. I want you to know that. I love you.”

“Your dad, your grandma and grandpa, and all your aunts and uncles, I know they’ll tell you stories about how your dad and I met. When he asked me if he could compare Biology 101 notes, and how he only did that so he could ask me out.” She gives a little laugh. It sounds genuine, even if the fear, worry, and exhaustion behind it does too.

She sniffs. “You were a surprise. A big surprise, actually. Some people thought I shouldn’t have you. But I knew, as soon as I knew you were alive, you were special and, and a blessing, and I wanted to give you the best life I could.”

“I was scared, at first. That other people, that your family, wouldn’t see you the same way. That it was going to be hard to give you the life I wanted you to have.”

She gives another laugh that’s all-too genuine in all the right and all the wrong ways.

“Well, I guess you know how that turned out.”

“With your family, it was love at first sight. Not even first sight. First, I guess sound. They were so happy when I told them about you, so happy like you couldn’t even believe.”

“You don’t know what it’s like to hear that after being so scared. I was so happy, so happy I wondered if this was even happening, for you and for me. You have so much love in your life. Just so much love. You’ve felt like, like the luckiest baby in the world.”

“There’s so much I want to say to you, so much I want to share with you and be with you there for. I want to be there when you see your dad’s medal and know how brave he was. I want to have you on my lap and feed you your grandma’s garbanzos stew on Semana Santa, and I hope you don’t urp it up on your grandpa’s face like I did, they’ll tell you that story, but I’ll love you even if you do that too.”

Caroline: Caroline tries not to listen. She tries not to focus on what a better person Natalia is than she ever was. The words bite all the same.

They’re words she never said. Words she will never get to say. Words she never even considered. Damn you, Gwen. The Ventrue is actually glad the Toreador frenzied, glad she’s delivering Gwen’s torpid body along with the girl. Anything that might give Natalia a chance…

And it’s all chances. The slim chance her child is still alive. The slimmer chance that he’s not just some undead monstrosity like any Kindred child. The slim chance she can get the girl to see the seneschal. The slim chance the seneschal will grant mercy to this pathetic thin-blood. Chances within chances within chances. But what the hell else can she do? Throw her off into the world? Try to hide her with Savoy?

Even if the lord of the French Quarter was inclined to look after her—and she doesn’t know he is—there’s no reason to think he or his people would be able to help her. And what kind of life would it be, skulking around, trying to avoid notice, trying to figure out how to feed with the malformed ‘gifts’ of a half-vampire? She knows bitterly well difficult it is just to keep alive as a lick. Just how easily—and how many—people get hurt as a result.

Damn Gwen. Fucking damn her. The Ventrue feels a fierce satisfaction in her handiwork with the Toreador.

Another option dances across her mind. Someone as knowledgeable as the seneschal, and perhaps even more so. Someone who wouldn’t execute Natalia out of hand… but it dances away just as quickly.

She made extremely clear to Caroline that she was not there to solve the Ventrue’s problems, nor interested in them.

GM: As Caroline mentally weighs those many evils and re-commits herself to the lesser one, Natalia continues to falteringly talk into the tablet as Widney drives. She doesn’t move to stop at any point. Caroline supposes it’s no surprise. If there’s anyone she wants to talk to in this car, after all, it’s the baby she might never see.

She talks about random things. Hopes. Memories. Plans. How she’s going to school so she become a doctor, a family doctor. Her wedding with Jake, that they celebrated about a month ago. How he’s going to school too, to be an engineer. How they went through her parents’ collection of children’s books a little while ago (the one she wants to read Miles most is One Hundred Years of Solitude), and how Jake’s parents brought over his old Thomas the Tank Engine ones when they flew in for the wedding. How…

Caroline doesn’t think she’s ever seen Perdido House look so imposing as when the 40-story skyscraper abruptly soars into view. Natalia’s voice dies as she looks over the brutal glass and steel monolith with its silently howling gargoyles.

“I, I want you to do so many things,” she starts again. “The beach, the zoo, the, the Disneyland, and, and I know even if we don’t, if we don’t get to do them, I know your family loves you, and will do so much for you,” she stammers as the underground parking garage swallows their car. Checkpointed teeth close past as the guards wave them through, their grim faces utterly without sympathy for the thin-blood.

“You have so much love,” she continues in a choked voice. “In your life, from all your family. I, I don’t know if I’ll get to meet you, there’s nothing I want more, and I love you, and I’m sorry if, if, I love you, so much, and I’m sorry, I l…”

The car finally comes to an inevitable stop. Natalia breaks down again in those same pinkish, half-salty, half-coppery tears as the engine dies.

“It’s time, ma’am,” Widney says somewhat unnecessarily.

Caroline: “Just a moment,” Caroline replies, digging out several tissues from the seat-back in front of her and passing them to the girl.

“I know this is tough,” she begins sympathetically. “Believe me, I know better than anyone.” Once again she wishes she could reach out and touch the girl to comfort her. Instead she simply gives a weak smile.

“I can’t give you much time here, but I’ll buy you another minute—just one. Don’t end the message in tears, please, for him. Wrap it up with the truth: you hope he never has to see this, but you never wanted him to have any doubt.”

GM: Natalia dabs off her eyes. “But, but I already said…”

“We can edit out that part, ma’am,” Winey states.

Caroline: Caroline nods in agreement with her assistant. “End it how you’d want your mother’s last words to you to end. Tell him you’re sure he’ll do great things and you hope you’ll be there to see it all.” She cracks open her door. “One minute, Natalia.”

The Ventrue slides out to meet anyone that comes to investigate or greet them.

GM: Word travels fast in Perdido House. No one is outside that Caroline can see, but the elevator doors a short ways off are already dinging open. Camilla Doriocourt and two ghouls are already filing out.

“What is your business, neonate?” the unsmiling hound asks in an impassive tone all-too like her sire’s.

Caroline: “I have brought Gwendolyn Wade and her illicitly Embraced childe for the seneschal’s justice,” the Ventrue replies grimly.

GM: A coldly disdainful sneer curls the Toreador’s perfect lips.

“Bring them out.”

Natalia has had almost no time to amend her message.

Caroline: “There’s a complication,” Caroline interrupts.

GM: The priest waits in expectant silence.

Caroline: “Several, in fact.” Caroline pauses for only a moment before continuing, “Ms. Wade frenzied and was unfortunately,” a hint of a smile sneaks its way out of Caroline’s face at that word, “beaten into torpor. I’m afraid she’ll have to be awakened before she can speak to her crime.”

GM: “This fact poses minimal inconvenience,” Doriocourt states.

Caroline: “The second was that between the fledgling’s reaction to her Embrace and the violence of Ms. Wade’s frenzy, the police were to respond to her apartment. I entered their minds to convince them nothing was amiss, and sent them along with several of my ghouls to ensure the neighbors were similarly convinced. I beg forgiveness and understanding for this intrusion into the prince’s domain.”

“I can provide their badge numbers and names, if you wish to verify I had no ulterior motive and tampered no further with their minds than was necessary to protect the Masquerade.”

GM: “Do so,” the hound states perfunctorily. “Your actions shall be forgiven if what you have told me is true.”

Caroline: “Of course, Hound Doriocourt. My gratitude.” The Ventrue runs her tongue across her fangs and brings up her third point. “Finally, though I believe none presumed Ms. Wade to be especially close to Caine, the full truth of her blood’s thinness is reflected in her ‘childe’. That, until itself is I know not so irregular. The scourge does the prince’s will each night in helping preserve the archdiocese against the many dangers presented by such creatures, but Ms. Wade’s choice of victims…”

She pauses for a moment. “There is no polite way to say this. The girl is seven months pregnant. She reports the child is still moving within her. She herself still draws breath and still has a pulse.”

GM: Doriocourt stares at Caroline. The Ventrue cannot say what thoughts might be occurring behind those cold eyes.

Finally, she replies, “Show me Miss Wade’s mistake.

Caroline: “Of course.” Caroline slides over to the other side of the car and opens the door. “Ms. Diaz, please step out.”

GM: It’s not until some time later that Widney corrects her employer that Natalia’s surname was Garcia, because the thin-blood doesn’t. She looks as if someone is dragging her before a hungry lion after she steps out and gets one look at Doriocourt.

The hound offers neither sympathies nor reassurances. She does not even speak. She wordlessly slashes Natalia’s palm with a knife from her coat pocket, causing the thin-blood to cry out. Doriocourt dabs a finger against the wet blade and touches it to her tongue.

She wordlessly yanks open Natalia’s mouth and examines the cavity’s interior as if inspecting a horse. Disgust crosses her face for a moment at the thin-blood’s malformed fangs.

Caroline can see the naked fear on Natalia’s face when Doriocourt begins to poke and prod her swollen belly, then removes a leather glove to press a too-cold palm against it.

Nothing crosses the hound’s face. No tenderness. No sympathy. Just clinical, scientific notation.

Finally, she turns away from the thin-blood without a word and approaches Caroline’s car. Widney pulls up Gwendolyn at her request. The hound slashes her wrist and presses it to the torpid vampire’s lips.

Gwen shakily starts, “Mother…?”

She is preempted with a cold, “Explain.

“Mother,” she starts, her eyes widening as she looks at Natalia, “there was an accident, I was going to confe…”

The hound’s icy stare says it all.

She is too late.

Far too late.

Gwendolyn gives an explanation much like the one Caroline listened to. Doriocourt stares at her disdainfully.

Fear starts to give way to anger on Natalia’s face.

“You, how could you even-!”

Doriocourt stares into the thin-blood’s eyes and orders, “Be silent,” with all the regard of someone telling Alexa to turn off the lights.

When Natalia’s misshapen fangs do not retract, the Toreador contemptuously orders one of her ghouls to “hood this thing.” The man pulls a black sack over Natali’s head. She opens her mouth to protest, but no sound comes out. There’s just a despairing look before the hood eclipses even that.

Caroline: Caroline lays a hand on the girl’s shoulder.

GM: It’s there only for an instant before the ghoul offers her a hard shove in the direction she’s supposed to start walking. It’s too much. Natalia panics. She rips off the hood and tries to run.

Caroline: Caroline has control of her before she can.

GM: Doriocourt also stares into her eyes again and tells her what else not to do, then slaps her across the face hard enough to spin her head. Natalia glances at Caroline desperately before the hood goes back on. Gwen watches without protest and follows the group into the elevator.

“Your service to the archdiocese is noted, Miss Malveaux,” the hound states as the doors close.

Caroline: The Ventrue stares numbly after the doors have closed. Bitterly.

It was the right thing to do. For what Natalia wanted—the best possible chance for her child. For the good of the innocent girl turned into this half-living monster. For the good of all the people in Natalia’s life that she would have hurt and dragged down if turned loose.

It was the right thing to do. Forcing Gwen to pay for what she did. Trying to get some bitter justice in the world.

But when the doors close all that Caroline is left with is how little all of that means. With the price she paid tonight, and how little it bought her. Jocelyn’s battered body back at her apartment. The hurt and hate in her eyes when she realized what Caroline had done.

She knows how angry she’ll be too, about Gwen. That Caroline turned her in. About Natalia, that Caroline delivered her to the hounds. About everything. She can’t even blame her, wouldn’t want to.

Caroline wishes she could just wake up from this bad dream, this horrible night in which everything went wrong, and nothing went right. The night where Gwen murdered and Embraced a pregnant girl to make herself feel better. The night Caroline hurt her lover. The night she delivered the terrified girl into the least tender hands imaginable.

There’s no waking up. It never stops.

The Ventrue eventually breaks from the trance that holds her and gets back to work. Picking up the pieces.


It’s what she always does.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Amelie Epilogue
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Jon VII

Previous, by Character: Story Eleven, Caroline X
Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Caroline XII

Story Eleven, Caroline X

“It’ll never be okay, but it can get better. Trust me, I know.”
Caroline Malveaux

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline looks for a doctor to bring into her service’s fold: patching up a victim when a Kindred got a bit too excited is easier than explaining a corpse and more practical than making ghouls of them, in many cases. Especially when she can create memories for how they were injured.

GM: Autumn and Widney both come back with names after Caroline tasks them with finding a doctor.

Autumn brings up Lena Merinelli.

“She’s Emmett Delacroix’s sister,” the older ghoul says. “She got caught up in… well, the trainwreck that was his life. She lost her medical license and got sent to prison. She really hasn’t taken to it… she’s actually in Tulane now, as a patient, because the prison infirmary couldn’t treat her injuries. Obviously all sorts of stuff we and the law firm could do for her. Be pretty easy to get her completely loyal, no juice or mindscrewing even involved.”

“What kind of doctor was she?” Widney asks, seemingly unimpressed.

“A pediatrician.” Autumn looks at Caroline instead of Widney as she says so.

“I have a better candidate,” the newer ghoul tells her domitor perfunctorily. “Dr. Leah Crawford. She’s a well-respected trauma surgeon with decades of experience. I believe she’s better-suited to the role you have in mind than a children’s doctor. She makes good money, but she’s unmarried and has a substantial brood of children. One is still attending an expensive private school. I believe she could be made amenable to illegal activities through financial assistance and use of your mental powers,” the ghoul still sounds less than certain what to call them, “as well as your blood.”

“Merinelli’s the better choice,” Autumn tells Caroline. “Crawford has decades at TMC, like Widney says. The Krewe would retaliate if we snatched her up. That isn’t worth it. The pros of using her don’t outweigh the cons. Besides, even if that wasn’t an issue, you’ve got a lot of mouths that need your juice already, and mindscrewing people can be pretty chancy in the long term. There’s a lot of illegal stuff we’ll want Crawford to do and she’s got everything to lose. She could balk. Merinelli’s already lost everything. She’s got every reason to be completely loyal to us, to do whatever we want. And, again, picking her isn’t picking a fight with the Krewe.”

“We can make the Krewe an offer,” Widney says, looking at Caroline rather than Autumn. “Everything has a price. You should have the best, ma’am. I’ve never advised any of my employers to settle for less, and I’m not about to start now with you.”

“Crawford’s not the best,” Autumn retorts. “She already has a good life. She doesn’t need us. Merinelli has a shit life, and absolutely needs us. I seriously can’t think of anyone we could get more loyal. We’d be her saviors. And if we really want her to have more surgery experience, we could set her up with a new identity or pull enough strings and send her back to med school. She’s still in her 30s. I’m sure she’d be just as loyal too if she thought she owed us a new start on life. Crawford won’t ever be that, even if the Krewe plays ball. And that’s a big if, because licks don’t like sharing.”

“Crawford has decades of experience as a surgeon,” Widney says. “It will take us equally long to bring Merinelli up to a similar level of expertise. Nor do we lose anything by simply asking the Krewe’s price. We should at least be aware of our full range of options before deciding on one.”

“We don’t need a surgeon with decades of experience though. Merinelli still went to medical school for a billion years like any doctor, and pediatricians are actually…”

The two ghouls continue to undercut one another and puff up why “their” doctor is the better choice for Caroline. Their dislike is like a crackling undercurrent throughout the exchange.

Caroline: Caroline refuses to give either the win over the other. She has them leave both files for her review and dismisses them for the evening. She spends several hours reviewing both dossiers and brings each in individually the following evening to answers a few additional that come up. She’s particularly interested in more about Merinelli’s family situation. Merinelli is not her maiden name: where’s the husband? She’s not eager to draw in another ghoul with extensive family commitments, but admits to a particular interest in Merinelli’s situation.

GM: Autumn first points out, again, that Crawford has a large family. A daughter who’s around college age. Another daughter, and a son, who are post-college. A grade school age daughter who still lives at home. She seems all-too happy to point out the ways in which Widney’s pick is problematic, and reiterates her points about the Krewe and Crawford not actually needing Caroline for anything like Merinelli does.

Widney repeats her own pros when she comes in. Crawford being the best. About approaching this “Krewe” to make an offer, or simply stealing Crawford away—whatever is most efficient. She reiterates her commitment to delivering Caroline “nothing but the best” and how “cowering” like Autumn would have her do will only hinder her rise to the top. She even makes a personal dig at Autumn not being particularly successful in her own life and cites her as a poor person to take advice from “at least in these matters.” She’s oblique about it, but the sentiment is plain.

Autumn answers regarding Merinelli that, “So, it’s a little weird. House was robbed, pretty much everything valuable that wasn’t nailed down got grabbed, and the husband and kids both disappeared. I did a little more digging, and cops think they skipped town to avoid creditors, because they were complicit in more crimes, or both.”

“But, well, we know Em was set up for the stuff he did, because we set him up. Though there was also how he lost his legs… he was up to some really shady shit, and his family seemed like they were on the straight and narrow. The husband’s an engineering geek without so much as a parking ticket. I’d guess whatever Em was caught up in caught up them too. Cops just found it more convenient to say everyone was guilty and call it a day.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t entertain the sniping about each other’s preferred candidate. Instead she makes clear she is judging each on their own merits, vice opposing ones. They are to keep their comments narrowly upon their own candidates. When they inevitably stray from that charted course, her anger bleeds through plainly.

When Autumn has finished, she’s contemplative. “So she really has nothing,” Caroline observes, somewhat sadly to Autumn. “Nothing but questions.” She’s reviewed Merinelli’s file. The charges against her. The entire case falls apart under any scrutiny. Would fall apart with the prodding of a capable attorney, with any amount of resources directed at it.

With Widney she’s more directive. “If circumstances were different, you’re quite right, that Crawford would be the best choice. Her resume speaks for itself, though it doesn’t need to.” She pages through the folder the assistant provided her, stopping on a smiling staff picture of the doctor. “Did you know she and I have history? She was a mentor of mine, when I was still an undergraduate studying pre-med.”

“I don’t, as a rule, involve individuals I have history with in my after-dark affairs,” she declares. “Especially not those with so many levers to be pulled upon by others. That, even more than the association with the Krewe—which might be managed with time, are the downfalls of Crawford, Widney.”

She sighs, then runs her tongue across her teeth. “To say nothing for my predilection for those things I’ve broken… and for growing things.” She eyes the ghoul squarely. “There are things that must become clear to you, in time. To be given, or to claim, something great is good. But to create something great… that is to have purpose. Any nouveau roturier, can buy a precious thing. To make one, though… that is something more.”

She maintains eye contact, boring into Widney’s eyes. “I could scour the city for the best of everything, but it makes me no more than a frivolous consumer in the eyes of my peers. And indeed, it would devalue any deeds I accomplished to use those tools. A child buying what others have earned, or have created through skill. Or worse, a child carelessly using things of great value. And make no mistake, it’s not money, not ghouls, not assets that matter. Respect is the currency that we deal in. And there is so very little time to gain it.”

GM: The two stop in short enough order (though Autumn takes slightly longer than Widney). Caroline doesn’t find it necessary to draw on the Beast. For now.

“She has parents, still,” says Autumn. “They’re both professors at Tulane, under the name Delacroix.”

Caroline actually recalls Professor Delacroix. He’s an environmental activist who’s been a persistent pain in the ass to her family, both on Tulane’s campus (where he’s ardently opposed the family’s various efforts to control curriculums, hire and fire professors, obtain student personal data, and promote pro-market ideas in exchange for donations), and in the real world.

Apparently Em’s his son. Same Delacroixes.

“You want us to get her off the hook, then?” Autumn asks.

Widney did not know of Caroline’s personal history with Crawford, but cites it as a plus initially for why they should pick her. Although she doesn’t fully seem to grasp why the Kindred would respect Caroline more for creating something than buying something, the majordomo relents once her employer’s mind seems made up. She advises Caroline only not to conflate knowing one’s place with being worthy of respect before asking if the Ventrue wishes to proceed with Merinelli.

Caroline: The Ventrue wants to meet Merinelli, to judge her. She tasks Autumn with ensuring the details of that meeting are seen to on the Krewe side—given her current isolation in their hospital.

GM: Autumn reports back that the Krewe is willing to permit Caroline a meeting with Merinelli in TMC in return for a boon. She can do what she wants to the ex-pediatrician, as long as she isn’t killed or the Masquerade otherwise endangered. “Don’t think Merinelli means anything to them, they’re just happy to make a buck off her.”

Autumn also might be able to finagle a visit in return for a hit of juice delivered to Dr. Gremillion, the ghoul who oversees the hospital on their behalf. Ghouls always want hits.

Another alternative is to intercept Merinelli once she’s sent back to the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. That’ll likely be during the day. Or if Caroline wants to visit the prison herself, it’s some 68 miles northwest of the city.

Caroline: Caroline is willing to offer up the boon to avoid the appearance of stepping on toes with the Krewe, especially given the most likely uses for that boon and their relatively apolitical stance, so long as they’re willing to roll any future interactions with Merinelli into the same boon. She also asks that they arrange a cover for her visit.

GM: Autumn gets back in a few hours that the the Krewe is fine with those conditions. Merinelli is only going to be in TMC for so long anyway before she’s sent back to prison. Prison authorities don’t like to give convicts “vacations,” not to mention ones in accommodations as expensive as hospitals.

Caroline: Accommodations withstanding, she makes arrangements to visit the hospitalized convict at TMC early the next evening.

She’s not sold on the potentially broken pediatrician, simply intrigued… at least for now.

Sunday evening, 21 February 2016

GM: The door to Merinelli’s room is guarded by two police officers, per all convicts and arrestees. They let Caroline in after verifying her credentials. It looks like the Krewe went with the easiest explanation for why she’s here. Lawyer.

Lena is supposed to be in her late 30s, according to Autumn, but her hair looks pretty gray and thin for that age. So does the deepness of the lines on her face. Her skin seems to hang loosely over her bones, suggesting a once-plump figure that’s rapidly lost weight. She’s far from plump now. She’s dressed in a plain hospital gown and handcuffed to her bed.

She looks at Caroline with a dull expression, then flatly asks, “Who are you.”

Caroline: The Ventrue takes a seat, crossing her legs as she looks over the ex-pediatrician.

“My name is Caroline, Dr. Merinelli. I can see you’ve had a rough go of it. Is there anything I could get you at the moment to make you more comfortable?”

GM: “I’m not a doctor anymore,” the once-pediatrician says lifelessly. “I wouldn’t say no to a cyanide capsule.”

Caroline: “That’s pretty dark, and as I understand what got you here,” Caroline answers thoughtfully. “Well, at least, most recently. It seems as though your life really came apart this year, and through no fault of your own.”

Her mask cracks sympathetically. “I was very sorry to hear about that.” She pulls a flask out of her clutch purse. “Something to take the edge off?” she offers, leaning forward with the flask.

GM: Lena looks at it for a moment, then drinks.

She drinks for a while.

Caroline: The Ventrue lets her take a long pull of the bourbon and gives a weak smile. “Small mercies, right? I know there haven’t been very many lately, but they still exist. They help us get through the day.”

GM: Lena just drinks until it’s empty or Caroline pulls away.

“Why are you here?”

Caroline: “Because we have something in common, at least I think we do,” Caroline answers quietly. “Emmett Delacroix. Your brother, right?”

GM: Lena gives a dark look.

“Guess he ruined someone else’s life too.”

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “Well, the way I hear it, he did that to a lot of people. ut yes, he tried to with me as well.”

She gives a weak smile. “I was a little harder to destroy, I think, or maybe I just wasn’t around him long enough, but either way it’s given me an…. affinity for others caught in his wake.”

“Some of the details are still fuzzy, but something about your list of offenses seemed a little… implausible.”

GM: Lena’s expression, perhaps loosened by the liquor, starts to break.

“He took out a loan from the Dixie Mob he couldn’t pay back and offered them my kids’ lives as collateral. I liquidated $16,000 to pay off them and the crook lawyer with their contact information. The police thought the financial activity was suspicious. They thought I was involved in his drug operation after he was busted for that.”

“I didn’t have anything to do with that. Anything. I was a doctor. My husband was an engineer. We made good money. We had good lives. Em never even graduated high school and fell in with a bad crowd.”

Caroline: Caroline watches the once doctor sympathetically, then nods. “And you couldn’t exactly tell the police you were paying off the Dixie Mafia, but nor could you explain where the money went. So they came for you…”

GM: “And the Mob… came for my family anyway.” Lena’s voice is ragged. “They’re gone. Just… gone…”

Caroline: “What do you mean, gone?” Caroline asks softly.

GM: “That’s what my parents said. When they visited. That they’d just disappeared, that, that their house was robbed, that the cops were saying they were connected to it all, had fled the country…”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “I’m so sorry.”

GM: Lena looks like she might cry for a moment, but Caroline can imagine she’s cried enough for ten lifetimes already. She looks at the Ventrue and repeats hollowly, “Why are you here.”

Caroline: “I want to offer you an opportunity. To make something of the life you have left,” Caroline answers. “I have… means. I can have your case re-examined. Can get your convictions overturned. Can find a place you for, when you’re released. Work—in a medical field.”

“But after what’s happened, I thought you’d want to talk about it, about what you wanted, vice have someone start taking actions on your behalf. I know how frustrating it can be to have your life out of your control.”

GM: “My kids,” Lena entreats, desperately. “My husband. I want to find… at least find their bodies…”

Caroline: “If they’re dead,” Caroline answers soberly.

GM: The ex-doctor just stares at Caroline with a dead expression. She’s clearly not holding out much hope.

But she has to know.

Caroline: “Should I take that as wanting me to start on your case then?” she asks.

GM: Caroline’s words seem to take a moment to process.

“Why are you doing this?” she asks.

Caroline: “Because I’ve hit rock bottom before, but was fortunate enough to bounce. Because it’s the right thing to do.” She frowns. “Because his fall shouldn’t drag everyone else down with him,” she answers.

And neither should mine.

GM: “No one does the right thing,” Lena says bleakly.

Caroline: “You’re right,” Caroline offers. “But I can do more right for you than this.” She gestures to the handcuffs.

GM: Lena says nothing for a few moments. Her eyes look little more alive than those same cuffs.

“Okay. I want you to start on my case. Please.”

Caroline: Caroline smiles for the first time. “I’m happy to hear that. In the meantime, is there anything else I can do to make you more comfortable?”

GM: “This is… fine. Just not going back to that place.”

Caroline: “I’m certain a competent legal team can find a reason to extend your stay here, vice return to prison,” Caroline agrees. “I’ll see if we can’t get you something to fill the time as well. A book or something. I know I’d go crazy sitting there.”

“How’s the food?”

GM: “I don’t care.” She sounds like she really doesn’t. “It’s edible. People here don’t steal it.”

“I won’t survive going back there. I’m not built for it.” Her voice is numb. “I was supposed to have a soft life.”

“I treated fucking children. Gave them lollipops for taking shots.”

Caroline: “I’ll see if we deliver a few meals that are better than just edible.”

She lays a hand on Lena’s. “It’ll never be okay, but it can get better.”

“Trust me, I know.”

Sunday evening, 21 February 2016

GM: Caroline goes through Cécilia to reach Abélia. The Ventrue’s future sister-in-law is always happy to see her, and seems especially glad to make time in the aftermath of her family’s disownment. At least in winter, coordinating schedules with Cécilia (who, unlike the Ventrue’s ghouls, maintains a strictly diurnal sleep schedule) isn’t hard: it’s finding time away from Luke that’s more difficult when the matters they wish to discuss are not for mortal ears… or at least, most mortals. Cécilia has Caroline over to her apartment in the Pontalba Building several nights later, during a window her fiancé isn’t around.

“I’m going to be moving out of here after the wedding, though,” she adds as they sit down. She hasn’t offered to get Caroline refreshments, or gotten any herself. “Maman, and your family too, have both made up their minds that Luke and I are going to be homeowners. So the children have plenty of room.” She laughs. “It all feels like it’s happening so fast. They’ve ‘let slip’ the house is going to be our biggest wedding present. They’re going to move all our things over during the honeymoon, so we don’t have to worry about that.”

“It’s really all so fast… Luke got a bit angry how they wanted to ‘run our lives’ for us. I could understand how he’d feel that way, when they’re assuming a lot of things about our marriage and even picking the house for us. But it seems like a net positive. I’d rather we move in to a free home that I’m sure is going to be wonderful than pick one we have to buy ourselves, and go through extra hassle for.”

Cécilia looks contemplative. “But what I really think is everyone’s just had enough trauma, enough tragedy. Enough death. They’re doing so much for us, because they really want to see this work. And they really want to see grandchildren.”

Caroline: The Ventrue smiles at the idea, but sobers. “It’s been a traumatic year. I hope to give them no more shocks from my end.”

“Well,” she amends. “No negative ones.”

“I know you’re doing your part to give them a positive one, if the amount of time you two spend together is any indication.”

She folds her hands. It’s times like this she misses eating and drinking still. For the most part she’s grown apart from the desire, from the needs that now seem so base, but refreshments during conversations still feel right, and she appreciates how powerful that tool is offered by Savoy, however distasteful the process may be behind the scenes.

“I had some news for your mother, that also concerns you and your sisters. Amelie was Embraced a few nights ago. Some illicit turning that the sheriff is no doubt looking into. My people found her wandering around Algiers covered in blood. She made quite a mess before they subdued her. She passed briefly from my custody into the hands of the prince’s agents, where I’m told she met her end. It appears she made as poor an impression on them as she did on all others that she met.”

She shrugs. “In any case, that loop is closed.”

GM: Cécilia looks faintly… something by the news about Amelie, but thanks Caroline for the information and says she’ll pass it along to her mother. She is glad that her sisters no longer have anything to fear from Amelie—especially one who had been Embraced—even if the girl’s fate is a terrible one. The whole situation actually reminds her of Mouse’s.

Most of all, however, she is simply glad that Yvette (who’d been far more fixated in her hatred than Yvonne) can get on with her life. Some things aren’t worth holding a grudge over.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods in agreement with her soon-to-be sister-in-law on all points, none so much as to the awfulness of Amelie’s fate. To live as a walking skeleton, then become a walking corpse, then die and be consigned to Hell for eternity by sins of the Blood she only carried for nights is one of the worst fates Caroline can imagine—and her early nights as one of dthe Damned were far from kind too. It’s almost as though someone engineered the most terrible end possible for her…

Still, it’s just another chapter they close. Another sad story in the Crescent City. Caroline is happy to close that book and move onto the next topic with Cécilia. She—or more specifically Widney—had some thoughts on wedding planning, having seen the extravagant affair her last employer put on and some snares that had come up in the process.

“So, about…”

Sunday night, 21 February 2016, PM

GM: Autumn is pleased afterwards to hear that ‘her’ candidate apparently won out. She doesn’t brag or disparage Widney, but she seems to stand a little taller, sound just a little smugger, when in the majordomo’s company. The younger ghoul has a thick skin and is seemingly unbothered. Seemingly. She and Bishop are ready to coordinate the details of how to proceed at their domitor’s instruction. Autumn, seemingly determined to be more relevant than Widney, volunteers to look into her missing family and/or Kindred associations with the Dixie Mafia, as well as to find or doctor whatever evidence the legal team needs.

The two ghouls also try to out-do one another offering advice. Widney suggests arranging regular visits between Lena and her parents. When they hear she could be getting out of prison, their good mood might improve hers. Autumn seems slightly sour not to have thought of that first, and suggests getting her a TV or laptop with a streaming service subscription. She might prefer something that takes a minimum of mental effort.

Caroline: Caroline shoots down the TV and laptop—she’d rather have Lena more mentally active and they’d be magnets for theft by the police in a way a book isn’t. She likes the idea of having her family visit her and hands the case as a whole off to her firm to start on, beginning with seeking an injunction to keep her at TMC indefinitely for follow on care.

She does want information on who is connected to the Dixie Mafia, specifically if it is anyone other than McGinn, but advises Autumn to tread very carefully. She’d rather nothing than trouble. If it comes to it she can reach out through more official channels. And in truth, her family is a carrot they can work on for a while to come.

The case against her is weak, essentially all circumstantial to begin with and further polluted with the general laziness endemic of the NOPD.

GM: Bishop takes the case without complaint, though Ericson doesn’t think it’s worthwhile pro bono work; there are needy people who’d give the firm better PR. When she hears Caroline wants to recruit the doctor for her own personal use, she cites ethics issues and starts asking questions about how much start-up capital the Ventrue really has invested. Bishop tells her to stop and says Dustin will be a good lawyer to assign to Lena’s case. It’s a softball one and he loves cases where someone’s future is on the line.

Autumn takes her domitor’s advice to tread carefully and returns (to her chagrin) empty-handed rather than with trouble. She admits organized crime isn’t really an area of the Krewe’s. She might be able to find out more by sticking her nose into things more obviously.

Autumn also knows a ghoul who knows more about that sort of thing, and who’d probably be willing to trade the info in return for a hit.

That’s what it always comes down to with ghouls.

Caroline: ‘Whose ghoul’ is what it really comes down to for Caroline.

She remains profoundly aware of stepping on toes.

GM: Corbin ‘Spook’ MacCready. He’s a ghoul of Rocco’s with his fingers in organized crime. Autumn doesn’t think there’s any great risk in trading him a hit. He’s not about to tell his domitor, and from what she knows, he’s the least attached of Rocco’s ghouls anyway. He’s actually a transplant from Miami, whose domitor was killed in the city’s Camarilla-Sabbat-Setite skirmishes. He’s not been with the Gangrel hound for all that long, as the All-Night Society reckons such things.

Caroline: Caroline has Autumn set up the deal. Quietly.

GM: Autumn bags her domitor’s blood and brings back the following information:

Pierpont McGinn is the sole Kindred to claim domain over the Dixie Mafia. Their criminal pursuits generate him good a bit of income on top of his legitimate real estate business, which he uses to help launder the money. There are… rumors about stranger occurrences surrounding the Mob, though.

Caroline: It’s what she needed. Enough to not go poking around. At least not yet.

Monday night, 22 February 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline had originally hoped to draw on the Anarchs for her plans, but her poisoned well with them all but slams the door on that desire. Instead she finds her attention employed by younger Invictus—often seeking better Requiems than they possessed in life. Many want earthly possessions: homes, cars, clothes, everything. They are ideal candidates for Caroline. David Hansen, from what she’s overheard, is nearly perfect.

GM: Caroline hears, in fact, that Hansen has been missing lately. He hasn’t shown up to Elysium since the Matheson trial. Perhaps Caroline can find what’s become of him and see if there’s been any mess. Garcia frankly doesn’t care enough to go looking himself—an attitude that feels all-too like so many Kindreds’ towards Evan.

And perhaps even hers. If she went missing, how many Kindred would call it a shame, and how many would actually go looking?

Caroline: She knows at least one that might have a pressing interest if she ‘vanished’. Probably several. None for altruistic reasons though. There’s some turnabout there—her own interest in Hansen isn’t exactly altruistic. She brings up the missing Toreador to his regent, first inquiring whether or not McGinn objects to investigating his disappearance. She’s learned once before how defensive the older Ventrue is about things that are ‘his’.

GM: Pierpont’s herald smiles coldly that Hansen is indeed ‘his.’ Find and return Regent McGinn his rightful property, and he’ll see Caroline rewarded well.

Caroline: If Violet is willing to turn over the location of Hansen’s haven she begins there.

GM: “Regent McGinn has already thought to investigate so obvious a site,” Violet replies dismissively.

Caroline: The former heiress begins by investigating any kine or ghouls Hansen possessed or showed interest in according to those she speaks with about him. Did he maintain ghouls? Did he care about mortals? What were their names? She sets Autumn and Bishop into the ghoul ‘under society’ in search of the ghoul question even as she tears about Hansen’s life. Once she has names she pulls their recent spending and credit histories, their addresses,

Is Hansen his birth name? She finds out, then pulls his credit history, relatives, and background off various background search sites and from an array of available resources. Disappearance of his ghouls or mortal associates, or emptying of his bank accounts would suggest flight. Their unraveling might suggest destruction.

She’s careful not to put mortal PIs on Hansen himself, instead targeting mortals as she builds a fuller picture.

GM: True to Caroline’s initial suspicions, Hansen’s bank accounts have all been cleared out. Autumn reports (Bishop doesn’t make as much headway) that his ghouls are all gone too. Their bank accounts have also been cleared out.

Caroline: Caroline tells her people to chase the ghouls via mortal relations and contacts. Eventually someone will break and call. She’s also willing to offer a hit of vitae to a ghoul that comes forward with meaningful information on his whereabouts.

GM: Eventually someone does. Sherri Rodgers, 53, tearfully comes to Autumn with news that her disappeared daughter Lori finally called. Lori assured her mother that she was fine, but sounded “so scared.” Sherri thinks she’s been kidnapped. She wouldn’t say where she was calling from, and hung up so suddenly. Caroline and her ghoul trace that call to Abita Springs—a small town about 50 miles outside the city limits. Population four thousand.

Caroline: The entire thing stinks to Caroline. She sends in mortal investigators and arranges a meeting with Coco while she waits to hear back. Her pitch to the Anarch matron is simple: if she’s stepping in something with the movement she’ll drop the matter.

GM: Jennifer Haley meets with Caroline. When the ghoul hears the nature of Caroline’s business, she takes care of it herself. She says Hansen doesn’t have any current association with the Anarch Movement—there’s nothing here for Caroline to step into. Coco’s hands are clean. If there’s any Anarch who has anything to do with Hansen, it’s likely his grandsire Max. Otherwise, he walked out on them a while ago.

“Seems he learned the hard way young licks don’t have many friends in the First Estate,” the ghoul remarks.

Caroline: Caroline laughs at that. “You could have left off the qualifier, Ms. Haley.”

GM: The herald just smiles. “There’s one club they do.”

Caroline: The heiress doesn’t take the bait, swallowing her response.

Yes, everyone fell over themselves for Eight-Nine-Six when they crawled in bed with René and got themselves executed.

GM: They might not have fallen on the sheriff for that, but they did fall on her. The ones who didn’t decide they were sick of Coco and the prince, at least.

Caroline: Discount principles costing only scorn towards a newblood. Caroline isn’t impressed.

GM: Autumn reports that Hansen left with three ghouls in tow. Lori Rodgers, somewhat salaciously, was her domitor’s girlfriend as a mortal. The other two, both men, were new faces to the half-bloods’ society. Hansen gave them the Blood mere days before his disappearance. Caroline’s investigators, meanwhile, don’t call back.

Or come back.

Tuesday night, 23 February 2016, PM

GM: Coco has Caroline come over to Blaze several nights after she left Amelie in the Brujah primogen’s care. Caroline’s inquiries as to how the orphaned fledgling is “settling in” are met with a frank, “She’s not going to be paying you back anytime soon. She let her Beast get loose at an unlucky time.”

Coco sips her rose cocktail as if to say that’s the end of the matter.

“As to why I’m having you here. I’ve heard about your attempts to make inroads with the Movement, and you’re doing it wrong. Still, you’ve been determined enough to make friends, and it’s not hard to imagine why. What can you offer in return for access to the court system that’d make a biweekly boon from you useful?”

Caroline: “We all need friends,” Caroline acknowledges, “some of us just more than others.” Turning over Amelie was a gamble, especially after waking her up. But then, she imagines the potency of her blood is among the least well-kept secrets in the city, and if she is to tease it to someone, Coco is among those she fears the least.

She bites her lower lip for a moment as she considers Coco’s question.

“That’s the second time you’ve asked that question, Coco,” she observes.

“What I can offer,” she adds by means of clarifying. “I rather prefer this conversation to the last one, but I’d use the last one to frame the answer.”

“It wasn’t six months ago that I was a lick with no friends, no knowledge of the all-night society, a death sentence over my head, no ghouls, marginal influence caged by domains I didn’t even know existed, and a former hound with a hundred years in the blood hunting me.”

“Tonight I’ve been acknowledged by clan and covenant, I’ve started a firm and settled relations with my mortal family. I have half a dozen talented ghouls. René is in the wind and even the scourge could not take me on my ground.”

“I have no doubt, Coco, that most of what I might offer to younger licks you could get elsewhere. Investigations, help with the legal pieces of cleaning up a Masquerade breach, social media management, even paltry things like money, or—if you permitted it—the exercise of influence within the court system.”

“Though perhaps I could offer those things in less direct ways than others would,” she offers. “Really, what I offer is whatever you might want me to offer—in time. Make the request, and I will rise to meet it.”

She meets the much older vampire’s eyes. “I will be something, or I will be nothing. And I will be one of the two very quickly.”

GM: “That’s a little vague, but it’s true you have been resourceful to have made it this far,” Coco says thoughtfully. “And your juice is as red as anyone’s if I can’t think of any other rent.”

“What sorts of things are you wanting to do at the courts, broadly speaking?”

Caroline: “Depending on the level of access? Someone in the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, and the Clerk of Court would provide a significant amount of leverage with more petty problems. Making annoying lawsuits or charges go away or appear, pushing people into settlements or ensuring they aren’t pushed, ensuring paperwork is, or isn’t, or was, or wasn’t, filed properly and on time.”

“The Registrar of Deeds office would also be useful, especially for any licks that want to maintain their living identity for a while longer—or wish to transition from it without losing control of assets.” Caroline bites her tongue for a moment before continuing.

“And that same office, also provides a window into many Kindred transactions of property that are not neatly handled. It gives me the opportunity to observe outliers early, and potentially identify Kindred ‘owned’ properties, or Kindred agents being groomed or set up, significantly earlier than many would think.”

“That isn’t as immediately evident if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but if you do… it’s another tool to build the picture.”

“Judges, as elected officials, are trickier, but with a subtle hand also extremely valuable. Tweaking briefs that go before them, putting information into their hands, subtly influencing cases so they are decided in various ways, or so that they’re appealable when the outcome is certain. Influencing bail via magistrates and getting petty matters thrown out in district court—things like DUIs. Or knowing that they are being thrown out.”

She meets Coco’s gaze again. “There are a great many more subtle levers that can be pulled. Some that I could probably pull less effectively from outside as well, but that would be… well, impolite, and you’ve never been that to me, Coco.”

GM: “I find that politeness rarely hurts, even if it doesn’t always help,” the Brujah primogen remarks.

“Oh, there’s one last thing,” Coco says as the legal-related talk concludes. “I don’t think of either us is especially pleased how things turned out with Amelie, but I did promise you something extra for your help there.”

Coco swirls her rose cocktail.

“I heard about your fight with Meadows. I’m impressed that she didn’t think finishing a fight with you and your people was worth it, after the showing you gave.

chose to disengage after the showing you and your people gave.

“I also wouldn’t count on that tactic of burying her under ghouls working twice.

I also wouldn’t count on that tactic working against her twice. Almost of us have ghouls, and Meadows is no exception. Hers are a brood of animals as mangy and foul-tempered as she is, and most of them fairly old. She doesn’t use them often, since she can tear most licks into shreds just fine on her own, but she brings them out for more dangerous missions."

Caroline: Caroline’s tongue rolls across her fangs.

“Thank you, Coco. I suppose I would be flattered if the scourge felt she need bring more against me than against licks a century my elder—but without that warning I suspect I’d also be dead.”

She continues, “It’s not in my nature to back down from any fight, even before the Beast was born in my breast.” The Ventrue’s gaze is steady and unflinching in the Brujah’s own. “For better and worse.”

“Far less so a conflict on my doorstep.”

“I’m certain whispers have already started among some of the Anarchs that I might have set up Ms. Suarez to glean some favor from the prince, sheriff, hounds, or even scourge. I don’t respond to whispers, but I would tell you to your face the lie that is, so you can see and judge for yourself the truth of it: I knew nothing of the scourge’s planned assassination, and if I could have stopped her I would have, for no other reason than it happened on my roof.”

“You know better than most the fiction that is this love between the sheriff and I, but beyond that tale I would offer this: even if I turned from the hospitality of our kind, and that of the south, I would not turn from the face of God so casually. I would not offer up my daughters as did Lot, but I would not hesitate to offer up the tip of my sword.”

GM: Coco rolls her shapely shoulders in a shrug.

“I suppose that was Isa’s good luck then. For my part, I frankly don’t care whether you or anyone set her up. She’d walked out of Mid-City with the rest of Veronica’s people, and chose to dwell in the Quarter outside of my protection.”

“By all accounts, she was getting on her krewe’s nerves even before that public scene with Wells and the tiff she started with Rocco. I don’t think you’ll find anyone who particularly cares that she’s ash, one way or another, except perhaps the good hound.”

Caroline: “All the same,” Caroline answers, her gaze not breaking from the elder’s.

She doesn’t know why she’s so eager for Coco’s approval.

But then, doesn’t she? That faint pull that keeps tugging her back to the Anarch matriarch.

“Whatever her choices say of her, I would have my own speak for me, not those supposed.”

Wednesday night, 24 February 2016, PM

GM: After several nights, Caroline gets a call from one of the PIs’ numbers.

A low and wheezing chuckle sounds across the line. It’s a cold sound, devoid of mirth. But thick and scratchy too, like inhaled sawdust.

“He he he… he he he…”

“I sees ‘em all… knew ya’d come… he he he… ou’siders… he he he… he he he…!”

“Mighty fine… mighty fine… he he he…”

“Goo’ boys… goo’ boys… dumb boys… ma boys… he he he…”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t amused. “Who is this?”

GM: “He he he… names is… names are… my name… my name, all mine… he he he…”

“Yer here… here for ’im… aincha…”

“Mighty fine… mighty fine… mighty fine… he he he… thanks fer the boys… he he he…”

Caroline: Caroline’s scowl doesn’t abate. “I hope you cleaned up after yourself.”

GM: “He he HEE HEE HEE HEE!” wheezes the voice. “Ou’siders…”

“Davey Hansen… he he he… y’all… he he he… him, aincha… he he he…”

“I’m gonna give ‘im ta y’all! He he he! Presents! Presents! I give y’all presents! He he he he…!”

“What ya say… darlin… ya want a present? He he he… plum happy… real happy… pigs in a blanket… pigs in shit… he he he…”

Caroline: “I’ll decline.”

GM: “Will ya now… ya don want ol’ Davey Hansen… ‘cause I don’… wan’ ‘im gone, I do… he he he… wan’ ‘im dead… dead an’ fed… back to da city… good ‘nuff… he he he… city slicker… witth ’is city slicker seed… he he he… ma help me… I’s a good boy… he he he… good boy…”

Caroline: Caroline’s attention perks up. “Well now, that would be interesting to me.”

GM: “Darlin, darlin, oh do… do, de… be dat way… darlin, darlin, oh, don never you stray….”

“I kin tell you where he is… his address… he he he… I knows, I knows… he he he…”

“You take ’im away… I want ’im gone, all gone… never you stray… he he he…”

Caroline: “Just come and get him?” Caroline replies skeptically.

GM: There’s a cluck-cluck-cluck sound of a tongue against gums.

“Come an’ get ‘im… come an’ get ‘im… take ’im away… but darlin, oh darlin’… we gots ta do it this way…”

“He hurts… he hurts… God almighty, he gots ta hurt… like timber… like shiver… he hurt, stay, away…”

“He he he… he’ll hurt… he’ll hurt… you see it, ma way…?”

Caroline: “I imagine I can make him regret his choices,” Caroline agrees.

GM: There’s a sudden fit of manic, shrieking, hack-like coughing. It’s so deep and phlegmy Caroline wonders if the speaker is retching blood, or perhaps something thicker.

But there’s glee buried in there. Shining and unmistakable. Like gold nuggets in mud.

“He’ll hurt… he’ll hurt…?”

Caroline: “Yes.”

GM: “He he heeeeYYYAAAHHHWWWWW!!!!!”

There’s a vicious, wet tearing sound from the phone, and an equally wet, turgid splat.

“He he… he he he…”

“You see it… ma way…”

“Ya come… ya bring… y’also bring… ten thousan’… cash… in a suitcase… a nice one… with a shovel… a nice one… so I kin bury it… deep… I don’ trus’ da banks… run by kikes… kikes lie… dey lie… dey lie… lie… lie… dey die… dey die… die, die, die…”

“Ya bring… a camera… nice one… pictures… I want nice ones… REAL nice ones… REAL nice… o’ ‘im… Davey… Davey… hurtin’… yes… yesss… hurtin’… pictures… pretty, pretty pictures… ma pictures…”

“Abita Mystery House… das’ where… leave ’em… ma money… ma picy, pict, pictures… ma case… ma shovel… ya leave em… all mine… ya leave em all… all… all dere… mine…”

“An if you lie… if you lie… you take ’im… leave me high, dry, leave me dry… he he he… you try… you try… you wish you die… wish you die…”

Caroline: “You want pictures of him suffering?”

GM: “He he he…! Davey… pictures… he hurt… he hurt… you try… you try… kint hurt… not good as me… you kint hurt, like me… but you try… you try… he he he…!”

“You cross me… you die… I’ll take it back… the secret… and y’all die… all die…”

Caroline: The heiress is happy to meet all those terms, save the ‘pickup’ location. She has no interest in venturing into the depths of the Outlands over some neonate. Especially not after hearing what happened to Rocco when he ventured into the same area. She’s willing to meet at the edge of the city, the bridge out of New Orleans.

GM:NNOOOHH-HHOOO-HOOOOO!!! NNN-OOOO!!!!!!” the voice shriek-spits. There’s a sound like glass crunching under teeth.

Caroline: “You murdered my men and expected me to visit you?” Caroline laughs. “I don’t care about him that much. Certainly not enough to die for him.”


Caroline: “Can I reach you at this number?” Caroline asks.

GM: There’s a low, gurgling hiss.


Caroline: “We have a deal, though the pictures will arrive later, of course.”

GM: There’s a wet, raggedy crunch.

“Pictures…. THEN!”

Caroline: “How can I provide pictures of him hurting before I have him?” Caroline asks reasonably.

GM: “He in da town… ya dumb, slimy, cunt… ya hurt ‘im… ya hurt im bad… ya give me… ma pictures… dumb, fuckin’, faggot, ass… mmm… I… I… he he he… faggot… lickin’, spittin’, fuckin’, faggots… lezzy… licker… nigger… faggot, nigger, faggotnig…”

“I wanna fuck you, fuck your fat, wet, hairy, pussy, an’ eat your pretty titties… he he he… stuff em… fuck ’em… stuff em, dump em, fuck ’em…. dump ’em… he he he… dunk ’em… sour cream… he he he…”

Caroline: “I’m removing a nuisance for you, overlooking your murder of my men, and paying you for the trouble.” Caroline’s voice is firm. “You’re providing an address. You’ll get your pictures when I say, not when you do. Or you can deal with your little problem alone. And you will keep a civil tongue in your mouth.”

GM:NOO! NNNOOO!!!! NNNOOOO!!!! HEEE HHUUURRRRTTTT!!!!” shrieks the voice.

Caroline: “When I say.”

GM: There’s a wet, ragged wheezing, and another low squelch.



Caroline: “Then good luck with your problem.”

GM:FAGGOT FAGGOT FAGGOT FAGGGOT!!!!!!!”" the voice shrieks.



Caroline: “Yes. But where I say. Not when you say.” Caroline is firm.

Tiring of the profanity and insanity, she finally tells the voice on the other side to hold onto the phone and hangs up.

GM: Her sole answer is a choked half-sputter, half-hiss abruptly cut off by the ended call.

Wednesday night, 24 February 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline reaches out to schedule a meeting with McGinn.

GM: Violet haughtily questions Caroline as to the nature of her desired business. Regent McGinn’s time is valuable and not granted lightly.

At least to rubes like you goes the unpsoken insinuation.

Caroline: Caroline replies that she knows where his missing tenant is.

GM: There’s a sniff from the ghoul before she questions Caroline briefly to the circumstances, then declares the regent has an opening in five days.

Caroline: Delightful.

Wednesday night, 24 February 2016, PM

Caroline: Caroline reaches out to ‘Zilly’ about her grandchilde, happy to sit down at the bar they met at.

GM: Zilly isn’t around when Caroline first swings by the bar, but the bartender (after holding out his hand for a “tip”) says she and her friends are usually around at least a couple times a week. The Toreador is there playing pool the next night Caroline swings by, along with a bearded and middle-aged Kindred wearing a button-down shirt and cowboy hat. From Maxzille’s Cheshire cat grin, she looks like she’s winning.

“Leas’ we got ahsselves pleny o’ ahmmyahnishun…”

“You’re clearing me out,” the other Kindred mutters.

The Toreador rocks on her heels and blows on the tip of her pool stick like it’s a smoking gun. “Y’ain’ no nit aht least.”

The other Kindred takes aim with his stick. Click. Roll. Clunk.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t make any pretense of this being a social call, or of trying to fit in with the older Toreador. She approaches her and asks for a few moments of her time.

GM: Max shrugs as she bends to take aim with her stick. “Da game ain’ goin’ noahwheres.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs back. “I thought I’d give you the first look at it. I confess, I don’t really know how the sire or grandchilde thing works from personal experience, but it seemed… polite.”

“Hansen,” she says simply, after a moment’s pause.

She explains in brief that she’s tracked the neonate to a small town outside the city, where he seems to have gotten himself into some kind of trouble with the locals. If Zilly is interested she can share more. If not, she’s done her ‘due diligence’.

GM: She’s interested.

Caroline: Caroline shares what she knows with the Toreador. He’s fled the city with his ghouls—apparently a planned departure, perhaps seeking greener pastures. Locals—who have murdered several of Caroline’s agents seem to have taken offense to his attempt. She has a number for him but hasn’t called.

“I was considering going to get him, but honestly that’s a lot of risk. The last person I know that wandered out of New Orleans came back a shadow of himself.”

GM: Maxzille doesn’t ask many questions throughout. She listens, and plays. Click. Thump. Click. Thump. Her companion frowns deeply, but doesn’t speak.

The Toreador bends to take aim at another ball, then finally mutters:

“Damn fool.”

Caroline: Caroline shrugs. “If you want to deal with it, you’ve got a three night head start.”

GM: Maxzille isn’t smiling anymore. Not by a long shot.

“Whas’ your in’rest in findin ’im, dawlin?”

Caroline: “We all answer to someone,” Caroline answers. “We’re all clawing for our break. They’re few enough that I thought this had some potential.”

The ‘smile’ on Caroline’s face is far from friendly, “It’s not out of the goodness of my beating heart.”

GM: Maxzille eyes the table after the other Kindred shoots, but doesn’t make any move. “We all be creatures o’ habit, dawlin. Well, Ah suppose Ah owe ya one foah passin’ dat along. Considuh us squah.”
The other Kindred’s frown deepens. “You’re not seriously contemplating going after him.”
“I thought about it.” Caroline admits.

His address sounds to the Toreador.

“Kin’s kin.” Maxzille’s eyes are hard as they sweep across the table. “An’ dat fool spent all dis time bein’ scahed o’ me.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression darkens, “Yes, childer in this city have such a great history with their sires and grandsires.”

“In any case, in three days it’ll be out of my hands and yours. If you’re interested in acting, I might suggest doing so before then.”

She looks at the older Torrie. “I can get him out. Not pleasantly, not neatly, but I can do it.”

GM: “Goah on.”

Caroline: She shrugs. “I’ve always been a fan of Wagner. It’d be messy, though. I’m not certain it’s worth the trouble, or the risk. Maybe you’ll have a better option.” She leaves a small black card on the edge of the pool table. “Let me know if it’s something you want.”

GM: “‘Pends what it is, dawlin’. May be, may not be, but doan cos’ nuhthin ta lissen.”

Caroline: Caroline isn’t willing to discuss the details of her plan tonight, in public. She’d be more willing to in private, when Zilly’s had a chance to assess her own options. She takes her leave from the Anarchs and continues planning for her next move, whether Zilly calls or not.

Thursday night, 25 February 2016, AM

Caroline: In the aftermath of turning over Amelie to Coco—and learning of her fate—Caroline is not unmindful of the ‘debt’ owed to the near-terrifying elder that savaged the young Brujah. Though she cannot quite satisfy his demand that she spend a night with the subsequently executed lick, she does send Autumn to scout the location in question, and prepare for Caroline’s spending of a night there. It’s easier than trying to find a naked and nigh-forgotten elder.

GM: Autumn reports back that Demourelles Island is a tiny little neighborhood of an island. It has a nice view of the bayou (which is more like a river than the usual swamp the word makes people think of). The houses are nice, too. There’s a warning sign that says deaf children play on the streets, but traffic isn’t too big a concern. That’s probably one reason why their parents live here.

“Be a pretty nice place to live, actually, this little island all to yourself and your neighbors.”

Autumn’s rented a house from one of the families there for Caroline to stay at.

She’s also pulled up a report on the island’s history if her domitor is curious about that.

New Orleans doesn’t exist without Bayou St. John.

The city was first settled via the Mississippi River, whose path is anything but straight. A steam- or motor-powered ship has little trouble navigating, but for sailing vessels, those bends are a giant pain in the ass. You need the wind. So you wait for it—maybe for several days—to get you going in the direction you want. You go a few miles. And then the river abruptly changes direction. So you wait, again, for the wind to change—maybe another couple of days—to go a few miles more.

Because of this, when local American Indians showed the French there was a straighter shot to the city directly from the Gulf of Mexico, via Lake Borgne, Lake Pontchartrain, and Bayou St. John, this became the preferred route.

But this route wasn’t without its challenges. Particularly, one extreme bend in the bayou, called “The Devil’s Elbow,” was often clogged and rendered impassable by sand and branches, causing major problems for shipping.

So in the mid-1800s, it was decided a straighter channel for the bayou would be excavated. The plan was tabled during the Civil War and completed after. The soil from the dredging was heaped onto the land between the bayou’s original path to the east, and its new path to the west. That island—above sea level, thanks to the added soil—towers (relatively speaking) above its surrounding neighborhoods.

The soon-to-be island was gifted (by the Milne Asylum for Destitute Orphan Girls, it seems) to surveyor, Jules Alou d’Hemecourt (of Mid-City’s d’Hemecourt Street fame) in 1859 to thank him for his work in creating a plan for its development. In 1866, Isle d’Hemecourt, as it was originally called, was sold to James Joseph Demourelle, which explains why it’s often referred to, today, as Demourelle Island.

The island stayed in Demourelle’s family until 1905, and for the next few decades it was used as a hunting ground, a dairy farm, a small shipyard, a recreational boathouse, an (unofficial) home for squatters, and even a city dump.

There was a man named Sylvain Vincent Dedebant who owned the island for a portion of the second decade of the 1900s, who lost it in a lawsuit in 1916. That probably isn’t even worth mentioning, except 1) there was a spirited debate in the 1970s over whether the island was originally called “Demourelle Island” or “Dedebant Island” (those of you reading this now know neither answer is correct, it was originally called “Isle d’Hemecourt,” though “Demourelle Island” is far more common); and 2) Mr. Dedebant, apparently a milkman, was also in the news two years earlier for pulling out a concealed firearm and pointing it at another citizen while delivering his dairy.

In 1952, Demoruelle Island was briefly owned by a law firm of five partners who considered dividing the island into five huge plots on which they would each build a house. Instead they sold it to a corporate buyer, Park Island Incorporated, who were chartered in 1953, with the plan to build 28 lots (all but four on the water), and selling each for $18,000.

One of Park Island Inc’s officers was Joseph Schiro, a Sicilian from the town of Contessa Entellina—a community with a unique Albanian heritage, and one that sent many of its citizens to New Orleans. Schiro began his New Orleans career operating grocery stores, but eventually prospered in real estate, developing the Jefferson Parish community, “Schiro Park.”

The first home was built on the island in 1957, and the last was built in 1973. But the fact that the island—now most often called “Park Island” after Schiro’s corporation that developed it—sits on Bayou St. John isn’t its only charm. It’s also the style of the homes that occupy it.

A new neighborhood required a new look, so community members turned to architects to design their homes in innovative ways, representative of the time. It just so happened that a popular architectural style of the time was known as “Mid-Century Modern,” and that’s the style the architects called upon preferred.

The full report has further information.

Autumn otherwise reports no findings of interest. Caroline is free to move in to the rented house at her leisure.

Caroline: The Ventrue does so several nights later, having allowed a pattern of life to develop in the area and the install of surveillance equipment. She keeps Green and Fuller on standby not far away, both otherwise is content to spend the demanded ‘night’ alone in the home.

GM: Caroline’s ghouls remain vigilant at their posts. Sleep comes but does not pass easily for the Ventrue.

She dreams.

The dreams are dreadful, echoing with a thousand screams crying out as one, the roar of fast-rushing waters, and the terrible, suffocating sensation of liquid filling lungs that should be unimpeded by it. Indistinct sounds (voices?) gurgle through the depths as clammy tendrils coil around the Ventrue, greedily pulling her down.

Down. Down. Down.

Caroline steels her will and pulls herself away. Pulls herself up. She awakens, gasping for needless breaths, covered in a coppery-smelling red sweat. An indefatigable sense of hollowness tugs at her.
Her ghouls await her instructions what to do next.

“You, uh, don’t look like you slept well,” remarks Autumn.

Widney refrains from any commentary, and seems oh-so-faintly disdainful that the older ghoul does not.

Caroline’s dreams on the second night are dark, muddled, and unclear, like the bayou’s own depths.

On the third night, they become nightmares. Caroline sees herself, breaking her mother’s bones hard enough for splinters to stab out from bloody skin, then tossing each of them into the water. She laughs dementedly at the sights of her parents’ and brothers’ gurgling, silently screaming faces, then leaps in after them. She sinks from the weight of her own sins, and feels her thousand victims’ hands pulling her after them. She smiles as she realizes she is finally home. Where she belongs.

She awakens to sheets drenched in bloody ‘sweat’ and a longing urge to return home. Where she belongs.

Caroline: The Ventrue is all too happy to leave the island. She has the beds stripped and the sheets carried down to the incinerator in the Giani Building’s basement. On the ride back ‘home’ she asks Autumn if she’s had any luck locating Misha Sipokni.

The Ventrue tries not to dwell on the nightmares. They’re hardly the first, however personal they might have been. It’s not hard to read symbolism into the events with her mother. Shattering her bones, tearing her apart. Crippling her. It’s exactly what she has planned in less gruesome ways.

Even that thought sets her dwelling hatefully on what she’s become. ‘Less gruesome’ indeed. She’s only planning the cold-blooded murder of perhaps dozens of men and women whose greatest crime may be in seeking to rid the world of bloodsucking monsters. Murders she feels almost no hesitation in planning.

So long as she can avoid hurting her mother directly, avoid killing her. The Ventrue laughs bitterly at the petty personal nature of her ‘mercy’, how short its reach is. Does she even remember Diego’s thugs she executed?

Their faces, but not their names. Only Diego stands out. Only he stung. Because only he mattered to her. Just like her mother is the only hunter that matters.

GM: Autumn bears no answers to absolve her mistress’ ever-darkening conscience, but has some regarding Misha Sipokni.

“Take the ferry to Algiers and look off the railing,” says the ghoul.

‘Misha Sipokni’ is Choctaw for ‘beyond age and time.’ Given the context of Blanch’s usage, Autumn thinks it is in reference to the Mississippi River, which the Choctaw considered ‘so mighty as to be beyond age’ and frequently referred to by that name.

“Couldn’t find any person who went by the name, anyway,” the ghoul adds.

Caroline: The Ventrue’s eyes are hard, though not angry, as she listens to Autumn’s report. The truth of her earlier words about Caroline’s poorly rested appearance obvious in her ill humor.

“When’s the next ferry,” she doesn’t quite snarl at the ghoul, eager to put this entire, thus far dreadful, affair behind her.

GM: “Being figurative there. You can see the Mississippi, well, anywhere. Take a bridge, take a boat, walk up to the water. I mean, there it is.”

Caroline: Autumn’s answer is less important than what follows. Caroline arranges passage on the next ferry, leaving the ghouls behind.

“Take the rest of the night off.”

There will be few enough of those if Caroline has her way.

GM: “Oh, really? Thanks. Family’s getting a little sad I’m not around as much.”

Autumn waits to say those words until Widney’s not in the room.

Caroline: “Savor the time while you can,” the Ventrue replies. She knows what’s coming. Success or failure, death or victory, she doesn’t expect much time for the ghouls in the next months.

Sunday evening, 28 February 2016

Caroline: At Autumn’s suggestion, the Ventrue boards a ferry to Algiers—it’s less obviously tracked than crossing the bridge. Looking out on the Mississippi also gives her more time to air her dreams to it. Dreams of murdering her mother horribly and falling into darkness.

GM: Some older people look at Caroline curiously when she talks into the water. Younger ones ignore her, perhaps assuming she’s wearing a Bluetooth.

If only they listened to what she said.

It’s raining heavily. Thick droplets pound against the Mississippi’s black waters. The weather’s around 50 degrees. It’s a wet and miserable night for all of the ferrygoers.

Caroline: Caroline, at least, isn’t bothered by the cold or the wet. It’s little comfort. It just makes her feel less human.

When she arrives in Algiers, she takes a Ryde to the house where they hid Diego and his gang. She’s determined to honor, as best she can, the ancient vampire’s demands. Even if Amelie—stupid bitch that she was—got her head cut off. If none meet her, she does not linger.

GM: The house sits vacant and empty when Caroline enters. Less than empty. The walls where the bodies were interred have been torn open.

A figure sits in the chair.

He’s somewhat short by today’s standards but has a commanding presence that belies his size. His dark brown hair lays flat against his head, coming to rest in a slight curl just below his ears. A well-groomed mustache and Vandyke would give him an almost roguish appearance, but his timeless hazel eyes betray any sense of youth he might otherwise project. He wears a worn but sturdy-looking long coat and set of hiking boots.

He looks like the same man.

But he doesn’t look like the same man.

At all.

Not like Caroline remembers him.

“I hold your debt to me fulfilled,” the elder Cainite murmurs.

Caroline sees his lips move this time.

Caroline: “I believe Amelie Savard was destroyed,” Caroline answers, studying the ancient monster.

GM: His lips move again.

“I am aware.”

Caroline could swear she just saw him blink.

“Your forgiveness, young one. I am not always myself.”

Caroline: The Ventrue bites her lower lip. “None is necessary, regent, I have seen more wroth for lesser violations, but I offer it nonetheless.”

“The name Nathaniel of Blanch is not well known, nor his dominion over Algiers. Is it your wish, regent, that it remain so?” she asks.

GM: “Yes. I wish to be undisturbed.”

His jaw moves, as does the tongue behind it, but the words are as soft as the silvery coat of fur Caroline once observed on his naked chest.

Caroline: “A worthy desire,” Caroline agrees.

GM: Blanch makes no immediate reply.

His nostrils widen slightly.

“You have a curious scent.”

Caroline: “More often others have so named my mind,” Caroline answers lightly, deflecting. “I hope it is not displeasing.”

GM: “It is familiar.”

There’s the slightest cock of his head. Caroline has seen a similar motion from wolves.

“You may sit if you would stay.”

Caroline: “I would not intrude, if solitude is preferable,” Caroline offers, but she moves to find a seat.

GM: Blanch offers no reply. Caroline thinks she sees him blink a few more times. Slowly. She wonders if he is remembering to.

It’s an improvement from before.

“Your scent is neither pleasing nor displeasing. It is familiar.”

“It is curious.”

Caroline: “I have not often ventured into Algiers since my Embrace, but I did not uncommonly venture here in my life,” Caroline answers. “That was not so long ago.”

GM: Blanch’s nostrils widen again.

He doesn’t blink.

Caroline: “Certainly not by an elder’s standards.” Caroline has no doubt as to what he is.

GM: “Shilup.”

Caroline: The Ventrue tilts her head to the side. “Do we carry ours with us, locked in our corpses, unable to pass on?” she asks.

GM: “We are shilombish. We are one. We are not two. You smell of two.”

Caroline: “As though I’m… still alive?” Caroline asks.

GM: “No. You are dead.”

Caroline: “But my ghost has not passed on?”

GM: Blanch’s head slowly tilts again.

“I smell your shilup. I do not see it.”

“Perhaps I would know more if I tasted you.”

There’s no hunger in the words.

But his eyes don’t blink.

Caroline: “There are some mysteries that do not require answers,” Caroline replies in turn. “But it is curious,” she admits.

GM: There might be a smile. The faintest twitch of one.

Or maybe it’s just her eyes.

“The Baron knows more of such things than I.”

Caroline: “He has little love, I’m told, for those that number among the Sanctified,” Caroline answers.

GM: “The trifling grudge of one city’s prince.”

Caroline: “Words not often spoken within the city,” Caroline answers with interest.

GM: “It is all you have known. I have known more. Followers of one god and followers of many gods stood side by side in the Old World to withstand annihilation.”

Caroline: “But not here?” Caroline asks. “What changed?”

GM: “Annihilation does not threaten the shilombish that haunt Misha Sipokni’s headwaters. Followers of one god make war against followers of many gods, because the one they believe Nalusa Chito wishes it so. There are no matters of more urgent self-interest to occupy him.”

Caroline: “The prince is Nalusa Chito?” Caroline answers as much as asks. “They say his torpor is imminent.”

GM: “The followers of one god believe him Nalusa Chito.”

Blanch looks as if he could shrug. He does not.

“All things pass.”

Caroline: “Is it known why he holds a grudge?”

GM: “Is it known why white men begrudge red men?”

Caroline: “Only by those that presume to understand hate,” Caroline answers. She knew plenty enough professors that felt they could easily explain it, though.

GM: “All life must fight.”

Caroline: “We are, none of us, alive though,” Caroline answers.

GM: “As life fears death, death desires life.”

Caroline: “By mimicking the conflicts of life then, we pretend at it?”

GM: A low growl sounds from behind the Ventrue.

A great cat sits on its haunches behind her chair. Its orange-yellow eyes are at once distant and thoughtful. Extended claws slowly trace against the floor.

Caroline: Caroline steals a glance at the creature. Her eyes sweep across its coat, across the rippling muscles beneath it, and across those thoughtful eyes. Kindred and great cats are not so different in their perfect predation.

She’s heard tale of a ghouled jaguar—the last in the city for more than a century. Jocelyn had gushed about wanting to photograph it, though the story never caught Caroline’s attention. Just another mystery, when the ones that consumed her Requiem were of so much more consequence.

In the moment, though, it’s not difficult to imagine the existence of such a being. A century as the last of its kind. A creature in a world it no longer recognizes—and that no longer recognizes it.

“I suppose we all must find some purpose in our existence. I wonder,” she addresses the last words towards the feline, “how you find yours.”

GM: The leopard’s low, rumbling growl doesn’t subside, but its patient, feral-tinged eyes lower just slightly from the ceiling at the Ventrue’s voice.

Caroline thinks she sees… understanding.

Then a crash sounds against the ceiling.

Blanch isn’t in the chair anymore. There’s another crash, louder but more focused, and he’s on the ceiling too, impossibly crawling across it like a centipede as massive gray claws protrude from his pale hands. He smashes a hole with his fist, sending wooden chunks and splinters falling, and then he’s gone into the night.

The leopard roars, and then its claws are scraping against the ceiling too before it disappears through the hole.

Thuds and crashes sound from above, interspersed with bestial snarls and a warbling, simultaneously high- and low-pitched fleshy shriek that makes Caroline’s ears ache.

Caroline: The Ventrue moves in a flash. She can’t leap through the ceiling, but in a moment she’s outside, looking up at the battle ongoing.

GM: The Ventrue’s night vision cuts through the gloom like a knife, but it still hangs thick and heavy over one part of the house. Blanch’s and the leopard’s outlines are hazy as if she’s viewing them underwater.

But she smells it, even from there. A stench that’s fouler than foul. Wet. Acrid. Rotten. Like a waterlogged corpse dredged up from the Mississippi after days floating, but worse, as offensive to human nostrils as bleach to human fingers.

Blood flies in thick, paint-like splatters from the warring figures. Some of it red.

But more of it a hideous green so putrefied as to be almost black.

Caroline: Part of her says she should run, take the opportunity to escape Blanch’s scrutiny. Another part says to flee this battle she has no part in and the possibly frenzying elder at its conclusion. She’s already seen Blanch at far from his worst.

And yet, Caroline finds herself unable to flee, or at least unwilling. She wants to know, not only what he fights, but what he might offer.

The Ventrue eyes anywhere along the side of the house she can climb up—a gutter drain, a low overhang, anything.

GM: It’s been a while since Caroline went on that rock-climbing date with Neil, but he’d been impressed at the determined speed of her upwards crawl then, and she wasn’t dead then either. She doesn’t even have to be a good climber when she’s as fast as she is. Climbing onto the roof is easy.

The battle ahead awaits.

Caroline: The Ventrue darts gracefully along the roof towards the conflict, taking position behind the monster engaged with the elder, trying to draw it out of position and force it to split its attention a third way.

What was it Blanch had said about desiring life? The elder isn’t wrong, and the truth is Caroline has only felt truly alive in her unlife when she’s been fighting for it. When, just like in those moments in her life when she was fencing, it all came down to the simple question of who was better. Not who had the better trainer. Not who had more social connections. Not how the game was stacked. In a fight, all the social demands of the All-Night Society melt away. All the power and privilege that some licks enjoy. Simply, who was better. And in her Requiem it’s rare that Caroline hasn’t proven herself so.

These moments are the only ones she’s felt alive, the only ones in which she’s been nothing but herself.

Whatever the creature is, it’s large. It’s ugly. It’s putrid. That’s enough for her, especially with it splitting its attention between the feline and the elder. It leaves her plenty of room to move.

She wishes she had a sword. Wishes she’d worn that sword belt Autumn found online. As ridiculous as it was (she’d had to fight to avoid laughing in the ghoul’s face), she can’t deny it would have been useful now.

Caroline doesn’t have the bone-snapping strength of an elder. She doesn’t have even Baker’s raw power. But Blanch does, and all she really has to do here is make sure he connects. She’s a buzzing fly around the monster, shoving it from behind, attacking its legs and joints, throwing it off balance however she can and withdrawing before it can strike. Digging nails into already open wounds and ripping them open further when the opportunity presents.

God, if she doesn’t feel alive.

GM: Caroline feels her fists connect with something wet and rancid. The belt Autumn found was around $200. Not a bad price tag to still have a sword. Still, she makes do without. She can’t make out her foe. It wears the thing, whatever it is, is fighting from underneath a barrier of pouring water. Sight and sound seems to strangely distort around where its flesh should be. Caroline makes do without, there, too. She hears ghastly sounds of pain go up from where her fists land and her fingers tear. Sounds like no screams or vocalizations she’s hear; it’s like listening to something wet and bulbous rupture. Blanch trades blows with the creature, withstanding some, being tossed back by others. The elder gestures and thunder rumbles as rain intensifies over the combatants, further obscuring their battle. Spectral wolves, with glowing snow-white pelts and eyes that burn with cold blue fire, snarl and tear at the thing from its side. Birds descend from the sky, clawing and pecking in droves. There’s an ungodly foul, rotting stench hat only grows worse the longer the battle plays out.

Finally, there’s a hideous shriek as the thing gives flight. Its rippling outline dissolves into the night sky as it clears the roof, jerking schizophrenically. This does not feel like a tactical withdrawal, like with Meadows. Deciding a battle’s outcome is no longer worth a continued fight. This thing feels beaten, and like it’s fleeing for its life.

Blanch seems to half-explode, half-dissolve apart into a ghostly mist with burning yellow eyes. He pours after the thing. The leopard, unable to follow its master’s pursuit, snarls after his retreating foe. Caroline supposes that her part is done, too.

Dead she might be, but victory’s flush is no less sweet.

How many kine have felt so alive as her?

Sunday night, 28 February 2016, PM

GM: It’s not overlong before Widney informs Caroline that the firm sprung Lena from prison. Kindred powers helped lubricate the process. She’s now a free woman. Something something injustice. Something something emergency. She didn’t pose much flight risk and was pretty badly hurt in prison to get sent to TMC in the first place. The police wanted some bribes to grease the wheels, but business as usual.

Lena’s parents are taking her in until she’s back on her feet. They’re both professors and fairly well-off financially.

That may take more time emotionally than anything else. Widney says Lena is deeply traumatized by her family’s probable deaths, her brother’s betrayal, and her experiences in prison. The ghoul recommends therapy, but imagines Lena’s parents are going to be pushing that already.

There’s also the question of Lena’s medical license. If Caroline wants her to practice off the books, that’s a non-issue. And indeed, having no license will keep her all the more dependent on them.

If Caroline wants Lena to get her license back, there is a 3 year minimum waiting period before she can petition for her license to be reinstated. This process is lengthy, tedious, and of course (normally) lucrative for the lawyers involved. Lena and her lawyer (Dustin, who always loves cases where someone’s future is on the line) would gather character witnesses, statements from employers, CME certificates, volunteer letters, remediation course letters, and psychiatric evaluations in order to put together a case to petition the medical board to reinstate Lena’s medical license. This might be a contingent license or she might have her medical license reinstated fully. It all depends on the medical board and the potency of Lena’s petition.

Autumn, no less desirous to upstage Widney than before, says “Screw waiting three years.” The Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners is located on Camp Street in the CBD. Caroline could invade their heads, have Autumn doctor the board’s records, and get that done by tomorrow.

She also “reports” how Widney didn’t have a good cover story for why the firm was bailing out Lena like this. Her father Philemon Delacroix, who Caroline’s Uncle Matt called “a meddler” among other less flattering names, was awfully curious about his daughter getting bailed out like this.

Autumn, in her position as the firm’s director of media relations, has been casting Lena’s acquittal as pro bono work done to get some good publicity. She’s been puffing up the case to as many media outlets as she can. It’s a great story. Gentle-souled children’s doctor gets her life destroyed by her wicked brother, almost murdered in prison, then rescued by the firm of Bishop, Bowden, Reffett, & Ericson, that’s so determined to give something back to society.

Widney criticizes Autumn’s methods. Isn’t this going to ruffle feathers with the DA’s office, or the police? Do they want that?

Autumn retorts that by that logic, private criminal lawyers shouldn’t defend anybody. That is sort of what they do.

Caroline: Caroline refuses to get involved in the slap fight.

Merinelli is out of prison. That’s what matters.

She tables the question of Lena’s medical license for now; she has enough things on her mind and the ex-pediatrician is probably in no mental or physical state to immediately resume practice anyway. She tells her ghouls to keep an eye on Merinelli in case she’s considering suicide, and to stop her if she tries.

It’s not a happy ending for Lena, but it is a better ending.

Monday night, 29 February 2016, AM

Caroline: While Caroline waits to hear back from Zilly or her meeting with McGinn she puts several contingencies into place, depending on each. If she visits Abita Springs it’ll be in force, with enough private security to invade a small country. It’ll also be by air.

GM: Zilly does not call back.

Caroline: When Caroline’s meeting with the older Ventrue rolls around, she relates that she’s seemingly located his missing tenant just outside the city, where he’s landed himself in a spot of trouble. She inquires as to his further interest in the matter.

GM: McGinn barks a laugh when he hears the news.

“That weak-blood’s so dumb he could throw ‘imself on the ground an’ miss.”

“Violet, call up the dear sindaco.” He grin is the same one as when he watched Billy whip Caroline’s back into red tatters. “I do so enjoy our chats together.”

He informs Caroline that David Hansen will never leave Abita Springs. He declares she’s done “mighty well, mighty well,” and asks what boon she would ask of him for this service.

Caroline: Caroline is happy to take the debt for what it is, but is bold enough to ask why the older Ventrue is making no effort to recover the foolish neonate, especially if McGinn has a connection to the powers that be beyond the city. “I expect his grandsire would be grateful for his return, however useless he might be.” She coaches the question as one for her own edification, rather than as one questioning his judgement.

GM: “Yer education’s over, Eiren,” McGinn drawls. “Information ain’t free, now. But if yer curious enough, that can be yer payment.”

Caroline: Caroline keeps the smile on her face. “As valuable as it might be, I’d hold any debt as more so. I simply thought it might send an array of messages at once. Of your strength and influence beyond the city and of the fate of oathbreakers, while also earning a debt from his grandsire for his ‘rescue’.”

Her eyes glitter. “But then, as you say, Gerousiastis, I’m the eiren, and my own perspective may be painfully limited.”

GM: McGinn smiles indulgently.

“Ma daddy wore a gray uniform an’ fought at Gettysburg in the War o’ Northern Aggression, Eiren. And before he perished nobly upon the field o’ battle, he told me an anecdote. ’Mong the junior officers, his superiors wanted yer body. ’Mong the mid-level officers, they wanted yer mind. And ’mong the general staff, they wanted yer soul.”

“It’s similar with us. The thing we want from you is loyalty, Eiren. And it do so please me that we have it.”

Caroline: Caroline keeps her expression still at the backhanded combination of insult and compliment.

“As you say, Gerousiastis. I’ll endeavor to better know my place.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Jon V
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Celia VIII

Previous, by Character: Story Eleven, Amelie IV, Caroline IX
Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Caroline XI

Story Eleven, Celia VIII

“I guess no one has it all.”
Piper McCreedy

Wednesday night, 2 September 2015, PM

GM: The shooting at the Eight District police station is all over the news. Former homicide detective Richard Gettis gunned down two teenage heiresses in completely cold blood, all for no apparent reason at all. Caroline Malveaux, news outlets crow, heroically saved the girls’ lives even as Gettis singlehandedly fought his way out of the police station, leaving an attorney named Mitchell Lowenstein dead in the process. A city-wide manhunt now seeks to bring in the murderous ex-cop in, but they haven’t caught him yet.

Celia’s heard all about it. Everyone’s heard all about it.

It’s not too long after she does that Jade finds herself summoned to the Evergreen’s rooftop garden by Antoine Savoy. Preston is there like always. After complimenting the younger Toreador’s always gorgeous appearance and making pleasant chatter for a few minutes, Savoy continues,

“I presume you’ve heard of the recent shooting at the Eighth, my dear. I’ve been in touch with an individual who wants to contract Dr. Dicentra’s services. They want Yvonne Devillers’ scar removed. I’m to understand laser surgery has come a ways, but it still leaves a faint trace, and they want the scar completely gone.”

Celia: She has heard the whispers at Elysium, even, about the shooting. “One of the spares,” the harpies had tittered, “who needs a family with that many daughters.”

Jade had no reason to be bothered by the news. It was Celia who knew the Devillers on a personal level. Celia who remembered the friend from high school with the longer name, the girls several years her junior but so alike in appearance that they could be triplets rather than twins.

For all their technological advances, the use of laser treatments still leaves remnants of scars and blemishes behind. Not like Jade’s work, which always leaves the skin free and clear. Her eyes settle upon her grandsire, considering the request.

“I’m certain I’ll give them no cause to complain, grandsire. The Devillers girl is a breather; does your contact wish for it to be done over a series of ‘treatments,’ or just the once?” The Masquerade, she means. “Lasers take multiple treatments and months to see results.”

GM: Who needs so many indeed? You can afford to lose a few kids when you have six.

Rather like Celia’s own mother and father. Plenty of spares.

Savoy inclines his head.

“They mentioned that very fact. The girl actually is going to receive laser treatment surgery. My contact simply wishes you to come in at the end and ensure it’s a flawless job.”

Celia: Not something she needs to worry about then. She asks after the details: the timeline, the location, and, eventually, the fee.

“I assume your contact is familiar with my pricing.” The barest lilt in her voice at the end of the sentence turns it into a question. She has done work for kine before—plenty of them come to her spa—but they wouldn’t be asking for a night doctor if they were ignorant of the way their society works. Somehow she had always imagined that the people in the upper echelons of society—the Devillers of the world—were above being managed by Kindred.

How silly. She knows the truth of the world.

GM: “They’re amenable to you performing the alterations at Tulane Medical Center after Yvonne’s final treatment there, and compensating you for the inconvenience of getting in. They’re also amenable to Yvonne coming in to your spa and having the scar removed there. They don’t care what explanation you give the girl for how you do it, so long as the Masquerade is maintained and her suspicion isn’t aroused.”

“My contact wishes to remain anonymous, which makes the collection of any boon rather more difficult.” Savoy smiles ruefully. “They would thus prefer you to ask for a specific service up front. They’re willing to trade the equivalent of two boons rather than one in compensation for the loss of, shall we say, flexibility.”

Celia: Getting in has never been a problem. Pietro had seen to that; it’s the first thing he taught her how to do. It’s also just over the border, and a new face, a pair of scrubs, and the ability to mask her predatory nature has made the Second Tradition all that much more easy to violate.

“I’ve been lying about scar removal for years,” she says with a smile. Cross fiber friction. Beta keratin. Injections. Fillers. Collagen. That last one has been a big one; who knew that it was such a miracle substance, and from the body itself.

The smile threatens to fade at his next words, but she keeps it in place.

“Hard to pre-collect on a favor when I don’t know what sort of person they are, grandsire, or what they’d be able to do for me.”

GM: “Splendid,” her grandsire smiles back at her first reply.

“Doubtlessly,” he nods at her second one. “I can say that my contact is powerful, and most any favor you could ask of an elder, you can ask of them.”

Celia: Powerful, anonymous figures.

Her favorite kind.

An elder, though. What would she ask of an elder? Why, it would depend on the elder of course. She much prefers to tailor the boon to the patron; there’s a certain detachment it will need to take on with this hurdle in place. Something tangible, perhaps, if the elder in question doesn’t wish to associate with a neonate like her. Her mind rips through the possibilities, idly wondering if the Devillers are claimed by Vidal himself (Garden District, she remembers from high school), and if that is the reason he wishes to remain anonymous.

Because he and her grandsire are such good friends, of course.

She avoids the snrk of amusement only because her body is not given to such human displays.

“I see,” she says at length.

GM: “You can take your time to consider what,” Savoy smiles. “The girl’s surgery is months away, after all.”

Celia: “I wasn’t expecting a mysterious benefactor,” Celia admits with a rueful smile.

GM: “They would seem less benefactor than trading partner,” Preston observes from her tablet.

“Ah, but that lacks the same dramatic air, doesn’t it, Nat?” smiles chuckles.

“Perhaps, sir,” the Malkavian agrees mildly.

Celia: “I’m a closet romantic, Madam Preston; unlife is much more thrilling this way. Rose tinted. Et cetera.” A wink lets her in on the joke.

What would she ask even of her grandsire if the boon were with him? The truth of her sire, perhaps. They’d had many talks over the years about his enigmatic childe, but none that had ever sated Celia’s curiosity about the monster who crawled out from under her bed.

But that’s so personal. And likely the only two people who can tell her what she seeks are the sheriff himself and the grandsire sitting across from her.

“Your contact,” she says after a moment, “is familiar enough with our city to obtain or offer information on certain covenants or members?” She assumes it’s a lick. Who else would know about the night docs?

It’s not as if she can have the contact teach her a skill.

Maybe it’s worth a shot. Someone had once said something about shooting and goals.

GM: Preston doesn’t smile.

But Jade’s never seen her do so.

Her grandsire, at least, chuckles again before answering, “They are. Who or which did you have in mind, my dear?”

Celia: Jade heard a funny joke about Preston and a night doc. She keeps it to herself.

“My sire.” Her lack of heartbeat keeps the color from her cheeks at the words; it feels very much like telling her new boyfriend that she’s still hung up on her ex. She stops herself before she can offer further explanation.

GM: Savoy only nods in understanding.

“What should I ask them?”

Celia: Everything you’ve refused to tell me over the years.

Too churlish.

Why he chose me.

Too desperate.

What the fuck the thing was in his head when he murdered me.

Too personal.

“Where to even begin. He’s a mystery no one ever discusses.” Celia keeps the accusation from creeping into her tone. “I don’t suppose you’d want to paint a broad picture for me so that your contact can color it in while we’re wheeling and dealing favors, grandsire?”

GM: “Oh, you can dispense with that, my dear. There’s no need for favors between us,” Savoy smiles indulgently. “Whatever my grandchilde wishes of me, she can ask. I know she’s equally ready to help me when I have need of her.”

Celia: She hasn’t turned him down yet. Nor can she imagine that she would; she owes much of what she is to his generosity those first nights.

“I only want to know what I come from. What sort of Kindred took me for his childe. Who he was, maybe, that caught your eye to bring him into this world.” A selfish question, she can’t help but admit; she wants to be what catches her grandsire’s eye now.

She spares a quick glance toward his steward. Perhaps this is a family matter.

GM: Preston does not look up from her tablet.

The French Quarter lord chuckles. “You don’t pick your questions small, do you, my dear? That’s a long story. And an important one, at that. Long and important enough it’s better told another time, under more befitting circumstances.”

“For tonight, what do you say we resolve or table the question of what my contact can do for you?”

Celia: It seems petty to wring a promise for a future tale out of him. Celia just dips her head in deferment.

“As you say, grandsire, another time and place. I’ll need some time to think on the contact’s offer. I wouldn’t want to drag others into our business unnecessarily.”

GM: “When you’re afforded time, take your time,” the elder Toreador smiles.

Tuesday evening, 3 November 2015

GM: Several months later, Natalie lets Celia know that Yvonne Devillers is scheduled for an appointment with her.

“I’m really glad you’ll be able to help her,” smiles her however-many-times-distant cousin. “I had classes with her sister Adeline at McGehee.”

“It’s so sad what happened to them…”

Celia: “Have her schedule it with Celia,” Jade had told her grandsire about the appointment with the girl, “it’s not as if Dicentra is on the list of employees.”

Risky, isn’t it, to bring her here where it’s tied so closely to the rest of her business, but one of the rabble had been picked up and dealt with just recently for thinking he could run amok through the city with no heed for boundaries, and Celia hadn’t been interested in pushing her luck with the city as on edge as it is. All that nonsense at the trials, the executions… she’ll stick to her side of the tracks, thank you very much.

Besides, it’s sort of like hiding in plain sight. Of course Celia isn’t Dicentra, and why would Jade use her own place of business for modifications like this? Double bluff and all that.

Now, dressed in the typical loose pants and shirt that proclaims the name of her business, Celia just offers Natalie a sad smile as she stands across the desk in the lobby.

“Devastating,” she agrees. “I can’t even imagine what she’s going through right now, what the whole family went through. I’m just glad I’m able to help in some small way; I was in the same class as the eldest myself.”

GM: There was a reason Savoy offered Tulane Medical Center as an option. But that carried its own inconveniences.

Natalie nods. Like many ballet dancers, she’s thin and willowy: “they make us with cookie cutters,” Diana had once joked, half-seriously. The receptionist’s face, though, has a round shape and lingering baby fat that makes many people assume she’s in her teens rather than 20s. According to Piper, it’s also made her cry in the bathroom more than once over how she wishes her face is thinner, because her instructors call her fat. Diana had just nodded grimly at that over the dinner table and said, “They do not spare your feelin’s in ballet, at all. I’d be concerned if she has any eating disorders too, sweetie. Those are also very, very common.”

The girl smiles a lot, though. She reminds Celia of her mom, in ways bad and good.

“I heard,” Natalie says. Cécilia comes in for her share of treatments, though Celia usually isn’t the one to see her. Day hours work better for her.

“She must feel glad her sister can come someplace familiar to get this all… just finished.”


Celia: Of course Natalie has an eating disorder. Don’t all college girls? Still, Celia had shown her a few times how to contour her face with makeup—“not that low, it drags your face down”—and suggested a haircut that would help hide the worst of it, but short of Natalie going under the “knife” there is little Celia can do for her.

Still, she’s been tempted, even if she knows that people with plumper faces tend to wear their age better than those without, which she has also told Natalie plenty of times.

“Lasers got the worst of it,” Celia assures her. “She’ll be good as new once we’re done here.”

Unless she means everything else with the manhunt and shooting.

“No trial, at least. Those can be messy.”

GM: She’d nodded and said, “You’re right, I should be happy about that.”

Piper doesn’t think it makes her much happier, though, when she doesn’t have much age to wear.

“Oh. Yeah. I’m not celebrating what happened to that… cop or anything, but… a trial would’ve been so painful. I’m glad they don’t have to go through that.”

Celia: Piper has too many opinions that have nothing to do with her.

But that’s why Celia likes her. She gets all the best gossip.

Celia just nods and sighs her agreement.

“Hey, the thing I’m doing with her is a new technique out of Brazil,” she says after a moment, “they do all those butt lifts down there and they’ve got this procedure and topical to remove scars, but it’s supposed to help firm and tighten skin as well. If your teachers are still being rude, do you want me to try it with you? See if it helps?”

“It has a quick expiration once opened, so I figured why waste the product if we don’t use it all with Devillers.”

GM: Natalie’s eyes have barely widened before the response it out of her mouth.

“Oh my god, yes, please!” she nods, eagerly. “They all say my face is so fat…”

Celia: “Because there’s nothing else to critique. I’ve seen you dance; you’re better than the rest of them and they know it.”

GM: “Oh, well, there are some other girls who are really good. But… thanks.” Natalie smiles.

Celia: Celia shakes her head.

“I lived with a ballerina for most of my childhood. I’ve seen good, and I’ve seen really good. Trust me, you’re the latter. But yeah, when I’m done with her just come on back and we’ll see how it goes. I’m sure they call it Vixen-ary for a reason.”

GM: “Most of your childhood?” Natalie asks, curiously, then smiles at the name. “Ha. That’s funny.”

Celia: “Divorce,” she says with a shrug.

GM: “Oh. I thought… I don’t really know what I thought,” she admits with a little shrug too.

Celia: “She thought Flores was a better name so she kept it,” Celia says with a laugh, waving a hand as if the rest of it—everything they’d been through—doesn’t matter.

“We’ve been stealing better surnames since the beginning of time.”

GM: “Oh, she’s right, Flores is a really pretty name! Underwood sounds, um, pretty somber.”

“It’s good for Payton, though.”

Celia: “So is the name Payton. Very… her.”

GM: “Flores is very… you, too. It’s just a really light and lyrical and pretty name.”

Celia: Celia beams at her.

“Thank you.”

She always enjoys hearing she’s pretty.

Even if it’s just her name.

Her father’s name.

GM: Everything about her is pretty.

Whatever else it might be underneath.

The outside is unfailingly pretty.

Natalie smiles back, then slowly ventures, “I didn’t know your family was divorced…”

Celia: “Oh. Uh, yeah. A while ago. When I was a teen.”

GM: “Oh, wow. That is a while.”

“I never had any idea…”

Celia: “Really?”

It’s not like she hides it.

GM: “But, um, I guess that explains why Lucy and your mom always show up to church by themselves.”

Emily only goes on holidays and special occasions, these days. She prefers to study or sleep in.

And Celia, despite her mother’s wishes otherwise, can’t go at all, except for the odd night service. Diana has long since stopped asking.

“I guess I’m dumb, ha.”

Celia: And Celia hasn’t bothered to pretend to go to church since… well, not since she died, anyway.

“No,” Celia tells her, the word sharper than it’s meant to be. Old trigger, that.

“My mom is just private about it, is all, and with Dad as a senator… y’know, not something they really broadcast. Was a quiet event.”

GM: At least it wasn’t ‘stupid.’

Natalie’s quiet for a moment at the sharp word, then says,

“Um, tell me if this isn’t my business… but can I ask why?”

“It’s just,” she adds, “we see Lucy and your mom at church every week, and we never talk with them.”

“It’s… weird.”

Celia: “My dad is an abusive piece of shit,” Celia says flatly.

“He was hurting her. She got out.”

GM: “Oh,” Natalie says slowly.

“I’m so sorry…”

Celia: “It was a long time ago.”

GM: “Is that why Payton and Prudence and my dad don’t talk with her, because they took your dad’s side…?”

Celia: “I… don’t know, actually. Payton offered shelter when I needed it, and told me how to get the restraining order, and gave me the number to call when I reported the abuse. I don’t think she was on his side.”

“I think it’s… I mean, mom and Prudence don’t really seem close, we never really saw much of her when we were growing up, and I had to kind of forge my own connection with Payton.”

“Mom isn’t close with Stan, either.”

“Honestly?” Celia sighs. “I think it was the dancing.”

GM: “The dancing?” Natalie asks curiously.

Celia: “And then mom got pregnant with me while she was still in school, and Payton told her… uh, she wanted her to terminate me, so that kind of… soured things.”

“Yeah, because they don’t think dancing is a real career.”

GM: Her eyes widen. “Oh my god, she wanted your mom to abort you?!”

Celia: “Yeah.”

“I mean, to be fair, I’d have probably told her the same. She was sixteen.”

GM: “Um. I’m… glad she didn’t.”

Celia: “Same.”

GM: Natalie gives a weak chuckle.

“I guess that explains why my dad’s not a big fan of my dancing, though…”

“Or the rest of them, I guess.”

Celia: “It’s kind of like any liberal arts degree, isn’t it? People think it’s not sustainable. And yeah, it’s hard, I get it. A lot of people don’t make it. But if you’ve got the skill for it, go for it, you know? If you don’t at least try you’ll always wonder _what if?”_

“People said to me, ‘makeup isn’t a real skill, you can’t do anything with that.’”

Celia waves a hand around the lobby of her very successful business.

GM: “Ha. I guess you showed them.” Natalie smiles as her eyes follow Celia’s hand.

“But I guess it’s not fair to say they aren’t fans, they are. They go to my performances and everything.”

Celia: The physical building doesn’t even represent everything she’s done, just the tangible results. MeVid, Instagram, special effects and prosthetics on movie sets, consults with people all across the country… not to mention the rest of it, the All-Night Society she’s part of that she can’t even talk about, the experiments, all the medical training…

“That’s something, at least. Payton was always too busy for my mom.”

GM: “Oh. I didn’t hear that.”

“I’d feel really sad if my family didn’t go to my shows…”

Celia: “Family support is everything. My mom’s a gem. You should invite her to one of your shows, you know. I’m sure she’d love to go.”

GM: Natalie shrinks a bit. “Oh, um, I’d love to, but I don’t think my family would like that…”

Celia: Her smile dims.

“Right. They should probably work their stuff out.”

GM: “Yeah…” Natalie gives a hapless shrug.

“I hope they do, I won’t be doing dance a lot longer…”

Celia: “I’m just saying, if I did everything my family wanted me to do, I’d be a mother of seventeen by now with no career, no business, and probably some jerk, misogynist husband.”

“Well, maybe that’s not true. Even Maxen said I could major in dance.”

“What’re you doing afterwards? When you don’t want to dance anymore?”

GM: “Oh.” Natalie looks muted. “Did your dad want that…?”

“Um, I’m still making up my mind. Maybe go to grad school.”

Celia: “He told me college was my opportunity to meet a husband.” Celia rolls her eyes.

“Because this is the 1950s and that is all that matters.”

“Sorry,” she says after a moment, “talking about him… brings up all the old…” she waves a hand.

Bullshit, she means.

GM: “He, um…” Natalie starts.

“Um, I’m sorry, never mind.”

Celia: “What?”

GM: “Oh, just… I had a rude question, that wasn’t my business.”

Celia: “You can ask.”

GM: “Did he… abuse you too…?”

Celia: “Yeah. He did.”

“Had him arrested for it, but that never made the papers.”

GM: Natalie’s silent for a moment.

“I’m so sorry…”

Celia: Celia just shrugs.

“Long time ago. I’m over it. He’s not part of my life anymore, and I got out. I won.”

GM: She just died, too.

Celia: But now she has a new family.

And her grandsire is… well. The grandfather she’d always wanted? Something like that.

GM: Her sire’s nothing like Maxen, of course.

Nothing at all.

“You’re right,” Natalie nods. “You have your business, and your family and a boyfriend, you have a lot.”

Celia: No, her sire would need to have a presence in her Requiem to be anything like Maxen. At least Maxen fought for her. Protected her. Kept her mother from vacuuming her out of her teenage womb and flushing her down the toilet, instead of abandoning—

She’s not bitter.

“And wonderful employees,” Celia adds with a wink.

GM: “Ha. Well, wonderful boss,” Natalie smiles.

Celia: “Treat them like you’d want to be, that’s the secret. You know, like actual people.”

GM: “It vorks, zough so does brrown nosing,” says Anoushka as she walks into the lobby with her bag slung over her shoulder. Most of the employees are getting off or have gotten off by now.

“Oh, I wasn’t…” says Natalie.

“Ov course, comrrade, yust teasing,” smiles Anoushka.

Celia knows ‘Anoushka’ gets a kick out of seeing how ham-fistedly she can play the Russian persona before Natalie gets suspicious.

So far, the college girl hasn’t.

Celia: Few people do. Anoushka, already cunning on her own, learned further from the best.

“Out for the night, ’Nou?” Celia asks the ‘Russian.’ “Hot date?” She wiggles her eyebrows.

GM: “Da und da,” Anoushka only smiles back. “Vorrking late?”

Celia: “Always,” Celia mock-sighs. “Have fun on your date while I slave away.”

GM: “Chase tvo rrabbits und you von’t ketch either vone,” the ‘Russian’ answers somberly, then smirks and bumps Natalie’s shoulder with her fist.

“Keep up ze fight, Comrrade Natalie.”

“Um, I’ll try.”

“I still don’t know what to say when she calls me comrade…” Natalie remarks after Anoushka’s left.

“It feels weird to call her comrade back, but weird not to call her anything.”

Celia: “I amuse myself by shortening her name into various forms every time we chat,” Celia offers.

GM: “Oh, maybe I’ll try that. ‘Oush?’”

Celia: “There you go.”

“Make jokes about vodka and bears, maybe.”

GM: “I’ll try that, then.” Natalie smiles and glances up at the clock. “I should be getting off soon, too… comrade.” She gives a faint giggle.

Celia: Celia grins.

“Da, comrade, iz time for you to go.” Her accent falls apart halfway through the sentence. “You can head out now if you’d like. I’ll wait for the girl and tomorrow we can try it out, that way you’re not standing around idly.”

GM: Natalie giggles some more at Celia’s accent. “Cool, thanks.”

“That’s a perk of working here, not much idly standing around,” smiles Piper as she walks into the lobby, also with her bag over her shoulder. She’s traditionally pretty. Long blonde hair, blue eyes, nice complexion. Thin from a history of eating disorders, with a penchant for working out that keeps her butt firm and her stomach flat now. Celia knows she likes to order kids’ meals, too, and claims that she can never finish what she orders, though that doesn’t keep her from slamming back margaritas like they’re going out of style.

Her work at Flawless has kept her skin clean and clear, and Celia’s removed more than one blemish she’d developed through masking and extractions. Tattoos cover most of her, though nothing Celia can see above the neck. She wears her typical full face of makeup, along with spa-appropriate yoga pants, t-shirt, and tennis shoes.

“Oh, do you do that at other places?” asks Natalie.

“Yep,” answers Piper. “I worked at one with this points system where you had to pay points to leave early if you didn’t have a client.”

Natalie frowns faintly. “But why would they want you to stay if you don’t have clients…?”

Celia: “Last-minute calls. Makes walk-ins easier on the desk. A lot of places use them to do side work, too. Laundry, sweeping, garbage. Technically if you’re an employee they can control your hours like that, but if you’re only making commission instead of hourly it’s a pretty awful system for the workers.”

“Plus, like, hire a service for all that.”

Celia expects her employees to clean up their own areas, but not the spa in general.

GM: Partners in Grime covers the rest.

Besides, there’s value in contracting with them even beyond the cleanliness.

“Yep,” says Piper. “Just more convenient for them. But kinda shows they don’t really care about you or your time.”

“That seems like a kinda depressing place to work,” says Natalie.

“Yeah, we might be cleaning the bathrooms there too,” says Piper, then smiles. “But hey! That isn’t where we work.”

Natalie looks more than a little nonplussed at the idea of cleaning bathrooms.

Celia: It’s not a very glamorous job. Not that Celia knows. She’s never been bent over on hands and knees to scrub at grime. That’s what the help is for.

GM: “We’ve had a couple clients who left the bathrooms really messy…”

Celia: “Everyone always says it’s boys who are gross, but if you’ve ever been to a bar you know girls are just as disgusting in bathrooms.” Celia wrinkles her nose.

GM: “Oh my god, they are!” agrees Piper. “I know a guy who worked at a coffee shop and cleaned the women’s bathrooms, and he said he once found a soiled diaper in the bin for tampons. He called it a ‘poop explosion.’”

“Instead of the trash.”

“The bin was metal and he had to clean the poop all out.”

Celia: “Ugh. That’s disgusting.”

GM: “Ewww!” says Natalie.

“He also said the women’s stall was once locked from the inside and he had to crawl underneath to unlock it.”

“He said he thought guys would do that, but not girls.”

Celia: “Assholes are an equal opportunity thing.”

GM: “He also said the only clogged toilet he had to deal with was the women’s.”

“Okay, I guess we are just as gross,” says Natalie.

Celia: “Randy complains I leave my hair in the drain in the shower,” Celia admits.

GM: “Ick. Also, um, I think I have to go study,” she says, pulling on her backpack.

“Oh. Sorry if we grossed you out!” says Piper.

“It’s okay. I actually do,” says Natalie.

“Okay. See ya!”

Celia: “Have a good night, Natalie.”

GM: “You too! And thanks so much for the Vixenary, Celia.” She smiles and heads out the door.

Celia: “No problem!”

A beat of silence, then, “All women leave hair in the drain,” she mumbles to Piper as the girl disappears.

GM: “They doooo!” agrees Piper. “We have hair too.”

“Longer hair, usually.”

“Also, lemme guess, the Vixenary’s for… her face?”

Celia: “Figured we’d give it a go. Supposed to firm skin, reduce scar tissue, blah blah blah.”

GM: “She thinks her face is fat. It’s so sad! She has a great facial shape.”

Celia: “That’s what I said. It suits her personality, and having a round face doesn’t mean the rest of you is fat. And she’ll keep the elasticity for ages longer than people without as much…”

She shrugs.

“I guess I get it, though. We’re all appearance obsessed, why not her too.”

GM: “It’s a shape-lier shape than mine, I’m so jealous! Like you say, it ages better.”

Celia: “Piper, you’re gorgeous, I’m gonna need you to chill.”

GM: “Oh of course I’m gorgeous, I put a lot of effort into it,” the esthetician beams. “I’m just saying she has a great facial shape! Mine’s more rectangular, it won’t age as well.”

“And it’s really sad how she feels about it, she’s cried in the bathroom over how fat she is.”

“She says she has one instructor who called her a pig in a leotard, I get that dance is competitive and instructors are mean, but that’s just so cruel to say to a kid!”

Celia: Celia arches a brow.

“She mention which instructor?”

GM: Piper taps her lower cheek. “Mmm, lemme think, what was her name…”A few seconds pass. “Oh, Kowalski!”

She smiles as she successfully recalls that bit of gossip.

“I mean, she says all of her instructors can be pretty harsh, but that was the one who called her a pig.”

Celia: Celia tucks the name away. She doesn’t recognize it from her time there.

“That’s a really fucked up thing to say to anyone, especially a kid. No wonder she has body issues, Christ.”

GM: “Oh, yeah, it’s so sad. She says all of them can be mean. But some more than others.”

“That one time I worked on your mom, when you couldn’t make it, we talked a bit about dance. And she said it’s endemic to the culture, that instructors have this whole idea that being mean pushes you to be a better dancer.”

“It was really eye-opening! They all look so dainty and pretty but I guess bitches be bitches behind the scenes, right?”

Celia: “Elitist culture. Bleed for your art. That sort of thing.”

GM: “Yes, she said that’s exactly what it was! There’s this belief that if you aren’t suffering, you aren’t a really committed dancer.”

“And Natalie’s said stuff like that too.”

“So coming from two dancers, I really believe it.”

Celia: “It’s that whole ‘weak people quit’ thing. ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body’ or whatever macho bullshit guys at the gym say to excuse working out after they’ve pulled a muscle and are too pig-headed to take a break so they injure themselves further, because god forbid you rest your body for a week.”

Celia cuts off.

“I guess I get it. Prove you’re the best, right? That you can handle it.”

GM: “Yeah, I guess that’s it! And the whole obsession with being thin, sometimes I catch Natalie skipping lunch or purging in the bathroom, making herself throw up. Not all the time, since, obviously, she has college and dance and isn’t with us every day, but I kinda think that’s the only reason why not all the time.”

“Your mom told me 50% of all dancers have an eating disorder, 50%!”

Celia: “Yikes.”

As if Piper didn’t do the same thing at her age.

“That’s… wow. You mentioned the purging, thought maybe it was a one time thing… hope the Vixen stuff works, I guess, all that vomiting is bad for the teeth.”

And teeth, unfortunately, are something Celia cannot fix.

GM: “I hope so! I think she’ll probably always think she’s too fat, though, that just seems like part of the culture.”

Celia: “A girl could weigh a buck ten and someone will still tell her she’s fat.”

GM: “I know! I wish there was something we could do but there kinda isn’t.”

Celia: There is. Celia will see to it.

GM: “I mean, I did it high school, you kinda only get over it with time. Or if there’s a big crisis.”

“Natalie told me there’s a girl in her ballet company and who also went to Tulane with her who had anorexia, and weighed only 79 pounds. 5’0” or something, but still. Got hospitalized and dropped out of the program."

Celia: “They’re insane,” Celia says with a shake of her head.

“I guess I just didn’t like dance enough to torture my body for it.”

GM: “I know.” Piper shakes hers too. “I bet she and your mom have even more horror stories.”

“Don’t blame you, though! Much happier to make other people pretty than to go through all that.”

Celia: “Less backstabbing, people are happy to see me… can’t complain.”

“Plus all the juicy gossip people bring in.”

GM: “Ohhh, speaking of backstabbing, at least kind of, did Natalie tell you about her clever plan?”

Celia: “No. What is it?”

GM: Piper grins and lowers her voice. “Okay, so, her family wants her to stop dance after college, right?”

“So, she’s got this whole plan, had it for a while.”

“Took a gap year after high school, but stayed in the city, to do volunteer stuff.”

“While also, oh, still doing dance.”

“And in college, she’s double majoring, because that takes an extra year.”

“Aaannnd she wants to go to grad school, because that’ll also take a few more years.”

Celia: “And she dances the whole time.”

GM: “Yep!”

Celia: “Ha. Clever.”

“I wonder if I should ‘offer extra hours because we need the help,’ make it sound like she has to go part time at school…”

GM: “It is! She says it’ll only last until she’s… what, 22 college, 23 double major, 24 gap year, 26 or 27 grad school, and you can still dance a while after 30, so she still has to quit early, and she’s still really sad about that. But I think she’s happier just to do it longer.”

“Also, you should tell her that! The extra hours idea.”

She frowns. “Hm, but I dunno if her family would go for it, they seem like they expect ‘better things.’ Quote unquote.”

Celia: “Mm, we’re distantly related. Her family can’t really say that without insulting me and my industry.”

Not that she doesn’t expect them to anyway.

GM: “She didn’t say it directly or anything, I just got that whole vibe, that they expect her to get a degree and do something ‘respectable.’”

“Since, obviously, they don’t want her to dance for her career.”

Celia: “Better your child be unhappy than not respectable,” Celia says with a firm nod.

GM: “Yeah, we all say how parents are supposed to care about their kids being happy before anything else, but some parents just don’t care about that at all. I guess you’d know too.” Piper looks at her sympathetically.

Celia: Celia arches a brow at that.

GM: “Your dad, and all. I hear.”

Celia: “Did you? Natalie was asking me about him earlier. She seemed kind of… ah, not very well informed about it.”

GM: “Welllll, technically not hear. But your mom doesn’t have a wedding ring. She comes in all the time, with Lucy. And he never does. And you never talk about him. I haven’t heard your mom or Lucy talk about him either.”

“And Emily’s evasive about it.”

“Just feel like that’s what it is.”

Celia: “Observant.” She smiles. “Yeah. My dad’s not in the picture. He, ah…”

How had she phrased it earlier?

“He’s an asshole.”

Close enough.

GM: “I’m sorry. Isn’t my business. But, the girls here notice how your dad’s never once come in for a massage or anything.”

Celia: “We haven’t spoken in a number of years.”

GM: As if it not being her business has ever stopped Piper, though.

Celia: Not once.

GM: “Won’t try to tell you that having a business and a family and a boyfriend makes up for that,” she says. “I’m really sorry.”

Celia: “It happens. Not everyone gets a winning family. I’ve made do. And I don’t miss him, not anymore, so at this point it’s pretty much whatever. I made my own family.”

“He can die in a hole somewhere.”

GM: “You did,” smiles Piper. “I guess no one has it all. But you can have a lot!”

Celia: Celia does have it all, though: a loving mother, a dad she calls Ron that feels more like an old “bro” than a dad, a string of boyfriends and lovers, an adoptive sire, an adopted sister, a child who calls her mom, a grandsire who spoils her…

What else does a girl need, really?

Thursday night, 5 November 2015, PM

GM: It’s around the same time that Dr. Dicentra’s services are requested for one client that she receives a call from another. The voice on the line is Becky Lynne Adler’s. She invites the night doctor to discuss the job’s details at the public haven she and her brother-in-blood share in the Garden District.

Celia: Dicentra agrees to the offered time and location. It goes without saying that she expects safe passage when her services are asked after, though she alludes to as much on the phone with Becky Lynne. Dicentra can hardly be the one to present herself to the domain’s regent when “Dicentra” does not exist.

Nevertheless, she has enough tools at her disposal to ensure that she is not apprehended should the Ventrue fail in this first duty, and she calls upon them for the night in question. A sleek, black car picks her up from Marigny and drops her off at the public haven. A gift of the blood obscures her from those who would look at her and simply know at the sort of thing that lurks within. A stolen face and borrowed body give no hint as to her true identity. She looks like any other girl off the street.

The Garden District hardly seems the appropriate place for the leather getup.

At the proper hour, Dicentra knocks upon the door.

GM: A black car with tinted windows follows the night doctor’s vehicle, but makes no effort to arrest her drive towards her destination.

The Ventrue’s haven is nestled in a quiet part of Chestnut Street. The house proper is smaller than most set back from the road, veiled from the sight of the outside world by means of a row of carefully cultivated greenery, the centerpiece of which is an ancient live oak tree, draped in a beard-like coat of Spanish moss. A tastefully elegant wrought-iron gate spans the driveway, connecting two brick columns on either side. A flat plaque on the face of one column welcomes visitors to the address in stylish gold ormalu. The home’s white front porch is decorated with several potted plants and a white swinging bench.

The gate swings open after Dicentra identifies herself through the intercom. She’s greeted by a smiling, blonde-haired and plump-faced ghoul who leads the night doctor to a well-appointed sitting room and says her mistress will be present momentarily.

Soon she is. Becky Lynne looks as lovely as she ever does at Elysium. She’s dressed in a knee-length, sweetheart-necklined strapless white dress with pink trim and matching open-toe heels. A heart-shaped gold locket hangs from her neck.

“Thank you so much for stoppin’ by, Dr. Dicentra,” she smiles as she assumes her seat. “I have to admit, I was expectin’ a mask. One of those beaked plague doctor ones. Don’t ask me why!”

Celia: Always white with her, Dicentra can’t help but note, and it probably does its job putting visitors at ease. No scary monsters here, right? Dicentra doesn’t comment. Who knows if she even sees Becky Lynne at Elysium.

The night doc rises as Adler approaches and greets her with a warm enough smile, then takes her seat once more. She laughs lightly at the opening words.

“Not for a number of years now, Lady Speaker.”

GM: Jade has seen her in other colors.

Always lighter ones.

Never black.

“I guess that wouldn’t be too practical, anyways,” the Ventrue chuckles. “Is it much trouble to do up your face like this?” she asks, curiously.

Celia: “Less trouble than having an overeager ‘fan’ attempt to rip off a mask, and no more trouble than any other trick of the blood.”

GM: “Oh, no. I hope you didn’t learn that first bit from personal experience, Doctor.”

Celia: “They didn’t get what they wanted, in the end.”

GM: “I suppose neither of you did.” Becky Lynne shakes her head. “Manners aside, violence always just seems more trouble than it’s worth, in the end, next to askin’ nicely.”

Celia: The doctor’s lips twitch in an almost-smile.

“‘Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.’”

GM: Becky Lynne gives a wider smile at that.

“Foundation, isn’t it? My brother’s a big fan.”

Celia: “Is he? I wouldn’t have guessed that. And you, Lady Speaker? Where do your preferences run?”

GM: “Oh yes, he is! He was Embraced around when the books come out, and there’s a sense of optimism and confidence in human progress endemic to the decade that he really likes. Me too, for that matter. I’m a Jane Austen girl at heart, but my brother introduced me to Asimov and I found a lot to like there too.”

Celia: He sounds like he’d get along with a certain someone’s ex. Not Dicentra’s, though; she doesn’t have any exes. She might not even be a she.

“In both quality and quantity. He was prolific. And very… accessible.”

GM: “Yes, he’s not big on the purple prose or flowery language. The books are very easy to read. You’re a fan yourself, doctor?”

Celia: “When I find the time. He helped shape the genre; how could I not be?”

GM: “There are people who don’t consider science fiction ‘real’ literature. But that just seems so silly, doesn’t it, given how many bright minds with things to say took up the pen.”

Celia: “I believe he wrote just as much nonfiction as he did fiction.”

GM: “I’ve heard of his books there!” Becky Lynne nods. “Can’t say I’ve read any of them, but he was a very smart man. I guess that’s no surprise, back then science fiction had a lot more ‘hard’ science in it.”

Celia: “Even if not, it’s a poor mind that tears down what it doesn’t understand to make itself feel superior.”

GM: “My mama always said there’s no shame in not understandin’ something, only not tryin’ to understand it better,” the Ventrue nods.

Celia: “We have forever,” Dicentra says with a nod, “we may as well not let our minds stagnate.”

GM: “Where do you like to keep yours busy, doctor? Medicine, I’m sure?”

Celia: “It’s a vast field, there’s always more to learn. Some of the kine have ingenuous ways of looking at things; the urgency of their expiration dates causes progress at a much faster pace than our own.”

GM: “We might have eternity, but they have urgency. Just ask any panickin’ coed who’s left a paper ’til the last day how much that counts for,” chuckles Becky Lynne.

Celia: “They will always wait until the last possible moment to get things done,” Dicentra agrees with a nod.

GM: Becky Lynne makes pleasant small talk of a similar nature for the next few minutes before getting down to business.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the shooting last summer, Doctor.”

“My sire Alder Councilor Matheson claims domain over Whitney Hancock Bank and the eponymous family, if you’re not familiar. Their daughter Sarah was left with a nasty scar. Laser surgery has come a ways, but I’m sure you know it’s not flawless, and also how it is with women—just the slightest scar or blemish gets them judged and turns away prospective husbands.”

Celia: “He wishes for the scar tissue to be removed.”

She does not touch the subject of a woman’s worth. ‘I survived a shooting’ seems like a solid opener, but who is she to judge.

“I heard she is in a coma.”

GM: “Precisely,” Becky Lynne smiles. “That’s where you come in, Doctor. And yes, she was, but she’s awake now.”

“Where might be a convenient time and place to perform the procedure? My sire can facilitate a fair bit on Sarah’s end, includin’ the modification of any memories.”

Celia: She bets he can.

Dicentra asks where the girl lives, as well as whether or not she’s still in the hospital. The location and time does not much matter to her; there are few tools she needs to perform her services, though she is amenable to working within whatever cover story her sire deems appropriate. The hospital, a private care facility, or medical spa will all work.

“Plastic surgeon,” Dicentra suggests, “under general anesthesia. That generally provides convenient cover for the memory issues.”

GM: “Good idea, Doctor,” Becky Lynne smiles. “There’s a lot the sanguine voice can do, but mundane tools are always better for the Masquerade.”

Sarah is out of the hospital and lives in the CBD. There is a medical spa in the area that could potentially suffice, Becky Lynne says after looking up nearby ones on her Solaris, as could a visit back to Tulane Medical Center for some follow-up care.

“Whatever would be most convenient for you, Doctor,” the Ventrue smiles again.

Celia: “Your sire is outside the city,” Dicentra says at length. “I presume he will not be present to create the false memories for the girl.”

Or to snack on the lick performing such services.

GM: Becky Lynne nods. “My brother-in-blood or I can see to that.”

Celia: Dicentra gives that a nod as well. After a moment she asks about payment: with Adler Councilor Matheson out of the city, who will be responsible for the fee?

GM: “The Alder Councilor can still manage quite a few types of payment, even removed as he is,” the Ventrue smiles. “Primogen Hurst and I can fulfill whatever he isn’t personally able to.”

However, there is also another matter Becky Lynne brings up: Matheson “isn’t terribly popular right now, let’s not mince words.” Becky Lynne’s sire does not wish to indebt himself to an unknown party while he is “unpopular.” The elder Ventrue will consent to grant Dicentra a specific favor rather than an open one, negotiated here with his childe.

Celia: That seems to be a common theme these days.

“Pragmatic,” Dicentra says dryly.

GM: “I might be able to sell him on an open-ended boon if he knew who he was dealin’ with under the mask, so to speak, but I’m goin’ to take a gander that’s worth more to you than one boon,” Becky Lynne nods.

Celia: “Several more.”

Celia: But she smiles all the same.

“Tell me about him, so I can stay within the confines of reality for this boon.”

GM: “About my sire, you mean, Doctor?”

Celia: “Yes.”

GM: “Let’s see. He sits on the Prima Invicta, as you might’ve known from his title, Doctor, and is also high in the esteem of our clanmates and the city’s other elders. He claims domain over Hancock Whitney Bank. You can look it up on your phone, or my phone if you haven’t brought one, I don’t like to sound as if I’m braggin’ even on someone else’s behalf,” the Ventrue offers with a faintly bashful smile.

Dicentra pulls the information up. It’s not Bank of Columbia, but it holds $30.6 billion in assets and is one of the largest financial institutions in the South, with branch locations throughout the region. It’s headquartered in the Big Easy.

Celia: Dicentra smiles.

“I do not mean to ask after his secrets, just to be nudged towards talents I can put to use, as he has been nudged toward mine.”

GM: “Can I ask what sorts of talents you might be lookin’ for, Doctor?” Becky Lynne asks. “He’s an elder of my clan, with the knowledge, resource, connections, and Blood that reachin’ such an age entails.”

Celia: Exiled with two relatively young childer, for all that he wasn’t in the city during the years of their Embrace.

Someone has been rather loose with their guard duties.

GM: Or there’s just a lot the prince doesn’t tell people.

Celia: What? The prince doesn’t tell people things?

That simply can’t be true.

Must be those connections Adler mentioned.

Celia: Dicentra waves a hand, smile still in place.

“That’s enough to set my mind at ease, Lady Speaker. I’m certain we’ll come to an agreement.”

GM: “Certainly, take your time,” the Ventrue smiles. “Oh, I’m not sure we settled—would you prefer to work on the Whitney girl at Tulane Medical Center, or that nearby medical spa?”

Celia: “The name of the spa?”

GM: “Excuse me, please,” Becky Lynne says as she checks her phone, then looks up.

“Rejuvene Med Spa.”

Celia: Rejuvene. Hadn’t another girl once known someone who had worked there? Dicentra draws a blank.

“Easier to sell the idea of plastic surgery at a hospital,” Dicentra says. At least Adler hadn’t suggested using that harlot’s spa.

“Your sire,” she says at length, “has been in and around New Orleans for some time. I assume he has contacts here or you wouldn’t sit before me. Perhaps he can shed some light on a certain someone for me, if he was around during their arrival and rise to power.”

GM: Matheson was exiled when the Civil War broke out. Everyone heard this during the trial.

Donovan only appeared on the scene when his sire did, some four decades afterwards.

But what does Dicentra care.

“Perhaps he can,” Becky Lynne smiles. “Who should I ask him about?”

Celia: Perhaps asking would be a disservice to them both.

But what does Dicentra care.

“The would-be usurper in the Quarter.” A long shot. No doubt if Matheson knew anything worth sharing it’d have come out at the trial as well, when he had the city’s attention. “Failing that, the Brujah primogen.”

GM: Becky Lynne still nods. “What information should I ask him for, on either of them?”

Celia: Whatever skeletons they have in their closet.

“Elders have such long, rich histories. I’m certain he can find some part of it to entertain the doctor while she works.” Secrets. Scandal. Some sort of tangible reward for the very tangible, hands on work she’ll perform for him. Her too-innocent smile suggests as much.

GM: “I’ll ask him if he knows any stories worth sharin’, Doctor,” the Ventrue smiles back. “It’s been a pleasure doin’ business.”

Celia: “With you as well, Lady Speaker. Call me when the girl is ready.”

Monday evening, 9 November 2015

Celia: The call for her actual services comes quickly. Becky Lynne Adler assures Dicentra that everything is in order, all she needs to do is show up and perform.

The evening of the operation Dicentra has another car with a different driver take her to Tulane Medical, and it’s an older, more harried sort of guise that Dicentra steps into. The sort of person who doesn’t draw attention, the sort of person who has worked plenty of overnight shifts and this is just another patient penciled into her busy schedule. Her nametag reads “Peters.” Nondescript, like her this evening. A trick of the blood masks her Beast, and as she strolls through the halls towards the patient’s room she uses another trick to divert attention elsewhere. There are so many things to captivate the kine’s attention in hospitals: bleeding, screaming patients, beeping machines, the cute doctor with the wandering hands.

She has a male nurse with her, a fellow shadow dancer whose half-breed scent is masked. Another mask obscures his identity and his name badge has a name as fake as her own. A gift from his brother, the techy one.

Dicentra finds the room with Sarah Whitney inside and knocks twice before opening the door.

GM: “Come in,” sounds a man’s voice.

Inside, Dicentra sees a room set for a laser surgery: white and empty but for the bulky gray monitors and other medical equipment. Becky Lynne’s wearing a baby blue dress and no kind of disguise at all: maybe Ventrue influence just buys that much. Or mindfucking. A large ghoul in a suit with the impassive posture of a security professional stands patiently nearby, along with the plump-faced blonde Dicentra saw at the Garden District house.

The kine who must be Sarah Whitney lies passed-out on the surgical bed, with synthetic sheets drawn up around her. She’s a short-framed and gentle-featured girl in her late teens with soft brown hair, pretty features, and hazel eyes.

“So pleased to see you tonight, Doctor,” Becky Lynne smiles. “The girl’s already received her last round of laser surgery. Medical staff won’t bother this room for a good while longer.”

Celia: “Good evening, Lady Speaker.” Dicentra inclines her head toward the Ventrue, eyes sweeping the room. “Good setup. The memories will be easy to edit. Let her believe the lasers have come further than reality and she’ll never question it.”

Dicentra nods toward the door.

“If you’ll excuse us, Lady Speaker, I’ll send for you when we’ve finished.”

GM: The female ghoul glances at her mistress.

The Ventrue merely inclines her head. “Of course, Doctor. Give a holler if you need anythin’ else from us.”

Celia: Dicentra catches the look. She gives the ghoul a wry smile and only says that “very few night doctors allow their process to be observed.”

Once the party shuffles out Dicentra allows her “nurse” to lock the door so they’re not disturbed and draws the curtains around the bed for additional privacy. Though his medical knowledge is not quite the level of hers, the ghoul has had some training in the subject, and she has used him prior to administer IVs, sedatives, and serve as an extra pair of hands. They sterilize, prep their tools, and get started.

It’s an ugly wound. Or it had been, prior to the rounds of laser therapy. Dicentra had heard about it from someone else’s sister, who isn’t yet done with med school but had taken the opportunity to learn on a current case when she’d shadowed her mentor and told the tale at the dinner table. “That poor family,” their mom had said. Looking down at the hapless kine now, Dicentra can’t see the extent of the damage that was done internally. But she’d heard enough: the bullet had cut through the chest at an angle, bounced off the breastbone, nicked a lung, punctured the pericardium. There’d been a risk of heart attack with the pericardial infusion, seizures, brain damage… not to mention the ripped esophagus. Flutter valves and a PEG tube in the stomach had let the medical team focus their attention on the life-threatening emergencies.

None of that shows on the surface, but the holes and scar tissue remain where they had inserted the tube in her chest to drain the air and the lower tubes to drain the blood. Another at her throat for the trach. Easy enough to fix.

Dicentra gets to work.

It would be simple to focus on the surface issues and ignore the rest. Easy to ignore the deeper problems she thinks the bullet might have caused for the girl. That’s all Adler and Matheson had requested, to fix the scar tissue. But there’s a part of her that wants to prove (even if just to herself) that she’s the best at what she does, that she isn’t some vain, skin-deep creature, and another part that wants to heal just as much as it wants to kill. So with claw and scalpel she slices into the kine’s chest and stomach, fangs lengthening at the scent of all this blood, and peels back the flesh.

Scar tissue starts deep. Dicentra knows it more than anyone. She starts deep too, smoothing over not just the surface flaws but those that hide within the body itself. Why cover a hole with a blanket when she can fill it in with cement?

What she finds, though, causes a frown to flit across her face. She glances up at her assistant.

“Get the lick in here.”

GM: “Yes, ma’am,” the plump-faced ghoul replies deferentially to Dicentra’s words.

Leah Crawford, the mentor of that other girl’s sister, was one of Sarah’s doctors. Only the best for the Whitney scion.

Their mother had been very sad. Sarah was in her classes.

Her assistant licks his lips at the unconscious attractive girl, and chuckles when Dicentra slaps his hands away from her breasts.

“Lucky her you’re here, or I’d definitely be taking advantage,” he remarks breezily.

Cutting Sarah open, though, seems to kill the ghoul’s boner. However perverted he might be, he’s not that perverted.


He frowns, as if wondering what she’s found, then walks off. He’s back a moment later with Becky Lynne. The Ventrue looks at the sliced-open girl, whose sweet coppery scent saturates the air, and Dicentra sees the telltale oh-so slight shift in Becky Lynne’s jaw that comes from lengthening fangs. Her smile doesn’t waver, though, as she looks back towards the night doctor. Clad as she is in her baby blue dress and ‘girl next door’ headband, she looks like a breather who someone added fangs to as an afterthought.

“Can I be of assistance, Doctor?”

Celia: Is any ghoul or mortal twisted enough to be turned on by a ripped open body? She certainly hopes she never meets them, if so.

“Apologies for the sight, Lady Speaker, but there’s something here that needs your attention.” It’s probably not very often that the prim and proper Ventrue sees someone cut open like this. No doubt she drinks her blood from fluted champagne glasses and has people to deal with the rest of it.

Dicentra, bloody almost up to the elbows, gestures with her chin toward Sarah’s vivisected chest and abdominal cavities.

“Wasn’t a clean shot. But you know that. Bullet came in here,” she points, “bounced here, ricocheted, punctured.” Dicentra draws the line in the air scant inches above the body, tracing the trajectory of the bullet. “Scar tissue removal, no problem. Pretty canvas, no big, I can do it. But this?” A nod toward the lower abdomen, a second toward the chest. “That’s a problem. Who’s the hackjob that worked on her? Because that’s what this is. A hackjob. I can seal her up like this and she’ll have all sorts of issues down the line. Lung tissue here, see it? Paralyzed. Look at the way she’s breathing. Isn’t moving. I’d give it a year or two, maybe three, before she’s back in with all sorts of complications. Guarantee if I peel back that bit of skin over the neck you’ll see some tearing in the esophagus. Heat of the moment, throw a flutter tube in, sure. But months later?”

Dicentra shakes her head.

“She having speech issues? Shortness of breath? Lingering chest pain?”

GM: Becky Lynne frowns deeply as she inspects the vivisected girl.

“Oh, dear. I’m afraid this is quite unacceptable to my sire.”

“I’m not aware if she’s been experiencing those symptoms, Doctor, but you’ll have a boon from me if you can fix up the rest of her. Just fixin’ the scar is worthless as gum on a boot heel next to all that.”

Celia: “I’ll put her to rights,” Dicentra agrees. There’s a pause while Dicentra considers the girl. “There’s, ah, somethin’ else you might want to be aware of.”

GM: “Oh, what might that be?” inquires the Ventrue.

Celia: Dicentra considers her words with care, aware that she’s venturing past her stance of neutrality. But her first objective is to provide care, and if someone is standing in the way of that care…

“I wasn’t exaggerating when I said hackjob. Look here, these lines. Clean. Everything in its proper place. It’s all how it should be. Whoever patched her up did a swell job of it, almost like she wasn’t damaged at all. One in a billion, maybe, the sort of recovery you wouldn’t need me for; there wouldn’t have been a scar if the doctors left off there. The sort of thing you see when the ghouls are hit.” A nod toward her assistant, who has come out of scraps that should put most men down without a scratch on him. “I could claw his face right here and you’d see the blood do its job and return him to normal without the need for any night doc work.”

Gently, Dicentra pulls at some of the pericardium lining.

“The complication is here. Part of it. So, the heart sits in this sac here, you see? It’s got all this fluid in it that comes in and out, lets the heart do its thing. But this here, see? A tiny little tear. That’s gonna lead to inflammation, which is gonna lead to the heart not having enough room to do its thing. So rather than the smooth boom-boom, you’ve got like… _brrrmmp-brrrrmmp.”_ It’s clear that Dicentra is trying to put things in layman terms for Adler. “Cardiac tamponade. Basically blood pressure drops low enough to kill, since the ventricles can’t expand as they need to.”

She shakes her head,

“Whoever stitched her up together the first time wouldn’t have missed it. And you can—” or at least Dicentra can, “—tell by the… well the age of it, really. Like how bodies start to decompose? It’s doing that here too. So this, the lung, the tube right here… that’s all from a second surgery. Something she didn’t need.”

GM: Becky Lynne’s frown deepens as she follows the night doctor’s explanation.

“Well. That simply will not do at all. Do you believe the surgeon just wanted to cause long-term health complications, Doctor, or to kill her outright?”

Celia: “These modifications?” Dicentra considers the girl, then the lick. “Slow death. Make it look accidental. Subtle. Doubt anyone who was just looking to clear up scar tissue would have found it.” The doctor doesn’t need to say ‘anyone but me would have missed it.’

It’s implied.

“Even if they didn’t intend to kill, which is quite possible but unlikely given the injuries, she’d have been messed up for the rest of her life. Shootings already cause long term trauma in the victims. Higher rates of alcoholism, depression, PTSD. Long term physical disabilities given the location.”

Dicentra trails off. She read a study about it recently.

“This is just, ah, nail in the coffin.”

GM: “Then I suppose you’ve saved the Whitney line from extinction, Doctor,” Becky Lynne answers with a frank nod. “My sire thanks you. He’s invested quite a bit of effort into them. I’ll let him know what you’ve done, and see if we can get you boon from him instead of me.”

The greater value goes without saying.

Celia: Dicentra inclines her head toward the Ventrue.

“When I’m done it will be as if it never happened.”

She gets to work.

Tuesday night, 24 November 2015, PM

GM: Celia: It’s shortly after Dicentra takes care of Sarah (to a very pleased Becky Lynne), and only a few weeks after the initial offer for Dicentra’s work, that Celia finds herself on top of the Evergreen once more. She’s dressed in her usual Savoy-worthy gown, ring, and heels. She wears a smile, too, turning it on as soon as she catches her grandsire’s eye from across the garden. Click, click, click go the heels. Then the curtsy, the hand kissing, the nod and greeting to Preston who tap, tap, taps across the tablet (Celia asked once how many words she could type in a minute), the exchange of pleasantries (she never tires of hearing him tell her how marvelous she looks), and it’s on to business.

There’d been another shooting. It was all over the news again: the detective who shot up the police station had been taken out while resisting arrest. His face has been plastered across newspapers for the past few days, and even on her way up she’d overheard the name. She’d snagged one of those papers from someone who might not have been done with it—she’d been forgiven when she’d flashed a smile—and it’s in her hands now; she’d been reading it while she waited for Fabian to show her up.

“Tragic,” she says idly. As if her profits from his actions aren’t what she’s here to discuss. She tucks her stolen paper into her purse. “Apparently he and my grandmother were once quite close.”

GM: Preston can type 102 words per minute, the Malkavian humorlessly informs Celia.

GM: Savoy never seems to grow tired of telling her how marvelous she looks, or of seeing all the ways in which she can look marvelous.

“If my words are as a painter’s brush, my dear, your beauty is as as a fragrant rose garden, a virgin spring glade, a crystal ice cave, a tropical coral reef—the artist can paint forever and still only capture some small approximation of its beauty. Indeed, he cannot capture at all, but merely render tribute.”

GM: “Were they? My condolences,” the French Quarter lord remarks when Cécilia brings up Gettis. “His actions came as a terrible surprise to all.”

Celia: Jade smiles across the table as her grandsire flatters her endlessly, two high points of color on her cheeks at the words. It’s a contrived gesture for their kind but honest enough for all that. She dips her chin in demure deferment and can’t help but note how empty his lap looks without her perched on it.

“You’ll get yourself in trouble with that silver tongue of yours, Lord Savoy, when your scores of admirers eventually come to blows over who it is you favor most.” She leans in, lowers her voice to a stage whisper. “I’ll refrain from telling them it’s me.” With a wink she sits back in her chair, crossing one leg over the other.

It’s Celia, however, who peers at him from across the table at the mention of her grandmother and Gettis.

“She sent me to him. When I was having trouble at home, prior to my Embrace. Said he’s not afraid of anything, offered him a favor to help me. Funny language, isn’t it?”

GM: “It would be crass to rub in their faces when it’s so obvious,” the French Quarter winks back in agreement.

“She certainly was apt,” he chuckles. “Whatever his actions, one can hardly say Richard Gettis was afraid of anything.”

Celia: “I never got to say thanks.”

GM: “I am certain the absence thereof weighed heavily upon his mind,” Preston dryly states.

Celia: “He’s certainly been a boon to my Requiem these recent nights. With your friend,” a nod to Savoy, “and the others that have approached me looking for similar services.”

GM: “Opportunities in all tragedies,” Savoy states with a knowing smile. “I’m pleased you’ve gained something from his actions, my dear.”

GM: The pair eventually proceed to their primary order of business. The French Quarter lord’s friend is pleased with the result of Dicentra’s handiwork.

“What boon would you ask of them, my dear?”

Celia: It’s hard to ask for the usual things when his friend wishes to remain anonymous. She’d traded prior boons for teachings, introductions, and even—on a very rare occasion—feeding. There’s also the fact that anything she asks for will have to go through her grandsire, so prying into him or his childe feels decidedly… ungracious. Offensive, even, when he’d said he’d tell her the story.

“This whole world is a surprise to those who find out about it. Kindred, I mean. We do a good job keeping it quiet. The loops, as well.” Roxy had told her about them. And of course they exist. If vampires are real why not werewolves and witches and every other monster she’d ever imagined? “I was hoping that your friend could shed some light on another sort of being, or perhaps point me in the appropriate direction.”

“The… faeries. Or sprites, pixies, nymphs. Whatever they call themselves.”

GM: “The fae, the sidhe, the fair folk, the good folk, the kindly ones, the wild ones, the cousins, the wee folk, the people of peace, the sons of Oberon, the daughters of Titania…” Savoy chuckles. “Take your pick.”

“Whatever they call themselves, indeed. I think they have as many names as there are types of them.”

“Whatever our race’s sins, an overabundance of names is not one of them,” states Preston.

“Should I ask my contact that you’d like to me one of the fae, my dear, or simply for more information about their race as a whole?” asks Savoy.

“Or both, for that matter. They did promise you two favors.”

Celia: Meet one, he asks. As if it’s as simple as all that. She can’t help but imagine a staked prisoner delivered to her (though some rational part of her doesn’t think that the faeries submit to stakes quite so handily as licks do), and she wonders when her fantasies went from handshakes to cold, steel rooms with iron restraints.

Are they friendly, she almost asks, but the words don’t come. What sort of creature is friendly to the monsters that hunt humans for sustenance?

Already she brims with questions about the things.

“Both, I think.”

GM: “Very good, my dear,” Savoy smiles.

“Excellent handiwork on Miss Devillers, by the way. My contact was very satisfied.”

Celia: “I’m glad of it, and pleased that I could help. I’ve known the family since my high school days; the eldest and I were quite close.” Less close now, but college and death do that to people. Still, it’s satisfying to lend her services to the family even if they never know who it is that performed.

“There didn’t seem to be any deeper complications with Miss Devillers. The other one, though…” Celia’s lips twist even as her eyes drift toward his face, looking for a sign of interest.

GM: The elder Toreador smiles encouragingly for her to proceed.

Celia: “Miss Adler reached out for similar services for the Whitney girl. It should have been a straightforward procedure, only… well, someone tampered with things internally.” The sort of tampering Celia has done for her grandsire when he’s needed someone removed.

GM: “Ah, perhaps little surprise,” muses Savoy. “I’m certain she explained her sire owns the Whitneys, and he has many enemies these nights.”

“Nat, we didn’t put one of our people up to that, did we?”

“We did not, sir,” answers Preston. “Harming the Whitney girl gains us little at this point.”

“This would suggest the perpetrator’s motive was one of spite.”

“Whitney Hancock as an institution will continue to prosper with or without Sarah, or any of its eponymous family’s members.”

“A fair point, Nat,” considers the French Quarter lord. “Lyman is retired and Warren does very little on the board. And Sarah is still a minor.”

“Yes, this had to be personal, taking a shot at the bank’s eponymous family. I wonder who would want to do that towards Matheson.” Savoy chuckles. “I truly do! There are so many Kindred with the motive.”

GM: “Fewer, however, with convenient access to Tulane Medical Center,” Preston states.

“On the ball as ever!” Savoy smiles. “Yes, someone on the Krewe of Janus or on good terms with them would have the easiest opportunity.”

“Could have been someone else, of course, but it’d have been more trouble.”

Celia: Sometimes she wonders how much of their conversations are for them, and how much are for her. They pull the words from her mind before she can even begin to phrase them. She waits, following the speaker with the rapt attention of the crowd at a tennis match, until they’re done.

Lucky for her that she’s such good friends with someone connected to the Krewe, isn’t it.

“I could look into it, if it’s the sort of thing you’d be interested in knowing. Matheson already promised a boon, Adler another.” Wring a third from them with answers before they think to ask? Shame this hadn’t happened prior to the trial.

Timing really is everything.

GM: “I think that would be a productive use of your time, my dear. Even if the information isn’t usable by us, it’s likely worth something to Adler and Matheson.”

“The former is Sarah’s aunt, by the way. I don’t know how greatly that may impact things, but it’s another factor you can consider.”

Celia: Celia all but blinks at that. Aunt. Whitney. Warren’s sister. Rebecca Whitney? How had she not put it together? She’d gone to school with the girl, her father had crusaded against dances after her very tragic, very public death.

Even the name—Becky Lynne from Rebecca. She almost laughs.

Goes to show she paid less attention to other people in high school than she did the monsters in her own home. And the age difference besides.

“I’m certain it will mean a great deal to her, then.” A pause. “She made it sound like her sire has put a lot of effort into the family over the generations. He isn’t some long lost Whitney as well, is he?”

GM: “He’s English and so is the Whitney surname, so I wouldn’t rule it out,” Savoy muses. “However, it’s likely irrelevant. Whether the Whitneys are kin to Mr. Matheosn or not, I’d feel safe saying he only values them as tools.”

“In fact, it seems rather strange he’d offer a boon for Dr. Dicentra to fix some scarring that’s easily covered up, and still mostly removable by laser surgery.”

Celia: His friend did the same.

GM: The French Quarter lord smiles knowingly. “Miss Adler is a good girl. I wonder, did she ever directly state the boon was from her sire?”

Celia: Hadn’t she? Or had Celia just assumed?

“She implied.” The irritation doesn’t make it into her voice. She’d thought it was strange, Matheson caring that much about a single girl when there are so many in the world, and hadn’t trusted her gut. Somewhere a bald man might whisper a word she doesn’t want to hear, but it doesn’t cut through the clench of her jaw. Her fingers curl, then release.

“Well played.”

It’s a trick she’ll need to remember.

It brings up all sorts of interesting things about his friend, though.

Celia: Not that she’s going to ask.

Or imply.

She doesn’t know what she’d do with a boon from Matheson, anyway.

GM: That’s where the bald man starts to whisper.

Celia: The bald man is free to fuck off any time. Hanging out with someone else that gets off while she gets nothing isn’t her idea of a good time.

Monday night, 30 November 2015, AM

GM:Jade is called back to the Evergreen about a week later. Her grandsire isn’t available to meet tonight, so Mélissaire delivers the information from his friend.

“The fae have a thousand different forms and guises, but they are governed by the same laws. They have many powers, but are most adept at illusion and oneiromancy, or dream manipulation. They are harmed by iron, which is anathema to them and disrupts their magics. They can escape all forms of restraint or entrapment, except those fashioned from iron. They can be mischievous, fickle, and insane, but they are bound by oaths, and can bind others to oaths. They don’t keep ghouls like Kindred do, but they love to strike deals with mortals, and can bind them to service in return for service. The fae gather in communities known as freeholds that are organized into courts ruled by monarchs. Fae courts are loosely allied for mutual protection against threats to a freehold.”

Celia: “Lord Savoy mentioned something about different types.” A soft lilt at the end of her statement and a lifting of her brows turns it into a question.

GM: Mélissaire gives a consoling smile. “I’m afraid I don’t know much about the fae beyond what I’ve just told you, ma’am.”

“But there are a lot of different types of them in folklore.”

Celia: Pity. Celia has so many more questions about them.

GM: “Phookas and brownies and redcaps, and what have you.”

Celia: “Isn’t there an outlaw with a gang called the redcaps?”

GM: “I think so, Lidia Kendall.” Another rueful smile. “I’d be surprised if any of them were real fae.”

Celia: “I read a book about them once. Very violent. I assume that’s why she took the name.” She shrugs. “I don’t suppose they told you if our powers work on them and whether or not we’re the sort of things they kill on sight, did they?”

GM: “I’m afraid not, ma’am. I know Lord Savoy’s had some dealings with them. He says they’re much more… complicated, than Loup-Garoux tend to be.”

Celia: Why couldn’t he just tell her about them then? Celia doesn’t scowl, but she thinks about it.


GM: “He didn’t say anything beyond that, ma’am.”

Celia: “Does he have much dealings with the Loup-Garoux? I thought they were mostly outside the city.”

GM: “The resultant mess if he did would rather speak for itself, I think,” smiles the ghoul. “They keep to the countryside, by and large, like we keep to the cities. Better for everyone that way.”

Celia: She can’t help but wonder what sort of modifications she could make to a loop if she ever got her hands on one.

Probably better that she not.


GM: “If you’re wondering why Lord Savoy didn’t simply tell you about the fae, by the by, I’m not sure how much he knows about them either. It’s possible some of this information was new to him as well.”

Celia: “I swear you’re a mind reader, Mel.”

GM: “Just good at reading people, ma’am,” smiles the ghoul. “I’m not quite that adept at soul-scrying.”

Celia: Celia wonders sometimes if she’s missing out by not devoting more time and energy into learning it. But better that she leave the scrying to others; she has enough people in her head for one person.

GM: “As to the second piece of information you purchased, your grandsire’s friend says the proprietor of Bloom Couture is one of the fae.”

Celia: “…huh.”

Those plant shoes really are something else. And the indoor rain forest. And they’re even friends. Of a sort. As much as you can be friends with a client.

“Thank you, Mélissaire.”

She thinks the spa might need some new floral arrangements soon.

GM: “You’re welcome, ma’am,” smiles the ghoul.

“Oh, there was something else, too. Your grandsire said that his friend would be willing to sell you a piece of information that would earn this particular fae’s gratitude. The price is a boon.”

Celia: “A boon from who?”

Jade, she means, or Dicentra.

GM: “Savoy said that would be at your discretion, ma’am.”

Celia: “I’ll take the trade.”

Gratitude is so hard to come by.

GM: Mélissaire inclines her head. “Who should I tell him the boon will be from, ma’am?”

Celia: “The doctor.”

Mysterious friend goes both ways, doesn’t it?

GM: It looks as if they’ll see.

Saturday night, 4 December 2015, AM

GM: The better part of a week later, Celia meets Mélissaire at the Evergreen again.

“Your grandsire says to bring a rose somewhere on your person. Don’t allow the fae to know you have it under any circumstances. Bring a stout iron weapon too.”

Celia: “That sounds like I’m preparing for battle.”

GM: “I couldn’t say, ma’am. Lord Savoy only said his contact was clear this would earn the fae’s gratitude.”

“He says a lot of things can seem very strange or nonsensible with the good folk. But they take their rules very seriously.”

Celia: “But iron disrupts their magic..?”

GM: Mélissaire nods. “That’s what he said last week, ma’am.”

Celia: “Doesn’t that strike you as odd, to bring something they don’t like that bothers their magic in the form of a weapon? That’s like… bringing a lighter to meet with a lick.”

GM: “Perhaps so, ma’am,” smiles the ghoul.

“Lord Savoy thinks you should probably hide the weapon too.”

Celia: What, the mysterious elder gets to keep their identity secret but Jade has to share hers or she gets told to bring a weapon to what she’d hoped could be a peaceful exchange? Not to mention Dahlia Rose doesn’t even sell roses at her store.

GM: It looks like it.

They’re an elder and she’s not.

Celia: This time she does openly scowl.

GM: “It’s your decision whether you want to act on this information, ma’am,” Mélissaire demurs. “All I know is that Lord Savoy’s contact told him it would earn the fae’s gratitude.”

Celia: “I suppose we’ll find out.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Amelie IV, Caroline IX
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Jon VI

Previous, by Character: Story Eleven, Celia VII
Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Celia IX

Story Eleven, Amelie V, Rocco III

“Bargain not with the darkness: in time it will take us all.”
Philip Maldonato

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, PM

GM: Mid-City’s dingier, lower-story buildings give way to coldly sleek high-rises and brutal skyscrapers. A few pings go up from Jen’s phone in the back seat.

Eventually, the car approaches a soaring black and gray steel monolith that surveys the city beneath it like a grim sentinel. Fearsome gargoyles jut from crenelations, baring their claws and fangs to the night sky with muted howls.

Driving into the underground parking garage is like descending into the belly of a great beast, past an iron-grilled jaw filled with checkpointed teeth. Armed, grim-faced, and black-uniformed security guards wave Coco’s car on through.

Amelie: Amelie watches the city go by. Now that things are so different, the city itself feels less alive in the sense of culture and life itself and simply more predatory. Every alleyway they pass makes her itch at the absence of a weapon, and she wonders who might attack the car. But she tries to relax and goes through old words and political battles in her head, wondering if there is something applicable here. But most of the instances she can think of illegal bastards being brought before royalty result in exile or death.

They arrive at the castle unmolested however, and she keeps her hands tightly gripped in front of her.

GM: Coco and Jen get out. They’re met by two waiting Kindred. The first is a tall, broad-shouldered, and powerfully muscled man who looks a few years older than Amelie. His face might be passably handsome if he was smiling. He isn’t. He wears a loose jacket, cargo pants, and baseball cap, all in dark colors, and heavy work boots. Gold glints from his rings, watch, and necklace with a tiny spear or lance.

“Coco,” the vampire nods.

“Wright,” she answers.

Rocco: The vampire next to him is shorter and slimmer in comparison, and looks no older than Amelie. He is wearing a maroon v-neck shirt, black jeans, and white Adidas shoes. His hair is dark brown, wavy, sitting atop a boyish and angelic face. A devilish half-smile appears on the young man’s face as he greets Coco, though.

“It’s good to see you, Primogen Duquette,” he addresses her more formally, albeit there is a glint of playfulness in his brown, piercing eyes.

GM: “Hound Agnello. Seems we’re receiving quite the honor guard,” the Brujah primogen remarks as she strolls towards the elevator.

“Caught us both leavin’,” says Wright. He glances at the still-masked Amelie. “Who’s he?”

Amelie: Even as they approach two other Kindred on the way there. Both looking in quite better condition than she, and putting another nail in her coffin. ‘Him’ despite wearing heels and a fucking peacoat. Still, she gives a small nod of deference to the two men Coco deigns to call ‘honor guards.’

“Good evening. I’m Amelie Savard, here to be presented to the seneschal.”

Rocco: An amused twinkle appears in Hound Agnello’s eyes, and he studies Amelie Savard with unabashed openness. A grin cracks his features. “Good evening, Miss Savard,” he replies, deducing Amelie’s gender. “I am Hound Agnello. Good luck with your presentation.”

GM: “Ditch the mask,” Wright grunts as he pushes the button for an elevator.

Rocco: He turns back to Wright. “You can go on ahead, Hound Wright,” he says, looking back to Coco and Amelie with a welcoming expression. “I can escort the primogen and her charge up to see the seneschal on my own.”

Amelie: Amelie gives the House Agnello a light bow, and reaches up to pull the handkerchief away from her face as asked. Revealing more than a bit of battle damage from her good old gunshot to the face.

GM: “Holy fuck you’re ugly,” Wright says.

Rocco: The angelic fiend simply takes in Amelie’s visage with the same neutral smile, and speaks easily. “I suggest healing at the earliest convenience for the Masquerade.”

He looks back up to Coco. “No doubt the good primogen has already suggested the same, of course.”

Amelie: “Thank you, Hound Agnello. The damage however will take awhile to smooth over. Until then, so stood the point of the mask.”

Rocco: He nods, making no further comment.

GM: “She’s one of ours. Sireless, if either of you are in the market to adopt,” Coco says.

“Huh. Guess we’ll turn fuckin’ anyone these nights,” replies Wright.

Rocco: Rocco simply laughs.

Amelie: Amelie looks to Wright as well, looking to his necklace a moment, before letting out a small smile at Wright’s put down.

“I’m a real catch on the inside, promise.”

Rocco: Rocco, taking in the self-deprecating remark, regards the fledgling for a small moment with a smirk.

GM: Wright doesn’t quite laugh. The sound resembles one, but the lack of accompanying smile gives it an odd effect.

“I bet you are. That coat looks like somethin’ you nabbed off an FAO Schwarz doorman.”

Amelie: Amelie notices and gives him a small smile back.

“It’s from a Malveaux. Way I see it, you have to look like an ass to take it up the ass.”

Looking to the both of them, she gets a small realization in the back of her head.

“If I do survive tonight, by the way, and either of you need anything built or fixed, I’d be honored if you called on me. If it’s made I can make it.”

GM: Wright openly guffaws as Amelie says ‘Malveaux’ and looks at Coco. “You’re fuckin’ kidding me.”

Rocco: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen Miss Malveaux wear anything like that,” the hound muses to himself.

GM: “Dead serious,” Coco says.

“Oh, boy,” Wright answers.

The elevator doors ding and open.

“A’ight, later,” he says, exchanging a fist bump with Coco before heading towards a parked black Esplanade.

Rocco: “Ladies first,” the hound says, indicating for the pair to enter.

GM: “Age before beauty,” Coco retorts as she steps inside.

Amelie: Amelie senses a bit of bad blood towards Caroline, and logs it away for later.

“Good night, House Wright,” Amelie offers, going where she is lead.

Jen files in last. The elevator travels up.

Rocco: Rocco chuckles at Coco’s remark, but ultimately falls silent as the group finally ascends the monolithic tower.

GM: After a moderate wait, the doors ding open, revealing an expansive reception area. The minimally decorated room is dominated by sterile grays and blacks. Letters on a wide steel plaque behind the receptionist’s granite desk coldly spell out ‘Paulson Investment Group.’ Apart from a lone receptionist, who smells like a ghoul to Amelie, the room is bereft of any further presences save the unblinking security cameras’.

The three get into another adjacent elevator. Rocco swipes a keycard for a higher floor. The floor under them travels up.

Rocco: As the group continue to travel up, the hound breaks the silence. “You said you could build or fix anything before, Miss Savard,” he says as he regards the fledgling. “What did you mean by anything?”

Amelie: Amelie perks up a bit at the question, wondering how she should answer it.

“I’m a blacksmith. So I create my own parts and tools. I’ve experience with cars, antique restoration, chemistry, and quite a few other fields as well. I grew up in a community in the middle of being built, surrounded by artisans. Though my main passion is as an armorer.”

Rocco: The hound seems intrigued by the mention of the word ‘artisans’. “What does being an armorer entail?” he asks, looking interested.

Amelie: “Arms and armor. Their research, refining, and production. I’m considered a master. My commissions used to go up to thousands of USD.”

Rocco: The hound appears to give her a skeptical albeit impressed look upon hearing that claim.

Amelie: “If you have a cellphone, you could look me up, if you want to verify it. I have only one of my pieces in this country, and it’s not in my possession.”

Rocco: “Okay. You have my interest, Miss Savard,” Rocco declares, pulling out a black smartphone from his pocket. He offers it for Amelie to take.

Amelie: Amelie gently takes it and it only takes her a few moments to bring up a Facebook page, all in French, of a place called Biccoline.

She points out a post from roughly a year and a half ago saying goodbye to master armorers Amelie and Felix Savard, before opening a gallery of photos for him to flip through.

The Amelie Savard of the past is big, shown in pictures handing steel bare handed while the other end glows white hot, thick arms swinging hammers. There’s pictures of walls of assorted weapons, of a sweaty Amelie kneeling with a sword taller than herself and looking right pissed as she wraps the handle in strips of leather. Others show her in full armor besides a helmet, showing off full suits, or looking like she’s taking part in mock battles. In many pictures she looks tired, coated in sweat, or dipped in soot and grease.

A man who seems to be the strong girl’s father is… a bit shaggier. He wears a huge braided beard and wears only ren-fair clothes. He looks none too involved in his child’s work. But the pictures roll back in time, and shows the duo bent over paintings, hauling lumber, one ridiculous picture of an Amelie with hair down to her thighs in a braid on top of a carriage with a hammer.

Rocco: Notably, Rocco has trouble flipping through the images when Amelie tries to direct the hound. He frowns and looks a little agitated, but manages to do so albeit a little clumsily.

“You look different,” he observes, taking in the pictures.

GM: Coco shows him how to do it.

“Hold down your finger and pull it across the phone’s surface, like this.”

Rocco: He thanks her, quietly.

Amelie: Amelie nods with a small sigh.

“I was struck by an entity while alive, much before my Embrace. It put me into a coma. But I will look like this again someday.”

Amelie gives a thankful nod to Coco as well, and narrates some of the more important pictures to her as they go along. Especially her best projects and how much they sold for.

Rocco: He glances at Coco, but continues to listen to Amelie.

“I’m impressed. What do you think, Primogen Duquette?”

GM: “They’re good work. There’s an eye for detail,” Coco concurs. The elder Brujah has otherwise been apparently content to watch over the pair’s shoulders without comment.

“It’s always telling how the kine try to recapture the past.”

Amelie: “I was raised on stories of the past. I’ve admitted to Coco, and I will admit to you, Hound Agnello, that I find myself excited to be a Kindred. Gifting an elder weapons and armour from their time periods would validate all my work and study.”

She pauses on a strange curved sword, with a thicker bit at the end, smiling wide.

“Ah, there’s my favorite. I could never sell it. I painstakingly recreated an Ottoman Killij from the time period Vlad the Impaler was prince of Wallachia.”

Rocco: Rocco frowns at that comment, but doesn’t say anything for a moment. They are all Damned. There is nothing to be excited about in this new ‘life’. “This is all well and good, Miss Savard,” he says, “but how are you with computers?”

Amelie: “I’m passable. I ran the storefront and social media for years, and grew up around them. They’re second nature to me as much as anyone of my generation.”

Rocco: The hound nods, looking up from his phone as he finally pockets it.

GM: “Good answer,” Coco remarks with some amusement.

Amelie: She finds herself slightly confused by Coco’s quip, but nods. “As for building and repairing them, I can do the hardware just fine, but would need to outsource for software issues.”

Rocco: Rocco looks a little blank-faced at that answer, but continues to nod as if in understanding.

Amelie: Amelie gives him an understanding smile.

“If you ever require any small favor regarding computer, Hound Agnello, I will give you my phone number. If I survive this interview.”

GM: “‘Judgment’ is the word you might be looking for,” Coco remarks.

Rocco: “Primogen Duquette is correct.”

Amelie: “And I stand corrected. My apologies.”

GM: The elevator doors ding and open.

Rocco: The hound smiles at that answer, and leads the way out of the elevator.

GM: Rocco leads the four down a cold and empty hallway lined with rows of featureless wooden doors. Cavernous windows overlook the CBD’s sprawling cityscape below.

Rocco: “You’re still new to the Blood, Miss Savard, but your contrition will serve you well in this unlife.”

Amelie: Amelie follows, wringing her gloved hands slowly, watching out the windows as they go.

“Thank you, Hound Agnello. Is there any special manners I should adopt with sir seneschal?”

GM: “Don’t call him ‘sir seneschal,’” says Coco.

Rocco: Rocco cringes in agreement.

Seneschal Maldonato will likely appreciate you all the more if you refrain from asking any questions unless he specifically gives you leave to,” the hound suggests, continuing with, “and when you speak to him or answer his questions, make sure you are detailed but remain on topic. I also suggest listening to and taking in whatever wisdom he deigns to share with genuine interest. The rest is simple courtesy.”

Amelie: Amelie nods along with his advice. Do not speak until spoken to, do not ask questions without permission. Seneschal Maldonato is very wise, as well. She hopes this bodes well for her.

“Such as you’ve shown to me, Hound Agnello. Thank you. I will take your advice to heart. If he is wise, I look forward all the more to meeting with him.”

She almost says that last bit to herself, the hallway feeling longer and longer as they proceed down it.
“Thank you, as well, to both of you. You’ve both shown me a great deal of kindness. I look forward to repaying it.”

GM: “All kindness comes with a price tag,” Coco agrees.

Rocco: Rocco chuckles.

Amelie: Amelie makes no comment and simply looks out the window as she has been. With a start, she spots it, moving closer to the wall away from the windows and averting her eyes now. She hopes the room she’ll be judged in doesn’t have such a view. Saying nothing. She can almost feel its eyes on her.

GM: The dome looms silently in the distance. No motion disturbs its smooth, lit-up surface. Not like last time. Amelie can make out ant-like figures of people on the street. Cars, too. There are so many of them, all clustered around the glowing lights at the structure’s base.

Neither Coco nor Rocco spare it a second glance.

Amelie: She hates it. Amelie cannot look at the dome without feeling at least a fraction of the horror presented to her while she was still alive, clawing through a ruined City of Dis, fearing the hammer of some unknown angel or devil to use her soul as a nail to keep it’s horrific tower standing. The people around it don’t know what it really is, and she hopes to God that Coco and Hound Agnello do not either. She remains quiet if not spoken to for the remainder of the walk, looking off to the side and trying not to catch the cursed place in her periphery.

GM: The four’s walk finally comes to an end as Rocco raps his knuckles against a door.

“Enter,” bids a male voice.

The office the hound admits Amelie into has little in common with the rest of the skyscraper’s barren corporate decor.

A silver lance set over a wooden crucifix-like support is mounted near the top of the wall opposite the door. It looks similar to the lance that Wright wore around his neck, but the fanged skull fashioned into the top portion is more clearly visible. The lance rests over a cross-shaped bed of smaller skulls, none of which possess canines.

The room’s wall paneling is a dark and somber brown wood interspersed with tall, full bookshelves. A bonsai weeping willow and cherry tree rest between several of them, along with intricately patterned blue, white, and gold Islamic and Chinese vases. Two paintings are visible between the shelves of books.

Amelie does not speak Arabic herself, but she recognizes the characters from other Islamic works: “La ghaliba illallah,” or “Only God obtains victory,” repeated twice.

A Victorian oak desk with Green Man and floral relief carvings sits directly beneath the lance. Its contents consist of a lamp, desk phone, several trays of papers, and an old-fashioned globe with predominately bronze and tan rather than blue coloration. There is no computer.

The sole figure seated behind the desk and slender and exceedingly tall vampire who looks around a head taller than most men. His skin is dusky and smooth, with only a hint of wrinkles from age round his deep-set almond eyes. He wears a double-breasted navy business suit with a black tie and white handkerchief in the front pocket. A silver pocketwatch on an attached chain and cufflinks of the same material offer several further concessions to the past. A gold signet ring set with a sapphire and traced with Arabic script rests upon one of his long, slender fingers.

The vampire rises from his seat as Coco enters the room.

“Seneschal,” she greets him.

“Primogen,” he answers.

Rocco offers a short bow.

“It’s been a little,” Coco remarks as she sits down in one of the chairs across from the desk.

Amelie: Amelie quickly bows as well, dipping lower than Rocco and holding it for a moment more. She doesn’t take her eyes off the floor, as well, waiting to be addressed. It’s difficult with how beautiful the room is.

GM: The seneschal inclines his head at this statement as he resumes his own seat.

“Please seat yourselves,” he indicates to the still-standing Rocco and Amelie.

Amelie: Amelie gives another shorter bow and walks to her seat, taking the one next to Coco and folding her hand sin her lap. She stays silent for now, looking up to the seneschal.

GM: “Ruby’s teaching at Delgado,” Coco says.

“I am afraid that little of my time has been my own of late, primogen. Perhaps Mr. Bornemann may yet join her,” Maldonato answers.

“I’d supposed so. Invite’s open.”

“A noteworthy choice of institution. It has been some time since she taught at Tulane.”

“I think it’s more informative to have one’s finger on the pulse of the sorts of students who attend community colleges right now. Although only just. The people at Tulane are also worth keeping an eye on. We live in interesting times.”

Maldonato inclines his head again at this statement.

“But so far as why we’re here,” Coco says. “Go on and introduce yourself, Amelie.”

Amelie: Amelie listens closely to the conversation, but finds herself sneaking glances at the wonderful desk, art, and other pieces around the room. It’s been too long since she has been able to enjoy looking at anything tasteful.

But she’s on the ball immediately when she is introduced, giving the seneschal a small bow.

“I am Amelie Savard, Seneschal Maldonato. Thank you for taking the time to see me. It is an honor to finally meet you.”

GM: “You are welcome, Miss Savard,” the tall vampire answers. “Hound Agnello, is there business you wished to bring before me?”

“I am considering taking Miss Savard as my charge, Your Grace,” the hound answers. “I had hoped to observe her conduct towards you before deciding.”

“A potentially efficacious litmus of character, Hound Agnello, but Miss Savard and I may be here for some time. Sheriff Donovan has informed me that his plans for the hounds this evening permit only a small allowance of their own,” Maldonato states.

Rocco bows his head. “Of course, Your Grace. By your leave?”

“May God go with you,” the seneschal bids.

Rocco rises from his seat. “Primogen Duquette,” he nods.

“See you around, hound.”

The hound exits the room and offers another inclination of his head to the two older Kindred as he closes the door.

Amelie: Amelie looks surprised when House Agnello says he’s considering basically adopting her. It’s an incredible thought. He seems to be in good standing.

She’s disappointed when he goes to leave but gives him a small bow as well.

“Please have a pleasant night, Hound Agnello.”

GM: “You are fortunate that another Kindred is willing to consider accepting responsibility for your existence, childe,” Maldonato states. “Please relay the circumstances of your Embrace and subsequent activities to me.”

Amelie: Amelie nods respectfully to the seneschal, and takes the hounds advice in matters of answering questions to the elder Kindred.

She stays on topic, detailing her waking in the morgue, who and where she attacked. What she took, what evidence she left behind, along with her escape. What route she took, briefly explaining it was to avoid as many humans as possible. Her encounter with police and their exact reaction to her escaping from them.

GM: Just as Coco did, and just as Autumn before her, Maldonato interrupts Amelie’s narrative in the morgue to request that she detail the circumstances which led to her being there.

Amelie: Amelie cringes slightly at her mistake, and rewinds as he asks immediately. She is succinct in her descriptions. The trip to LaLaurie, Tantsy’s warning after her conversation with Father Malveaux, her going anyway thinking she could protect the others. The attack from the entity that sent her into a coma, as the cause of her pathetic form. The false charges due to the fury of the Devillers and Whitney families for actions of a police officer, and immediate imprisonment in the male ward of OPP. And finally, her subsequent death after being assaulted by the two inmates.

And of course, everything that happened in Algiers. Her stride, however, is halted by a snap of the leash around her neck. Caroline’s face pops into her head, and it feels like piano wire wrap around her cold unbeating heart. Her gloved hands grip each other tight at the taste of betrayal. She looks up at the seneschal and the aura of power emanating from him. Then to Coco, the cool casual ice that that rolls off her like smoke. It feels like she’s being pulled in half.

It hurts. Hurts like betraying her father, seeing a scar across his face every day while wiping the vomit from his beard. Were she alive, she would sweat. She clears her throat, and slides the gloves from her hands, posing a small polite ‘excuse me’. She feels hands trembling as she metaphorically claws at the collar, as her thin hand clamps around her wrist, clawing into dead flesh. It’s an uphill struggle, punctuated with forcing herself to curate the memory of the soft kindnesses of Caroline Malveaux with Coco’s words on the collar. With the crushing reality of her situation in her judgement. Caroline wouldn’t abandon her like this. The boons are just to keep her around. Aren’t they? It feels like bile should be rising in her throat as she continues speaking, meeting the horrific throbbing sickening pain in her chest with the very real pain of nail on skin.

It is barely enough. Just barely. If not for this being a great judgement, if not for Coco’s presence to give her a sickening reminder that her the feelings are not REAL, she knows the desperate hoping of a crushing loneliness in her chest would push her to lie to protect a rare angel in her existence.

She starts back up, shakily, with her encounter in the gas station. Their encounter with Nathaniel Blanch and her dear relief that a blood cost was a clear way to repay her debt to him for her transgression. And finally, her stint as Caroline’s ward, and their investigation and failure to track a loose end in Dr. Wilson due to the sudden attack on her and Caroline’s decision to have her kept for the day. She does so in as much detail as she can without getting off-topic, and falls silent at the end for a moment, trying to remember any detail she’s left out before nodding. It’s everything she’s already told. She dares not leave out any details from the seneschal.

“Apologies for the length, Seneschal Maldonato. That is my entire catalog of the events to the best of my memory.”

GM: Maldonato patiently listens to Amelie’s version of events without further questioning. He does, however, briefly request that she pause her narrative while he picks up the phone and dials an individual whom he addresses as “Bishop Malveaux.” He requests that the father join them before bidding Amelie to resume her tale.

Amelie: While she is asked to stop, Amelie keeps her mouth shut tight, looking down and letting him speak to someone else. She spends the few moments tracing the reliefs of the desk with her eye, noting all the details of the oak. It’s beautiful. Obviously well-restored and kept. But the decoration in the room makes her wonder how old the seneschal is. It feels too easy to assume him a Moor. Especially with his surname having Spanish roots. Not pleasant Spanish roots, but Spanish roots nonetheless. The Moors and the Spanish weren’t known for being friendly with each other.

GM: She is nearly finished when a knock raps against the door.

“Enter,” Maldonato invites.

The individual who enters is clad in a priest’s plain black habit, but trimmed with red at the edges, and walks with a slender black cane that almost resembles a shepherd’s crook. A silver ring set with a ruby rests on one of his fingers. He is notably shorter than Amelie, but cadaverously thin like she is, with stick-like scarecrow’s limbs. His skin is so pale she’d think he poured flour over it, and his short, slicked-back hair is similarly white. His eyes are an unhealthy reddish-pink. His nose is just a little large, his features just a little off: an albino. His exact age is difficult to pinpoint. But Amelie can scent that he, too, is… Kindred.

“Your Grace,” he bows.

“Your Excellency.”

“Primogen.” He inclines his head.

“Hello, Your Excellency.”

Maldonato motions. The pallid vampire seats himself as Amelie finishes her story.

Amelie: The introduction of a figure even more physically pathetic than her draws her attention for a moment. She stops her story for just a moment to give the man a small respectful bow as he comes to sit, before going back to the story so as not to waste the seneschal’s time.

GM: “Retrieve the chalice and proffer your wrist over it,” the albino vampire orders Amelie when she is finished.

Amelie: Amelie bows lightly and carefully stands up, leaving her gloves on the seat and walking to retrieve the chalice that’s been sitting by the willow bonsai tree even since she has stepped into the room. She brings it to Father Malveaux, undoing the buttons of her peacoat and leaving the right side of her white blouse exposed, pulling back the sleeve. She carefully kneels to his side, holding her wrist just above the chalice and over his lap where he has ease of access. Gritting her teeth all the while. She’s already got a pretty good idea what goes into the chalice. It’s always blood with their kind, she’s starting to realize.

GM: The chalice is made of gold and resembles a traditional eucharist chalice, but with four tiny, spear-like points around its rim. A tiny relief depicts a dark figure stabbing a crucified Jesus’ flank with a lance.

The vampire addressed as ‘Bishop Malveaux’ produces a small ceremonial-looking knife from the folds of his robe and slashes it across Amelie’s wrist.

He waits as blood pools into the cup, then draws his blade over Amelie’s already cut and bleeding wrist a second time. It hurts.

Amelie: Amelie looks at the albino a bit closer as she kneels next to him, as though searching his face. She remembers Caroline’s words, that there are many ‘Father Malveaues.’ In New Orleans at least that proves to be correct. This is surely not the kind cousin in that hall of ghosts. His skin’s as white as Nathaniel Blanch’s was. Whether this is albinism or a shared trait of the truly ancient she doesn’t know. But she does know that the name wouldn’t have gone all the way back to the Gauls. Either way, it’s markedly strange to see a long-dead relative to people she has seen alive. Unsettling, almost.

Her eye is quickly drawn to his hands as he produces the knife, and her teeth grit harder when she realizes its intent. She knows this song and dance. The scar on the hand holding the chalice knows it all too well. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. The slash wakes every other hurt she’s had roiling in the background since she woke up this night, like an electric current through her body waking up everything wrong. But she grits and bears it like so many other pains she’s woken to. She even thanks it for the sudden surge of life she can feel through her bones. But most of all, she holds it there, and buries her face into the crook of her arm to cope with the hurt and leave it to drain.

But… it hurts. It hurts, and her form is so weak. It hurts and she has already endured enough. The sudden and careless slash across Amelie’s wrist, and the THEFT of her precious precious blood feels as though a foot has stepped past the line, intruded into her corner. The poor neophyte watches as the world spins away from her control in a vortex or RED and HATE as the cowardly parasite hijacks her senses and lunges at the form sitting before her. Teeth gnash towards the first arm she’s seeen that’s thinner than hers. It’s prey she can easily take down, says the Beast. Prey that can slake the thirst they forced onto her. Amelie’s body snarls and gnashes down at Bishop Malveaux’s wrist in a blind fury.

GM: The fury rocks through Amelie’s emaciated body like a burning geyser, incinerating all rational thought in its path.

When the red haze clears, there’s an iron pressure clamped around her neck, and her face is pressed flat against the surface of Maldonato’s oak desk.

“Do you thirst, rabble?” rasps Father Malveaux.

The priest is sitting a short distance away with the same knife in hand.

Amelie: Amelie blinks as the haze clears. It’s jarring, suddenly being in a new position, and she slowly registers the feeling of being pressed into the desk. Her eyes darting immediately to Bishop Malveaux in wide horrific regret and worry, going over him a moment before seeing him unharmed. The look transitions harshly into one of pure regret. She’s nearly not only struck a man of the cloth, but struck an advisor of a powerful man judging her very existence.

There’s something else as well, she doesn’t take her eyes off of the priest but the desk feels slightly cooler to the touch than it should. As if there is moisture underneath a sealant. This poor poor desk.

“I’m so incredibly sorry, Your Excellency! Yes. I’m very injured and thirsty, I beg your forgiveness. Thank you for restraining me.”

GM: “Then may your thirst be sated,” the priest hisses.

Amelie feels a bleeding wrist pressed to her mouth.

Amelie: Smell and taste both hit Amelie at the same time, and violently. She doesn’t know if she can refuse, what’s more she decides after only a token hesitation she doesn’t want to. Opening her mouth, she gently clamps her teeth along the priest’s wrist and takes in the leaking blood, shuddering at the taste. It tastes like power. Like millions of vibrating reactions inside a tiny droplet of something that can explode on demand, and it’s all hers for the moment.

She drinks what he allows, almost desperate to not let a drop slip as she digs her nails into the carpet, trying to contain a voice threatening to humiliate her at the feet of this skeletal man.

GM: The priest’s blood is rich and thick on Amelie’s tongue, yet somehow reticent. There’s a bitter aftertaste like dust or ash, and the somber tonalities of a Gregorian chant almost seem to reverberate at the edge of her hearing.

“You may thank your primogen for restraining you,” Bishop Malveaux rasps.

Amelie: Amelie is surprised with herself that the blood carries so many hints to it. She’s been in such a flurry of late, she’s never really paused to consider it. But Bishop Malveaux’s blood echoes. It simply echoes inside of her. At the mention of who held her, her eyes flick up to Coco’s in gratitude.

“Thank you, Primogen Duquette. Dearly.”

She very slowly picks herself back up, looking to see if she’s spilled the chalice and needs to be drained again.

GM: Somewhat remarkably, the chalice does not appear to have lost any of its sanguine contents.

“Further lapses of control will not be dealt with so leniently, Miss Savard,” Maldonato states. The seneschal’s tone is mild despite his words, but the stare Coco gives Amelie is not. “You may resume your seat. Your Excellency, please continue your prayer.”

“Of course, Your Grace.”

Bishop Malveaux closes his pinkish eyes, clasps his skeletal hands over the chalice, and intones a deep and sonorous prayer in Latin to a string of figures, including “the Dark Prophet,” “Amoniel,” “the Dark Apostles” and “St. Micah.”

Amelie: Amelie resumes her seat as she’d bid to, and gives Coco another apologetic look before clasping her hands onto her lap and keeping eyes there, waiting for the prayer to conclude.

GM: A ripple spreads through Amelie’s pooled blood, and then a flashing current of images, as though glimpsed through a tinted and blood-stained mirror.

Figures with burning eyes and gleaming fangs, too brief and too dark to ascertain the features of. Whispers sound from the chalice, too soft to ascertain the words of.

The bishop’s eyes suddenly snap open. The prayer dies. The chalice’s bloody currents still.

Silence stretches the still air.

Then, “This information is unsuitable for her ears, seneschal,” Bishop Malveaux rasps.

“Please wait outside the door, Miss Savard,” Maldonato requests.

Amelie: Amelie keeps her seat. Even when the images come up. Even when the whispers are here. It sends a shock of anxiety up her spine that borders on fear, and extends past and into fear itself as she’s asked to leave the room. But she doesn’t argue. She stands and bows lightly to the group, before excusing herself out of the door. Posting a few feet away and with her forehead against the wall, not willing to look out the window again.

She wonders if this means she’s different. If fate will have an execution today. If her fears aren’t mis-placed, and she is indeed not a ‘Kindred’, but instead a demon in costume that a prayer has revealed.

Amelie just keeps her head against the wall, muttering a prayer that her existence not be snuffed out again while ancient beings decide her fate.

GM: The corridor outside of Maldonato’s office remains bare and empty except for Jen. The ghoul is leaning against the wall, but stuffs a phone in her pocket and stands up straight when she sees the door open.

Amelie: Amelie just gives her a small nod, and muttered ‘Sorry’ on her way out, facing away from the window.

“Coco will be a small while, I think.”

GM: Jen leans back against the wall and pulls her phone out when Amelie closes the door.

“It’s already been a small while, but thanks for the status update.”

Time passes as Amelie mouths her own prayer.

Then, “I’m sure you have a lot of questions about a lot of things right now. Maybe I can help.”

Amelie: Amelie looks to Jen as she speaks the first time, nodding simply and leaving her to her phone. But the later offer is a small surprise. She looks up at Jen a moment and nods lightly. It’s a welcome distraction from her impending second death.

“I’d like that. Thank you. I’ve been wondering about a lot. Like… does Coco have her own faction? She said we were all equal in Mid-City, but that sounds like she meant only Mid-City.”

GM: “That’s a bit of a longer answer,” Jen says. “Trade me a hit of your juice, and I’ll answer most anything you want to know until they send for you again.”

Amelie: Juice. That word has been used by Coco before, she assumes now to refer to blood. And after Caroline’s talk, it makes sense she would want some of Amelie’s.

“I’m running on fumes myself, unfortunately. I had a close encounter with something with lots of teeth and claws. Don’t suppose you do IOUs, huh?”

GM: Jen shakes her head, then seems to think. “You have any collateral I could hang onto?”

Amelie: Amelie looks herself over and chuckles a bit.

“You want a rib? Oh, wait. How about this, or even the cash I got.”

The young corpse slides a phone out of her pocket and shows it to her.

GM: Jen looks it over. “The cash is probably better. How much do you have?”

Amelie: Amelie shows off the bills.


GM: “All right. Hand that over and you can have it back once you have more juice.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t know whether she’s going to survive the next hour or not. It’s not a great deal, but it’s a deal. She walks up to Jen and puts cash in hand.

“So… tell me about the ‘licks’ in this city.” She wants to say ‘vampires’, but that’s the word Coco used. “Coco said she was an Anarch. What’s the rundown on them? Are there any other groups?”

GM: Jen sticks the ten Andrew Jacksons into a wallet, then answers,

“Coco’s part of the Anarch Movement. They believe, in short, in inherent equality between all Kindred. They want to democratize the all-night society’s politics and reform its culture by bringing both into the 21st century.”

“Mid-City is Anarch territory. They call the shots there.”

Amelie: “Do the Anarchs have to pay respect to the Lance because the ‘prince’ is one? Or are they completely separate?”

GM: “What do you mean by ‘respect’?” Jen asks.

Amelie: Amelie motions to the nearby office door.

“Do they get a say in what the Anarchs do, mostly. Does what they say go?”

GM: Jen nods. “New Orleans is a Sanctified city, so the prince is the final law on things. But the Anarchs take care of Mid-City’s local concerns. A close analogy might be a county government that’s run by a different political party than the state government.”

Amelie: “That’s how things work in Canada, so… perfect,” she muses. “Are there any groups besides the Sanctified and the Anarchs?”

GM: “There’s the Crones, the Invictus, the Tremere, the Ordo Dracul, and a couple weirder ones,” Jen ticks off.

Amelie: Amelie nods. There are a few weird names in there.

“Dracul? Like… Dracula?”

GM: “That’s what they say,” the ghoul nods.

Amelie: Amelie remembers talking about Dracula earlier today. It has her curious.

“What are they all about? Shoving people on flag poles?”

GM: “If they are, they haven’t done it here, at least that I know about. There’s not really that many in New Orleans. It’s Houston that’s supposed to have a ton of them.”

Amelie: It really doesn’t answer her question, but the historian in her wants to dig deeper.

“What do they do then? If Anarchs want to bring the species into the 21st century, what’s the Ordo Dracul’s goal?”

GM: Jen shrugs. “I think worship Dracula, as the biggest and baddest of all licks, and to try to overcome their weaknesses and limitations. Honestly, I don’t know that much about them.”

Amelie: “If there’s only a few of them, you probably couldn’t name any, huh? Vlad the Impaler being an actual vampire kinda has me wanting to know more.”

GM: “There’s one I might be able to,” Jen says thoughtfully. “That’s definitely another hit, at least, to introduce you.”

Amelie: “So far as to introduce? Hell, if I survive tonight I have a feeling I’ll be filling pitchers for you eventually.”

GM: “I’ll keep my fingers crossed then.”

Amelie: “Let’s move on before I get called in though. What about the ‘Crones’. Like… Baba Yaga crones?”

GM: Jen gives Amelie a bit of an odd look, then says, “Here they’re Vodouisants. They and the Sanctified don’t really get along.”

Amelie: “I imagine not, Catholics and pagans rarely do. I didn’t think there were that many real Vodouisants left in New Orleans, though. There’s enough to have their own group?”

GM: “Things are different with the licks. And if vampires can be real, well, why not Vodoun?”

Amelie: Amelie nods and taps her fingers along her jaw, wondering if that means the other groups have many more ‘older’ vampires.

“Who was left… the Invictus and the Tremere?”

GM: “The Invictus are essentially the 1%. Wall Street, multinational corporations, Southern aristocracy, and the Mafia all rolled into one.”

Amelie: “Gross,” she mutters.

GM: “The Tremere are wizards who practice black magic. Their elders are supposed to own their souls. There’s not that many of them either.”

Amelie: Amelie nods lightly. It sounds like that’s a rundown of the ‘major players’ in the political theater. The Sanctified as the ruling body, its enemy in the Crones, and those scattered in between.

“Not that many Tremere either. Are the Tremere allied with the prince, or are the wizards just too dangerous? I have a hard time seeing black magic being well regarded by ‘the church.’”

GM: “The prince tolerates the Tremere, because I guess persecuting them would just drive them underground. If you legalize it you can regulate it. He doesn’t trust them, though. No one does.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and keeps tapping along her jaw.

“Then who would you suggest going to ask about ghosts… the Crones or the Tremere?”

GM: Jen gives Amelie another odd look before repeating, “No one trusts the Tremere. There’s a few Anarchs who know about ghosts. Some Sanctified too.”

Amelie: Amelie slowly looks towards the window, and the damned Superdome. It sends shivers up her spine.

“I’ll start with the Anarchs then. I’ve got… a lot of questions about that shit.”

GM: “Well, be prepared to pay up for that too. Nothing’s free in the masked city.”

Amelie: “I might have information to trade there. Maybe. About the Anarchs… you guys have any handy-men? Anyone who fixes and makes gear or houses or cars or anything?”

GM: Jen shakes her head. “Not really any dedicated ones. I mean, I’m sure there’s licks who know how to do that stuff, but none who really advertise it.”

Amelie: Amelie cocks a brow slightly at Jen. “Sore spot with you or something, there?”

GM: “Sorry?” the ghoul asks.

Amelie: “Feels like you’re holding something back, is all. I won’t pry if it’s a touchy subject, but I want to know what I can do for the Anarchs.”

GM: “There’s things I shouldn’t go into without Coco around,” Jen simply says. “But if you’re a handywoman, there’s definitely a lot that you could have to offer them. Just off-hand, every lick needs to sleep somewhere light-proof if they don’t want to be brightening sunsets when they wake up.”

“I’m sure you’d know how to finagle that if you’re any good with home repairs. Most licks have a lot of other ‘nonstandard’ modifications they like to make to buildings.”

“Anarchs tend to be young too, compared to licks from other clubs, and to care more about cars and other ‘new’ forms of technology.”

Amelie: “I understand. Consider it dropped. But those all sound like easy jobs. Push comes to shove, I know materials that could make emergency sun-proof sleeping bags. I can do a lot of things with cars too, but mostly I’m good at repair and making metal parts. If you mean they want kit work, I’d have to make connections at a body shop. But… good tips. I hope I’ll have no shortage of work.”

GM: Jen nods. “You’ll have plenty among the Anarchs. Coco could make a few calls.”

“Plenty among your clan too, come to think.” The ghoul smiles faintly. “You hellenes tend to break a lot of things.”

Amelie: Amelie nods slightly, remembering Coco and her handling of such an easy slip. Her face went right into the desk.

“Hellenes. It’s assumed that our clan has Greek roots, then?”

GM: “The clan draws a fair bit of its culture from classical Greece, or at least the older generations do,” Jen nods. “Coco had me read a decent amount of Aristotle when I started working for her.”

Amelie: Amelie mentally sighs at the thought. She’s read a lot of Greek… everything.

“If my clan is Greek, maybe that makes me New Orleans’ Hephaestus. But I’m stuck on something you said. There being vampires in Austin. Are they ‘everywhere’? Like… Quebec City? Montreal?”

GM: Jen nods. “Where you find breathers, you find licks. They tend to stick to cities, since that’s where the juice is.”

“I said there were licks in Houston, but I suppose you’d find them in Austin and Canada too.”

Amelie: “Ah, sorry. That’s… a lot of vampires though.” It’s not a comforting thought, even if she’s now one of them. “How haven’t they figured us out?”

GM: “It’s called the Masquerade. The Cam covers the existence of Kindred completely up. Anyone who sees or suspects vampires are real gets silenced—however we have to do it. The lick responsible for that oops gets staked and left for the sun, most of the time.”

“The Anarchs aren’t much kinder than most princes there. It’s the one rule that almost every lick can agree is necessary.”

Amelie: Amelie nods. She’s heard that word before. She doesn’t know what Jen means by ‘the Cam’, but moves on.

“Well there’s Dracula, Nosferatu, Lestat, and we stand in the city of Anne Rice. Sounds like there’s been some pretty high-profile ball drops. Not that I’m one to talk, considering.”

GM: The door to Maldonato’s office opens. Jen immediately stuffs away her phone and stands to attention as Bishop Malveaux emerges. She does not meet his gaze. Amelie’s too-keen hearing can make the sudden spike in the ghoul’s heart rate.

The skeletal vampire does not once look at her as he slowly perambulates away on his cane. He does not look back at Amelie either as he rasps, “The seneschal desires your presence.”

Amelie: Amelie straightens up in tandem with Jen, bowing lightly when Bishop Malveaux passes.

“Yes, Your Excellency. Please have a pleasant night.”

The young lick gives one last thankful nod to Jen before heading into the office once again, closing the doors behind her. She gives a small bow to Maldonato once more, and quietly takes her seat, attentive and on bated breath about the fate coming to her.

GM: Bishop Malveaux offers no response as his gaunt form disappears down the bare corridor.

Coco and Maldonato, meanwhile, remain in the seats where Amelie last saw them. The blood-filled chalice, too, remains where it was.

Both Kindred silently regard her as she re-assumes her chair.

“It is courteous to request the leave of one’s elders before seating oneself, Miss Savard,” the seneschal reproaches mildly.

Silence stretches between the three.

“Very well,” Maldonato finally states. “You may rise, Miss Savard.”

The elder vampire’s tone remains patient and level. But somehow it feels to Amelie as if an imperceptible shadow has fallen over the room—one that has her already agitated Beast pacing even more anxiously. It scents something in the air.

Something it has scented before.

Something it instinctively knows to beware.

Amelie: Amelie looks like a deer in the headlights as her mind comes back to her. It was a moment of stark relief when she came into the room, but here she sits like a lemming. She knows she should ask permission to sit, and yet she does anyway. Her eyes stay stock still on the seneschal’s desk for a good moment until she hears his voice again, as if shaking her out of her stupor.

She darts up, her cheeks would be red if she was not a corpse.

“Seneschal! I’m so sorry, I’m… standing in the hall where the tower can see me, it must have…” she searches for words, “affected me much more than I thought.”

The fear and her own embarrassment has her bow low, hands wringing so tight together it adds to the constant background noise of bone-deep pain.

“I’d never dare disrespect your station intentionally.”

GM: “One’s intentions matter but little next to one’s actions among our society, Miss Savard,” Maldonato answers gravely.

Coco says nothing.

He steeples his long fingers as he regards the standing vampire.

“I have considered all of the pertinent facts of your Embrace and subsequent actions. Your primogen has also given me her own recommendation as to your fate.”

“If you believe there are any further salient factors that merit my consideration, or if there are any final words your conscience demands you give utterance to, you may speak now.”

Amelie: Amelie bites her lip and nods slowly. She’s fucked this up for herself, and badly. That awareness does nothing against the billow stoking the smoldering fear-coal in her chest. But it’s not like other fears she’s conquered. Not her battles with fire, not her father screaming and swinging bottles, and not the sweaty awkwardness of her first social year with her scarred-over back. It’s a post-mortal fear. Towers of screaming souls pulling at hers. Eternities without the sun.

She thinks about her aunt and hopes her death is just a road bump for the poor woman. She thinks about her mother, and wonders if the older Savard’s fate lies in the City of Dis as a warbling vorpal blade, or if she herself is just insane. She thinks about Oscar. Mrs. Flores. Ms. Perry. Miranda and her father. She regrets not being able to see any of them even one more time. But another fear tugs at her conscience. How could she ever betray them, and pull back the veil hiding this dark and terrible world by being in their lives?

There’s only one thing she can think to say as she maintains an iron-straight posture. It’s almost funny. She’s sure it would be to anyone but her. It reminds her of bringing up dead New Orleans madams when her aunt yelled at her for eavesdropping.

“Your desk. It’s truly beautiful, Seneschal Maldonato. As is your whole collection. But if I’m to die again today, please let the reputation of whoever repaired your desk die with me. They applied oil varnish over water-based varnish too quickly. The wood of your desk will bloat and may suffer structural damage as a result.”

Her hands don’t unclench. She’s sure they look white as pressed sheets as the skin pulls taut against her bones.

“Just have him sand it off and re-apply them at least 48 hours apart.”

GM: Silence stretches between the three.

“Please retrieve the second chalice, Miss Savard,” Maldonato finally requests.

Amelie espies another one on a bookshelf. It looks similar to the first, but is made from silver rather than gold.

Amelie: Amelie feels like she’s on a razor’s edge during the silence, left alone with the dull constant hum of her ravaged body and swimming mind.

Still, she acts on the order immediately. She turns on a heel and quickly retrieves the chalice off the shelf. She’s very careful as she brings it to the desk and holds it at the ready.

GM: Maldonato extends his wrist over the chalice. A heady-smelling, tantalizing red drips into it.

“Drink,” he bids.

Amelie: Amelie bows lightly and does as he says immediately.

It hits her like an anvil. It feels as though the single drop that slides down her tongue is oil in water. A pebble in an ocean. It’s so thick it’s almost solid as it pours down her throat and soothes everything it touches until detonating in some unknown pit. The Beast seizes it like a piece of precious treasure as she just stands there in shock at the seneschal’s puissance. Truly he must be ancient. An ancient Moor born around southern Spain, or maybe a warrior prince from Greece. She stands agape, just staring at the man in reverence. Hoping for another order.

GM: “The normative penalty for violations of the Masquerade is final death, Miss Savard,” Maldonato states. “Others have advocated for your clemency and labored to repair your transgressions. This latter state of affairs, however, is not well. Primogen Duquette, what is the state of Levi Stevens’ body?”

“My licks took it off the Krewe’s hands. He’s on ice in a bathtub.”

Amelie: Amelie takes a small step back from the desk to give the seneschal ample space, but afterwards just stands there with the goblet listening, giving small nods of affirmation to his words.

She takes hound Rocco’s advice as well, and stands quietly until she’s asked a question, hoping she has a chance to pledge she will also be looking for her sire. Or that she will be asked to put the chalice back, where she might be able to sneak her finger in to gather the last bits left in the cup.

GM: Maldonato’s gaze returns from Coco to Amelie.

“Very well. Mr. Stevens’ earthly remains are hereafter your responsibility to dispose of, Miss Savard. His family members’ and work associates’ unanswered questions regarding his apparent disappearance are yours to satisfy as well. You may discharge these duties however your conscience dictates, but the Masquerade must be observed. None may know of our kind’s existence, nor of Mr. Stevens’ death by your hands.”

Amelie: Amelie bows lightly as the gaze pans to her. It’s a grim responsibility. Disposal of a body, it sets a shiver of revulsion though her soul. Just getting rid of a man like that, it’s madness. She only thinks back to Hound Agnello, and how he may be able to help. If he can help. Disposal of the body itself is trivial next to his family and friends. She feels guilt as well, that she’s apparently being allowed to live while this man hasn’t been so lucky. But then, maybe it’s a lesson for her.

“Yes, Seneschal Maldonato. I will not rest until the damage I caused to the Masquerade is repaired.”

GM: There’s also Caroline, part of Amelie can’t help but think. She made all of those bodies disappear.

It’s an excuse to call that phone number. To see her face again.

Caroline would help, wouldn’t she? She’s been so good to her already.

Amelie: There’s a lot of lessons she’s sure Caroline could teach her. She dwells it on a moment in her own head, feeling the internal struggle pulling her in, and a tinge of annoyance remembering that other hound scoffing at Caroline’s name. Maybe if Caroline helps her, it’s also a chance for the older woman to show even more how dedicated she is to the Sanctified, and Kindred society in general.

Her gut twists as she thinks more on it as well. Equal parts of her fight in the back of her head. Logic yanks her by the hair, screaming in her ear Coco’s words on ‘The Leash’ and Hound Agnello’s station, while another deeper part tells her that leash is just speaking to the deep horribly lonely parts of her soul. Caroline could smooth over so many old hurts, like she does with other problems. Maybe it’s a chance to make up for betraying her actions to the seneschal. Maybe she can ask both. Maybe she’s being greedy, or an idiot.

On the surface she keeps her eyes on the seneschal, waiting for his words, but in the back of her head Caroline is well seated on a gilded throne as the topic.

GM: Maldonato’s gaze rests ponderously upon Amelie for what feels like another precious handspan of a moment. His next words, however, are addressed to Coco.

“What is the state of the Anarchs’ investigation into Dr. Wilkinson?”

Coco gives a faint shrug. “We’re keeping an eye out, but we’ve mostly passed the buck there to the Krewe. It’s anyone’s guess where he is right now. Our sorcerers will forward whatever they get off those blood samples.”

“Very well. The apprehension and silencing of Dr. Wilkinson is also your responsibility, Miss Savard—as is any further damage to the Masquerade that his actions should cause.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t just hear, but feels the name Wilkinson break through the dialogue in her head. Caroline’s car and safety were breached by whoever attacked them at Wilkinson’s homeless shelter, and it’s undeniably Amelie’s job now to go forward and find this man.

“Yes, Seneschal Maldonato.”

GM: “She could use a time frame for all of this,” Coco says.

“What would you propose, Primogen Duquette?”

“The Midnight Mass after this week’s. Eight nights to find someone who’ll play sire and to repair the damage she’s done to the Masquerade.”

Maldonato appears to weigh Coco’s proposal, but not for overlong.

“Very well. Miss Savard shall be allocated eight nights to succeed in these labors. Would you have her remain your responsibility until and if another suitable mawla may be found?”

“Now that your other fille casquette is mine again, Jen’s time is freer than it was before,” Coco says. “We can manage that, though not for a while tonight. Someone needs to mind her.”

“Hound Wright is due back to Perdido House before the evening’s end.”

“I’m sure he’ll love that,” Coco remarks dryly. “Jen can look after her in the lobby until then, if Your Grace doesn’t object.”

“That is acceptable, Primogen Duquette.”

“Splendid. That should be enough time for Roderick and the others too.”

“Very well, Miss Savard,” Maldonato states, his somber gaze finally returning to Amelie’s.

“You are to be accorded eight nights to find an avus willing to accept responsibility for your actions and education under the Fourth Tradition, or you shall be put to death.”

Amelie: Amelie thinks back to Hound Agnello and his offer. She hopes to God Almighty that it’s still on the table. The idea of being looked after by Hound Wright leaves her half-relieved and half-concerned. She remembers making him chuckle, but also that spear in her heart from his comment towards Caroline. She wonders if they can even get along. Her fingers trace the goblet still in her hands.

“Yes, Seneschal Maldonato. Thank you for this chance.”

GM: “For your violations of the Masquerade that others have worked so diligently to repair, you shall receive a second draught of my vitae following tomorrow’s Midnight Mass. Further terms of your sentencing will be held in abeyance of your efforts to apprehend Dr. Wilkinson and conceal Mr. Stevens’ murder. Your sire’s fate is the concern of others and shall have no bearing upon your own.”

Maldonato examines his pocketwatch. “A momentary window remains in the time we have been allotted together, Miss Savard. Until it elapses, you may avail me of any further questions you desire answered.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a shiver of equal parts terror and excitement at the sound of another draught of the seneschal’s marble-thick blood. She listens intently nonetheless, and bows her head in thanks at his offer of questions. It’s just as Hound Agnello said.

There’s a lot of things on her mind, and so much she’d like to ask about what she now is. But she needs to get in good with these fellow… Kindred.

“Yes, Seneschal Maldonato. Forgive me if this is presumptuous, but if Hound Agnello graciously decides to take me in, would I be directly inundated as a member of the Sanctified?”

GM: “You would not, Miss Savard. You would become eligible to join the Lancea et Sanctum upon your release from Hound Agnello’s or any other mawla’s supervision,” Maldonato answers.

Amelie: That makes sense enough. The question feels almost wasted, though, as she supposes she could have just asked Coco or Wright.

She pauses for a moment in consideration of what to say next. She needs to prove that she’s loyal, however she can.

“I have come to learn the Lancea et Sanctum is at odds with a faction of Vodouisants in New Orleans, the Crones. If I encounter one of their members during my investigation, is there a course of action you expect of me?”

GM: “The Circle’s members are subjects of His Majesty the prince, as are we all. Report any infractions against the Camarilla’s laws to your mawla. Otherwise, treat them as you would desire yourself treated.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and bows her head again. She was not expecting that level of leniency towards philosophical enemies.

That question feels like another missed opportunity, though. Maybe she can ask about…

GM: A knock sounds against the door.

“Enter,” Maldonato bids.

The ghoul who does so appears to be a teenager younger than Amelie. Her milk-pale facial features are beautiful and unblemished, while her gaze is placid and tranquil. She’s garbed in a flowing white gown that strikingly contrasts her waist-length raven hair and gives her an almost ethereal appearance.

“Gisèlle, please escort Miss Savard and Jennifer Haley to the Paulson Investment lobby.”

The ghoul bows, turns, and glides from the room with an eerily silent stride.

Amelie: Amelie steps out of the way for the seneschal to address the ghoul and waits patiently as he issues his orders. Whoever Gisèlle is, the young lick cannot help but feel simultaneous jealousy at her beauty and relief that she no longer has hair that long. She can just picture someone grabbing and swinging it in this brutal new world. She carefully returns the chalice to where it last sat, and comes back to bow once last time before the great and merciful… Kindred who’s given her her life. Or unlife, as the others all seem to call it.

“Thank you for your endless patience, Seneschal Maldonato. I will endeavor not to waste this chance. By your leave?”

GM: Coco’s and Maldonato’s gazes follow Amelie as she returns the chalice. Neither vampire speaks. ‘Gisèlle’ does not speak.

As that seem imperceptible shadow feels as if it has fallen over the room again, Amelie’s Beast growls warningly in her ear. Her eye reflexively darts across her surroundings—and comes to an abrupt halt.

Amelie: Amelie feels as though she’s forgetting some piece of etiquette. Or maybe it’s just something she hasn’t been told. Her heart lurches in her throat either way as that ominous shadow returns. That instinct in her, the… Beast, yanks her eyes about the room. She looks for an exit, a weapon, or just some hint as to what these ancient monsters WANT from her.

“I apologize. It seems as though I am offending with my ignorance once again. I had thought you were dismissing me as well as this… ghoul, Seneschal Maldonato.”

GM: As Amelie’s eyes return to the seneschal’s, time seems to dilate like a wild beast’s pupils, widening from an instant to an eternity. As she hangs suspended in that temporal vista, she almost wonders how she missed it:

The elder’s Cainite eyes lack the black and alien hunger of Nathaniel Blanch’s. But now, as she stares into that gaze’s motionless depths, they do not appear to be other than human—but more than human. Far more. Too much more. Their brown hue is like that of an ancient tree whose rings go on forever and ever and ever, marking lifetimes beyond counting, thoughts beyond counting, thoughts beyond understanding. Their vast multiplicity bears down on her with a psyche-crushing weight that feels all-too physical—and for reasons far graver than mere points of etiquette.

The temporal spell is finally broken by the elder vampire’s somber voice:

‘Bargain not with the darkness: in time it will take us all.’ Farewell, childe of Troile.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Jon VI
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Caroline X

Previous, by Amelie: Story Eleven, Amelie IV, Caroline IX
Next, by Amelie: Story Eleven, Amelie Epilogue

Previous, by Rocco: Story Eleven, Rocco II
Next, by Rocco: -

Story Eleven, Amelie IV, Caroline IX

“Nothing in your Requiem is easy, Amelie. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you can start carving one out for yourself.”
Caroline Malveaux

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, PM

GM: Relief does not come.

Death does not come.

But sleep, perhaps, comes.

There is no half-conscious “nodding off” and transition period from wakefulness to sleep. One moment, she lies naked, bleeding, and huddled against the tub’s floor, spent even of tears.

The next, Amelie Savard is simply gone—pulled into a slumber so deep, total, and immediate it might as well be death. Hypnos and Thanatos were brothers to the ancient Greeks.

Amelie Savard could be dead for an instant. She could be dead for a thousand years.



Burning. Everywhere. Pure red, as far as she can see. Fire burning from within and soothing from without. She screams in rapture. She screams in rage. She screams for more. She screams for it to end.

Waking to pain. Waking to bliss. Waking to pain. Exactly like last time. And the time before that. And the time before that. Always the same. Except someone’s slipped a little piss into her bliss, this time, towards the end.

Once again, she feels cold steel binding her wrists and ankles when the red haze finally clears. She still hurts. Everywhere.

Caroline stares down at her from outside the tub. She pulls away a bleeding wrist.

“Aren’t you a ravenous thing.”

She looks down at Amelie again, then effects a sigh.

“We can’t have you frenzying when Primogen Duquette picks you up, though. And we certainly can’t have you out hunting. Widney, tell Audrey to pick up a vessel for me. In the meanwhile, fledgling, I suppose it’s your lucky night…”

She raises her wrist to her mouth. There’s another flash of fangs—and more bliss falls over Amelie like a sanguine rain.

Amelie: Waking up to pain. It’s become rote. Waking up to the red haze of a blackout, however, is a worse fate. She wakes to the pain, and flinches at the piss muddled into the short flash of bliss she is ever allowed.

Amelies eyes open to another familiarity. To Caroline.

In her half conscious mind, she recalls the joy felt on her ‘last day’ of life. The thought of working with the krewes, the opportunities presented to her by this woman. Only for those around her to rip them down.

She feels a pang of guilt immediately though her ripped up chest for the blonde, that she’s had to endure laying with the snakes that’ve dragged her down. Guilt and…fear. An old, crude, and familiar fear that roils around in her chest. A fear of abandonment. Of what she would do without Caroline here with her to put up with her oddities and weakness. It sends a secondary thrill of panic through her chest as well, however. Caroline, who she has been on the fence about for days of sedentary staring at a wall thinking on who is her friend and who is her foe. It’s a feeling she can’t describe or process completely as she finds herself just staring slack jawed into the Malveux’ eye for an uncomfortable moment before a wrist is offered again.

Bliss finds her again though, fear assuaged for a moment as thin useless muscles flex out of stasis and slowly pulls the towel tighter around her.

“Did we… find Wilkinson, Caroline?”

Caroline: “No,” comes the heiress’ curt response. “Nor the shooters. Just more questions.” She brings up her wrist and licks the small wounds. When Amelie sees it again the trickle of vitae is gone, as are the wounds.

She looks over the teenage vampire and undoes the handcuffs around her wrists. They’ve moved Amelie to the living room. There’s a thick blanket under her keeping her ‘blood’ from soaking through to the leather coach.

Caroline has only the shorter blond with the carefully pinned and tied back hair with her now.
The smell of blood still hangs faintly in the air, but it’s stale, not the fresh stuff she had from the cholos, and certainly not the bliss from Caroline’s wrist.

Amelie: Amelie is slow and careful now as the cuffs come off, covering herself up and slowly sitting upright. She seems almost to the point of treating herself like glass. She finds it difficult to make eye contact with the blonde as well.

“That’s… too bad. There’s no time to keep looking, I assume? I don’t want to disappoint.”

Even her tone conveys more slack, though she finds herself chewing her lip looking for the source of the stale blood. Hoping it isn’t just the blanket under her.

GM: The clock overhead reads around half past 6.

Caroline: Two plastic bags stained red sit on the marble (or perhaps fake marble) countertop on the kitchen, visible to Amelie as she sits up.

Amelie: Her eyes slowly lock onto them.

“I hope those bags are not the clothes you were kind enough to allow me to borrow…”

Caroline: “Some of my emergency supply I keep on hand. If you’d checked the fridge—or anyone had seen fit to inform you—they might have kept you from slipping into torpor again last night,” Caroline answers.

GM: Widney says nothing at this.

Amelie: “Ah… I’m afraid my humors didn’t last past a shower and a look in the mirror. I didn’t even consider the fridge.”

She doesn’t make a move for them. Or much at all, sitting there staring at the clock.

Caroline: “You won’t want me to wake you up like that again,” Caroline replies. “As a rule you should try to avoid resting with wounds. Your body will burn through whatever vitae you have left to try and close them while you sleep.”

She looks over the tattered fledgling. “As for continued searches for our missing man, without a good lead to go on, I’m not especially inclined to continue through the city in the hopes that something productive comes of it.”

GM: “Your schedule has the hand-off to Primogen Duquette at a quarter to ten, ma’am. We’ll want to leave in another fifteen minutes in advance of that,” Widney states, briefly glancing down at a phone.

Amelie: Amelie assumes vitae is their polite word for blood, judging by the root of the word vitae itself and the context. But she nods at the lesson slowly. She grabs the thick blanket and brings it up around her, sitting covered as her mind ticks.

“If only there were more time. I’m sorry for the awkward question, but how far are we from the Superdome?”

GM: Widney gives her an odd look, but glances down at the phone again and replies, “One mile and eight minutes by car.”

Amelie: Amelie frowns, a small shudder going through her form. She had considered maybe dropping back into the underworld. But hearing how close they are to the tower makes her strike the idea.

“It’s dangerous to be so close to it. Caroline, would you mind just… spending the remaining time we have talking? I have questions..”

GM: Perhaps something in the Malveaux heiress’ eyes softens. Amelie would like to think it does. That Caroline feels something for her, after all she’s done. All the kindness she’s shown.

“Regarding?” she asks.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t know what any of this really means anymore. She continues to keep her eyes off of Caroline, mostly staring out a thousand yards away.

“My new condition. For instance, you called it ‘frenzy’? These violent blackouts.”

GM: “I did,” Caroline answers.

Amelie: “Why do they happen?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “That’s an existential question I don’t have a good answer to. Kindred call it ‘the Beast’, a monster inside all of us that is the root of our gifts, and also our greatest weakness. When exposed to things that frighten or anger us, or when we hunger, it tends to lash out. Sometimes an individual can restrain it. Sometimes… well, you’ve had plenty of experiences with the alternative.”

Amelie: Amelie thinks on the word beast, and then finds herself wondering back to the existence of Nathaniel Blanch. The Beast seems like a good word for it if that’s what it does to the oldest of ‘them.’ The thought is still foreign and horrible, that she’s related to that thing. The answer she gets is even less comfort. It’s scary not knowing exactly what you share your body with.

“So none of ‘our kind’ know what it is, exactly? Not even if it’s a separate entity inside of us?”

Caroline: “I imagine there’s probably some of our kind that have a better idea than others. But like almost all knowledge about our ways and condition, that knowledge is likely dangerous, and certainly valuable.”

Amelie: “Nathaniel Blanch. It’s called ‘the Beast’ and he was… well, how he was. Is that connected? The older we get the more of a monster we become?”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip. “Age makes it more difficult to remain in touch with humanity, but any of us can slip away and become nothing but the monster inside, Amelie.”

“In any case, the best answer I can give you about the origin of the Beast comes from the Sanctified. The Church teaches that the Beast is the collective sins of our kind, passed down sire to childe, back to Caine’s original murder. To be Embraced—made a vampire—is to be eternally damned by the weight of that inherited wickedness.”

She pauses to let that sink in. “It also holds however that all those Embraced are already damned by actions in their life. I would bid you give thought as to why you were chosen for this fate.”

Amelie: Amelie finally makes eye contact with Caroline after that last statement. She feels strange again. Usually she would feel a need to spit in someone’s face for saying that to her. But she can’t bring up that anger towards Caroline.

“Maybe I wasn’t chosen. Maybe I was given a choice. Did you know I wasn’t going to go into that mansion? A spirit told me I would die if I went into that house. And yet I went anyway. Because I couldn’t talk Yvette into not going. And it turned out to be a hazing that ruined my life.”

Caroline: “Only the sinful are Embraced, Amelie,” Caroline replies firmly. “I’ve yet to meet a Kindred that didn’t have some stain on their soul before the Embrace.”

Amelie: Again the familiar urge to spit and hiss doesn’t rise. If she had a stomach, she wonders if she should be sick to it as a result.

“There isn’t a person on earth who doesn’t have sin or isn’t lying about having none. But honestly, I think I wish to give God the benefit of the doubt in this horror show. Especially since I’ve stepped foot into a circle of hell.”

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t scowl, but her expression turns downward. “I’m not talking about lying on your taxes, Amelie. Or not paying a parking ticket. Or cheating on your girlfriend.”

“Good people don’t become vampires. The sooner you stop lying to yourself and accept that, the better off you’ll be. Not only because it’ll help you accept what has happened, but because it’s the first step towards the Sanctified.”

Amelie: Amelie finds herself wanting to. Almost. She feels the pull of listening to her, but as she looks back on her life. All that hard work. She knows her sin is wrath, ironically enough the who who probably knows that best in New Orleans is Caroline’s cousin. But maybe it was just destiny. Inherited destiny.

“You’ve mentioned that twice now. Who are the Sanctified? A vampire congregation?”

Caroline: “The vampire equivalent of the Catholic Church,” Caroline replies.

Amelie: Amelie has to choke down the question of if there is a vampire pope, just from pure curiosity.

“I imagine they’re big in New Orleans, considering the kind of city it is.”

Caroline: “The Sanctified rule New Orleans,” Caroline clarifies.

GM: Widney by this point is alternately scrolling through and tapping on the surface of a tablet. She clearly does not wish to put her time to nonproductive use.

Caroline: “Prince Augusto Vidal is one of the oldest and most powerful Kindred in the city, and the entire New World for that matter. And yes, he is a member of the Lancea et Sanctum. As are many of the elders in the city. Including Seneschal Maldonato, who will decide your fate tonight.”

“I’m not going deeply into the politics of the city tonight though,” Caroline continues. “All of this knowledge is valuable, and you don’t exactly have a sterling credit score right now. I’d also not overly poison your view before your meeting.”

Amelie: “If that’s what you want, of course. What about the conditions? Does garlic hurt me, must I be invited into houses, and God forbid do I sparkle in the sun?”

Caroline: “No, no, and definitely not,” Caroline answers. “Though you’ll burn quite nicely.”

Amelie: “Anything I’m missing? Stakes through the heart? Crosses? I have to assume I can take a mauling, I can take a sharp stick.”

Caroline: “Stakes will paralyze you if through the heart. Crosses… garlic, many of the more outlandish means of harming vampires can exist for specific vampires, but they’re irregular. Not universal to our condition. You see them more in elders and ancillae, that is, vampires that have outlived their mortal lifespan.”

Amelie: “Irregular? You’re saying vampires aren’t uniform? I’d assumed these ‘clans’ I heard about were just political camps.”

Caroline: Caroline bites back a testy response. It’s easy to forget that six months ago these were her mistakes.

Amelie: “Faux pas subject? We don’t have to talk about that.”

Caroline: “No, it’s fine. Clans are your ancestry, back to the first after Caine. Those eldest ancestors all left marks on their descendants, including the curses each must deal with and the gifts that come naturally to them. Your own clan, for instance, is most well known for physical prowess. And for being especially vulnerable to frenzy.”

Amelie: Amelie pauses for a moment at the name Caine. An auspicious figure to be considered ‘the first’ among vampires.

But the mention of physical prowess makes the young monster look down in shame at her body.

“Whoever my sire was is about six months too late on that front. It will take me awhile to get my body back to how it used to be.”

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs and is silent for a moment. Finally, “Amelie, I’m not sure how to tell you this, but your body is frozen in time at the moment of your Embrace. What you have now is what you’ll have for the rest of your Requiem.”

Amelie: Amelie feels an involuntary pull at the sides of her lips, a small smile with the meaning flipped on its head.

“No it’s not. I’ll be back to looking like a bulldyke in no time.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lip, then slowly shakes her head. “No. You won’t. You’ll grow stronger with age, and as you master the gifts of the blood, but your physical body will not change, Amelie.”

Her lip quivers, and unfamiliar words pass her lips. “I’m sorry.”

Amelie: Amelie finds herself feeling out the borders of her form mentally. Her weight, her appearance, that aged horrid face in the mirror. Her hair stringy and useless. As though she’s being shipped on a train where a bunch of perfect blonde-haired blue-eyed cunts had decided she was to be starved and killed.

Anger wells up again, at the injustice of it all. Fear of weakness mixes into the pressure cooker, as does the inavoidable howling of loss of what she was once so proud of. It doesn’t feel enough to burst with the lethargy aching through her heart, but enough to make her wish she were back in the shower.

However, as she feels the quivering apology from Caroline of all people, she feels it smoothed down. Like running a hand along the fur of a snarling dog to put it back into place, and bringing it from a beast back to a companion. It’s raw, and a rare rare kindness that brings her back into her calmness.

However, that calmness brings thought back into the young woman’s skull, and she remembers the screaming. The absolute horrific warbling scream of a soul being hammered into something else. As if to prove the law of everything. Nothing is immutable. She reaches out a thin disgusting hand to Caroline, about to place it on her knee to try and comfort her, but stopping just shy, pulling back in worry it might dirty her clothes.

“Don’t be sorry, Caroline. Please don’t feel bad about me. Nothing is immutable, I’ll find a way. I’m a blacksmith, it’s my calling to make hard twisted lumps of things presentable.”

Caroline: The Ventrue gives her a faint smile. “Well, the slim comfort is that you were not Embraced by a Nosferatu—their clan curse is physical hideousness and deformity.”

Amelie: Amelie frowns.

“Nosferatu? Isn’t that a bit on the nose for modern times?”

As she says so, it looks as though something dawns on her. Nosferatu was an unauthorized remake of Dracula that was ordered destroyed in a court proceeding after Bam Stoker’s estate sued them. Dracula catches in her mind, such an imposing figure whose weapon of choice inspired Amelie to adopt the same.

“Dracula, or Vlad the Impaler, voivode of Wallachia. Was he really ‘one of us’ as well?”

Caroline: Caroline nods after a moment. “He was a real Kindred, and a fairly powerful one at that. How much of the novel is truth or fabrication though, I can’t say beyond that it was and is a fairly egregious example of a violation of the Masquerade—that is, the wool we pull over the eyes of the living as to our own existence.”

Amelie: Amelie looks amazed for a moment, thinking back to the kilij that he took from the Turks and the amount of blood it was capable of spilling. It makes mild sense that he’d pick that weapon to be so fond of. What disgusts her however is the new opinion slowly forming in her head of impalement. It’d be like tapping a maple tree.

“That’s confusing. There was 420 years between the novel and the day they say he died. Is he still ‘living’?”

Caroline: “Perhaps you’ll have an opportunity to investigate the matter,” Caroline replies. “Kindred can exist—‘live’ is a gaudy word—essentially forever if they’re careful. We have elders in New Orleans that have existed for longer than that.”

Amelie: Amelie nods in agreement. She will look into it.

“I have to admit I’m… excited. I literally lived in the past for so long, now I’m walking in a world where it exists.”

GM: “My experience has been the past can bite, Miss Savard,” Widney states without glancing up from her tablet.

Caroline: Caroline directs an amused, but also faintly inquisitive, smile at her employee before continuing, “Hopefully you’ll have the opportunity to explore that excitement. For now, lets focus on that.”

“You’re going before the seneschal because one of the laws of our kind is that none may create another without the approval of the prince. That makes you an illegal—or illicit—Embrace. Typically the penalty for such things is the execution of both sire—that is, the one that turned you—and childe.”

“These things happen though, and the prince has permitted certain allowances for those childer that are willing and able to turn on their sires and attempt to bring them to justice. Of late, the policy has become somewhat more restrictive than in the past. Rather than simply allowing sireless fledglings to wander the city making a mess of all the varied traditions of our kind, they require an established Kindred to take custody—and responsibility—for them.”

“At least for those of a recognized clan,” she amends. “That’s the first hurdle. Sometimes even vampires from clans produce childer that are clanless, and the clanless as a whole are more prone to that kind of lawless stuff. It’s murky. Fortunately your blood seems to have stuck. Often when you see an abandoned childe they’re clanless.”

“In any case, that also means it’s more likely that another—hopefully of your clan—will come forward to claim you and take on responsibility for your actions. We’ll see if Coco was able to stir up any interest in you.”

Amelie: Amelie becomes slightly worried hearing about the situation at large for her. The fact that there has been a crackdown on things like her. She’s figured out by now that her becoming a Kindred has been an accident of some sort, but to think it’s illegal as well. But as Caroline speaks about blood ‘sticking’, and the clanless, she remembers talk of her own clan’s role and falls slowly into thought.

Why would someone from a clan known for physical prowess turn her into this? So many questions. But motive might be the savior of the day. As well, HOW they had access to her. Was she just a snack in the morgue? Did they have her before she was on that autopsy slab?

But she does crack another sad almost reflexive smile at Caroline’s last statement.

“I should have sold myself better. Seven languages, recognized master class artisan and restorationist, great interest and knowledge of chemistry and history. I can fix cars. Shit, I could have written a resume.”

There’s a bitter laugh pulled out from her chest, before she considers something else.

“So if I beg to be allowed to hunt my sire, and am given leave to exist, must I kill them? The rules are absolute?”

Caroline: Caroline says nothing at the recited skills. “No rules are utterly absolute, but it would take relatively exceptional circumstances for an illicit Embrace to get overlooked. I suppose it’s faintly possible that you weren’t actually illicit, and your escape from the morgue gave your sire the slip. If so, they’ll also be on the hook for all the trouble you caused.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and wrings her hands slightly. If she finds that person, maybe there’s a chance for them to answer for their crimes without their death.

“What is the… I guess ‘process’ for the Embrace? What do you do? Just bite someone and drain them dry? No virgin rules, like in the books?”

Caroline: “Certainly no virgins required,” Caroline offers with a light laugh. “Though thank you for the update on your sexual history.”

Amelie: “I was making a joke,” she quickly corrects, sharing in the laugh with Caroline.

Caroline: “I’m sure,” Caroline replies, amused as her laugh trails off. “As an aside, that particular problem won’t trouble you in your death. Like many feelings, that one is as dead as you are.”

She pauses. “As for the exact process of the Embrace, it isn’t something that you might do on accident simply by feeding. You have to give them your blood under specific circumstances.”

Amelie: Amelie lets the talk of her sexual past go as quickly as she can. She thinks instead on how it couldn’t have been an accident.

“So… between me being stabbed to death, bleeding out, and waking up in the morgue, someone fed me their blood to turn me into this.”

It sounds more like she’s reciting it to herself, but looks at least relieved of the slimmer chances this has all been a grave mistake.

“That being said, I have been wondering something. How do you know me and Coco have the same ‘clan’ without knowing who sired me?”

Caroline: “The same way you can tell a watercolor from a charcoal without being able to tell who painted it,” Caroline replies. “Every now and then you see an unintentional Embrace though. The blood has incredible healing properties in mortals. A drink from your wrist outdoes modern medicine every time. Sometimes a Kindred tries to save a mortal from dying and accidents happen. It’s relatively rare though.”

And sometimes those ‘accidents’ are covers for something else, she bitterly thinks to herself.

Amelie: Amelie feels her heart sink back into her chest at the news. So it can be an accident. Shit.

“I’m not certain I understand your example. I can’t really tell how your blood is different from mine just by looking at you, for instance.”

Caroline: “There are methods,” Caroline replies. “Some of which might become more well-known to you in time, along with some of the other gifts that can come with the blood, beyond what you’ve already shown or seen: incredible resiliency, healing capabilities, speed, strength, night vision, and so forth. Coco was quite certain as well, if it puts you at ease.”

Amelie: Amelie nods and clenches her fists slowly open and closed. She tries it again, and for a moment her hands become sputtering blurs.

“Can it do things to your mind? I am still thinking back on that gas station. Whatever that thing was, it had something from my pocket before I even got on the property. And then she… I never even got a good look at it when I opened the door.”

Caroline: “Some can, some can’t. There are varied means of doing so as well. Each clan tends to have talents they are more predisposed towards,” Caroline replies.

Amelie: Amelie quietly chalks it up to the clans. If hers is a ‘physical’ clan, then it explains how easy and smooth she moves. Maybe how she doesn’t tire.

“But this thing did more than just influence my mind. Maybe it wasn’t a vampire. Do you know much of what else is real, or is it just us? Growing up where I did, you hear a lot of legends.”

Caroline: “There’s all manner of strangeness in the world. I’ve been relatively fortunate to encounter little beyond our own kind,” Caroline answers. “The powers of our kind though vary greatly, and among elders or magicians can accomplish things you might not, even now, think possible,” the heiress continues.

Amelie: “Magicians? As in magic?” Amelie looks slightly intrigued. “You mean to say magic exists with Kindred?”

Caroline: “In varied forms,” Caroline answers. “Clan Tremere is well-known for it, as are the Sanctified’s priests.”

Amelie: Priestly magic makes Amelie think of rituals and rooms of people. As for ‘Tremere’, it makes Amelie put on a bit of a funny face in thought. There was a Canadian doctor she learned about in school named Arnold Tremere, who served for 40 years as first and then executive director of the grains institute. Such an odd name to hear here and now.

“So there is a Clan Tremere. And a Clan… Hellen?”

Amelie motions to herself, remembering Coco’s earlier words.

Caroline: “Toreador, Ventrue, Tremere, Nosferatu, Gangrel, Brujah, and Malkavian are the common clans,” Caroline clarifies. “There are others, but… honestly, it’s complicated.”

“Toreador are typically artistically inclined. Tremere are insular and known for their loyalty to each other and their sorcery. Nosferatu are hideously deformed by their Embrace—but usually more humane for it—and deal in information as a group. Gangrel are typically savage and animalistic. Malkavians are all insane in some significant way,” Caroline summarizes with stereotypes.

GM: “Ventrue are my typical client base,” Widney remarks dryly without looking up.

Caroline: Caroline cracks a smile at her ghoul.

“Brujah are known for physical prowess and… passion is a nice word for it. Lots of idealists like Coco. Just as many—or more—thugs.”

“And Ventrue are… well. There’s nothing I could say that wouldn’t seem conceited.”

Amelie: “Well-bred? I do believe I once called you ‘like a duchess.’”

Caroline: Caroline smiles, bemusedly or contentedly at that. “We’ll go with that.”

Amelie: “But I’m assuming Brujah is mine, then. Physical prowess is what I used to embody. But, well… I don’t know why I would have been Embraced how I am now.”

She thinks on it slowly, trying to pick her next line of inquiry out of the hat.

“How about your employees? They… smell different. That head thug in your group you killed was the same.”

Caroline: “Giving your blood to a living human turns them into something between us and a normal human. We call them ghouls—I don’t know why. It can impart many of our gifts upon them, and stops aging so long as they continue to receive regular amounts of it,” Caroline explains.

“There are ghouls in the city centuries old. Unlike the Embrace though, it doesn’t damn inherently. They retain a choice, and are able to keep a foot in the mortal world more easily. I’m told that many find the blood actually makes the mortal world more vibrant. Heightens appetites of all kinds. That sort of thing.”

She looks towards her ghoul. “What would you say to that, Widney?”

GM: “I’d say it’s a killer benefits package, ma’am,” the ghoul states as she looks up.

Caroline: Caroline cracks another smile. “Does that answer your question, Amelie?”

Amelie: Amelie is actually rather horrified by the prospect of humans being made… like that, by the blood of a Kindred. It adds an element to the whole cholos thing that translates into ‘armless and legless vitae filter.’ But even people normally being given the kind of powers she has without the consequences.

“It does. I don’t think I like the idea however. It sounds dangerous and terrifying for the ghoul. Still able to die so easily, but still sharing the world with all these horrors they can become fully aware of.”

GM: “You appeared to have an easy enough time nearly dying yourself, Miss Savard,” Widney states.

Amelie: “Six months in a coma withering your limbs to nothing will do that to you. And yet here I stand. Could a ghoul say the same?”

GM: “My domitor tells me your coma predated your Embrace, Miss Savard. Given this fact, I would imagine so.”

Amelie: Amelie just smiles.

“We should swap prison shiving stories sometime. Until then, Caroline, I do have another question. May I know just what you found in that gas station?”

Caroline: “We all die easily, Amelie,” Caroline replies stiffly, “but I think you’ll find my ghouls would die harder than most. As for the station, I didn’t go looking for further headaches.”

Amelie: She looks slightly disappointed, but maybe it’s for the best she doesn’t know. Whatever it is or was, it’s already paid for taking the mind of that poor poor clerk.

“That’s understandable. Whatever it was, I feel comfortable enough knowing it may be dead. Ah, speaking of that. Are you acquainted with Madame Tantsy, Caroline?”

GM: “I can’t claim to be,” the Ventrue answers.

“A full name would increase that likelihood, Miss Savard,” Widney observes, her eyes back on her tablet again.

Amelie: “It was a name once. Now it feels as though it’s more a title. Tante Lescaut’s Occult Curiosities, Horoscopes, & Palmistry.”

Caroline: “Not really my area of interest,” Caroline replies mildly.

“There’s intrigue and danger aplenty among our kind without involving the other things that go bump in the night.”

Amelie: “That’s fair. Her ‘employees’ reached out to me, so I’d wondered if she was well known with our brand of bump in the night. Interestingly enough, they did so after listening on me speaking to a Father Malveaux.”

Caroline: There’s a minute skip in Caroline’s mask at that.

“Which Father Malveaux would that be? There’s actually quite a number.”

Amelie: “Young. Very kind, at the St. Louis Cathedral.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression cracks into what might be a sad smile. “My cousin. He’s a good man. Much better than I am.”

Amelie: “I heard him fretting over his senior. He sounded very kind. But not lax. He took my confession,” Amelie nods.

“But yes. It was over our shoulders listening to your cousin denying its existence. It followed me out of the church. And gave me a business card.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns again. “I think you’re wrong, Amelie,” she replies. “This belief that some demon is behind your Embrace. That you were targeted beforehand. I’ve seen nothing like that since my Embrace, but I have seen many jaded Kindred pursuing their pleasures in many ways, and more than a few very wicked people.”

“Ultimately though neither of those things matter, with regard to your Embrace, more than your own unaccounted for sins. It sounds like you did some pretty awful things in life. This is your opportunity to find a path back to God.”

“Lay aside the demon and monster notion, and accept that the monster is you.”

Amelie: Amelie slowly makes a face as she hears this and thanks back to all her past sins. All the sins of turning the other cheek until it was raw enough their hands hit bone before retaliating. No. She can’t accept it, it’s too much, even for Caroline. She can’t ask the young vampire to denigrate herself past where she now sits, not even the miraculous return of her mother might.

“I could go on and on, Caroline, about my life and the unfair punishments yours and other families put upon me for trying to protect their daughters while they tried to harm me. But it’d be pointless. I don’t know why I was Embraced, but as some measure of my sins? If I believed that for my own sins, it’d spit in God’s face.”

The answer is final for her, but she looks to Caroline like a child who has just spoken back to their parent, or lost an argument with their first serious relationship.

“I’m sorry if that’s not the answer you want to hear from me, but it’s the one I have.”

Caroline: Caroline stiffens at Amelie’s response, and for a moment says nothing. When at last she speaks it is with a lightness that belies the seeming gravity of her expression.

“Then I shall pray that in time you come to see the error of your ways, and find refuge as intended within the arms of the church for your tattered soul.”

She lets the reply hang heavy in the air for a moment before breaking her severe expression. “Now, you must have other questions, and we have some time yet left…”

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, PM

Caroline: Eventually their discussion draws to a close. Caroline binds the worst of Amelie’s remaining wounds with clean medical supplies brought in by the shorter bald man from the night before, and informs her there is an array of clothing for her to choose from while advising she be tactful in so doing.

She also bids Amelie that while regardless of what happens, she expects the seneschal will give her an opportunity to make a few final requests, but if she wants more certainty, she’s welcome to leave them behind. Caroline makes no promises but infers that reasonable ones within her power she might be willing to honor.

Amelie: The tone of the end of the conversation is somber for Amelie, she helps bind her wounds paying a small bitter smile to old scars. Mostly she makes she she’ll have no blood on Caroline’s borrowed clothes. But it’s a formal occasion, and covering as much skin as possible is a priority for her not to offend the seneschal. A black pea coat with wide rimmed sleeves, longer level gloves, and trouser pants ironed with the seam in front. The undershirt is a simple white dress shirt with nothing showing, and she had a black silk hankerchief stuffed inbetween the buttons to have over her face in public.And of course a pair of tasteful black ankle boots to keep herself a little taller. She picks it carefully and thanks Caroline again for her generosity.

GM: The pair drive to Mid-City with several of Caroline’s ghouls. New Orleans’ sweat-inducing heat seems mostly gone in February to Amelie, but a thick fog has rolled in alongside a steady drizzle that’s just heavy enough to require an umbrella and just light enough to make holders have second thoughts.

The two vampires’ destination is the rear of a ratty-looking building where a scuffed red 2012 Audi RS5 Coupé is parked near several dumpsters. Coco leans against the door, dressed in a dark gray turtleneck, black denim pants, and brown leather coat. Jen wears seemingly the same jeans and hoodie from yesterday as she holds an umbrella over her mistress’ head.

Coco and Jen also share their umbrella with a handsome, young-looking male Kindred in a tan leather coat and gray pants. His face is clean-shaven, with clear gray eyes and neatly combed and styled brown hair.

Caroline: The blonde woman—Amelie has caught her name by now as Widney—smoothly exits the car’s passenger seat and produces a large umbrella of her own that she provides shelter to Caroline with as the Ventrue exists the vehicles back seat. Once more the blonde is dressed in a neat and trim pantsuit. It’s hard to tell in the dark if it’s a dark navy or a black, but her cream-colored shirt beneath it stands out in firm contrast to it.

The heiress has opted for a thin black skirt that hangs to just above her knees and a black top with sheer and very short sleeves, and only a very narrow V at its neck, cinched at the waist with a narrow black belt. If the cold bothers her, she gives no indication as her pale arms and legs are bare to the night air.

GM: Coco looks over the other pair of Kindred.

“So, what have you two been up to?”

Caroline: “We ran down a lead on the coroner,” Caroline supplies. “Without success. He might have been at the Covenant House—a shelter he’s associated with—but if he was someone else took a shot at him.” She continues, “Literally.”

GM: “There’s an app for that now,” Coco remarks dryly.

Caroline: “If it were him he took a shot back with others by his side,” she clarifies. “Which I found more interesting.”

GM: Coco inclines her head slightly as if for Caroline to go on.

Caroline: “I would not expect many coroners to have allies they could call on that would be willing to get into a shootout with opposing groups—or why many would want to take a shot at them to begin with.”

She tilts her head. “It’s possible that the shooting was unrelated, but it strikes me as an unusual coincidence with this matter on that night.”

GM: “Covenant House is on Rampart Street,” the vampire next to Coco states, glancing up from a Solaris he’s pulled out. “Moreno’s force hasn’t made as much dent on the violent crime rate there. But the timing is noteworthy.”

Coco nods at this. “Do the two of you have anything else from the scene?”

Caroline: Caroline gestures with one hand and Autumn emerges from the car with a black hard plastic case. She opens it to reveal several tiny vials with blood in them, and several bags with small plastic bags with individual shell casings in them. There’s also one only slightly mushroomed round in a bag that Amelie recognizes.

Amelie: When they arrive at the location after a quiet restful drive, Amelie steps out of the car and gives Coco a small smile, and nods to the man beside her respectfully, waiting for introductions.

But the developments keep her silent for now, looking over things and at the round that nearly went into her skull. She wonders if Caroline will bring up how close it came to her head out of anyone else’s, but lets things proceed until she’s addressed directly. Caroline, as always, is on top of things.

GM: “Good thinking with the blood,” Coco says, eying the vials. “Our people may be able to get a lot of answers from that. Rod?”

The other vampire taps his phone. “Max, Jonah, and Eris all have a heads up.”

Coco looks towards Amelie. “Cat got your tongue, fledgling?”

Amelie: “Just about everywhere else, Coco. Simply put, the leads we found point to many possibilities for this coroner. But I still failed, and am… processing the consequences. I’ve died a few too many times already.”

GM: “Yes, it is unfortunate you weren’t able to bring in Dr. Wilkinson. At the end of the night, someone is going to.”

Amelie: “I hope so. I’ve a bad feeling my gut about the man.”

GM: “But this is some indication of progress, at least, and that will help you more than nothing.”

Amelie: “Of course. But that the bullet in that bag, I fear it might not be a coincidence that my head is the one it missed. I’d like to join the hunt for him if given leave by the good sir seneschal.”

GM: “We’ll see what he decides,” Coco says. “Until then, we’ve a few accounts to settle.”

She looks towards Caroline. “Your remaining debt to me is waived. Jen will text you a time to come over to Blaze and we’ll talk about outstanding balances.”

“As for the two of you, what do you suppose is owed to one another?”

Caroline: “I’ll waive the shelter and protection under the banner of your request, Coco. And the delivery to you, vice other interested parties,” Caroline begins.

Amelie: Amelie is blindly unsure of how to proceed with the dolling out of debt as described by Caroline. But her generosity shows through in not demanding of her. The whole concept still reeks of medieval times and boon-days offered the lords of the land, extra days you put besides those required.

“I’m very unsure as to the worth of my own boons. I was born yesterday. But for being so patient with me, Caroline, I’d like for you to accept a minor boon from me. To start with.”

GM: “You died yesterday,” ‘Rod’ amends.

Amelie: “I’m trying to see it as a little of both. Just to make myself feel better.”

Caroline: “I would hold the investigation into the matter of the coroner as worth a boon. It consumed the remainder of the evening for myself and my ghouls and involved moderate risk The same is true of the significant amounts of vitae provided to keep her out of torpor. And the instruction, guidance, and information provided as to the nature of the Kindred condition, some politics, and so forth.”

She looks between Coco and Amelie. “Were she more established I might be willing to bundle it at a lower cost, but she has—as Hound Wright once said of me in so many words—poor credit right now.”

GM: “Coming out to three boons. What do you think of that, Amelie?” Coco asks.

‘Rod’ also looks towards the young Brujah.

Caroline: Caroline awaits the fledgling’s response, but her eyes are more interested in Coco and her companion’s response to the number.

Amelie: Amelie takes it in. She had not realized their talk earlier in the night was costing her. As well, keeping her out of torpor would have been possible if her ghouls had not shirked their duties in telling her of the blood in the fridge. The instruction was incomplete, too. Just sitting and asking questions doesn’t constitute a course in any way. She looks between Caroline and Coco and tries to use the chance to practice in haggling. She’s thankful they at least covered what ‘boons’ are.

“I’d argue for two boons, in that much of the blood from that group came at no cost to you, Caroline. And that my third torpor could have been avoided if I had been informed, even off-hand, of the effects of sleeping hungry.”

She seems unsure, hoping less that her point stands than if she has picked the wrong time to practice at this. It’s been made clear to her that their kind are predators, as much as she feels Caroline is well within her rights to demand three instead of two.

GM: Coco and the male vampire look back towards Caroline.

Caroline: “My soft spot for sireless fledglings only goes so far,” Caroline replies. “I slept many a night hungry and hurt without instruction. And I don’t ever recall anyone delivering bags of blood and liters of vitae so that I wouldn’t come before others starving or risk a further mess.”

“But I’m feeling generous tonight, so I’ll throw in a burner phone, some cash, and my number into the three.”

GM: Coco and the male vampire regard Amelie once more.

Amelie: Amelie feels a weird amount of pity in her chest as Caroline tries to guilt her, successfully even. Though she tries her best not to react there’s a small frown on her face from it. Any other time, she’s sure she would have laughed in a rich person’s face saying something unaware like that. Especially as she says it to Amelie of all people, who knew hunger and great pain before she ever became ‘this’.

“It must have been a difficult few months for you, Caroline. Your offer is accepted. The phone and money will do well for me if I’m granted my life, and the number even more so.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression is a stony mask at that. “Nothing in your Requiem is easy, Amelie. The sooner you learn that, the sooner you can start carving one out for yourself. Take it as a last piece of advice—and for free at that.”

Amelie: Amelie feels the words start to bubble over in her chest. A lot of things have been adding to it through the night. Her own face hardens slightly looking to Caroline, if just for a moment.

“Nothing in life or death is easy for most, Caroline. Thank you for taking care of me tonight, and I look forward to our continued cooperation.”

She gives the woman a light bow and goes to Coco’s side, ready to do as she needs.

Caroline: She turns to Coco. “You have her from here, Coco?”

GM: “You’re off the hook,” Coco says.

Jen opens her car door.

“There anything else we need for the investigations, Rod?”

The male vampire shakes his head. “It sounds like they’ve taken pretty much everything they could from the scene.” He nods towards his right, and a brown-haired, twenty-something woman approaches Autumn to take the plastic case. Her blood also ‘smells’ somewhere between Caroline’s and a human’s to Amelie.

Coco, Jen, and Amelie pile into the red Audi. ‘Rod’ and the other woman take the case and get into their own car. A few brief farewells are exchanged, then the three vehicles take off.

“You might have walked away with a lot more if you’d named a figure,” Coco remarks to Amelie as darkened cityscape rolls past. $500 sits in her coat pocket, along with an old-fashioned flip phone.

Unlike Caroline, the ‘primogen’ drives her own car. Amelie sits next to her. Jen sits in the back.

Amelie: “I was becoming a bit upset, and bargaining with Caroline was very difficult. I didn’t want to draw that out any more, so soon before my meeting with the seneschal. I need to be even,” she offers, looking out at New Orleans as they drive.

“Can I confide something in you, Coco?”

GM: “Feel free.”

Amelie: “I will survive tonight. I will find my sire. I will change my body back to how it was before. And I will carve out an existence in New Orleans and continue as a blacksmith.”

GM: “Harsh as this may sound, that’s not likely to happen if you don’t grow a stronger backbone,” Coco answers.

“As far as negotiating partners go, Caroline would have been a pretty easy one. Most blue bloods won’t blink at offering four figures in cash. But even friendly licks will walk over someone who doesn’t stand up for themselves.”

Amelie: “It was difficult. I would have gone for more, but ever since I woke up this evening I’ve felt different around her and having her glare like stone at me while saying those things made me sick in a pit in my stomach. I swear that is not how I usually am. I ran a storefront that attracted a lot of idiots.”

GM: “Yes, that would have been the collar talking,” Coco notes.

She flicks the car’s wipers on as rain patters against the glass.

Amelie: “Collar?”

GM: “Drink another lick’s blood three times over three nights, and you’ll fall under their sway,” Coco explains. “You’re already partly under mine from having a sip earlier.”

Amelie: “You’re fucking kidding me. So you’re saying I’ve been pretty much drugged?”

GM: “No, as most drugs don’t take very long to flush from your system. The collar isn’t slipped so easily.”

Amelie: Amelie strains the leather of her gloves as she tightens her fists, but says nothing. She just stares straight ahead for a good few moments before she goes slack again.

“I will remember that.”

GM: “It was unavoidable in your case,” Coco continues as her eyes follow the traffic. “Fall into torpor, and another lick’s juice is the only thing strong enough to pull you back out.”

Amelie: “And yet she and her ghouls just so happened to forget to inform me of blood housed in a fridge in the same apartment I fell into torpor the third time.”

GM: “I don’t think so. If they really meant to collar you, they could have waited three nights before bringing you to me. Or not left you other juice.”

Amelie: Amelie’s scowl doesn’t abate as she thinks about it. They certainly could have tried harder to keep it from her.

“It’ll be an interesting talking point next time I see her nonetheless. A nice little tidbit to leave out of a tutoring session I seem to have paid dearly for.”

She takes a deep cleansing breath, another ugly reminder of her lungs’ newfound uselessness. But the familiar motion soothes her.

“Now that I know, that won’t be happening again.”

She won’t be letting anyone walk over her again.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Jon V
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Celia VIII

Previous, by Amelie: Story Eleven, Amelie III, Caroline VIII
Next, by Amelie: Story Eleven, Amelie V, Rocco III

Previous, by Caroline: Story Eleven, Amelie III, Caroline VIII
Next, by Caroline: Story Eleven, Caroline X

Story Eleven, Celia VII

“Truth always comes out in the end, I’ve found. You can fool people for a while, but eventually the house of lies comes tumbling down.”
Coco Duquette

Thursday night, 26 July 2012, PM

GM: Jade tells Mélissaire that she wants to see her grandsire. Several nights later, she does so at the Evergreen’s rooftop garden. As usual, Jade can come dressed, in a swimsuit, or naked. Or go from one state to the other.

Celia: Jade comes dressed, of course. She plans on losing it later, if she’s being honest with herself, but the gown is custom made; it would be remiss not to show up in it after she’d went through the effort of having it commissioned.

The dress tells the story of her Embrace.

At its base it is navy. Deep, dark navy that bleeds into black at the fringe. It is the color of the Gulf upon which her body was destroyed when she hit it after falling through the sky. White flourishes dance along its length: the crest of the waves, the clouds that hid her body from the mortals on the ground while he held her in his arms…

The innocence she lost that night.

Stolen, as she was, by the beast in the shadows. The hues bleed one into another, navy into azure, azure into cobalt, cobalt into cerulean. White and silver encircle her waist, a smattering of Swarovski crystal and diamond that make up the constellations in the night sky, picked out among her tightly-clinging bodice. Her shoulders and neck are bared by the cut of the dress, the straps hanging loose across her upper arms. Stars, for the sky in which she died. For the name that her parents gave her: Celia, of the heavens. Lord Savoy had been the one to point that out to her when he had woken her from torpor.

She does not walk in the dress so much as float. The skirts swim around her heels with every step that this ethereal ocean goddess takes. A white gold chain is fastened at her neck beneath the pile of curls atop her head. Its pendant is a teardrop, a blue sapphire surrounded by an outline of more white gold and diamonds on the rim. When the light catches the gem just right the star is visible inside, white against its darker backdrop. She wears simple stud earrings, square cut diamonds. On her finger is the only other piece of note, a ring of gold and opal and diamond, three bands soldered together to look like a sun.

Her eyes, ringed as they are by the liquid liner and lashes that are ever present on her face, seek those of her grandsire. She had requested a private meeting, no distractions from Preston or Lebeaux. Her heels click across the floor of the garden with each steps that she takes, lips pulled into a smile as the birds trill and butterflies flutter around her.

This is, she reflects, one of her favorite places in the city. Not only for the ambiance itself, the reminder of waking up in the literal lap of luxury after her untimely demise, but for the Lord who presides over it.

GM: Jade finds Preston seated at the delicate iron table beside her grandsire, tapping periodically into her tablet as they speak. The Malkavian takes her leave, though, at Jade’s arrival. The French Quarter lord is dressed tonight in a burgundy-hued sports coat, maroon silk shirt, black slacks, and anaconda scale loafers that match his belt. Same signet ring with its fleur-de-lis coat of arms. He grins widely at the sight of the younger Toreador.

“I dare say you’ve outdone the inhabitants of Mt. Olympus tonight, my dear,” he remarks with a sly glance at some of the neoclassical statues nestled amidst the rose rushes and fruit trees. “Aphrodite may have emerged from the sea upon her birth, but you have taken the sea along with you.” He places a tender kiss upon her hand.

Celia: “My lord,” Jade sketches a curtsey with her dress as he takes her hand, rising only once he releases her. “You flatter me as always, though my ears will never grow tired of hearing you sing my praises. Aphrodite, you say, for love and beauty, and yet this evening I would wear her other mask: that of the more manipulative sort, the teeth behind the smile.”

She does not take a seat at the table. She sits instead on the lap of her grandsire, planting a kiss on his cheek. It is a familiar pose, if her ease at the position is anything to judge by.

“I’ve brought you a gift.”

GM: “The sight of you in that dress is gift enough, ma beauté,” he murmurs, his hands stroking her sides as he traces a fang along her cheek in answering ‘kiss.’

“We’ll have to find a soiree for you to attend later tonight. It’d be unthinkably selfish to keep such a gift all to myself. What second gift have you brought along with you?”

Celia: “Soon my ego will have me floating away, Lord Savoy, not only for your words but for the very idea that you’d pull a soiree from your hat at which I can shine for you.”

Her eyes close briefly at his touch. She is not immune to the charms of the Lord of the French Quarter; indeed, she has been taken with him for some time, and did she still need to draw breath she might find it hitching at his touch. A hand snakes inside the folds of her gown, drawing forth a small box. Green velvet adorns the outside, a sun emblazoned on its top. Inside her lord will find a ring.

It isn’t like hers, with its feminine cut. She’d asked the jeweler if a man could wear the ring that ornaments her finger currently, the sun with its opal and diamonds, and he had told her that the band is too feminine for a masculine wearer. Jade had not been sure that her grandsire would agree, but she is no jeweler, and so she had deferred to the experts.

One of those experts being Pietro. As successful as her business has been, her grandsire’s intended ring was still a little outside her price range. But Veronica’s cousin had laughed that “money is no object if you’re not spending money,” and he had stolen it for her after some verbal fellating to swell his ego.

This ring has a thicker platinum band. Onyx and diamond embellish the sides, cut into the metal in a shape that is suggestive of a rose stem, and blooming at its heart a cloudy green stone. Not jade, though the color is reminiscent. She tells him that it is meteorite, made from one whose trip around the sun is stuff of legends. She is shy as she presents it to him. She has not yet given him a gift, and she knows the custom among the breathers, though this is no engagement piece, no favor that he should feel compelled to wear. A simple token of her esteem, a reminder of where he came from and how far he might yet go, as the comet in his ring can no doubt attest.

It is sized for him, though she is not so presumptuous to slide it upon his finger.

She is no fool. She is aware that her position here, physically and within his domain, is a result of luck and his amusement. He is no iron-fisted Vidal to smack down her reaching hands, though elder he remains. Were they not alone she would never so blatantly drape herself across him, would never drop the formal decorum that his position demands.

Even without flaunting it the power rolls off of him. She would recognize it across a crowded room by the way it has ensnared her, caught and pinned her so helplessly beneath his great paw. He is the lion and she the cub he lets bite his tail and leg, yowling as if she has won this bout when they both know that a quick swipe would lay her out. He lets her cut her teeth, no more.

She will never be his paramour. She can pine for him all she wants, but his Requiem is hundreds of years longer than her own. The elder and the neonate would be a sick joke at Elysium. No, if he beds her at all it will be a secret thing, like a mistress of old. The lord and his whore. She is not so delusional that she cannot see it. Nor is she free to take him up on it were he to offer, degenerate rose that she may be.

And so when she presents this gift to him there is a part of her that thinks he will not wear it. He might not even like it. Their tastes may differ, and why should they not? She had looked at scores of bands and gems and metals and stones, each as different as the last. Rings are personal things. Perhaps she should have gotten one to remind him of the Quarter where he reigns, like the silver fleur-de-lis already on his fingers, instead of being so bold as to suggest he take more. Perhaps he thinks it a cheap trinket. A trap, like it is for the kine. Or the sun is an affront, not the symbol she means it to be.

She doesn’t watch his face. She cannot. Her eyes have dropped down to her own manicured nails after an instant that feels like hours, something seizing in her gut that twists in turmoil.

GM: Savoy gently lifts Jade’s chin to meet his eyes.

“You know, my dear, the Sun King turned everything in his palace into a ritual. Everything. Being there as he dressed. Being there for his daily shave. Being there for his bowel movements. To participate in any of these rituals were privileges for which men schemed and intrigued.”

“Fashion, of course, was a ritual too. Louis chose the style of his court. Those who were part of the ‘in’ crowd wore virtual uniforms designed by him. A single one of those, threaded with gold and trimmed with lace, could cost as much as a luxury car does today, and you needed an entire wardrobe. Courtiers could bankrupt themselves just keeping up appearances. So they took out loans from the king, and further placed themselves under his power. Louis truly was the sun around which all life in Versailles orbited. Every ritual in his palace was designed to remind his subjects of their sovereign’s exalted place.”

“But this need to be the sun, and these rituals to sustain his orbit, stemmed from fear, my dear. The country’s nobles were very powerful. Louis’ father had fought a bloody civil war to curb their power. As a child, Louis was once almost kidnapped from Tuileries, and that experience drove him from Paris to a hunting lodge. Versailles was a gilded cage for the nobility, where they would be constantly under his watch and too occupied by his rituals to plot and scheme. But you don’t build a cage for something unless it threatens you. Every rule of court, every ritual, was a bar in that cage, designed to shield the Sun King from the ravenous beasts trapped within.”

“It’s no different in Kindred society, except the beast we cage lurks within our own breasts. Every rule of our own courts, every little ritual—the ritual of whom to address and how, the ritual of how to comport oneself before the prince’s, the ritual of what clothes to wear and when—is another bar in the cage that keeps the Beast at bay. Ritual keeps us safe from that which we most fear.”

“Even the ritual of what rings one may gift one’s elders.”

The French Quarter lord slips Jade’s ring onto his finger.

“My reign is not one sustained by fear and ritual, but the love and loyalty of my subjects. I couldn’t ask for a finer symbol of that rule, Jade—or a finer subject to whom to owe that rule.”

Celia: Chastisement would hurt less than the swelling of her heart within her breast. The eyes he lifts to look upon him shine with the promise she pledged him years ago—that she is his if he will have her in his kingdom. The breath she seeks to draw catches in her throat. She cannot find the air with which to speak, the words with which to laud him.

Her fingers circle his. A gentle motion has his hand elevated through the air, and Jade presses her lips to the skin above the ring. An old gesture of fealty. A renewed pledge to serve. A promise of loyalty and love.

“You are this city’s preeminent ruler, my lord, and I will see you ascend to further yet.” He is transcendent. Unparalleled. There is no choice but him. No future but that by his side. Beneath, behind; it makes no difference to her, so long as she can stand within the circle of light he casts.

GM: Except, of course, her own sire.

Celia: The sire who abandoned her? That sire. The one who threw her from the clouds to smash, broken, upon the waves. Who left her for nineteen years with the monster that wore her father’s face. The one whose face still haunts her dreams, day and night alike.

Of course. That sire.

Life, death, her Requiem—it is not a mountaintop upon which her goals and aspirations perch, with only one road to lead her there.

She could spend the evening seated upon Lord Savoy’s lap, trading whispered secrets and tantalizing sweet nothings, cavorting about his rooftop garden that she once so fleetingly thought was Hell. But there are no butterflies in Hell.

Just her stomach, as she looks upon the face of Lord Savoy and tells him why she came. It is not to curry favor, not to bow obsequiously or kiss the hem of his robes. She has come for the Anarchs, to expand his rule, to give him power.

And so she tells him.

“I do not presume to think that you trouble yourself with the going-ons of all your subjects, my lord, or those with whom we dally. I tell you thus that I have taken for myself a lover from among the Anarchs in Mid-City. Primogen Duquette’s childe, the neonate who serves as scribe to the Calbido.” She pauses. She thinks to tell him that she knew this Kindred in life, that perhaps her sway over him is greater than what passes for relationships among their kind, though perhaps it does not matter.

“We spoke a few evenings ago about the way things are, the hierarchy you and I once discussed when I was freshly pulled from the Gulf. The pyramid that those like me can only hope to climb to reach the loftier heights carved out by Kindred such as yourself.”

“There was a proposition.”

“And I thought to bring it to you straight away, before the others had chance to comment or begin to plot, for it would rely on your goodwill. Your say-so. Your influence, as it were. Expanded. To include their lot.”

GM: “A comely face and a sharp mind are a dangerous enough combination, my dear. But when that face comes bearing gifts of beauty in one hand, and gifts of aid in her other, that combination is fatal,” Savoy murmurs. He twins his fingers through Jade’s and raises her hand to his lips, planting a tender kiss upon it in mirror of her own.

“My heart stands open to you, Jade. It could not do otherwise. By what key and gift of aid have you opened it?”

Celia: Jade cannot help but flush. Her blood betrays her, staining her cheeks a milk pink that stands out even amidst the creams and powders on her face. He is too good to her. And she wishes to be worthy of the praise he lavishes her with.

“They speak of democracy in Mid-City. One Kindred, one vote. But it is not true democracy, not while Prince Vidal—” she affords him the title even here, courtesy demands it “—appoints the true regent of that domain. Though Primogen Duquette and Miss Opal rule in name, they stand aside if their subjects vote another way. The Anarchs want true democracy.”

“Not here,” she is quick to add, “not within the Quarter; this is yours, as is right. But there. Mid-City. They wish to be formally recognized as democratic. It was implied that, should you be so willing, there is much they can bring to the table.”

GM: “Oh?” Savoy asks. “My recognition of popular sovereignty in Mid-City wouldn’t change too many things there, while the prince’s law still holds sway. I could make a show of it, but they’d be fools to offer me anything of substance in return.”

Celia: Jade shakes her head.

“You promised Madam Alsten-Pirrie something three years ago when she was here, for letting me out of our bargain, for claiming me as hers. I won’t pretend to know what it is. But I do know that our plans can be longer lasting than those political machinations of the kine. You had said that you wanted to sway her, that you just moved up the timeline. If she is being swayed to your side, why not bring the lot of them with her?” It would be like what he had done with the Quarter: they are already so firmly entrenched in Mid-City that Vidal would be hard-pressed to push them out.

GM: “That certainly does have its appeal, my dear. Bringing even a good chunk of the Anarchs over to my side would give the prince something to lose sleep over!” Savoy chuckles. “You think you’ve found a way to pull that off?”

Celia: “I’m to speak at their next rant. But I think my… my relationship with Mister Durant would go a long way in convincing his sire, and if you have the two primogen behind you… Lord Savoy, that is a considerable loss for the prince, and it would put you in a greater position to expand.”

Expand, she says, though they both know she means something else.

“Can you tell me what it is that you promised Madam Alsten-Pirrie that night?” she finally asks. “If you can tell me, I will have a better understanding of what it is that they want, and can better leverage my relationship to your benefit.”

GM: Savoy chuckles and taps a finger to Jade’s lips. “Let’s suffice it to say, my dear, that Madam Alsten-Pirrie’s business with me is a personal matter separate matter from what the Anarchs may want. But I think that’s very promising of you to have established the relationship with Mr. Durant that you have! That can only be a boon to us in the nights ahead. I would stay close to him, and make as many friends as you can at the rant. More friends can always pay dividends down the line.”

Celia: “Of course, sir.”

She is glad that there is no one here to witness his abrupt dismissal of her question. The humiliation alone at the rebuff for being so forward is not as lightened by his suggestion as he might think. Her gaze drops once more to blue, pointed nails with their own constellations written in polish.

GM: “And here’s some food for thought, too,” the French Quarter lord remarks, tilting Jade’s chin to meet his gaze. “To consider while you see Mid-City’s democracy in action… how many times have Coco and Miss Opal been outvoted by their subjects?”

“How many times have they both been outvoted?”

“What matters were they outvoted on, and how much did they truly value those?”

Celia: She does not study her nails long. She does not need to; he has given her the answer to the question that she long chewed over these past few nights: the ‘democracy’ within Mid-City is another game. A sham.

“Would you, then, if the time were right, support their version of democracy if it meant winning them to your side?” The question is blunt. Here, on this rooftop garden, she feels secure enough to speak freely to him.

GM: “My dear, there is no such thing as democracy,” Savoy answers her, just as frankly.

“Perhaps I’m biased. Louis was an absolute monarch without compare.”

“But even here in the United States… oh, the people elect their representatives, but it’s the people who donate to their campaigns whose calls they actually take, and whose input they seek when writing bills.” He chuckles. “Or ask to write their bills. You’d be surprised how many politicians don’t even do that, these days! I’m afraid true democracy only exists in theory.”

“But would I support their political vision?” He chuckles again. “If Prince Vidal can be open-minded enough to, shame on me if I can’t! Mid-City’s Kindred seem happy enough with it.”

“I’ve never promised my subjects democracy. But I do promise them happiness.”

Celia: “He isn’t, though,” Jade cuts in, brow furrowed. “Mr. Durant told me that Prince Vidal doesn’t truly recognize their democracy as legitimate. He only sees the actions and decisions that come from Mid-City as valid because Primogen Duquette and Miss Opal approve of them.”

GM: “Oh, but he does. Prince Vidal cares a great deal what his subjects think, my dear. At least as much as I do, in his own way.”

“He knows what levers of power are pulled and by whom. Saying he only recognizes the decisions of the parish’s regents doesn’t change a thing in Mid-City, but is a minor rebuke. His way of reminding his Anarch subjects that only so much democracy exists in his city. That he, himself, will not ever recognize it as valid, and that the laws and hierarchy of his archdiocese come first.”

“But as for me? If one of my vassals wanted to democratize decisions in their territory, I would recognize the popular consensus of its resident Kindred as valid. I do so desire to make my subjects happy.”

Celia: “Then… with your permission, I would present this at the rant, to earn the status that I need so I may further ingratiate myself among them and bring them to your side.”

GM: Savoy motions grandly. “Granted, my dear. And you can be certain that you’ll be rewarded accordingly for those efforts! My rule won’t ever be democratic. But my subjects will always be happy.”

“And speaking of,” he smiles, “let’s find an event for you to attend in that dress…”

Monday night, 30 July 2012, PM

GM: “How’d it go?” Roderick asks as they drive to next week’s meeting. He’s dressed in similar attire to last week’s, but was sure to fuck Celia before they got in the car this time. Get it out of their systems after he saw her in her ‘Brujah pants.’

Celia: As if their pregame fuck will stop them from having another go at things.

Still, Celia wasn’t complaining when he’d maneuvered the two of them across the four poster bed in her secret haven. She’ll probably need to get it replaced, she thinks, if he’s going to keep it up with those muscle-bound moves.

She grins at his question.

“I was right. Lord Savoy is agreeable to recognizing the democracy that Coco and Miss Opal have set up for your—our—people in Mid-City.”

GM: “That’s pretty often,” Roderick smirks in answer to her first sentence. “But not ever institute himself, I’m guessing.”

Celia: “He said that he wants his people to be happy.”

“So, given time, it could come to that.”

GM: “Color me skeptical. Most elders won’t ever give up power.”

Celia: “I asked you, before. About Coco. Would she and Miss Opal give it up if they were voted out? You never answered.”

GM: “Voted out in what sense, though? They don’t hold an elected office. Their vote counts as much as yours or mine. We can vote out elected officials in breather elections, but we can’t vote out fellow voters.”

Celia: “But they have the power, as recognized by Vidal. If you were to say, ‘hey I want to be regent here,’ and there was a vote and you won, would they recognize that?”

“Not him. Them.”

GM: “Well, regent doesn’t mean anything inside Mid-City. Outside Mid-City is another matter. But, yes, they would abide by that, and ask Vidal to make the winner the new regent.”

Celia: Would they really, though? Celia doesn’t press the issue.

GM: “I doubt he’d actually do that, but they would at least ask.”

Celia: “And they’d bring the lot of you with them, to see that they asked?”

GM: “They could record the meeting. I don’t think that would be an unreasonable request to make under the circumstances.”

“Or, hell, just send the winner to ask Vidal along with them.”

Celia: “Has anyone floated that?”

GM: “No, because the office of regent doesn’t have any authority inside Mid-City. There isn’t anyone else who wants the title.”

“Honestly, the position is more like a foreign minister than anything else. The person who has to deal with Vidal, or more often, Maldonato.”

Celia: “But it’s a stepping stone, if someone desired to expand their own influence with Kindred society at large.”

GM: “Sure. It’s a prestigious title to float around at Elysium.”

Celia: “You imply it’s just that: a title.”

GM: “It’s obviously vastly more than that in literally any other parish. They’re basically mini-princes.”

“And trust me, they have real power over licks’ nightly unlives in a way that the Cabildo as an institution lacks. It’s being a primogen that’s closer to just being a title in this city.”

Celia: “I know you’re not supposed to talk about that…” Celia slides her eyes toward him. “Is it interesting? The things they discuss?”

GM: “Oh, absolutely. You see a lot of what they really think.”

Celia: “Are you allowed to share anything, or is this one of those ‘if you tell me you have to kill me’ things?”

GM: “I can share some things. It’s… mainly a question of what’s sensitive and what isn’t.”

“Coco really drilled that into me. They don’t like other licks knowing about how a lot of things work.”

Celia: “Doesn’t that kind of… flout your whole agenda in Mid-City? To keep it secret? Why wouldn’t they want us to know what’s going on?”

“How can you vote on something with any semblance of authority if you don’t know how things work? How can anyone?”

GM: “Wait, are you talking about Mid-City, or the Cabildo?”

Celia: “If you want to spread democracy, isn’t it one and the same?”

GM: “Well, they’re separate offices. It’s like how someone can be a state senator and an attorney at the same time. There are things at one of their jobs they can’t talk about at their other job.”

Celia: “But one thing affects the other. At least in this case.”

“Greater Kindred politics has a say in what happens in Mid-City.”

GM: “Coco doesn’t represent Mid-City as one of the primogen. She’s there for Clan Brujah.”

“It’s a separate office. The Cabildo doesn’t have any say over what happens in parishes.”

Celia: “That’s like saying what Congress does doesn’t affect the states.”

“Things still go on in the city. If Mid-City is ignorant to what happens, how can they reliably vote?”

“How can you say to someone ‘pick an outcome,’ but you only give them half the facts?”

GM: “Well, the same way anyone else does. Regencies aren’t represented at the Cabildo. That’s very clear. Donovan, McGinn, Elgin, Sundown, and the Baron are all regents, but they don’t sit on the Cabildo.”

“If the prince is the president, it’s more accurate to say the primogen are like the National Security Council than the U.S. Senate. California isn’t entitled to know what goes on at those meetings.”

Celia: “I don’t understand,” Celia admits. “It sounds like Coco is asking you to keep secrets about great Kindred society at large, when it could help the Anarchs of Mid-City be more informed.”

GM: “Again, those aren’t my secrets to give away. The Cabildo is not a body that purports to represent Mid-City or serve its interests.”

Celia: “But they discuss things that happen in the city, don’t they?”

GM: “Sure. But they don’t have any authority over Mid-City.”

Celia: “Mid-City is part of the city. It’s all connected. You don’t see that?”

GM: “I just said they don’t have authority. That’s like saying a lawyer who’s part of the state legislature should tell his colleagues at one job about the things that go on at his other job.”

Celia: “You’re generalizing, though.”

GM: “Sure, it can be connected. And it usually violates all sorts of laws when they don’t keep their jobs separate.”

Celia: “This isn’t separate law firms. This is essentially two bodies of government that refuse to converse. Like if Mid-City is the city level, they need to know what’s going on at the state level.”

GM: “Honestly, you’re overestimating how important the Cabildo is. It’s a common thing new licks do.”

Celia: “Then why keep secrets? Coco doesn’t want people to know how things work. That’s kind of a red flag.”

GM: “Because that’s just how elders are. Coco would be fine with it. The others wouldn’t.”

Celia: “So you bow to some of their rules but not others?”

GM: “Absolutely. We can’t do everything we want in Mid-City. We can’t, for instance, desecrate churches. That’s a ‘federal’ law set by Vidal.”

Celia: Celia makes a noise that might be a sigh.

“I don’t… understand why you don’t understand, to be honest. You don’t see this as a problem? Are you… like, after your Embrace, did she bind you fully to her that you just follow what she says without question?”

GM: “I argue with her all the time about things, actually. But I think you have a mistaken impression of what the Cabildo is. Most licks think that ‘advise the prince’ is what the primogen does, right? Except Vidal is a dictator who doesn’t really listen to anyone’s advice besides Maldonato’s. So it’s basically a club for a bunch of elders to get together and talk and go through the motions because having a primogen is just what every city does. And sure, they do still talk about sensitive things, because they’re a bunch of elders, most of whom are also regents.”

“But asking why Coco doesn’t share that is like asking why every lick who lives in Mid-City doesn’t share everything they get up to in their own personal unlives. Like, say, why Veronica doesn’t share a lists of everyone’s boons she knows because she’s a harpy. That would help out Mid-City if she did that, no question.”

Celia: “You’re generalizing again. It isn’t a question of what the elders get up to in their personal lives.”

“Tell me, then. What’s the last thing they talked about?”

GM: “How much they hated ‘Ms.’, spelled M-s-period, as a form of address among breathers. Pearl Chastain brought that up. And most of them nodded along and agreed with her about how ghastly it was.”

Celia: Celia stares at him.

“And that took up the entire meeting?”

GM: “Of course not. You just asked about the last thing they talked about.”

Celia: “Stop mincing words, Roderick. We’re supposed to be able to talk to each other.”

GM: “I took notes on even that though, if you’re curious.”

Celia: “I don’t want to play games with you. Not games that don’t involve you tying me down, anyway.”

GM: “I’m not trying to play games with you. But I can’t talk about the actual things of substance they talk about.”

Celia: “Then you admit that they have more bearing on the city than you… than you admit.”

GM: “Yes, because they’re a bunch of elders. But the Cabildo as an institution is pretty impotent, because Vidal doesn’t really heed the primogen’s advice.”

“So saying I should share what goes on there is like saying Veronica should share all of what goes on among the harpies. That absolutely has bearing on the city.”

“Heck, you seem to hang out with them a fair bit. Why don’t you repeat everything they talk about?”

Celia: “We’ve gone back and forth about this for so long that I don’t even remember our initial conversation,” Celia sighs.

“Did I tell you about the tongue lashing I got from Preston when I called her Ms.?”

GM: “Huh. I guess it’s a sore spot for a lot of older licks.”

Celia: ""I don’t see what the big deal is."

GM: “They’re just very, very, very socially conservative.”

Celia: ""They’re a bunch of weirdos. If I were an elder I don’t think I’d care if someone called me Ms. It’s not like I’m married."

She glances at him.

GM: “Well, who knows what we’d be like as elders. If we’d just get mentally stuck in 2012 forever.”

He looks back at her.

Celia: “Do licks marry?”

“Weird concept, right? ‘Til death’ but you’re already dead.”

GM: “I think for the most part they don’t, outside of… blood marriages. Which seem a little weird. I think Pierpont McGinn and Adelais Seyrès are in one, though.”

Celia: “I don’t really understand them,” Celia admits. “Mel mentioned them with me and I just… it was like, what?”

GM: “I guess it makes a twisted sort of sense. But I think it’s rooted in pretty old-fashioned notions, too, that marriage exists purely as an institution to produce children, rather than as a declaration of love and commitment between two people.”

“But Coco tells me ‘love marriages’ are a pretty new idea in the grand scheme of things.”

Celia: “Are you telling me, in a roundabout way, that you don’t believe in marriage and wouldn’t have given me a ring if we’d both lived?”

GM: “…I’d have totally given you a ring,” Roderick says quietly after a moment.

Celia: Something moist gathers at the corners of her eyes.

GM: Something coppery-smelling, too. She can feel her canines sharpening in her mouth, just so slightly.

Celia: She turns her face away to peer out the window. It doesn’t matter. They died. Thinking about what might-have-beens is an exercise in futility.

GM: “I’ve… I’ve thought about that.”

“A lot of times.”

Celia: “Recently?”

After his Embrace, she means.

GM: “How I’d have said it. Where.”

“I thought about it more after my Embrace than any other time, honestly. About the life I could’ve led. That we could’ve led.”

“I did think about it when we were alive. I mostly figured… later. After law school. Since we were still young.”

Celia: “And now we have eternity. We’re still young.”

“We think we have all this time, when death is just around the corner for us all. Even if our bodies remain animated.”

GM: “Yeah. That’s true.”

He reaches out to take her hand in his.

“Marriage might not be a thing, but it doesn’t change how I feel about you.”

Celia: “It could be a thing. If you wanted it to be.” She squeezes his hand. “I still have a mortal life. I… My mom would like it, you know, and we could… your face could change.”

GM: “Like… what you did with yours? A night doctor?”

Celia: “Yeah. A more permanent change. If you wanted it.”

“If you wanted me. It’s… I mean, it’s just a party, I guess, we don’t…” she trails off.

It doesn’t matter.

GM: Roderick is quiet for a bit.

Then he starts crying, red leaking from the corners of his eyes.

Celia: Oh God. She takes the wheel in her hand, murmuring for him to pull over.

GM: They pull over. He doesn’t sniffle. The red just leaks as he gets out.

“I… goddamn… I didn’t have to… I didn’… didn’ have…”

Celia: “Oh, sweetheart…” Celia reaches out to him. There’s nothing sexual in her touch, nothing overt that would make his fangs pop out, but she offers him the comfort that she can provide, the comfort of her body pressed against his. On his lap, curled against him, she gives him what she can.

“You didn’t do anything wrong, you made the decision that you had to at the time… there’s still so, so much good that you can do, even like we are.”

GM: Roderick hugs against her, burying his face against her shoulder.

“They… they think I’m dead… it… it killed them… just killed them…”

“And I… didn’t… even… have to…!”

Celia: Her lower lip trembles. She can’t even tell him that she knows what it’s like. She doesn’t. She sees her family on a regular basis.

“You did, though,” she murmurs into his hair, “you did. Coco would have taken you, you know how long she had her eye on you, you couldn’t just… couldn’t walk away from that.”

“You can still be in their lives,” she offers. “We can make it happen, you can… work for him, maybe, and… pursue justice.”

GM: He just holds onto her.

“I could’ve… I could’ve had another face, for Roderick… like you do, for Jade… goddamn…”

Celia: “That’s… oh god, Stephen, that’s my fault. I stayed away from you because I was afraid, and I should have offered…”

Her fault. That he’s like this. That he can’t be close to his family.

Her fault. Always her fault.

GM: “No. No,” he repeats, pulling away from her. There’s blood messed all over his eyes, but his voice steadies as he plants his hands on her shoulders.

“I beat the shit out of you, remember?”

Celia: “I could have de-escalated.”

GM: He laughs. Bitterly.

“You can’t deescalate a Brujah once they’re mad.”

Celia: “There was a moment where I could have,” she presses, “don’t be mad at yourself.”

She’ll take the blame for this.

Her fault.

Everything is her fault.

GM: “I’m not mad,” Roderick says dully. “I just… just a missed chance.”

“But you didn’t have a moment. I remember what it was like. The anger, it’s just… this elemental force. Like a tidal wave inside you. You can’t stop it, only get out of its path.”

Celia: “It was before you gave in,” she tells him. “If you have to be mad, be mad at me. Don’t beat yourself up over something that you… that you can’t control. You told me. You wouldn’t have agreed to her if it wasn’t for me. Don’t take that on yourself. Don’t spiral. Not like that.”

GM: “I’m… I’m not, I just…”

He hugs Celia close against his chest and runs a hand through her hair.

“We fucked it together, all right? We fucked it together. We can blame each other and forgive each other.”

Celia: “I would never blame you for what happened to me. My murder had nothing to do with you. You were the only bright thing in my life.”

“I wish I’d run away with you that night.”

GM: “That isn’t true. There’s your mom, Emily, Lucy.”

Celia: “You don’t understand what you did for me. What you changed. Here.” She taps a finger against her chest.

“I was nothing until I met you. I would have let my dad rule my life for years. Forever. You… gods, Stephen, you showed me what I could be, what life could be like, what happiness was. That isn’t something my mother had until you came to dinner with us. You. You made that happen. My whole family is different because of you. I’d be different. Less than. Still under his thumb, I bet.”

GM: “Yeah, well. I’d have absolutely nobody left from my old life, without you. Absolutely nobody. Coco knows who I was, and cares about me, but she’s… just worlds apart, in some ways. You don’t know what it was like finding out you were one of us. I mean, on one level, sure. Horrified and sad for you. All the usual angst over being a vampire. But I seriously think I might have gone insane, just being so totally cut off from everything that I was. I could look at you and think, here’s one person who understands, who knows the real me, even when we weren’t talking. And it meant just so much.”

He pulls away from Celia and runs his hand along her face.

“I love you, Celia. Still do.”

Celia: She doesn’t know what it’s like, he’s right. She didn’t have to give up her family. Her heart breaks for him. She wants to make it better but she doesn’t know how.

“I love you too, Stephen. I always will. Always. I don’t care what kind of monsters they turn us into, you’re mine, and I’m yours, and it will always be that way.”

GM: “Yeah. Maybe… maybe we can do that. Marry each other, as breathers.” He smiles. “I could put a ring on your finger, still.”

“Let’s give it a bit, though. I know you said you’ve got your ghoul posing as your boyfriend.”

Celia: “I don’t care what he’s posing as, I’ll give him up in a heartbeat for you.”

GM: “It’s okay. Doesn’t change how we feel. It’s not like we’re getting any older, right?”

“I can show up in your life as just a friend, at first. Make it gradual.”

Celia: “Celia’s face will change. Has to. But this?” Celia presses a kiss against his lips. It’s an entirely human gesture. She doesn’t care. “This is real. This is infinite. Eternal. You show up… and we’ll make it work. And if you want to put a ring on me, I’d love you even more for it. We can marry, like you said, and then it’s… it’s us against the world. We don’t have to be alone.”

“Politics, the prince, all of them—I don’t care. They can’t separate us.”

GM: “Yeah,” he says, kissing her affectionately back. “I really like that. Us getting a mortal life together. Something secret, that no one but us knows about.”

“We can spend a couple years building up my mortal identity. Get it totally perfect.”

He laughs. “Your mom’s totally gonna nag us about giving her grandkids, I bet.”

Celia: She laughs with him. The life he outlines is ideal. She will build the identity for them, if need be.

“She will, she really will. We can adopt. Or tell her we’ve adopted. Maybe a dog.”

GM: “Be cleavers?” he asks, almost surprised. “I don’t think that’s such a good idea, two licks raising a baby. Maybe better if we’re childfree.”

Celia: “No, no, I know. I just… sometimes I think, you know. What it would be like to have a baby.”

“Your baby,” she admits, and she looks down as she shares this secret of hers.

GM: He gives a faint chuckle as he lifts her face. “That’s what you usually do after someone puts a ring on you.”

“I’d have loved to have had kids with you.”

Celia: “I hate them for taking it from us.”

“We should have had a beautiful life together.”

GM: He squeezes her shoulder. “We have forever, though. You said so yourself—there’s a lot of good we can do. Like taking down the Mafia. That’ll spare so many families so much pain.”

Celia: “It will. We can infiltrate.”

GM: “So how exactly is it you do that, with our faces?”

Celia: “…you can’t tell. Anyone. Even Coco.”

GM: He nods. “I won’t. I swear.”

Celia: “You can’t even think about it. They’ll pull it from your mind.”

GM: “Consider it subject to attorney-client privilege. I’ll take it to my grave.” He pauses. “But if it’s really sensitive, maybe you shouldn’t tell me. I know the night doctors are pretty secretive.”

“I mean, like you say. They can get things from us, even if we don’t want to tell.”

Celia: “I won’t explicitly tell you that I know one… but I also won’t not tell you that,” Celia concedes.

“If you want something changed about your physique, I know a way to make it happen.”

“So if you wanted to infiltrate, I could get it done for you.”

“He owes me,” she tells him.

As if there is a him.

GM: “How long could we keep that up?” Roderick asks thoughtfully. “Our mortal marriage. Our faces would have to age and get older, if we want to do this longer than maybe a decade.”

Celia: “I wouldn’t let us be found out,” she promises him. “If you need to age I’d see to it that you aged. Celia’s face hasn’t changed much in the past few years, but there have been some changes. She’s not the nineteen-year-old I died as.”

“Though we could always start over. Another wedding. Another ceremony. A renewal of the vows.”

As if shopping for dresses would bother the Toreador.

GM: “Hey, that’s true. Could always do it again, like you say.” Roderick smiles. “I guess if we have forever, one wedding could start to seem pretty long ago.”

Celia: “I know the kine do it. Why not mimic them? Every X years we pledge ourselves to each other.”

“I don’t want to be without you,” she tells him, offering a shy smile. “I’d do anything to keep this going.”

GM: “Me too,” he smiles back, running a hand through her hair. “I just wish there were some way to undo it. Faking my death.”

Celia: “I can look into it. I might know someone.”

“He doesn’t owe me anything. I might owe him, to be honest.”

“Your family’s memories would need to be erased.”

GM: Roderick blinks. “That was months ago. That’s… a lot of memories to doctor. I’m not a Ventrue, despite what some Anarchs might say, but I think they mostly do it as a short-term thing.”

“And there’s how Kindred all know me by this face, now. The point of faking my death was to keep everything separate. Or at least as separate as we could.”

Celia: “It isn’t separate if you only have a new name and not a face. But I won’t push you. I just… worry. At the future crossing of faces.”

“You told me how excited you were to pass the bar, and I don’t want you to be hindered by an identity issue. Especially because I’ve been working on your party.”

GM: Roderick smiles. “You can throw it either way. I can pass the bar again. That isn’t a big deal.”

“And I know, it’s not perfect with me using the same face. I’ve tried to keep my family as safe and far away from my Kindred life as I could.”

Celia: Does he judge her for doing the opposite?

“I think, at some point, Celia will need to die. I’m just… not ready yet.”

GM: “I don’t blame you. At all.”

“Your family’s been through so much hurt already.”

“You have a pretty good way of keeping them shielded, too, with the two faces.”

“Lucy would get over it, since she’s so young still, but just imagine how Emily or your mom might take that news?”

Celia: “Poorly,” Celia sighs, “I know. They’re who I think about when I consider giving it up.”

GM: “I think you’re right to let them have a while without any more tragedy in their lives.”

Celia: “Lucy thinks I’m her mom,” Celia points out. “Even if she has two others she calls mom it’s still not something you get over. Losing a parent like that?” She shakes her head.

“Regardless, you’re right. We said a few years. Build it up. No rush. Plus it’ll give Momma something to be happy about.”

GM: “Yeah, I can only bet. You’re probably her favorite kid.”

“I read an interesting study about that a few years ago. Parents actually do have favorite children. Most just won’t ever admit to it outside of highly clinical settings.”

Celia: “Me and not Lucy? I think her favorite is the one that Maxen will never get his hands on.”

GM: “Mothers actually tend to feel more connected to children who face lots of challenges. It may be that kid who has failed out of college twice but if they’re on track even at the local community college, Mom is more likely to say she is proud of them.”

Celia: “I thought that was just a lie mothers told their children to make them feel better.”

GM: “It was an interesting study. It found most kids are actually wrong about who they assume is their parents’ favorite. Mothers especially tend to prefer children who are nicer to them or who do things for the family than kids who’ve gone on to be successful in prestigious careers.”

Celia: “And the fathers favorites are the opposite?”

GM: “Hm, I couldn’t say. The study focused mostly on mothers, since husbands are likelier to die before their wives.”

“But, yeah. If I had to take a favorites guess, it’d go you, Lucy, Logan, David or Sophia, Isabel. Not sure where Emily fits.”

“Though Isabel might be higher. ‘Black sheep’ children tend to be some of the most beloved.”

Celia: “Isabel wasn’t the black sheep growing up. She was Dad’s favorite. Especially after he and Mom split.”

GM: “Sure, but you told me she was the one who sent your dad that text. Black sheep.”

Celia: “It would be just like Momma to love her more for getting her kidnapped, beaten, and raped.”

GM: “Well. That’s a depressing line of thought.”

Celia: Celia presses her lips together rather than make one of the two morbid jokes that come to mind. They’d spoken about enough tragedy already.

“Sorry. I think it has some merit, though. She was abused by Maxen for years and loved him, what’s to say she wouldn’t act the same with Isabel?”

GM: “I guess so. Anyways, yeah. Getting married sure to make her happy. And Emily of course will be overjoyed too.”

“Cute thought, we could have Lucy be the flower girl.”

Celia: “I was thinking the same thing. She’d be adorable. You thinking big or small?”

GM: “I’ve got literally no one I can invite, if we want to keep this secret from other licks. So, small.”

Celia: “We probably do want to keep it secret. I can’t imagine anyone would have anything positive to say.” Celia looks up at him. “I’m still gonna mash cake in your face. Did you know that you can use blood as a substitute for eggs to bind it?”

GM: Roderick smirks, then looks curious. “Really? That still sounds pretty gross paired with food, though.”

Celia: “You think we’d be able to taste it, or would that get cooked out?”

GM: “Hm, dunno. But I figure it’d be like eating moldy gruel with fine cognac poured over it.”

Celia: “Well when you put it like that…”

“How will I open my vampire themed bakery now?”

GM: “Ha. Maybe try something with thickened blood sculpted into cakey shapes.”

Celia: “Has to be warm, though.”

GM: “Hm, true. Might be we’re just stuck on a liquid diet.”

Celia: “Like the ladies in the magazines.”

“If only I were taller. I, too, could be a supermodel.”

GM: “I like you just the way you are. Fun-sized.”

Celia: “I’d offer to show you that fun, but I think we’d be late again.”

GM: “I picked you up early. Figured we might get sidetracked.” Roderick rubs the dried blood crusted over his eyes. “Ah, damn. Got anything for this, o beauty stylist?”

Celia: Celia reaches into the back seat to pull open her purse. Makeup remover wipes are made for waterproof liner and mascara, but they’ll work for blood in a pinch. She knows: she’s done it before. She opens the package and rubs at the blood over his eyes.

“Don’t tell me you doubted that I would.”

GM: “Ha. Not ever.”

“Got some over your jacket, but think it adds to the look.”

Celia: “Does it make me look tough? Since, y’know, someone told me they’d show me how to throw a punch but every time we start you just flip me over and ravish me?”

GM: “It’s your fault for being so hot,” Roderick smirks. “But, yeah. It’s a tough look. Leather that looks brand new isn’t a popular look.”

Celia: “How am I gonna fit in with your friends if I don’t know how to handle myself? They’ll call me Princess or something.”

GM: “Ah, but if you’re too hot to teach to fight, that makes you too hot to actually fight.”

“In seriousness, though. Violence isn’t allowed, and I will teach you. Ravishing after we’re done.”

Celia: “I don’t think being too hot to fight is a thing, but I’ll hold you to that. Regardless, I meant so that I don’t get shown up in your games.”

She finishes cleaning the blood from his face. The coppery scent of it clings to the makeup wipe, crushed in her hand.

“It’ll bring me back to all those times I was picked last at recess.” There were no such times.

“Speaking of people I’d pick last, did that douchebag attorney ever send you a bill?”

GM: “Ugh, he did. Told him I wasn’t gonna pay. He said he’d sue. We’ll see if he actually does. People make idle threats over that all the time, and there’s… ways I can make it go away, if it gets that far.”

Celia: “That’s… kind of hilarious. And sad. I’m torn between wanting to know what his hourly rate came out to be, and thus the bill, versus just suggesting we kill him.”

“Think anyone would miss him?”

“I’m kidding, don’t give me whatever look you’re about to.”

GM: Roderick gives her a look. “He’s a douchebag, but he doesn’t deserve to die for being one. God knows we’d all deserve to die at some point if that were true.”

Celia: “You never listen to me,” she sighs, patting his cheek. “I still don’t think anyone would miss him. Go apply for his lawfirm and y’all can sue people together.”

“How’re you gonna take the bar? And by that I mean are you still planning on October, because I may or may not have a surprise for you.”

GM: “Ha ha. Rather not work with that guy, thanks. But as far as the bar… I’m promising a favor to the sewer rats, in return for stealing a copy of the exam for me to take, and hacking the Bar Association’s computers to say Roderick Durant took and passed the bar. I can look up the answers for the exam and grade it myself. If I don’t get a passing score, I’ll hold off on doing anything as a real lawyer until I can retake the exam.”

“Pretty confident that I’ll pass, though.”

“Coco thought it was a great idea. She agreed I should be able to actually pass the exam on my own merits, without using Kindred powers.”

“I’d have preferred to just take the exam like any other law student, but it’s during the day. So not a lot I can do there.”

Celia: “You figured she’d have waited to Embrace you to let you actually pass it, considering. Still, I’m selfish enough to be glad you’re here with me now, and happy you’ve managed to work it out. Are you going to, like, go for a job then? Or what are you planning?”

GM: “She could’ve, but there’s some prestige in being one of the first post-Katrina Embraces. And it was a sign of prestige that she was one of the first Kindred allowed to Embrace.”

“Like they say, timing’s everything.”

“And I don’t think so. I’ll be independently practicing, rather than joining a firm. Having a law license can be useful for a lot of stuff, but Coco already gives me plenty to stay busy with.”

Celia: What would it be like to have a sire who keeps her busy rather than one who abandoned her, whose replacement is both open handed and closed fisted? She’s like the kid whose mom took off to be an actress so she was foisted off onto her grandfather. A doting grandsire, to be sure, but there’s still remnants of a gap between them that she has yet to find a way to bridge.

She nods, though, as if she understands. Veronica might have kept her busy, too.

“Glad you’re making time for me, then.” She shifts, finally, onto her own seat again and stuffs the bloodstained wipe back into her purse, tossing it in the back.

“Do you guys have agendas at these things, or is it kind of a free for all?”

GM: Roderick starts driving again.

“Kind of both. Licks bring up important things they think are important, and sometimes we know in advance there are things they’re going to bring up, but anyone can stand up and speak about what they like.”

Celia: “And I just jump in when it feels appropriate?”

“As opposed to being formally recognized or something.”

GM: Roderick chuckles faintly. “It’s a little more organized than that, but not a lot more. Everyone gets a chance to speak, but if you’re a better speaker, you’ll hold the floor for longer.”

Celia: “I’m not nervous, you’re nervous,” she mutters, squeezing his hand. “What if your friends hate me? Do they beat me up in the parking lot after?”

GM: “Don’t worry. I’ll walk you back and beat them up if they try.”

“And you might know a few faces there. Max is also a Toreador, do you know her?”

Celia: “Max… oh, you mean Zilly? Yeah. Veronica introduced us. We actually met up at, uh, at a concert once. Lily Thoren. She’s… well you know how incestuous the MeVid community is. Asked if I wanted to go, then Zilly was there, one thing led to another.”

GM: “Oh,” says Roderick.

“I guess that is normal for Toreador.”

Celia: “To hang out at a kine concert?”

GM: “Sharing blood. Having lots of vampire sex.”

Celia: “Whoa, whoa, we didn’t share blood. I mean we did, but not ours.”

“We shared Lily later. It wasn’t a big thing.”

Celia glances at him. “You thought I fucked her?”

GM: “Well, I mean, it’s just what you hear about Toreador.”

Celia: Her glance lingers. Becomes a look. Maybe a stare.

“You sound a little judgey.”

GM: “I guess I don’t have any right to be, since feeding is basically sex, and I’m doing that every night. But sleeping around a lot just isn’t something I did.”

Celia: “I didn’t sleep with Lily, Roderick. She and Zilly laughed about their names rhyming and played some banjo together and sang some songs and I, like, drummed my knee. Then we fed.”

“Anyway, if you’re getting at something I’d rather you just say it.”

GM: “I’m not getting at anything. I was just a little… surprised.”

Celia: “I don’t understand why. Because I didn’t fuck her?”

GM: “I don’t mind if you fed on or slept with Lily. I mean, you have to. Blood is food.”

Celia: “You don’t like the idea of me sleeping with another lick. That’s why you got all…” Celia makes a vague gesture at him. “Right?”

GM: “It’s somewhere you can draw a line,” Roderick nods. “Other licks, versus breathers.”

Celia: “And you want to draw a line. No sharing blood.”

“Man, this conversation is so much weirder when you’re dead. Don’t fuck someone else is pretty straightforward.”

GM: “I know,” he says, effecting a sigh. “I asked Coco about it. The social dynamics are just totally different. Monogamy isn’t even the baseline.”

“So I get it. Lots of licks share blood with lots of other licks.”

“But that isn’t something I want to do. Or… want you to do.”

Celia: “Okay. I am down for that.”

“Gonna leave a lot of people heartbroken, you know.”

GM: “Oh, how many licks have you been with?”

Celia: “I was kidding.”

GM: “Genuine question, have you shared blood with any before? It has been three years since you were turned.”

Celia: “Um. Outside of like, rising from deep sleep and being taught things?”

“Like Coco and I shared blood when you took me to her after that incident. Or… she shared her blood, anyway. To me. With me? To me. She gave me blood.”

“Pietro, when he taught me shadow dancing. Ronnie.” Celia shrugs. “It didn’t seem like a big deal since she’s my sire, and you know her reputation.”

“Why, have you?”

GM: “I mean ‘sharing blood’ as in vampire sex. It doesn’t really count the way Coco did it.”

“It’s just… a bit of a sore spot after how you said you cheated on me. I had that rattling around in my head for years.”

Celia: “Was that why you hulked out and destroyed my spa?”

GM: “That was, uh. A lot of things.”

Celia: “I needed you to not follow me,” Celia says quietly. She pulls her hands back onto her own lap. “I told you that I almost killed you that night. I didn’t have any control over myself. Keeping you around… you know what it’s like, to feed from someone who actually cares about you, not the bullshit taste with star mode.”

“I would have wanted to keep you. Like one of them. You deserved better.”

“So I told you what I had to to make you angry enough to not come after me. But if you want to be exclusive that’s all you had to say.”

“And honestly, Roderick, it kind of hurts that you just assume I’m some sort of blood whore because I’m a Toreador.”

GM: Roderick effects a sigh. “I’m sorry. I know you did what was best, to keep me away from all this. I just… I still spent three years feeling like you cheated on me. That really, really hurt. I know you didn’t actually cheat, and that it’s unfair to blame you, but I can’t just tell those feelings to go away. It’s a sore spot.”

Celia: Celia is quiet for a moment. Her mind jumps from thought to thought. Things she could say. Things she should say. Actions she should apologize for.

She wants to be with him, doesn’t she? But she can’t be with him, not truly, if their relationship is built on a lie. And she had lied to him. Because she had cheated on him. She’d let him think it was just Pietro and Veronica, but that isn’t the truth, is it? Paul. Emmett. The guy she’d literally told him not to worry about—she’d already tried kissing him at that point, had slept in bed with him. And Paul. God, Paul. That’s the worst offense, isn’t it? She doesn’t even have a good excuse for why she had done it with Paul. Money. Blackmail, she told herself at the time, as if she’d ever been able to actually capture the deed on camera. She’d had some weird, convoluted plan to force him into having sex with her—actual sex, not just swallowing down his load—and then telling him… what? That if he didn’t hand over her trust in its entirety she’d tell Daddy?

What had she been thinking?

They don’t have time to have this conversation now. They’ll be late, again, for the rant.

“Would you ever be able to forgive me for something like that?” she finally asks.

GM: “For if you’d been cheating on me?” Roderick asks.

“Well… here we are now. After I’d spent three years thinking that you had.”

Celia: That’s not a yes. It’s not a no, either, and Celia’s indecision makes her tongue thick and heavy in her mouth.

She wants to be a better person. Worthy of him. That’s how everything started, hadn’t it, all the lies that she’d told him, the reason she’d broken up with him: to keep him protected because he’s just better than her.

She’s not worthy of him. Maybe she never will be. Losing his temper one time and beating her into oblivion isn’t like routinely cheating on him. Ripping his heart out.

It’s so easy to lie. It’s her first instinct. Make him feel bad for her. Make it sound like it’s not her fault. Put the blame anywhere other than at her own feet, like the worthless whore that she is. Was. Is.

Can you escape that? Her very human nature, does becoming this undead monster somehow make it better? Hadn’t she done worse things in the scheme of things? Doesn’t she know that she will, eventually, do worse things? Terrible things. That’s her very nature. Their nature, as Kindred.

It’s so easy to blame the Beast.

But she’d fucked this up all on her own. Human. Whore.

She hadn’t thought she was good enough when she met him. She’d lied about her major, kept him talking about himself in shame. Dancer. Cos school. Now she knows, even if they’re both monsters, he’s a better sort.

God, it hurts.

“Would you rather be told a beautiful lie or an ugly truth?” She almost laughs at how ridiculous the question sounds when she asks. She is not some poseur poetess to mince her words or hide behind the trite and tired mask of affected eloquence and pretentious sayings. Not here, not to him. She speaks again, more plainly. “What happened in the past—do you want to leave it there, or do you want to go through everything that we’ve ever done, every wrong we’ve committed… hash it all out, and let it go?”

GM: “Coco’s told me stories about Carthage,” Roderick answers thoughtfully after a moment. “I dunno how much you’ve heard of it. To anyone but the Brujah and Ventrue, I suppose it’s just ancient history. But the story goes that Carthage was a city-state where Kindred and kine lived in harmony, without any Masquerade. The kine supplied the Kindred with blood, and the Kindred used their powers to make life easier for the kine. Freed from the need to compete with each other for sustenance, the Kindred were able to focus on meaningful creative endeavors instead of endless scheming. The city was a shining utopia.”

“The Ventrue couldn’t stand to be second-best at anything, of course, so they destroyed the city during the Punic Wars after claiming the Brujah had attacked them first. They claimed it was impossible for Kindred and kine to live in harmony, hence the need for the Masquerade, which is really just a tool of social control.”

“But that’s just one version of the story. Coco says that if you ask the Ventrue, they say the Brujah ruled over the kine as terrible gods without any checks on their behavior. They killed, abused, and so terrified the Carthaginians that they engaged in regular child sacrifice to appease their Kindred masters. There were entire pits of victims’ bones. Eventually the kine would have gotten sick of it and risen up against us during the day. Carthage was a nightmare, not a utopia.”

“But there are even more issues with that second story than with the first. Coco also says that human sacrifice during times of community need was fairly normal for the period. So another variation goes that the Brujah were just scavengers, happy to take the blood that would’ve just watered some Canaanite deity’s idol. Coco says there are other stories that the pit of bones was actually just a graveyard, nothing sinister about it beyond the fact that it’s where the Carthaginians put their dead bodies.”

“Personally, I think the Brujah at Carthage were trying something new and innovative to live without any Masquerade, but that the process probably wasn’t perfect. Human sacrifice probably still happened and I don’t think Kindred would’ve been above feeding on the victims. The Ventrue have always been conservative, reactionary, and controlling, and I think they would’ve had ample incentive to want to establish a social system they were the architects of. I also think the mortal economic and military tensions between Rome and Carthage probably went a long ways in driving up tensions between the Brujah and the Ventrue.”

“So you might think to ask ‘what the hell does what happened in some ancient city two thousand years ago matter now.’”

“The answer is that it informs everything. The Ventrue use it as their mandate to rule. They were the ones who established the modern Masquerade because the alternative was so much worse. The Brujah use it as their mandate to reject Ventrue authority, because the alternative at the time actually may not have been so much worse. It’s why our clans have fought so bitterly. Coco says that when she first came to the city, Vidal had brutally cracked down on earlier Brujah who’d wanted to create a new Carthage here. To them that meant something good, but it didn’t to Vidal, so he ashed them for it. She also said that when she first spoke with him, they talked about Carthage, and the fact she was able to do so without offending him is one of the reasons he let her stay in the city. Stories of Carthage passed down from sire to childe are one of the reasons we have so few Ventrue Anarchs—I don’t know any in the city besides Christopher. And his sire Marcel is unusually open-minded to the Brujah interpretation of events. Coincidence?”

Celia: His answer is a boot to the gut. For a moment she cannot think of anything but the fact that his sire has educated him, brought him willingly into the fold, given him a position of envy. Hers had abandoned her. She does not get to sit at his side and speak of history, talk about their clan, art, the city, anything. Everything she has learned is because of Savoy and Mélissaire, because Savoy was decent enough to take her in, his abandoned grandchilde.

Like a fucking puppy no one wants. Or the pony she’d wished for.

It’s just a moment, though.

“What you’re speaking of are called myths. Symbolic truth, I mean, not ‘myth’ as in ‘not true.’ Myths of Othering, Myths of Cultural Origin. Othering constructs an idea about another group: who you are, who ‘they’ are. Them, the others, based in fiction usually, such as here with the Ventrue thinking the Brujah were reigning as some evil gods. They built a lie about ‘the others’ to de-humanize them—yes I’m aware that isn’t the proper word we’re not human thank you—so that their clan would, morally and ethically, be okay moving against them. So it’s ‘us’, in this case the Ventrue, and ‘them’ the Brujah based in fiction, and ‘them’ the Brujah based in reality. It ties neatly in with the Myths of Cultural Origin. Where your culture comes from. A literal origin story. Like Spiderman.”

She smiles briefly. They’d taken an evening to watch the movies together after their Batman date, the trilogy from the early 2000s and then the one in theaters now. The Amazing.

“Generally people don’t just spring up. People and cultures meld together, change over time. Humans are story-driven, narrative driven. It’s their nature. Ours too, I think, though then you delve into the argument on whether or not a Kindred can truly change, and thus whether our culture can change. It’s easier to see in humans because their lives are so short.”

“But it’s all perspective, the stories that we tell. If you complain about a bad day you edit the good parts out, and if you tell me about a good day you edit the bad parts out. Because you, as the person telling the story, control the power of narrative. So in the Brujah and Ventrue both saying ‘this is how we began,’ or ‘this is how the Camarilla began,’ they’re each telling the side of the story that makes them look like the heroes, because they each fall back into the old trap of ‘Othering.’ When you listen to a story, when you read a book, when you read political articles or about ancient cultures, you constantly have to ask yourself who is telling the story, who is controlling the narrative, who are they telling it to, what do they get out of it? It’s usually not what literally happened, it’s got a spin on it to make them look more heroic.”

“Take, for example, Carthage and the Punic Wars. The Ventrue tell their story about taking out a monstrous civilization and creating the Masquerade. The Brujah tell their story about being wrongfully destroyed and this great city-state they had and how it was beautiful. No one paints themselves as the bad guys. The Ventrue don’t admit, ‘yeah we were jealous,’ and the Brujah would never say, ‘well we did rule in terror.’ You give yourself the best possible light that you can, make yourself the most flattering. Like, ah, like when you post a photo to social media. You don’t post one with double chins and acne showing. You touch it up. Edit it. Make yourself look how you want to look with the best angles and background. Tell the story you want people to know about you.”

Like she does with everyone, she realizes. Her entire personae of Celia Flores has been crafted and honed over time, sculpted like a block of clay. She slips in and out of who she needs to be when she needs to be it, and it’s the same thing that cultures and religions and extremist terrorist groups do, the same thing that the Ventrue and the Brujah do with their stories of Carthage.

She used it as a tool to survive when she was growing up. A way to avoid her father’s ire. Her long-ago tutor had seen through it immediately when she was a teen. She’d kept at it, though, and now… now it’s just second nature, the lies that she tells, the edits that she makes to her life. Lying without lying. Misdirection.

The entire story that she had told Roderick about her escapades had been concocted and heavily edited to make herself look like a victim. Rape, torture, star mode, drinking, familial abuse. Make him think she didn’t have a choice, didn’t do anything wrong, and how can he be angry at her? It’s not my fault.

“Is that what you’re getting at?” she finally prompts, unsure of how else to put it into words. “That we’re all just playing a role? And you… don’t like it? Do like it? Want to play, don’t want to play?”

Want the truth, don’t want the truth.

GM: “I definitely agree with you that both sides paint whatever myths make them look best,” Roderick says. “But it’s also important to remember that truth isn’t always found in the middle, which is the fallacy of golden means. For instance, Jews in Nazi-occupied Vienna were forced to scrub streets while jeering crowds watched. Some Holocaust survivors claimed they were forced to use toothbrushes, or their own tongues, which isn’t true. ‘Their side’ was absolutely in the right, but they were still exaggerating. That’s just what all humans do. We tell the story that mirrors our feelings, and the facts can be on our side to varying degrees.”

“Another example of that would asking you and your dad ‘what kind of father was Maxen Flores?’. You’ll both tell a story that paints you in the best light, and you’ll both probably exaggerate some details, but you’ll still be 100% in the right when you say he was a shitty father. The truth isn’t anywhere close to the middle.”

“But although this is a fascinating discussion, the main reason I brought it up was to illustrate a point. Lots of people think the past doesn’t matter, but it shapes the present in ways large and small. Everything is interconnected. Everything that happens causes or contributes to the causation of something else. Coco told me how you blamed yourself for me getting Embraced, but also that she told you how everyone from your dad to your mom to Veronica was also partly responsible for the chain of events that led to that. I think it’s the height of presumption for anyone to say they don’t need to learn from the past, because they’re smart enough to grasp all of the connections in the present. No one is that smart.”

“And I’ll admit that’s one thing the Ventrue do better than my clan. Their histories have lots of issues, but pretty much all blue bloods make an effort to teach history to their childer. While probably at least half of all Brujah don’t give a rat’s ass about our history.”

“But the main reason I was bringing this up was to say… yes. I do want to know about your history. Our history. Because that’s going to shape our present and future, whether I know it or not.”

“And I’d rather hear ugly truths than beautiful lies.”

Celia: That’s what she had been afraid of. That, given the option, he’d pick the truth.

Isn’t this what she wants though? To be able to tell him what she had done, to earn his forgiveness for past transgressions, to go in fresh? Neither of them are coming into this an empty, unwritten book, but they can at least start on a page that isn’t sullied by lies and half truths.

For good or ill, if she tells him the guilt will be gone. No one will be able to use it against her the future. He’ll know, at last, who she is, and can make his decision accordingly if he wants to stay with her. If he does, then he’ll be the only one to know. Someone she can trust. She can tell him everything. A haven of truth in the mound of lies and polite smiles her world has become.

She swallows a lump lodged in her throat.

“Okay,” she says. “Okay. After the rant. I will tell you everything. I’d rather not go in with this fresh in our minds and both of us distracted.”

GM: “Honestly, I’m fine skipping another one. We’ll have other things on our mind then and this is more important.”

Celia: “At this rate they’re just going to think I’m afraid of showing.” She tries to laugh. It sounds weak, even to her. Maybe she is afraid of showing. Afraid of being honest with him, too. It’s easier in the spa, where people just lay down and don’t talk and she doesn’t have to worry about anything besides their muscles beneath her hands or if the towels are too hot.

“My place, then?”

GM: “Okay. Your place.”

Monday night, 30 July 2012, PM

GM: They get there. They get out. Roderick remarks on now being a good time to fuck Celia in those “Brujah pants” of hers, but he sounds like he’s joking. He looks interested in other things right now.

Celia: Of course he wants to fuck. She wants to fuck. She’d rather get it in one last time before he tells her that he’s done with her, but she doesn’t push it or throw herself at him. Better not to risk a full bond if he’s just going to abandon her anyway.

She takes his hand on the way up the stairs, mulling over what she’s going to tell him. Nerves make her fingers more fidgety than usual, and she almost drops her keys before she can get them in the door to unlock it. She closes it and bolts the door behind her, taking stock. How much of this is he gong to destroy if he gets mad? Her art? The easel she’d just purchased to try her hand at painting? The genuine Chanel clutch Pietro had lifted for her?

She leads him to the couch, kicking off her shoes to tuck her feet beneath her.

“Coco told me once that anything I told you you’d tell her. Is that still true?”

GM: “Maybe back then, sure,” Roderick says, looking at her earnestly as he sits down. “But no. I don’t tell her everything about me. Just like you wouldn’t tell Veronica everything about yourself.”

“Or, maybe better example, your mom everything about yourself.”

Celia: “You really do think of her as your mom, huh? You two never…” She makes a motion with her hands to indicate sex.

GM: He shakes his head. “Some sires and childer are fine with it, but there’s just too big a gulf between us. Like dating someone 60 years older than you, only she’s obviously a lot older than 60.”

“She isn’t quite my mom. But, yeah. My sister and I weren’t ever as close to Mom as we were with Dad.”

Celia: Celia nods. She can’t imagine trying to date Savoy or Donovan either, though she’d take a tumble with both. Christ, every time she’s in the same room with the French Lord she wants to pounce on him, and she doesn’t think it’s the blood of his already inside of her calling her name. Even Veronica is decades older and she’d been with her enough times. Maybe it’s just different for her clan.

They call them degenerates for a reason.

Apprehension gnaws at her gut. Her fingers slide the ring around on her other hand over and over again, twisting the metal until she can barely feel it bite her skin.

“Do you want to go first, or do you want me to go first? Or take turns? Or… just ask questions?” That had been a game once, with drinks involved. She can’t think of what the equivalent would be here.

She supposes she could just rip off the bandaid. Better that way, maybe. Then if he reacts poorly at least she hasn’t told him anything damning.

GM: “Did you have something you wanted to know about me?” Roderick asks. “I thought this was mainly about you, but I can answer if you have questions.”

Celia: “Right.”

Of course. Of course there’s nothing for him to say. He’s a good boy. Doesn’t stay out late, doesn’t drink under age, takes the proposed one-night stand on a date to make it special for her, probably doesn’t kill people just because Coco tells him to.

Didn’t cheat on his girlfriend and then lie about it and rip her heart out.

Maybe one day she won’t take breaths she doesn’t need. Maybe she’ll remember that they don’t do anything for her, don’t settle her nerves at all. It’s habit to keep up the charade around the breathers. Habit to take one now, as if she’s not a monster.

Enough stalling. She blurts the words before she can stop herself.

“I did cheat on you.”

GM: Roderick doesn’t say anything for a moment. His face looks almost carefully blank. Celia can’t help but think back to his earlier words:

“I’m sorry. I know you did what was best, to keep me away from all this. I just… I still spent three years feeling like you cheated on me. That really, really hurt. I know you didn’t actually cheat, and that it’s unfair to blame you, but I can’t just tell those feelings to go away. It’s a sore spot."

“Okay,” he says finally.

His voice sounds a little stilted. His voice sound a little harder.

“When and with who?”

At least it’s not flying into a frenzy like last time.

Celia: Instinct screams at her to lie. She is torn between watching his face and speaking to the ring that she spins, faster and faster, around her finger.

“His name is Paul. He controlled my trust. I went over to meet with him about the terms after that dinner with my mom. He… basically told me I could get the money out earlier if I blew him, and when I went to refuse he… he just kind of… pushed me down and…” suck it like a popsicle.

“So I… so I did.”

Like a whore.

Her own money.

GM: “Did you feel like you could have turned him down and walked away? Honestly?” Roderick asks.

Celia: “I…”

Could she have? Would he have forced himself on her if she’d tried?

“I don’t know. I truly don’t know. Like, if he’d have tried to kill me or something if not? No. But forced himself on me? Called my dad? Made more trouble? Yeah. He… he wasn’t… he’s not a good person. He… Christ, I was down there on my knees and he just patted my head and told me I was ‘stupid. Pretty, but stupid.’”

“I found out, later, he’s… I think he’s one of the sheriff’s ghouls or something. He lives at the same house. I didn’t, like, go back to confirm it after I was Embraced or anything.”

GM: “Sounds like a real piece of work. I’m sorry he put you in that situation. Sounds to me like it was rape,” Roderick answers.

His voice is sympathetic enough. But that edge from before is still there.

“Was that the only time?” he asks.

Celia: “…no.”

“It gets… the story gets more involved after the night Maxen sent me to the hospital.”

“I told you about Veronica and Pietro. The bar. The rape. And… the next night, when my mom disappeared, I didn’t know what to do. I was desperate. So I called the bar where I met them. And I told them I had a score to settle and where to find me.”

“Pietro said he was a thief. I thought maybe he could steal her back for me.”

GM: “So… what happened?”

Celia: “They said no. I mean, there… was a lot more to it than that, but the gist of it is they said no. I can tell you the whole story if you want. Then Veronica offered me the tools to do it myself. We made a bargain. A few nights of power and then I’d be hers.”

“She’d already tried to kill me at that point, and it was just Pietro who held her off, so… I thought, if it’s me or my mom, I guess she can have me.”

“So I took her deal.”

GM: “I’m sorry for that too. That sounds like an unspeakably black night, for you and your mom to both get raped.”

Celia: “I invited the monsters in and abandoned my mom.” Her voice is bitter. “I deserved what I got for it.”

“I should have been there. When he took her. I should have been there. None of this would have happened.”

GM: “There isn’t anyone who deserves to get raped,” Roderick says emphatically. “Anyone.”

Celia: Celia pulls her knees up to her chest. She isn’t able to look at him anymore. Em’s face floats in front of her: victim. Like her. Give her power and she uses it to abuse. What else can they expect from Maxen’s daughter?

“You know what it’s like to struggle with the Beast. The urge to give in and do terrible things to get an edge. I don’t know how fast you are, or how strong you are, but I was stronger. Faster. That night, I could do anything, I could make anyone do anything.”

She explains, briefly, going to check on Emily. On him. Finding him “missing” after he’d wandered off. Coco, she tells him, in case he doesn’t remember their conversation.

“Then I went to meet up with Em. To find a way to use these new abilities against my dad. He’s… I mean, he’s… we’d talked about killing him, so I thought maybe he’d have some ideas.”

“And I kept thinking there’s no world in which people ignore someone raping their own daughter. I could get it on camera, Maxen raping me, use it as blackmail or… or something. Destroy him. And Em said, ‘you can’t do that.’”

“And I…” she hesitates. She finally looks up at him. Her lips press together, shame in her eyes. “I used it on him,” she whispers, “he was my friend and I used it on him. Just a… just an innocent kid. He didn’t deserve it, either. And you didn’t, what I… we were together. I thought my life was over, but we were together still.”

GM: Roderick just looks at Celia for a long, long moment.

“Why?” he asks.

“You’d been raped. Twice.”

Celia: There’s no good answer. No good reason to do what she had done. She hadn’t even had a good reason in the moment, only that he had doubted she could and she had to prove him wrong.

“Because I’m a terrible person. A… a scumbag. He was willing to help me and I just…”

“I don’t know.”

“I convinced myself he wanted it. Like I’d just turned on the charm and he came onto me and… like that made it okay.”

“It wasn’t okay.”

GM: Roderick nods slowly.

He’s quiet for another long moment. His face is very still.

“Were those the only two times?” he finally asks.

“Sorry. One time. The ones where you were raped weren’t cheating.”

Celia: That’s a difficult question to answer. She doesn’t know if she should include her time with Veronica on Savoy’s roof, or the time with Donovan. Does vampire sex really count?

“I shared blood with two people shortly after my Embrace,” she finally says. “It wasn’t… I wasn’t expecting it either time, I didn’t go out seeking it. I was very new. It wasn’t like sex I was used to, it was just… fighting. I didn’t know what it meant at the time, the significance of sharing blood. I thought, honestly, the one was trying to kill me.”

GM: “Who?”

Celia: “Veronica.”

“And, uh… the sheriff.”

GM: Roderick actually looks thrown off by that.


Celia: “Yeah. Sheriff Donovan. He, um. There’s a whole… story…” she trails off, making a vague gesture with her hand.

GM: “I’m listening,” Roderick says flatly.

Celia: She almost tells him it’s the kind of thing that can’t be repeated. The kind of thing that will get her killed. But she doesn’t. She’s come this far. Her eyes close briefly, settling back on his face when she reopens them.

“You know some of it already. I’ve told you some. I might be repeating parts, so just… bear with me, okay? I want to get it all out.”

“You know my dad belongs to Donovan. I don’t think he’s actually a ghoul or anything, but he… serves him. And the night they made their deal, I was eight. It was my birthday. I saw them shake on it. And Donovan saw me. I don’t… know what he did to me, it just got very cold, and I felt like I was drowning, and I heard my dad screaming. And the next morning I woke up and there were blueberry pancakes and Dad said everything was going to get better for us. We moved to Audubon. Life went on.”

Her voice is hollow, eyes flat.

“Then the election. You know how he… went after my mom. I walked in on it. Called the police. They said they weren’t coming. So I went to my dad’s gun, and… I saw him, with the hacksaw…” she falters. Clears her throat before continuing. “And I told him to get away, and he turned around, but he was… shadowy. And I was going to shoot him, you know, but I… didn’t. I don’t know if it was some kind of command thing or star mode or what, but he kept telling me everything was okay, and then he… he put me to bed. And I saw his face. And it was Donovan. I think he fed on me, but I… I don’t remember.”

“When Maxen was arrested I went back to the house. Someone was waiting for me. Grabbed me from behind. Told me the only way to put a man like Maxen down was with this, and put a gun in my hand. I thought… at the time I thought it might have been him, you know, like testing me. But I don’t think that’s right, why would he take out his own pawn?”

“So… after I was Embraced, I asked Savoy about it, and he said if I could get the gun they could find out, and so I went to the apartment where I’d left it, and… Donovan took me. I don’t know why. It’s not like he told me. I can only guess. I was from his territory, maybe, and he was…” She trails off again, lifting her shoulders. “I don’t know. I don’t know why me.”

GM: “…oh,” Roderick says slowly.

Celia: “He didn’t say anything, he just… came at me. I was terrified.”

Celia’s eyes return to the floor. When she speaks again, it’s quietly.

“You know what they’re like. They just take what they want. They’re just…you know. Scary.”

Scary. As if that is a strong enough word to describe the sheriff.

GM: “Yeah,” he just says, a little lamely. “I didn’t think he was… into that sort of thing.”

“But I guess he drinks hot sauce like anyone else.”

Celia: “I heard Veronica had him, once,” Celia offers. “I just… I don’t know why me. Jealousy? Or to prove he could?”

GM: Roderick just shakes his head. “I don’t know. Who the hell knows what goes on in his head.”

“So was that every time?” he asks. “Three rapes, which don’t count, and once with Emmett?”

Celia: She nods.

Three rapes. Four, if she counts Emmett.

Roderick is the only consensual sex she’s had.

Christ, what a thought.

GM: “You’re positive?” Roderick asks, his voice suddenly sharp again. The lawyer before the court.

“Because if I feel like you’re lying again after this, I don’t know how I’d ever be able to trust you again.”

“Because I can’t do this again. I spent three years feeling like the girl I loved betrayed me, cheated on me, and lied to me. Then you told me that lie was just a lie, after you’d been Embraced, and you’d been faithful all along when we were together. And now I’m hearing that was also a lie so we could get back together, and you actually were telling the truth earlier. I can barely even keep it all straight.”

“I just can’t keep trusting you and getting lied to. So if there’s more you haven’t told me, now’s the time. To just be honest.”

Celia: Celia bursts into tears.

She presses her face into her hands. Her shoulders hunch forward, making herself small; they shake with the effort to keep herself together, bent almost in half with her face buried against her lap. She says something into her hands, the words muffled by her flesh. Crimson, coppery tears leak out between her fingers.

GM: Roderick scoots over and pulls her against his chest, wrapping both arms around her shoulders as she cries.

“It’s okay. It’s okay,” he murmurs quietly.

Celia: At least her dead body doesn’t produce snot. It’s just the blood that trickles from the corners of her eyes and colors her face, then his shirt when he pulls her close. She doesn’t try to stem the flow of tears. She lets it out. All the guilt that she had harbored for the long years apart. All the lies she had told him. The anger, the anguish, the regret. It’s all there, a scarlet stain.

She tries to speak around the outpour of emotions but the words just don’t come out coherently; it’s a jumbled mix of not good enough, don’t deserve, blackmail, and broken apologies.

GM: Roderick cradles Celia as she cries, at first. He hugs her tight. Runs his hands along her back. Tells her that things are going to be okay, that she’s safe here. With him. That she can tell him anything. After all, he’s taken it calmly enough so far.

Maybe it’s the bond.

Maybe it’s him.

Maybe it’s both.

“Just get it out, Celia,” he says quietly. “You’ll feel better. Telling the truth might be scary, but it’s so much harder to live with a lie.”

Celia: After some time she’s calmed enough to tell him the rest: what she’d seen in Paul’s house. How she’d thought that she could find a way to blackmail him, so she’d gone back. Multiple times. “Gathering evidence.” Looking for a place to mount a camera. Each time she’d started on her knees.

She doesn’t tell him that Donovan lives there, that she realized it is vampires hiding behind the steel doors. Those aren’t her secrets to tell, and even here with Roderick there’s the pull of the bond that keeps her from spilling about her true sire. The bond, she blames, but some part of her knows the truth: even without it she wouldn’t give him up. She doesn’t need a bond to keep her loyal; it isn’t his blood thrumming through her that makes her want him.

She just says what she’d thought at the time, that it was some sort of weird sex slave thing.

“It’s not okay,” Celia finally says. She wipes at her face and her hands come away red. When she looks up at him the blood is smeared across her cheeks. There is nothing pretty about a crying lick. She looks like the monster that she is: red-faced, red-handed. Guilty.

“Of course it’s not okay. I cheated. I lied. You must hate me.” She hates herself enough for the both of them if he doesn’t.

She’d betrayed her sire. That’s what sticks with her, that she had spilled about him, that someone besides her knows they’d been together, can piece together where he lives. Even if she’d spun it she’d still told, and now what? Now Roderick knows. Now he can tell someone. No wonder Donovan doesn’t tell her anything. He’d made a mistake with her and cast her out before she could cause more problems for him. Any evening now he’s just going to come back and finish the job.

She thought she’d feel better for the telling. She just feels worse. Like scum. He isn’t going to stay with her now—how could he? She wouldn’t stay with her. Or maybe she would, because that’s all she deserves: a partner who cheats on her, lies to her, abuses her.

“That’s it. That’s all. Everything.”

She sounds defeated, like she’s just waiting for him to get up and go. She wouldn’t blame him. Even if he stays there’ll be a day when he throws it all back into her face, calls her a whore, tells her she’s as stupid as her dad made her out to be. Their relationship will never be equal; he’ll always have that power over her, that trump card ready to go in his pocket.

GM: Roderick listens.

He listens as he tells her about it. All of those times with Paul, on her knees, his cock in her mouth. Swallowing his cum. While he called her a whore. ‘His’ whore. His stupid but pretty little whore, blowing him for her own money, because she wasn’t good enough to pay with his own.

What a stupid thing to do.

What a stupid thing that only being pretty let her do.

He doesn’t let go of Celia as she talks, but his jaw clenches. His eyes get hard. His grip starts to hurt. He asks just two questions:

“How many times?”

“What did you want to do with the money?”

He waits until she’s done.

But he doesn’t get up and go.

First his closed fist smashes into her face, crunching in her nose with a gory red spurt. There’s a rush of motion under Celia’s back as Roderick lifts her into the air, legs and torso held all the way over his head, then hurls her to the ground like so much trash. There’s pain as the floor slams against her back. Then there’s worse pain as the frenzying Brujah falls upon her with a bestial howl, his fists blurring as they smash into her pretty face again and again. Her lip splits. Quarters. Teeth fly. Bone crunches. Blood spatters everywhere. He pins her underneath his body as his brutally strong hands destroy her face.

Paul said, once. That is how whores are treated.

Men beat them.

What a whore she must be to earn this many beatings.

Stupid. Worthless.


Celia: Her Beast comes roaring to the surface the moment his first blow lands. She lashes out at him with her nails on the way down, before he has a chance to secure her hands. Even then she thrashes beneath him, body bucking and twisting and writhing to get him off, to scratch or bite or claw her way free. His body is heavy. Larger than her, stronger than her, faster than her. He’d never finished teaching her how to fight. She’s no match, but that doesn’t keep her from trying.

Her nose splatters. Her lips split. She spits in his face with her useless, broken mouth. Broken teeth fall backwards into her throat as her jaw cracks. Hissing becomes a guttural scream of rage and pain.

The rest of her doesn’t suffer the same fate as her face. She’s pretty. That’s what caused this problem. That’s what he destroys. Systematically, while she howls and pitches beneath him, while her nails grow into claws and shred through wood in want of flesh, he takes away her beauty.

I trust you, she’d told him once.

How stupid.

His snarling, twisted face is the last thing she sees before his fist slams into the orbital bone, blinding her.

She sinks into darkness.

Date ?

GM: Bliss burns Celia’s lips.

There’s hurt, everywhere else.

There is pain.

There is hurt.

There is want.

But it all pales, next to the bliss.

All just like last time.

Eventually, the life-giving font recedes.

She’s in the same office space. Coco’s a blonde again, with a pixie haircut, and wearing jeans rather than cargo pants, but the scene seems just like last time.

“Rise and shine,” Roderick’s sire repeats.

Celia: She’s trapped in a bad dream. A memory looping, over and over again. Another lost fight. Another beatdown somewhere she thought was safe. Her business. Her haven. Nothing is safe. Nothing is sacred.

At least he hadn’t left her. She’d have lain there for days. Weeks. Months maybe. How long before someone would have thought to look for her, would have known where to look? Perhaps the sun might have been the one to find her.

The pain abates as Coco brings her forth, world narrowing to the sensation on her lips, the heady rush of pleasure that the blood fills her with. It’s all she can think about, the blood that’s so close… then just out of reach. As soon as it’s gone reality sets in again: her body throbs. She shouldn’t hurt this much. No one should hurt this much. Her body, yes, but deeper too: that place inside her chest where a girl named Celia once had a heart.

“Prim’gen D’ket.” Celia doesn’t know what else to call her, doesn’t know why Roderick had brought her here again instead of leaving her like the trash she is. She doesn’t let herself linger on the thought. How thin is the ice she dances on now? “Go’ tht’p mee-n like thith.” Her voice is as broken as the rest of her. She can’t even muster a smile; a twitch in her cheek is the only evidence of attempt. Her jaw cracks as it rights itself; another echo from their first meeting, slurred words and broken bones.

Talking hurts. Moving hurts. Opening her eyes hurt. Every muscle and nerve ending is on fire.

I trust you. Stupid. Honesty. Stupid. Fuck honesty. Fuck trust.

Fuck everything.

Celia had once promised Coco that she’d tell her childe everything when he was ready to listen.

Time and honesty heals most wounds, Coco had said in response.

Just not this one. Not this wound. Not this long, jagged, twisting wound that had been left to fester for years, gouged in further by lie on top of lie on top of lie, a hulking mess of a thing.

Maybe one night it’ll be sealed over in scar tissue and the feeling will return to the nerves and muscles (and hearts) that had been damaged.

Just not tonight.

GM: At least she’s on a couch.

Just like last time.

“I suppose you’ve had another lesson in how hot our tempers can run,” remarks Coco.

“For what it’s worth, I think you did the right thing. Truth always comes out in the end.”

“We can either be on its side, or against it, once it finally does.”

Celia: “He hates me.” It isn’t a question, but she looks to Coco anyway in search of an answer.

GM: “Someone who felt nothing but hate wouldn’t have brought you here.”

Celia: Something burns in the corners of her eyes. She drops her gaze before it can do more than that.

“He likes you. A lot. The way he talks about you… the admiration, the respect…” she trails off. “It’s good. It’s a good thing. I wanted something good, too.”

GM: “From what he’s told me about you, it sounds as if you really did,” says Coco.

“I can understand selling your body for money, for what that may also be worth. For two ecus, you could fuck me any which way you pleased, when I was a breather. It was either that or go hungry. Everyone does what they must to survive.”

Celia: Her lips, split as they are, twist into something that might be a rueful smile.

“Thank you. For… understanding. Sharing.” Despite the situation, despite the pain in her body, the words offer a balm for her aching heart. She wants to ask where he is, what he said, what she should do, but she doesn’t think that Coco’s patience extends that far. Roderick had said she is different than most elders, but she’s still an elder. Still has better things to do than nurse the wounds of broken neonates.

“I think,” she says finally, “if it isn’t presumptuous to say, I would have liked to get to know you under better circumstances.”

GM: “I suppose waking up twice on someone’s couch after your lover beats the shit out of you will make those less than ‘better,’” remarks Coco.

“I think he’s hurt by the perceived lack of trust, as much as anything. His family wasn’t the Malveauxes, but they had money. He’d have likely helped if you’d gone to him.”

Celia: She closes her eyes, fighting to keep her face still. She hadn’t even thought of asking him for help, not in that way, not when he’d already done so much for them. She really is as stupid as her dad used to say. She could have walked away at any moment. They could have walked away together.

Her lips press together, though not before they begin to tremble.

It comes up again, comes back to her, the words she’d thought so many times and even said to him. She doesn’t deserve him. He’s just inherently better.

GM: “To him it seems completely illogical. Why would anyone whore themselves out to cruel strangers when they could ask their boyfriend for help.”

“But I’ve often found logic to be a subjective thing, relative to our emotional state and life experiences.”

“They call whoring the world’s oldest profession. Women have done it since the dawn of time. It’s just the way humans are biologically wired as a species.”

“The males want as many partners as possible, to produce as many offspring as possible. When a female’s survival is threatened, she’ll offer him a chance to do just that.”

“Religion may not be as old as our former species’ biological imperatives, but two thousand years is still nothing to sneeze at.”

“Whenever moral authority tells people to do things contrary to their base instincts, something has to give.”

“A woman can’t be the madonna and the whore. When circumstance demands that she play both roles, you get strange behaviors.”

Celia: She is silent as Coco speaks. The words wash over her, background noise to the mess inside her head; they twist once they reach her ears, shifting to fit her narrative. He’s all she can think about. Face broken, body aching, even now she wants him. Another chance to explain. Illogical, like Coco had said, her actions then and now.

She’d wanted to be able to take care of herself. She’d seen what relying on a man could do—just look at her mother—but she is no Diana, and he no Maxen. Theirs could have been a better story. Away from the city. He’d been willing. Just a few months until graduation.

He was made for this life, she realizes. His patience comes naturally. He knew, before his Embrace, that he’d spend years, decades, generations getting what he wants. It’s three years late, her first lesson in patience.

She wants to laugh. She doesn’t dare. Nor does she know what response is required of her; this isn’t a casual conversation in the car with Roderick, who won’t laugh at or dismiss her if she fails to meaningfully contribute. Still, the question burns in her mind, the one she wouldn’t dare put to words around anyone else. But something—the bond, this conversation, the way Roderick speaks of Coco—makes her take the leap.

“Do you think,” she eventually asks, “that our kind can truly love and trust anymore, or will our limits always be the echo of such sentiments, brought on by the blood?”

GM: “Can love and trust exist among inmates at the Farm? That’s a society with a level of viciousness and disregard for human life comparable to our own,” replies Coco. “The conditions there make it exceedingly unlikely for love to blossom, or to last. But in a community with 8,000 people that’s been around for 100 years, can we say for certain that it’s never once happened?”

The Brujah primogen shrugs.

“In my experience, few rules are absolute. Every one has exceptions. Probabilities are more useful to consider than ‘nos’ and ‘yeses.’”

“I think that it can happen. It’s just harder and rarer.”

Celia: “And I’ve already ruined my chance with your childe. He said he wanted honesty, so that is what I gave him. The ugly truth of my life in desperation.”

Love. She’d told him she’d loved him. Naive to think that they are the exception to the rule. Life isn’t a movie; she isn’t the singing princess with a horde of dancing animals around her. He might be a prince to someone, but it isn’t her.

GM: “Truth always comes out in the end, I’ve found. You can fool people for a while, but eventually the house of lies comes tumbling down. Usually all the faster if the liar feels guilty.”

Celia: “Better to have told him, then, instead of years from now finding out another way.”

It doesn’t make her feel any better. She touches a hand to her face, swollen beneath the tips of her fingers. Rest will fix it. There’s no permanent damage. Even their kind is not so destructive that she cannot come back from it.

“He told me about what you’re doing here in Mid-City,” she says at length, “I think it’s good work.”

GM: “If he’d found out another way you might’ve been left on the floor.”

“I’m glad you think so. He told me earlier about the debates you’d had. We both thought you’d be a valuable addition to the Movement.”

Celia: She swells at the words. He’d talked to his sire about her. They think she’s valuable.

Thought, though. Past tense. She swallows.

“I’d like to be,” she says slowly, “only now I worry that my presence would be a detriment to his experience. I’ve no wish to push into somewhere I’m unwelcome.”

GM: “People need space after breakups,” says Coco. “Licks, too. Emotions are too raw for them to see each other. They need time to process things on their own.”

“Give it a while. After that, you’re welcome to come to a rant if you’re still interested.”

Celia: Breakup. She supposes his fists had told her the truth of it, then. There’s no reason to cling to this idea of unlife together. Is that her dead heart breaking?

You did it to yourself. The past will always catch up with her. She’d thought to leave Coco with something like he knows where to find me, but the words stick in her throat. She won’t pine after him, even if losing him hurts more than the broken bones of her face.

“Yes, Primogen Duquette. I understand. Thank you.” The words ring hollow even to her own ears.

GM: “Eternity’s a long time, greenfang. I wouldn’t rule anything out,” says Coco. “Especially if your two’s collar hasn’t snapped.”

“If I were you, to offer some unsolicited advice, I’d use the time to reflect on yourself and your actions, how you’re likely to act in the future, and what outcomes those actions are likely to lead to, over simply hoping he’ll take you back.”

Celia: “I wouldn’t know if his has.” Another statement that seeks an answer if the way her eyes search the primogen’s face is any indication. She inclines her head at the advice with another murmured word of thanks. Perhaps throwing herself at the next lick she sees to rebound can wait.

GM: “I think you should focus on yourself rather than him right now. Following an ex’s life, or unlife, doesn’t lead anywhere good after this soon.”

Celia: “Of course. I will, ah, live my own life, as it were. He knows where to find me if…” She trails off.

GM: “Unlife. And he does.”

Celia: Unlife. Right. They’re all dead. Monsters. Neither Coco nor Roderick seem as bad as her though. Even angry he’d still saw to it that she was taken care of.

Celia doesn’t think she has anything more to say on the matter. She’d lost her lover and her chance to join the movement in one swift bout of honesty. She’d told him once that she would drag him down, and she’d went ahead and proved it to them both. Roderick knows where to find her, but she doesn’t think that he’ll ever go out of his way to do so. Why would he?

Perhaps it’s a good thing she didn’t portion off a slice of soul to the sheriff for a hall pass for one night. A good thing she didn’t say why wait to his prospect of marriage, counter-propose with that final step that would keep them tied together. She can cancel the party for October. Maybe a “we passed the bar” crawl is a stupid idea anyway.

Another on the long list of stupid ideas.

Better this way. Better for him. She’d done the rightest thing she knew how to do. It wasn’t enough, but it’s what she had.

It still hurts.

She bids the primogen good evening and takes her leave.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Amelie III, Caroline VIII
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Previous, by Character: Story Eleven, Celia VI
Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Celia VIII

Story Eleven, Amelie III, Caroline VIII

“The Embrace can be a funny thing. It destroys the lives of some people, but for others, it can be their only opportunity to lead a meaningful life.”
Coco Duquette

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, AM

GM: Bliss burns Amelie’s lips.

Pain burns everywhere else.

Waking to pain. It’s become almost rote.

Once more, the red haze descends.

Once more, fire burns from within and soothes from without.

Once more, she screams. For relief. For more.

Once more, the red haze clears. Once more, the bliss withdraws—but its loss stings all the more now, like a dagger embedded in her chest.

Amelie’s in what looks like a ratty upstairs management office. There’s a desk with papers, a computer, and assorted clutter. A few chairs, a leather couch, and more assorted clutter round out the dingy walls. A dartboard hangs from one of them. Music dimly sounds from under the floor.

A fair-skinned, high-cheekboned woman with clear blue eyes and shoulder-length, straight blonde hair stares down at Amelie. She’s dressed in a dark leather jacket, black turtleneck and blue jeans, and pulling away a bleeding wrist that the newly-sired vampire’s eyes follow like a magnet after metal.

“Rise and shine, fledgling. Greet the night.”

Caroline: “I’d hoped to deliver her in better condition, but she made her own bed in that way, Coco, when she offered herself up. It was brave though,” Caroline is saying. She’s stripped off the weapons Amelie last saw her wearing.

GM: “There’s worse sins for a hellene to be guilty of than brave,” the blonde woman answers. Her eyes briefly drift from Amelie’s. “Though few virtues higher than pairing that with brains too.”

Amelie: The first thoughts that form behind Amelie’s rabid thirst are simple. She wonders if she’ll ever wake in anything but agony.

That small clarity gets filed away in a second when her eyes catch up with her nose and she sees the scene around her. When she sees the red she needs inside of her.

She slowly and painfully feels out her limbs to start crawling. She cranes her neck out towards that wrist, trying for just a little more. She can’t find the strength to do anything but listen as Caroline and the stranger speak. She slowly drags her broken body towards something, anything, that will stop the pain.

Caroline: Caroline has provided handcuffs once more for the awakened fledgling.

GM: They arrest her movement.

Amelie: Amelie is left simply trying to coil her body like a worm, trying any bit of movement forward.

“It hurts,” are her first words. The tone is more to herself than an elicitation of pity.

Caroline: “Yes, I imagine it does,” Caroline answers.

Amelie: Caroline’s words elicit a dark chuckle from Amelie. Of course it’d hurt. But her body doesn’t stop moving.

GM: The other woman lets another trickle of blood flow from her wrist.

More bliss.

But all-too brief.

Amelie: Amelie snaps at the trickle, trying to capture as much as she can down her throat. It’s brief. Too brief. But it stops her body, for the moment. The frail, hurt, and tied-up woman lies on the floor for a moment, slowly glances around the room, and eventually looks up to Caroline with a broken grin on her face.

“You lived.”

Caroline: “Afraid not, but I’m harder to destroy than that.”

Amelie: There’s another grim laugh that leads to Amelie seething for a moment.

Her eyes slowly turn to the new face, however, and she slowly glances over the young-looking woman’s hair before making eye contact.

“Hello, Miss.”

GM: “Coco Duquette,” the woman fills in.

“You seem lucid enough. Would you like to lose the cuffs?”

Amelie: Amelie gives a small nod in recognition at the name. But losing the cuffs gives her pause. She worries how likely she may be to attack someone like this.

“Yes, please.”

Caroline: Caroline produces a key from a pocket and removes the cuffs.

GM: “Caroline’s told me a few things about you. Sounds as if it’s been a busy night for you both,” Coco remarks. She indicates a vacant chair in front of the desk.

Amelie: Amelie slowly makes her way into the empty chair. She glances down at herself to grimly assess just how badly Nathaniel Blanch hurt her.

“Very much so. Anything Caroline has said I’m sure paints me in a better light than I deserve, all things considered.”

GM: The once-fine clothes donated by Caroline are shredded, bloody rags. The raw, ravaged, and equally red flesh she can make out past those rags looks in little better condition.

“You’ll have a chance to speak on your own behalf soon enough,” Coco replies. “Until then, I’m sure you have more than a few questions. I don’t promise answers will make things any easier, but they may make them more understandable. What’s on your mind?”

Amelie: Amelie still feels muddled from the pain, but it’s nothing she hasn’t pushed through before. Not quite this severe, but still.

“Thank you. Very much. I was told a ‘prince’ would kill me, for breaking rules on my way to Algiers.”

It hurts to ask.

“Are… you this prince?”

GM: Coco looks faintly amused by the question. “Usually, we have to tell the new ones that’s a gender-neutral term. But no. I’m not the prince.”

Amelie: “I did not want to assume. The title of prince existed long before any female equivalent,” she elaborates. “But then, why haven’t I been brought to be ‘disposed of’?”

Caroline: Caroline catches Coco’s eye and gives a slight shake of her head.

“You have a benefit that most who are brought before the prince do not—a primogen. It seemed fitting that she should have a say first.”

Amelie: Amelie rolls the word in her head for a moment. Primogen. “Primogen as in… ‘primogenitor’? Ma’am, are you the one who made me?”

GM: “I’m not,” Coco answers. “But the Kindred ancestor who sired my many-times grandsire was the same one who sired your many-times grandsire. So you could say we belong to the same extended family.”

Caroline: “I’m fairly certain it’s none from your direct line, Coco,” Caroline replies.

GM: “Harsh,” the ‘primogen’ replies, sounding faintly amused.

Amelie: The title makes no sense then, unless it’s simply a way to say ‘first among us.’ “The same… clan, you could say?”

GM: “Yes, in fact. I see Caroline has told you a few things already.”

Amelie: “Her words allowed me to gleam some terms, but I never had the chance to ask directly before we were… found trespassing.”

GM: “Yes, that was one of the rules you accidentally broke,” Coco nods. “You’ll have to meet with the prince, or rather, his representative, to clear things up. I don’t promise that’s going to be much fun, but thanks to Caroline here, it won’t go as badly for you as it would have.”

Caroline: “Regent Blanch said he was satisfied with her payment. The others… she cut across a lot of the city, but I don’t think she made a mess anywhere else, and I took care of the matter in Algiers.”

The matter, meaning the corpses.

“I have my ghoul reaching out to the Krewe about what she reported at the coroner’s office. Thus far, no word.”

GM: Coco looks at Caroline. “So the two of you met Blanch. How is he doing?”

It’s perhaps telling the primogen remarks on him first.

Caroline: “Headhunting,” Caroline replies acidly. “It seems to be in vogue this year.”

Amelie: Amelie looks slightly confused. No small fear rises in her eyes about ‘clearing it up’ with the prince. But Caroline’s words set her at ease. She’s more afraid she hadn’t paid a high enough price.

“Do you think he was the one toying with me earlier that night? If that was his territory.”

GM: “Without knowing how you were toyed with, as you put it, I couldn’t say,” Coco answers Amelie.

Amelie: “I approached a gas station, intent to bribe the teller to give me a spare uniform, and buy a map. But I was missing a dollar bill. She presented it in her hand. And then proceeded to grin and-.”
It takes her a moment. The memory is one drudge up both sorrow and the awful hunger burning in her gut.

“Cut her own throat, Primogen Duquette.”

GM: “I’m sorry you had to witness that, Amelie. And I’m sorrier for her that it happened,” Coco frowns. “Algiers isn’t s a safe place for our kind, Blanch or not.”

“Excuse me for a moment while I’m rude.” She fishes an Solaris out of her jacket pocket, taps it for a few moments, and then tucks the phone back away.

“And it’s just Coco, please.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a crack coming from her spine as she gives a shallow bow to Coco.

“Thank you, Coco. The act, however, did not feel… malicious. If anything, it could have been an alien kindness.”

GM: “That teller might disagree with you,” Coco remarks. “But that’s the thing about alien kindnesses. They tend to have malicious consequences.”

Amelie: Amelie’s face slowly twists into a frown. “Considering what was behind the door of the employee area, it might just have been a freeing mercy. I mourn her either way.”

GM: Coco waits for Amelie to go on.

Amelie: Amelie shakes her head. “I opened the door, to the spell of decomposition so strong it made my pursuers vomit. Then there was an almost inhuman howling. I blacked out. I came to outside. I assume my pursuers had enough guns to win the fight, but I never saw the aftermath. Just that… the howl grabbed something inside of me and forced fear into it.”

GM: Coco frowns again. “Your pursuers? If there were other witnesses, this could be a breach of the Masquerade. Where was this, and how long ago?”

Caroline interjects and explains more of the circumstances surrounding that particular sequence of events to. All of the immediate witnesses are dead and the gas station’s security tapes were destroyed.

“Blanch’s problem now, then,” Coco states. “But let’s be on the safe side. Amelie, why don’t you and Caroline simply tell me all that’s happened since the start of this evening? We’ll have time for more questions when you’re done.”

Amelie: Amelie looks to Caroline for a moment, then starts her story at the morgue. She gives as much detail as she can and doesn’t try to leave anything out on her side of things. But she does keep Caroline’s position in mind, and looks towards her to let her interject where she will or elaborate on events from her side of things. It was, after all, her agent who caused the ‘issues’ once she got to Algiers.

GM: And just like the redhead did, Coco asks for the last things Amelie remembers before waking up in the morgue.

Amelie: She doesn’t hesitate. She tells her about the… whatever it was, the knife fight, and her death.

“Well, me disarming the man who attempted to stab me set them into a rage. I’m not sure what happened exactly, or whether I ‘won,’ if you can call it that. But when I blacked out, I saw a familiar entity from the Delphine LaLaurie House. It taunted my final prayers and laughed at me about dark things. I don’t know if it was real or if I was just… deluded from my mind being broken over and over and over. Then I felt like I was on fire. Red-hot. And when I stepped into the water, I woke on top of the coroner. Like… like I was a weapon finished and quenched.”

GM: Coco frowns again. “What do you mean by that you ‘saw an entity’, Amelie?”

Amelie: Amelie looks down at her lap, then her hands. She slowly and carefully squeezes them as she’s forced to relive the memory.

“It started with laughing. Telling me to come to it. And then I saw the painting again, in the black, as I lost consciousness. I was… I was terrified. I recited the Prayer to Saint Michael, and it prayed with me… to other powers. But I don’t know if it was real. Or if I was losing my mind. The painting was just a cheap 1910-20s American recreation rich girls brought into the house before I got there, to drug and haze me with it. They even texted it to me. I was terrified. And that’s the night I slept for six months. The voices didn’t even match up. The voice that dashed me against the rocks was a different voice.”

GM: Coco considers that thoughtfully. Her frown doesn’t abate. “An accident at the LaLaurie House was in the news around half a year back. Why don’t you start at the beginning there too, Amelie?”

Amelie: Amelie’s own frown deepens. The end of her life in another sense.

“I was a student at McGehee. My New Orleans history class had us do a project on ghosts. I moved to this country so so excited. I got partnered up with Yvette Devillers. I was so excited and managed to convince Sarah Whitney to talk to her grandfather. To let us into the house. But… before that.”

“I got… approached when I was with Father Malveaux at St. Louis Cathedral to have my first confession in a year. A ghost slipped me a business card for Tantsy’s occult shop. When I came there, she was… insane. She told me I would die before I turned 30. And to warn me against visiting the LaLaurie Mansion, she stabbed my hand through. She was so strong. And near the end something screamed through her. In perfect French. Not to go.”

“But Yvette said she’d go whether I came or not. I felt so guilty. That they could be hurt because of me pushing for this. So I went to try to protect them. But it was a hazing. They convinced the girls I thought were my friends to stay silent about it. We would all spend the night together, I thought numbers might help. But they drugged my drink with LSD. I never drank it and only found out later. One of the girls, a real friend, told me I was in danger.”

“So I ran. Something pushed me down the stairs. I received a private text of the painting we had all found. I kept running. I cleared the fence and… something grabbed me. It told me to fly. And then it pulled me down and dashed my skull against the courtyard.”

Amelie looks on the verge of tears trying to get through it all. She digs her nails into her thighs.

“I don’t know what happened after that. But I woke up THERE. In the underworld. The dead reflection of ours, the city of Dis. When I finally escaped, somehow, the girl who saved me killed herself because of me. A detective shot Yvonne and Sarah and they blamed it all on me. The drugs. Damage to the house I treasured. They never let me defend myself and just kept me stewing in my own shit until I lost all sense of time! They took my mother from me! She sacrificed her soul, screaming, so I could have a weapon to fight back, and they took her away again!”

Amelie cannot tell if her body still has tears, but she doubles over stifling her sobbing through gritted teeth. She claws weakly at her legs.

“And then they put me in OPP. In the male ward. Told me to hang myself before anyone found out.”

Caroline: Caroline listens to the tale for the second and in some areas third time. She is vague concerning how Amelie fell into her hands in Algiers. One of her ghouls was attached to the street gang. After their brawl with Amelie, he had the sense and loyalty to call her, but not enough to remember his place.

GM: Amelie finds that she can very much still cry.

Her ‘tears’ are red and coppery-smelling.

Caroline: Caroline wants to chide Amelie for the tears as her fangs elongate in her mouth. She bites her tongue. She cried once too.

Amelie: The tears don’t last long. Amelie’s digs her fingers harder into her thighs, to the point it might seem masochistic. She chokes back her sobs, like she has more times than she can count. She pulls herself together with a sharp breath and wipes her face with the rag on her shoulder.

“Forgive me. I shouldn’t be wasting your time. Can I elaborate on anything more?”

GM: Coco is silent too through the fledgling’s tears.

“I think you’ve explained enough, Amelie,” she finally replies.

“It sounds like you’ve had a rough time of things since before your Embrace.”

Amelie: Amelie cannot think of many statement in reply that does not sound like whining.

“I only wish to return to study and artisanship.”

GM: “Perhaps you can. I can’t make any promises for what the prince’s, and others’, decisions regarding your fate are going to be. But the Embrace can be a funny thing,” Coco says contemplatively.
“It destroys the lives of some people, but for others, it can be their only opportunity to lead a meaningful life.”

“Frankly, you sound like an oddball. Literally. There’s Kindred older than you who use younger-sounding language, and it doesn’t sound as if you were popular with your living peers either. But our kind have Embraced our share of oddballs who weren’t able to truly live until they died.”

Amelie: Amelie can’t deny it, though the words sting. She curbs the talk back.

“I was raised spending all my free time and summers in a re-enactment village. As the blacksmith, mostly,” she explains. “This just doesn’t feel like a situation I should be talking like a twenty-something Canadian. Today I met ‘one of our kind’ from when the year was triple digits. Being so formal just seems… safer.”

GM: “You misunderstand me. I’m saying that being strange among the living may not be such a handicap now that you’re dead,” Coco clarifies.

Amelie: “I’ll admit, there’s a really dumb part in the back of my head that’s excited. If Nathaniel of Blanch was named by the Muslim prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law like he claimed, I have to wonder how old this ‘prince’ is. Or others are. And how appropriate gifting them my best estimations of crafts from their time would pan out.”

GM: “Did he claim that, now?”

Amelie: “‘Uthman names me Nathaniel of Blanch’ were his exact words.”

GM: Coco looks off to her side. “Well, Caroline, you know what the rules are, and what’s going to happen next. And perhaps a few guesses how it’s going happen differently. Is there anything you can think Amelie would appreciate hearing?”

Caroline: “Leap to fewer conclusions,” Caroline offers bluntly. “Think before you speak, and remain mindful of how silence often says more of value. Expect no understanding or sympathy beyond this room. Show no fear.” She looks at Coco. “Will an Anarch or Brujah claim her? I understand that’s the requirement.”

GM: “We three can hope, because I can’t,” the primogen answers.

Caroline: “Nor can I, and the matter is more complicated still: she has enemies I didn’t among our kind already.”

Amelie: Amelie looks to the both of them, brow furrowing. “Enemies?”

Caroline: “The Whitneys and the Devillers are both pieces on someone’s board,” Caroline clarifies.

Amelie: Amelie slowly frowns, unsure of how she feels at that statement. “I’m disappointed to hear the events that unfolded make me someone’s enemy. Do either of you think that could be reconciled?”

GM: “Depends,” Coco answers. “On what you think your enemies want, and how you’d want to reconcile with them.”

Amelie: “I cannot be sure. I told you of the events from my side, I do not have the details of any personal insult or monetary loss suffered. Or know to what extent they consider what happened to be on my shoulders. But I would want to prostrate myself, and offer any and all of my skills to them for forgiveness. It’s currently all I have.”

Caroline: Caroline eyes the wounds left on Amelie by her brush with the elder.

“Be careful when you offer all that you have,” she warns. “You may find yourself with nothing left. Slavery may be rare in the kine world, but you can easily sell yourself thusly within this one.”

Amelie: Amelie cannot help but disagree with Caroline. Slavery is all too common. But that’s not the conversation piece.

“I appreciate the advice. Unfortunately I find myself with not much to offer than my expertise, however much I don’t believe I owe them anything. Despite the imagined slight, I’ve more than paid for being the victim of cruel spoiled people with too much money occupying their time with torture. All the way up to with my life. But should I be allowed to exist, I do wish to do so with as few enemies as possible.”

“So I will find a way to make an enemy forget me. Or an enemy a friend.”

GM: A knock sounds on the door.

“Come in,” Coco calls.

It’s answered by an attractive, curly-haired blonde woman who looks around Caroline’s and Coco’s ages. She’s simply dressed in jeans and a hoodie.

“Congo says tonight’s a no-go, but his boss can see the fledgling tomorrow. He’s willing to leave her in your care until then.”

“Fortunate for her. And the Krewe?” Coco asks.

“They scrubbed the scene at the morgue before any of our people could get there. They’re ticked. I think they thought the Masquerade was going to get better here after the walk-out.”

“They sending Mr. Hush after anyone?” Coco asks.

“They’re still looking for suspects. I told them I’d check with you.”

“We’ll tell them the truth, since they were kind enough to clean things up. It’s an orphaned fledgling who’s getting brought before the seneschal tomorrow.” Coco considers the other woman. “No loose ends?”

“A big one, actually. They can’t find the coroner.”

“Really? Where have they looked?” Coco asks.

“The Krewe and NOPD both checked his home and nearby hospitals. He wasn’t there.”

“They have a name for him?”

Jennifer nods. “Amos Wilkinson.”

“That is unfortunate,” Coco replies.

Coco looks towards Amelie. “You’ve killed at least one person, Amelie. You may not have known any better or been able to control yourself, but there are several ways I’m footing the bill for this mess. You can help with the cleanup, and perhaps receive a lesser sentence from the prince, by tracking down the coroner who got away. That’s very strange he isn’t dead, from how you described things.”

She thinks for a moment. “We can’t have you wandering around the city unsupervised, though.”

Coco looks towards Caroline. “You can consider part of your debt repaid for bringing Amelie to me. Take care of her until the seneschal can see her, and I’ll consider what’s left paid off, as well as throw in something else.”

Amelie: Two small memories come to mind as Amelie listens to everything. Small flits. The shattering of glass, and the smell on the lawn as she hit the ground. His name hits her in the chest, however. Amos Wilkinson.

“I want to help. I went through his wallet while preparing to escape, and took money. I found a picture of a woman in a hijab. I could check local mosques. It’s also hazy because I was moving so fast, but when I came through the yard, a smell I now know to be blood was on glass bits in the grass. He may have jumped out the window to escape, in his panic.”

Caroline becoming her temporary handler worries her, however. She doesn’t want to impose any more on the heiress, who may be tiring of her already.

“If I just get my bearings of the scene with a satellite map on a phone, I can start immediately, Coco. He was bleeding heavily down to his boots. I’ll track him like a bloodhound if I must. And please, Caroline, I beg your patience just a little while longer.”

GM: “That could be worth checking out. The city certainly doesn’t have many mosques,” Coco muses. “I don’t have a spare phone lying around here that isn’t a dumbphone, so you’ll have to lean on Caroline. Or whoever else I can find to mind you on short notice.”

Caroline: Caroline eyes Amelie’s savaged form. “She’s not in any condition to be traveling the city tonight. She’s a walking Masquerade risk.”

GM: “She’ll need new clothes, among other things.” Coco shrugs. “It’s your call, Amelie. Subject to your babysitter’s approval, whether that’s Caroline or someone else. We follow the prince’s laws in Mid-City, but past that, we don’t tell anyone what to do.”

Amelie: Amelie shifts painfully to sit up straighter in her chair.

“Thank you for your efforts in letting me keep my new life, Coco. I’ll do my best to pay you back, if this seneschal deigns the same.”

Caroline: “Requiem,” Caroline corrects passingly. “You’re dead. You have no life.”

She turns to the elder Brujah. “I’ll see to her, Coco. Thank you, as always, for your time.”

GM: “You’re both welcome,” Coco answers. “You have Jen’s number if anything comes up.”

Amelie: Amelie gives a small bow before readying herself to leave. “I look forward to working with you. Especially towards finding the one who created me. I hope your night ends better than I’ve made it.”

GM: Coco waves a hand dismissively. “Don’t bow. Not to me, anyway.”

Amelie: “I’m sorry. With the title ‘primogen,’ I didn’t want to show any less respect than it means you deserve.”

GM: “That’ll serve you better outside Mid-City. Here, at least, all are equal.”

“Oh, one last thing,” Coco remarks as her ghoul shows the two Kindred to the door. “Some free advice. Be careful who you bring up Nathaniel Blanch’s name around.”

She looks at Amelie. “You are either very foolish, trusting, or both to have told the story you just did to two licks you’ve only just met.”

“You’ll find that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing in this existence.”

Caroline: Caroline says nothing of this, but a knowing look resides in her eye.

Amelie: Coc’s advice lights a small coal of fear in Amelie’s heart for just a moment. She wonders how much of the knowledge she’s gained since that blade went through her hand could be a danger to her.

“Thank you, Coco. I’ll make sure I take that to heart. Goodnight.”

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, AM

Amelie: Amelie gets the hint pretty quickly when she changes that Caroline is letting her take the reins on this. She doesn’t fully understand who these ‘employees’ are, the ones who smell like more than human and less than her kind, but she resolves to make full use of them. There’s no sense holding onto the pettiness they started the night with. She pulls out a second t-shirt, puts her head through the neck the opposite way, and stuffs it into a new long-sleeve sweater she adjusts until she has a deep hood. She pairs it with a bandanna or rag that covers her face under the nose before she’s satisfied she’s covered enough.

She briefs the ‘employees’ on her idea before she gets into the car. She asks the younger ones to get their phones out and look for the name Amos Wilkinson on social media. Whether he’s tagged in a Facemash picture or has a profile on LinkedIn, she wants to know where he frequents and what car he drives.

Since Caroline has forbidden splitting up, she says they’ll start with the morgue. They can park a block or two away and send a scout to check the lot if they find Amos Wilkinson’s car online. She also recommends quickly flicking through the social media of the nearest two mosques for his face or any posts about him being missing. The community might be tight with so few sites of worship. That’s also why she asks the oldest of the ‘employees’ to call the two mosques instead and see if anyone answers. If someone does, they should just apologize that it’s the wrong number and hang up.

She takes the new phone Caroline gave her and finds the morgue on Google Maps, shuddering at how close she was to that damned stadium and OPP. She hates it. But while she’s at it, she double-checks the date and time, then finally joins the social media hunt and coordinates with Caroline and her ‘employees’ to find as much as they possibly can on this man.

GM: Caroline’s ‘employees’ consist of the five that Amelie met in Algiers, plus a sultry-looking woman who rendezvouses with the pair bearing the requested phone and clothing items. The former is a Solaris instead of the model she picked up on that long-ago outing with Kristina to MyPhoneMD. The latter’s comment about the phones exploding in Amelie’s pants seems like a lifetime ago.

The redhead, whose name Amelie picks up as Autumn, has the perhaps annoying habit of clearing her ‘requests’ through Caroline. Still, she’s a thorough investigator who seems like she’s done this sort of thing before, and quickly gets results with help from Amelie and the others while the cars drive.

Amos Wilkinson is the chief coroner of Orleans Parish. He’s an elected first-term official and the first African-American to hold the office as well: he’s got his own profile under ‘Meet the Coroner’ that ends with:

As Coroner, Dr. Wilkinson will bring competency, honesty, and transparency to the Office. He will work with local, state and federal agencies to secure the proper funding necessary to bring the Coroner’s Office into the 21st century.

Dr. Wilkinson makes one promise to the citizens of New Orleans–each death will be thoroughly and professionally investigated, and an accurate determination of each case will be properly and truthfully classified.

The profile and a LinkedIn page mentions that he is an assistant professor at Tulane Medical School, specifically of pathology and psychiatry. He runs, or at least ‘owns’ several homeless shelters in the city, and is most involved with one called Covenant House.

Dr. Wilkinson’s Facemash page has the neat and sanitized look of someone who expects their profile to be perused (and scrutinized) by professional contacts and the public at large. Everything on there is at once personable and non-personal. There are staff photos from his job at the coroner’s office; teaching a class of young med students at Tulane Medical School; shaking hands with the school’s President Gremillion; shaking hands with NOPD’s Commander Delron Mouton; delivering a speech to a graduating class of high school students (who Amelie will now likely never number among); building a children’s playground; handing out presents at a homeless shelter that looks decorated for Christmas; and a variety of other non-offensive, non-political, non-everything pictures that he’s no doubt fine to have floating around on the internet.

Little is posted that hints at a personal life or interests outside of his career. In fact, there’s conspicuously little. No living relatives are mentioned on any his social media pages, “Meet the Coroner” biography, or anywhere else on Google. The only hint of his religious views are some photos at St. Augustine Church… and none at any of the city’s three mosques. Autumn digs through that church’s online presence, and turns up articles, photos, and Facemash comments that indicate Dr. Wilkinson is a regular and devout congregant at the historic Christian church.

Autumn queries Amelie repeatedly about the photo of the hijab-wearing woman she found in Dr. Wilkinson’s wallet. She is completely absent from the man’s online presence. His Facemash profile does not state that he is married or in a relationship. For that matter, there don’t seem to be photos of any significant others connected to Dr. Wilkinson. Or parents, siblings, or other family. The man’s online presence seems to be strictly professional.

“Maybe they’re in a relationship and he’s keeping it on the down and low,” Autumn speculates.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t find the constant checking with Caroline grating. After all, she answers to the woman today as well. She does, however, assert herself strongly that the person in the picture was wearing a hijab.

GM: Dr. Wilkinson does have family, though. It takes longer for Autumn to turn up, but it’s a credit—an excellent credit, in fact—to how fast she digs up that ‘Wilkinson’ isn’t his surname of birth. It’s Dufrene, which he’s had legally changed to his middle name. And there are three other Dufrenes out there.

His mother Ayido, also known by the name ‘Mama Wedo’ is a Vodoun mambo. She has an extensive criminal record and spent a stint in the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, where she gave birth to Amos from behind bars. He spent some period of his infancy in prison for his mother’s crimes before she was paroled and seemed to find religion—but not the one most inmates usually do.

Amelie: “That would make sense. The USA has yet to vote anyone who isn’t God-fearing into office, and New Orleans is a very very Catholic city. It seems he’s hiding a lot, however. I say we cancel the mosque trips, he’s more likely to detour to places he feel are in his control. Maybe this Covenant House. Or his mother’s house, this Mama Wedo. Though we should be very very careful with her. Or maybe if he’s earnestly a god-fearing man, this church. I did rise from the dead right in front of him. Those people you called on already said he’s not been spotted at his home or any hospitals, so I doubt he’s gone back to his office at Tulane. Thoughts?”

GM: Autumn gives Amelie a bland look, then (after some searching) pulls up a page that says St. Augustine closes at 6:30.

“What decade are you from? Churches aren’t open in the middle of the night anymore,” she scoffs.

Amelie: “A scared enough man might claw his way in if he felt it was his only sanctuary. But you’re right, that it’s a less likely possibility.”

GM: “And a regular congregant like him probably knows when his church closes.”

There’s only so much of Amos’ childhood that’s possible to find out online. Still, Autumn turns up that while Ayido never went back to prison, she has been arrested a number of times and spent multiple stints in Orleans Parish Prison. She’s been interviewed by a few fringe journalists with ties to the Nation of Islam and other far-left political groups. Autumn also turns up her name on a few extremely dated-looking (archived) GeoCities pages. Unlike Marie Laveau, Wedo did not consider herself a Christian and made several inflammatory statements that accused the religion of being complicit in slavery. Wedo and her followers (she was evidently fairly popular) clashed with NOPD and local law enforcement, repeatedly. And terminally.

Dr. Wilkinson’s mother was all over the news not too long after Amelie’s coma when a so-called “voodoo cult” was busted for kidnapping several young white children and occupying the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Refuge to conduct their rites. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up the mob and save the kids, but Wedo was killed while resisting arrest. Many of her followers have been sent to Louisiana State Penitentiary under a host of charges from drug possession to resisting arrest to trespassing on land owned by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

They will have possibly familiar company, too. Dr. Wilkinson’s brothers and Ayido’s other two sons. Corey “Da Chief” Expose and Ronald “Ryulo” Expose were leaders of the Cut-Throat-City Snake Gang, a major drug ring in CTC (i.e., Cross the Canal, aka Cut-Throat-City) in the lower Ninth Ward. The brothers and seven of their crew are serving time in Angola for racketeering and drug dealing.

“Guess that rules out the mom,” Autumn says.

She waits expectantly to hear from Amelie or (more likely to her preference) Caroline what to do next. The group’s two cars are by now parked in the CBD, and it is around 5 AM. Amelie doesn’t feel in the least bit tired, although a few of the ‘employees’ look like they are.

Amelie: Amelie pieces it together in her head as fast as she can. It’s as if there’s nothing connecting him to the outside world, just things connecting themselves to him. Mother says the religion he holds in public is bullshit, but he doesn’t seem to have many connections to her. His family is either dead or in prison. It’s possible that he launders money through whatever might still exist of either group, but Amelie doesn’t see him intending to keep a group of fanatics together like his mother did. That picture, his mother’s interview with the Nation of Islam, it’d destroy a man who claims to be God-fearing in a city and country like this. But he’s not been seen at any hospitals or police stations, and it seems unlikely that a man scared enough to jump through a window to escape her would be able to sneak into his own office in a crowded building like Tulane Medical Center.

“This is a hard call. Seeing the dead rise, if he truly is a Muslim or follows his mother’s teachings, would be a horrifying thing. But Mama Wedo is dead… maybe he ran to Mama Rosa? They could have a connection. Or to remnants of his brother’s street gang. But our best bet I think is this Covenant House place. He spends a lot of time there, owns the building, might have ways in that others don’t. I bet he has an office there. My vote is to start there. Maps says it isn’t far. Unless someone has any other ideas.”

GM: “Aaaaand… who is ‘Mama Rosa’ and what does she have to do with this guy?” Autumn asks expectantly.

Amelie: “Mama Rosa is another famous mambo in the city. No doubt his mother was at least acquainted with her. If he is just playing at being a Christian, and followed his mother’s teachings, it’s possible he was too. But like I said. Covenant House.”

GM: “So because she’s a Vodouisant, and because Wilkinson’s mom was a Vodouisant… he’s therefor a secret Vodouisant and ran to Rosa, out of every possible mambo or houngan he could’ve run to in the city, assuming that’s even what happened? That’s a pretty stupid conclusion,” Autumn remarks.

Amelie:“And there you go assuming that’s what I was saying. So far we have a man who goes to church regularly, with a picture of a Muslim woman in his wallet, raised by a Vodouisant mambo. Who just so happens to know how to sanitize his public life. Who happens to be a powerful saintly public figure, who has two brothers in prison whose aforementioned shared mother kidnapped people for religious reasons. If he has a route to hide that we can’t see, it’s important we consider every angle. He’s scared, maybe beyond reason. Or something else has happened, seeing as how he ’shouldn’t be alive.’ But if you so happen to have a rolodex of mambos and houngans just in case, you’re welcome to pull it out. Because I ‘totally’ know the social connections of all the Voudon people of New Orleans. I’m not content to waste time however, so we’re going to that homeless shelter a short drive away.”

GM: “So because you only have one name off the rolodex, Wilkinson has to be connected to that one name? And it’s ‘Vodouisant people’, not ‘Vodoun people.’ You sound like you’re pretty ignorant of the religion.”

The blonde ghoul, meanwhile, is already driving after Caroline gives the go-ahead.

Amelie: Amelie slowly turns and glares at Autumn.

“Vodouists, actually. Vodouisant is a French twist often accepted in New Orleans, but not in Haiti and not in Creole, where the term is ‘Sévité’,” she corrects, looking back away from Autumn.

“We don’t have long before daylight, excuse me if I take less care on terms while thinking on a man-hunt that involves keeping ‘Kindred’ secrets. I recommend you stay on task. We can chat all about American Folkway Voodoo in Louisiana when we finish said task.”

GM: “Uh, you do realize we’re not in Haiti, right? Or speaking Creole?” Autumn scoffs. “And that since we’re not the ones driving, we don’t even have a task to stay on?”

Caroline: Caroline could slap the plucky fledgling when she starts chiding Autumn for ‘staying on task’ after getting called out for leaping to conclusions, but refrains. She can clearly see why others viewed her so poorly.

Instead her clear voice cuts through the slap fight. “Enough.”

GM: Green eyes the two as she drives.

Amelie: Amelie has already said her peace. Autumn is probably just enjoying being above someone for once in her miserable existence. Presenting confounding variables and casual relationships out loud to a group study, or in this case investigation, isn’t laying assumptions down and expecting the investigators to follow them either. It’s to get those involved to think. They have a task to stay on, and it’s digging into this man’s past and extrapolating his future.

Amelie simply looks ahead after Caroline silences Autumn. The drive to this place isn’t going to take long.

Caroline: The heiress says nothing further. Her face is a mask, save one thing: Caroline looks tired.

GM: Autumn remains quiet after her domitor’s order. The four drive through crumbling and run-down surroundings that could be at home in any inner city. A hollow-eyed streetwalker stares after the car, but Green simply drives past her and another shuffling, still-awake man in a filthy overcoat who mutters indistinctly to himself. Rampart Street is the gutter that Bourbon Street’s sleaze runs off into. The Quarter doesn’t bother trying to be charming around here anymore, not so close to Tremé.

Covenant House is a relatively nicer-looking brick building with palm trees in the courtyard. Its logo is a dove from someone’s palm. The shelter’s website said it is open 24 hours, although a number of the building’s lights look turned off. The current hour is just late enough that some people might be starting to get up, if at an excruciatingly early hour. The plaque by the front entrance reads,

Covenant House
611 N. Rampart Street
A crisis care center
for runaway and homeless
youth under twenty-one

The sound of gunshots and shattering glass abruptly rings through the night. Glass flies over Amelie’s lap as her window explodes. There’s a sharp sound of impact as the bullet punctures her seat’s leather headrest.

Autumn all but rips off her seatbelt as she dives for cover on the floor.

“We’re getting the fuck out!” Green snaps, spinning the wheel in her hands.

Amelie: Amelie feels the sharp THIP of the bullet hitting next to her head before she hears the shattering glass. Every instinct in her body screams the shooter’s direction based on the impact. It screams to climb through that window and rip their throat out. But other instincts wrestle it to the ground like an angry snake. She needs to think and be calm. Amelie folds her small body down to get her head in between her knees, snaps her arm to Autumn’s door and pulls herself over the human as cover in case another bullet comes flying in. Her teeth grit as she waits for Green to floor it out of here. They might have been right on the money so far as finding the good doctor, unfortunately.

GM: “Get off of her, you’re one stiff wind away from being ash yourself,” Caroline snaps as the car drives, Fuller’s and Widney’s vehicle close behind.

Amelie: “It’s instinct, shut it!” she snaps back. Her mouth runs on it’s own in that while her mind strains and bends, trying to make out the scent, the peripheral memory of the shooter. She has to have seen something before the sudden gunshots.

GM:Lie flat beside Autumn,” Caroline commands, her voice iron.

One moment, Amelie is on top of Autumn. Now she’s next to her on the floor. The obedience simply comes, without thought, without even awareness.

For that moment, her body is not hers. Her perceptions are not hers.

They’re Caroline’s.

Amelie: It’s… sickening. Aggravating. Another intrusion and violation. Another reason to get angry. But it’s also another terrifying card dealt on the field. Like a blackout when she rips something’s throat out, but more like when she was ordered as though it was that command from the house and her cholo thugs. It’s different. Confusing. And that just makes her angrier on the inside. She files it away to look into later. But she bites her tongue for now, waiting for Green to stop the damned car.

GM: The car stops some minutes later at an underground parking garage in the CBD, if the surrounding skyscrapers are any indication. The other car parks adjacent to theirs. Fuller and the others get out. Caroline asks if they identified the shooters. Fuller shakes his head.

“Could hit them back. What’s our objective, ma’am?” he asks.

Caroline glances at Amelie. “Keeping her alive, first. Or at least something passably close to it.”

“So we let some asshole take shots and send us running?” Green asks. Not quite grousing. More expectant.

Caroline merely offers a cold smile.

“The three of us go back,” she says, her gaze sweeping across Fuller and Curtis. “Capture and interrogate. The rest of you stay behind with Amelie and out of harm’s way.”

Amelie: Amelie drags herself out of the car looking more than a little antsy, but the plan is sound despite the possibility of having been tailed.

Instead of arguing or amending the blonde woman’s idea, she takes out the phone and opens the NOPD twitter, seeing if she can find any mention of shots fired or any activity in the area they’d just fled.

GM: She sees no such mention at present, despite the feed’s otherwise relatively up to date nature.

Meanwhile, the assorted ‘employees’ indicate their assent as Caroline and her chosen two file into the car that doesn’t have a shattered window.

“Widney, get that fixed,” she adds in afterthought as Curtis gets her door.

Amelie: Amelie puts the phone away a moment and looks over the remainder. She wants to set up with the assumption that they were followed, but just resolves to watch if they do that anyway. Instead, she looks both vehicles over, to see how many times they were fired on.

GM: Amelie sees no bullet holes on the car that Caroline and her two servants get into. Someone starts the engine. It drives out of the garage, back toward Covenant House.

The only signs of damage to the second car is the shattered window, punctured headrest, and shattered glass over the floor.

Widney, meanwhile, pulls out a phone and starts making arrangements to get the car repaired.

“Guess we should stash her in an apartment until tonight,” Autumn says to Green. “Dawn’s not too far off.”

“Works for me,” the taller woman shrugs. “Come on, baby vampire, let’s get you to bed.”

Amelie: One shot. It bothers her that it’s just one shot.

“I wouldn’t mind that. First, do you mind if I see one of your handguns? I just need one of the cartridges.”

GM: “For what?” Autumn asks dubiously.

Amelie: “One shot in the headrest next to my skull. Not at a driver to disable the car and no follow-up spray at this or any of the other cars. I want to see if it matches a handgun.”

Amelie leans into the car and pulls the headrest out of the seat carefully, standing in the lot looking the hole over. Maybe the window slowed the bullet enough that it stuck in the head rest.

GM: Green doesn’t hand over her gun, but looks down at the headrest.

“Yeah, probably a handgun. Impact’s too small for something with more stopping power.”

“You should learn how to shoot,” she remarks to Autumn. “Useful shit to know about in your line of work.”

Amelie: Amelie checks if it went all the way through.

GM: The bullet does not appear to have gone completely through.

“Eh, I’ll cop there,” Autumn admits. “Just always other stuff to do.”

“Offer’s open. It’s a nice stress reliever,” says Green. “I like to pretend the target’s my ex’s face.”

Amelie: Amelie slowly pushes her pinky into the hole, just to see the direction it’s going. She assumes the person was just in an alleyway or something, but wonders what angle the bullet entered.

GM: The bullet’s angle literally feels like it came from approximately the same height as Amelie, and from a right (to the shooter) rather than directly straight trajectory.

“That’s pretty cold after he’s dead,” Autumn says.

“Bin Laden didn’t become a saint ’cause he died,” Green shrugs.

There’s a beep from Widney’s phone.

“Arrangements have been made. Let’s get her away before someone comes by here,” the prim-looking woman states.

“All right, baby bloodsucker, time to go,” Green says.

Amelie: “Lined up with the window, didn’t shoot from above,” she mutters. Mostly to herself.

After sussing that out, she digs her finger in deeper to drag the slug out. With that done, she tosses the head rest into the car and sits where Green offers her, ready to go.

GM: There is nowhere to sit, as Caroline’s three employees walk with Amelie towards an elevator. They get in and go up a number of floors.

“No souvenirs,” Autumn states as she moves to pull the bullet from Amelie’s hand.

Amelie: Amelie idly slaps her hand away, giving Autumn a warning look. She’s going too far.

“Don’t touch me. That’s the line. You can have it when I’m done looking it over.”

GM: Amelie looks down, then looks up. The bullet is in Autumn’s hands.

The redhead rolls her eyes and looks at the elevator door.

Amelie: Amelie grits her teeth to the point there is audible cracking coming from the jaw bone. Fine. Autumn. That’s her name. Amelie will remember it.

She flattens her hand and starts to practice again to take her mind off the insult, trying not to lose control in the fucking elevator of all places. Her arm lays at her side, rigid, the vampire vibrating it as fast as she can over and over and over, trying to get the right frequency. Like swinging a hammer. Just keep repeating it to forget the people you wish would die.

GM: The elevator dings and the group finally exits into a nice-looking apartment hallway. Two men are carrying large black plastic boxes as they leave the units. Both gawk at Amelie and say some variation of, “The fuck…” Their faces go slack as Autumn and Widney look at each and say, “You didn’t see us.” The men leave without further glance or comment.

They show Amelie into an apartment. It has a comfortable-looking bed, furniture, television set, laptop, and similar amenities. She won’t be basking in luxury, but it all looks nice enough.

The unsmiling, bun-haired woman holds out a hand in front of Amelie.


Amelie: Amelie just hands it over, hoping they fucking leave.

GM: The woman tucks it away.

“Don’t leave the unit,” says Green.

She closes the door behind the three as they leave.

Amelie: Amelie waits a moment after they leave and spits on the door, bidding them good riddance.

Stronger blood than a human, weaker than her or Caroline, she has to slap her face around a bit to rid herself of the frustrating horseshit and the stink of failure. They didn’t find the bastard. Someone interfered.

She knows it’s no excuse, however. She sheds the clothes and has a warm shower, letting the blood and rain and mud all drain off of her. She then goes to the mirror. Just to check on where Nathaniel Blanch bit into her.

GM: Amelie’s spittle is red and coppery-smelling as it runs down the door.


A more apt question would be where the creature did not bite her. Almost her entire torso is a ravaged latticework of red-stained gashes, tears, torn sinew, and exposed bone. A near-continual flow of red swirls down the shower drain earlier.

Still she stands.

Her face doesn’t look much better.

Blanch didn’t touch it. He didn’t need to. There’s a hardness to her jaw, a gauntness to her cheeks, and dark shadows and hard lines to her features that weren’t there before. Her short hair looks limp and stringy as it wetly clings to her head.

She looks like she’s aged at least ten years.

Amelie: Amelie pauses for the briefest of moments at the blood red against the back of the door, snorting and just wiping it off with her hand on her way to the bathroom. No reason to take anything out on a maid, and no reason to risk spitting out a tooth along with the blood of being shot in the skull.

The shower takes care of it. It’s a good 45 minutes that she just watches the red all go down the drain however. The first ten minutes are the first time she notices it. Her chin almost refuses to go past a certain point towards her chest. Nothing stops it. Her spine feels fine. But after the first quiet personal moment she has been able to experience of her own free will in a literal half a year finally comes, she hesitates. But she explains it away then. She remembers the blood coming from her eyes in Primogen Coco’s office, brushing it off thinking it was simply from the shot to the face. The blood on the back of the door being chalked up to the same culprit and more. Amelie biting into man after man pinned down to the ground so placidly. The sounds they made. Her mouth dripping.

The young undead feels her head hit against the shower wall, and she keeps it there staring at nothing, thinking over every little thing that has happened right up until this very moment. All the myriad horrors, the abyss placed in front of her while she had no lids to blink and no muscle to look away. And it has swallowed her. There is no faustian deal here, no scream for absolution, no cry to an angel. Just her. Forged into something new. It doesn’t feel real. None of it does. So she needs to see.

Amelie lets everything on her drip and ooze as she makes her way to the mirror, and slowly rubs her eyes, taking a deep and unnecessary breath to brace herself before she opens to it. To the horror. To a slab of gaunt shredded meat. To Amelie Savard’s corpse staring back at her. Everything about the original lays dead in the mirror wide eyed. Thin, bony, weak, and useless. Cut up, ripped up, ripped down, and literally chewed down to the bone by a monster that defies any providence of man and the fires of Prometheus.

A monster stares back.

With a wet thud, her back his the opposite wall and her stare continues. No expression as it traces every slice and every cut and laceration. Pain that has felt ever-present comes in to sharp sharp focus. Teeth here, claw here. Rip there, chunk torn from there. The cool air outside of the shower hitting her bones is the most foreign of them all, and as she realizes the context of the agony it sharpens to a point fine enough to slice through stone. The form trembles in the mirror, and slowly moves forward before it violently lurches, heaving and gagging into the bowl of the sink in disgust as the world spins all over again. It doesn’t break eye contact, and as the jaw clatters together trying to take control of itself, a small ‘tink’ sounds in the bowl, a shattered tooth sitting there as if to illustrate the point of her having fallen apart.

Everything piles on. Ghosts, vampires, monsters, waking up to pain over and over and over, a life story of screaming and crying and no comfort. Ever. It is disallowed by the very nature of her existence. Hammer, cut, thrust, file, hammer, cut, thrust, file. Aching hands have turned into an open chest and she just stares trying to grasp where it all came from and just heaves air into the sink again as more red starts to splatter and plink into the sink. She turns the water on and tries to let it all run down the dark dark drain, only for a moment breaking eye contact.

Looking back up just meets with the monster again.

And so she looks away again. And back. And away. And back. As if she expects that eventually she’ll be told something different until her tiny thin arms slams into the mirror with everything it has and bounces off it’s nothing. And the monster sneers at her for it, as if mocking her newfound weakness.

Neither move from their spot after that. They slowly sneer more and more, until they just snarl at each other, slamming the door shut with their foot as if to exhibit some kind of control over the other’s world as they fight to disassociate from each other. But you can only growl at your reflection for so long. Amelie can only glare at herself for so long before she remembers.

“…wow. A mannish freak like you? Who could ever love someone as ugly as you, Amelie?”

It takes a moment to realize they’re her own words, whispered in a bathroom in an apartment building, in the middle of New Orleans. Not across the wasteland of the city of Dis, an echo in the underworld from someone who isn’t even dead.

And this time, there’s no answer Amelie can give that voice. Steams of red down her face come into focus. The green of her eyes against the red of her tears as she takes in the only familiar detail of her form she has left. Her two bright green eyes.

After everything, it is still her. Forever, if she gives up. Finally she sobs, and shrinks, slowly sliding down to her knees. Beating her head against the sink counter as if in prayer before she grabs a towel and drags her corpse back into the shower. Simply wrapping it and huddling there. Waiting for a bottle to be thrown. Waiting for a gun to go off in her face. Waiting for a maw to come out of the dark. Waiting for a hammer to come from the sky and blast her into something more useful. When the mercy isn’t shown to her, and mercy rarely is shown to her, she just makes herself small there. Sobbing and clawing at tile and the few patches of untorn skin on her body, letting the seething unrelenting pain wash over her again and again like a tide of molten iron. And she just waits. Waits for sleep if it still exists, waits for death if it still exists, and waits for relief if it still exists.

Amelie Savard is dead. Long live Amelie Savard.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Jon IV
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Celia VII

Previous, by Amelie: Story Eleven, Amelie II, Caroline VII
Next, by Amelie: Story Eleven, Amelie IV, Caroline IX

Previous, by Caroline: Story Eleven, Amelie II, Caroline VII
Next, by Caroline: Story Eleven, Amelie IV, Caroline IX

Story Eleven, Amelie II, Caroline VII

“I guess there never really was… any way this was gonna end well.”
Autumn Rabinowitz

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, AM

GM: “¡Dos de mis soldados están muertos!” Diego furiously swears over Caroline’s phone.

(“Two of my soldiers are dead!”)

“You didn’t say, not fucking once,” he continues in English, his voice no less livid, “that dyke puto was one of you! Juan and Axel—both in the fucking ground!”

Caroline: Caroline feels a spike of alarm and concern—what exactly has Diego gotten himself (and her by proxy) into—but clamps down on them as he continues and redirects.

“I understand you’re upset. Not on the phone,” she replies sternly.

“Can you make it to the Alpha Site?” she asks, referring to the largely abandoned building she bought to get to Lou.

GM: “No,” Diego seethes. “You come over for this. You see this yourself. You fix this yourself.”

Caroline: His tone is not acceptable, but she’ll deal with it in person.


GM: He rattles off one in southern Algiers, then hangs up on her.

Autumn never would. Or Widney. Or any of the others.

Caroline: She growls lowly as she shuts off her own phone, resisting the urge to fling it across the room. Thankfully it’s a burner—she’s too careful to give her notional ‘living’ line to him—but his lack of discipline is no less irritating for it. She picks up the smartphone from her desk and sends out a short text to a group chat. It reads, 10 minutes. Parking lot.

She’s damn sure not going off into the Outlands alone again, especially not if Diego kicked up a hornet’s nest. Especially not if he may be compromised. She rises to change her clothes and grab a bag of equipment—both quick—before she heads out the door.

GM: All of the ghouls Caroline texts meet her at the Giani Building’s underground garage. Some of them look more tired than others, but being called to action during the early hours of the AM is part and parcel of service to any Kindred master.

Caroline: Caroline is brief before they get into two separate vehicles. There’s been an incident in Algiers. Bodies are certain, police may or may not be en-route. At least one Kindred is involved.

They’re going to clean up the scene as best they can and get out. The catch is the details are light, and being outside the city proper makes it dangerous, so they’re going in heavy.

GM: Autumn starts by looking up news reports from Algiers on her phone. At this hour of night, they haven’t yet hit mainstream news sites, but the ghoul still reports,

“There was a suicide jumper off the bridge to Algiers… it looks like it’s closed now. Probably crawling with cops.”

Caroline: Caroline scowls. “That’s a massive diversion.”

GM: “Mississppi’s a good river to kill yourself in,” Fuller observes. “Strong current. Dirty. Hard to find anyone who goes under.”

Caroline: “Divert. Better not to get stopped on the bridge in view of them,” Caroline asserts. There are enough firearms in the vehicles to invade a third world country.

GM: Fuller nods. “Other ways in, if we want to get there fast. Boats. Choppers.”

Caroline: “Bridges.” Caroline scowls.

Fucking suicides.

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, AM

GM: The 45-minute drive through Bridge City and Elmwood has everyone on edge. Fuller scans the darkness past the lit road repeatedly, but reports nothing. The gloom seems hungry. Patient. Waiting.

The two cars reach their destination at a modest house in Terrytown. Fuller, Green, and Martell look alert at the odd gunshots and car alarms they hear through the blighted neighborhood. Widney and Autumn look on edge.

The Cottonmouth tough who receives the group at the door looks worse. He looks like hell. His ashen, haggard face is deeply shadowed and his eyes are haunted. His clothes are clean, but Caroline can smell the blood on him. Traces of it, on his lips. Powerful blood.

The same blood coursing through her own servants.

The ghoul, who Caroline has never once seen before, is armed and refuses the group entry. He shouts for Diego, who arrives at the door with several more armed gangsters. All of them look like hell. All of their lips smell of Kindred vitae.

Diego looks between Fuller, Green, and Martell. It’s not a friendly look.

“They wait outside,” he growls in a low tone.

Caroline: The Ventrue does not look amused. “What the fuck is this?” she demands of Diego, looking at the other Cottonmouth ghouls.

GM: “The fuck’s this? This is you, amiga. Coming to help clean up the mess that got two of ours killed,” Diego replies.

The other Cottonmouths wordlessly stare at Caroline and her own ghouls. Their weapons don’t leave their hands.

Caroline: “Where did they get their blood from?” Caroline replies.

GM: “You can tell? That’s interesting,” Diego says.

He looks towards the others.

“Sniper, Javier, Jesús, Paiyaso, any of you want to tell my amiga where you got your blood?” the Cottonmouths’ leader asks.

“Bled for it,” grinds out one man.

“Died for it,” says another.

“Filling a vampiro full of lead,” says a third.

“Usted sangró, soldados!” Diego roars, pumping a tattooed fist.

(“You bled, soldiers!”)

“¡Nos desangramos!” comes the answering shout from the other wild-eyed ghouls.

(“We bled!”)

Fuller and the other security ghouls maintain their grips on their weapons. Autumn looks apprehensive. Widney’s face is a mask.

“And now, amiga, that thing’s body is yours,” says Diego, turning back to Caroline. “Your problem to get rid of.”

Caroline almost didn’t notice it at first, against Diego’s white wifebeater. She might have thought they were shark teeth. But they’re unmistakable.

Two fangs hanging from a necklace under his gold crucifix.


Caroline: “Very impressive, boys.” Caroline lets the Beast loose in their minds slowly. She eases it in lightly, softening their feelings toward her. “Not very many that can make the same claim.”

She spares her own ghouls from the mental glamor. But not Diego. She can see in his eyes he’s no longer hers. He’s gotten a taste for something else.

GM: Caroline’s supernal presence washes over the room of ghouls like an unseen tide—not enough to pull them under, but enough to leave their footing unsteady. Gazes around the room instantly rivet towards the Ventrue.

“The Cottonmouths bite!” boasts one of the men.

Caroline: “So I hear,” Caroline replies with a toothy smile, allowing more of the Beast to slide into their minds now that she’s captured them. “Are you the only ones that know about this?”

GM:Mi novia knows,” says one of the other ghouls. He grins, an expression that looks utterly out of place on his grim and haunted features. Almost macabre. “We going to go all night, now!”

There’s manic, almost forced laughter from the other Cottonmouths.

Caroline: It goes on like that. Caroline and Widney work their way through the group, separating each, cowing them and bending their wills. Before long they’re disarmed, in cuffs, and Diego is leading Caroline deeper into the house.

Once everything is secure she extracts the full story of what happened and how Diego brought his brothers into the fold, as well as his intentions, both in general and for her specifically. She has the ‘body’ brought before her.

Through it all her two newer security ghouls keep an eye—and a long gun—on the gangbangers while Fuller keeps an eye on the outside. The Outlands are far from safe.

GM: Diego initially shakes off his state and reaches for his gun, but it’s Autumn who sharply orders, “Freeze,” with almost pitying eyes. Caroline and the others impose their wills over the other, soon glassy-eyed Cottonmouths and handcuff them seamlessly. Fuller and Green collect their guns.

Diego leads Caroline to the body.

It’s Amelie Savard’s.

Caroline almost doesn’t recognize her at first. She looks awful. There’s a hardness to her jaw, a gauntness to her cheeks, and a shadow over her now-lined features that wasn’t there before—and is still there, even when she’s unconscious. She looks like she’s aged ten years. Her still-short hair is filthy. So is the rest of her body, but especially her grime-coated hands and bare, obviously worn feet. She’s ‘dressed’ in the ragged, blood-spattered remains of a partly damp white lab coat.

She’s also Kindred.

Caroline can hear it, from the telltale lack of heartbeat. Can smell it, from the vitae coursing through her veins. The same vitae that courses through the Ventrue’s own.

There’s blood in her mouth, too. Bloody gaps where two canines should be.

Autumn looks over her body.

“Oh, wow. I… guess it’s lucky they didn’t know that’s a torped out lick,” she remarks upon seeing the missing teeth.

Caroline: The scene sends a fury through Caroline. Not for Amelie—she hardly knows the girl—but that her ghoul thought to defy her so. That he brought this entire scene upon her. That he thought it fitting to take her blood and give it to others. That he betrayed her.

She gave him loyalty, and he gave her a Masquerade disaster.

The Ventrue says nothing to him and allows him to tell her the rest of the tale as she tightly binds Amelie’s thin wrists ankles, first with zip ties but again with steel handcuffs.

The gangbangers are ordered to line up against a wall, get down on their knees, and put their hands on their heads. Her ghouls keep guns trained on them. Caroline bends over the torpid vampire. She dips a finger in one of Amelie’s wounds and and brings the vitae to her lips.

GM: There’s a heat underlying Amelie’s blood. A fire. Something fierce. Something willful. Something that stokes Caroline, something that burns her up inside, makes her feel vigorous and alive. Really alive again. And her Beast, too. The monster seems to swell, arch its back and roar, all-too eager to tear down the walls of its prison.

The fire dwindles just as swiftly as it came.

Hot blood. Dangerous blood.

Blood like Coco’s blood.

Brujah blood.

Caroline: Caroline runs her tongue across her fangs. It’s tempting to finish her off. She knows of the forbidden act now, after what she… learned from Abélia. She’ll almost never have a better chance. She doubts anyone will miss this helpless morsel…

But it’s only that—temptation. And a faint one at that. There’s something else that eats away her darkest impulses like a snake swallows a rat. Something that resembles pity for this newly-made thing, made of a starved and beaten body, and now reduced to a helpless shell.

It could have been her. Could have just as easily been Caroline that fell beneath a ghoul’s weapons, or those of another Kindred, or even a mortal. Amelie deserves better. Something better. Perhaps an opportunity. Caroline doesn’t know that she can give it to her, but she knows she can give her something better than this.

The Ventrue waits for Diego to finish his tale. The story of her ghoul’s betrayals is worth understanding before she wakes up this stranger.

GM: The tale begins simply enough.

The Cottonmouths found Axel dead near “his corner,” mauled almost beyond recognition. They piled into Diego’s car to search for the hijo de puta responsible. They saw Amelie, walking the streets naked but for a bloody lab coat. Diego remembered her as one of Caroline’s “items of interest” from a rare trip to the Giani Building. He thought he’d trade her to the Ventrue for another hit of vitae.

Idiota pissed off my soldiers,” the glassy-eyed Diego recites.

Amelie gave a spine-chilling hiss that scared his man beyond reason. Diego’s suspicions were aroused. A physical altercation ensued. Amelie vanished into the night like a ghost.

“Faster than you could snap your fucking fingers,” Diego sleepily recites.

The Cottonmouths went after her. Diego was suspicious she might have been the one to kill Axel. He had a hunch where she’d be headed, on foot, and followed her to a convenience store. Amelie had murdered the clerk inside. There was so much blood. The Cottonmouths broke in. Amelie fled to the store’s back. They followed.

Diego stares blankly at Caroline. Then he screams.


Caroline: Caroline silences him and has the ghoul pick up after the traumatic scene.

GM: Diego’s eyes bulge as he chokes for several moments. He resumes his tale in a faltering voice.

He and the Cottonmouths saw Amelie trying to break in to his car. Another altercation ensued.
She fought back. They knew what she was—Diego had long since told the other Cottonmouths everything he knew about vampiros. They beat her dead—or at least what they thought was dead. Caroline told Diego little about her kind’s physiology, or he’d have known to keep beating until the torpid vampire was ash.

The gang celebrated their victory by feasting on every last drop of Amelie’s blood. Diego never received enough vitae from Caroline to share, but there was more than enough to go around this time. As far as Diego was concerned, his men had earned every last drop. Juan was dead now too. The Cottonmouths destroyed the convenience store’s security tapes and shot apart the cameras. They fled the scene with the bodies.

“You told me mierda,” Diego sleepily recites. “Everything here, turned to shit since I took your blood.”

As far as Diego was concerned, Amelie’s inconvenient corpse was Caroline’s to dispose of. That was the start of how she was going to pay him back. He loved her, but this was her fault. Partly. What happened to his men. Everything turning to shit.

But Caroline was still his amiga. He loved her. And this shit…

The obviously conflicted ghoul’s face twitches. He wasn’t sure what he planned to do with Caroline, after unloading Amelie’s body to her. But Caroline is sure of this:

Her ghoul’s first loyalty was always to the Cottonmouths. He didn’t need Caroline for anything. He was his own man. He’d made it in this city alone. He rose to lead the Cottonmouths on his own. Caroline was just some rich gringa who felt like rolling around in the dirt with him.

Her blood was nice, though. It made him strong. Powerful. He found himself caring about her, though he couldn’t for his life explain why. She was a rich and pampered gringa. The kind who’d make his mother and sister scrape their fingers to the bone for a pittance, and sneer at them for it. The kind who looked upon him and the Cottonmouths like rabid animals. But some part of him, somehow, couldn’t hold that against Caroline.

“You aren’t… like the others,” he recites in the same monotone.

Still, one indisputable fact remained: he didn’t need Caroline. Not after the Cottonmouths took down their first vampiro. They would take down others. They would drink their blood. They would become the most powerful gang in all New Orleans.

“The Cottonmouths… give no warning. The Cottonmouths… give no retreat. The Cottonmouths… bite,” the gang leader finishes tranquilly.

Fuller’s mouth creases with distaste.

Widney looks like she’s come across a gross error in the accounting books.

Autumn’s face is written with equal parts incredulity, horror, and grim resignation.

“He’s right about one thing,” grunts Fuller. “He didn’t need you.”

Caroline: “Get a full list from them of everyone they’ve run their mouths to,” Caroline instructs her ghouls. Acid drops from her voice.

“We’re putting an end to this mistake.”

GM: There’s a moment before Widney speaks.

“You want to kill all of them, ma’am?” she asks slowly.

Autumn and Fuller remain silent.

Caroline: “Find out how much they know,” Caroline replies without answer. She looks down at Amelie.

GM: “This is… how it sometimes gets,” Autumn says quietly as she moves to check on the others.

Widney ignores her, then goes to do the same.

Fuller stands silently in place.

Caroline: Caroline stands over the torpid vampire. She didn’t make things this way. Didn’t send the ghoul after Amelie and his his men in the ground. She didn’t start it, but as always, she’ll finish it.

She pulls back her sleeve and sinks her fangs into her own wrist, letting a trickle of vitae flow into the bound and torpid Brujah.

GM: Amelie’s eyes snap open. A monster stares out. The fang-less creature isn’t able to so much as snarl before clamping its flat teeth onto Caroline’s wrist hard enough to tear flesh.

Caroline: Or at least, they would have had Caroline been less cautious. The Ventrue’s lightning-quick reflexes jerk her hand away from the thrashing beast’s mouth. The eyes that gaze down are one part pity, another part scorn.

GM: The thing finally howls—not screams—and thrashes mindlessly.

Caroline: “Yes, I can imagine you must be starving,” she finally says. “Ah, but you have no fangs. Well, let me help you, wretched thing.”

She orders Diego to close his eyes and kneel near the thrashing vampire.

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, AM

GM: The red haze returns.

Bliss fills Amelie as she yet again wakes to pain. Fire burns her from within and soothes her from without. The contrast is torturous. It’s beyond maddening. She screams until her throat is bloody. For it to stop. For it to go on.

The pain does not abate. But the bliss does, and with it, just enough of the madness.

She’s indoors. The muscled and tattoo-sleeved cholo is kneeling directly in front of her, his face expressionless.

She can smell it. Hear it. All but see it. The hot blood coursing through his veins with each thump of his powerful heart.

Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump thump.

Caroline: A tall woman in a black outfit covered in a heavy coat stands besides the cholo. She’s all long legs from where Amelie can see over boots, but the thing that most stands out isn’t her face, clothing, or any other obvious physical feature. It’s the smell coming off of her wrist. Amelie can clearly see a trickle of red even in the dimly lit room. It smells better than blood ever has.

Amelie: Next to that smell, that red, nothing else seems to matter about Caroline. Not even her lack of heartbeat.

It’s a new kind of hunger twisting around inside of Amelie’s husk now. It’s so different from any pain she’s endured, and she’s endured a lot of pain. That red filter over her vision feels like it’s going to be a permanent fixture now. She stares daggers at the tendons in the cholo’s neck like they’re an ice-pack on a swelling bruise over her body’s most sensitive place.

Amelie’s nose pulls her to the side. As soon as her eyes lock on it, she feels her body tense and slowly tries to rise towards it. Her modesty is gone. Her tongue simply lolls out her mouth as she strains towards the red trickle. She feels near-mindless, like a hungry ghost weakly clawing towards the promised meal that’d finally end its suffering.

Caroline: “Hungry? Well, we can fix that.”

The blonde doesn’t quite smile down at her.

GM: Amelie can smell it off her, too. ‘The blonde’s’ blood. Far stronger than the kneeling cholo’s. It stands out like a bloody and fang-gnawed halo above her head. Like the same one above Amelie’s own.

Amelie: The voice gives the ghost pause. It’s not enough to stop her body, but enough for her eyes to tear up at the font of relief. They’re glazed and desperate, but they widen in recognition at corpse’s identity of the corpse, even as she continues to weakly crawl towards the promise of her pain ending.

GM: Amelie becomes conscious of something restraining her arms behind her back. The discomfort is a drop in an ocean.

Caroline: The blonde produces a blade—a real dagger rather than a knife.

Amelie: The blade’s appearance prompts another response from Amelie. She finally stops moving forward: the weapon in her gut is more of a barrier to her meal than the chains around her wrists. Something finally clicks in her head, how she’s been unable to control herself.

Caroline: “It’s fair play, little fledgling, he took your blood. You should take his.”

She drives the blade into the neck of the kneeling cholo in a single swift stroke. She then kicks him over onto Amelie.

GM: The man’s eyes snap open as the blade penetrates his skin. He lets out an inarticulate scream as he rolls over, away from the two women, and pulls mightily against his bonds.

Amelie: Amelie’s eyes remain fixed upon the droplets of blood rather than the weapon, spitting in the face of all her prior muscle memory. She still sees it in her periphery as the knife drives into neck. It’s as though someone dumped a bucket of water onto the floor with a drop of wine. The thirst drives her to try for both, until the body gets pushed towards her.

Every one of her new instincts sends her dive-bombing head-first towards the cholo. She hisses and screams as she tries to find purchase on his skin with her teeth, even if she has to cut her mouth open around the dagger. It’s like drinking a tapped keg.

GM: Amelie doesn’t even see it happen. One moment, she was falling upon the bleeding and shouting man. The next, aching relief fills her like she’s gorged on a five-course meal after days without food. It’s satiation, but some angry, fearful ghost of hunger remains and drives her to still eat. To fill herself up against any further lean times.

She looks down. She sees another body. Another gashed and red-smeared throat. Another set of blankly staring eyes.

Amelie: Amelie is genuinely surprised to find relief. It’s a wash of water over a burning coal, a jill-off finished in the woods after two weeks of back-breaking labor to met a deadline, and night smoking and pigging out with friends all at once. She’s warm.

She lets the cholo go as she feels her aches fading and her wounds (somehow) knitting. She feels back to square one. Back to when she first woke. Clear-minded, and almost vindicated as she stares down at the dead man’s accusatory glare. He backed her into a corner, and now he lies dead. There is guilt… but also vengeance.

She still smells that wine close by, and turns her gaunt, gore-drooling face stare the blonde right in the eye. She still feels her throat screaming. The harsh bubbling of what passes for her stomach overflows from her throat as she tries to speak. All she manages is a strained, scratchy, and half-feral,


Carolube: Caroline looks down at the bound and blood-soaked Kindred.

“Yes. Me.”

She pulls the blade out of the cholo’s throat and wipes it on the corpse’s already stained wifebeater.

Amelie: Amelie sputters and spits to clear her throat.

“Surprised to see you,” she rasps.

GM: There’s several other unfamiliar individuals nearby, men and women. The other gangsters are all lying tied up on the floor.

Amelie: She slowly looks down, her eyes searching for the drop of wine on Caroline’s body. Her ears find no heartbeat. It starts to sink in as she looks at the other tied-up figures in the room. Caroline is dead, too.

Caroline: “Well, that makes two of us.”

The Ventrue makes no move to help or release Amelie, but kicks the drained body away.

“I see you’re still making friends.”

GM: An auburn-haired girl around Amelie’s age stares after it.

Amelie: Amelie locks eyes again with the Malveaux. “You have no idea. I’m sorry for your… loss of yourself, I guess.”

Caroline: “I think you have rather your own worries right now,” Caroline replies. She leans over. “They did quite a number on you.” Her gloved fingers trace bullet holes, cuts, and two aching holes where Amelie’s teeth once were.

GM: Two fangs hang from a necklace around the cholo’s neck.

Amelie: The frail monster warily pulls away from the woman’s gloves. Her eyes rest on the necklace for only a moment. It’s difficult not to jump to conclusions.

“I would prefer you have your hands a safe distance from my mouth.”

There is no edge to her words. They’re downright dull.

“Why are all these people tied up here?”

Caroline: “They thought to become vampire hunters. Now they’ll learn the error of those ways,” Caroline replies.

GM: The unbound figures survey Amelie without comment.

There’s an older, bald man with hard features and a gun casually held in his hands. A blonde woman and darker-skinned man with similar demeanors, also armed. Two last figures, a tight-featured woman with her hair pulled back in a tight bun, and the younger, glasses-wearing redhead, are the only ones not carrying weapons.

Amelie: Amelie’s face betrays a bit of uncertainty as she looks from the cholos, to the figures, and up to Caroline once more. Her eyes probe this time.

“I’m not certain just yet if that’s… what I am. Last time I was fed on, I don’t recall that vampire losing control and ripping out my throat.”

GM: “I think the evidence is literally right in front of you,” says the redhead. Her voice is tight.

Caroline: Caroline laughs darkly. “You’re a vampire, though that term isn’t particularly in vogue. I recommend the term we use among each other, ‘Kindred.’”

“What do you mean, though, the last time you were fed on? It sounds like you have some explaining to do.” The heiress’ eyes glimmer.

Amelie: Amelie’s eyes flick over to the ginger.

“That’s good to hear, if true. There’s a lot more out there than just ‘Kindred.’”

But they flit back to Caroline quickly, looking over her hair a moment.

“That’s a bit of a long story though. Best I can shorten it, I wasn’t a normal human even before… this.”

Caroline: “I think most people would agree with that statement,” comes Caroline’s dry response.

Amelie: “Such barbs,” she quips. “I watched myself be fed on. Closely.”

“Plenty of time for that later, though. I guess I should backpedal first and start with a thank you. If this is a rescue.”

GM: The unbound figures all remain silent.

Blood continues to seep from the glassy-eyed body’s throat over the carpeted floor.

Caroline: “It’s close enough to one for your purposes,” Caroline replies. “Why don’t we start with what matters, though. Who made you?”

Amelie: “I was hoping you could answer that. I only know where and when. I woke up in a morgue near Booker T. Washington High School. 9 PM near the dot.”

GM: “Was anyone else there when you woke up?” the redhead asks. Her eyes slowly look up from the body.

Amelie: “A mortician that I thankfully did not completely rip the throat out of. No ‘Kindred,’ however.”

Amelie slowly looks down at herself. She wonders if they cared enough to clothe her.

GM: Amelie is already on the floor and can ‘look down’ no further.

The redhead’s gaze has become very attentive.

Caroline: “Thankfully did not completely rip the throat out of?” Caroline asks harshly. “As in you left a living witness?”

Amelie: Amelie meets Caroline’s eyes again immediately, snapping back up at a potential threat.

“I don’t know if he’s still alive. He was bleeding heavily when I left. Broke windows, so he might have bled himself even further. I was more concerned with the fact I was dead. And attacking people in what felt like blackouts.”

GM: “I could tip off the Krewe,” the redhead says to Caroline. “We’re out here in Algiers, and with the bridge closed… someone needs to get this cleaned up.” She frowns. “It’s already been hours, he said 9 PM…”

Caroline: “Pull up the school, tell me where it is, then make the call to the Krewe and tip them off that you got a tip about someone causing a ruckus over in that area.” She looks at Amelie. “Anything else you’d care to share about the matter?”

GM: “It’s in Mid-City. Anarch territory,” says the redhead, looking up from a phone.

Amelie: “I blacked out and a security guard died because of it. I pulled him down a flight of stairs to cover up…”

She has to take a moment. It feels sickening to admit it.

“When I came to, I’d twisted his neck around.”

GM: “You’re a real killing machine, huh,” the armed blonde remarks dryly.

Amelie: Amelie feels it like a punch to the heart. It’s true. It was so easy. Scarily easy.

“And there was the gas station… something is there. I think it might have… fed me. Toyed with me. Something. But I think these cholos killed it when I unleashed it.”

Caroline: “And they said I made a mess,” Caroline tells the redhead.

GM: “One—two dead,” she says, looking back down at the body. “One maybe dead. All hours ago. Jesus.”

She looks back down at her phone, up at Caroline, and then back up to Amelie. “And maybe you should start with the last thing you remember before waking up in the morgue, and then just tell us everything that happened afterwards.”

She looks back down at the phone and rapidly starts tapping.

Amelie: Amelie feels a bit of… frustration roiling in her gut at how they are treating her. But she takes several steadying breaths, despite her lungs being wholly useless now.

“I died in Orleans Parish Prison,” she states, rather plainly. She goes through a quick and concise summary while her eyes search the tied-up cholos for the one who touched her with his gun barrel.

GM: The redhead, and occasionally the woman with the tightly bound hair, interject with questions and requests for additional information.

Caroline: Caroline seems content to allow the other two to ask most of the questions.

GM: Unfortunately, it goes so much like the police interview in the hospital… the disbelief is plain on their faces almost immediately in.

“BS. What aren’t you telling us?” asks the redhead.

Amelie: Amelie answers them as best she can. She grasps how important this is to them and agrees to an extent with covering it up. But she feels a familiar pattern when that question comes up.

“What was the first thing I said to you, ginger girl?”

GM: The redhead frowns. “Uh, what does-”

“You’re here to answer questions,” the deep-voiced bald man cuts in. “Not ask them.”

Amelie: “It was rhetorical. The first thing I said to her was that there’s more out there than just ‘Kindred.’ When I blacked out, an entity tied to Delphine LaLaurie mocked my last moments. Just as another from the same house started me on this path.”

GM: The redhead stares at her. “And what the hell is that even supposed to mean?”

Amelie: “Just what I said. If you want details, Caroline is the one to ask.”

GM: “I’m pretty sure you’re the one who’s going to be spilling details, actually,” says the redhead. “But never mind, we can go back to that later. Pick up with what happened after you blacked out during the prison fight.”

Amelie: “Just what I said. I can find the painting of it if you’re willing to give me an arm back. But whether it was insanity or a real entity, it mocked me during my final prayers. It recanted over them with darker verses. And then it hurt. Everywhere. Like I was a white-hot brick of iron.”

GM: Amelie gets alternatively blank or ‘what the hell is she going on about’ at the mention of a painting. The redhead continues to thoroughly question her about the specific sequence of events until Amelie has brought them all the way up to the present.

“Cut that out,” she snaps irritably to the fledgling vampire at one point. “If you wanna resist, there’s way rougher methods we can use to get answers out of you.”

Amelie: Amelie strains against her bonds for a moment as a small panic runs through her system.

“You’re doing this? You can’t threaten me, look at me. I’m covered in more scars than skin,” she grunts. “You want in, though? Go ahead. Knock.”

She goes quiet though, keeping eye contact with the ginger so she can try again. She hopes she finds something horrific and tries to summon up all the horrors she’s seen over the past weeks. Maybe the ginger will see them all at once. Hopefully that’s how it works.

GM: The redhead continues to question Amelie about the sequence of events after she woke up, and seems particularly concerned by the details of the murders she committed.

She eventually looks back up to Caroline and says, “Well, I’ve ESP’d him. His story checks out—at least so far as he believes.”

Amelie: Amelie feels a bit disappointed the ginger isn’t screaming at this point and looks to Caroline. “Ginger boys and their manners.”

GM: “You blind? She’s got tits,” scoffs the gun-carrying blonde.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t dignify the blonde with a response, waiting for their obvious boss’ reaction to things.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t seem interested in getting in the middle of the slap fight between her employees and Amelie. Instead, she pinches the bridge of her nose as she lets them question her.

Anarch territory leaves a lot of potential options for a sire.

“It sounds like her sire was hanging around at the morgue, if there hasn’t been any noise about what happened there. Which raises an obvious question as to whether or not she’s legal or illegal.”

Caroline dearly hopes it’s the former, but suspects the latter. Most legitimate sires wouldn’t let their childer run amok and get torpored by a gang of thugs, much less cause the mess she has already. Unless her sire lost track of her when she jumped off the bridge as well.

She looks down at the bound Amelie. After a moment, she takes off her coat and lays it over her. Amelie can see what looks like an armored vest of some kind underneath the peacoat. There’s a firearm on one hip that was also hidden, and opposite it—which Amelie had already seen—a long, thin blade.

All in all, the blonde looks almost as battle ready as the other three—minus their long arms and kneepads.

Amelie: Amelie seems rather surprised when the coat comes down on top of her. It’s the first straightforward act of kindness she’s experienced beyond the ‘thing’ potentially feeding her since… before she can remember. It gives her legitimate pause.

“If we’re thinking ‘who’, depending how long it might take to…‘change’, it could have been the prison, morgue, or even hospital. If Tulane Medical is where I may have been taken to try and save my life, it could have been the Kindred I saw while watching my body from the underworld. Female, blonde hair, long, past the shoulders. And if the bridge is closed, we could borrow a tugboat to make it across the river. If it’s urgent for you, Miss Malveaux. I could potentially get one running. Or if that would cause too much attention, I know an access point in which we can get into the guts of the bridge, and pass underneath.”

Caroline: “Not necessary, Miss Savard,” Caroline replies absently.

“You really have no idea what you’ve gotten into, or rather, have been brought into.”

Amelie: “No, I don’t. I expected a much different death,” she offers.

“What happens now? I still don’t even know why you came for me. My death sounds as though it’d solve problems for you.”

GM: “Milk’s spilled. You’ve already killed two or three people,” says the blonde. “Though hey, maybe you had plans on chowing down a few more.”

By this point, the blood that flowed from the dead man’s stabbed throat has started to dry into the carpet.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t look to her, but stares at the blood on the carpet. Such a handsome man dead. It still hurts seeing death.

“I chose Algiers to run to because of the low population. I could have gone straight to an occultist, but ran the risk of blacking out and killing if I saw someone. I never wished to hurt anyone. It’s why I ran from these man, instead of fighting them.”

GM: “Good on you, boss lady’s probably still gonna need to kill them all,” says the blonde.

Amelie: “That’s a shame. I wanted to know how they knew what I was. And why they were hunting me. And what they saw when I opened that door at the gas station.”

Caroline: “I think it was the blinding speed that gave it away,” Caroline replies dryly.

Amelie: “I don’t know if I’m convinced they were ignorant beforehand. The only car in a large empty section of that city. And they seemed to know where I was when they found me the second time.”

Caroline: “Honestly, I don’t really care what you’re convinced of,” Caroline replies plainly. “You’re entirely within my power in more ways than you can imagine. You’ve murdered at least three people this evening—that you’ve confessed to—and done so in the messiest way I can imagine short of on live television.”

GM: “She’s got the state police up in arms,” says Autumn. “That bridge’s still closed.”

Caroline: “Great,” Caroline replies.

“Let me explain to you your position more clearly. You’re a fledgling—a newborn vampire—with no sire—that is creator in sight. By all rights I should hand you over to the prince right now and let him disposes of you—and make no mistake, that’s what’s likely to happen.”

“You’ve broken the rules of our kind at least half a dozen times already. So kindly don’t think you have a vote in this—the fact that I’ve even allowed you a voice is a courtesy that most are denied.”

The blonde heiress is a far cry from the milder version of herself Amelie remembers from only months ago. There’s a harder edge to her words. A cruelty to them.

Caroline promptly turns and draws out her phone. She thoughtfully taps her finger on the Solaris’ screen, then lowers it after a moment.

“While I think on this mess, we need to clean up the other.”

She turns her attention to Autumn. “I know this one is difficult for you. Are you all right?”

GM: Autumn looks at the body again.

“I’m… better than he is.”

Caroline: “He made his choice. He was my mistake, but if I hadn’t dealt with it he would have eventually come for even me, unless he got himself and a lot of others killed first—likely yourself included. You know what he did couldn’t be allowed to slide, and not just tonight.”

Her gaze sweeps towards the remaining members of the gang.

GM: “I know,” Autumn nods slowly. “I guess there never really was… any way this was gonna end well. At least it’s done. Before things got any more… out of hand.”

Caroline: “That was as clean as I could give it to him,” Caroline nods. “I need you to find out from the others if anyone outside of this group knows, or if it was confined to his closer contacts, and find out how far back they go.”

GM: “Right,” Autumn nods. “Lots of these people could have spilled… I guess that was really the thing. They meant more to him than we did. He didn’t keep secrets from them.”

Amelie: Amelie says nothing. Maybe Caroline is taking too much satisfaction in lording her power over someone else to consider that the ‘fledgling’ is no better than a newborn sent screaming into a world trying to kill her. Or maybe Caroline just doesn’t care.

But the questions still swirl. About this ‘prince’ who’s the authority. Why Caroline is even here.

Caroline fills in some blanks when she links herself to the gang. They’re hers. Amelie could have vanished if not for these thugs.

She looks towards the dead cholo to see if the dagger is still in his neck.

GM: It remains embedded.

Caroline: Caroline looks back to Fuller. “We’re going for the border house special on this one. Make it look like drug wars gone bad—if and when anyone finds it. I don’t want to take the risk of moving the bodies around while the police are swarming around.”

She’s not comfortable here, not only in the outlands, but also with this kind of body disposal. It’s part of why she brought in Diego. Still, she’s learned her fair share since her Embrace, and from picked up almost as much from Diego’s mind.

“Pull out the vacuum bags and the drywall sheets.”

GM: Fuller nods. “We’ll get to work on the walls.”

“Too bad about Rivera. He could’ve done this better than us.”

Caroline: Caroline bites her lower lip. “He could have done a lot of things better.”

GM: “Said it himself, though. He didn’t need you.”

Caroline: She looks back at Amelie. “Little fledgling, you should patch yourself up. Wherever I decide to take you when we leave, it’s better to put on a brave face. At least grow your fangs back.”

Amelie: Amelie strains against her bindings, trying to sit up so she can get to her knees.

“I should mention that gas station again. Its security footage and the fact it was shot up by these men. And if you’re trying to keep the supernatural away from the living, the nest that was made in it.”

Caroline: “It’s taken care of,” Caroline replies.

GM: “He was smart in his own way,” Autumn says quietly to Caroline. “He might’ve done a lot of damage, once he was able to learn more of the rules.”

Amelie: Amelie rolls her jaw around as she struggles to her knees. She can already feel her body slowly trying to knit itself back together. She tries to focus that power on her jaw.

“May I ask a question?”

Caroline: Caroline glances away from her ghoul back to Amelie.

“You haven’t seemed to stop yet.”

She begins to see why others were so exasperated by her own actions.

Amelie: Amelie’s jaw cracks pointedly. She wants to snark about Caroline’s first night as a vampire. Assuming she wasn’t one when they met—that was in broad daylight—it has to have only been in the last six months.

“Forgive me my ignorance. I’ll keep it to myself, then.”

Caroline: “Spit it out. You’re likely to get a kinder answer from me than most.”

Amelie: “Must I kill? When I drink, do they HAVE to die?”

It seems like a silly question even to Amelie. But its answer will decide much of her future.

Caroline: Caroline looks down. Her voice softens.

“No. Not if you can control yourself. Not if you’re careful. In fact, it’s usually better not to.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t feel like a weight just got lifted from her shoulders. It breaks over them and sends pieces crumbling around her. A future where she had to kill just to eat would end at a gun’s barrel, and she’d have been the one begging for enough strength to pull the trigger.

She can’t hold it back as her face twists into a near-sob. She still grieves all that’s been lost, but there’s relief too, for the safety of others. She doesn’t need to die so that others can live.

“Thank god.”

After a few moments, she wipes her face on a clean section of carpet and sits up straight again.

“Then I’m ready to put on a brave face through anything. And hunt down that son of a bitch who made me go through this alone.”

GM: The section of carpet looks like it has some blood on it.

Caroline: Caroline doesn’t smile. “You might well get your chance,” she replies.

Amelie: Amelie instinctively sniffs and starts looking around the room. She marks the skinniest cholo as the one whose clothes to take before she looks back to Caroline. Her face is determined.

“I’ll do what I can to help you until then. Please let me.”

Caroline: “I think you’ve done more than enough,” Caroline replies. “For now, watch and learn.”

She lets her ghouls start on the cleanup and leaves Amelie to her own thoughts for a moment as she withdraws a short distance away to make a phone call.

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, AM

GM: “It’s Jen, hello there, Miss Malveaux,” sounds the voice of Coco’s herald.

Caroline: “Good evening Ms. Haley,” comes Caroline’s crisp voice. “I hope this is a good time.”

GM: “As good as any. What can I do for you, ma’am?”

Caroline: “I have a matter that I think would be of significant interest to Coco, but it’s both rather sensitive, and rather specifically time sensitive. Do you know if she’s available, or when she might be?”

GM: “Lucky timing. I’m in the same room as her right now, actually. I’ll pass you along.”

Caroline: “Thank you, Ms. Haley.”

A man once said ’there’s a providence that protects fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.’ Apparently he forgot about Ms. Savard.

GM: “Hello, Caroline,” sounds Coco’s velvety voice. The Ventrue can make out indistinct noises and blues music playing in the background.

Caroline: “Good evening, Coco.” Caroline has slowly become more accustomed to the elder’s preferred title—none.

“I’m sorry to bother you on short notice, but I thought this matter deserved your rather direct attention. I’ve come across a lost puppy, poor thing seemingly born tonight, and had a thought you might be interested.”

GM: “Oh, really? No owner anywhere in sight?”

Caroline: “Not that I can find. Left all alone in the night to get itself into trouble—and finding plenty of it.”

GM: “I see. Where did you find the poor thing, and where are you now?”

Caroline: “Someone called me about it, so I went on a field trip across the river,” Caroline replies. “It looks like it’s been through hell. I know you typically have a soft spot for strays. I thought you might have rather more in this case, as I think it may be from your neighborhood based on the breed.”

“I confess, I don’t keep track of the breeders in the area that closely, and don’t know who it might belong to. But you know how the city is about strays.”

GM: “Not so well as you,” the Brujah observes.

Caroline: “Some of us have to learn lessons the hard way,” Caroline agrees. “The smarter move was probably to let it go, but I confess I have something of a soft spot with these matters.”

GM: “No, the smarter move was to bring it to someone’s attention,” Coco says. “Come bring it over to my usual hangout. I’d advise sooner rather than later. South of the Mississippi can be a bad place for pups’ owners’ too, at this time of night.”

Caroline: “I wasn’t planning on an extended visit, I just need to finish with the mess it made here.” She runs her tongue over her fangs. “I’ll be in touch.”

GM: “See you both soon.” The line clicks.

Saturday night, 20 February 2016, AM

Amelie: Amelie does keep her eyes on the others, but it doesn’t stop her from slowly pulling at her restraints. She tests how they rest on her as she starts to memorize their process. If it’s a job to do with one’s hands, after all, it’s a job for her.

She keeps her body busy even while she watches. After confirming she’s no longer strong enough to even attempt breaking them through brute force, she tries something else. She pulls the binds taught and idly starts vibrating her arms. She twitches her muscles as fast as she can, moving them at the same scary speed they’ve shown themselves so capable of. She starts small, if only to keep it silent while Caroline is nearby.

Caroline: The heiress returns after only a few moments. There’s a noticeable urgency to her motions and in the orders she provides to those with her that quickly accelerates into outright blinding speed. Evidently the phone call did not go well.

A hole is cut in the drywall of a thicker interior wall and multiple sheets of vacuum sealing plastic laid out while Autumn interrogates the remaining thugs. The first slain thug’s body goes in the plastic bag, and a small vacuum sucks the air out around it out through a one-way valve. All parties other than Caroline wear gloves.

While they wait for Autumn to finish the replacement drywall is prepared—cut to size and pre-staged with dry-walling mud around its edges. The bloodstained carpet is pulled up around a moved Amelie and rolled up to be placed inside the wall alongside Diego.

GM: Autumn reports that all of the Cottonmouths have known about vampires for months. Diego told them everything not long after he was ghouled.

Amelie: Amelie watches in the meantime. The plan to stuff the bodies in the wall makes her wonder. Someday people might demolish this house and find them. The logic doesn’t make sense to her. Better to vacuum-seal the corpses and toss them in the river, right? The current from the lake drainage into the main Mississippi River would pull the bodies right out to sea. She does the math quickly in her head and finds they’d only need around 15 pounds of weight each for a corpse to sink and stay at a depth of around 30 feet in the ocean as currents carry them.

But she doesn’t question them outright yet. She just watches them move at that impossible speed and mutters at them to blow the dust off before applying mud as they go.

Amelie cannot help but be impressed past the obvious grim reality of the situation, though. Even Ginger seems to know how to lay down a good mud patch on a dry-wall job despite seeming to have an entirely different specialty.

Caroline: As they get close to done with the setup, Caroline turns her attention back to the gangbangers. She gets her initial report from Autumn, then adds questioning of her own. How long have each known about the supernatural? How much do they know? Do did they believe the stories before tonight? Who did they talk about the stories with? Did they take them seriously? Did anyone they discussed them with take it seriously?

Her worst fears are somewhat alleviated as it’s revealed that until tonight, the Cottonmouths did not completely believe Diego’s stories about vampiros. He had long since demonstrated his powers to them, of course, and the gangbangers knew something had changed in their leader. Something made him faster, stronger, more than he had been earlier. He had become larger than life, more than just a man. But it was hard to accept that a race of blood-drinking monsters who walked in men’s skins could exist until they saw Amelie with their own eyes and sated her thirst with their own blood—and sated their thirst with hers.

Autumn has a list of friends and family members who heard the half-whispered stories. Diego fortunately didn’t want to give away the full extent of his powers, even to those Cottonmouths who enjoyed his confidences. He let just enough slip—stories of how he crushed men’s throats in with his bare hands. Stories of how a mere look from his burning eyes could make la policía piss themselves in fear. Larger than life exploits attributed to the crazy hijo de puta who’d been raised by the cartels—they had to have been. A legend is a useful thing to have.

When she’s done—having recovered everyone and everything of note from them—Caroline has the men each lay down on their respective bags. She looks back to Amelie.

“I have to imagine you’re still thirsty.”

Amelie: Amelie grits her teeth as she watches the men lay down on those beds. It’s awful. She doesn’t want to see this, but knows she has no real chance of stopping Caroline. The blonde’s question presents a chance, though. It’s practice and a safe-ish meal.

“And naked,” she points out. She looks through the cholos to find the skinniest one. It’s like a twisted and thigh-squeezing buffet as she nods.

“But yes. I would… appreciate the practice. To not harm someone while drinking. Under your supervision, if possible, Miss Malveaux.”

GM: “Should probably give her some clothes too,” says Autumn. “The bloody rags are an eyecatcher. And she looks a little out of place in a coat that nice, honestly.”

Caroline: “You don’t need to worry about harming them,” Caroline replies. “Or about clothing. Drink your fill. Close up as many of those wounds as you can.”

After her experiences with Jocelyn and others, Caroline always packs a couple spare sets of clothing.

GM: The bald man removes Amelie’s restraints if Caroline doesn’t countermand him.

Caroline: Caroline lets him remove Amelie’s leg restraints—and cautions her not to try anything.

“Grab one of the backpacks from the car,” Caroline instructs the shorter of the blondes. “Something that will not be completely out of place on her.”

GM: The bun-haired woman returns with one in short order.

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t know that and thinks she’ll be just be made to walk around naked like an animal for another night. The mention of a backpack gives her a glint of hope, though.

GM: Caroline’s assurance that she need not worry about clothing also may.

Amelie: She lifts her arms up for the bald man to pull off her restraints and slowly flexes with the new range of motion she has. She moves over and kneels beside the cholo who had the gall to call her a faggot.

“Mira dónde estás ahora… ‘maricón.’”

(“Look where you are now… ‘faggot.’”)

She uses her knee to pin his chest and headbutts him in the side of his face, keeping him from biting her before a new set of fangs hungrily un-sheathe in her mouth.

GM: Amelie’s mouth feels as empty as it did before. The bald man glances at Caroline, who nods. He kneels and nicks the neck of Amelie’s victim with a knife. The latter man gives a shout of alarm and strains against Amelie before Caroline catches his gaze and firmly orders him to “stop resisting.” The man’s face goes blank.

Amelie: Amelie braces herself with a single calming and ineffectual breath before taking a deep bite into the man’s bleeding neck. She tries to take cues from the Kindred who fed on her in the hospital as she fills her mouth with manna.

She’s like a child with new teeth, trying to think their way into biting into an apple. Her eyes widen as her mouth fills with her first conscious mouthful of fresh blood. There’s a second renewed slurp as she drives her face harder into her one-time tormentor’s neck.

It’s more than licking it off the ground. She can feel the tiny surges of blood pushing from his heart, like they should be making a bed creak. It takes more than a little willpower not to groan into his neck like a beast in heat. It lives up to every dream she had of something else. Every thump in his chest is heaven.

But she slowly pulls back, her tongue roughly cleaning his wound and her own lips as she feels a mixture of relief and pride at her accomplishment. Her eyes are half-lidded as she kneels over him and feels her body slowly knitting back together.

GM: The man moans like a whore in heat under Amelie’s kiss and tugs against his bonds.

“Joder, sí … joder!” he pants.

Amelie: Amelie slowly licks her lips and slides a foot up to be on one knee before violently headbutting him right in the nose.

“That’s for molesting me, coño.”

GM: Amelie’s weak headbutt is still enough to break the man out of his evident stupor. He blinks, snarls, and awkwardly tries to lunge at her. Muffled curses in Spanish sound through his gag.

Caroline: Caroline moves in immediately to shove a rag in the man’s mouth as soon as Amelie’s actions breaks her control. She holds him down until she can re-dominate him.

GM: His face goes still again beneath the Ventrue’s commanding words.

Caroline: Only when she’s secured him does she turn her attention to Amelie, her Beast rising up as she bares her fangs and emits a menacing hiss.

“Knock that off. I don’t have time for your petty shit right now.”

Amelie hasn’t really seen it, not until now. The monster inside the heiress. It bleeds through her words, around her. It fills the room with oppressive presence around Amelie, pushing down on her like an almost physical force. It’s massive, savage. It dares Amelie to step out of line.

“Finish your meals so I can get this over with.”

Ultimately, the missing blood will contribute to the narrative that the bodies were killed elsewhere and dumped here, should anyone discover them before Caroline can arrange a more permanent resolution.

Amelie: Amelie’s Beast doesn’t even show itself in response as her eyes meet Caroline’s. The command is not a suggestion, and the fledgling’s position is more than clear. She says nothing, but hurries to take the chance to feed herself. She goes neck to neck practicing nonlethal bites and feels a final climax topping off the bliss she’s already taken in. When she finishes, she carefully uses a wifebeater to clean her face, and waits for the next step in the Malveaux’s plan.

Caroline: The heiress inspects each set of wounds to make sure Amelie has licked the wounds closed, and instructs her otherwise in how to do so clinically. When Amelie’s had her fill, one of the security provides Caroline a suppressed firearm.

“Let her get dressed while we finish up here.” Her voice is hard, cold. Distant.

GM: “Shouldn’t she see this? Her fault, too,” says the larger blonde. “Her fault mostly, actually.”

Caroline: “She can watch,” Caroline answers.

Amelie: Amelie looks to the blonde with slight annoyance. She wonders how it’s her fault their people turned into vampire hunters and targeted her. She resolves not to watch and looks down at the floor.

GM: The bald man grabs a fistful of Amelie’s hair and yanks her face up.

“When someone bleeds. When someone dies. You watch.”

His voice drips with disgust.

Amelie: Amelie’s neck is too weak to resist. Her eyes look to the side to avoid directly watching. She doesn’t respond to the man’s ignorance, either. When someone dies or bleeds for a purpose, you watch them to carry a piece with you. It’s a lesson in history, leading to many ruins and victories.

But slaughters are not things to internalize. She has to keep her soul in place and close her heart to the slaughter. She can’t take their deaths on her shoulders lest her back break.

Caroline: Caroline briefly takes a knee and draws forth a small rosary from under her shirt. She prays quietly to herself for a moment before tucking it away and taking up the gun. It’s over very quickly, cleanly.

She places several rounds in each man’s chest and head. It’s a big hulking .45 and a slower-velocity round to begin with. With the suppressor she’s not worried about punching through the other side. The bags are sealed in short order.

GM: The bald man twists Amelie’s arms into a lock when she tries to look away. It hurts. Still, she averts her gaze. Perhaps not her soul, but at least her gaze.

The silencer is as loud as guns on TV. Audible, but not deafening. Each man stares blankly ahead, until the bloody hole in the center of his head and chest appears. Then his face stays that way forever. His fellows watch ahead blankly as each black bag gets done up like so much trash. They don’t shout. They don’t scream. They don’t cry. They’re like zombies.

They don’t even beg.

Caroline methodically goes through each man, execution-style, but it’s more like watching livestock get slaughtered: not even an act of death, except to the audience. Silence hangs pregnant in the air.

Amelie: Each gunshot makes Amelie jump. She hates the noise they make. She hates the smell of gun-smoke. She hates the added scent of blood that comes from the pits the bullets make. Guns are awful.

When the bald man releases her hair, she finally looks over the scene, taking slow and calming breaths to keep her nerves.

Caroline: Caroline’s hand doesn’t shake, but she quickly turns from the bodies to her ghouls.

“This isn’t on any of you. It’s on me. I killed them. If any of you have any problems or hang-ups about it after the fact, come speak with me when we’re done.”

She pauses.

“I’m sorry.”

GM: ‘Brian’ isn’t the only one to look at Amelie with disgust when the slaughter is over.

“You can lead a horse to water,” the blonde woman remarks.

Amelie: Amelie feels no need to take their disgust as any mark against her. If anything, with what’s happened here, it’s a good thing she still has ideals that can clash against them.

Caroline: While the bodies are zipped up and put away Caroline draws forth the rosary again.

GM: “Had to be done,” the bald man says, releasing Amelie’s hair.

Caroline: Caroline finishes her prayer and tucks the rosary away.

“I know. Thank you, Brian.”

GM: “Me too.” The redhead looks queasier than the bald man, but nods slowly in agreement with Caroline’s initial statement.

“There… wasn’t gonna be any happy ending here.”

Caroline: “The happy ending left when the words left Diego’s mouth,” Caroline agrees. “Let’s just get it done. It isn’t safe here.”

Amelie: Amelie says nothing. She waits for her last restraints to come off so she can dress herself.

GM: “I say ‘she’ looks fine in rags,” says the larger blonde, as if in response to that very thought.

Caroline: “Enough. She’ll learn or she’ll die. It’s the only choice available. Especially with her clan.”

Amelie: That gets some of Amelie’s attention. ‘Especially with her clan?’ She looks towards Caroline confusedly at the mention of such an odd word.

Caroline: Most of Caroline’s clothing would fit Amelie particularly poorly. The blonde ghoul has dug out a rare set that’s still imperfect, but is certainly more serviceable than simply a coat. It includes black pants, a red and gold shirt, and a tight black coat that will be noticeably less tight across Amelie’s meager chest. The bottom of the pants will have to be rolled several inches as well. Still, it’s better than being naked. The bra is a needless formality that Amelie doesn’t require and isn’t given.

No one seems to have much attention for her dressing as the bodies are stacked and the hole patched with inhuman speed. A light coat of paint covers up the recent work.

Amelie: She takes the chance rather quickly. The outfit is a little gaudy for her, but she pulls it on with some haste. She does the rolls herself, pinches and folds the cloth, and tucks it around and up to keep it at a proper angle before she tightly pulls the coat on. She’s finally in clothes. Nudity was a nightmare that’s finally over as she fixes her hair.

Though she watches them all work, she looks for an opening after it is done to ask Caroline about her mention of a ‘clan’.

Caroline: When Amelie has dressed herself Caroline has her re-cuffed, though she’s generous enough to have it done in front this time, rather than behind her back. She doesn’t entertain questions until they’re complete and loading into the waiting vehicles outside.

GM: The moment doesn’t come.

It seems impossible how they could have missed it.

The figure sitting on one of the living room’s chairs.

He’s shorter than Amelie or Caroline. About the same height as Autumn. Dark brown hair lies flat against his head, coming to rest in a slight curl just below his ears. A scruffy mustache and Vandyke would give him an almost roguish appearance, if his lips were quirked in a smirk. They are not.

The marble-like pallor to John Harley Matheson’s and Augusto Vidal’s still features made them seem like statues come to life. The comparison is all the more apt with the present figure, who sits naked and bereft of any clothing. His small body is firm, stringy, and compact, without an ounce of excess fat. His genitals have not been circumcised. Light dully reflects off his marble-like skin.

But he does not resemble either of Caroline’s elder clanmates. Not fully. Some trick of the light makes his form seem hazy, indistinct. Ethereal. He seems to almost glow. His nude form is covered by a coat of silvery fur, no thicker than an army recruit’s buzzcut. His posture, too, is odd. He’s not sitting the way a normal person sits. Something about how his shoulders are hunched, the way his claw-nailed hands grip his knees, at once stiffly and casually, seems… off. As if he doesn’t know how to sit on a chair. As if he’s watched Caroline do it, and is now trying to mimic it. Badly.

His face is off, too. It looks human. Enough. But the contours are… wrong. The jaw is subtly curved and misshaped. His teeth are just a little too large in his mouth. It’s as if some indecisive sculptor cast an animal’s head from clay, changed their mind mid-way through, and tried to fashion a man’s instead. It was too little and too late.

His eyes are a deep gray-blue, like pools into fathomless depths. The inky black pupils are as wide and wild as any animal’s. One could stare into those eyes forever. But one need only glance into them once to be sure of a single fact:

This creature is not human.

It has not been human for a long time.

Caroline: Caroline whirls on him the moment she sees him, but holds up a hand to forestall any action by her ghouls.

GM: The ghouls all startle, some more than others. The armed ones level their guns.

The creature does not stir.

Amelie: Fear all but flips the pit of Amelie’s stomach as her eyes dart over the figure’s form in every which way. The fur, the claws, the posture. He… it… feels wrong in its own skin. She remembers tales of the goat-man around the fire, a poor mimic of humanity that could simply be in a room and have you count it as always being there. It could have watched them for hours or seconds.

Her right foot slowly moves back, ready to kick off the ground, but her eyes don’t leave the creature. Everything about it after her encounters thus far tells her it’s not something to fight.

She slowly pops her jaw in her mouth, eyes darting from Caroline to the creature and back again, trying to find the dagger on her body.

Or look at them.

Caroline: Caroline suspects she’s found the ‘danger’ here.

“Good evening,” she greets it—him—firmly.

The words feel like they break a barrier between them and the thing.

GM: The creature’s voice is a soft whisper. Its lips do not seem to move.

“You are in my domain.”

Amelie: Amelie doesn’t step forward. She opts for another route and slowly, carefully, lowers herself down to one knee before the creature in a bow.

“Forgive us. It is… my fault,” she chokes out, trying not to shake.

GM: The creature’s fathomless eyes survey Amelie.

It offers no reply.

Caroline: “I was not aware that Algiers was a recognized domain, regent,” Caroline replies mildly. “My apologies.”

This is no pretender.

“We were preparing to take our leave. Might I offer you a boon in apology, and for the troubles created within it?”

GM: The creature’s voice is soft, still barely more than a whisper. Caroline has to strain to make it out.


Caroline: “Might I offer you something else then, in return, beyond my respects and apologies, regent?” Caroline asks carefully.

GM: The creature’s face does not change as it whispers,


Amelie: Amelie feels another shudder at their exchange. Is this another ‘kindred’? What the hell are they?

She stays on her knee and slowly looks up to face the creature’s form again. The fear is like hot iron inside of her, but she can still feel the others in the room. Lives. Caroline’s unlife. They saved her, and still yet live.

“The blunder is… mine. Anything I can possibly extend to you, my lord, is yours.”

The next words feel like torture out of her throat.

“Even myself.”

GM: The creature stares at Amelie.

Amelie: She lowers her head again, digging her nails into her palms.

Caroline: “She is an unreleased fledgling,” Caroline replies. “And unknowingly blundered into your domain. It is my intent to return her to her primogen, with your permission.”

GM: The creature’s completely still face remains fixed on Amelie. Another whisper escapes its motionless, oddly-shaped mouth.

“Who are you?”

Amelie: Amelie’s second knee lowers the floor and she bows lower.

“Amelie Savard, my lord. I am a smith.”

GM: The creature’s eyes have not blinked.

“I am no lord.”

Caroline: “Caroline Malveaux, of Clan Ventrue,” Caroline replies.

Amelie: “Apologies. I am simply below you. The title lept to me out of ignorance.”

GM: A ripple passes through the creature’s eyes.

“You are known to me, Caroline of the Malveaux.”

Its head slowly turns from Amelie to stare at her.

Caroline: She meets his gaze fully.

GM: “Do you offer yourself to me… Caroline?”

The name sounds awkward, bizarre, wrong on the creature’s tongue. Not casual like Coco makes it.

Caroline: “I would offer you a boon in apology, but my loyalty is spoken for, regent. I know not even your name, and I would not offer my self or services thusly.”

She’s also seen just how an elder might treat a neonate that is theirs.

GM: The creature replies in its monotone whisper,

“Uthman names me Nathaniel of Blanch.”

Amelie: Amelie looks up, a small amount of horror and wonder on her face. Almost like she looks upon an idol.

“Uthman ibn Affan?”

GM: The creature only stares.

Amelie: She quickly bows her head once again.

“Forgive me for my outburst.”

Caroline: “Your name is unknown to me, regent, for which I apologize,” Caroline replies.

GM: “You offer yourself to me, Amelie of Savard.”

Something seems to stir in the creature’s too-deep eyes.

Amelie: Amelie’s head nearly hits the floor. Fear creeps over wonder once again.

“I have transgressed. I only have myself to offer.”

GM: “I am old, Amelie of Savard.”

The creature’s pupils dilate and sharpen to frightening clarity. Blackness swallows the rest of its eyes like morsels disappearing down a beast’s gullet.

“I am hungry.”

Amelie: Amelie’s nails dig harder into her palms as she sees the creature’s eyes turn into a shark’s. It is hungry. Fear grips her, but Caroline has saved her life, as have the others in this room. She marshals all her courage and stays on her knees. She stays put. She just prays for her life, for the courage to allow them to at least get far enough to be safe.

“I am alone. My ‘sire’ absent. My life saved by those present besides us, it is all I can offer to excuse their transgressions and my own,” she squeaks out. “Whether it is my service or… otherwise.”

GM: The creature stares.

Then, it is no longer on the chair.

It doesn’t rise. It doesn’t leap. It tries, perhaps, to do both, or just one—and the results are a lurching, almost awkward parody of motion, as unmistakably inhuman as the rest of its misshapen body. It stands before Amelie, shorter than her, but she has the uncanny sense it would be looking down at her even if she stood on her feet.

The creature does not react as the ghouls’ firearms train after it. But motion disturbs its malformed mouth.

A bulge.

Something gray and dry and sandpaper-like, snaking from a sudden gash across its lower face.

“I am old and I am hungry, Amelie of Savard,” the creature whispers, licking its tongue across its chops.

Its clawed, fur-lined arms spread wide like a pair of opening jaws.

Amelie: Amelie sits up in her kneeling position as the ancient thing makes its way to her. If behind a screen it’d be a comical motion. But in person it is wrong, bereft of cadence. It’s the first time she has seen its mouth move, she cannot tell if it is a tongue, a snake, or if both these words have lost meaning to him.

She feels the same fear she had staring into that tower. Gawking into the world of the dead. But there is no running.

Shaky hands move up to the coat Caroline gave her, unbuttoning what she had and tossing it aside, allowing herself less protection from the creature.

She gives one look to Caroline, soaked in terror, before she tilts her chin back. Fear has taken her words. She would like a sword but feels it would snap in it’s jaws. She would like to run but knows it’d rip her legs off before she could.

Her only hope is to plunge forward, pray for mercy, and for her courage to hold just awhile longer. If she dies, this time she dies through her own choices. This time she stares the abyss and does not gnash, but dive.

“I am… yours, Nathaniel of Blanch.”

Caroline: “Respectfully, Regent Bathaniel, she is not hers to give,” Caroline interjects.

GM: No longer is there motion. It’s as if the creature has finally dispensed with the charade.

One second, it stands before Amelie.

The next, it’s gone.

Pain saws and rips and tears and rends apart Amelie’s dead flesh. The taut-stretched tension finally snaps as Amelie’s scream pieces the air, raw and hoarse and welling with pain, welling like the blood that slakes the creature’s immortal thirst.

Amelie: Amelie’s strangled screams ring through gritted teeth as she takes it. She takes it like she’s taken molten hell on her back, blades in her skin, and countless humiliations at the hands of people who believe themselves her superiors without earning it.

But it’s different this time. She takes it for someone. For the old Caroline who showed her kindness, and for this one who she can prove her value over again and moreover.

It hurts. She feels it drain and slip. She feels fire in her needy needy veins raging around like snakes scrambling for water.

She finally lets herself go limp in the jaws of the creature, hoping she’s valuable enough to let Caroline run.

GM: Another ravaged, red-spattered corpse hits the floor with a thump. Bone gleams through torn apart and shredded muscle. It’s barely recognizable as Amelie.

The creature’s arms retract. Its mouth hangs open. Blood drips from serrated rows of jagged fangs.

Caroline: Caroline stares, fighting to keep her expression carefully emotionless.

GM: The creature’s arms hang slack and motionless by its sides, as if it has forgotten their use. Its eyes stare at Caroline, black and wide and hungry. Still so hungry.

“That name is not Uthman’s, Caroline of the Malveaux,” it whispers.

Caroline: “You have spoken only of how others would name you, not of how you would name yourself, regent. What name would you be called by?” Caroline asks.

Beyond ‘monster.’ Caroline doesn’t look at Amelie’s shredded, torpid body. This forgotten elder. A monster that cannot help itself. That could not resist. That still might.

GM: Blood drips from the creature’s open-hanging mouth.

Its lips do not move.

“Nathaniel of Blanch… is enough.”

Caroline: “Nathaniel of Blanch. Is there more you would take this evening, or do we have your leave to depart?”

GM: Blood continues to run down the creature’s jagged and yellowed canines, pattering lightly as it strikes Amelie’s face. The creature’s arms hang slack against its naked body.

“Amelie of Savard has paid for her trespass. You have not.”

Caroline: Caroline stares.

GM: The trickling blood from the creature’s fangs has finally begun to taper off. Red stains dot Amelie’s face.

“Demourelles,” the creature whispers.

Then, all of Caroline’s ghouls stare.

The creature’s brow furrows. The motion looks almost human.


“Sleep upon Demourelles for three days. The first with Amelie of Savard. Return here. Tell Misha Sipokni what you see. Your trespass will be… forgiven.”

The creature’s hanging mouth closes.

Caroline: “Where would I find Misha Sipokni?” Caroline asks.

GM: The creature’s form abruptly vanishes like a snuffed-out candle.

The ghouls stare. Some with more alarm than others.

“What the fucking hell was that?” asks Green. Her voice is not even.

Caroline: “An elder.” Caroline looks down at the maimed Amelie. Her own voice is steady. “We’re never coming back to Algiers. Let’s go. Gather her up.”

GM: Brian does so.

“Isn’t that what he said he wanted, though…?” Autumn ventures.

Caroline: “We’ll see what the future holds,” Caroline replies. “He also wanted me to spend the night on Demourelles with her,” she gestures to Amelie, “and she may be destroyed by next week.”

GM: “Well, at least it’s not another marker to have hanging over your head…”

Caroline: “Just a different kind,” Caroline remarks as they pile into the vehicles. Amelie’s torpid body goes beside her as they set off.

GM: The night rolls steadily past as they pile into their cars. Everyone looks over their shoulders and scans past the windows.

Caroline: Caroline can’t blame them. The appearance of the near-forgotten elder and his assault upon Amelie is still fresh in her mind, looming like an imposing shadow over an already dark night.

Murder. Masquerade. She’s killed before, but never so personally and at once impersonally. Her blood ran in Diego. She knew him. Or at least believed she did. It hurt to kill him. It’s a small wound in what she’d thought was an hard shell around her heart that the execution of the other cholos found and penetrated, drove a blade into. What she did might have been necessary, for the Masquerade, for the faith, and for herself. But she’s never taken lives so coldly or quickly before.

And then there’s Amelie. Once more torpid beside her. Another sireless fledgling. Alone, scared. Mauled now almost to the point of final death already—in her first night. It conjures up unpleasant memories and darker thoughts.

It’s been a dark night, and the dawn holds no relief or salvation for her. Nor will it ever.

It’s a dark world, and she only ever seems to find herself more immersed in it. There was a time when she believed she could be more than just a monster. That she would not become just another monster.

Tonight she’s not convinced she already hasn’t.

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Celia VII
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Jon IV

Previous, by Amelie: Story Eleven, Amelie I
Next, by Amelie: Story Eleven, Amelie III, Caroline VIII

Previous, by Caroline: Story Eleven, Caroline VI, Isa II
Next, by Caroline: Story Eleven, Amelie III, Caroline VIII

Story Eleven, Celia VI

“I love you. I always have.”
Celia Flores

Friday night, 20 July 2012, AM

GM: Stephen doesn’t contact Celia after her meeting with Coco. They see each other in Elysium, but they both know far better than to wear their hearts openly there.

Time passes.

Then in July 2012, another Batman movie comes out.

Celia: It’s not that she’s pining for him.

There’s a lot she has to do to occupy her mind. Learning the ropes. Growing her business. Keeping her ghouls in line. Playing both Celia and Jade to keep up the charade (she thinks, at some point, Celia will probably just have to die or leave the city. It’s unfortunate but true).

But she sees him around. And she remembers the conversation that they never got to have. The things she wanted to say but couldn’t.

The anger, too, at the way he’d beaten and then left her.

Then suddenly there’s another Batman movie, and all she can think about is that date they’d gone on to see The Dark Knight. He’d been so… understanding. Gentle. It had been magical. Really. She’s glad it was him who had taken her that night. She’d been giddy for days.

So she sends him a ticket to the midnight release. July 20, 12:05 AM. Thursday bleeding into Friday. She isn’t sure if she should send a note with it. Maybe he’ll turn it down out of principle. Maybe he’ll send it back, mock her for thinking he’d ever want to see her again. In the end she decides that’s better than surprising him at the theater and getting, well, raged at again for it.

For old times’ sake, she writes, and signs it ‘C.’

Getting ready for this is worse than the time she’d picked out what to wear for the actual first date they’d gone on. Because it isn’t a first date. It’s not even a second or third. It’s a ‘I lied to and cheated on you and I’d like you to forgive me because we’re both immortal and stuck with each other’ kind of date.

The Internet hadn’t been very helpful when she’d tried to look up what to wear based on that.

She doesn’t even know what face to wear. Jade or Celia? She’d had this whole thing planned where she could just be Celia for a night, pretend to be normal again, do that thing Pietro had taught her. But apparently Stephen / Roderick—what is she even supposed to call him?—doesn’t like lying.

So what’s lying? Jade? Or Celia? Pretending she’s not a monster, or being the monster?

It’s not even fair. All he’s probably doing is pulling on a pair of old jeans and a shirt without too many holes in it.

She goes for something flirty but casual. That effortless ‘oh I just threw this on’ look, the kind of thing she actually spent days picking out. Celia’s face. Natural makeup.

All she can do is hope for the best.

GM: If there’s one bright side, it’s that her ghouls don’t take that much effort to keep in line.

“You look Flawless as always, ma’am,” Alana beams.

It’s not been that long since Kenya died and she also started to.

Celia: “Thanks, ’Lana.” Celia smiles distractedly at the ghoul as she finishes swiping on a nude lip. Somewhere between pink and brown. Matte. Nothing that will run or smear. MLBB is what they call this kind of look: my lips but better. As if there’s really much improvement a stick of color can do that her fingers can’t.

She’s putting entirely too much effort into this.

He’s probably not even going to show.

Or he’ll take one look at her and laugh at her dress and shoes and makeup and ask what she thought this was. Then he’ll tell everyone else and they’ll laugh too.

She tries not to think about it.

She should find someone who takes Xanax. Get a little nibble in. See if it helps.

Maybe Klonopin. Isn’t that one stronger? She thinks she heard that somewhere.

GM: Alana asks if she can put it on Celia. She loves doing her mistress’s face and helping the Toreador to be pretty.

“And you seem just a little nervous, ma’am,” she ventures.

Celia: “I’m fine.” But Celia lets her put the lipstick on.

GM: The movie theater is packed, like it is for the finale to any critically acclaimed blockbuster franchise. Some teen girls who spot Celia in the crowd go, “Ohmygod, you’re Celia Flores!” “I follow your Instragram!” “We all do!” “Can we take your selfie?”

Celia: Mel had warned her about the camera thing. She smiles at the teenagers, thanks them for following, and lets them take the photos that she concentrates on showing up in. She tells them to tag her, too, so she can share. She even has an extra unopened lipstick in her bag from one of the PR kits she hadn’t gotten around to opening yet, and she hands it to one of them with a wink.

GM: The girls love it and even bicker over who gets to have it. They take lots of pics. Mel had warned Celia, but also told her to enjoy it too. Many of her clan love to bask in the adoration of these kine. To be seen and admired. To be told they are beautiful, because it is true, and what is being beautiful without being admired for it?

Celia: If no one recognizes your beauty, are you really beautiful?

She waves goodbye to the girls after a few moments, scanning the crowd for Stephen. Roderick. Whatever his name is these days.

Maybe a midnight opening hadn’t been the best idea.

GM: Whatever his name is.

Jade or Celia. What’s really hers?

Celia: Celia, tonight. That’s all that matters. One evening at a time.

GM: It’s as she’s scanning the crowd that she sees him right there, watching her.

His clean-shaven, boyish face doesn’t look a day older than it did two years ago. He’s wearing blue jeans with a short-sleeved button-up and dark leather shoes that give the casual pants a dressier look. It might be nice to think he’s dressed up for her, but she’s generally seen the primogen’s childe wear suits and ties to Elysium (it’s actually more formal attire than hers). If anything, he’s dressed down here.

“Hi,” he says. A little lamely.

Celia: The fact that he’s here, though.

If her heart hadn’t stopped that night she’d died she’s sure that it would be hammering, now. Skipping. Singing, maybe. She wants to skip. To launch herself at him. Like some long overdue reunion.

She settles for a sedate walk instead. Even so, she can’t help the nervous energy bubbling inside of her, or the smile that curls the corners of her lips up, that goes so far as to crinkle her eyes.

“Hey,” she says. “I’m glad you made it.”

There’s one of those slightly longer than normal pauses where she can’t decide if she should hug him or shake his hand. In the back of her mind is what happened last time they were together. The frenzy. The rage. But he’d let her touch him, so he clearly doesn’t have a problem with that.

Finally, she leans in to embrace him anyway. It’s not one of those awkward butt-out hugs, either, the kind reserved for family and people you’re not actually excited to see. She steps into the circle of his space and her arms go around him.

It’s like no time passed at all, that’s how perfectly she fits against him. Two years later and he still smells the same, too. Maybe he likes the effect it has on his hair. And maybe he just likes that she was the one who recommended the products to him. She breathes him in.

“It’s really good to see you.”

GM: “Yeah,” Roderick/Stephen says back. He’s a little slow to return the hug, at first. There’s some tension behind his embrace, and Celia isn’t sure how much may be the past and how much may just be his Beast. Their Beasts.

But he does, at least, not make it an ass-out hug.

“You look like you’re pretty popular these days,” he says, glancing the way of the teenagers.

Celia: “Ah, yeah, social media account took off. Who knew dogs and makeup would go over so well?” She smiles up at him. “Just have to hashtag things the right way.” There’s a brief pause as she considers the complication of being seen out in public with him. Celia Flores is alive and well.

Stephen Garrison is… dead.

She’d looked it up after she’d seen him that night two years ago. Looked to find out ‘what had happened.’ The lie he’d told. They’d told. Him and Coco.

GM: Car crash.

Neat and clean.

“He’d have had to do it at some point,” Mélissaire had said. “That whole ‘not aging’ thing eventually makes friends and family ask rather inconvenient questions.”

“And a Brujah’s temper makes them an even bigger danger to be around than most Kindred.”

It’s pretty recent still. Only a few months ago.

“I don’t know much about makeup, but it’s hard to go wrong with dogs,” says Stephen/Roderick.

Celia: She’d wanted to go to the funeral. Mélissaire had told her it was a bad idea, not only because of the location but also because of his feelings on the matter. Would he want her there, showing up, bothering his family?

She hadn’t even been able to offer his family her condolences. Even lying, knowing he was out there, it might have been… some sort of closure. She’ll have to do the same for her own family, eventually. Celia is on borrowed time.

Perhaps she should have come as Jade; no one takes photos of Jade. She’s a nobody. Celia is too eye-catching for the masses, though, too recognizable in this town.

But Jade’s a lie, isn’t she? And he doesn’t want her to lie.

“Don’t tell anyone,” she tells him, “but the dog belongs to one of my employees.” She winks.

GM: “Might be you’re not,” her grandsire’s ghoul had said thoughtfully. “You can age. Celia will have to die, eventually, but she could do that as late as 90. If you’re skilled enough to keep her Masquerade going.” A rueful smile. “And willing to look like a shriveled old prune.”

Celia: Gross.

Besides, isn’t everyone’s dream to show up at their own funeral and see what people say?

GM: “Secret’s safe,” says Stephen. “I guess it’s not that different from any other social media, putting forward an image we want the world to see.”

The two of them file into line. Stephen doesn’t buy any concessions.

“Your family ever get that cat like they’d been talking about, or no go?”

Celia’s mom had really wanted a cat. Her shithole apartment had had a ‘no pets’ policy.

Celia: “She did. Once she moved into the new place. Named him Shadow, but he’s a calico, so I’m not entirely sure on the logic there. She and Emily love it. It… doesn’t like me.” She stands a little closer to him than she needs to under the guise of it being crowded. Various questions flit through her mind: how’s your sister, your dad, did you finish school, how’s ‘work?’ None of them seem appropriate. They’re just a reminder of the life he left behind.

“You still a sits in the back kind of guy?” she asks as they hand the associate their tickets.

GM: The line is very long. They cut. Roderick says to the guy who objects, “Hey, we were here, remember?” and the guy answers, “Oh yeah, sorry man.”

“Might as well get some perks from this,” Roderick/Stephen says as they head into the theater.

Celia: And here she’d thought he’d throw a punch or something equally dramatic. She laughs instead, slinging her arm through his.

“The drawbacks are worth whatever we can take,” she agrees. She finds a couple of seats for them near the back of the theater. Now, more than ever, she doesn’t like people behind her. She’s sure that he’s the same way.

“Can I ask you a silly question?” She keeps her voice low, nothing more than a delicate whisper in the still-light theater.

GM: “And yeah. Up close you can barely see the screen, and in the middle is twice as many people.”

There’s just more reasons that’s a con now.

“Okay, what?”

Celia: “I keep second guessing myself on what to call you now,” she admits, sheepish. “I know what to say elsewhere, but…”

GM: “Oh.” Roderick/Stephen actually looks more than a little thoughtful before he says, “Roderick. Clean break is best. I’m Roderick everywhere else, anyway.”

“And… being Celia is…” he trails off for a moment, “thoughtful, but she’s popular. Jade might be better.”

Celia: Her dead heart does that thing it does. Or would do. Thinks about doing.

It skips.

Jade is better. That means he wants to see her again.

She keeps it cool with a nod.

GM: “How did you do that with the face, by the way, if it’s not veiling? Did your sire take you to a night doctor?”

Celia: “Not my sire, no. D’you remember that detective from… that night?”

The night she’d egged Maxen into hitting her by wearing makeup to dinner. She’d told him about it, after. The favor her grandmother had called in, the guy who’d come to meet all of them at the hospital.

GM: “Yeah. I’ve seen him at Elysium.”

“We hide in plain sight, I guess.”

Celia: “Yeah. He knew someone.” There’s a pause. She leans in, lowering her voice further. “He put my mom back together. After.”

“Ha. We do. Almost had a heart attack when he showed up and flashed his… y’know.”

“Makes sense, though. The night jobs. Still need money, I guess. Cling to what we know.”

GM: Roderick looks less than pleased. “He’s not a cop for the money. He’s leveraging his position in all sorts of illegal ways to shield organized crime interests, directly or indirectly, because he…”

The Brujah seems to hold his tongue.

“Sorry. Politics.”

Celia: “You mean like the Mafia?”

GM: “Yeah. The Mafia.”

Celia: “Oh.” She hadn’t known.

GM: “I don’t know for sure that he’s directly in bed with them, but Savoy is, and he works for Savoy.”

“I’m glad you were able to get help for your mom,” he then says, clearly changing the topic.

“How’s she doing?”

Celia: Her hand curls around his on the arm rest. She almost asks if she can help, but he changes the subject before the words leave her mouth.

“She’s good. She… well. Lucy.” She can’t quite keep the smile off her face. “She’s beautiful, Roderick. And he can’t touch her. I’m… after everything she’s been through, I’m glad she’s happy. Truly, truly happy. You should see them together. It’s honestly… it’s amazing.”

“I always thought…”

It’s a touchy subject. She’d wanted kids.

With him.

It’s a dangerous path for her thoughts to traverse. She shakes her head.

“Doesn’t matter. Mom is good.”

GM: Their hands squeeze.

“Good. I’m glad. She was nice. Good for your… sister, too. Being raised by your dad would’ve fucked her up in all sorts of ways, I’m sure.”

He then seems to realize the implications of what he said.

And then maybe remember them, too.

That last fight.

So he opens his mouth, then changes the subject again to, “How’d the lawsuit pan out?”

Celia: She’s happy to let him lead. She doesn’t want to think about it, either. Their fight. The lies and truths she had told him.

Everything she’s hiding now.

“It went well. Really, really well. Viv was able to get her a settlement from the medical debt, and my mom has partial custody of the rest of them.” Except for Isabel, who is off at ‘Liberty,’ and beyond the age range of a custody agreement besides. “She invested a lot of it. Lucy’s college, car, the house, my business…”

She doesn’t mention that Savoy and Veronica had gifted her large sums, too. She doesn’t know how much attention he has paid her.

“Are you practicing? Law, I mean.”

GM: Technically, loaned, not gifted. But an interest-free loan with generous repayment terms (“we have forever, my dear”) was nothing to sneeze at. It was certainly more money than the 100k her mom ponied up.

“I’ve been pretty caught up in the all-night stuff,” Roderick answers. “Though I got my JD. Matter of pride as much as anything else. I’m going to take the bar exam, later. There’s still things it’ll be useful for.”

“That all sounds like good uses for the settlement money, anyway. There’s too many clients who win a big award and treat it like the lottery, just spending it all.”

Celia: “I told her to take a vacation,” Celia admits. “I guess I thought I could live vicariously if she brought back photos of Greece or Paris or even Miami.”

“But I’m glad you finished. And that you’re taking the bar. That’s… honestly, Ste—Roderick, that’s amazing.”

She still wants him to do great things.

And she’s mostly happy that the hand she had in his Embrace—breaking him—hadn’t kept him from doing it. Even if Coco had said she was overthinking her own importance.

GM: Celia’s mom did like the idea of a vacation. To London or New York, maybe, to see the ballet. Emily had also suggested Hawaii. Someplace bright, sunny, and tropical to forget the past and just relax.

But Celia’s mom had wanted to take her with them, and Savoy had said travel was dangerous and not to be undertaken lightly. And so the idea just hadn’t seemed to take off, without Celia. Her mom hadn’t complained. More money to invest in responsible adult things.

“Well, lots of people do it every year. But there have been extra challenges as… Kindred, so thanks. It really feels like I’ve earned it.”

Celia: She’s proud of him. So, so proud of him for continuing on despite the challenges. She doesn’t know how to say that, though, or if he’d want to hear it coming from her.

She squeezes his hand instead, tells him that she’s happy he’s going for it.

“When is the exam?”

GM: “October. It’s during the middle of the day, but there’s ways around that.”

Celia: “Let me know if I can assist at all. And, hey, after you crush it we should celebrate.”

GM: “Oh yeah, how do you think?”

Celia: “We could throw a big party and invite everyone and spend all evening mincing words. That sounds super fun.”

“Or, y’know, we could find something for the two of us. Quiet dinner by the Gulf. Steal a yacht. What’re you into these days?”

GM: “Ha. Yeah. There’s enough of that at Elysium. Those parties are basically like work.”

“The Anarchs all live in Mid-City, so I’ve been doing most of my hunting around there. It’s a more working-class neighborhood. The girls aren’t really my type, to be honest. And I’m starting to feel a little old for the college crowd, even if I still look it. It’s the sorts of girls going to law school, who you can have a conversation with, who I think I’d like most as vessels.”

“Though that’s mostly theoretical, since they’re in Riverbend, and I haven’t wanted to sell part of my soul to the sheriff for hunting rights.”

Celia: There’s a pang that ricochets through her chest. For him, for wanting the conversation. For her, for thinking he still wants her.

“What if I got you a hall pass? Like a one time exception?”

GM: Roderick raises his eyebrows. “How would you do that? You’re a Bourbon.”

“The sheriff’s one of the most hardass regents there is. And a Hardliner.”

Celia: She shrugs.

“I’ve got three months to figure it out. Could always join me in the Quarter if you’d prefer.”

GM: Roderick looks at Celia with an expression that might be described as dubious at best and alarmed at worst. He’s a silent for a moment before seeming to settle on, “No thanks.”

“Look, you could also join me in Mid-City,” he then says, seemingly trying to divert the conversation back to calmer waters. “It takes a little work to find good vessels, but it’s not impossible. What are you into these days, so far as hunting?”

Celia: “I just work within what’s typical of the Quarter, mostly. Tourists and all that.”

GM: “Don’t have any preferences past that?”

Celia: “I mean, aesthetically pleasing people are always preferred, but I think that might be a clan thing.” She’s quiet a moment, then presses a hand to her mouth to stifle some giggles. “This conversation reminds me of the night we met.”

GM: Roderick looks amused. “Oh, how’s that?”

“And yeah, pretty sure that’s a requirement just to be a Toreador.”

Celia: “You asking questions and me trying to avoid making you think I was just another empty-headed pretty face majoring in dance.”

GM: “It’s funny how that works out. My sire says everyone usually winds up in the clans they belong to.”

“Did you finish at Tulane, by the way, or have you mostly been focusing on your business?”

Celia: “I took some online classes, but the focus changed to help support what I do now. Since I’m not pretending to pick a major for Maxen there’s some more flexibility instead of dance or theology.” There’s some bitterness to her voice once she mentions her father’s name.

“Coco have big plans for you with helping take ’em down?”

GM: “The Mafia, you mean?” Roderick hesitates. “That’s a little sensitive to go into.”

“What’d you do instead, premed?”

Celia: “Ah. Right. Sorry, I didn’t mean to pry. I guess I was just more wondering how things are going for you in general. With her. With everything.”

GM: Roderick starts to answer. The pair are interrupted, though, as the previews end and the movie finally begins.

There’s a few parallels that aren’t lost on Celia. How Bruce Wayne has been secluded and emotionally crippled for close to a decade, full of hurt over his past love. How Alfred implores Bruce to stop holding onto that hurt and to live for himself again. How Alfred admits so much of Bruce’s pain was built on a lie, told at the time to spare him from even greater pain. But maybe holding onto that lie isn’t the right thing to do, anymore.

“Maybe it’s time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day,” Michael Caine says tearfully.

Celia: This is not the type of movie that she’d expected to learn things from. She’d come to see cars get blown up, bad guys locked away, and Batman prevail in the end. She’d come to see if Stephen—Roderick—wanted anything to do with her anymore, if he could forgive her for what she’d done years ago. By the time the movie is half over she has gone from holding his hand to lifting the armrest between them and placing her head on his shoulder.

Is he supposed to be Wayne? And she’s, what, the lying McLiarFace who needs to let him go?

GM: Maybe she’s Selina Kyle. The beautiful love interest with a troubled past who secretly works for a monster, then betrays Bruce so her master can physically and spiritually break him.

But he overcomes. His forgiveness and belief she is capable of “better” than what her behavior indicates brings her over to the right side, and they get to live happily ever after upon leaving Gotham and all its troubles behind.

Or maybe she’s reading too much into it.

Celia: Of course she’s reading too much into it.

Real life isn’t like the movies. There aren’t masked defenders and people who crawl out of pits and monsters in the dark and people who pretend to be your friend before literally stabbing you in the back and rich people stepping on little people until those little people have had enough and rise up and revolt.


She asks him about it later, though, as they file out of the theater amidst the crowd.

“If you were Bruce, do you think you could forgive the girl like that? For the betrayal?”

GM: Roderick does, at least, let Celia rest her head against his shoulder throughout the movie, and puts his arm around her. They can’t enjoy any of the concessions, but it feels almost like being alive again.

He pauses to think about her question on their way out.

“I’d like to think so,” he says. “She did finally stand for what was right.”

He looks around the emptying theater.

“I’d normally take you out for ice cream or something at this point.”

“You want to go for a walk in the park?”

Celia: “I’m gonna miss that jalapeno cheesecake flavor. But yeah, a walk sounds great.”

GM: Celia calls Alana to come pick up her car. They take Roderick’s up to City Park. True to its name, it’s the city’s largest park, replete with a miniature golf course, art museum, amusement park, playground, restaurants, and other attractions to the point that ‘park’ actually looks rather scarce, at least this far south. Still, there aren’t many people around at 2 AM.

Roderick pulls into the closest parking lot. A children’s playground is visible across from the asphalt. The swings, slides, seesaws, sandbox, and other playground equipment stand still and barren at the late night hour.

Celia: Celia points at the playground, lifting her brows in question. Does he want to do the classic romance movie thing where they play on the slide and swings?

GM: Her ex looks amused. “Feels almost like sacrilege as vampires, doesn’t it?”

“What the hell, though. There’s no one else. They can’t cite us.”

Celia: “Is that a cite-worthy offense? I don’t see a sign proclaiming ‘you must be this young to act like a child.’”

She gets out of the car with a “race you!” and takes off at a run as if to prove her point.

GM: Celia trips in her heels. Roderick’s not next to her, but then he is, catching her just before her knees scrape the pavement.

“Maybe bad shoes for a race,” he says wryly.

Celia: At least she didn’t roll her ankle.

“Veronica makes it look so easy,” she says with a laugh. “Thanks. Guess I wasn’t meant to be a dancer after all.”

GM: That might not seem like such a bad thing, with his arms around her. Holding her. Supporting her.

He helps her up. “I don’t know, you seemed pretty into it. Was probably just too much else to balance on top of cos school and all the stress with your dad.”

“You could always take those classes again.” He thinks. “Or maybe not, with where Tulane is.”

“Could also just take lessons from your mom. I’m sure she’d be thrilled to teach you.”

Celia: “There are studios in the Quarter, I’m sure. Or, yeah, my mom.”

She doesn’t move to pull away from him, even after her feet at firmly on the ground again.

GM: The two of them stand there against one another in the dark, gazing out over the still playground.

“My sire says we should never let ourselves stop learning. There’s always more to learn, and we have forever.”

Celia: “It would be a waste of a Requiem if we let our minds decay. She sounds… like she’s pushing you in all the right ways.”

Celia is quiet a moment, then says, “I didn’t meet her under normal circumstances, but she wasn’t what I expected. And I guess, you know, if you had to end up as someone’s childe… there are worse options.”

GM: “Yeah. She’s an old school Brujah. Thinking Brujah. I wouldn’t call her my mom, or anything, but… it’s good to have someone like her in my life, unlife, after how ugly the divorce was.”

Stephen had told Celia’s that story. The stress of his dad’s job was too much for his mom. She lives up in Nashville and has remarried. Stephen and Danielle would spend summers with her, not that they particularly wanted to. They didn’t get along with their stepfather.

He wasn’t abusive. They just didn’t like him. The feeling sounded mutual.

Celia: “I’ve heard good things about her.”

And she wouldn’t have taken him if he didn’t want it. That gives her points in Celia’s book. She’s also a little relieved to hear him compare her to his mom, even if he doesn’t quite use the word to describe her. He probably doesn’t fuck his ‘mom.’

Maybe the Toreador are known as degenerates for a reason.

GM: “What about your sire? How’s Veronica, as far as options go?”

Celia: “She’s, uh… she’s… volatile. Some days are good, like really good, and then it just… flips. But I’m staying on her good side. And I learn a lot from her.”

There are certainly worse options than Veronica, too.

“And she’s with Pietro a lot, so it’s kind of like a two-for-one deal.”

GM: “I see her around all the Anarch events. She’s definitely something. You could do a lot worse.”

Roderick looks back out across the playground. “You want to go on the swings, or take a walk down the park?”

“The trees here are really pretty.”

Celia: “You got some bulging muscles under there that’s gonna make the seat fly around the bar five times if I ask you to push me?”

GM: He chuckles. “There’s a lot of Brujah stronger than me. I seem to be better at the ‘fast’ part. All that baseball, I guess.”

Celia: “Imagine if they let us play sports.”

“We can walk, though, you can show me these pretty trees.”

GM: “Okay. We can circle back here when we’re done.”

He takes her hand.

“And we do play sports, at least among the Anarchs. They aren’t really my scene. It’s crazy what they can get up to. Things like driving burning cars into each other, to see who can keep going longest.”

Celia: “Burning cars? That… sounds awful. I can’t imagine even watching something like that, let alone participating. Maybe driving normal cars into each other.” She looks up at him. “Are you messing with me?”

“Tell me more crazy things you guys get up to so I can wheedle an invitation out of you.”

GM: “I wish I was messing with you. But yeah. The burning cars game is the more extreme. The ‘tame’ version is just smashing normal cars into each other, like bumper cars.”

“But let’s see. There’s Nines, which is basically like paintball, except they use real guns and ammo. Sixty-Nines is a variation with a kidnapped victim, usually Kindred, who doesn’t know it’s actually a game. Bear-Baiting is trying to provoke an elder into frenzy at Elysium. Los Angeles Roulette is where two licks hit each other with baseball bats, not moving, until someone cries uncle or gets torpored. Gotcha involves taking a breather and staging an accident so they think they’ve ‘killed’ one of the Kindred players, who obviously doesn’t breathe or have a pulse, and seeing how they react.”

Celia: “That… actually sounds like a lot of fun to watch. Or play. You don’t participate? What do you get if you win?”

GM: “I think there’s better things to do with eternal life. A lot of those games obviously endanger the Masquerade, too. And Gotcha is cruel to the person who’s not in on it.”

Celia: “I guess I’m just used to all the formality. I can see why they’d want to cut loose. But yeah, I mean, you’re right.”

GM: “Usually you don’t get anything, anyways, besides being hailed as the winner. They’re just games. Ways to have fun and blow off steam. Though some Anarchs can build up their reputations through them.”

“And I’ll admit Nines can be fun, so long as everyone’s careful. With the Masquerade, that is.”

Celia: “Aha. So you have played.”

“And you lured me out here to be your unsuspecting victim for the Sixty-Nines, only then you spilled the secret.”

“I’ll still scream if you need me to.” She winks at him.

GM: Roderick smirks and loops his arm around her shoulder as they walk. “You’d hate Nines. Get your pretty face all messed up.”

“And yeah. I have played. There were a couple Anarchs saying I was basically a Ventrue, with how I dressed and acted.”

“But they stopped saying that after I filled their heads with a couple rounds.”

Celia: “So what you’re saying is you’re kind of a badass.”

“That’s pretty attractive, not gonna lie.”

GM: The smirk grows a bit. “All those shooting lessons with Dad paid off. There’s Anarchs who used to be gangbangers, and, Jesus, some of them don’t even hold a gun right. They have it pointed so the butt faces up, or to the side.”

Celia: “Oh. Wait. Teach me. How to shoot.”

“Also what do you mean butt up? That doesn’t even… even I know how to hold the damn thing.”

GM: “I think even they know how to do it. It’s just this really stylized, glam gangster pose they think looks badass and everyone with a brain knows is just stupid.”

“What do you want to learn to shoot for, though? Bullets don’t really do anything to us. I mean, we play games with them.”

Celia: She supposes he’s right.

“I don’t… know how to do any of that. Fight. Or anything. So. I mean.” She shrugs. “Seemed easier than learning how to throw a punch, I guess.”

“You remember that time when my dad went after my mom?” She glances at him out of the corner of her eye while they walk.

GM: He gives a little grimace. “Which time was that? When he put her in the hospital, when you were a teen, or when he…”

Celia: “The first time. I was still a kid.”

GM: “Okay, that time.”

“Yeah. I remember you telling me.”

“How he tried to saw off her leg and she had to stop ballet.”

Celia: “He kept guns in the house. I knew the safe combo. So when the police told me they weren’t coming, I went to get one. I’ve seen the movies, you know? Point and shoot.”

GM: “Well, if you don’t have any training, you can be as much a danger to yourself as to others.”

“But I agree you did the right thing. You couldn’t have just done nothing there.”

Celia: “I didn’t pull the trigger, though. I should have put him down.”

GM: “You’d have destroyed your life, doing that. Your mom wouldn’t have wanted you to.”

“And who knows how things would’ve gone. Would you have stopped him from sawing her leg off, still?”

Celia: “No,” Celia admits, “it was past that point.”

“That night you went missing your dad asked if I knew how to shoot. He said you could teach me if not. Anyway, how can I crash your Nines games if I don’t know what I’m doing?” She nudges him in the side with her elbow.

GM: “Okay, so say he’s dead. Your life’s over. Your mom’s horribly traumatized to lose ballet and her daughter. Your brothers and sisters are traumatized too, over everything. She stays in the house and tries to raise five kids while she’s a wreck, and then who knows what.”

“Because it sounds to me like things have turned out pretty okay. Your brothers and sisters aren’t… totally stuck with your dad. Your mom’s doing really well with Lucy and the settlement money. Emily also has a family. Who knows where she’d be now if you weren’t there for her, that night she was drunk. She told me about that when your mom was in the hospital.”

“I mean, obviously things aren’t perfect, but when are they?”

Celia: She thinks about it, but not for long.

“You’re right. But Isabel might have been saved. Emily didn’t tell me that she told you that.”

GM: “Yeah. You’d disappeared, your mom was out of it, so… we tried to pull things together.”

Celia: “I’m really glad that you did. That you were able to be there for them. Thank you.”

GM: “You’re welcome. You really made a difference in her life, it seemed like.”

Celia: “Good. She… she’s a good person.”

GM: “How is she these days?”

Celia: “Doing well. Finishing undergrad. Helping with Lucy. She got her massage license so she’s at the spa, too.”

GM: “That’s great. She sounds like she’s really found a place with your family.”

Celia: “Fits right in. Mom loves her.”

“Lucy is calling all three of us Mom, actually.”

GM: The two pass by a lot of trees on their way through the darkened park.

At the post-midnight hour, the pair seem to have the winding trails all to themselves. The forested park with its tall, drooping branches feels like something out of a primordial dream.

Celia: “You weren’t kidding about the trees being pretty. It’s beautiful back here.”

Celia kind of wants to climb one.

GM: There’s much to be said for losing the sun, but there’s a magic to the witching-hour stroll that wouldn’t be possible in broad daylight.

“Yeah. It’s twice as big as Central Park. You can spend forever just walking around.”

Celia: “All my time living here and I’ve never been this deep.”

GM: “The art museum is also pretty nice, and during Christmas they have this ‘Cajun Santa Claus’ lights display. Alligators instead of reindeer.”

Celia: “Alligators? Really?”

“We’ll have to come back so you can show me.”

GM: “Yeah. That’s the Cajun Santa for you.”

Roderick stares into the darkened trees for a bit, then pulls Celia closer, arm still wrapped around her shoulder.

“I missed you.”

Celia: “I missed you too. So, so much.” She leans into him, lets her cheek rest against his chest. Her arm encircles his lower back.

GM: He holds her like that, for a while. The warm summer night is alive with the sound of bullfrogs, the occasional nocturnal bird, and the sight of dancing fireflies. Celia feels Roderick’s chest rise and fall as he breathes (through conscious effort) the smell of the trees and grass. The humid night air is cool against Celia’s skin in her flimsy summer dress.

Roderick opens his mouth, perfectly clear to Celia in the dark, as if to say something.

Then he kisses her. It’s a slow and thoughtful kiss, and pleasantly cool, like the summer night they seemingly have all to themselves.

Celia: Oh.


She’d been thinking about it all night. Kissing him. Wondering if she could get away with it, if he’d mind a peck on the cheek later. If she’d even see him again after tonight.

Her mind blanks when he leans in. Her lips part. She isn’t a teenager anymore, unsure of what to do with her hands. She pulls him closer.

Everything is perfect.

GM: His lips meet hers again. Celia can feel his fangs brush against her tongue, as well as her own canines lengthening in her mouth.

Their knees sink to the grass as he pulls at the ties to her clothing.

Celia: It isn’t much to take off. The dress slides easily down her body once he releases the ties and pools in a chiffon puddle in the grass beneath her knees. The cool air doesn’t bother her new body, and his fingers make quick work of both bra and panties. Her body is the same as he remembered it. She unbuttons his shirt with more patience than she has shown anything else in this unlife, smoothing it back over his shoulders so it, too, can join the pile of discarded clothing.

GM: His hands roam her breasts as she tugs off his clothes. Her fangs trace her skin, then stab through it. Blood wells down her shoulder. He pauses for that agonizingly long fraction of a second to help pull off his pants and shoes, then licks up the cooling vitae as it trickles down her flesh.

Celia: She tries to follow his lead. To let the blood cool. The first time she bites him she even manages to do so. It’s agonizing, the waiting, watching it well and slowly, slowly drip down his skin.

She has time to think about how long it’s been. How long she’s wanted this, him. She knows she shouldn’t. But the blood calls to her. She ignores the rules and, rather than wait those several seconds to make sure it’s ‘safe,’ she pulls right from the source.

GM: At Celia’s lapse of control, Roderick’s own resolve seems to crumble as well. He sinks his fangs into her neck and drinks deeply. He shoves her backwards, pressing her naked body against the grass and his chest against hers. He doesn’t try to enter her with his flaccid cock. He just snarls, bites, and rapturously drinks.

Celia: She doesn’t even mind that he has laid her out on her back. The rational, human part of her mind thinks it’s hot, enjoys the show of dominance and strength. Her Beast snarls at the thought that it is anything less than the pinnacle, but once she sinks her fangs into Roderick’s flesh and swallows more mouthfuls of that precious red it’s content to purr instead.

At least until she flips him, straddling his waist with her hands pinning his arms above his head, growling in his ear as she drinks straight from his neck.

GM: Roderick shudders underneath her as she takes her fill, then kicks her out from under him and tackles her to the ground. The two vampires roll through the grass, hissing, biting, snarling, kissing, sucking, and finally collapse into exhaustion, messily streaked with one another’s blood.

They lie still for a bit. The grass is cool against their coppery-smelling skin.

“…the sex is really something else, isn’t it?”

Celia: She sprawls out across his chest, head tucked in the crook between neck and shoulder. Her lips press against his neck every so often, tasting him, though her fangs stay safely retracted inside her mouth.

“With you? Yeah.” Her lips curl into a smirk.

GM: He laughs faintly. “We must look like a couple of… assault victims.”

Celia: “You could lick it better.”

“Come stay with me today,” she says after a moment.

“I have a place. Just us.”

GM: “Oh, where?”

Celia: “Technically it’s in the Quarter. But no one knows about it but me. And it’s right next to the Central Business District.” She takes a moment to press a kiss against the corner of his mouth, then his lips proper. “No one knows about it but me. No coterie to deal with.”

GM: He seems to think, but not for long. Celia can feel his blood singing in her veins, and hers no doubt in his.


Celia: It’s almost a shame to get dressed after all of that. After making sweet, sweet love to him in the middle of the park, where anyone could come across them. She almost wants to go again.

But she reaches, eventually, for her dress and pulls it over her head, and picks up the discarded panties and bra without bothering to put them on.

Once she’s dressed she reaches for him, for his hand. It’s so… normal, being with him. Almost human. Minus the flaccid cock and the fangs, of course. Still. He brings her back to life in a way she hadn’t expected. She’s almost giddy as they traverse the trails that lead back to the car park.

GM: Roderick pulls on his boxers and other clothes before taking hers. “Damn. We’re bloody. We should go clean up in a bathroom.”

He looks amused by her carrying around her underwear. “Almost more funny if someone ran into us right now than when we were banging.”

Celia: As if she doesn’t have a purse to tuck them discretely into. She sticks her tongue out at him, mocking.

“We don’t need to clean up if we’re going back to my place. I’m not so house poor that I can’t afford a shower.”

“Though, truthfully, the primary has its own pool. Just saying.”

GM: “Yeah, but it’s a moderate drive there and we’re pretty bloody.”

“Just good practice with the Masquerade.”

Celia: “As I’ve said, you’ve an apparatus in your mouth that could clean me up.”

“But certainly, find a bathroom if that’s what calls your name.”

“Deny me the pleasure of your tongue on my body again.”

GM: Roderick smirks and licks Celia’s coppery-smelling nose.

“Feel that? No spit.”

“Happy to keep licking you, just won’t get us clean.”

Celia: “You know what I’d have given three years ago to have you ask if I wanted you to keep licking?” She smirks at him, but offers him her hand and falls in line behind him to find this restroom he’s so keen on.

GM: “Hmm, at least one massage?” he says as he takes her hand. The two start to walk back the way they came.

“I’m, uh. Sorry for beating you up in your salon two years ago,” he then says, with less levity.

“I felt like… your dad, staring down at you after what I’d done.”

“And I think that’s part of why I stayed away, because I was scared I’d do something like that to you all over again. I didn’t want to hurt you. Keep hurting you.”

“I’m just so angry, sometimes. I can’t even control it.”

Celia: There’s a moment here where the conversation can go a number of ways: an apology from her for breaking his heart. The demand of a debt for breaking her body. Or a simple scrubbing it clean, and letting the two of them start over.

It’s his last admission that stays her hand from taking advantage of that moment.

“I…” She takes a breath she doesn’t need to gather her thoughts. “I thought you hated me. Truly. And it hurt. More than what you did, that thought hurt.”

She tugs on his hand to pull him to a stop.

“Roderick. I don’t want to go into this with regrets and lies between us. I’m sorry, too, for getting you into this. For everything I said to you that night I left you.”

GM: He stops and faces her, but squeezes her hand.

“You had to. You couldn’t have stayed with me, after getting turned. You just couldn’t have.”

“Was all of what you said made up?”

Celia: “I wanted to bring you with me. And I just… couldn’t do it. They said you’d be like a slave. How could I subject you to that?”

GM: “Coco already had her eye on me. You’d have just picked a fight with her.”

Celia: “And that night… I almost killed you. You know what it’s like, the hunger. The need. I was so scared I’d just drain you and leave you empty.”

“Christ, I tried to. I had a whole party planned out to lure her in and tell her to fuck off, that you were mine.”

“I wasn’t even turned when I thought about taking her on.”

“I knew she was Kindred, not that she was… Coco.”

GM: “I guess some things work out for the best. I don’t think that would’ve worked, or helped either of us.”

Celia: “She’d have killed me for impertinence.”

GM: “She’s… pretty humane, as far as Kindred go. Definitely as far as elders go.”

“But she’s got the same anger issues as me. As any of our clan.”

“So yeah. You might’ve pushed her too far. Who knows. Maybe it wouldn’t have ended badly, best case scenario, but I don’t see it making anything better.”

Celia: “I was afraid of you. For a long time, after that happened.”

GM: “After I… hurt you?”

Celia: She nods.

GM: “I’m sorry,” he repeats.

“Like I said. I felt like your dad.”

“Figured you’d had enough violence from guys close to you in your life.”

Celia: “I know. I… God, I thought the same thing. Even seeing you tonight I kept flashing back to that. The anger.”

She takes a step closer to him.

“I’m not, now. I get it. I know what it’s like. I’ve been there. And… yeah, it’s… I mean I guess it’ll be there, in the back of my head, and maybe I shouldn’t say this, but.. I trust you.”

Her eyes search his face, as if waiting for him to laugh at her.

GM: “That means a lot,” he says.

He raises her hands in his. “I don’t want to hurt you, Celia. God knows I don’t. You’ve been through so much awful shit with your family. Then getting Embraced, right in the middle of that. It isn’t fair. You deserve something better.”

Celia: “You asked. About that night. What I said.” There’s a pause.

“I went to see Em. Daddy was in jail and I… it made sense to me. He was a criminal. I thought I could kill him. And he told me no. I felt stupid, so I left. Angry. I was so angry. I stopped at a bar because I just wanted to forget, and Pietro was there. He did that thing. You know. Star mode. And I… I went home with him.” Her voice breaks.

“I woke up in his bed. He had gone through my stuff. And I heard him arguing with someone, about a body, and I… I tried to go out the window.”

She tells him about the fire escape. The anxiety. Not knowing if she would live or die. Being told she had ten seconds to run. Veronica catching her, hauling her back up the stairs, spreading her open on her lap while she toyed with her.

“She kept telling me to make happy noises. That I was their toy. There was a dead man on the ground, and I kept thinking I’d be next.”

She can barely get the words out. She can’t look at him. There’s too much shame in her eyes at what was done to her.

“I g-got out. But not until after she… with her fingers…”

He’s seen her fingers. The talons. The pain she can cause.

GM: Roderick sits back down with her as they talk. They lean together against a tree.

“My god,” he whispers. There’s anger written across his features as she describes what Veronica did. For a moment, she may wonder if it’s about to burst through, like it did last time. But he just holds her close, safely wrapped in his arms.

“That must’ve been nightmarish to live through. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”

Celia: “So I told you what I thought would make you stay away, so you wouldn’t come after me. Because how could I be with you like this?”

GM: He squeezes her close against his shoulder.

Celia: “I didn’t want this for you.”

GM: “I know you wouldn’t have. Especially after how you got introduced to this. You hear all sorts of stories about the things we do to breathers. The ways we play with them. Make them toys, like you say.”

“Your sire… raped you. Her and Pietro.”

“I bet she hasn’t even apologized, has she?”

Celia: With her face buried against his neck, she shakes her head.

“You know what she’s like. She’d just laugh at me for bringing it up.”

“She doesn’t like broken things.”

GM: “Yeah. She would.”

Roderick runs a hand along her back.

“That’s the problem with us. There’s no accountability. There’s no law, like humans have, no codified body of illegal behaviors with consequences for engaging in them—or at least, no law that’s written from an even remotely humanistic standpoint to offer victims recourse to justice. When Veronica rapes somebody, it isn’t a crime, so nothing gets done about it. The law we have doesn’t do anything except preserve the power of those in power. It’s a broken system that can generously be described as a fascist monarchial gerontocratic theocratic dictatorship, and whose main alternative is demagogues who’d still concentrate the same set of arbitrary powers with enormous potential for abuse into their own hands.”

Celia: “How would you fix it? What would you do?”

GM: “Well, that’s a really big question. On a systemic level across the whole Camarilla, I’m not sure there’s anything I can do by myself. But I think there is more hope for change on a local level.”

“Coco and the other Anarchs have set up a more or less functioning popular democracy in Mid-City. It isn’t perfect, and even she admits that, but I think it’s a huge step in the right direction next to what the prince represents.”

“And we’re always trying to make it better.”

“What would justice be for you, with Veronica and Pietro?”

Celia: “What would you have her do? The lot of you, what would you do? Overthrow the regime? Put your own people in charge? How long until they get power hungry? I’m not asking to be contrary, I’m asking because… because I want to help.”

GM: Roderick shakes his head. “Coco’s seen a lot of bloody revolutions. She doesn’t believe violence is able to create effective and lasting Kindred governments, and I mostly agree with her. The California Free State is a total mess, even if it is better than what Vidal and Savoy are offering, but it isn’t practical to implement here as a political model anyway.”

“We both think that Anarchs should just do what good we can in Mid-City. Vidal allows us a pretty decent amount of self-rule, thanks to her. Trying to overthrow the current regime promises enormous bloodshed with equally enormous potential for abuse by the victors, like you say. People who forcefully seize power are usually pretty bad at giving it up. And that’s assuming we could even pull off a coup.”

“So we just do the best we can in Mid-City. We focus on building up our own people, our own community, and realizing our vision of a more just and equitable society on a local scale. Kindred who like what we’re doing can join us, and if they don’t, we don’t have any interest in forcing them to.”

“And who knows. Example can be a powerful thing. If what we’re doing is popular enough, maybe it’ll catch on and more Kindred will adopt it peacefully.”

“Coco says it’s always harder for tyrants to suppress ideas than insurgents. Good ideas will always spread, if they’re really good.”

Celia: During the course of their chat Celia has ended up on his lap, her body curled on his with her knees bent and arms around his neck and shoulders. She can’t help but think how natural it feels to sit with him like this, how, if their lives had not been stolen from them, this is where they would have ended up. Movie nights. Ice cream. Moderately late night walks in the park. In a perfect world Lucy would be her daughter in truth rather than just in name, and Roderick would still go by Stephen.

This night it’s as if nothing changed. As if the past few years hadn’t happened. As he speaks she wonders if it is the bond settling into place, but she knows the truth of it: she’d been bonded before and not felt the same depth of emotion for someone. Everything prior to this has been a pale echo, a flat imitation of what it is that surges through her now. The bond creates obsession, she thinks, not… this.

She doesn’t want to think the word.

She doesn’t want to think the word because she has heard how many times he has said his sire’s name. Coco. How many times he has come back to something she said, explained, thought, planned. In a perfect world she need but ask and he would join her in the Quarter, permanently rather than for a night. But he says her name again, Coco, and she knows that Stephen is now Roderick, and Roderick belongs to her.

Just like she belongs to him. The cold one. He could shatter her and she would come back to him.

She presses her face against Roderick’s shoulder as he finishes explaining why his sire will not rise up. Coco has her public reasons, of course, but privately Celia thinks that it all comes down to one thing: fear. The Brujah has built a power base for herself. When a man is at the bottom of the mountain, he has nowhere to go but up. But Coco is halfway up, and she is afraid to fall and lose the progress that she has made.

She doesn’t say any of this to him. She doesn’t point out that Mid-City exists because Vidal allows it to exist. That as soon as the prince thinks someone has a chance at making headway, he’ll remove that head. That, if summoned, Coco will still come running.

Mel had told her the history of the city. Savoy exists because he seized the power he wanted. That’s how it’s done now. She doesn’t like it anymore than anyone else does, but, when pushed, humans and Kindred will both resort to shows of strength and domination to hold territory. That’s how it has been done in the entire history of man, and even in the animal kingdom; why would Kindred, for all their bestial nature, be any different? They can believe they are in charge, they can believe they are erudite, thinking beings all they want, and in the end it boils down to one thing: control. Control of the Beast, control of others.

It’s an uncivilized, chaotic mess.

She’s quiet for a time. Finally, she says, “Anyone with any amount of power, even if it isn’t forcefully seized, often fails to give it up. Why would someone who has it give it away? Look at your speed, the sway you have over kine. Small power in the scheme of things, gifted to you, and yet if I asked if you’d give that up, would you?”

“It’s not that I don’t think you’re onto something. It’s not that I think the system we have now is better, or that I want to bow and scrape to some long dead prince with feudal ideas of how to run a city. I have domain that can be taken from me at any moment because I say the wrong thing or look at someone the wrong way, and when that’s all Elysium is, saying things without actually saying anything, it’s… exhausting. God, even here, now, I keep thinking, ‘watch what you say.’”

“So I guess what I’m asking is… as someone ‘in enemy territory,’ what can I do to help make it better for everyone?”

GM: Roderick wraps one arm around the small of Celia’s back and the other around her shoulders as she clambers onto his lap. He feels buffer, larger, than he did the last time they cuddled like this. Celia did see him naked on her table two years ago, but he was the client then, someone she had to comfort and satisfy. It’s another thing to be curled up against him, seeking safety and comfort in his arms.

He holds her for a while, chin against her head, seemingly content to just be.

Or perhaps brooding on his own, equally troubled thoughts and might-have-beens.

He has to have thought about what it would be like to raise a family with Celia. Watching her from a distance, ‘stalking’ her like his sire, wondering whether the child Celia called her daughter was also his. Wondering how their life would have gone if he’d popped a ring like she so often thought about it.

And he’d have done that, wouldn’t he? Volunteering to leave the city with her. Go wherever. ‘Plenty of law schools are just as good as another,’ but that’s still not something you do unless you’re really serious.

But then Celia asks her question. And any contemplated roads not taken are inevitably drawn back to the road they are on.

“Power is always hard to give up,” Roderick says thoughtfully. “I think you are on to something there.”

“A question just as worth asking is why we want power in the first place.”

Celia: “We trade favors for hunting rights. It’s not like we can survive without it. Snack on the wrong person and it’s your head next.”

“That’s the game they keep us trapped in. Literal survival.”

GM: “Right. I mean, there’s all the usual human motivations of greed, fear, and desire to dominate.”

“But as Kindred we face additional and largely negative incentives. ‘Food’ for us is a limited resource and all other licks are competitors. Whenever we interact with each other, some part of it is on a comparative power basis. Sizing up the competition. We have the same ‘biological’ incentive to want to kill each other as humans do to want to reproduce. That’s a powerful instinct to go against and it translates into so much of our political and ‘legal’ system, which essentially codify the laws of the jungle. The strongest, oldest licks are the ones are top, and the younger ones accept their place, in return for not much besides less frequent violence.”

“To establish a more egalitarian Kindred society, we need to establish that we aren’t threats to one another. We need to mutually give up power by giving everyone an equal voice in our political system. We need to be able to let our guards down.”

“And we need a ‘food system’ that gives everyone enough blood to subsist on without going hungry or endangering the Masquerade, because that’s what it always comes back to.”

“We haven’t worked out a magical solution in Mid-City. But everyone has a political voice. We make decisions that affect our entire community by popular vote. Savoy has a lot of populist rhetoric, and his policies are less hardass than Vidal’s, but I don’t see him actually delegating more power into the people’s hands. He’s just a nicer face to the same broken system.”

Celia: “I hear you. I understand where you’re coming from. And I also wonder… should everyone have a voice? Didn’t Rome fall because its government decided that everyone should be heard, that they should pick up and carry those who cannot fend for themselves? Welfare. Like the kine have. Keeping those alive who are a drain on the system. I would never say, ‘put them down,’ but if they are not contributing..?”

“There are billions of people on this planet that we can feed from. Food isn’t nearly as scarce as we make it seem.”

“It’s just that it’s concentrated in areas that Kindred have already claimed. To break that, you’d need to change their minds. Get them to loosen their stranglehold on it. Or take them out of the picture completely.”

“Your ideal world has to involve taking out people who don’t see it your way, otherwise the struggle will continue indefinitely. It’s still bloody. It’s just not there yet.”

“Here. Is your guard down? Now, with me. Like this.”

GM: “Rome’s fall was due to a lot of factors,” Roderick says. “Coco’s had me study a fair bit of classical history. One of the biggest reasons that actually comes to mind for me is civil wars, because the government had no real line of succession or peaceful mechanism for deciding who got to be in charge. Emperors and would-be emperors were constantly fighting one another and squandering the state’s resources to claim or maintain power. The closest thing Rome ever had to a line of succession was the practice of the ‘good emperors’ adopting successors who weren’t their biological children, which also happened to be one of the most stable and prosperous periods in the empire’s history.”

“So my takeaway from Rome is that you need some kind of system which confers legitimacy on rulers. If people feel they can just fight it out to get what they want, the result is bad for everyone. We can look to the California Free State as a model there. It’s essentially a patchwork of warring mini-princes who are closer to their ‘constituents’ than a prince like Vidal is. It’s an improvement over what we have, but it’s far from equitable, and it also makes L.A. uniquely vulnerable to external threats, like it saw with the Wan Kuei invasion and the Camarilla takeover in 2004. Even when the Anarchs booted LaCroix out, there was still significant bloodshed.”

“But I don’t think forcefully removing other Kindred from their territories is a viable solution. Coco and I aren’t trying to implement Mid-City’s system on a global or even city-wide scale, because as you say, we’d need to either change minds or use violence. We’re just trying to make Mid-City’s system work in Mid-City.”

“You also asked whether everyone should have a voice. I think that has the potential to lead us down a pretty dangerous road. Ultimately, what gives you or me the right to judge someone else’s worth? Just by giving us that right, you’ve created an unequal power dynamic. And I think the only way to build a truly just and equitable political system is to build one where everyone is equal. Just like they are, at least nominally, under the eyes of human laws. Justice has to be blind.”

“You also asked how you could help us,” Roderick finally says.

“And the answer to that is… more of what you’re doing here. Coco thinks we should practice an ‘intellectual Darwinism’ of constantly challenging and revising our views and political systems. Debate brings out an idea’s flaws. If an idea can’t survive an honest debate, it won’t ever survive being put into practice.”

“You could join us. Have a place in Mid-City. Bring your voice to the forum.”

Celia: “With you?”

GM: He squeezes her.

“Yeah. With me.”

“There are Anarchs, with ties to the other factions. Jonah Freeman is also one of the Baron’s followers. Hezekiah is also a Hardliner. Eris D. is a Crone who’s not really a Baron follower.”

Celia: “I could… make that work.”

GM: “I’ll help you. However I can.”

Celia: “Come home with me tonight. Spend the day. We’ll figure it out.”

“I hate what happened to you. To us. But if I have to live forever… I’m glad that you’ll be there with me.”

GM: He kisses her.

“Me too.”

He slips one of his arms around her back, his other one underneath her knees, and hefts her up in a classic bridal carry pose.

“One benefit to being Kindred. Don’t ever get tired. Should make the rest of the walk more fun.”

Celia: “I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of this.”

Friday night, 20 July 2012, AM

Celia: She had chosen the home for two reasons: the first because, while it is technically within the confines of the French Quarter, it borders both the Warehouse District and the Central Business District. The latter, she knows, belongs to Vidal, and the former belongs to one of her master’s hounds. It’s a less desirable part of the French Quarter, certainly, on the corner of Canal and Chartres; she is almost positive that Savoy pushes the Caitiff and other riff raff out into this area to serve as a buffer between Vidal’s factions and his own. The crime rates are higher, the hunting subpar. Unless you enjoy your meal passed out in the street and smelling like piss.

GM: Roderick doesn’t complain about the accommodations. They go at it again, fight-fucking until their Beasts are exhausted and glutted upon one another’s blood. Celia rather handily loses the fighting part.

“You asked me to show you to shoot, earlier,” Roderick says as they pull up the covers over themselves. (Their bodies may no longer produce warmth, but habits die hard.) He reiterates that shooting is a less useful skill against other Kindred. Bullets only do so much.

But his sire has taught him how to fight. She says every Kindred should know how to defend themselves. Coco had him follow an exacting diet and fitness regimen before she Embraced him, to build up his physique: that whole Greek notion of arete, being the best one can be, which remains alive and well among the Learned Clan. Or at least among Brujah still ‘old school’ enough to call themselves by that name.

“I could teach you,” Roderick says, running a hand down along her naked stomach. “Self-defense techniques, initially, like your dad never wanted you to learn.”

“He was into martial arts, wasn’t he? I remember him saying how he’d kill me with his bare hands if I had sex with you.”

Celia: The differences in their Embrace is nothing short of astounding. Coco had told him what she was going to do, let him prepare. She’d probably even been nice about it.

Celia had no warning. She’d just been rudely snatched from her home and dropped into water.

“God, can we scrub that memory from our minds? I’ve never wanted to sink further into the floor.”

“But yes. I’d like that.”

GM: “I could beat the shit out of him now,” the Brujah smirks. “I don’t mind. I was scared of him then, but it reminds me how far I’ve come.”

“How far you can come.”

“Your clan’s got super-speed. You could get pretty good at it.”

Celia: “As much as I relish the thought of you defending my honor by beating him to a bloody pulp, the risk you’d take isn’t worth it. He’s the sheriff’s toy.” She runs a hand down his chest. “If he did something to retaliate I’d do something stupid like going after him by myself. There’s a reason Maxen is still alive.”

“I never learned the speed. I was focused… elsewhere. I had it, once. Gifted by my sire. I think I’d like to get back to that again.”

GM: “I know. I asked Coco about him,” Roderick says.

“She gave it to you, though? That’s interesting.”

“I didn’t know you could do that.”

“I suppose I’m still pretty new to this, though. Guess you can do anything with the Blood.”

Celia: “Devil’s bargain. I got her speed, strength, charm. Three days. Then I was hers.”

“I was faster than a car. It was… amazing. I didn’t know how to throw a punch, but running into someone and hitting them with your body so hard you knock them over was effective, too.”

“That was why I thought I could go after Coco. I had that whole party planned to lure her in.”

GM: “Wow, that does sound amazing. Veronica’s pretty tough. Must’ve seemed like a downgrade, almost, when you got Embraced.”

Roderick thinks.

“Is that how your mom got to the hospital, that night?”

“Emily and I weren’t really sure how she did. Your brothers and sisters said they didn’t call 911, so we figured it was you.”

“But I guess why call an ambulance when you’re faster.”

Celia: “I walked in on him cutting off her toes.”

“With a hacksaw.”

“Calling an ambulance was the last thing on my mind.”

GM: Roderick’s grip tightens around Celia.

“And they call us monsters.”

Celia: “If he wasn’t protected by the sheriff he’d be nothing but a smear on the ground.”

GM: “I swear. Your dad’s as awful as the worst of us, and your mom is just the sweetest person.”

“And he’s the one who gets an almost literal ‘get out of jail free’ card.”

“And she’s the one who gets her toes cut off.”

The Brujah clenches his fist.

“The world is just so fucking unfair, sometimes.”

Celia: “He was there the first night time, too. Protected him then. When I did call the police.”

GM: “I want to help you bring him down.”

“He shouldn’t get to be a senator. To have a privileged and comfortable life. Not after what he did to you and your mom.”

Celia: “How?”

GM: “I don’t know. We can’t really fuck him over directly, like you say.”

Celia: “Pete told me to make him not useful. That then he wouldn’t be worth protecting. Too much of a liability.”

GM: “Coco would probably say the same thing. I guess it’s just a matter of pulling off without the sheriff knowing it’s us.”

“And pulling off period. I’m amazed he’s still in office after that tape got leaked.”

“I mean, granted, there was that scandal with the copycat tapes of his peers.”

“I guess it pays to have friends in high places.”

“But the sheriff is just one Kindred. He can’t just wave his hand and make every scandal go away.”

Celia: “It should have been open and shut. But you’re right. We just… try again. I know you don’t want to work with Savoy, but he’s the one who got the tapes out in the first place. They buried that article when he was initially arrested.”

“Could set him up to take a fall. Or. Like. A patsy.”

“Kill him and leave the city,” she floats, “for real this time.”

GM: Roderick’s face hesitates. “I can’t leave, Celia. What my sire and I are doing here is important.”

“And you’ve got Emily, Lucy, and your mom to look after, don’t you?”

Celia: “I know. I just… wishful thinking.”

GM: “And your other brothers and sisters, but you never really seemed as close to them.”

Celia: “I’m trying to fix that.”

GM: “Was it over the abuse?”

Celia: “I was going to go to Liberty. I got in. I just didn’t… want to leave them, you know? But after Mom left, yeah, we were never really were close. Being at home was like… living in fear. I tried. I tried to keep them out of the worst of it. I don’t know how Isabel ended up so fucked and denied it all. I’m honestly worried that without Mom’s influence the boys would have grown up to be abusers, too. And Sophia…” Celia trails off. That’s not her secret to tell.

GM: “I can believe you. Children follow the examples their parents set.”

Celia: “But hey. Listen.” She cups his cheek with her hand. “I want to tell you something. If things ever get bad here. Even if you hate me. If you need out of the city, if you need to hide, if… anything. Come to me. I’ll get you out. I’ll keep you safe.”

“I don’t care what it is or who you’re running from or if we haven’t spoken in years. Okay?”

GM: Roderick rests a hand over hers.

He nods.


He’s quiet for a moment.

“And you know the same’s true for me. If things ever get really bad, if you’re ever hurt or in trouble, if you ever need anything… you can come to me. I’ll fight for you. Hide you. Help you. Whatever you need, I’ll make it happen. Whatever you’re in trouble from, whatever fights we’ve had… if you need me, I will be there for you. Okay?”

Celia: She nods, too. Runs the pad of her thumb across his lips, then kisses him. It’s different than before, less hungry, less needy. Soft. Tender, even.

“I love you. I always have. Now, then, I never stopped. I’d follow you anywhere.”

GM: Roderick returns the kiss, stroking his hand along her cheek.

“I love you too, Celia. Now and forever. I’d go up against anything, for you.”

Whatever monsters may lurk in their breasts, at least for now, they can be something more to each other.

Maybe that’s enough.

To just be something more to each other.

Monday night, 23 July 2012, PM

GM: It’s several nights later that Roderick takes Celia with him to the Anarchs’ next ‘rant’ at Delgado Community College.

“They’re a Brujah thing, but they’ve sort of caught on with all of the Anarchs,” he explains as they drive. “Everyone who wants to speak gets a turn, and can introduce an issue for everyone else to vote on.”

“Which with you will be joining the Movement and getting to hunt and hold domain in Mid-City.”

“We almost never actually turn down new Anarchs, but it’s obviously a better thing if you make a strong impression on everyone.”

Celia: Presumptuous, she thinks, but doesn’t say. He’d said himself that the hunting in Mid-City is less than ideal, and she’s already been given a club on Bourbon Street thanks to Savoy’s generosity. Why, she thinks, would she resort to the slim pickings in Mid-City?

“Make a strong impression with words or fists?” Just how violent do these things get?

GM: “Words, most of the time. Violence on the floor isn’t allowed.”

“But it’s not unheard of for licks to ‘take things outside.’”

Celia: Violence isn’t allowed at a Brujah thing? Amusing. She doesn’t comment; he’s already apologized a handful of times for the beating he’d given her, no need to bring it up again.

“Do they know you’re bringing me?” ‘They’ is Coco, really, but she doesn’t need to specify.

GM: “Yeah, I’ve told the licks I’m closest to. But if someone wants to bring a guest, the usual attitude is ‘whatever.’”

“It’s more and less casual than an actual Brujah rant in some ways.”

Roderick is dressed down next to the suits he usually wears to Elysium. Dark jeans with nice leather shoes, casual blazer, white button-up shirt without a tie and the top button undone.

Celia: “Who’re these mysterious licks you’re close to? Anyone I need ‘to take outside’?” She shoots him a grin. Despite his best efforts, she still isn’t a brawler. Then again, every time they’d started throwing punches they’d gotten distracted once the blood started flowing, and one thing lead to another… she’s not complaining.

It’s nice. Almost like a date. It’s so… normal.

Still, he’d warned her not to wear the frilly dresses for this, so she’d abstained in favor of leather and boots, gray deep V-neck blouse.

GM: “There’s my krewe, obviously. Chris and Hez. We’re also on pretty good terms with the licks in the KLF.” The Kindred Liberation Front, the Anarchs’ oldest kewe. “I’m also pretty tight with… most of the sewer rats, because of Coco.”

“I think.”

“Some of them don’t like us for being good-looking, I think.”

“But Miss Opal is tight with my sire, and they generally do things her way.”

“The Axles can be trouble. Shep Jennings disagrees with Coco a lot.”

“Isa Suarez is sometimes hard to figure, but Desirae Wells is pretty reasonable.”

“Eight-Nine-Six were the ones who made fun of me for ‘being Ventrue.’ They’ve cooled off, since I shot them, but they’re generally agitators. In the less constructive way.”

“The Malks in all the krewes are… well, who the fuck ever knows with them.”

“And Eris D. is almost as kooky.”

Celia: “So I should avoid the rats because I’m pretty, but play nice because you like them since you’re not?” Celia bats her lashes at him. They’re nowhere near as long as she normally keeps them; she’d said something about not wanting them to get ripped out in a catfight when Alana had asked earlier.

She slides her hand across the center console to twine her fingers through his. She’s nervous. Doesn’t want to look bad, or make him look bad. She takes mental notes as he speaks, but she doesn’t know enough about any of the others to comment or ask for clarification.

“Ronnie gonna be there?”

GM: Roderick smirks at the initial banter, but gives her hand a squeeze as she takes his.

“Yeah, pretty rare she’s not. Have you two not talked about coming to the rant?” he asks, seemingly surprised.

Celia: Celia shrugs.

“I’ve been spending more time with Pietro lately. She knows, but we haven’t really discussed it in depth. Not like you’re doing.”

GM: “Hm. I guess.” Roderick looks thoughtful.

Celia: “What?”

“What’s that look for?”

GM: “Honestly, sometimes it feels to me like Veronica isn’t that much of an Anarch. I don’t think she cares about what we’re doing in Mid-City or reforming Kindred society into something more equitable. She just wants power in any group where someone else isn’t the boss of her.”

“She was Invictus for the better part of a hundred years until your great-grandsire woke up from her nap.”

Celia: “You know, I mentioned being interested in the Invictus a while back and I thought she was going to tear my head off for it. ‘What do you want with that old bitch,’ or something similar.”

GM: “Ha. Yeah, I can really picture that.”

“But I mean, it sounds like she hasn’t even tried to recruit you.”

Celia: “Anyway, hard to escape to a place where someone isn’t the boss of you. Someone’s got the power no matter where you go.”

Celia lifts one of her shoulders in a shrug.

“I… we talked about it a little. Not like. A lot. But… you were there, and I didn’t want to invade your space or anything. She rolled her eyes at me but didn’t push it.”

And Savoy has kept Celia pretty busy, if she’s being honest. A lot of people think he’s just paying lip service to the Lance, but he’d made sure that she would know what she’s talking about if anything ever got brought up. Not personally, but she’d had instructors. All the better to keep her from looking foolish and making a mockery of her true grandsire.

GM: “Yeah, I guess that sounds like her.”

“How are things with Pietro? He should also be here.”

Celia: “Interesting. He’s terribly amusing.”

Especially when Veronica isn’t around to throw a tantrum, but Celia doesn’t need to tell Roderick that, nor would she be so blatant. She dances around the fact that he’s the reason she is who she is, too; there’s no reason to remind Roderick that Pietro was the one who brought her back to his apartment and got her into this whole mess.

“I asked him to teach me how to lift cars. Want me to steal you something fancy?”

Shadow dancing is their true lesson, but she trusts that Roderick is smart enough she doesn’t need to spell it out.

GM: “Huh. Tempting,” smirks Roderick. “How about some evidence to get a few mobsters in trouble?”

Celia: “Who do you have in mind? I’m game.”

GM: “Any of them, really. They’re all scum. Though the higher-ups obviously do more damage than the little guys. There’s this one mobster, Benny Giacona, who had this massacre and giant fire happen at his house maybe five years back. Even when it was in the middle of the Quarter, the cops didn’t arrest him over anything.”

Celia: “I mean, does he have backers like us?”

“Because that’s how people get away with stuff. I didn’t know it then, but… that’s the truth of it now. If you’ve got friends in the shadows you’ll get out of your tight spots.”

Like Maxen had.


GM: “Probably,” says Roderick. “He’s in the Quarter, after all. Savoy’s in bed with the Mob. And there’s that absolute scumbag Gui. It’s bad enough our kind support and enable the Mafia, but to actually Embrace one of those people?”

He shakes his head.

Celia also well knows that her grandsire is quite close with the Mob. Their criminal activities are a vital part of his domain.

Celia: Her loyalties war within her. She can’t betray her grandsire. She owes everything she is to him. Without him she’d be dead, or worse.

“Gui’s sire was one of those scumbags, though. Stands to reason he’d bring one in. But hey, pick a target outside the Quarter, I bet you and I could do some damage.”

Outside the Quarter Savoy’s influence over the Mob has to be weaker, right? Two birds: take out some scumbags for Roderick, take out some rivals for Savoy.

GM: “There’s also Rocco. See what I said about Embraced absolute scumbags.”

Roderick’s hands tighten around the wheel.

“But he’s a hound. So we have to play nice.”

Celia: “Do we? Seems to me if we’re sneaky enough we can get away with all sorts.”

GM: “What about Gui, though? He’s just a neonate. Easier to go after.”

Celia: “He’s pretty highly regarded by Savoy.”

“Might be more difficult than you think to get him.”

“Isn’t there another lick in with the Mob? I hear him muttering about it sometimes. Toyota?”

GM: “Ha ha,” Roderick says at the mangled name. “Yeah. He’s a Brujah and in with the First Estate.”

Celia: “So what about him, then?”

“Isn’t he just a neonate, too?”

GM: “Yeah, he is. I’ve heard some odd stuff about him, but he is.”

Roderick pauses.

“But we were dancing around it a little, weren’t we? You’re in the Quarter and could get in trouble if you make trouble for your landlord, and I could get in trouble by straining things between Vidal’s people and Coco.”

Celia: “What odd stuff?”

Celia lets out a puff of air from between her lips. She doesn’t quite pout, but she wants to.

“I suppose that’s the heart of it,” she acknowledges. She looks out the window. This relationship is going to be tougher than she thought to manage.

“Obviously we just find a patsy.”

GM: “Why are you with Savoy?” Roderick asks. “I mean, Veronica is your sire, and she’s an Anarch.”

“Or was it… how your family lives in the Quarter?”

Celia: “We think, as humans, that we understand what’s going on in the world. We look at politics and cast our votes and think, I’m in control. I have a voice. But that’s not true, is it? We don’t. There’s always someone pulling the strings behind the scenes.”

She’s quiet for a moment, thinking about what to tell him. How much to say.

“You know that the sheriff controls Riverbend. Tulane. He portions it out as he wants, but he still has Audubon. Emily used to come back to the dorm in the middle of the night, bloodless. She was always tired, pale. I didn’t know at the time, but I recognized it later. Someone was feeding on her. My family lives in Audubon. His territory. His domain. I don’t know if he’s the kind of Kindred to break into places in the middle of the night and feed on people, but I needed someplace to keep them safe. Savoy… I met him, early on, when I still had no idea what was going on. And the detective, Lebeaux…”

Celia trails off. She finally shakes her head, looking over at him.

“The sheriff is my dad’s ‘friend in the shadows.’ I saw him. When I was a kid. He’s a… he’s… God, I think he took me one night. I don’t want that for them. He was all I knew, when I became this. When I heard that Savoy was opposed to him, it just made sense to me to move them to the Quarter, and… I stayed. To keep them safe.”

GM: Roderick’s face falls.

“I know you were Embraced before me.”

“But… I’m sorry I couldn’t be there.”

“That Coco couldn’t be there.”

Celia: “I was kine.” Celia waves a hand. “I was nothing to Coco. Just another scared soul. Savoy… I think he just knows that about people. What to say, how to say it. It made sense. And then he gave me the loan for my business and…” She squeezes his hand. “He doesn’t control me. I’m here, with you, because I want to be. But I’m also very, very aware that I owe a lot of my comfort to him.”

“I wonder, you know, about that. What would have happened if you were Embraced first.”

“If you had been there.”

GM: “I guess that’s just his way, isn’t it? Reeling people in,” says Roderick, taking one hand back off the wheel to interlace his fingers with Celia’s.

Celia: “Don’t laugh,” she tells him, “but I picture something very romanticized if it had been you first. Like Twilight. You’d sneak in and lay with me at night and I’d be none the wiser.”

GM: The Brujah laughs out loud.

Celia: “I told you not to laugh!”

GM: “I’m sorry,” he snickers, “it’s just… Twilight.”

“But don’t worry, I’d have made it very romantic.”

Celia: “Yes, well, I didn’t have a lot of material growing up.” But she’s laughing too, so that makes it all okay.


GM: “Oh, you know. Jumped up to your window, curtains drifting in the wind. Acted all dark and mysterious. Held out a hand. Leaped on top off the roof with you in my arms. Sex under the night sky.”

“With a mattress or something already out on top, because sex on a roof sounds really uncomfortable.”

Celia: Celia makes a show of fanning herself.

“You can still do that, you know.”

GM: “That’s right, I could. And you look so fucking hot in all that leather.”

“You do a better Brujah than I do.”

Celia: “Hotter than in nothing at all?”

“Maybe I’ll let you rip it off me later. If you come through my window and take me to the roof. I’d like to see you jump that high.”

GM: “And here I was about to ask you how long we had before the rant started…”

Celia can see Roderick’s fangs protruding from his mouth.

Feel the ‘boner’ she’s getting in her own.

Celia: That’s all the prompting she needs. She’s on his lap before he’s even fully pulled the car over, an echo of last time, though her kisses hold more teeth than tongue these days.

GM: Celia distantly hears the car bump against something as Roderick hastily parks it, probably not within the lines. One of his hands squeezes and fondles her breasts while his other one presses over her belly, pulling her fully onto his lap. There’s no bulge in his pants and that makes it delightfully easy to saddle up to him. To be close to him, her leather-clad rear grinding against his crotch, as their mouths meet and his fangs pierce her skin.

“God, you’re so fucking hot…!”

Celia: Of course she’s hot. He’s telling her something she already knows. She growls at the reminder though, glad that in the here and now there’s no room for him to maneuver himself to be on top. She’s tired of him always putting her on her back. Now her back is to him and she’s in charge, grinding down against his flaccid cock as if that does anything for either one of them, when the distant thud reaches her ears.

Her body stiffens. She twists away from him to look around. What had he hit?

GM: He’s dented someone else’s car. Pretty badly.

And as his fangs pierce her neck, it doesn’t seem like he much cares.

Celia: She doesn’t much care either, if she’s being honest; when her skin splits and the blood flows into Roderick’s waiting mouth it’s all she can think about, back arching to press herself more fully against him. Her knee hits the horn on accident as she shifts, writhing, and she yanks it away with a breathless laugh.

She does use the last moment of her awareness, before sinking into bliss, to see if someone is around that saw them hit it, or if the car has people inside. That will be awkward.

GM: It doesn’t look like anyone is here. Yet.

Celia: Then she gives zero fucks.

Except the fucks she gives Roderick.

Monday night, 23 July 2012, PM

GM: “…blood all over your leathers. You really do have the Brujah look down,” Roderick laughs faintly. He’s got his arms wrapped across Celia’s stomach, the Toreador still seated on his lap.

He nuzzles her hair.

“Seriously, don’t even dry clean it. Just let that stuff dry.”

There’s blood all over their shirts. All over their necks and faces.

Celia: She’s glad she wore dark colors to this event. Somehow she’d known she would end up covered in blood. She purrs, contentedly, as he nuzzles against her.

“These will be my Brujah pants,” she tells him, “so I suppose I can’t let you shred them later.”

GM: “Hah. Yeah. I think we have might have missed the rant, though.”

He gives another faint laugh.

“Whatever. We can just go to the next one.”

Celia: “Did we?” She checks the clock. How long had they been wrapped around each other?

GM: Long enough, it looks like. They’d have to drive like mad to still be on time.

Celia: “Are you faster than a car?” she asks him, twisting to nibble at his neck.

GM: “…I’m not sure. Haven’t tried to outrun one before.”

There’s a sudden sharp bang against the window.

Celia: Celia’s eyes cut that way, narrowing.

GM: It’s a man. Dark skin. Glasses. Clean-shaven. His face looks perpetually pissed off.

But right now, it looks especially pissed off.

Celia: Celia’s face twists momentarily into horror. She slides off of Roderick’s lap, wiping at the blood on her face in the moments they have before he cracks the window. There’s nothing to do for the shirt; it’s light enough that the blood is obvious, but she can zip her jacket up over it, and she does so. At least the stains aren’t as apparent against the leather.

“I think you hit his car,” she whispers to Roderick.

GM: “…ah, shit.”

Celia: “We could speed off.”

“Windows tinted, maybe he doesn’t know we’re here.”

GM: “I know you’re there,” comes the man’s tight voice. “It isn’t that dark out.”

“Sure isn’t dark enough to hide what you did to my car.”

Celia: At least the car hadn’t been bouncing as it would if they were human.

GM: “I’m an attorney. Give me a good reason not to file civil suit against you.”

Celia: Celia shares a look with Roderick. Then she sends it out from her in a wave, the opposite of dampening her aura: she extends it. Makes herself sound powerful. Important. Desirable, even, though that isn’t her primary focus here.

She checks her face in the mirror, then opens the car door and steps out. Her smile is friendly.

“Well, if you press civil charges we might get caught up in court and that will take ages. I can pay you for the damage now, and then we’ll be out of your hair.”

GM: “Why, that’s very generous of you,” the man replies. His smile is thin and flickering, like it doesn’t come easily to him. It looks like a pair of pants several sizes too small. “Something like this can often come out to several thousand dollars.”

Celia: Celia barely refrains from scoffing at him.

“Sir, they make dent removal tools that cost about twenty dollars. Any body shop who charges you several thousand for something like this is significantly overcharging. I’d be happy to provide an alternative to your usual mechanic; no one should be that gouged on pricing.”

“The paint isn’t even scratched.”

“So you won’t need a new anything. A quick pop out and you’re good to go.”

Celia glances into the car at Roderick, lifting her brows at him. Can he pop it out?

Or pay. Since it’s his fault. He called her cute and made her climb on his lap and then hit the car because of it. He should know better than to compliment this Toreador. She smiles winningly at him.

GM: “It’s true some repair jobs can run that cheap,” the man says with that same shabbily ill-fitting smile in an equally ill-fitting amiable tone, “but some can can run that expensive. I’m sure that we can reach an equitable way to handle this.”

GM: “I’m sure we can too,” Roderick says smoothly as he gets out. The man doesn’t blink at the blood on his clothes, or how Roderick raises an eyebrow at Celia.

Celia: Celia lifts her brows at Roderick. What, does he have a better idea? She doesn’t want to be late to her first rant.

GM: “Okay, I’ll cover this. What’s your name and phone number?” he asks the man as he pulls out his Solaris.

“Herman Lewis.” Roderick taps into his phone after Herman gives his name.

“Okay, I just sent you enough to cover your average repair job over Google Pay. Call me if it’s not enough for this one.”

“I’m pleased you could see reason so quickly and accept responsibility for your actions,” Herman replies with another ill-fitting smile. “However, this doesn’t cover the inconvenience of being without my car, the time I’ve spent here, or the time I’ll spend taking my car in. I’ll send you a bill at my hourly rate for that.”

“You seem like a reasonable man, so I don’t think there’ll be any need to file suit against you.”

“That’s very magnanimous of you,” Roderick responds dryly.

Herman offers another thin smile.

“An apology would also demonstrate your and your girlfriend’s sincerity.”

Celia: A dozen different snide things to say come to mind the moment he demands an apology: blatantly telling him to fuck off, being a sarcastic prick, asking in what world any insurance company would pay him for his time, offering to phone the police and let them file a report. She even considers ripping his throat out for the sheer gall of speaking to either one of them this way. Celia chews it over. She doesn’t need to get into it with this breather and kill any chance of showing up on time. Finally, her lips curl upwards in something that’s an approximation of a smile, though it doesn’t go so far as to meet her eyes.


She nods at Roderick to get in the car. She’s done wasting her time here.

GM: “Yeah, sorry,” Roderick glowers. “Send me the bill.” He opens the door for Celia, pointedly turning away from the man as he does, then gets in himself without waiting for a response.

“What a prick,” he says as he pulls the car out.

“We did both hit him with star mode, right?”

Celia: “I can’t believe him. What a—”

She pauses. Looks at him.


GM: “Because I can’t imagine how much bigger a prick someone could be without it.”

Celia: “I’m an attorney,” she mimics. “The fuck kind of insurance company does he think is going to pay him for his time for shit like this?”

“If we’re going to miss the rant just stop at an ATM and I’ll get you back for it. At least half of this was my fault.”

GM: “He doesn’t, he’s just counting on the fact that paying him for his time is probably more palatable to people than paying for a lawsuit.”

“And thanks, but I’m not paying him for anything besides the repair job.”

Celia: “The fact that you can sue anyone for anything…” Celia shakes her head.

GM: “Yeah. Even if a judge throws it out as frivolous, still goes through the courts.”

Celia: “If I had the right face on I’d have just name-dropped my grandmother and told him good luck. Christ.”

GM: “Ah, she’s a criminal judge. This is a civil matter. Might work if he wasn’t also a lawyer.”

Celia: “Oh. Whoops. Good thing I’ve got you on my side to keep me from saying something silly, then.”

GM: “It’d work on most other people, probably. Say ‘judge’ and they’ll go ‘oh no’ if lawsuits come up.”

“But let’s talk about something that doesn’t make my worse half want to cave in faces. You talk with her much these nights, still?”

Celia: “Grandmother? Yeah. Momma doesn’t want to take Lucy to see her so I’ve been, when I have the time.”

GM: “Oh, why doesn’t she?”

Celia: “Some long ago fight over whether or not Momma should have aborted me.”

Celia waves a hand.

“They’re both still mad at each other. Personally I think there’s more to it, but no one is talking.”

GM: “Geez, your grandma wanted her to abort you?”

Celia: “Mom was like… sixteen.”

“So I get it.”

“I mean, you and I almost had to do that.”

GM: Roderick can’t sigh without forcing it. But he looks like he could.


“I’m not about to endorse the idea of teen pregnancy, but… no complaints how that worked out for her.”

Celia: “You mean because I’m amazing?” she grins at him.

GM: “And hot, smart, funny… world would be a worse place without you in it.”

Celia: “Really trying to make us miss this meeting, eh? Should we go hit another car?”

GM: “Nah, variety’s good. We’ll do it on a roof for our next time.”

“That’s a shame about your mom and your grandma, though. My grandpa was such a huge part of my life. He was everything to my dad.”

“Just everything.”

Celia: “I feel bad for both of them. Grandma is missing a kid, Momma is missing a mom. Her whole family, almost. Doesn’t talk to her sister, either. Just like… make up already, damn.”

Celia isn’t sure what to say to him about his dad. She could offer to change his face, maybe, but that wouldn’t let him be part of his family like she is with hers. She takes his hand instead, letting him know she’s there for him.

GM: He squeezes her palm.

“That really is too bad for them. Your mom’s been through a lot. So has your grandma, to know what she’s been through.”

Celia: “Mmm, well, last time I tried to fix something for my family I ended up dead, so.”

GM: “You still fixed it.”

“And you can only die once.”

“Maybe I’m biased, but my grandpa was just such an enormous presence in my and my dad’s lives. He died when I was only 7, so I don’t remember a ton about him, but his presence was everywhere in the house. Dad was constantly talking about him, sharing stories, showing pictures and newspaper articles, and people at work all remembered him too. So I feel like I still got to know him really well.”

“I can’t imagine not having that. To just not be talking.”

“And I’d have loved for Grandpa to actually be alive and directly a part of my life.”

Celia: “I feel pretty lucky that even though they weren’t talking I still got to have a relationship with my grandmother. I’m sorry you didn’t get that with him for as long.”

GM: “Still do get to have it,” Roderick remarks. “I don’t know, if it were me, I’d fight like hell to get them to make up. Or at least sit down together.”

“You only get one family.”

Celia: “I’ve been trying, trust me, it’s not like I just threw up my hands about it.”

GM: “Your mom is kind of a pushover. How hard can it be?”

Celia: “That’s what I don’t get! She’s a pushover about literally everything except this one issue.”

“I can look at her sideways and make her cry, but God forbid I bring up Grandma.”

GM: Roderick gives a short laugh.

“Sorry. I guess that isn’t actually funny.”

“But I guess we all have our lines in the sand.”

Celia: “It’s gotta be more than what they’re telling me, right?”

“I mean I’m the one who should have been dumped into a trash can and I’m not mad about it.”

GM: “Might be. ‘Just’ an abortion seems like something to get over by now.”

Celia: “Too bad I never picked up that mind reading trick. They both just purse their lips and make veiled comments.” She huffs. “I guess I could throw some star power at them and see what sticks.”

GM: Roderick frowns deeply.

Celia: “What?”

GM: “That’s… a line I don’t think we should cross, feeding on family or using powers on them.”

Celia: “That’s why I haven’t done it yet,” Celia admits. “I’m glad to hear you say that though. I almost said the same thing and thought you would think I was silly for not.”

“It just feels skeevy to manipulate them like that.”

GM: “Why the hell would I think you’re silly over something like that?”

“That’s anything but silly.”

“Dead serious, actually.”

“And maybe your sire and the other harpies would laugh about it in Elysium, but whatever.”

Celia: “That’s the problem, isn’t it? Everyone else is so far gone that showing any amount of compassion or emotion gets you labeled as weak or ridiculous.”

“It’s like they just use what’s inside of us as an excuse to be a bunch of assholes.”

GM: “We try to be better than that in Mid-City.”

Celia: “You think any of them would have paid the man? No. They’d have just gone for the jugular.”

GM: “The guy was an enormous prick, but he wasn’t completely wrong. I did dent his car. I’m not too far gone to think I should pay for that.”

“Jugular is bad for the Masquerade, anyway.”

Celia: “That’s the only thing that reins some of them in sometimes.”

“‘Is the sheriff gonna send his hounds after me for this? Better not.’”

GM: “Or the Krewe. They’re supposed to be everywhere.”

“Or hunters. I mean, lots of reasons not to make a mess, ethics completely aside.”

Celia: “That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? How many of them care about the ethics versus the repercussions of their actions?”

“I mean just look at the way they treat their ghouls.”

GM: “It can vary a lot. But that’s sort of the problem.”

“Just how much it actually can vary.”

“I feel like your sire has to be one of the bigger pricks there, no offense.”

Celia: “None taken. She’s not me.”

GM: “Coco’s told me about some city in Scandinavia or maybe northern Russia where ghouls and Kindred are essentially equals. They actually sit on the primogen. They’re treated like partners rather than servants.”

“Because it’s so far north and the days are so long during summers. The Kindred there are almost completely dependent on their ghouls.”

“That might’ve been motivated by self-interest, but after so long I’d think a lot of those feelings are real.”

“Obviously how things work there isn’t how things work here. But it makes you wonder what’s possible and whether the way we do things has to be the only way.”

Celia: “Of course it’s not the only way. That’s why you and Coco are fighting for change. Just because something has been done one way for hundreds or thousands of years doesn’t mean it’s the only way. We look down on the breathers like they’re nothing, their lives are fleeting, they’re food. But we were there once. Look what they accomplish in their short lives. Look how things change for them. They’re constantly searching for better, more effective ways to do things.”

“I mean it’s evident even in their technology.”

“Technology that so many of the elders don’t even bother to learn about.”

“They’re stuck in the literal dark ages.”

“They stop changing. They get power and then that’s all they care about, holding onto it.”

“They act like they’re all knowing beings when they don’t know anything because they won’t open up their minds to a new perspective.”

“Or new ideas.”

GM: “It’s because they’re never faced with their own mortality, or at least unavoidable end to their power. They never have to consider what’s best for the next generation, or really think about the future. For them, there’s only an eternal present where they’re the only people that matter.”

Celia: “They’re like gods. Or they see themselves that way. Like the Greeks or Romans. They’re powerful, but they’re not all powerful, and they spend their time squabbling and posturing and interfering in the realm of humans instead of doing anything.”

“How do you make someone like that change?”

“Without, you know, sending hunters after the lot of them or burning down their havens.”

GM: “If there were an easy answer to that, believe me, we’d have made Vidal change by now.”

“But there isn’t one.”

Celia: “But you and Coco have some ideas, surely.”

“You asked me earlier. About Savoy. Why I’m with him. And you said something about him knowing how to reel people in, and that’s true. But just… I mean, look at the differences between their rules. Savoy asked me what I wanted. I said, ’there’s a hierarchy and I’m at the bottom, I’m not sure that matters.’ And he said the thing about hierarchies is that they change. That you have to bring in new blood and new ideas. I know you don’t like him because of his connections to the Mob, and I’m not telling you to jump ship. I think what you and Coco are doing with the Anarchs is necessary. But can you imagine, truly imagine, Vidal saying that same thing to a neonate?”

GM: “Absolutely not. I mean, you barely even see Vidal anyways. I can count the number of times I’ve seen him at Elysium on one finger.”

“He’s not even around for that many Cabildo meetings. Usually leaves them to Maldonato.”

Celia knows that Roderick serves as the scribe at those. The note-taker. It’s an envied position for a neonate to hold. They’re not supposed to talk, but they hear and transcribe everything the assembled elders say.

“But at least with them you know what you’re dealing with.”

“I don’t think Savoy is actually sincere.”

“He still has ultimate power in the Quarter. He puts a nicer face on it, but does he actually put real policy decisions up for public vote like we do in Mid-City?”

Celia: “He has an open forum where people can bring their issues every week.”

GM: “But do they actually get to decide anything? Or is he the one who makes the calls?”

“Because Coco can get overruled if the majority isn’t with her.”

“One lick, one vote.”

Celia: “He has his own council,” Celia admits. “I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution. But even in kine politics you see the same. Someone in charge and councils making decisions for the masses. And maybe, if you and Coco brought your ideas to him, he’d listen. Change things up.”

“If both Mid-City and the Quarter are doing it, it spreads from there.”

GM: “But here’s the thing about those councils that make decisions for the masses.”

“We elect them.”

“And if we don’t like their decisions, we can vote them out.”

Celia: “Can Coco be voted out?”

“She’s there because Vidal lets her be there. He put her there. And she’s put a new system into place, and that’s amazing, it is. So what’s to keep her and you from spreading it further?”

GM: “Mainly the fact that other elders aren’t interested in giving up power. But if what we’re doing here stands on its own merits, we don’t need to. Licks who want to be part of what we’re doing can come to us. Like you are.” Roderick smiles briefly.

“But to answer your question, Vidal recognizes Coco and Miss Opal as the parish’s regents. In his eyes, decisions that come from Mid-City are only valid because Coco and Miss Opal choose to allow them, and putting things up for popular vote is simply a quirky way to arrive at the decisions they do. And while that might be aggravating to know the prince doesn’t consider Mid-City’s democracy to be ‘legitimate’, fuck him. It doesn’t change the reality on the ground, where every resident gets a vote in what happens. One Anarch, one vote. If Coco or Miss Opal tried to overrule the majority and say ‘no, we’re doing things way,’ it would destroy all faith in what we’ve built and expose them as hypocrites. So if they don’t vote with the majority, too bad. The majority gets what it wants and they don’t.”

“Savoy, in contrast, doesn’t have any kind of election for his council, and I don’t see much indication he actually shares power with them. They’re his closest subordinates rather than a check on his authority. He puts a nicer face on things, but ultimately, he governs the same way as any other elder. Where he has all the power and younger licks have none.”

Celia: “Then change it. We spoke about this before, that you want to change things, and that you think it can’t happen all at once. And maybe you’re right. You’re probably right, that this won’t ever be a widespread thing, like the Scandinavians with their ghouls. But if it works for Mid-City why wouldn’t it work for the Quarter as well? What do you have to lose by trying?”

“Don’t be someone else’s ‘no.’”

GM: “I don’t want to, I just want to be realistic. Say we asked Savoy if he wanted to institute a direct democracy in Mid-City. Maybe even offered to bring some things to the table if he did. What do you think he’d say?”

Celia: “I think he’d be amenable to trying it.”

GM: Roderick looks dubious.

“Do you really think so?”

Celia: “I do. He’s more reasonable than most elders. Lay out the facts. Make your presentation. If he’s going to be the one to say no, let him do it. Sincere or not, he wants our kind to be successful. Neonates as well as all Kindred. Do you think he’d have given me the time of night to tell him my business plan if he didn’t want to see people like us succeed? Smart and capable, that’s what he said to me. What he values.”

“And if I’m wrong, then I’m wrong.”

“But I don’t think I’m wrong.”

GM: “I think you might be,” Roderick says frankly. “But there’s nothing lost bringing it up. If anything, it exposes him as a hypocrite if he says no, so… I guess that’s a win either way.”

“Why don’t you bring it up, tonight, when it’s your turn to speak? See what everyone thinks and establish a commission to approach Savoy.”

“If, uh. We aren’t late.”

Celia: “Is… that wise? I’m nobody to them. You don’t think they’ll react the same way you did?”

GM: “I’m just one voice. One perspective. Who knows what everyone else will think?”

“You can also bring up how it’s a win-win.”

“Either we spread democracy or we expose hypocrites.”

Celia: “Roderick… we just talked about how I can’t cause waves. My family is there. I’m happy to speak about bringing this to Savoy, I can’t go around publicly talking about trapping him. Further, it doesn’t really expose him as a hypocrite. I’m the one saying this, I don’t speak for him.”

GM: “I’m saying it would expose him if he says no,” Roderick offers.

“But, all right. Say you tell everyone you’re going to bring this to him.”

“Then he says no, he looks like a hypocrite.”

“He blames you. So that isn’t good.”

“What do you think we should do instead?”

Celia: “Why would he look like a hypocrite, though?”

GM: “Because licks like you think he’s a substantially different alternative to Vidal, only when asked if he actually wants to do something substantially different, he says no.”

Celia: “I think, then, that I should speak to him before I bring this up publicly, and let him know that I’m… making assumptions and negotiations on his behalf.”

“He’s a friendly tiger, but he’s still a tiger.”

GM: “Okay. You still want to try to make the rant tonight, or save that and your debut for next week?”

Celia: “I think it would be more impactful to bring something of substance to the table.”

GM: “Okay, that works.”

A pause.

“Want to bang on a roof?”

Celia: “I thought you’d never ask.”

Previous, by Narrative: Story Eleven, Caroline VI, Isa II
Next, by Narrative: Story Eleven Amelie II, Caroline VII

Previous, by Character: Story Eleven, Celia V
Next, by Character: Story Eleven, Celia VII

Story Eleven, Caroline VI, Isa II

“I can be an illegal parasitic cancer to one person and a poor girl just trying to make her way through life to another, and who’s to say they’re both wrong?”
Isa Suarez

Sunday night, 14 February 2016, AM

GM: Within the week of Rocco’s loss of domain, Robert Congo summons Caroline to one of Perdido House’s mid-story offices. He queries her as to the terms of her feudal contract with Rocco, then states that their continuance is acceptable to his master before asking her to re-swear her oath of obedience to Regent Maldonato, Prince Vidal, and Almighty God.

Caroline: Caroline is happy—enough—to do so. Her relationship with the seneschal is… ambiguous at best, right now, but she can’t deny that he’s a less temperamental landlord than Rocco has proven. And one likely to ask fewer degrading things of her.

Tuesday night, 16 February 2016, AM

GM: The appointed date arrives and Isa makes her way to the Giani Building at 600 Canal St. 1 AM on a week night doesn’t see as much traffic passing beneath the CBD’s glass and steel monoliths as normal. But no city ever truly sleeps. No city is ever truly dead.

No more than its unseen masters are.

Caroline: One of the ghouls from before awaits Isa in the lobby. It’s the severe woman with the tightly leashed hair, who’s dressed once more in a conservative business suit.

A shorter, equally severe bald man looms next to her. Unlike his thin, almost frail companion, he’s built like a tank: a single muscle wrapped in clothing that barely contains the raw power underneath. If the other blonde from the previous meeting screamed security, he all but howls ‘danger’, complete with a pistol tucked in a shoulder holster under each arm.

Security cameras beat down on all who enter the building’s lobby from several angles. The woman extends her greetings to Ms. Suarez and leads her to the elevator. She inserts a key and hits a button for the top floor.

Isa: The Ravnos arrives dressed casually in a thin, sleeveless shirt that emphasizes her birdlike frame. She’s dainty and pretty and clearly not worth such a formidable greeting.

The man accompanying her is another matter.

Iron-colored hair cropped close to his skull, a dark tactical jacket over a windbreaker, and a nose that’s too crooked to have only been broken once all surround his scowl. It takes the center stage, as though emanating from the core of his entire being.

He doesn’t wear a gun, or any other visible weapon. It doesn’t stop him from staring down his bald counterpart, weighing him like a scale.

Caroline: The bald man does not appear impressed.

Eventually the doors to the elevator ding open to neatly furnished (marble tables and black leather seats) common area with an entire wall open to a rooftop—complete with a swimming pool—beyond. Fans swing lazily overhead.

The blonde security woman sits easily in one of the chairs at the edge of the patio. There are no illusions as to her purpose here. A pistol is strapped to her thigh and a rifle sits propped up next to her.

[[File:998412 | class=media-item-align-center | Green.jpg]]
Further out on the lobby is another tall blond silhouette at high table.

The ghoul, identified earlier as Widney, steps out of the lobby and turns back to the Latina Kindred. “Ms. Malveaux will receive you on the patio. Your companion may wait here.”

Isa: The ‘companion’ lets out a grunt of dissatisfaction.

“That will do,” the Anarch says, simply.

He contents himself with glowering discontentedly.

Isa walks out onto the balcony, seating herself across from Malveaux. “Your Requiem hasn’t been as cushy as they say, has it?”

Caroline: The Ventrue is dressed for Elysium in a long, short sleeved black dress with a gold belt that rides high and heels that peek out from beneath due to the tall chair she’s seated in.

She looks up from a folder as Isa approaches with Widney, setting down the red pen she’s making edits with and closing the cover. She arches an eyebrow. “I suppose that would depend upon whom they were, Ms. Suarez.”

Isa: “Would it? Rumors seem just as true regardless of who’s spreading them, don’t they?” She seems genuinely intrigued. “But the rabble, to answer your question. The unwashed masses. Is that the right phrase? It feels like the right thing to say, here.” She gestures to the view. “The friends of Eight-Nine-Six, me included. Officially. I never really hit off with them, even if we played for the same team.”

Caroline: “The truth and falsehood of a given tale may not change by the teller, but I’ve found that we each often have our own tale to tell,” Caroline offers by way of explanation.

Isa: “That’s true enough,” Isa agrees. “I’ve always believed lots of things can be true at once, even if they don’t make sense next to each other.”

Caroline: “The truth is relative?” Caroline asks.

Isa: “Maybe not Truth with a capital T, if you believe in that. But the broken knock-off we have to make do with? Yes. I can be an illegal parasitic cancer to one person and a poor girl just trying to make her way through life to another, and who’s to say they’re both wrong? We can’t even figure out who we are most of the time, so why should anyone else understand us better?”

She looks across the pool, the chlorine-soaked reflection of the skyline swaying and rippling. “Maybe there is a real, capital Truth out there. But I doubt any of us will get to understand it.”

Caroline: “Or perhaps a matter of perspective,” Caroline seems to offer and agree. “And we all have the worst one from which to see the truth—from within.”

Isa: “The Beast has its own view of things, too. Makes you wonder how much of our perspective is really even ours.” She smiles faintly. “And that’s all before how the masked city poisons hearts and minds, until all we see confirms ‘our’ own beliefs.”

Caroline: “An interesting philosophical question,” Caroline answers. “But perhaps one better suited to Elysium. I’m given to understand you had one of a more direct nature?”

Isa: She nods. “Which begs another one first. How confidential would you consider yourself, and your services?”

Caroline: “As confidential as possible, Ms. Suarez,” Caroline answers. “Obviously it depends on the exact nature of your interest. If for some reason it is something that cannot be contained, I’ll disclose as much to you. If it’s something I cannot—or will not—take on, I’ll disclose that up front as well.”

Isa: She nods, once. “This is pretty important to me. I would like for you to help me find, and, if I decide it’s best, secure custody of, a mortal boy. He would be 15 years of age and was introduced to the foster care system at the age of four.” She pauses. “His name is Mathias Suarez.”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “Your son?”

Isa: She raises an eyebrow.

“My brother,” she answers, her voice slightly amused. “I’m not a role model for Latina teens, but that particular mistake wasn’t made.”

The amusement, already scant, fades. “Not that worse ones weren’t. He entered the system in 2006, after being rescued by CPS. He was found alone in an apartment, sick.” Bitterness laces her voice like chlorine in the pool they sit by.

GM: “Have you enlisted the services of any other detectives or Kindred in finding your brother, Miss Suarez? Eleven years is a long time,” the ghoul with the tightly leashed hair inquires.

Isa: “Back after I was first turned, once I escaped my sire,” she says. “I didn’t have a lot of money, and the PI I hired had… let’s call it a shit work ethic. I didn’t bother with any more less-than-private dicks after that. Besides, if another lick really got interested in my family, anybody with a beating heart would spill everything. Not to mention people aren’t lining up to take money from a Latina teen who has way too much of it.”

“I’d like to hire a lick I can trust, and yes, I know those qualities don’t exactly go together, but it’s what I need. The only problem is that ones rich or connected enough to find my brother are probably elders, and I wouldn’t be an Anarch if I was interested in owing them favors.” Her eyes glitter. “When Des told me about an incredibly resourceful neonate who’s been playing P.I., and who’d solved her problems, I felt… very hopeful.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “A sensible precaution.” She considers for a moment. “Tell me, Ms. Suarez, what are your intentions if I am able to discover the location of your brother? Do you wish to bring him into your Requiem? See to his welfare? Introduce him to the All-Night Society in some way?”

“I know it’s something of a personal question, and ultimately what you do with him is not really of my concern, but it colors how I go about seeking him out. If, for instance, you intend on abducting him from a foster home or family I would be much more opaque in my investigations than if you simply were concerned about his welfare. If you don’t wish to answer, I can proceed there as well, though the price will increase.”

Isa: She shakes her head. “I wouldn’t have come here if I wasn’t going to tell you what’s important, at least as far as this shit goes. I just want my brother to have a good life, and to be looked after by people who actually love him. I tried to take care of him once, but I was younger than he is now and it went like you’d guess. I’m not gonna even try playing vampire mom. But I’m also not peachy keen on trusting the foster care system with a young Mexican boy with no documentation or connections to check in on them. I’d appreciate your efforts to be on the DL, but not if it means shooting yourself in the foot. That’s also why I’d like to be kept in the loop. I need to know how he’s being treated before I decide whether or not I need to burn down a trailer park, or if I could use your help there, too.”

Caroline: “You need not explain your motives, Ms. Suarez,” Caroline replies. “Simply articulate them.” She glances at her ghoul. “I think this is a matter we can assist in.”

GM: The ghoul offers a firm nod in confirmation.

Isa: *"Now that that’s out of the way," Isa says once they’ve hashed out the details. “I was wondering something.”

Caroline: Caroline gestures for her to go on.

Isa: Her head tilts, the seeming sloth and relaxation in her frame giving way to an intense…. something in her eyes.

“Why the Sanctified?”

Caroline: The Ventrue cocks her head. “In general, or vice?” she asks.

Isa: “Why not both? We can trade, even, if you’re interested in the lowly vagabond’s views.”

Caroline: “I was god fearing in life, Ms. Suarez,” Caroline replies. “Though perhaps not god fearing enough.”

Isa: She raises an eyebrow, as if expecting elaboration.

Caroline: “I’m a Catholic from a family of them. I would not turn entirely from god, even in my damnation. Perhaps especially in it. I wasted my opportunities in life to be a good Catholic. I hope that in my Requiem I might do better.”

Isa: She nods, simply. “And in the prince’s archdiocese, in the Lance, you see God? Your God?”

Caroline: She leans back. “I see pieces of Him, but I also think my vision is distorted, as though I’m looking through faceted diamond. There are things I struggle with. Parts of the Gospel that challenge me, but that’s the nature of faith, isn’t it? You don’t demand that it bend to fit your own beliefs or desires.”

Isa: “I suppose not, though it’s been a very long time since I’ve prayed.” She nods. “Although, I admit, faith isn’t what I think of when I hear your last name. At least, not first.”

Caroline: “What do you think of, Ms. Suarez?”

Isa: “Just Isa, please. I don’t like to tie myself up in their titles. Their honorifics are made of the same shit they use in their slurs. But, to answer your question, power. Money. Influence. But you aren’t Invictus.”

Caroline: “Should I be?” comes Caroline’s response, amused.

Isa: “If you want to be typecast. If I was playing lick jeopardy, and the category was ‘clubs,’ and Alex Trebek was saying, ‘white Ventrue girl whose family puts their name on every inch of the city they can reach,’ I’d scream ‘who are the First Estate trying to Embrace’ real damn quick.”

Caroline: “And yet, they weren’t exactly lining up to welcome an illicit Embrace,” Caroline replies. “Stereotypes may exist for a reason, but to be shackled to them to often find one’s self with rather large blind spots. We’re all more, and less, than the sum of the parts others think make us up.”

Isa: “We can agree on that,” Isa smiles. “But it’s the parts of us that don’t meet expectations that often define us most deeply. So, I guess what I’m poking at is: you don’t care about power as much as your faith, even being raised with so much of the former?”

For now, the casual tone remains, but the slang falls away as she leans closer to the heart of the matter. She is no mere rabble, no matter how much she can play the part.

Caroline: Caroline considers the Anarch for a moment. “I think it’s easier to cleave to one as a neonate than another,” she replies.

Isa: “No doubt there,” Isa agrees. “And what thoughts do you have on the Movement, if any?”

Caroline: Caroline frowns. “I think that ship sailed very shortly after the Invictus one,” she replies after a long moment, somewhat somberly.

Isa: “Mmm. Maybe it did.” She tilts her head. “But that’s not what I’m asking. Forget whether or not we’d have you, for a moment. Your dad’s a politician, and he seems to be good at it, even if I’m not even going to pretend to like the shit he says. You believe in God. What about in change?”

Caroline: “I’m not adverse to it, but I think that people often forget that change more often brings about destruction than creation. Maybe that destruction is good, healthy in the long run, like a cleansing fire in a forest grown too wild. But that doesn’t make the fire any more enjoyable for those that live in the forest. It’s easier to talk about change than to try to affect it—as I think you know better than some.”

Isa: “Maybe I do,” she says, amused. “Doesn’t seem to make me keep my fat mouth shut.”

Caroline: She leans back in, almost conspiratorially. “There was a time, I would have said that I had nothing to lose, after the Embrace. As my life was coming apart and this existence brought me only violence, pain, and suffering—and those to the kine around me. But the Sanctified helped show me that wasn’t true. That I have perhaps everything to lose.”

Isa: “And what does ‘everything’ look like, from the perspective of a believer?”

Caroline: “Purpose. Opportunity to correct the wrongs of one’s life—or at least atone for them. We’re Damned beings, but we were long before the Embrace due to our own actions. How many get a chance to atone, past death, for our sins?”

Isa: The Ventrue’s right about at least one thing there.

Not all that many.

Tuesday night, 16 February 2016, AM

GM: Several nights go by. Caroline’s search with Autumn turns up the following on Mati:

First, Isa was either lying or incorrect when she told Caroline that her younger brother had no documentation. Mati is an American citizen who was born at St. Joseph Women’s Medical Center in Houston, Texas. He has a birth certificate, social security number, school and dental records, and all the usual paper trail that one expects to find for children born in the modern-day United States. Autumn gives voice to the obvious thought that this is certainly easier than looking into an undocumented illegal.

Their investigation gets even easier when it turns out Mati was in the news and the subject of an AMBER Alert back in 2006. He was reported missing along with his older siblings Nico and Isabella (whose disappearances were equally publicized) shortly after the disappearance of their father Juan. Mati was eventually located in New Orleans by Child Protective Services. They found him in a shithole apartment without working heat or plumbing. Mati was in an extremely sick and malnourished state. Authorities concluded the boy was kidnapped by his older siblings, who ran away from home in apparent distress over their father’s disappearance. Most kidnapped children, Caroline and Autumn both well know, are abducted by family members.

Mati recovered at the Children’s Hospital New Orleans and entered the foster care system following his discharge. He was placed in a group home run by a woman who had fostered and adopted numerous children. Mati stayed with his foster mother for only a month or so, however, before being reunited with his birth mother Melina. She took him back to the Suarez family home in Houston, where he has resided ever since. Nico and Isabella were never located.

Mati has returned to New Orleans on a number of subsequent occasions. During one of his more recent trips, he enjoyed a stay at the city’s juvenile detention center after being arrested on a variety of gang- and violence-related offenses. Bail was posted by Mary St. George. Mati was fortunate to be released without any charges pressed. There are several other salient facts related to the teenager that Caroline and her team dig up.

First, the Suarez family are drug lords. The largest branch lives in Houston but maintains profitable (if perilous) financial and familial connections to Mexican cartels, particularly the Cártel del Golfo. The Suarez family matriarch María is known as the Bloody Mary of Galveston Bay and feared on both sides of the law and border. Many of the Suarezes (especially the men) have extensive criminal records in the United States and Mexico. Two of Isa’s uncles are currently serving time at Angola. Juan is not the only Suarez to mysteriously ‘disappear’, although Isa’s uncle Gael is known to have been killed in the 2012 Nuevo Laredo massacres. Much of Caroline’s and Autumn’s information comes from Diego, who clearly knows vastly more about the cartels than either of them. In fact, Diego reflects as he hears more about the Suarez case, he might even be acquainted Isa and her brothers personally.

“Not as friends or anything,” he adds. “I think we were on the same bus once. The one I came to the city on. Two scared kids with a crying brat that wouldn’t shut up.” The gangbanger laughs. “Small world.”

Autumn is surprised and intrigued by Diego’s unexpected usefulness. When she asks more about the cartels, he blithely tells her about the grisly ways they kill people. They’re notorious for delivering cut-off heads to the victims’ families, but Los Zetas once put a novel spin on that tactic by tying a man’s cut-off head onto a turtle. They wired an explosive to its belly that blew everything to kingdom come when DEA agents grabbed the head. What, do vampiros think they have a monopoly on violence? Diego laughs at the notion. What he’s seen from Caroline hasn’t impressed him. He considers the cartels vastly more dangerous and ruthless than vampiros, and when Autumn tells him he hasn’t seen the worst the Camarilla can do, he merely shrugs. The ex-Krewe ghoul seems split on whether to find Diego’s indifference foolish or impressive.

As far as the Mati case, Caroline also turns up that he and Isa have an aunt in New Orleans named Alejandra Suarez. She works as a hematologist at Tulane Medical Center. Neil might be acquainted with her.

Caroline also discovers, after an especially laborious paper trail and interviews with now-decade-older social workers, that Mary St. George hired a private investigator during the time Mati was in her care. She apparently wanted to look into his family and home life in Houston before returning him there. Caroline finds almost nothing else on this PI’s search. Paper trails lead to dead ends. Peoples’ memories are faulty ten years later. She does, however, dig up an address.

5666 Canal Street. The former office of Louis Fontaine.

If Caroline wishes to contact the Suarez family in Houston, she obtains multiple home addresses, landline numbers, and a few emails for various family members, including Mati’s and Isa’s mother Melia. If she wishes to contact Mary St. George or Alejandra Suarez, it’s easy enough to uncover the same information on them.

She can also contact Mati directly. Like many kids his age, he has Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts, some of which he posts more regularly on than others. An email and cellphone number also aren’t hard to turn up after some more digging. Autumn is irked they didn’t just plug his name into Google from the start. This was a breeze compared to the Wells case.

“Honestly, the only person Mati seems to be missing to is Isa,” the ghoul remarks. “The rest of the world looks like they found him… years ago.”

Caroline: Caroline reviews the documents in her growing office with moderate interest. “It’s easier to believe a lie sometimes,” she replies mildly.

GM: “I guess so. Do you want to turn this all over to her? Or interview any of the people involved?”

Caroline: Caroline flips through printed photos of the boy taken from Facebook.

GM: He looks like any other teenager—apart from the pictures where he’s posing with gold-plated assault rifles, making out with a top-less girl in a flashy convertible, stacking piles of cash on his sink, and tossing raw meat to a collared leopard. His Instagram says they’re from a trip to Mexico. Diego mentions how all the cartel kids post photos like those on social media. All of them want to out-do one another for sheer, gaudy excess.

Caroline: “Charming boy,” Caroline remarks sarcastically.

“She’s the only witness to have seen him both recently, and immediately after he was taken,” she observes. “I think I could be persuaded to speak with Ms. St. George. Can you persuade her to speak with me?”

GM: “Probably,” Autumn nods. “I could just say you’re looking into one of the kids she fostered, if you want to play it straight. Or considering a donation to one of the social services organizations she’s involved in if not.”

Caroline: “Send Audrey. Let her showcase her skills in this matter,” Caroline replies. “She can offer a donation or play it straight as she judges best.”

GM: “I wonder if I or even Brian could work better here, actually. Mary seems like the kind of person who might not approve of people like Audrey. Church-going older mom and all.”

Caroline: “I didn’t say she need present herself as she is. Let her play the socialite, or whatever she wishes.” Caroline arches an eyebrow. “Unless you think she would fail?”

GM: “Just a thought. Sincerity seemed like it’d be up her alley, but guess you can fake that like anything.”

Caroline: “It’s a low bar and low-hanging fruit for her to show her skills on.”

GM: “Fair. Though speaking of law bars, there was another thing.”

Caroline: Caroline gestures for her to continue.

GM: “The Suarez case ended up being really easy, but it would’ve helped if I’d been around to question Isa when we first took it. And probably when you first met her in Elysium, too. I won’t pretend I’m Monty Lestrange or anything, but you never know what little details you might pick up that help in the investigation.”

Caroline: “Should you be married to my side then, Autumn?” Caroline asks.

GM: “Not always. Just when it could be useful,” she answers.

Caroline: The Ventrue nods. “Then always?”

GM: “Not always,” Autumn repeats. “Just when it could be useful enough to be worth it.”

Caroline: Caroline leans back. “It is always potentially worthwhile to have you with me, Autumn. But you are also very worthwhile elsewhere, in a way that few others can be. And the others also need experience.”

GM: “That’s great to hear,” Autumn says, sincerely. “But I meant that earlier. Being around when you first talk to the client, if I’m going to look into stuff for them, helps me do my job better.”

Caroline: “I didn’t want to expose you to her,” Caroline answers.

GM: “Not me, but the others?” Autumn asks curiously. “She probably wouldn’t have known who I was, but there are other Licks like Harlequin and Rocco who do.”

Caroline: “You are more uniquely gifted,” Caroline answers. “And she is more… unpredictable than our other guests have been.”

GM: “I guess she did kidnap her brother,” Autumn agrees.

Caroline: “That’s not the half of it. The chaos she caused in Elysium…” Caroline shakes her head.

GM: “Anarchs always cause the most Masquerade problems for the Krewe,” Autumn notes.

Caroline: “She snatched up one of Hound Agnello’s ghouls. Claimed she was going to cut him apart when she left Elysium,” Caroline fills in. “So you understand why I was not eager to expose you.”

GM: “Okay, that does make sense. Self-defense isn’t really my thing.” She smiles a bit. “You could probably have taken her, though.”

Caroline: Caroline gives a teeth-showing grin. “Any other concerns?”

GM: “I think that’s it. Well, I’ll get with Audrey on St. George.”

Thursday morning, 19 February 2016, AM

Caroline: Andrey departs to meet with St. George in Caroline’s place, spinning a story about interest in the foster system as a whole, and about her own contributions to it specifically.

GM: She returns to her domitor at nightfall with the following information.

Mati, as Caroline already knew, was extremely sick and malnourished when CPS rescued him: Isa’s and Nico’s attempt to care for the four-year-old by themselves, however well-intentioned, almost killed him. Mati recovered after some time in the Children Hospital’s New Orleans and Mary St. George made sure he was discharged into a stable and caring home environment. Audrey notes that’s “a lot more than lots of kids in the system are lucky to get.”

Mati remained physically healthy and got along with Mrs. St. George and her other children. Unlike many foster kids, Mati had no notable behavioral problems or mental health issues. He missed his mother inconsolably, however. He also missed Isa and Nico—he was too young to really understand what had happened. St. George questioned him about his earlier home life and swiftly concluded that Mati should be reunited with his mother. There was simply no reason for him to be in the foster system.

When Audrey questioned Mrs. St. George about Mati’s recent arrest, and whether she believed him to be currently in danger, the older woman grew more taciturn and started asking questions about Audrey’s interest. What did she say this was all for, a published article? Audrey had the uncomfortable feeling that her act wasn’t fooling the widow, but definitely that Mrs. St. George was holding back too. She cited Mati’s privacy and volunteered some of the contact information that Caroline already has if she wanted to get in touch with Nico personally.

Mrs. St. George also volunteered to put them in touch upon Nico’s next visit. He has family in New Orleans and usually stops by when he’s in town. She didn’t say so outright, but it was plain to Audrey that the Suarezes are eternally grateful to Mrs. St. George for reuniting them with their missing child.

Audrey seems somewhat on edge after the visit to Caroline. The ghoul says she “didn’t like the vibe [she] got” at the St. George house.

Caroline probes deeper. It eventually comes out that Audrey’s meeting with Mary brought up a lot of uncomfortable thoughts for the former prostitute and foster child. About the kind of life she could have led.

Mary said she could tell how Audrey had been hurt, and that it “wasn’t too late.” Audrey quickly got out after that. She stares at Caroline with plaintive eyes.

She’d really like a fix right now.

Caroline: Caroline does not conceal her displeasure that Audrey not only failed to return with more detailed answers to various questions, especially about the boy’s more recent criminal run ins, but also allowed herself to be seen through and intimidated by a foster mother.

“I thought you were much better than that,” she concludes with disappointment.

GM: Audrey’s demeanor instantly changes at seeing her domitor’s disappointment… and the expectant fix withdrawn.

“It was a fluke. I’ll go back and try things another way. I’ll get the answers out of her.”

Caroline: “No, you won’t,” Caroline replies firmly. “Even if you succeeded it would make an unnecessary mess. That is not how we do things. Next time do it right the first time.”

GM: Audrey briefly looks like she wants to protest, but doesn’t. “Next time will be different. I won’t let you down, Caroline.”

Caroline: Caroline’s expression softens. “Do you regret me entering your life?”

GM: Audrey shakes her head firmly. “Never. I’d have probably turned out like my mom, eventually.”

Caroline: Caroline nods. “And instead?”

GM: “I get to live forever. Be young forever.” Her eyes linger on Caroline’s. “And help you.”

Caroline: “Then help me,” Caroline answers, almost plaintively.

GM: “I will. This won’t happen again,” the ghoul repeats, fervently.

Caroline: “I believed in you enough to choose you. Prove me right.” She chides gently.

GM: “I will, Caroline. I won’t let you down twice,” Audrey repeats again.

Caroline: Caroline finally nods. “Good. Then come here.”

She extends her wrist.

“Let’s start this night over.”

Friday evening, 19 February 2016, PM

GM: Isa and Shaw don’t walk far.

She wasn’t there on the patio a second ago. But now she is. Like she was always there.

Her apparel is plain and worn. Brown denim jacket coated in faded stains. Pants of the same make and dirty condition. Steel-toed work boots crusted with black that probably used to be red. Her neck-length mop of unruly brown hair looks like it’s cut with a hacksaw. Further tufts of hair sprout like weeds from her palms and neck. Another individual so dressed and groomed would look like a homeless vagrant. Too-pale flesh drawn taut over bone, faintly burning red eyes, and calloused hands ending in clawed tips give immediate lie to that assumption. Tonight those ‘tips’ are black as sin and long as steak knives.

The vampire herself is distinctly mannish-looking, with wide shoulders, thickly muscled arms, and blockish facial features that could have been carved by an inept teenager who got an ‘F’ in wood shop class. Her mouth is a flat, unmoving line, but her flint-brown eyes burn at Isa with feral, slow-simmering fury. Not the impatient viciousness of an attack dog pulling taut against its leash, but the mad rage of a rabid bear howling from behind a cage’s bars. Contained, perhaps. But never tame.

Most know her as “the scourge” or “Scourge Meadows.” “That fucking maniac” has also been gaining recent traction.

But to Isa she’s something else, too.

Rocco’s sire.

Caroline: Caroline’s gaze fixes on the ‘mad’ scourge.

She knows Meadows inspires fear in most, that she’s a century-old killer, that she happily slaughters Kindred like no other. She should be afraid. She should run. It would be the smart thing. Especially since Meadows is likely here not for her, but for Isa.

She doesn’t feel afraid, and she doesn’t run. Not here. Not from her haven. From her place of strength. If she runs here, where would she go?

“Welcome, Scourge Meadows, " she ventures.

Isa: Isa, for her part, is silent as she stares intently at the Gangrel. Like this, then.

“Ms. Malveaux,” she says after a too-long-feeling moment. “You did me a big favor, showing me what happened to my brother. I wish I had the chance to pay you back, but let’s not kid ourselves. My word is dirt and my favors are about to be worth even less. But Sundown would probably like his ghoul back. Might even owe you for the trouble. Just please make him stay out of this.”

Without shifting her eyes from the Gangrel, she touches Shaw’s arm. “I’m sorry, Al. Step back for me, please. And you tell ’em how I died. Not screaming. Not begging. Never.”

Then she steps forward. It was always going to end like this, one way or the other.

“Hey Meadows,” she says. “Next time you want to Embrace a whiny little bitch, just visit a pound.”

Then she snaps her fingers and surrounds her killer with a roaring fire. The flames snap, crackle, pop as they enclose the scourge.

Something to remember her by.

“Oh,” she says quietly, as the flames dance in her eyes. “And you tell my brothers I’m sorry.”

GM: The iron-haired, broken-nosed ghoul’s scowl recedes at Isa’s touch and words. It’s odd look, or lack thereof, to see on him. It’s like seeing a thick-haired and bearded man who’s suddenly gone hairless after chemo.

Perhaps he starts to say something back. His mouth opens.

Then the scourge descends—and the illusory flames roar.

To Caroline, Autumn, Audrey, and Green, Meadows seemingly goes up like a torch in mid-pounce, hungrily crackling orange-white tongues streaming from her hair and clothes. But the scourge doesn’t slow. The scourge doesn’t stop. Knife-sized claws shred through Isa’s belly and punch all the way through her back as the pouncing Gangrel smashes into her chest and body-slams her to the ground.

Flames crackle. Claws eviscerate guts. Flames hiss. Saw-like teeth shred through throat. Flames smoke and billow and roar. There’s no grace or technique to what the seemingly immolated Meadows does: just pure, feral savagery. Within seconds, the scourge literally rips Isa to pieces, wrenching her head free from its neck with a hideously snap-crunch and foisting it high like a grisly trophy. Yet the expression on Isa’s blood-spattered face is oddly calm, even accepting… the Ravnos—ironically true to her words, for one of her clan—has not died in fear.

Blood rains over the gore-spattered scourge like a red baptism, even as the billowing flames wink out.

Caroline feels her howling Beast, already kept tightly leashed by her will, mostly un-tense.

All four ghouls stare in shock at the sheer suddenness and carnage of the scene. Green’s grabbed a fire extinguisher. Meadows ignores them all and bounds away on all fours towards the edge of the deck.

The fire extinguisher hits the floor with a heavy clang as Green opens fire with her sidearm and roars, “NOT SO FAST, FUCKER!”

The shots take Meadows in the back of her neck and crown of her head. She doesn’t even glance backwards as the bullets audibly clang off—until a bellowing, mad-eyed Shaw’s fist descends.

Perhaps a martial artist would sidestep, grab the furious man’s arm, and leverage his own momentum into an over the shoulder throw. Instead there’s just a hideous crunch, flying bits of pink and red, and an agonized scream as Meadows’ saw-like teeth catch and chomp through the descending fist in mid-swing. There’s a sharp crack as Shaw’s back hits the railing at an angle, and then blood everywhere as the Gangrel’s claws explode through his stomach. Red-spattered fingers fly from the howling scourge’s already gore-caked mouth as she roars her bloodlust.

Caroline: Caroline’s expression twists into an ugly snarl. This beast loose in her haven. In her building. The terror in the night for neonates here to rampage against her, just like the sheriff has, like his hounds have, like even her mother has. Step on the neonate because she can’t do anything about it, the game of the All-Night Society. Attack Isa at the neonate’s haven, where she can easily make her escape—or clean up the loose end with Evan as well. The Ventrue is tired of being underestimated. Tired of being pushed around. Tired of backing down.

The scourge is terrifying, a buzzsaw that Caroline well knows has destroyed more experienced vampires, more vicious vampires, and more cunning vampires in her long unlife. Seeing her at work in person tonight further reinforces just how terrifying she is, how earned her reputation is. In a street fight she might kill Caroline nine out of ten times. In ambush, striking suddenly, she might crush Caroline. Any given night even the prince’s childe might not hope to match her. Any other night she should flee, should run in terror.

But not tonight. Not tonight. Not here. Not now.

The rounds start falling before the sound of a gunshot reaches them, the high-caliber bullets moving faster than the sound waves their flight leaves behind. That was important to Caroline, when they picked a post for Fuller to set up with his rifle. She knows how fast she is, recalls how easy it was to dodge Kelford’s bullets when the sound of their fire preceded the rounds. She had Brian run the tables on time in flight vs. distance to make sure any Kindred on the roof would have no warning when they picked out his hide—and with the seemingly insane (and most wanted) Anarch visiting, she put him in the hide—however much he might have complained about wanting to be in the room for the meeting.

She’d also put Ericson and Curtis on standby for the night—every ghoul she could manage should violence erupt: there were too many possible sources to take chances. Isa, Rocco, and, of course, Meadows. The scourge, who she’d feared might come for her after the investigation into Evan. She traded precious favors with Savoy when she was younger and more naive to learn one of the monster’s banes. That Green has a shotgun full of bizarre white ash slugs ready for, to buy Caroline just a moment should this moment ever come.

The appearance of the scourge, her savaging of Isa first, gives Ericson and Curtis enough time to rush out from the other elevator they were waiting in, to bring bullets and blades to bear—including one for Caroline.

The two fencers take the monster’s flanks to keep the line of fire clear for the shooters and set to work. Even as shards of wood spray into the scourge, even as 50. BMG rounds hit with enough force to punch holes through engine blocks (the decision to turn that weapon against anything resembling a human body produces horrific results), Caroline and Ericson keep her at bay, box her in, push her into a corner towards the deckhouse, from which there is no escape for a raging monster.

No human could fight against Meadows and win with a sword, but then, neither of the women is quite human. Ericson’s world championship caliber skill mixed with inhuman quickness. Caroline’s lesser skill but greater experience against inhuman foes—and the Ventrue’s ungodly swiftness. If Ericson’s reactions are too fast for the eye to follow, Caroline’s are too quick perhaps for even a camera to catch. She doesn’t blur, she simply is in one spot, then another.

Not tonight.

GM: Not again.

Four gun barrels explode. Two fencing sabers flash.

Meadows is there, reveling over her kill, and then she’s not. The shotguns blasts explode apart the railing, sending chunks of steel and masonry tumbling down the building’s side. Ericson’s blade flashes right, whistling through air by inches. Caroline instantly assesses that the Gangrel is faster than her servant, but perhaps not faster than her as the fencing foil finds purchase in the scourge’s gut. It’s like stabbing a suit of armor. Caroline rapidly shifts footing and throws the whole of her body behind the strike in response to the unexpected resistance. Her efforts are met with a gout of blood and malevolent, nigh-ursine snarl.

The shotguns train after Meadows and belch wood. She isn’t there anymore. Caroline’s eyes whip across the deck, then up. The Gangrel soars through the air like a great bird of prey and lands with a heavy crash on the patio’s other side. She whips up from all fours and chucks the glass and steel tables at Caroline and her servants, one after another, like baseballs.

Glassy shatters ring in the Ventrue’s ears like gunfire as she blurs past one and Ericson narrowly throws herself away from another. Green and Curtis are too slow as the glass smashes into them head-on, knocking both ghouls to their feet as the smell of blood wafts from a thousand so-tantalizing cuts.

Meadows bounds across the swimming pool in a great leap, smashing into Caroline like a cannonball. The Ventrue doesn’t try to throw her off, but lashes out with a snap kick to her opponent’s groin and rolls aside. She springs up and triple-flips behind the scourge as eviscerating claws leave inches-deep rents along the floor.

Fuller’s soundless—or more precisely, sound-delayed—50. BMG strikes true. It doesn’t blow the Gangrel’s leg clean off like Caroline has heard of it doing to mortal victims, but still leaves a raw and red welt that sends the scourge staggering back. Caroline and Ericson press their assault with their blades’ longer reach. Glass crinkles in the distance as Ericson and Green amble to their feet with Autumn’s and Audrey’s help.

The scourge’s claws slash and rip. Steel scrapes against keratin. Caroline dodges, weaves, and strikes like a panther—faster, actually—and Ericson isn’t much slower. Fuller, Green, and Curtis lay on the covering fire, keeping Meadows too preoccupied evading the anti-Kindred rounds to devote herself fully to the melee threats in front of her. Wood and metal perforate her already stained and dirty clothes, the former drawing especially maddened howls. Meadows might be good, but five on one is ugly, ugly odds—at least when one’s opponents aren’t simply chaff to scythe through.

Hellish red literally blazes in the scourge’s eyes as that fact seems to sink in. She throws herself at the two fencers, roaring, howling, twisting, clawing, and lashing in every which direction, forcing them back. Bullet after bullet blows off chunks of her flesh. She doesn’t even seem to care. She doesn’t seem like a human adversary: just a rabid animal to hold off until it can be put down.

Feral claws slash and rend at Caroline’s face, but the feint is revealed when a steel-toed work boot smashes into her lower abdomen with bone-crunching force. As Caroline staggers backwards, Meadows literally dives in after her—to the swimming pool.

The twin splashes haven’t faded in any of the combatants’ ears as the Ventrue lashes out, twisting and thrashing like a squid. Water resistance slows the fencing saber, but the mist-like clouds of blood it draws forth are no still bright red. Meadows accepts the hits as her claws tear through the flesh of Caroline’s legs to scrape and then puncture bone. Yellow-hued marrow leaks into the swollen clouds of red. The scourge’s oddly glassy, distinctly fish-like eyes burn with pure hate as her vice-like hands pull Caroline downwards to the bottom of the pool. The Ventrue can already make out webbing between the Gangrel’s now-hairless fingers as her scaled flesh shudderingly realigns into some hideous sea creature’s. All that’s missing are slit-like gills, but neither of the dead women need breathe.

Muffled-sounding bullets pummel the water’s surface, their slowed trajectories leaving behind tiny lines of foam in one of the few details Hollywood gets mostly right. The scourge may be a beast, but she is no dumb beast… she has moved their combat to a more favorable environment where gunmen are useless, swords are slowed, and ghouls can’t breathe.

Caroline wonders if she is to face her foe alone when Ericson dives in to the water with a splash. It might be touching to consider the Olympian that devoted, but Caroline sees only the slavish obsession of the blood bond driving a mother of two children to risk her life for a former fencing trainee’s.

Caroline: Caroline might scream in pain if she wasn’t underwater. Instead she drives the point of the blade into Meadows and jerks at the handle, snapping off the blade to give herself a shorter weapon—something more effective in the water. Elegance has its place, but this has turned into a brawl.

There’s another splash as Green joins the other three in the water, wooden stake gripped tight and she drives to find purchase in Meadows’ tough hide.

GM: Fullers’ and Curtis’ bullets continue to whistle-splash harmlessly from above as the three brawlers converge on Meadows. Three on one is less ugly odds than five on one. The piscine Gangrel has no bullets to dodge this time, and looks as if she can maneuver far better in the water. Her reddish eyes all but boil as she tears into Green, her cruel claws puncturing the ex-SWAT’s lungs and ripping off wholesale strips of flesh from her breast. Caroline can’t see the ghoul’s face past all the red clouding—churning—the water, but Meadows roars as the yew stake finds purchase in her torso.

Caroline: The Ventrue roars silently, breathlessly, underwater as her opponent turns her back on her. It’s all the louder as she sees Green shredded, sees her blood cloud the water. Her ghoul. Hers. This monster, this savage, cutting down the mouthy mercenary in her disdain for Caroline. Seemingly trying to take lives until the last moment of her unlife. The water slows her. Her wounds slow her. But not that much. She is still Caroline Malveaux, childe of Augusto Vidal, and she doesn’t hesitate in her vengeance. The broken sword lacks elegance, but its jagged tip presents opportunities. She drives it into Meadows’ back, sawing, slicing, ripping it through the red-eyed demon in the water.

GM: As Green’s motionless body drifts through those too-red waters, the howling scourge rips into her remaining two opponents. There’s no grace to what she does—or what Caroline does back. No finesse. Not even any skill.

Just pure, bestial, mindless fucking savagery.

She stabs the broken sword into one of the crater-like holes left by Fuller’s 50. BMGs, which have to hurt like hell even for a Gangrel, and rips. There’s a howl in her ear. Maybe hers. Maybe Meadows’. Then there’s pain as the scourge’s claws explode into, and through, Caroline’s chest, like they did Isa’s. Water rushes through the connecting hole between her abdomen and her back as bladed, iron-hard hands eviscerate her guts, madly stab her internal organs, and wrench them out, literally pulling her apart piece by piece. Caroline’s Beast whines in her ears. Her foe is as fast as she is. Stronger. Tougher. By all rights, she should lose this fight.

Maybe she would, if she weren’t so fucking sick of not being taken seriously.

Of just any asshole dropping in to her haven, thinking they can kill someone there, and jaunt out like it’s a fucking drive-thru.

Maybe it doesn’t really matter if Green’s dead or alive. Maybe what really matters is how Meadows is just the latest in a long line of Kindred to underestimate her, to treat her like shit, to feed her shit and expect her to just take it.

Fuck. That.

There’s pain in her torso, pain in her arms, pain in her everywhere, but that all seems a distant second next to inflicting it. The snapped-off sword stabs, slashes, rips, tears, plunges, pierces. Maybe Ericson helps. Maybe she doesn’t. Maybe she can’t see Meadows anymore because the red haze is her Beast snapping loose, or maybe it’s just all the blood that’s been spilled.

Maybe it doesn’t matter, so long as she’s fucking dead.

Caroline: Caroline barely notices when it ends. Or why it ends. She just notices the broken-off sword, broken like she is, broken like everything, isn’t stabbing against anything anymore.

The former heiress drags herself to the lip of the pool, drags herself out. Everything hurts. She doesn’t want to imagine how she looks. She begrudging looks back into the bloody water, then for her remaining ghouls. Then she starts giving orders to those left standing.

GM: The scene is one of chaos and carnage. Most are still standing. Two do not.

What’s left of Curtis is strewn over the patio in limb-sized chunks. His shredded guts, literally yanked out from his destroyed chest cavity, gruesomely decorate the floor. Green lies motionless, her chest all but shredded apart. Ericson has two deep- and cruel-looking cuts over her belly. Fuller and Autumn look uninjured, though the latter has thrown up.

Green is alive but not stable: Fuller fished her from the water and messily fitted back on the torn-off folds of flesh. Shaw, who the group interrupted Meadows from finishing, also yet lives. Both ghouls will be dead within the minute without a life-saving draught of vitae. There is no question that neither would have survived the encounter if they were mere humans, or Caroline not present to administer ‘first aid.’

“Meadows burst out of the water,” Autumn reports shakily. “I… I caught a glimpse, but she was invisible…”

Fuller relays how Curtis leaped in the Gangrel’s path when it became plain—to Caroline’s servants, and to Meadows—that Autumn was the only party present with a shot at tracking the scourge’s movements. Curtis died so the rest of his ‘squad’ wouldn’t be left defenseless. “Marine ’til the end,” Fuller reports soberly.

Ericson and Fuller concentrated fire on the spot where they saw Curtis vanish. They heard a maddened howl from the Gangrel, then silence. No one can find any body: Autumn thinks she must have cut her losses and decided the battle was too much fight for too little gain. After all, she’d already accomplished her primary objective of killing Isa.

Shaw is nigh-delirious with pain and fury at the monster who killed Isa, but Autumn ventures that Sundown would owe them for saving his ghoul—and the ex-boxer could get the story out, over how they drove off Caitlin Meadows.

Audrey is not present. People lost track of where she went in the heat of combat: trying her phone confirms that the ghoul fled the battle. She didn’t see anything she could have done. Autumn and Ericson don’t blame her, but Fuller looks disgusted.

Fuller’s and Ericson’s assessment of the combat is they had all the firepower they needed, but, “We need more of whatever she has,” Fuller says, nodding at Autumn. “Or some other way to track her, if she can turn invisible. Doesn’t matter many holes we can fill her with if we can’t keep her pinned down.”

“And she’ll be ready for us next time. Wouldn’t count on her just dropping in like this again. She learned her lesson.”

Caroline: Caroline quietly seethes in her agony. All the work and effort with Isa wasted. All the blood it’ll take to put herself, Ericson, and Green back together. All the trouble this mess will make. Curtis, dead and torn apart in pieces that’ll make for a difficult to explain closed casket funeral.

Still, Sundown owing her a boon. That’s worth something. As is the story of her battle against Meadows circulating. She’ll get it circulating, if Shaw doesn’t on his own, and she’ll certainly make sure he does his utmost after saving his life. Getting underestimated might be more advantageous in a fight, but she’ll happily trade an edge in a fight for more social capital.

She’s seen what a vampire who only cares about the former looks like.

She has Autumn kill the lights on the patio and take the usual Masquerade precautions: checking the nearest units and erasing the memories of anyone who heard too much. Widney can help with that before arranging to get the damage to the patio fixed. Fuller is sent to make sure the building security stays out of their hair. Audrey is recalled and told to procure vessels. And, of course, Caroline goes to work saving the lives of the ghouls. Both of them.

It’s what she’s always done. What she’s always been best at:

Picking up the pieces and making something out of them.

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